The use of French Oak to Age Wine
French oak is split, whereas American oak is sawn to make the staves for barrels. Because it is split, the grain is not agitated as much as if it were sawn. Additionally, French oak is grown in cooler climates than American oak. This makes the grain finer and adds subtlety.
Napoleon planted several of the oak forests now used for wine barrels. His originally aim was to harvest this wood for ship building. There are five major forests used for French wine barrels. They are Allier, Limousin, Trancais, Nevers and Vosges. The grain of the wood varies in each forest.
The major flavors that are imparted by French oak are vanilla, butter and spice. There are slightly different shapes used for Bordeaux and Burgundy barrels. French oak staves are allowed to air dry and season for at least two years. In contrast, American oak staves are kiln dried.
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