Recently one of our readers, McKenzie, posted a question about the difference between American and French Oak.
First of all, thanks McKenzie for a very good question. Secondly, sorry for the delay in coming up with an answer. This is a very difficult issue to taste test–primarily because most Napa wines use French oak and I’ve encountered only one winery who uses both for the same juice. The only winery in Napa (that I know of) that uses all Missouri oak is Silver Oak. This is a great winery with wonderful wines. They produce only cabernet, and it is quite good. The good news is that I know one winery, Del Dotto Vineyards, that does the exact same juice in both French oak and Missouri oak. We have been to the winery and tasted those wines. As a matter of fact we have them in our cellar! So, we did a taste test recently to try and answer your question. Here is what we discovered and I hope it helps you. The only true way know way to know for sure is to taste for yourself. So here are our results:
The wine –
Del Dotto Ca’nani vineyard Oakville 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley
You’ll see above on the bottom part of the label, it shows one barrel was Centre Sylvain French oak and the other was Missouri U-stave American oak.
The wine is a bit on the expensive side. Our price was $125 a bottle.
We tasted this wine at dinner where I had filet and my wife had short ribs, so the wine would pair with the food properly.
On the nose – we both thought the American oak was a little stringent with hints of perfume and paint(!) while the French had some leather and cigar tones. Winner. French!
On color, clarity and body – the wines were equal and no one was clearly better. This is probably because the juice was the same. Both!
Flavor or taste – I thought both wines were very tannic with high acidity while the American was a little older tasting with some musty and charcoal hints. My wife felt the Missouri had hints of licorice. Winner. Missouri!
Finish – we both thought the wines were fairly smooth with the edge going to the French. Winner. French!
We did not decant these wines and wished we would have. Both of them opened up nicely during dinner. Particularly, the Missouri oak wine “calmed down” a bit as we dined. This helped it catch up to the slightly softer (from the outset) French oak wine.
I actually finished the wines the next evening which many times is the best time for the wines. So I had a chance to compare one last time before final judgement.
Conclusions – the winner is the French oak by a slight margin. Overall, to be honest we thought the wines were both disappointing based on the price. We have many favorites that are better than these wines and sell for less than half the price.
Our recommendation- taste for yourself and let us know what you think. That is the fun and joy of wine. Cheers!