French Oak Barrels For Sale: What To Look For and Where To Find Them

Wine makers the world over search for french oak barrels for sale; not only to store their wine but also to impart the smooth, low-tannin, flavours that are favored in oaked wine.

It hasn’t always been this way. Originally wine producers made only enough wine for themselves and their surrounding community. Small, handmade vessels were more than adequate for storing wine once it had fermented.

As communities grew, wine production continued to grow and a way to store and transport it was needed. Worldwide trade had already started; everything from honey and rum to whale oil and fish was being shipped using barrels, so it made sense that wine would be shipped that way also.

Initially, wine makers sought out barrels that were neutral; those that wouldn’t impart color or flavor to their wines. It was soon realized, though, that some barrels imbued the wine with complex, and pleasing, flavor profiles and the demand for oak barrels rose.

French Oak Barrels For Sale – Why Not Choose American Oak?

french or american oak
Stack of oak wine barrels by a farmland surrounded by autumn trees

When looking for oak barrels, why would you choose French Oak? Why not choose American oak? Generally, one is not ‘better’ than the other; but they each have different characteristics and impart specific flavor profiles..

American Oak Barrels

Also known as ‘White Oak Barrels’; these barrels are crafted from oak that is grown in America – primarily Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, and Oregon. It’s a strong wood, readily available, with low permeability and easily bent with steam, making it ideal for production barrels to age whiskey and wine.

Typically, American Oak Barrels are associated with the ’rounder’ flavours of vanilla and coconut, there is a richness to the developed flavour that pairs well with the strength of the bourbon and whiskey, although it is also used to age some of the bolder wine varietals. Backed by spicy, cinnamon notes; this oak gives a well balanced approach to completing the process.

French Oak Barrels

There are two main differences between French and American oak barrels. The first is obvious; French Oak Barrels are make from oak produced in France. The second is more subtle but is a result of the first difference – oak grown, and harvested, in France imparts different flavour qualities. Generally the flavour profile when using French Oak Barrels is smoother and more satiny. The tannins present in French Oak are responsible for greater complexity and, what is thought to be, a more sophisticated flavour profile.

So, a bourbon, whiskey, or wine producer will choose either American or French oak barrels depending on the flavours that are desired in the end product.

French Oak Barrels and Home Wine Making

Unsurprisingly, it is difficult to find french oak barrels for home use here in North America. The volume of wine produced in a home setting isn’t enough to fill the full-sized barrels from France and, typically, barrel-producers are not making smaller scale barrels for home use.

Fortunately, you can still get the benefit of french oak barrels in your wine even if you don’t have a french oak barrel.

A Great Substitute: French Oak Chips

French Oak Chips
Background of Wood Chips texture.

French Oak chips are a good substitute when looking to oak wine made at home. Chips provide a number of benefits over oak barrels:

  • Increased Surface-to-Wine Ratio. When using barrels only the surface of the barrel is in contact with the wine imparting any flavor. Oak chips allow the surface-to-wine ratio to increase meaning that the wine will develop flavor faster.
  • Better Control. Being able to control the amount of oak chips you add means that you can better control the amount of oak flavor in your wine. Storing wine in oak barrels doesn’t give you the same control; unless you have an additional vessel to store the wine in.
  • Add At Any Stage. When you introduce oak to the wine will affect the flavor of the final product. Oak chips can be added at any stage of the process, and can be removed at any point also, allowing better control of oak flavor and characteristics.
  • Mix and Match. While this article uncovers the value of French Oak, it is possible to mix and match different types of oak to develop a flavor profile that is all your own.
  • Easy to Store. It is obviously going to be easier to find somewhere to store a bag of oak chips that finding a spot for that oak barrel.
  • Less Expensive. French oak chips are a very affordable way of introducing oaking to your wine making process.

French Oak Chips For Wine

There are a variety of french oak chips available. Here are a few to try with your next batch of wine.

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french oak barrels for sale