Originally Posted by patrickBOOTH
Question: Wines that have a very pronounced "oaky" flavor does this mean they were held in oak barrels longer, or does new vs old oak, or French vs American oak play a part as well? I would think new oak would deposit much more oakiness than old. Also, does wine age in oak the same way it would in a bottle if the conditions are correct?
The biggest factor in a perceived "oaky" taste is a high percentage of new oak. If you use 70% new French barrels, its still going to taste like a board for a couple of years. Oak barrels become neutral by (roughly) the third or fourth fill, after which they don't really contribute oak flavor or tannin to a wine.
I'm not really sure what the relationship between the amount of time a wine was held in new barrels and what it gets out of the barrel - I imagine there's a ceiling on what a wine is able to extract, so it probably doesn't matter so much if you keep them in new barrels for 18 months or 24, at least where extraction of oak flavor is concerned, which isn't your main goal anyway.
With regards to American oak vs French - in general terms French has a finer, more subtle taste due to a considerably finer grain, but there's American oak and there's American oak, and American coopers are getting better sources of wood, so some American oak barrels are much less brash than others. Also, American oak generally introduces more vanilla and spice flavors. Europeans, especially the Spanish, still buy plenty of American oak for barrels. It depends on what you're going for. French oak isn't universally "better."
Barrel aging is different than bottle aging and its dependent on the size of barrel as well. Barrels are porous and allow evaporation and oxygen access to the wine. The standard ~225 liter/60 gallon barrel has a lot more relative surface area than a 500 liter puncheon, so thats a factor. When wines are in barrel you have to top them up about once a month for several months. Bottle aging is a bear of a topic. I suppose one of the most important factors is that by the time a serious wine is going to bottle for aging, its had a chance to develop in a more oxygen-rich environment (the barrel) and the bottle will be a different set of conditions. One of the big changes that occurs over time in bottle is the lengthening of tannin/polyphenol chains to the point that they fall out of solution (sediment), which softens the wine.Edited by Quatsch - 6/6/12 at 7:01am