You have probably heard of American Oak and French Oak (there is also Slovakian, Hungarian, and Russian Oak but that will be for another day!), but do you know what the differences are between the two?
Why is oak used in wine making? It is used to vary the color, flavor, tannin profile, and the texture of the wine. It can be used in the fermentation or aging periods or as a few floating chips or staves added to wine fermented in a vessel like stainless steel. Oak barrels can also impart other qualities through evaporation and low level exposure to oxygen. The porous nature of an oak barrel allows evaporation and oxygenation to occur in the wine but typically not at levels that would cause oxidation or spoilage.
The typical 225 liter (59 gallon) barrel allows the wine to concentrate it’s flavor and aroma compounds. Also small amounts of oxygen are allowed to pass through the barrel and act as a softening agent upon the wine’s tannins.
American oak used in wine barrels is a white oak from the species Quercus alba, which is fast growing and has wider grains and less wood tannins. This oak is found in most of the eastern United States, with Tennessee being one of the top suppliers. French oak uses common oak, Quercus robur, or white oak, Quercus petraea, but the latter is considered far superior for it’s finer grain and richer contribution of aromatic components like vanillin and its derivatives. American oak tends to be more intensely flavored than French oak due to having two to four times more lactones. Winemakers choose American oak typically for bold, powerful reds and for warm climate Chardonnays. The wider grain in the American oak allows more oxygen to interact with the wine than the tighter grained French oak. The French oak generates silky and transparent tannins, which transmits a sensation of light sweetness combined with fruity flavors that persist in the mouth.
A barrel can also either be toasted or untoasted. The toasting adds vanilla and spice character to French oak and coconut character to American oak. Also the level of toasting can vary which creates different character to the barrel.
A barrel made from American oak can cost $600-800, while a barrel made of French oak can cost $1200 or more.
Think about which oak is used in the wine you are drinking and what characteristics is has contributed to it.
If you see either of these two wines at Costco FO …… buy them. Priced at $13.99 they are selling out quickly. Both have awesome aromas of blackberry and black currant but the smooth, silky finish is what sells this wine. Both are full bodied with excellent structure and a long finish. Produced from Organic grapes from Mendoza these wines carry a rating of 90 on the Cab and 92 on the Malbec … however your Costco Wine Consultant feels these rating are low, giving them 93 and 94 respectfully. Grab a couple bottles of these great wines on your next visit.
When a winemaker produces a Tribute wine dedicated to his two sons ….. you can expect one awesome wine!! This silky red blend offers big fruit flavors and well integrated velvety tannins. It has aromas of pipe tobacco, leather, and dark fruit layer along with boysenberry flavors and a hint of black pepper. The finish lingers with blackberry jam and toasty, graphic black notes. This blend of 32% Cab, 11% Malbec, 38% Merlot, 5% Cab Franc, and 11% Petit Verdot is aged for 22 months in 35% new oak with the balance being 2nd and 3rd use mixed oak. This wine had a Wine Spectator rating of 91 and a Costco Wine Consultant rating of 95!!! This wine pairs well with grilled meats and works well with rosemary and peppercorn. Priced at retail outlets in the $26-30 range, this outstanding wine is available at Costco FO for $19.99.
Pick up a bottle of the Browne 2012 Tribute for that special occasion!!!
As some of you know I have decided to pursue a dream of mine ……. and no it’s isn’t the one about flying!! I have had a passion for wine for many years: studying, visiting wineries, sharing thoughts with friends, and even drinking a glass, or bottle, every now and then. That being the case, I am now a “Wine Consultant” at the Fort Oglethorpe Costco ….. and having the time of my life! I work part time, normally Wednesday through Sunday for a few hours in the afternoon. Drop by and visit me when you have a chance.
Now to the question, “how did you like that wine”? A lot of customers are trying new wines based somewhat on input from me. When they return I will ask them “how did you like that wine”? Most of the time I get a response such as it was very good or I don’t remember! Feedback is critical to any wine professional ….. 1) did you enjoy the wine, 2) if so why … was it the nose, the body, the finish, the flavors, value for price paid, etc. 3) if you did not enjoy the wine, again why? Keep notes on individual wines you drink so that you can develop a profile of your likes and dislikes. With this information you and your wine professional can determine which new wines might fit your needs. A small notebook is a great was to capture and then organize your information. While tasting notes, numerical ratings, and reviews are good insights as to what others think about a particular wine …… the only critique, analysis, and rating that matters is your own!! So keep good notes and discuss your preferences with your wine professional as you continue to travel your journey through the wines of Costco!!!
Chateau St. Michelle produces around 71 different wines, of which Costco FO carries at least 5. Chateau St. Michelle’s grapes come from the Columbia Valley region of Washington State and initially started with a winery in Woodinville, outside of Seattle, and later a winery focused on reds at the Canoe Ridge Estate Winery in Eastern Washington. The Woodinville winery now focuses on whites as well as having a tasting room. St. Michelle wines that Costco FO carries include:
Columbia Valley Riesling – This wine offers crisp apple aromas and flavors with subtle mineral notes. This everyday Riesling is a pleasure to drink and easy to match to a variety of foods. This wine is competitively priced at $8.59.
Cabernet Sauvignon: This Cabernet highlights concentrated Washington red fruit in an accessible style. It has plenty of complexity and structure with silky tannins. This wine is priced at $12.79.
Columbia Valley Chardonnay: This Columbia Valley Chardonnay is a pleasurable, food friendly Chardonnay. This wine is fresh, soft style of Chardonnay with bright apple and sweet citrus fruit character with subtle spice and oak nuances. This wine, priced at $8.99, is a value.
Indian Wells Chardonnay: The grapes for this wine come from the Indian Wells Vineyard along with other grapes from other warm weather Washington State vineyards. The Indian Wells Chardonnay delivers an appealing tropical fruit character typical of warm sourcing sites. You will taste rich pineapple and butterscotch flavors with a creamy texture on the finish. Priced at $12.97 this is a value for your wine cellar. This wine is priced around $17-18 at other outlets.
Indian Wells Merlot: The Indian Wells Merlot offers ripe berry fruit aromas and jammy flavors typical of warm weather slopes. This wine is full bodied with a round, supple finish. This wine had some Syrah to enhance the mouthfeel and rich fruit character. Priced at $13.99 this wine is an awesome addition to any pasta meal! This wine can be in the $18-20 range at other outlets.
This wine is made with 100% Merlot in a very enjoyable expression of the grape. It is soft and light and delicate in the mouth. You have flavors of jam and cherry with a slight sweetness on the dry finish. This wine is drinkable today but if you want to age it a while it will only get better. This a value at $9.99 at your FO Costco and is a Bordeaux that should be in your cellar.
Looking for a Sparkling Wine with wonderful aromas of green apple and citrus mineral notes? If you pour yourself a flute of this beautiful Sparkling Wine you will be in for a treat. This Sparkling Wine from New Mexico offers bright, crisp acidity complemented by a touch of yeast on the delightfully long finish. This wine is produced from 75% Chardonnay and 25% Pinot Noir using the traditional Methode Champenoise. Priced at the FO Costco at $13.99 this Sparkling Wine is as close to a Champagne that you can get for the price. This Sparkling is priced around $16-17 at other outlets.