Ever wonder what gives the Pinot Noir the earthy taste. Was the finish on your Chardonnay buttery?One Chardonnay have a more buttery finish than the other. All these taste and aromas come from the Barrel.
Since new barrels impart more flavors to the wine than previously used barrels, the percentage of new barrels used by a winery each year is an important piece of information. It greatly affects the outcome of the wine. They will last three years before losing their primary “new oak” influence and about 5 years until it is virtually neutral as far as its influence.
There are three different kinds of oak barrels. Hungarian, French and American. A smaller barrel will leave a stronger impression. Another factor in the barrels is the degree of toast…light, medium or heavy.The choice of barrel and toast is one of the most important decisions a winemaker can make
There are 5 distinct flavor categories various kinds of oak contribute to a bottle of wine
  • EARTHY: Ash, Mushroom, Shoe Box, Wet Cardboard, Musty, Leather.
  • HERBACEOUS: Weedy, Dill, Mown Hay, Menthol, Grass, Tobacco.
  • WOODY: Planky, Cedar, Sawdust, Pencil Shavings, Sappy, Green, Pine, Tar, Resin.
  • ASTRINGENT: Harsh, Chewy, Bitter, Angular, Tannic, Drying.
  • SPICY: Clove, Cinnamon, Coconut, Vanilla.
Within the 5 distinct barrel flavor categories, there are 7 flavors that can result from the toasting of the barrel.
    • SWEET: Brown sugar, Bourbon, Cotton Candy, Chocolate, Maple Syrup, Butterscotch, Hot fudge, Caramel, Molasses, Honey, Toffee, Soy.
    • CREAMY: Vanilla, Cream soda, Marshmallow, Lactic, Butter.
    • YEASTY: Popcorn, Baked Bread, Bread stick, Cookie dough.
    • NUTTY: Hazelnut, Walnut, Almond, Peanut butter,Coconut.
    • ROASTED: Cedar, Graham cracker, Toasted bread, Coffee, Mocha, Cereal.
    • SMOKY: Barbecue, Grilled Meat, Bacon, Sweet smoke, Burnt sugar.
    • SPICY: Nutmeg, Cinnamon, Clove, Licorice, Anise.
A little cheat sheet:
  • French oak tends to have a nutty flavor as well as vanilla
  • American oak tends to be woody
  • Hungarian oak has hints of Carmel
Now when you are drinking that bottle of wine aged for 4 years in French oak, see if you can identify all the categories and flavors. See if you can guess correctly what type of oak it was aged in.