Cabernet Sauvignon is considered the king of red wine grapes, with a history that dates back to the 17th century in southwestern France when Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc grapes were accidentally crossed. So, who is the king’s favorite mate when it comes time for his essential 12-plus months of beauty rest? It should be no surprise that this Francophile truly shines when aged in French oak barrels. Here are five reasons why Cabernet Sauvignon loves French oak barrels and how these vessels influence this fine red wine’s taste.
1. Compared to American oak, French oak has more tannin—2.5 times higher, to be exact—which gives a spicier character to Cabernet Sauvignon aged in these wine barrels. Tannin is found in plants, wood and fruit skins. It’s the vital textural element that provides a feeling of dryness and astringency in your mouth.
2. Both wine barrels and grape skins have tannin. The wood tannins in French oak have a strong affinity to the natural tannins in Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, so typically when you taste the wine, your palate perceives French oak-aged Cabernet Sauvignons as less astringent, softer and rounder in the finish.
3. French oak is more porous than American oak, which means 20 percent more wine is lost in the aging of French oak compared to American oak, resulting in more concentration of flavor.
4. French oak imparts less aggressive oak flavors into Cabernet Sauvignon, such as spice notes and a silky texture, and integrates well with the wine’s dark fruit flavors. American oak’s strong notes of dill, coconut, cream soda, and vanilla extract can overpower and mask Cabernet Sauvignon’s aromas and flavors of blackberry, black cherry and black currant.
5. French oak barrel staves are “seasoned” outdoors—they rest for 24 to 36 months, exposed to air and natural elements like rain and moisture, but American oak barrel staves are typically kiln-dried. Kiln-dried barrels contribute more dominant oak flavors into the wine. The resting or natural seasoning of French oak outside reduces the moisture in the wood, ensuring that the barrel imparts less raw oak character and softer tannins in Cabernet Sauvignon wines, making them taste more refined.
The 2015 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon—the iconic winery’s first vintage aged in all French oak—debuted May 1, 2019. Learn more at jordanwinery.com.