Fashioned from oak trees that grow in northeast China's Chang Bai Mountains, the 59-gallon barrels are air-dried for 18 months and coopered at the Chinese Forest Bureau's woodworking factory.
Many American winemakers use American oak barrels, which cost about $350 each, as an alternative to more expensive French ones. The difference between the two extends to flavor as well: American oak is considered to be less subtle than French oak, although this is changing as barrel technology improves.
The flavor contrasts apparent in American and French oak barrels stem from the fact that the wood comes from different species of trees. Jingsheng president Wei-Jing Du declined to identify the species of oak used to make the Chinese barrels.
Nevertheless, some California wineries, including Callaway and Mount Palomar, both in Temecula, have decided to experiment with the Chinese product. A sample of Mount Palomar Cabernet Sauvignon aged for 12 months in Chinese oak was light-textured and cherry-like, offering pleasingly subtle oak notes.
Rosenblum Cellars, a San Francisco Bay area winery known for its distinctive Zinfandels, purchased two Chinese barrels at a wine industry trade show in mid-January. "Traditionally, we use a lot of new American oak barrels and used French oak barrels," said Rosenblum enologist Jeff Cohn. "We just wanted to try the Chinese oak out. It's another spice on the spice rack."
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