Q. What does “aged in French oak” mean? Does French oak mean better wine?
A. The two main varieties of oak used for maturing wine are French and American. Each has different characteristics, and neither is necessarily better. Flavor-wise, American oak tends to impart a distinct vanilla taste, while French oak is described as more subtle and complex. If you’re looking for examples, traditional Spanish Riojas—such as Faustino, Marqués de Riscal and Tondonia—are typically aged in American oak. French Bordeaux is aged in French oak. American wines may be aged in either type or a combination of both. For these, check the label.
—Charles Smothermon, a food and wine writer in Laurin, Mont.