To explain how oak barrels became so popular for storing wine and also continental beer, one has to look back several millennia to the early days of the Roman Empire.
The Romans had been using clay amphora to store their wine as their empire swept through Europe, this did however have limitations as it was very heavy and cumbersome to transport. It did keep wine fresh though as it was pretty much airtight and had therefore been the favoured choice.
That was until they reached France, where the Gauls had been using oak to store their beer for centuries due to the fact that it was readily available, malleable and the wood only needed minimal toasting in order to be ready to store ample amounts of wine.
It wasn’t long before the Romans adopted this method of storing all the wine they needed for their thirsty army. Wine was actually safer to drink that water at this time as it provided sometimes malnourished soldiers with valuable calories and of course, that intoxicating buzz that only alcohol supplies.
Little did the Romans or the Gauls know, that the oak aged barrels would provide so much more to the wine than simple storage, but more on that later.