As we noted in this blog , barrels can play a key role in what a wine ultimately tastes like.
A vast majority of barrels used for aging wine — something along the lines of 99.99999999999 percent — are made from oak.
The same is true of barrels used for aging bourbon. In fact, whereas American winemakers may opt for stainless steel tanks as alternative aging vessels, American bourbon makers, by federal standards, MUST age bourbon in charred oak containers.
What you may not know is that a handful of American winemakers are using bourbon barrels for aging some of their wines. Robert Mondavi, for instance, has a “Private Selection” Cabernet Sauvignon that states, “Aged in Bourbon Barrels” right on the front label.
As the winery notes on its website, “It’s about 2,500 miles from Kentucky bourbon country to our coastal California vineyards. But one sip will tell you it’s one long-distance relationship that was always meant to be.”
When the Vinesse tasting panel was sampling wines to feature in a special collection of “steak-friendly” selections, it came upon a Red Blend from Wheatridge Cellars that also was aged in previously filled bourbon barrels.
As the Wheatridge winemaker explains it, those barrels “impart the warm caramel and coffee flavors of fine bourbon. Final blending helps to integrate [the winegrape flavors], creating a complex, multi-layered wine.”
That’s why the wine is so complex. In addition to the fruit notes of red cherry, blackberry and raspberry identified by the winemaker and our tasting panel, you’ll also encounter aromas and/or flavors of molasses, charred vanilla, brown sugar and caramel imparted by the barrels.
American beer makers have been experimenting with alternative aging protocols for years. It’s one of the key components of the craft beer revolution. Now, the concept is beginning to spread in the world of wine, with bourbon barrel aging representing a growing category of experimentation, if not yet a full-blown trend.
The Vinesse tasting panel loves how the Wheatridge bourbon barrel-aged Red Blend turned out. Depending on the availability of bourbon barrels, I think it has a chance to become the wine world’s “next big thing.”