The History of Using Bourbon Barrels For Wine
In the early 1980’s, American oak barrels where expensive for many start up wineries. By law bourbon barrels have to be 100% American oak and can only be used one time to distill bourbon in the United States. So after their use, many barrels became available for “other distilled spirits” and wineries to purchase at a fraction of the price of new French or new American oak barrels. So why doesn’t everyone purchase used bourbon barrels? Key is that whiskey barrels are produced differently than wine barrels. Whiskey barrels are charred on the inside verses wine barrels which are toasted. By only toasting wine barrels, the wine while aging develops many nuances of flavor. Bourbon barrel aged wines tend to be bold with ripe reds, vanilla, smoky and with muted tannins.
The use of bourbon barrel aging has taken off more recently with wineries using these barrels. Some view it as a trend to attract Millennials who buy whiskies. Others view it as a cross over from spirits to wine and yet the resulting wine is unique, smooth and provides an enjoyable sipping experience. The spirits barrel aged category of wine earned $91 million in 2018 compared to $800,000 in 2015. This market is exploding due to the flavor profile not just with Millennials but with wine aficionados looking to enhance their experience.
Wood Family Vineyards 2018 Against the Grain
Last evening reached for a 2018 release of “Against The Grain” that uses the following blends: 28% Merlot, 28% Syrah, 14% Mourvèdre, 9% Petite Sirah, 7% Malbec, 7% Petit Verdot and 7% Cabernet Franc. Each year it is a different blend. All the components of the blend are aged in traditional wine barrels (30% new and mostly French oak) before blending and transferring to the bourbon barrels. The first year production was 2016 with 43 cases produced, 2017 it increased to 88 cases and the 2018 vintage, 138 cases were produced. This year Rhonda Wood purchased 6 “new/ 1 time used” bourbon barrels to infuse her wine! This vintage was aged nine weeks in bourbon barrels.
The wine on the eyes was a cavernous purple coloration with medium heavy viscosity. On the nose, the flavors of Syrah like blueberry, mocha and roasted coffee came to mind. The first sip on the palate detonating the senses with a smooth bourbon along with some jammy, cinnamon, smoke and dark berry characteristics of the actual wine blend. The finish was equally pronounced with smoothness, smoke and a hint of bourbon on the back of the throat. The tannins were unnoticeable but layers of flavor and structure were present due to the wines used and the bourbon barrels. This year’s wine comes in at 15.8% alcohol.
I had purchased the previous releases and always pleased to have a few bottles in the cellar. It is really a wine to be consumed. Rhonda states on the back of the bottle “let this bold wine, with unique bourbon influences of vanilla, caramel and smoke, remind us to step outside of the box, go against the grain and have a little fun in this life of ours”. Truer words could not sum up this wine experience better!