What is one of the most important factors in some wines about which the average consumer never thinks? The barrel. While I feel like talk about barrels comes up among wine enthusiasts, and is often also mentioned casually around an oaky Chardonnay, if I asked my best friend if she had thoughts on barrel-aged wine or the types of barrels winemakers use, she would look at me like I was crazy. Well, she might not because she knows I’m into wine, but she would certainly be confused.
So what do barrels bring to wine? For one, they impart different flavors onto a wine. Most notable are the vanilla and coconut notes that often come through in Chardonnay like I mentioned above. Also, aging a wine in the right barrel can smooth it out and give it softer characteristics. Some wineries even throw bad wine into barrels for too long and mess with additives until you can hardly tell what grape was used. However, in the hands of passionate winemakers who don’t make willy-nilly decisions, barrels can enhance a wine and bring it to a level it could not have reached otherwise. There are dozens of decisions to make when it comes to barrels, such as American v. French, new v. old, and now winemakers are even opting for bourbon barrel-aged barrels. For 1000 Stories, one of the brands under Fetzer Wines that we explored with #WineStudio not too long ago, purchasing bourbon aged barrels wasn’t some reckless recent decision to hop alongside the fad of barrel aged gins that are hitting the shelves with increasing frequency. They were using neutralized bourbon barrels 30 years ago and have brought it back in a more formal and determined manner now without stripping the barrels of what make them unique. In turn, they have created a varied profile of wines that have a strong set of characteristics that set them apart of the average wine you may pick up with an animal on the label.
I opened the 2015 1000 Stories Batch 38 Bourbon Barrel-Aged Zinfandel first because I hardly ever buy a nice Zinfandel to keep at home and wanted to mix things up a bit. This wine had incredible depth and richness with black fruits, toffee, brown sugar, and a bit of char. The long linger after each sip was where that edge of smoke really came through. There was also a touch of sweet vanilla here, which the winemaker attributed to the barrel used. The element played well against the darkness of the wine and softened it up a bit. The SRP of $19 makes this an affordable option that is ideal for cook outs, cold nights in, and any time you’re craving a no-frills wine. I ate it with a pork burrito bowl covered in as much salsa as I could handle, and the juicy elements of this one balanced it out well. If you want something bold that develops even more layers as it opens up, give this one a go. The 2015 1000 Stories Half Batch Bourbon Barrel-Aged Petit Sirah was a lighter ruby color than the Zinfandel, yet had just as much kick to it. This one abounded with ripe dark fruit like plum and fig, as well as smoke and maple. There was great balance between the deep fruit notes and the heavier notes of smoke and char. It was memorable yet elegant. If you don’t want to pick up both bottles (although why wouldn’t you?), I would recommend buying the Zinfandel if you want something a touch juicier and going for the Petit Sirah if you’re craving something rougher. Personally, I preferred all the layers of the Zinfandel, but you can’t go wrong with either option. Neither your palate nor your wallet will be hurt by these two.
Even if you are hesitant to try bourbon barrel-aged wine, next time you’re in the wine aisle, take a look and see if any of the bottles highlight the barrels used. Try and pick out something different and explore the ways in which a barrel can have a huge impact on a number of grapes. Barrels aren’t just around to create round, vanilla, oaky Chardonnay; they are an incredibly important decision a winemaker can make in regards to the flavor profile they want to produce. Look out for 1000 Stories, which is constantly experimenting with flavors, barrels, grapes, and any other element that might make their memorable wines all the more remarkable. I appreciate any winery willing to take chances, and 1000 Stories is one that I came to admire during our #WineStudio session. If you haven’t joined me yet for this Twitter wine education session, I hope you do now.
These wines were kindly provided to me by the wineries/importers listed above, but all opinions are my own.