Friday, March 23, 2018

Naked Vine One-Hitter: UK, Bourbon, Zinfandel, and 1000 Stories

Ashley is unhappy today.

With Kentucky bounced unceremoniously by Kansas State from the NCAA Tournament last night, many UK fans are likely looking for some liquid salve to soothe some disappointment. A bottle happened across my tasting table that might fit the bill.

I recently had the chance to try 1000 Stories 2016 California Bourbon Barrel Aged Zinfandel ($16-20) -- a blend of Zinfandel from Lodi and Paso Robles, with a touch of Petit Sirah juice sourced from Lake County. The winemaker, Bob Blue, states that it was rare to see wine aged in French Oak when he started learning his craft, and most American oak barrels were used for whiskey. Over the years, using these barrels has become more commonplace – and now Blue uses used bourbon barrels as a flavoring method.

Barrel aging is an important stage in the life cycle of many wines, both red and white. When a wine spends time in a barrel, the liquid seeps into the wood, extracting chemical compounds that mix with and change the flavor of the wine within. For white wines like Chardonnay, the “oaky” flavor often comes from contact with wood in barrels. For reds, barrel aging adds a depth of flavor and boosts the tannin level.

In any case, this particular wine starts out in standard American and French Oak barrels before being racked into used white oak Bourbon barrels. After a period of months, the wine is finished in older (some apparently 13 years old) Bourbon barrels. Finding old bourbon barrels sounds like a difficult step, but, according to the legal rules governing distillation in the U.S., Bourbon barrels can only be used once to make whiskey. After that, the barrels have long been sold to distillers making whiskeys and other spirits, winemakers, and others. That doesn’t mean this isn’t an important step. Even after being used once, the barrel can still impart some distinct flavors to whatever’s stored inside it.

In this case, the toasted vanilla and crème brulee flavors that are common in bourbon do find their way into this glass of Zinfandel. Those toasty flavors are needed to balance the alcohol. At 15.7% ABV, this is a wine that needs a little taming. I’d suggest, at the very least, you either decant thoroughly or let it have at least half-an-hour’s worth of air after you crack it.

The nose of this wine has a bit of that smokiness in the background, on top of dark fruit and some fairly interesting notes of spice like nutmeg. On the palate, this is a big, honking glass of vanilla, spice, smoke, and considerable alcohol. Once it opens up, plum and sage flavors pop their heads out of the mix and the alcohol recedes a bit. The finish is long, dry, and smoky – the various oak instillings lending pepper and a tooth-staining level of tannin. Honestly, though – I don’t see how much of a difference, other than a sharper oak flavor, that the bourbon barrels actually make with this wine over standard barrel aging. It’s an interesting marketing idea, especially if you’re interested in conversation with whiskey aficionados or unhappy Kentucky fans.

If you like your Zinfandel smoky with big fruits, this would probably be a good choice for you. I’d recommend it next to a plate of meat, preferably grilled. Ribs or rich stews would be solid pairings here, as would really dark chocolate.

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