Sunday, November 24, 2019

1000 (More) Stories – More adventures in Bourbon Barrelling

Last year, I wrote about 1000 Stories Wines – California reds which derive a particular character from being aged in used bourbon barrels.

If you’re interested in more of the backstory about these wines, I welcome you to bounce over here for a refresher about these fairly interesting bottles.

Short version: Many wines are aged in barrels of one type or another. You’ll see wines aged in French, American, or Hungarian oak most commonly. The interior of these casks are usually “toasted” to some degree. The more toasting, the stronger the oaky flavor. Bourbon barrels, taller and thinner than most wine casks, as well as more heavily toasted, could potentially add a boatload of flavor. Even after being used, a barrel can still impart distinct flavors to whatever’s stored inside it.

Finding old bourbon barrels sounds like a difficult step, but, according to the legal rules governing distillation in the U.S., Bourbon can only be aged in a new cask. After that, the barrels have long been sold to distillers making whiskeys and other spirits – and sometimes beer makers. The recent “Bourbon Boom” has, naturally, added a great number of additional barrels to the market, and some winemakers have jumped at the opportunity to ride that particular wave of popularity.

1000 Stories produced the first California Zinfandel aged in bourbon barrels, which I tried when I wrote the initial article, alongside their proprietary “Gold Rush Red” blend. Fast forward a year and a month, and the Wine Fairy delivered another pair of 1000 Stories wines to my doorstep. No Zinfandel this year, but I got to try this year’s model: 1000 Stories 2017 Gold Rush Red, as well as the 1000 Stories 2017 “Prospectors’ Proof” Cabernet Sauvignon.

(Bonus points to their marketing department for proper use of the trailing apostrophe!)

One change I can report between last year’s vintage and this – Bob Blue, the winemaker at 1000 Stories, has dialed back the alcohol content somewhat. The Gold Rush Red now clocks in at lower than last year’s 15% alcohol, while the Cabernet sits at 14.5%. Don’t think this means that these wines are trending towards delicate. Nosiree. This pair of reds pack a considerable punch. Both should be opened for at least 30-45 minutes before you get down to drinking.

The Gold Rush, although slightly toned down, resonates with my comment from last year: “It’s a big ol’ bomb of intense dark fruits, especially plums and dark cherries.” My notes from now give it some plums and vanilla on the nose, with a body of ripe dark fruit, loads of tannin and graphite. The finish is very smoky and tannic. Will need an accompaniment of strong cheeses or grilled meats to really reach its best.

The Prospectors’ Proof gives me leather, vanilla, and a bit of an herbal note on the nose. The body was somewhat lighter than I expected after last year’s Zin. Some more restraint to be found here. Body’s got that classic cherry and currant flavor of Cabernet, along with a fair amount of smoke. The finish is charcoalish, with a note of green pepper that I wouldn’t have expected outside of Bordeaux. The wine’s a bit shy – the flavors fade in and out as it gets air over time until it finds its footing. Once it does, it’d be nice next to steak, mushrooms, or other grilled goodnesses.

1000 Stories has also added a bourbon barrel-aged Chardonnay and Carignan to their portfolio. I'll be curious to see how those would end up. 

These wines retail for $17-20. If you’re interested in a bourbon-tinged vanilla and smoke flavor with your wine this winter, it’d be worth giving these a go.

Monday, November 11, 2019

New Discoveries -- Lugana DOC and Turbiana

One of my favorite aspects of Italian wine is that there’s always a new region or varietal to explore. I was recently turned on to wines from the Lugana DOC – and its autochthonal grape, Turbiana.

(In case you’re wondering, “autochthonal” is WineSpeak for “grape native to the region” – and I’ve written about these wonderful discoveries previously.)  

Lugana is a small growing region that lies just south of Italy’s largest lake, Lago di Garda, and is one of Italy’s more popular areas for in-country vacation travel. My colleague Michelle at Colangelo, who sent these samples along to me, vouched for the beauty of the region and the lake itself. She called the wines “unique” – and based on my first experience with them, I’m certainly inclined to agree.

About 95% of all wines made in Lugana are dry whites. As I mentioned, the primary grape grown in the region is Turbiana – and all whites from that region are required to be at least 90% Turbiana in the blend, although most are 100%. Turbiana was known as “Trebbiano di Lugana” for awhile, but genetic studies indicated that it’s not related to that other white grape.

Turbiana is a late-ripening, high acid grape which responds well to oak aging, meaning it can be produced either in a clean “drink young” style or one that could be more age-worthy. On trying this pair of whites, I found it quite interesting how two wines from the same region, same grape could provide such a stark contrast in flavor profile.

The first one we cracked was the younger one – the Armea Vitium 2018 Lugana DOC. ($16) This wine was fairly fruit forward in style. The nose was nicely fragrant, with nicely fragrant warm apple and vanilla aromas. Pears and apples overlaid a backbone of mineral, with a touch of a fruity sweetness. The finish is a bit creamy, with more of that apple flavor lingering for a good long while. Overall, it’s fairly dry and pretty nice to drink on its own.

The other – the Podere Selva Capuzza Menasasso 2015 Lugana Riserva ($20) -- was quite a contrast once you get past the nose. Up front, this wine displayed a similar warm apple and spice flavor, although more on the baking spice end of the scale. The body, though, held a world of difference. There’s far less fruit here initially. Although there was still the apple and pear, it quickly gave way to a wall of flint and a bit of an astringency that reminded me initially of a Muscadet. The finish is sharp and flinty, with a lemony linger. I thought that this wine improved a *lot* once it got some air. I thought the flavors smoothed out quite a bit the next day, so give this one plenty of time to open up. On their own, I still preferred the younger wine.

On the information sheet, one of the recommended pairing was herbed malfatti – which was a dish I’d never heard of. Turns out that they’re small ricotta and spinach balls, mixed with herbs and boiled briefly, served over a plate of sauce. “Malfatti” translates as “badly formed,” which accurately described my first attempt at making these little guys. Pushing through, though – they were quite tasty. The Riserva, I thought, was the better wine with these – although if I had it to do over, I’d have used a white wine and butter sauce instead of my typically fabulous red sauce.

All in all, I thought these were really fascinating whites. They hit a bit of a sweet spot between Sauvignon blanc and Chardonnay – which makes them a really nice choice as the weather gets cooler but you still have a hankering for a white. Might be a nice possibility for Thanksgiving, truth be told.