Red wine and Bourbon? Not the usual pairing, but recently we’ve seen Jefferson Bourbon aged in Groth Napa Cabernet Sauvignon barrels, so why not return the compliment? For years Scotch has been aged in used Sherry, Porto or Sauterne barrels, (as well as rum and bourbon barrels), so it’s not a big jump to age bourbon in red wine barrels, but to reverse that and age red wine in bourbon barrels? That is a new idea and 1000 Stories Zinfandel is telling that story with a bison and a “small batch” certification on the label.
First, I must disclose that I am a Zinfandel lover, once closeted but closeted no more. Perhaps it was all that Sutter Home White Zinfandel I consumed in college, but I love a red Zinfandel. I love the overripe jamminess and that tension between sweet and spicy. I love that Zinfandel has become America’s grape (even if it originated in Croatia). But can I love it after aging in bourbon barrels? Do I want my Zin to taste like Jim Beam or Maker’s Mark? That was my fear, that the bourbon flavors would overwhelm the Zinfandel, but then it’s Zin, not a lighter red like Pinot Noir or Gamay Beaujolais. They selected a big, high-octane, fruit bomb of a wine, and it’s just the bourbon barrels, not the bourbon itself, added to this wine. This is not bourbon-flavored Arbor Mist, this is Zinfandel aged in half-used bourbon barrels and half-new bourbon barrels, as they state on the back label.
At first I thought, doesn’t that just make half regular barrels, since they are unused, unkissed by the touch of that Kentucky elixir, but a colleague reminded me that bourbon barrels get a more intense level of charring than typical wine barrels, leaving that telltale cracking like alligator skin with plenty of charcoal. Therefore smoke will be a major component to this wine, and yes, at first whiff I smell charcoal and smoke, but quickly these smells merge with the ripe fruit components we expect in Zinfandel. Charred black cherries leap out of the glass next with ample black fruits on the palate, almost like blackberry pie with a burnt crust. Spicy notes come out with tart mid tones on the back of the tongue, like currants in a cedar box. Otherwise I don’t get strong bourbon flavors at all. This Zinfandel is beautifully balanced between the tension of ripe fruit and smoky spice, making this an incredibly complex Zin, highlighting the extra toasting of the barrels with just a touch of the “Angel’s Share” left in the used barrels.
Without a doubt this is the perfect wine to pair with smoky and spicy barbecue! The smokiness is already in the wine thanks to the barrel aging, and Zinfandel inherently has that jammy and spicy potential as a grape. Together these flavors frame the typical range of potentials found in most barbecues: sweet, spicy and smoky. Pretty much anything grilled or smoked would match this complex and surprising wine, from sirloin steaks to buffalo tempeh, from smoked pork tenderloin to grilled venison. Winemaker Bob Blue has crafted an innovative wine with his 1000 Stories Zinfandel, speaking of both California and Kentucky, telling its own truly American story. You should open a bottle today and create your own story. Cheers!
Daniel Eddy, ABC Fine Wine & Spirits Wine & Spirits Supervisor
Follow me on Twitter @abcwineDanE