The Federalist Bourbon Barrel-Aged Red Blend 2016 is 76% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 4% Carignane sourced from vineyards in the Mendocino County AVA of Northern California. This blend is aged in American oak casks for 6 months (35% new oak) and then transferred to Bourbon barrels (they do not specify the whiskey brand) for another 6 months. American oak has a more open grain than French oak and can impart more oak seasoning to wine, wine purists say it adds too much oak flavor. They say French oak is more subtle and nuanced and easier to control and is almost always used with wines that are meant to be aged. For drink-it-now wines, American oak, especially wines that are aged in oak for a shorter period of time, can add more flavor in less time.
Which leads us to wine barrels versus bourbon barrels. When wine oak barrels are produced the cooperage flames the inside to toast the interior of the barrel. Different levels of toast impart different flavors according to the winemaker’s specification. Bourbon barrels are charred, whiskey has stronger flavors and higher alcohol content and more aggressive flavors are needed to add complementary notes. So lightly toasted American oak is too much for “fine wine drinkers“, charred whiskey barrels is about 10 steps too far. Since the barrel previously contained Bourbon, those whiskey flavors have seeped into the oak and they too will be imparted into the wine. The flavor profile for Bourbon Barrel-Aged should have flavors added that are not typically present in regular bottlings. If the winemaker has a delicate hand in putting these elements together this should be an interesting experience. The alcohol is 14.5%.
The Tasting Notes
The color is dark, but see-thru garnet reb with black highlights. The nose is more subdued than I expected, toasty vanilla, baking spices, red berries, a touch of smoke, bacon fat, blackberry, there is a lot going on, but the aromas are laid-back. The Bourbon flavors are well integrated with the Red wine flavors, this is a big, bold Red, but not over the top. It tastes of blackberry, mocha coffee, pepper, spice, coconut cream, vanilla, and orange zest. The mid-palate offers tart cranberry, tea, milk chocolate, and exotic, slightly rough spice. There are many flavors to find in this Red blend. Considering all the American oak and the Bourbon influence this still tastes like a Merlot/ Cabernet Sauvignon blend. The finish is large and long.
- Bourbon Barrel-Aged red wine is an acquired taste, not everyone will enjoy the added flavor. I enjoy it, it is a nice change of pace, a fun experiment. I don’t think I would place it in the regular rotation, but it does have a place on my wine schedule.
- There seem to be several Bourbon Barrel wine brands on the market at the moment. My advice is don’t go too inexpensive, there are several offerings around or under $10. These wine usually don’t have a budget for regular oak wine barrels and get their oak influence by alternative means, which probably indicates they get their bourbon barrel influence by other means (staves, oak chips, flavored oak powder). Stick with wine in a price range that uses decent oak barrels, around $15 is a good start.