Combining The Worlds of Wine and Whiskey

There's a long history of finishing spirits in wine barrels. Now wineries are experimenting themselves—by aging wine in whiskey barrels. Here's what to try.
Photo by Miquel Llonch / Stocksy

It’s long been a tradition for distillers to “finish” spirits in casks that held wine. Now, a handful of wineries are aging wine in former whiskey barrels.

Will these bottlings please both wine and whiskey lovers alike? A pair of fellow Wine Enthusiast connoisseurs, Senior Tasting Coordinator Fiona Adams and Senior Digital Editor Jameson Fink, joined me in sampling several examples to find answers.

The Whiskey-Finished Wine

1000 Stories 2015 Bourbon Barrel Aged Zinfandel (California); $19. This Zin, sourced from Mendocino and Sonoma, is aged for an unspecified length of time in new and used Bourbon barrels. Very little whiskey influence is discernible. Adams and Fink agreed that the juicy, fruity Zin might “swallow up” the barrel influence.

Cooper & Thief 2014 Bourbon Barrel Aged Red Wine Blend (California); $25. This blend of Merlot, Syrah, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon and other varieties spent three months in former Bourbon barrels. At 17-percent alcohol-by-volume, the result is a viscous, Port-like pour, with an earthy and concentrated stewed-cherry note. Unfortunately, the barrel offers more influence than the Bourbon. “Earthy and woody,” says Adams. “I feel like a took a bite out of a twig.”

Seven Bottles that are Changing American Whiskey

Top Pick

Robert Mondavi Private Selection 2015 Aged in Bourbon Barrels Cabernet Sauvignon (Monterey County); $15. Aged “at least three months” in former Bourbon barrels, this nicely balances fruit with subtle brown-sugar or dulce de leche-like sweetness in the finish. “This might be the happy medium,” says Fink.

The Wine-Finished Whiskey

Glenmorangie Milsean Private Edition Single Malt Scotch Whisky; $99. This limited-edition, single-malt Scotch spent “several years” in casks that once contained Portuguese red wine. Those casks were heavily toasted before the whisky went in, which has likely negated any wine influence. We enjoyed the whisky, although there’s only the barest whisper of red-fruit wine influence.

Rabbit Hole Straight Bourbon Whiskey Finished in PX Sherry Casks Fingerprint Edition; $80. A Kentucky newcomer finished in former PX Sherry casks, the dominant note suggests sticky toffee. Ice helps mellow the considerable alcohol heat, and brings out notes of orange peel and a maple syrup-like finish.

Top Pick

Moon Harbour Pier 1 Blended Whisky; $59. Made in France and finished in Sauternes casks, this has loads of golden honey, dried apricot and marmalade notes, finishing on an elegant chamomile accent. Adams suggests pairing it with blue cheese and candied walnuts. “Slam-dunk awesomeness,” says Fink.

Published on September 14, 2017
Topics: Wine and Spirits
About the Author
Kara Newman 
Spirits Editor

Kara Newman reviews spirits and writes about spirits and cocktail trends for Wine Enthusiast. She's the author of Shake.Stir.Sip.: 40 Effortless Cocktails Made In Equal Parts (Chronicle Books, 2016) as well as ROAD SODA: Recipes and techniques for making great cocktails, anywhere (Dovetail Press, 2017). Email: spirits@wineenthusiast.net



SUBSCRIBE TO
NEWSLETTERS
The latest wine reviews, trends and recipes plus special offers on wine storage and accessories
Please enter a valid email address
privacy policy