American oak is used for aging spirits of all kinds and is known for its sweetness of vanilla and toffee, while it is also porous enough to allow for sufficient levels of oxidation. There is also the practical issue of supply: American oak barrels tend to be more abundant than most barrel types, and therefore are easy to acquire once bourbon producers are done with them. But should it be used in wine?
Last night, the Twitter wine community got into a discussion about purity of wine. Should bourbon-aged barrels, tequila barrels and even cannabis-infused wine should have a place at your dinner table? The twitter vote was a resounding no. Despite telling the public relations firms these were not samples I wanted to try, they still showed up. So, this morning I opened one just in case I had a change of heart. I didn’t. Still all the reasons why — over oaked, too much wood influence, and then a combination of flavors that don’t taste good to me in their harshness. To me, the wine seems manipulated, in a very bad way.
In a wine world where minimal intervention is hailed as the gold standard, I wonder how this approach is resonating so much? According to Nielsen data, in the past year, US wine consumers have purchased 1.6 million cases – close to 20 million bottles – of spirit-aged wines. Around 60 brands now participate in the most important sub-category, bourbon barrel-aged wines. It has created its own industry carve out.
Let’s talk about how the movement began. The US law has a rule that bourbon can only be aged in new oak. These same aged barrels are now being used for food and spirits other than whisky. Still, American oak is very different from other types of barrels traditionally used to age resulting in notes wine, spice and caramel.
It is not my goal here to individually call out wines that I know who have a taste profile I don’t like. And I can tell you the cannabis-infused wine and the lingering taste of that still makes me shudder six years later.
Clearly there is a section of the population that likes this and I’m going to tell them to keep enjoying. But for me, I know I’m a girl who likes the basics. There’s a great process to make bourbon and a great process to make wine. There is a reason those two should not be woven together.