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  • Writer's pictureThe Unassuming Wine Bros

“Roll Out the Barrel”...for Bourbon Barrel Aged California Red Wines

The Unassuming Wine Bros

Although we are relatively easygoing in our wine approach at our core, some trends make us raise our eyebrows and wonder, "Why?" Lately, we have observed a growing trend of winemakers utilizing different aging techniques to create new wine flavor profiles. One of these movements - bourbon barrel aging - reminds us of the lyrics of Elton John's 1972 hit, Honky Cat, "It's like trying to drink whiskey, from a bottle of wine." Such aging techniques have us wondering whether winemakers have created something special.

We are The Unassuming Wine Bros (UWB) – Patrick and Vigo - two regular guys who love everything about wine, including writing about it. Our goal is to explore the nuances of wine, share our adventures with you, and have a little fun along the way. To fully evaluate this new trend, we take on affordable California bourbon barrel-aged red wines this month.

2019 Paso Ranches Bourbon Barrel Aged Zinfandel (Bourbon Barrel Aged 3 Months); Paso Robles, California; $22 US; ABV 16.8%:

Vigo: If you have been reading our articles for a while, you know I don't enjoy Zinfandels. They are too sweet and jammy for my taste. My opinion has somewhat changed with the 2019 Paso Ranches Bourbon

Barrel Aged Zinfandel. It has an eye-catching violet color, and its aroma is blueberries, red cherries, spices, and smoke. Unlike most Zinfandels, the Paso Ranches Zinfandel is full-bodied and has an abundance of acidity and tannins on the palate. This wine is blueberry forward, with red cherries, baking spice, caramel, and smokiness. It finishes with a bite, most likely from its high ABV and acidity. If you're looking for a Zinfandel that is more biting than jammy, the 2019 Paso Ranches Bourbon Barrel Aged Zinfandel might be something to try. This wine will pair nicely with barbeque meats or a rich piece of roasted pork.

Vigo Rating: 3 Bros.

Patrick: The 2019 Paso Ranches Bourbon Barrel Aged Zinfandel is medium-bodied and surprisingly ripe, red, juicy, and fruity, with red cherry the primary fruit feature. It showed some richness and spice but without the typical jamminess that is the hallmark of many Zinfandels. However, the predominant feature of this wine was not its fruit or secondary flavor as characteristics, but instead its surprisingly nice balance with acidity that carried the wine from its fruit through the finish, which made for a pleasant, velvety, and easy-drinking selection.

Patrick Rating: 3.5 Bros.

2017 The Federalist Bourbon Barrel Aged Red Blend (Bourbon Barrel Aged 6 Months); Mendocino County (Anderson Valley), California; $22 US, ABV 15 %:

Vigo: Okay, The Federalist brand isn't a small producer, and you can find it almost everywhere, but dang it, they do a great job making sturdy wines. 2017 The Federalist Bourbon Barrel Aged Red Blend has a beautiful purple/violet color with the aroma of raspberries, black cherries, spices, and campfire smoke.

When you draw the 2017 The Federalist Bourbon Barrel Aged Red Blend into your palate, you first notice the acidity, which is somewhat biting, but it smooths out with the flavors of raspberries, black cherries, smoke, and leather. This wine is full-bodied with some jammy hints that open beautifully. Pair it with rich barbeques meats or hearty Italian dishes.

Vigo's Rating: 3.5 Bros.

Patrick: The 2017 The Federalist Bourbon Barrel Aged Red Blend (76% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Sauvignon; 4% Carignane) is medium to full-bodied, smooth, and flavorful yet complex tasting at the same time. The fruit consisted of raspberry with red cherry, and the wine had a rich, oaky, baking spice, and smokey texture. The finish was distinctly vanilla which gave this wine a pronounced creaminess and slightly sweet warmth at the end. Think cherry cream pie with a slightly toasted crust that you enjoy more and more with each bite (sip). I tend to prefer smaller batch productions, but this more mass-produced bottle was pretty good.

Patrick's Rating: 3.5 Bros.

2019 Agitator Bourbon Barrel Red Blend (Bourbon Barrel Aged, 3 Months); Parlier, California; $20 US; ABV 15.9%:

Vigo: WOW, this wine packs a punch on your nose and your palate. The 2019 Agitator Red Blend is purple and violet with the aroma of rich black cherries, blackberries, baking spice, and smoke. As the saying goes,

"where there is smoke, there is fire." With an ABV of 15.9%, the Agitator Red Blend has a lot of fire-power with every sip. As you draw in the Agitator, it feels smooth and full-bodied with low acidity and medium tannins. Its flavor is black cherry forward with blackberries, baking spice, and leather. When this aggressive

wine opens, the high alcohol punchiness notes are more prevalent. This big flavored wine pairs nicely with baked ham, meatloaf, or lasagna. The Agitator isn't the type of wine to be poured to the rim of the wine glass.

Vigo Rating: 3 Bros.

Patrick: The 2019 Agitator Bourbon Barrel Red Blend is full-bodied, big, and dense. Its pronounced smoky, caramel, molasses, and baking spice notes give it a distinct, decadent, and almost fortified, dessert-like sweetness that prevented any fruit characteristics from having a meaningful presence. This wine did not match my palate - it instead fittingly almost agitated it. If you are looking for big and sweet - try this bottle. It was much closer density and flavor to an aged bourbon than a smooth, slightly smoky red blend. If you like bourbon and a cigar, this bottle will be your jam.

Patrick Rating: 3 Bros.

Vigo's Overall Impression: I'm still on the fence about bourbon barrel-aged wines. It's a flavor profile that those that like their reds on the lighter side will not enjoy. The high ABV, the rich flavor, and of course, the hint of smoke are not for everyone. The aged bourbon barrel wines are for you if you like bold, acidic, elevated alcohol, and smokiness. Of all the selections, I would select the Federalist Red Blend to start your bourbon barrel wine adventure.

Patrick's Overall Impression: These wines opened up nicely after letting them breathe for about 1 hour, and I recommend doing the same when you try them. My favorite selection this month was the 2017 The Federalist Bourbon Barrel Aged Red Blend, as its vanilla finish rounded out a deliciously complex yet smooth bottle. I also enjoyed the acidity of the 2019 Paso Ranches Bourbon Barrel Aged Zinfandel. It drank much brighter than your typical Zinfandel, but its balance made it relatively easy drinking and enjoyable. The 2019 Agitator Bourbon Barrel Aged Red Blend was a bit too full-bodied and sweet for my pallet. In fairness, I did not pair it with anything, and it is probably better with meats smothered in smoky BBQ sauces or a cigar. If you try either of these particular combos or the other bottles, we would love to hear from you regarding how you liked them.

All three of these wines were very different, suggesting bourbon barrel-aged wines are not "one-size fits all." Overall, I think the genius of them is more bottle-specific than an across-the-board slam dunk. Give this months' selections a try and let us know what you think.

Fans and Readers:

Like our Facebook page "The Unassuming Wine Bros," follow us on Instagram @theinassumingwinebros, or email us at Let us know what you think about this article, these bottles, or suggestions for upcoming articles.

Rating System:

Vigo – / Patrick – UWB symbol. Ratings are given on a 1-5 scale, with five being the highest.

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