Category Archives: Wine reviews

60 Second Wine Review — 2011 Ormes de Pez

A few quick thoughts on the 2011 Château Ormes de Pez from St. Estephe.

The Geekery

Since 1940, Château Ormes de Pez has been under the ownership of the Cazes family, owners of the famous 5th Growth Pauillac estate of Lynch Bages, with the same viticulture and winemaking team used at both estates. Additionally the Cazes family also own the Graves estate Villa Bel Air and Domaine des Senechaux in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Stephen Brook notes in The Complete Bordeaux that Ormes de Pez has 3 distinct soil types with a third of the vineyards planted on a mix of clay and gravel, another third planted on gravel and sand and another parcel, located near Tronquoy Lalande, planted on pure gravel.

The 2011 vintage is a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 41% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot that spent 15 months aging in French oak (45% new). The estate produces around 210,000 bottles a year with no widely distributed second wine.

The Wine

Medium-plus intensity nose. Some dark fruits (currants and blackberry) with earthy leather. With a little air some of the oak spices comes out.

Photo by The U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under Public Domain usage.

There is quite a bit of spice and complexity in this wine as well as an intriguing black licorice note.


On the palate the dark fruits carry through and have a juicy component with medium-plus acidity. Medium-plus tannins still have a firm grip on this wine but, thankfully, they don’t seem as green as some of the other 2011 Bordeaux wines have been. A little black licorice spice joins the more pronounce oak spice of clove and cinnamon. The finish has good length with the earthy leather from the nose returning.

The Verdict

You can’t sugar coat the problems that the 2011 vintage gave Bordeaux with its crazy spring, rainy July and uneven ripeness seen throughout the region. However as Andrew Jefford noted in Decanter even in rough vintages, high quality producers still have the tools to make good quality wine.

At around $35, this 2011 Ormes de Pez has impeccable pedigree with the Lynch-Bages team and is a solid value for Bordeaux.

60 Second Wine Review — 2012 Montresor Brut

A few quick thoughts on the 2012 Montresor Brut.

The Geekery

While founded in 1892, the origins of Cantina Giacomo Montresor actually stretches back centuries to France. In the 1600s, Claude de Bourdeille was a counselor to Gaston, Duke of Orléans and participated in a failed plot to assassinate Cardinal Richelieu.

In 1640, Bourdeille was granted the title of Comte de Montrésor and established residency in the medieval Loire castle of Château de Montrésor. His descendants stayed in the Loire Valley till the early 18th century when a branch of the family moved to the Veneto region of Italy. It was from this branch that Giacomo came from and now the fourth generation of Montresors are running the Cantina.

Some sources claim a connection between the Montresor family and the Edgar Allen Poe character Montresor in the Cask of Amontillado, a wine connoisseur, but the connection seems to be more coincidental than deliberate. Literary experts often note Poe’s frequent use of irony and symbolism in character names with mon tresor being French for “my treasure” which can symbolize both Montresor’s prized wine collection and his treasured revenge.

Most noted for their Amarones, the Montresor family owns nearly 250 acres of vineyards throughout Valpolicella and around Lake Garda.

The 2012 Montresor Brut is 100% Pinot noir made via the Charmat method with 4 months aging on the lees before the wine is filtered and bottled under pressure.

The Wine

Photo by Zyance. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under  CC-BY-SA-2.5

Sipping this sparkler is like biting into a fresh Golden Delicious.

Mid intensity nose. Apples and white peach. There is a little floral element but it is not very defined.

On the palate it is fresh and smooth, very Prosecco-like. It is more crisp than most Proseccos though. The apple notes carry through with the fresh, crisp acidity reminding me of biting into a Golden Delicious. Moderate length finish that ends very clean.

The Verdict

For around a $10-13 retail bottle, I was quite pleased with this refreshing sparkler.

It kind of hits a middle note between drier, more elegant Cavas and the fresh and smooth mouthfeel of Proseccos.

60 Second Wine Review — 2011 Carbonnieux Blanc

A few quick thoughts on the 2011 Chateau Carbonnieux Blanc from Pessac-Léognan.

The Geekery

Stephen Brook notes in The Complete Bordeaux that Carbonnieux has a long history dating back to the 12th century. Vines were first planted by Benedictine monks in the 18th century with the church tending the vines till the French Revolution. In 1787, this was one of the estates that Thomas Jefferson visited in Bordeaux.

In 1953, Carbonnieux was recognized as Grand Cru Classé in the Graves Classification for both red and white. Located on a large gravel hill in the center-east section of Pessac-Léognan near Haut Bailly and Smith-Haut-Lafitte, the 3 sections of vineyards have diverse terroir. Cabernet Sauvignon & Semillon are planted on the higher gravel while Merlot and Sauvignon blanc are planted in the lower clay-dominant soils.

The 2011 Carbonnieux Blanc is a blend of 65% Sauvignon blanc and 35% Semillon. Including their red, Carbonnieux produces around 400,000 bottles a year with a second wine, Ch. Tour-Léognan also produced in both colors.

The Wine

Medium-plus intensity nose. A mix of grass and hay straw. Some pithy citrus notes and dried apple chips as well.

On the palate, those pithy citrus notes carry through and is joined with a waxy lanolin note. Medium-plus acidity still has some life but doesn’t add freshness to the fruit. Long finish.

The Verdict

Photo by Jan van der Crabben. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-2.0

Hay straw notes dominant in this 6+ year old White Bordeaux.

The more I taste aged white Bordeaux, the more I realize that they aren’t my style. As opposed to aged Chardonnay in White Burgs and aged Red Bordeaux, I don’t find the tertiary notes of older Sauvignon blanc and Semillon–dry straw, raw honey and lanolin–very compelling. I feel like I’m missing too much of the freshness I crave from those varieties.

That said, I can’t deny that this is a wine still with impeccable structure and life. For those who enjoy this style, it probably will continue developing beautifully for another 3-5 years and is a solid bet between $35-45. But for me, I probably would have enjoyed this wine more 2-3 years earlier.

Exploring The Burn with Borne of Fire

Going to need more than 60 Seconds to geek out about this new Washington wine.

In January, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates released their newest wine, Borne of Fire, featuring fruit from the newly proposed AVA The Burn of Columbia Valley. A 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon with 10% Malbec blended in, Borne of Fire is the only wine currently on the market that features fruit exclusively from this new region in Washington State.

The Burn

Located in Klickitat County just west of the Horse Heaven Hills and east of the Columbia Gorge AVA, The Burn encompasses the plateau and benchland bordered by the Columbia River to the south and two creeks (Rock and Chapman) flanking it northwest and northeastern sides. The name comes from the tradition of settlers in the late 1800s and early 1900s of setting the entire plateau on fire in the fall to provide ash and fertilizer that would rejuvenate the grasslands in the spring when the horses needed to be fed.

The first Cabernet Sauvignon vines were planted in 2002 with Chateau Ste Michelle and the Mercer family of the Horse Heaven Hills taking the lead in developing the region. In 2015, plantings were greatly expanded with more Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Syrah, Sangiovese and Chardonnay. Of the nearly 17,000 acres in the proposed AVA, 1261 acres are currently planted with Chateau Ste. Michelle having plans to eventually expand to 2100 acres.

This expansion would surpass the 1671 acres currently planted in Walla Walla and almost reach the 2225 acres planted in Red Mountain.

Map from the Washington State Wine Commission with edits added by the author

Location of The Burn within Washington State


The propose AVA draws some comparison to Red Mountain with its warm temperatures and similar heat accumulation numbers. However, the heat is spaced out over a longer growing season which allows more hang time to ripen stem and seed tannins while still maintaining fresh acidity.

The unique soils of The Burn are a mixture of silt-loam and loess that retains water better than the gravel and sandy loam typical of Red Mountain and many other Eastern Washington AVAs. With an average of 8.7″ of rain, vineyards in The Burn have reduced needs for irrigation and the potential to dry farm in some vintages.

The AVA petition for The Burn was officially accepted October 31st, 2017 with Joan Davenport (of Washington State University and Davenlore Winery), Kevin Corliss (of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates) and John Derrick (of Mercer Canyons) as the petitioners.

Wine Stats

Made by Juan Muñoz-Oca, the head winemaker of Columbia Crest and Intrinsic, at Ste. Michelle Wine Estate’s Paterson facility, Borne of Fire is 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Malbec with the Malbec sourced from the 2015 plantings and being harvested after its second leaf.

With the ripe stem tannins, the Cabernet grapes were mostly fermented whole cluster with the stems. The wine was aged almost a year in large 120 gallon puncheons of Hungarian oak that was lightly toasted as a means of paying homage to The Burn’s history. Around 35,000 cases were produced for the inaugural release with plans for the 2017 release increasing that number to 95,000 cases.

The Wine

Photo by Imtiyaz Ali. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under  CC-BY-SA-3.0

This very young wine has some fresh red cherry notes.

Medium-minus intensity nose. Very tight. Some red cherry and spice. There is an interesting black tea component on the nose that I usually associate with Pinot noir from the Yamhill-Carlton District (like stuff sourced from Shea Vineyards).

On the palate, the tightness and youth still hold court. Medium plus acidity and medium plus tannins lock the fruit and doesn’t allow much to express itself. Working it around a bit in the mouth lets some red currant join the cherry fruit from the nose. The finish is short but that intriguing mix of black tea and “Malbec-like” spice briefly appears.

The Verdict

At around $23-26, you are buying this wine on its potential–both of the wine and the terroir of The Burn. With the typical Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon usually north of $35, this AVA and wine is worth keeping an eye on.

There are definitely some intriguing hints and I can see this wine developing on a steep learning curve over the next year. Right now, it just needs more bottle age.

60 Second Wine Review — Ceja Pinot noir

A few quick thoughts on the 2011 Ceja Vineyards Pinot noir from Carneros.

The Geekery

Ceja was founded in 1999 by first generation Mexican-Americans Amelia Ceja, her husband Pedro, Pedro’s brother Armando (the winemaker) and his wife Martha. The roots of Ceja Vineyards dates back to 1983 when the Cejas purchased 15 acres in Carneros, planting them with vines in 1986 and eventually expanding to 115 acres. For years, the Cejas sold their fruit to local wineries. Even after establishing their winery, Ceja still sells around 85% of their fruit, keeping their choice plots for use in their 10,000 case production.

They practice sustainable viticulture with Ceja Vineyards winning a California Green Business Award in 2017. Also in 2017, Amelia Ceja was honored as the first and only Mexican-American woman to own a winery at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History’s Winemakers Dinner.

Located on the Napa side of the Los Carneros AVA, Jancis Robinson and Linda Murphy in American Wine describe Ceja as one of the “Steady Hands” in Carneros, along with Truchard Vineyards, Schug and Gloria Ferrer, producing consistently reliable wines.

While the topic of high alcohol in California Pinot noir is contentious, Ceja regularly keeps their wines under 14% with this 2011 Pinot clocking in at 13.9%

The Wine

Photo by Iain Thompson. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-2.0

The fresh forest floor notes adds lots of complexity to this Pinot.

High intensity nose. Rose petals, red cherries, spice and fresh forest floor earthiness. Not that dissimilar from a Beaune Pinot noir.

On the palate, the red fruit and spice carries through with the medium-plus acidity adding mouthwatering juiciness. The earthiness is also present but takes a back seat to the still fresh fruit though it re-emerges on the long finish. Medium tannins and medium body add nice balance and structure.

The Verdict

Very beautiful Pinot noir that is quite enjoyable on its own but would truly shine on the table. The combination of balance, mouthwatering acidity and complex flavors gives it flexibility to pair with a variety of dishes.

This Ceja Pinot is well worth the $35-45 retail and definitely shines among its Carneros peers.

60 Second Wine Review — Henry Earl Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon

A few quick thoughts on the 2010 Henry Earl Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon.

The Geekery

Henry Earl is owned by Washington grape growers Dick & Wendy Shaw with the estate named after their two fathers, Henry Shaw and Earl West. Paul Gregutt in Washington Wines and Wineries notes that the Shaws are one of the largest vineyard holders in the Wahluke Slope with 464 acres.

On Red Mountain, they have almost 52 acres with their North Vineyard as well as joint ownership of 313 acre Quintessence Vineyard with Paul Kaltinick and 26 acre Obelisco Vineyard with Kaltnick and the Long Family.

Among the many wineries that the Shaws sell fruit to include: Duckhorn’s Canvasback, Col Solare, DeLille, Fidelitas, Guardian Cellars, Januik and Mark Ryan Winery.

With Jack Jones, the Shaws started J & S Crushing and the Columbia River’s Edge Winery, a custom crush facility for clients like Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. In 2014, they launched Henry Earl and acquired Russell Creek Winery in Walla Walla.

Victor Palencia, one of Wine Enthusiast’s Top 40 under 40 Tastemakers, is the winemaker for Henry Earl. In addition to his work with Henry Earl, Palencia also does the winemaking for Jones of Washington and his own Palencia Winery.

Photo by Gerard Prins. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under  CC-BY-SA-3.0

Oak flavors, a little fruit and acidity pretty much sums up this wine.


The Wine

Medium intensity nose. Dark fruits like blackberry and black plum with noticeable oak spice of clove and cinnamon.

On the palate, the dark fruits come through but are less defined than they were on the nose. The oak really dominants with vanilla joining the spices from the nose. Medium-plus acidity and medium tannins give a rugged structure that needed just a bit more fruit to balance it.

The Verdict

I think this wine is probably a year or 2 past its prime. It’s not drinking badly but it’s not offering as much pleasure as you would expect from something around $40-45.

With the fruit fading, it is mostly the acidity and oak running the show and, for me at least, that not very compelling.

60 Second Wine Review — 2007 Poisot Romanée-Saint-Vivant

A few quick thoughts on the 2007 Domaine Poisot Romanée-Saint-Vivant Grand Cru.

The Geekery

Domaine Poisot began in 1902 when Marie Poisot inherited half of her father, Louis Latour’s, estate with her brother, Louis, taking the other half. For many years, the Poisots parcels were farmed in agreement with Maison Latour but starting in the 1980s, Maurice Poisot, grandson of Marie, began taking back the family plots.

In 2010, Maurice’s son Rémi, a captain in the French Navy, returned home after 28 years at sea to take over the estate. The tiny domaine owns around 5 acres that includes choice parcels in the Grand Crus of Romanée-Saint-Vivant (1.2 acres), Corton-Charlemagne (1.4 acres) and Corton-Bressandes (1.06 acres) as well as holdings in Pernand Vergelesses 1er Cru en Caradeux (0.89 acres).

According to Clive Coates in The Wines of Burgundy, the parcel of Romanée-Saint-Vivant that Poisot owns is in the southwest corner of the Grand Cru, just below Romanée-Conti, in the section known as Clos-des-Quatre-Journaux and was historically farmed by the Benedictine monks of Saint-Vivant de Vergy for over 650 years. They share this section of the Grand Cru with other notable domaines like Arnoux, Domaine de l’Arlot, Sylvain Cathiard and Dujac. The section that l’Arlot farms used to belong to Remi’s uncle, Henri Poisot, who sold it in 1990.

The Wine

Medium intensity nose. Some floral herbal notes–fennel and sage. Red fruits like cherries and currants dominant. Fairly youthful aromas for its age.

Photo by ShakataGaNai. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under  CC-BY-SA-3.0

Lots of red cherries in this Burg.


On the palate, those red fruits carry through and bring some subtle oak baking spice like cinnamon and cloves. The herbal notes also carry through and married with the medium-plus acidity, give a savory juiciness to the wine. Medium tannins and medium body do contribute to the silkiness characterized of Romanée-Saint-Vivant but the finish is very short.

The Verdict

An interesting wine that was fun to try but not quite worth the $245-260 to buy.

It’s clear that the domaine is going in a new direction with Rémi Poisot in charge so it is worth keeping an eye on.

60 Second Wine Review — Lallier Brut Rose

A few quick thoughts on the non-vintage Lallier Brut Rose Grand Cru.

The Geekery

In the 2018-2019 edition of his Champagne Guide, Tyson Stelzer notes that while Champagne Lallier is a relatively young house, founded only in 1996, the roots of the Lallier family in Champagne dates back 5 generations.

In 1906, René Lallier inherited Champagne Deutz with that house staying in the Lallier family until 1996 when Louis Roederer took over. The family soon after started their namesake domaine in the Grand Cru village of Aÿ and hired Francis Tribaut as chef de cave in 2000. When James Lallier decided to retire in 2004, he sold the estate to his winemaker with Tribaut taking Lallier from a production of 50,000 bottle to around 400,000 bottles today.

The rose is 100% Grand Cru made of 80% Pinot noir sourced from Aÿ and Bouzy and 20% Chardonnay sourced from Avize. The rose is produced in the saignée method where instead of blending red Pinot noir wine into a white base, the must sees a short period of skin contact for the red grapes with the juice bled off and primary fermentation initiated. This method of rose production is not common in Champagne though houses like Laurent Perrier, Jacquesson, Larmandier-Bernier and Francis Boulard are notable practitioners of this style.

The wine spends 24-36 months on the lees before it is bottled with a dosage of 9 g/l. Around 600 cases are imported to the US.

The Wine

High intensity nose of strawberries and blood oranges. There is a subtle spiciness as well.

Photo by Rillke. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-2.0

The blood orange notes in this Champagne are delicious!

On the palate, the Champagne has a lot of weight and silky mouthfeel. Very fresh, vibrant acidity enhances the minerality and gives lift to the wine. The red fruits carry through but the gorgeous blood orange is what persists the most through the long finish.

The Verdict

A delicious Champagne that is the complete package. Beautiful nose, weighty, silky mouthfeel with vibrant fruit and minerality.

It is well worth its $45-50 price tag and easily outshines rose Champagnes that are in the $60-75 range.

60 Second Wine Review — 2008 Ferrari Perlé

Some quick thoughts on the 2008 Ferrari Perlé sparkling wine from the Trento DOC.

The Geekery

Tom Stevenson and Essi Avellan describes Ferrai in the Christie’s World Encyclopedia of Champagne & Sparkling Wine as the “Rolls-Royce” of Italian sparkling wine and note that due to its massive popularity in its home country, only around 10% of the winery’s yearly 420,000 cases get exported.

Founded in 1902 by Giulio Ferrari, who spent some time working in Champagne, Ferrari was the first producer to use the traditional method (metodo classico) for Chardonnay in Italy. In 1952, the estate was purchased by Bruno Lunelli with his grandchildren running Fratelli Lunelli Ferrari today.

In 2017, Ferrari was named Sparkling Wine Producer of the Year at The Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championships, a honor that often goes to Champagne houses like Roederer.

The 2008 Perlé is 100% Chardonnay sourced from estate vineyards in the Trentino region. After the Franciacorta DOCG, the Trento DOC is the second largest producer of Italian metodo classico sparkling wines.

The wine was disgorge in 2015 after spending over 6 years aging on the lees and bottled with 6-8 g/l dosage. In addition to the sugar, the liqueur d’expedition includes some “select wines” which Ferrari describes as a “family secret”.

The Wine

Photo by Vegan Feast Catering. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under  CC-BY-2.0

This wine has some nice creamy lemon custard notes


High intensity nose. Lemon custard and pastry dough. Some floral and spice elements. Very evocative.

The mouthfeel is very creamy with noticeable yeasty, bready flavors. The citrus lemon notes is still present but I feel like more apple pastry tart comes out on the palate. The wine also has ample acidity with some savory salty minerality adding complexity.

The Verdict

This is a pretty stellar bottle for around $30-35. It’s a vintage Champagne-style wine that has been aged 6 years that priced better than most non-vintage Champagnes!

The complexity you get for the money is outstanding and I would put this toe to toe with $60-75 Champagnes any day of the week. As noted above, not a lot of this makes its way to the US but if you can find a bottle, grab it!

Whiskey and Wine Revisited

In 2016, I dipped my toes into exploring the strange trend of wine aged in whiskey barrels with my original Whiskey and Wine post.

In that post I did a blind tasting featuring 3 barrel aged wines and one regular red wine ringer thrown in. While I thought this fad would quickly fade, it looks like it has only picked up steam with new entries on the market.

I decided to investigate a little more with another blind tasting of as many different barrel aged wines that I could find. (Results below)

I got bottles of the Apothic Inferno, Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon and Barrelhouse Red featured in the last blind tasting as well as new bottlings from Mondavi of a bourbon barrel aged Chardonnay (I’m not kidding) and a Cabernet Sauvignon from Barrelhouse. I found new examples from Cooper & Thief, 1000 Stories, Big Six Wines, Stave & Steel and Paso Ranches. For a twist, I also added the 19 Crimes The Uprising that was actually aged in rum barrels.

I tried to find bottles of The Federalist’s Bourbon barrel aged Zinfandel, Jacob’s Creek Double Barrel Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz and 1000 Stories “half batch” Petite Sirah but to no avail.

So What’s The Deal?

Why are so many producers jumping on this bandwagon?

On Twitter, wine and lifestyle blogger Duane Pemberton (@Winefoot) had an interesting take.

A similar sentiment was shared on Facebook from one of my winemaking friends, Alan, who noted that the charcoal from the heavy toast of the bourbon barrels could function as a fining agent for wines with quality issues like bad odors.

Now considering that many of the mega-corporations behind these wines like Gallo (Apothic), Constellation Brands (Mondavi & Cooper & Thief), The Wine Group (Stave & Steel) and Concha y Toro/Fetzer (1000 Stories) process millions of tons of grapes for huge portfolios of brands, this actually makes brilliant business sense.

Even in the very best of vintages, you are always going to have some fruit that is less than stellar–often from massively over-cropped vineyards that aren’t planted in the most ideal terroir. Rather than funnel that fruit to some of your discount brands like Gallo’s Barefoot, Constellation’s Vendange and The Wine Group’s Almaden, you can put these wines in a whiskey barrel for a couple months and charge a $5-10 premium–or in the case of Cooper & Thief, $30 a bottle!

Trying to Keep An Open Mind

Bourbon Standards

In this tasting, I wanted to explore how much of the whiskey barrel influence is noticeable in the wine. In the last blind tasting, one of things that jumped out for me is that the Mondavi Cab and Barrelhouse red didn’t really come across as “Whiskey-like” and were drinkable just fine as bold red wines. Meanwhile the Apothic Inferno did scream WHISKEY but it came across more like a painful screech.

To facilitate that exploration, I poured some examples of “Bourbon Standards” that the tasting panel could smell for reference (and drink after the tasting if needed!). My Bourbon Standards were:

Larceny — From Heaven Hill Distillery. A “fruity sweet” Bourbon with noticeable oak spice.

Jim Beam — Old standard from Beam-Suntory. A light Bourbon with floral and spice notes.

Two Stars — A wheated Bourbon from Sazerac. It’s kind of like if Buffalo Trace and Maker’s Mark had a baby, this would be it. Caramel and spice with honey and fruit.

Bulleit — Made now at Four Roses Distillery. Sweet vanilla and citrus.

The Wines

Apothic Inferno & Cooper & Thief

Apothic Inferno — ($13) Made by Gallo. Unknown red blend. This wine is unique in that it only spent 60 days in whiskey barrels (as opposed to bourbon barrels) while most of the other reds spent 90 days. 15.9% ABV

Cooper & Thief — ($30) Made by Constellation under the helm of Jeff Kasavan, the former director of winemaking for Vendange. I did appreciate that this was the only red blend that gave its blend composition with 38% Merlot, 37% Syrah, 11% Zinfandel, 7% Petite Sirah, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% “other red grapes”. The wine was aged for 90 days and had the highest ABV of all the wines tasted with 17%. This wine was also unique in that it was from the 2014 vintage while all the other reds (with the exception of the 19 Crimes) were from the 2015 vintage.

Barrelhouse — ($13-14) Made by Bruce and Kim Cunningham of AW Direct. A Cabernet Sauvignon and unknown Red Blend aged 90 days in bourbon barrels. Both of these wines were unique in that they had the lowest alcohol levels in the tasting with only 13.2% while most of the other wines were over 15%.

Big Six — ($15 each) Made by god knows who. The back label says it is from King City, California which means that it could be a Constellation brand or it could be made at a custom crush facility like The Monterey Wine Company. They offer a Cabernet Sauvignon, unknown Red Blend and Zinfandel aged 90 days in bourbon barrels with ABVs ranging from 15.1% (Red blend) to 15.5% (Zinfandel).

Paso Ranches Zinfandel — ($20) Made by Ginnie Lambrix at Truett Hurst. While most wines were labeled as multi-regional “California”, this wine is sourced from the more limited Paso Robles AVA. Aged 90 days with a 16.8% ABV.

Robert Mondavi — ($12 each) Made by Constellation Brands. A Cabernet Sauvignon aged 90 days and a Chardonnay aged for 60 days with both wines having an ABV of 14.5%. Like the Paso Ranches, these wines were sourced from the more limited Monterey County region.

Stave & Steel Cabernet Sauvignon — ($17) Made by The Wine Group. This wine was unique in that it was aged the longest of all the wines with 4 months. Like the Barrelhouse, this wine had a more moderate alcohol of 13.5%

Got only crickets from them on Twitter as well.


1000 Stories Zinfandel — ($17) Made by Fetzer which is owned by Concha y Toro. This was one of the first wineries in the US to release a bourbon barrel aged wine back in 2014 with winemaker Bob Blue claiming that he’s been aging wine in old whiskey barrels since the 1980s. This was the only wine that I could not figure out how long it was aged with the bottle or website giving no indication. The ABV was 15.6%

19 Crimes — ($8) Made by Treasury Estates with wine sourced from SE Australia. Unknown red blend that was aged 30 days in rum barrels with 15% ABV. This was the youngest wine featured in the tasting coming from the 2016 vintage.

The Blind Tasting

To be as objective as possible, especially with some of the wines like the Cooper & Thief having very distinctive bottles, I brown bagged the wines and had my wife pour the wines in another room. We also “splash decanted” all the wines (with the exception of the Chardonnay) to clear off any reductive notes.

After trying the Chardonnay non-blind, my wife would randomly select an unmarked bag, label it A through L and poured the wines in 6 flights of 2 wines each. We then evaluated the wines and gave each a score on a scale of 1-10. Below is a summary of some of our notes, scores and rankings with the reveal to follow. My friend Pete contributed the colorful “personification” of the wines in his tasting notes. The wine price ranges are from my own notes.

To keep our palates as fresh as possible we had plenty of water and crackers throughout the tasting. And boy did our poor little spit bucket get a work out, needing to be emptied after every other flight. But even with spitting, it was clear that we were absorbing some of the high alcohol levels. After 6 reds, we also paused for a break to refresh our palates with some sparkling wine.

Mondavi Chardonnay (Scores 4, 7, 6, 5.5, 4 = 26.5 for 7th place) Vanilla, butterscotch, canned cream corn & tropical fruit like warm pinneapple. More rum barrel influence than bourbon. Drinks like something in the $7-8 range

Wine A (Scores 6, 7.5, 6, 7, 6 = 32.5 for 3rd place) Baby powder and baking spice. Noticeable Mega-Purple influence. Maybe a Zin or Petite Sirah. Minimal oak influence. Some burnt char. Kind of like the girl you met at the carnival, take for a ride but don’t buy her cotton candy. Drinks like something in the $10-12 range.

Many wines were very dark and opaque.


Wine B (Scores 2, 3, 4, 2, 2 = 13 for 11th place) Very sweet. Lots of vanilla. Noticeable oak spice and barrel influence. Little rubber. More rye whiskey than bourbon. Taste like oxidize plum wine. Very bitter and diesel fuelish. Reminds me of a Neil Diamond groupie. Drinks like something in the $7-8 range.

Wine C (Scores 7, 7, 7, 7, 3 = 31 for 5th place) Smells like a ruby port or Valpolicella ripasso. Some wintergreen mint and spice. Cherry and toasted marshmellow. Noticeable barrel influence. Reminds me of Karen from Mean Girls. Drinks like something in the $10-12 range.

Wine D (Scores 3, 4.5, 5, 2, 2 = 16.5 for 10th place) Very sweet, almost syrup. Burnt creme brulee. Burnt rubber. Toasted coconut. Rum soaked cherries. The color is like Hot Topic purple hair dye. Super short finish which is actually a godsend. If this wine was a person, her name would be Chauncey. Drinks like something in the $5-6 range.

Wine E (Scores 6, 7, 6, 8, 7 = 34 for 2nd place) Raspberry and vanilla. Graham cracker crust. Not as sweet as others. Very potpourri and floral. Really nice nose! Smells like the Jim Beam. Little Shetland pony earthiness. High heat and noticeable alcohol. Reminds me of the guy who is really ugly but you like him anyways. Drinks like something in the $14-16 range.

Wine F (Scores 3.5, 5.5, 4, 5, 5 = 22 for 8th place) Toasted marshmellows. Noticeably tannic like a Cab. Raspberry and black currants. Not much barrel influence. This wine seems very robotic. Drinks like something in the $12-14 range.

That spit bucket rarely left my side during this tasting.

Wine G (Scores 6.5, 7, 3, 6.5, 6 = 27 for 6th place) Tons of baking spice. Very noticeable oak. Reminds me of a Paso Zin. Lots of black pepper–makes my nose itch. Slightly sweet vanilla. Most complex nose so far. Would be a really good wine if it wasn’t so sweet. Reminds me of a Great Depression era dad. Drinks like a $14-16 wine.

Wine H (Scores 2, 3, 3, 1, 2 = 11 for 13th last place) Burnt rubber tires. Smells very boozy. Fuel. Taste like really bad Seagram’s 7. Cheap plastic and char like someone set knockoff Crocs shoes on fire. Reminds me of Peter Griffin. Drinks like something in the $7-8 range.

Wine I (Scores 7.5, 6.5, 7, 8, 7 = 36 for 1st place) Dark fruit and pepper spice. Turkish fig. Juicy acidity. Not as sweet. Round mouthfeel and very smooth. Creamy like butterscotch. Not much barrel influence. Reminds me of a sociopath that you don’t know if they want to cuddle with you or cut your throat. Drinks like something in the $14-16 range.

Wine J (Scores 4, 4, 3, 4, 3 = 19 for 9th place) Marshmellow fluff. Caramel. Very sweet. Smells like a crappy Manhattan with cherry. Seems like a boozy Zin. Not horrible but still bad. Not much barrel influence at all. Reminds me of children. Drinks like a $10-12 wine.

The tasting sheets.

Wine K (Scores 7, 6.5, 8, 4, 6 = 31.5 for 4th place) Big & rich. Juicy cherries. Sweet but not overly so. Little pepper spice. Very easy drinking. Something I would actually drink. Not much barrel influence. Makes me think of the “I’ve got a Moon Ma” guy. (author’s note: I have no idea what Pete is referring to here. This is my best guess.) Drinks like a $10-12 wine.

Wine L (Scores 1, 4, 2, 4, 1 = 12 for 12th place) Stewed plums and burnt rubber. Lots of tannins and acid. The worst thing I’ve had in my mouth all week. Pretty horrible. Long unpleasant finish. Reminds me of Sloth from The Goonies. Drinks like a $10-12 wine.

The Reveal

After tallying up the scores, we revealed the wines. In order from best tasting to worst tasting of the barrel aged wines:

The closeness in style and rankings of the 3 Big Six wines were surprising.

1st Place: Barrelhouse Red (Bag I)
2nd Place: Stave & Steel Cabernet Sauvignon (Bag E)
3rd Place: Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon (Bag A)
Big Six Zinfandel (Bag K)
Big Six Cabernet Sauvignon (Bag C)
Big Six Red Blend (Bag G)
Mondavi Chardonnay (non-blind)
Barrelhouse Cabernet Sauvignon (Bag F)
19 Crimes The Uprising (Bag J)
Cooper & Thief (Bag D)
Paso Ranches Zinfandel (Bag B)
1000 Stories Zinfandel (Bag L)
Last Place: Apothic Inferno (Bag H)

Final Thoughts

One clear trend that jumped out was that the top three wines had moderate alcohol (13.2% with the Barrelhouse to 14.5% with the Mondavi). Overall these wines tasted better balance and had the least amount of the off-putting burnt rubber and diesel fuel note which tended to come out in the worst performing wines like the Apothic Inferno (15.9%), Cooper & Thief (17%), 1000 Stories Zin (15.6%) and Paso Ranches Zin (16.8%).

Another trend that emerged that was similar to the previous tasting (which had the Barrelhouse Red and Mondavi Cab also doing very well) is that the most enjoyable wines were the ones with the least overt whiskey barrel influence. This was true even with the 2nd place finish of the Stave & Steel that was the wine that spent the most time in barrel at 4 months. That is a testament to the skill of the winemaker where the whiskey barrel is used as a supporting character to add some nuance of spice and vanilla instead of taking over the show.

Comparing the 4 month aged Stave & Steel to the 2 month aged Apothic Inferno is rather startling because even with a shorter amount of barrel time the Apothic seemed to absorb the worst characteristics from the whiskey barrel with the burnt rubber and plastic. The 19 Crimes that only spent 30 days in rum barrels didn’t show much barrel influence at all.

It also appears that, in general, Cabernet Sauvignon takes better to the barrel aging compared to Zinfandel though the Big Six Zinfandel did fairly well to earn a 4th place finish. The most difficult task for winemakers is to try and reign in the sweetness. Several of these wines had notes like Wine G (the Big Six red blend that is probably Zin dominant) that they would actually be decent wines if they were just a bit less sweet.

One last take away (which is true of most wines) is that price is not an indicator of quality. Three of the worst performing wines were among the 4 most expensive with the $17 1000 Stories Zin, $20 Paso Ranches Zin and the $30 Cooper & Thief. In fact, the Cooper & Thief tasted so cheap that I pegged it as a $5-6 wine. It is very clear that you are paying for the unique bottle and fancy website with this wine.

Only the $17 Stave & Steel that came in 2nd held its own in the tasting to merit its price though the Barrelhouse Red at $13 and Mondavi Cab at $12 offer better value.

It’s clear that this trend is not going away anytime soon. If you’re curious, these wines are worth exploring but be aware that they vary considerably in style, alcohol and sweetness. Grab a few bottles and form your own opinion.

But take my advice and have some good ole fashion real whiskey on standby. Those “bourbon standards” certainly came in handy after the tasting.