I t’s amazing what a difference a barrel can make to a wine.
Dan and I and some friends found that out when we tasted Jacob’s Creek Double Barrel (#JacobsCreek) wines. It turns out some extra aging in whisky barrels can really change the taste of a wine.
We tasted a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Shiraz from this Australian Winery. First we tasted the wines that had been aged in French or American oak barrels for 12-18 months the traditional way. Then we tasted the same wine that had spent three more months in whisky barrels.
We thought the two wines were much improved after spending time in whisky barrels. The “after” Shiraz seemed much smoother while the Cab got richer. There was nothing wrong with the traditional wines–in fact they were quite good. But the “after” wines were so much more complex and interesting, they almost felt like completely different wines.
At a suggested retail price of $25 we thought they were bargains.
While we tasted we heard from chief winemaker Ben Bryant and Steve Meckliff, senior trade marketing manager for Pernod Ricard, parent company of Jacob’s Creek. They were on an online video feed through the Blue Jeans app. We typed in questions on a chat bar. The format worked well.
Bryant said the goal of the project was not to make the wine taste like whisky, but to bring in some of the characteristics of the whisky barrel.
“We wanted the flavor of the wine to predominate, yet there had to be a noticeable impact from the use of the whisky barrels,” he said. “So we chose parcels of wine that were particularly ripe, from premium growing regions, and with such intense fruit flavor and big tannins that they would benefit from the second barrel treatment.”
They key elements of the whisky barrels are the scorched nature of the interiors and the narrowness of the staves which allows great oxygen exchange. Wine barrels are larger and have bigger staves, so less air gets in during traditional aging. The wood in whisky barrels also is much coarser, so there is more exposure to the wood.
Bryant described their traditional Cabernet Sauvignon as dry and fruity, in a Bordeaux style. The grapes were fermented on the skins for 7-15 days and put in traditional oak casks for 12-20 months. Then all the component wines were blended and placed in Irish whiskey barrels,
Our tasting panel thought the resulting wine was outstanding. It starts with powerful aromas with mint and caramel notes. Black fruit flavors with vanilla and herbal notes led to a long, smooth finish. The Irish whiskey barrels softened the strong tannins and added mellowness to the flavor.
The traditional Shiraz had pronounced chocolate aromas and a rich flavor. We liked it, but again, the double barrel Shiraz was much richer after spending three months in Scotch whisky barrels.
I thought there wasn’t much aroma with the Shiraz, but other tasters picked up licorice with plum and toast. The smooth, complex taste featured plum, chocolate and spice.
Bryant said Scotch generally is much more assertive and drier, which fit well with the fruit-forward Shiraz.
Jacob’s Creek played around with different whisky barrels and barrels from different distillers for each wine before settling on the final formula.
The key to both of these great wines is harmony. Everything comes together as a whole. Though the flavors and aromas are complex, everything melds into a harmonious whole. Nothing seems out of place.
Bryant said the winery had experimented with some other varietals, such as Merlot and Cab/Shiraz and Merlot/Shiraz blends. The winemakers also are “playing around” with a double barrel Chardonnay.
The double barrel wines have been popular in Australia since they were released in late 2014, and now Jacob’s Creek is now introducing them to U.S. markets. We hope the experiments continue.
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