Why whisky barrels are the latest tool for winemakers
There was a time the only connection between Barossa Shiraz and Scotch whisky was that both were traditionally aged in oak barrels. But then winemakers at Jacob’s Creek wondered what would happen if they put some robust red wine into old whisky barrels.
The result was a red wine with richer flavour and smoother texture, which inspired the creation of the Jacob’s Creek Double Barrel Shiraz in 2012. The process sees red wines produced conventionally with aging in traditional oak wine barrels before being transferred to casks once used to age whisky for finishing.
Since then Jacob’s Creek has added a Cabernet Sauvignon finished in Irish whisky barrels to its portfolio and other international producers have adopted the technique.
It’s common for whisky producers to age their spirits in barrels that have held Port, Sherry or other alcoholic beverages. Winemakers select new barrels or ones that have previously contained wine. Wines aged in whisky barrels are still uncommon, but large producers, including Fetzer and Robert Mondavi, are championing the practice.
The spirit barrels don’t impart the taste of whisky per se, but because they are more heavily toasted than conventional wine barrels, they do add more vanilla, mocha and smoke notes into the wine.
Connoisseurs might wince at the overt manipulation of their beloved wine, but these new experimental brands aren’t really targeted at people who already know their Bordeaux from their Burgundy. They’re gateway wines to help usher more people into the world of fermented grape juice. A style of wine with a different story to tell that might capture the attention of curious consumers.