Hello Prince Albert! Oak barrels have been used for centuries to enhance the flavor of wine while preserving and preparing the wine to age in bottles. Oak-aged wine is nothing new these days and most high-quality red wines will have some level of oak age but there are some exceptions such as “unoaked” wines which are often more natural in style and these are meant to be consumed sooner than their oaked counterparts.
A trend that I’ve noticed over the past five to ten years in the proliferation of oak-finished products or spirit-finished wines. This trend has existed in the world of Scotch for quite some time with Bourbon, Sherry and wine casks giving an extra layer of flavor to the whisky. A good example is the Nectar D’or which is a Sauternes-finished whisky from Glenmorangie or the luxury brand Macallan which has several ranges (and price points) of spirit or wine-finished whiskies.
If you search around further, you will also find spirit-finished beers such as Innis & Gunn (famous for using a plethora of different barrels to finish their beers) and many types of stouts or porters which use Bourbon barrels, Canadian whiskies and even maple syrup barrels to add that final splash of flavor to their products.
I first noticed the marketing of barrel finished wines with the Australian Double Barrel Shiraz which is a product from Jacob’s Creek. The wine is supposed to be bolder, higher in intensity and contain more of that rich “oak” flavor that some people love or hate. There are now several of these types of wines to try out in our liquor stores such as the two wines I tasted: Hope’s End Brandy Cab Sauv and the Black Cellar Whiskey-Oaked Shiraz Cab. Besides these affordable options (I highly recommend the Hope’s End), the price points will vary slightly but most wines I’ve seen are often $30 or below.
If you enjoy this style of wine, take a look around and check out these other options: Beringer Bros. Bourbon Barrel Aged Red Blend (USA), Bodacious Bourbon Barrel Red Blend (Product of Canada), Stave & Steel Cab Sauv (USA), Josh Cellars Reserve Bourbon Barrel Aged Cab Sauv (USA), 19 Crimes Uprising Red Blend (Australia) and Yellow Tail Whiskey Aged Cab Sauv (Australia). I’m sure there are many more to discover but theses are the most commonly found in Prince Albert.
You’ll also notice that many of these wines are finished using Bourbon barrels. The reasons for this are quite simple: first, there is a large stock of used Bourbon barrels that have no use for whiskey beyond the first few fills and producers try to recap some of their investment by selling their used barrels to other producers. Remember: Bourbon by law can only be made by using newly charred American oak and once that barrel is used for Bourbon, it is often sold to Scottish distilleries for Scotch production. There is still some life left to these barrels despite being filled, rinsed and re-filled or re-charred so many producers will sell them cheaply to places like wineries. Secondly, Bourbon also contains many flavors like vanilla, coconut or caramel which blends and fuses easily into fruit-bomb flavors from wines like Cab Sauv or Shiraz.
Overall, my experience in the past with spirit-finished wines and beers is that they were a bit too heavy-handed for my personal preferences. The Hope’s End changed my mind this week and I loved the warming effect the wine had on my tastebuds and mood. I would personally pass on the Black Cellar but it is a decent wine for the price. Check a few of these wines out for yourself and see what the fuss is all about! Here are my wine picks of the week!
Hope’s End Brandy Barrel Cabernet Sauvignon 2020: (South Eastern Australia). Off-dry to medium-dry red, deep ruby color. The bouquet coming from the wine is fruity and concentrated with plums/prunes, dark fruit, chocolate, caramel and figs. On the palate, the wine is full-bodied with a luxurious mouthfeel and flavors of plums, chocolate wafer, prunes, blackberry, dark cherry and a warming sensation like sipping on a spirit (Brandy). On the medium to long finish, the flavors of chocolate and earthy tar coat the mouth but the slight sugar content of the wine negates the bitterness of these flavors. Medium tannins and medium acidity. Warm oak and the taste of Brandy comes through in between the concentrated dark fruit which makes this a great wine to sip when you want to warm the body and the soul. Drink this on cool fall evenings with grilled/roasted meats or save it for a couple of months and have it as a Christmas wine. The value can’t be beat either! Should be drank within a year. Very good! $15 (on sale), 13.5% ABV
Black Cellar Whiskey Oaked Shiraz Cabernet: (Product of Canada). Dry to off-dry red, medium ruby color. The nose is slightly thin with blackberries, cherries, currants and a vanilla/whiskey combo. To the taste, the wine is drier than expected with medium concentration and medium intensity. Dark fruits are the highlight but the flavors tend to blur together. The whiskey character becomes apparent on the finish with notes of vanilla, caramel and a hint of oak. Medium body and medium acidity. The tannins in the wine create a bit of grip on the tongue and cheeks, sitting around medium-plus. Short finish. This red is easy to sip but the whiskey flavors seem tacked on and the wine lacks real depth. Not a bad deal for under $15 but the wine does lands on the thin side due to its lower concentration of flavors. Will be better with food. Good! $11, 13% ABV
Cheers and thanks for reading!