Wine Time with Aaron the Wine Guy

Hello Prince Albert! My formal and technical training has always been centered around wine and viticulture but besides my love for vino, I’m also a huge fan of whiskies and beer. This week I wanted to discuss a category of whisky that is beloved around the world: Bourbon.

American whisky has quite a history and many families homesteaded in the USA with basic supplies like grains, tools and often with their handmade family stills which provided extra nutrition in the form of calories, cleaning or sanitizing supplies and of course, something to take the edge off at the end of a long, hard day. Many styles of whisky emerged initially, but the most well-known or recognized styles were rye whisky and corn whisky. Bourbon was born when distillers aged their corn whisky in newly charred American oak barrels and discovered the delicious additional flavors in their spirits like vanilla, caramel and butterscotch.

The unique character of Bourbon became legally defined when the codification and legal language began to state what exactly made a corn whisky, “Bourbon”. To begin, the mash bill or milled grains used to make Bourbon must account for at least 51% of the total bill. Other grains are used to fill in the mash bill such as rye or wheat and you can often find “Wheated Bourbon” or “Rye Bourbon” in the whisky section. The Legent Bourbon has a mash bill of 77% corn with the rest of the blend made of rye and wheat whisky. This blend was then finished in red wine and sherry barrels to add a quirky twist to the usual Bourbon style.

Another necessary guideline for producing Bourbon is aging the whisky for at least 3 years in newly charred American oak which has created a production loop with Scotch whisky and also with winemakers who re-use these barrels by re-charring them and then adding their own spirits or wines to finish them. You can taste the influence of Bourbon in the Stave and Steel Bourbon Barrel-Aged Cab Sauv as it adds a luxurious thickness or heaviness to the wine. 

If you’ve never tried Bourbon, there are several reasons why it is worthwhile: the cost is decently affordable (especially compared to Scotch), they are readily available for purchase since we live right above the USA, and the flavors are extremely approachable; Butterscotch, buttered corn, caramel, vanilla and peppery spice flavors are delicious and will perfectly compliment a good cigar. While there is so much more to say, here are my wine and whisky picks of the week!        

Stave and Steel Bourbon Aged Cabernet Sauvignon 2020: (California, USA). Dry to off-dry red, deep purple color. The high-intensity nose excites with a blast of dark fruits, black cherries, ripe blackberries, caramel, vanilla, hints of pepper and stewed plums/prunes. To the taste, the flavors of ripe dark fruits (blackberries, boysenberry, cherries and plums) explode on the palate while the full-body weight of the wine creates an enjoyable texture. Medium-plus tannins are masked somewhat by the fruity style, but the finish brings the oaky tannins back with the warming taste of fine baking spices and a small bite of pepper. Medium-plus acidity contributes a touch of zip which balances the wine nicely and that rich, oaky flavor envelops the tongue on the medium-length finish. This wine is not complex or age-worthy, but it does deliver a ton of intense flavor with those oaky tannins, and you can taste the caramel/vanilla combo of the Bourbon finish. Pair this wine with a juicy steak or a spicy Nicaraguan cigar like the My Father Le Bijou 1922. Very good! $25, 14.5% ABV 

Legent Kentucky Straight Bourbon: (Kentucky, USA). Bourbon whisky with a caramel-red hue. The nose is spice-filled with sourdough, rye toast, caramel, pepper, baking spices and red forest fruits. On the palate, this whisky is medium-bodied, with an initial wave of fruity strawberry and cooked red apples accented by notes of spiced sourdough and pepper. The flavors of fruit fade quickly on the midpalate and are replaced by charred oak, nutmeg and hints of sweet caramel as the profile moves into a finish of peppery spice. Oak bitterness kicks in and seems to swirl with red wine notes and a touch of vanilla. Overall, this Bourbon needs a bit of time to breathe in the glass which allows the red fruit accents to stand out, but I found the texture and weight of this spirit to be a bit thin or light. This whisky will pair well with smoked meats or charcuterie, and it will also taste great with the smaller Punch London Club Natural cigar. Good! $60, 47% ABV        

Old Forester Kentucky Straight Bourbon: (Kentucky, USA). Bourbon whisky with an oily appearance in the glass and a reddish, amber color. The nose is lively and fruity with dried fruits (apricot, peach), pecans, pecan oil, polished oak, spicy caramel, brown sugar and dessert-like vanilla fudge. The whisky is drier than expected on the palate, but the concentration of flavors is excellent, especially for the price point. The medium-plus body adds a satisfying mouthfeel while spicy black pepper and chilies tingle on the tongue. Flavors of caramel, butterscotch, vanilla and tangy fruit impact on the tastebuds with high intensity as fine-grained tannins stick to the tip of the tongue. Cinnamon heat like Red Hots candy joins in on the transition into the finish. The long finish is waxy and lingers with cocoa nibs, nutty pecan and caramel, all blending with oaky bitterness. This is a fantastic whisky for the price and will pair beautifully with a slice of pecan pie or several types of cigars like the Acid Blondie from Drew Estate (an infused, flavored cigar), the Rocky Patel Vintage 1999 (a smooth, Connecticut-wrapped cigar) or the Brick House Double Connecticut cigar which uses the Connecticut tobacco for both the wrapper and binder portions of the cigar. Very good! $50, 43% ABV

Cheers and thanks for reading!