Cooper & Thief ages wine in both bourbon and tequila barrels.
Cooper & Thief
As the American palate expands, imbibers are looking for new, fresh drinks to sip on. Additionally, gone are the days where wine, spirits and beer were siloed. Now, they have morphed into springboards for more creative libations. Cue the growth of spirit-infused wine.
While it may sound simple, the development of spirit-infused wine has an extra layer of complexity to it. The process combines science of aging wine with the science of spirit-aging, creating a blend that is totally unique.
And it’s not just any spirit that can aid in the aging process. The spirit selected needs to both complement and enhance the inherent tasting notes within the wine. Bourbon, whiskey and rye barrels have seemingly been a fit for red wine varietals, while tequila barrels have been making waves with white varietals.
Cooper & Thief has several blended wines under its brand portfolio, including a bourbon-aged red blend, whiskey barrel-aged cabernet sauvignon and a tequila barrel-aged sauvignon blanc.
The brand, says cellarmaster Chris Leamy, is careful to ensure it pairs wine with barrels that maintain its quality. For example, Cooper & Thief specifically requested Añejo barrels for its tequila blend because they impart distinct characteristics on the wine blend.
“The unique complexity of the lime notes from the wine, along with the subtle oak notes and minerality that develop with the ex-tequila barrels, make for a winning combination,” says Leamy.
Bob Blue, winemaker for 1000 Stories, says that bourbon barrels have been his go-to when creating a spirit-aged wine.
“For 1000 Stories, we use bourbon barrels to finish our wine because they give us the rich complexity we like to see in the glass. Interestingly, it’s not the bourbon that delivers this flavor; it’s actually the barrels. By aging our wines in these seasoned barrels, after they’ve housed bourbon for a few years or more than a decade, we get these wonderful, warm characteristics like vanilla, burnt sugar and dried herbs,” he says.
The process, notes Blue, is multi-faceted. To create the finished product, 1000 Stories ferments the wine and ages it in traditional oak barrels. Then the wine is finished a portion in a mix of newer and older bourbon barrels. This, he says, is to create a
“Newer barrels, which are heavily charred, impart a rich smoky character, while older barrels — some of which have aged bourbon for up to 14 years — offer more subtle notes of vanilla and dried herbs,” he says.
Blue explains that by adding these unique layers of flavor to the inherent qualities of the grapes, the result is multi-dimensional wines with really distinctive character.
“Like traditional winemaking, as we blend the different lots together, we know it’s time to bottle when the flavors are perfectly integrated and the wine achieves a really nice level of depth and complexity,” he says.
While these wines may make for a complex, rich glass on their own — either chilled or served room temperature — they also make for a unique blend in cocktails. Additionally, with imbibers looking for lower-ABV choices and surprising palate pleasers, these wines can fill a void in that space.
“Wine and spirits drinkers, even those that may not consider themselves adventurous, have been eager to try something new with spirits barrel aged wines, both neat and mixed into wine-based cocktails. Not every wine lends itself to mixology, but the spiritous character resulting from the unique aging process in our wines make them perfect for layering into cocktails,” he says.
Blue echoes this sentiment and explains that he has seen these new blends pique the interest in wines from those who normally would gravitate towards a cocktail or sipping spirit.
“[This] has brought new consumers, particularly spirits enthusiasts, to wine. These folks are exploring wine for the first time through spirits barrel-aged offerings, and they’ve discovered how much they enjoy a good glass of wine. I think you’ll continue to see wineries experiment with spirits barrel aging techniques and styles,” he says.
And, adds Leamy, there is forward momentum in this category, as it has been expanding throughout the last several years. He notes that both internally and externally, there will be a continued push to move these wines into the mainstream.
“Options have started coming out at all different price points which means there’s something for everyone. With the abundance of different wine varietals and spirits options in the market, there are more combinations to be explored in the future – and we have no plans to stop bringing our adventurous new wine ideas to market anytime soon,” he says.