A Big Red that Owes a Debt to Bourbon

1000 Stories Zinfandel
1000 Stories
Zinfandel, 2017, Batch 056
15.5 percent alcohol content
California, $17.99/$15.99

This juicy, bourbon-barrel-aged red wine is an excellent choice to accompany pulled pork, ribs or hearty stews and soups. It’s not a cheese and cracker, light-sipping, salad wine. It is so full of rich flavor that it’ll knock your socks off.

I’m not sure what award-winning winemaker Bob Blue had in mind when he came up with the robust, high-alcohol 1000 Stories Zinfandel, but it definitely complements meat and poultry that come off the grill or out of the smoker as well as winter fare enjoyed by the wood stove.

I’m not a fan of wines with an alcohol content that dances with blurring the lines between wine and spirits. But I do like Zinfandel, and Blue’s 1000 Stories is a compliment to the grape.

The wine is produced in small batches and is a blend of Zinfandel wines made from grapes grown in the North Coast’s Mendocino area and Paso Robles in the Central Coast along with a small amount of old vine Petit Sirah from Lodi. The wines are aged separately in French and American oak barrels. A portion also is aged in charred Kentucky bourbon barrels for two months before going into the final blend.

The process is a little like making Scotch, starting with a single malt and then blending it with other single malts to come up with the final product, Blue has said in numerous published articles.

But at 1000 Stories, no two of the 5,000-case batches of the Zinfandel are the same, Blue says in the tasting notes.

“We release 1000 Stories in batches to reflect a unique mix of grape varieties, vineyards and bourbon barrels. Batch 56, which marries grapes grown throughout California in 2017’s warm and rainy climates, shows ripe, abundant fruit and spice,” with aromas of sugar plum, cardamom and flavors of blueberry compote, cinnamon and cocoa.

Blue was a pioneer of aging wine in bourbon barrels, and Fetzer Vineyards, a division of Concha y Toro, which produces 1000 Stories, is credited with being the first California winery to release bourbon-aged wines with its 2014 vintage of the Zinfandel.

The first year, Fetzer sold only 5,000 cases, and critics branded the bourbon aging as a gimmick, with some saying the charcoal in the barrels was used to cover up the defects of a bad wine. But Blue proved them wrong. Five years later, the winery is selling more than 140,000 cases annually in the U.S. and abroad, and at least 20 other wine labels, including Robert Mondavi and Apothic, are touting spirits-barrel aging. Sales of the spirit-aged category were $91 million last year, according to Vinepair, an online drinks’ industry magazine.

Spirits-barrel-aged wines have become so popular that there’s a threat of a barrel shortage, and Concha y Toro is considering buying Japanese casks for aging the 1000 Stories brand, which in addition to the Zinfandel, produces a couple of red blends and a Carignan varietal, according to a recent article in Just Drinks, an online industry publication.

One might think that spirits-barrel-aged wines would appeal to younger male wine drinkers, 25 to 45, but surveys have shown sales cross a wide age and gender span. Baby Boomer and Gen-Xer men and women buy two-thirds of the wines online, and Millennials make up the largest overall buyers of spirit-aged wines, the Vinepair article says.

“We were — and continue to be — extremely conscious of crafting wines that are not a gimmick, especially as this way of making wine could really be perceived as such,” Blue told Wine Spectator in May of last year. “Our No. 1 priority is to make an excellent wine. The wine has to be great before it even sees bourbon barrels; the magic that happens after that should enhance the wine further.”

Last spring, I wrote in this column about Blue, who also is a leader in biodynamic and sustainable farming, and his very good organically-grown Bonterra wines. I held off mentioning 1000 Stories because the wines were hard to find in New England. Now, they are widely available.

I realize that 1000 Stories Zinfandel is slightly out of the $10 range. Most of the spirit-barrel-aged wines generally sell for $3 to $5 more than similar quality varietal wines, but it’s worth the extra money to check out this category of wines, particularly 1000 Stories Zinfandel. Pick it up for a special occasion or to drink with the last of the season’s barbecue or with a rich holiday meal. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Another incentive to buy the wine is a portion of the sales from the 1000 Stories wines, which sport a bison on the labels, goes to support the American Bison Society and the Wildlife Conservation Society’s efforts to restore the natural habitat of the American bison.

Suggestions of wines in the $10 range are always appreciated. Warren Johnston can be reached at raiseyourglassofwine@gmail.com.

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