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Thursday 19 November 2020

Is Australia ready for Californian wines aged in bourbon barrels?


Calling Australia's Marlboro Men and King's Cross Cowgirls. It is time to step up and try the newest Californian wine innovation - wines with a unique barrel-aged twist of bourbon and rum. 

Giant Californian wine producer Robert Mondavi has just released its private selection range in Australia; a bourbon-barrel-aged chardonnay, a rum-barrel-aged merlot and a bourbon-barrel-aged cabernet sauvignon blend. 

Australians have not generally embraced wines from the United States in the past. They have  been seen as over-oaked, over-sweet, over-priced and over here. 

The price of even much-vaunted California cabernets - often $100 a bottle and over - has pushed them outside the price range of average wine consumers. 

The good news is that the new range will retail for $25 - and will be available in BWS, Dan Murphy's, Liquorland and First Choice stores nationally. 

All three wines are well made and have depth and substance, although they are all under cork. There is a fair amount of American hype behind them as well, as evidenced in a Zoom tasting this afternoon with winemaker Glen Caughell in Monterey. 

"The three wines for us are an example of exploration and boundary-kicking innovation," says Caughell, but even he would acknowledge these are not wines for everyone. They do, however, "spice up the wine category". 

If your preferences tend towards pristine rieslings, or elegant pinot noirs, then look away. But for those who like their wines with a bit of grunt, richer, fuller flavours and a point of difference, stay on board.

All three wines come from the 2018 vintage and the chardonnay has very ripe fruit (think toasted pineapple and fresh honey notes) alongside creamy vanilla notes from Kentucky bourbon barrels. Perfect with a bacon sandwich or roast pork. 

The merlot has the most serious spirit impact with toasted coconut and molasses flavours dominating the ripe fruit and would pair well with Mexican dishes, while the cabernet (with a dash of petit sirah, malbec, petit verdot and other varieties) is the star of the show. 

The vanilla, caramel, brown sugar and spice notes work well with rich berry fruit and would be terrific with a char-grilled steak. 

There is nothing subtle about these wines, but they are a pleasant surprise, all in all. They follow in the footsteps of whisky-barrel aged wines from Jacob's Creek.    


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