Behind the Cork™ - Thomas Allen Generations

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2016 Thomas Allen Generations Red Blend ($7)

This was a new one to me. I’d previously tried the Thomas Allen Cabernet Sauvignon, but wasn’t aware of their red blend.

Thomas Allen is owned and operated by third generation wine grape growers, Thomas Michael Stokes and Allen Lombardi, who grown their grapes in Lodi, CA.

This Thomas Allen Generations is a blend of Syrah, Petite Sirah, and Tannat that makes for a very full-bodied wine. Bright fruit aromas and a hint of pepper hit your nose while its flavors include dark fruits, plum and sour cherry. The oak also gives this red blend nice vanilla and mocha flavors.

It’s an easy one on the palette, low tannin and a light finish.

This is yet another wine that fits the Behind the Cork™ mold being a great value that you should be able to easily find. Enjoy this one. Cheers!

Ever Wonder -- Can Oak Flavor in Wine Come from Powder, Chips and Staves?

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Oak has been used as an aging vessel for wines for centuries. Wines get added flavors and complexity from being aged in oak barrels, especially new oak.

But oak barrels are expensive. And they only impart flavor to wines during their first two to three uses.

So, to get the oak flavors without all the cost, some wines are made with oak chips, oak staves and even oak powder.

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Using these oak barrel alternatives allows wine makers to use less expensive containers (e.g., Stainless Steel tanks) and still get the desired oak flavors.

After the wine has the necessary time in contact with the chips, staves or powder, they are physically removed or filtered out and consumers never know the difference.

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This may seem ‘wrong’ to many wine purists, but it is allowing winemakers to produce oak flavors in their wines at considerably lower costs. And, studies have been done that show consumers can’t tell the difference.

But, since wine labels don’t tell us the difference, I wonder if we’d change our opinions of wines that are produced with these oak alternatives instead of the traditional oak barrels?

Behind the Cork™ - Wine of the Week

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2015 1000 Stories Zinfandel ($18)

I’ve had my eyes on this one for a while now. It differentiates itself by noting on the front label that it is “Bourbon Barrel Aged.” Aging wines in oak barrels is common, but I’ve not seen a wine aged in Bourbon barrels.

So, I was actually a bit hesitant. I’m not into gimmicky wines. And, I certainly don’t need a Bourbon-flavored wine.

This 1000 Stories Zinfandel is aged in new and used Bourbon barrels. But, don’t let that dissuade you. The barrels do not impart a big or smoky flavor. Actually, I found this Zinfandel on the fruity side.

So, the back label states that the Bourbon barrels impart “…charred vanilla, dried herbs and a hint of caramel.” Just what you’d expect from an oak barrel.

If the “Bourbon Barrel Aged” 1000 Stories Zinfandel has not been on your list, give it a try. It’s a worthy Behind the Cork™ - Wine of the Week with its attainability and affordability. Cheers!

Wine Flavors from Barrel Aging - Part 2

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Last time we learned that aging wine in barrels can impart flavors ranging from none, in older 'neutral' barrels, to subtle hints of vanilla, or bolder flavors of chocolate and smokiness, depending on the barrels age and the degree to which its inside was toasted.

But, barrel aging can also affect a wine’s flavor in a very different way. And, that has to do with a very important component of air, namely oxygen.

Originally, wood barrels were used as a means of transporting wines over great distances. It was somewhat accidentally discovered during this transportation process, that the longer the wine was inside the barrels, the more the wines would change in character - in a positive way.  

This was partially due to the wine’s flavor being directly affected by long-term contact with the wood’s surface.  But, it was also discovered that wood, by its very nature, allows microscopic amounts of air to pass through the barrel and to the wine inside. This minimal exposure of wine to oxygen was found to soften the fruit flavors of the wines and create other flavor notes.

This, quite accidentally, began the practice of aging wine in wood barrels, notably oak.  Today, red wines will typically see a minimum of one to two years of aging in oak barrels before being bottled.

And, we’ll take a look at bottle aging next time. Until then,  Cheers!



Wine Flavors from Aging


We've been exploring where wine gets it flavor from starting with the star of show, the juice of the grapes, then learning how the grape skins, seeds and stems can affect the finished flavor and we also looked at how the fermentation process can affect flavor. So, now it's on to the aging process and how it can affect a wine's flavor.

Let's start with the aging process before the wine goes into the bottle (aging in the bottle is an entirely separate subject for another time). 

At the winery, once the wine is fermented, it is typically aged in stainless tanks or oak barrels. With respect to stainless tanks, they don't add anything to the final flavor of wine. So, that was easy. But, oak barrels are an entirely different story.  Barrels can affect a wine's flavor in a couple different ways.

First, barrels can impart wood-like flavors. But, wine makers really don't want to make wine that tastes like trees or tree sap. So, one of the things they do is to 'toast' the inside of the barrel (i.e., subject it to an open flame to provide a char to the wood). And, this is done to varying degrees. A barrel that is lightly toasted will add subtle hints of flavor. A medium toasted barrel will start to add vanilla or caramel flavors to the wine and heavily toasted barrels will impart stronger flavors of smoke, coffee and chocolate. 

Now, these flavors are well suited to some red wines but typically not for white wines. So, most red wines spend some time aging in oak barrels while white wines typically don't.  The exceptions are generally Chardonnays that will, with oak aging, take on those butterscotch, vanilla and toast flavors. Fumé Blanc is another oak-aged white wine. It's simply Sauvignon Blanc that's been oaked aged.

And, finally, an oak barrel can actually become 'neutral' with time and impart no flavor. This typically occurs after a new oak barrel has been used three or four times.  It's still a good vessel for aging, but just doesn't affect its flavor.

The other way that oak barrels affect a wine's flavor comes from their naturally porous nature. But, I'll leave that for next time. Until then, Cheers!