Port wine – empty port wine barrels that is. (Actually, they should be called empty dessert-wine barrels, since technically only fortified wines made in Portugal can be labeled as “Port”). My wife and I went to a wine dinner in Philly last month at Panorama restaurant that featured one of our favorite California wineries – Biale (we belong to their wine club). It was lovely, and one of the founders of the winery (Dave Pramuk) was there leading us through the wines of the evening. At the end of the meal, I got to chat for a bit with Dave, and apparently, his grandfather was from Shamokin, PA and had dabbled in whiskey at one point in his life, so we bounced back and forth between talking about whiskey and wine. Biale makes a fabulous dessert wine, so I asked what they do with those barrels once they are emptied (a question I always get asked about our whiskey barrels). Well, as it turns out they often refill them, but eventually they get “used up”, as in, there is no more wood character left for the barrel to give. I have tasted several whiskeys that were finished in port barrels that I really liked, so I asked if we could get some of the barrels they are when they retire them. He said no one had ever asked him that, but he didn’t see any reason why they wouldn’t. Three weeks later I got an email that they had just bottled their dessert wine and had four barrels that we could have. The barrels are on their way here as I write this.
Having had their dessert wines before, I think those flavors will be the perfect counterpoint to our rye whiskey. The wine is very fruit forward and full bodied. Here is what they said about the 2014 vintage, “Inky dark purple, aromatic black currants, blueberry, graham cracker, cedar, hints of clove, mocha, and black tea”. I think this will pair beautifully with the spicy notes of our rye, resulting in a full-bodied, fruity and spicy whiskey. Just how long will we age the rye in these barrels? The answer of course is, it will age until it tastes right, but who knows how long that will be. In perusing the internet for other port-wine-barrel finished whiskeys, I’ve seen anywhere from 3 months to more than a year. I should highlight the term “finish”. This typically means the whiskey has been fully matured in its original charred oak barrel and it is then transferred to the port (or wine, sherry, beer, etc.) barrel to pick up additional complimentary flavors. We’ll keep you posted as we follow the whiskeys finishing in these barrels.