1000 Stories Zinfandel – A Bourbon touch to Zinfandel

1000 Stories Zinfandel aged in bourbon barrels

A few weeks ago I received an unusual sample bottle of wine. Unusual in so many ways. Inside the shipping box was a small barrel case. I opened the case to find 1000 Stories Zinfandel and spec sheets on the wine. The name of the wine, and the iconic buffalo displayed on the label, are intended to honor our American heritage and the stories of many who toiled to bring us where we are today. All that was interesting but the most unusual aspect, the Zinfandel had been aged in bourbon barrels. I tasted the wine by itself and later with dinner. By itself I couldn’t tell whether I liked the wine or not. It took some getting used to. There is definitely a touch of bourbon character to this wine. Later with dinner, a grilled pork chop with some BBQ sauce, I liked the wine much better. This Zinfandel is like no other. The 1000 Stories Zinfandel lists for $18.99 a bottle and will be released slowly over the next couple of months by the Fetzer Winery. 5000 cases were made and most were earmarked for finer wine shops. You should be able to spot it on the shelves of many wine stores in the San Francisco Bay Area very soon. I think it is worth a try.  My guess is that someone who likes Zinfandel, bold ones, and bourbon will certainly find this wine likable.

I was able to interview the winemaker, Charlie Gilmore. Charlie has been at the Fetzer Winery for past ten years. A few years ago Brown-Forman company sold the winery to the Chilean winery, Concha y Toro. I asked Charlie the obvious question, why this wine?  The short answer is that both bourbon and Zinfandel are hot these days. The younger crowd is into cocktails and mixed drinks. Why not target the younger drinkers who like their cocktails, particularly bourbon, and some wine here and there? Another reason to make this wine is that it is time for the wine industry to be a little more innovative. “We have seen that in the brew pubs, so why not with wine?”  So with much trial and error, Charlie ended up taking Mendocino County Zinfandel, old vine mixed in with newer vines of Zin, and first barrel aged them in the traditional French and American Oak. After some time, the wine was racked into new bourbon barrels. Finally, small batches were aged in 13-year-old, single use barrels from famous bourbon houses such as Heaven Hill and Four Roses. The result of this, as it says in the spec, is a wine with aromas and flavors of vanilla, dried herbs and a hint of caramel.

As this wine is rolled out, it will certainly be interesting to see if it takes hold. How will the critics respond?  But what does that matter if the wine becomes a hit among a cult group of wine drinkers, whether they be young, middle aged, or older?  When I spot this wine on the shelf, I am going to buy a bottle and give it try with my wine friends, the Vintage Wine Tasters. It is something new and novel in the world of wine. Should you try this wine, we would certainly be interested in hearing what you think.


  1. J.P. Quattrone says:

    Not the last innovation we see along this line, for sure. As the craft beer and distilling scene continues to evolve, wineries and wine makers will continue to fight for attention. Gallo got the ball rolling a few years ago with Apothic Dark, Apothic Rose and now Apothic Crush trying to grab the beer consumer who shops for “seasonals”.

  2. They were sampling this wine at my local grocery store and I was surprised that they were able to get such an interesting wine from a Zinfandel grape – the aftertaste of bourbon is unmistakable. I liked it so much I bought a bottle right there. The most significant thing about this wine is the absence of any astringent taste from over fermentation which can overwhelm the fruit. 1000 Stories is wonderfully balanced.

  3. Connie Deems says:

    Just had a 2013 bottle of 1000 stories and it was wonderful with home made fahitas..oleh

    • A 1000 Stories and fajitas sound like a perfect match. I will have to give it a try. Fajitas is one of my favorite Mexican dishes.

  4. Vanessa says:

    Had the 2014 last night! Our local Trader Joe’s has it for $15 and it’s delicious. Going to stock up today.

  5. Would this be a wine worth cellaring for a while?

    • I would say this particular wine will age for just a few years provided it is store in a proper aging environment.

      • I wanted to like the 1000 Stories (bourbon barrel aged) California Zinfandel but, alas, I could not. The wine has a jammy Zinfandel quality on first impression (a good thing). Then it moves to a weak, low acid, low tannin and slighty sweet finish. Ad the mouthfeel is light, not like a big Zin should be. The influence from the barrels is small or none. Not that it should come as a surprise that the “Bourbon Barrels” have no flavor to import as many years of aging spirits leaches most of the flavor imparting components from the wood. In home winemaking circles discarded whiskey barrels are cheap as they really have very little to offer given the prior rough use. The “Whiskey Barrel” advertising gimmic here just doesn’t work once you taste this stuff. No wonder it has found it way to the deeply discounted shelves at Trader Joes.

  6. I ordered a glass of 2014 1000 Stories Zin last evening at Tosi’s Italian restaurant in Stevensville MI. I was so impressed with the flavor and finish of this Zin that I purchased 3 bottles this afternoon while in New. Buffalo, MI. I’ve been enjoying Zin for 20 years and I’ve had both outstanding and bad, and everything in between. This is a good one in my opinion and recommend it for the price, $17.99.

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