Daylight Wine and Spirits had not one, but two ideas up their sleeves when they entered into a contract with MGP to source barrels for their new line of wine-finished whiskies. This time around, they sourced 2, 3 and 4 year old barrels of MGP’s classic 95/5 rye whiskey. They also switched up the wine barrels they were going to finish it in. Whereas the bourbon was finished in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels that also once held French Bordeaux, the rye whiskey would rest for a period of time in their Sonoma Pinot Noir barrels.
Paul Giamatti and learning to love the Pinot Noir grape
Not being a huge wine expert, I can only reflect back on what the movie “Sideways” has taught me. I find that I do love a good Cab, but Pinot Noir’s rarely do it for me. In the movie, Paul Giamatti waxes on about the superiority of Pinot Noir. It’s a very hard grape to grow thanks to its delicate thin skin. It also requires a lot of time and attention to make sure it doesn’t die on the vine. But if cultivated properly, it will create a wine that rewards the senses with complex, delicate layers of flavors and aromas. Cabs, on the other hand, are the opposite of Pinot Noir and have big, bold notes that are impossible ignore.
With this in mind, I went into the tasting session a bit skeptical that MGP’s 95/5 rye whiskey (which is big and bold in and of itself) would take well to being finished in Pinot Noir barrels. Would it have made more sense to finish it in the Cabernet barrels that were used for the bourbon? Or will the Pinot Noir barrels add something that’s missing to the rye whiskey? Whatever happens, I just hope for an elevated rye whiskey experience since I’m a sucker for finished rye’s (see my review on Barrell Seagrass).
Before I start this review, I must point out one oddity involving the corks that Ammunition used on their bottles of Bourbon and rye whiskey. The cork for the bourbon is the cheap variety that is compacted of many tiny pieces giving it a pebbled look whereas the rye whiskey uses a more expensive single piece cork. While I ponder why this is, I’m going to start my tasting notes. I sampled this neat in a glencairn.
Nose: Youthful and green, the nose isn’t as sweet as Ammunition’s Bourbon. Instead, it’s loaded with floral and herb-forward notes. There are some sharp spices like anise and clove. I’m finding a lack of brown sugar, pine needles and cinnamon which are all typical traits I’d find in MGP’s 95/5 rye. Luckily, the Pinot Noir shows up through red berry notes like cherries and strawberries which help to cover up some of those younger traits.
Palate: The spicy nature of MGP rye reveals itself (finally) while the whole “green-forward” youthfulness from the nose slinks back behind the curtains. There are flavors of mint, pine, green oak and some astringent citrus that reveal themselves. Further spice notes of anise, clove and tamarind can be found. The lack of sweetness is noticeable but there is a decent helping of cooked red berries to help it along. Overall, there’s no disguising this is a young rye as the Pinot Noir is unable to cloak all of those green flavors.
Finish: Somewhat bitter lemon and orange rinds linger the longest along with loads of botanical notes. Damp forest floor, tree bark and weathered oak won’t let you forget this is a young whiskey. The wine notes are a bit more noticeable but end up coming off as a cheap and sweet; similar to Lambrusco.
Even though the age range of barrels used in this blend are the same as its Bourbon counterpart, this rye whiskey came off as even more youthful. I don’t know why this is. Rye whiskey tends to age quicker than bourbon, but this bottle really shows its (lack of) age. The Pinot Noir wasn’t able to help quite as much as the Bourbon’s Cabernet Sauvignon barrels did. I found only a bit more sweetness and none of the depth. The wine struggles to cloak any of the youth.
I could go one of two ways here. Either I could say that what this rye whiskey needs is more time in the barrel to age OR it needs a different finishing barrel. I’m leaning towards the latter. Granted, there are probably lots of readily available barrels of older MGP 95/5 rye whiskey out there, but I don’t think the wine influence would have came through any different using these Pinot barrels. It’s just too light, even though the whiskey was proofed down to 95 proof. This is why some of the best barrel finishes for rye come from heavier, more robust (and sometimes fortified) wines like Port, Madeira, Sherry or even Cabernet.
As much as I wanted this to work out, the Pinot Barrels only slightly elevated the young MGP rye whiskey. Granted, it was fun to find some extra berry notes in my glass, but it should have been more. And while my score does reflect what I’d probably rate a blend of young MGP ryes, I should point out that the better whiskey between the two Ammunition offerings is the Bourbon. In the future, I hope that Ammunition considers another kind of wine to finish their rye in… as long as it’s not Merlot. To quote Paul Giamatti again, “If anybody orders Merlot, I’m leaving!”
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