Monday, October 3, 2011
Not Wine-Barrel Finished—Wine-Barrel Matured
Barrel-finishing has grown so common in the Scotch world as to have become cliched. Nearly every distillery from the Highlands to the Lowlands, it seems, now rolls out whiskys that were finished in Port barrels, in Sherry barrels, in Sauternes barrels, or whatever used wine barrel you care to mention. Some of these experiments are warranted and rewarding. Most are simply "interesting," or just plain outputting, and smack of publicity-seeking stunts aimed directly at the completist whisky collector's wallet.
And so I approached Auchentoshan's new 1999 Vintage Bordeaux Wine Matured Limited Edition with suspicion. Much as I love Auchentoshan, it looked like more of the same trend. But there's a difference here. The distillery didn't just toss some of its aged distillate into another barrel for a few months, called it "finished" and slap a different label on it. This whisky was aged in its Bordeaux barrels the entire time. A full 11 years, in fact. So this commitment began long ago, with the distillers tasting the juice from time to time until they decided it was time to release it.
It's a beautiful, and unusual, Scotch. The color is what strikes you first. That French red did its work, giving the whisky a unique and lovely burgundy hue. It is, unsurprisingly, winey on the palate, a beguiling marriage of the Scotch and wine characteristics, like Auchentoshan wrapped in a Bordeaux cloak. The wine notes don't feel temporal and pasted on, like they do in so many barrel-finished Scotches. It's bottled at cask strength (58%), so it gives quite a kick; water is recommended.
The price is $99.