Finish with a Flourish Whisky Tasting - Regional Wines, 31st July and 1st August
By John Shearlock
It's not often one gets to taste a 2001 Barolo at a whisky tasting, but this was Finish with a Flourish with Daniel McLaren Moon, whose theme was wine cask finishes, and things were about to get serious.
So it was that a group of well-seasoned Wellington whisky tasters found themselves confronted with seven whiskies paired with seven samples of still and fortified wine, in the snug confines of Regional's upstairs tasting room; a cocktail of oloroso, port and single malt aromas swirling there within.
The theory was sound. By tasting the wines one might be able to decipher the undisclosed order of the whiskies on the night (including one tasted 100% blind and going by the name of The Mystery). After all, why finish a whisky in a cask if that cask doesn't impart flavours of its prior contents on the whisky? But then theories are there to be disproved and from the initial banter in the room, a sense of scepticism had already been released like a genie from a lamp.
The wines were tasted in ascending order of sweetness, starting with the subtlety of flavour, tannic structure and high acidity of the dry reds, and finishing with the unctuous sweetness and syrup-of-fig-like qualities of the PX. Adjectives were rattled off and written on the board, including nuts and apricots for the oloroso, raisins and X/mas cake for the tawny. Would these same descriptors materialise in the whiskies and would the wines and whiskies marry up?
With the wines tasted, it was time to crack into the whiskies, a sense of relief spreading through the room at moving into more familiar territory.
The noses were promising. Balanced, complex aromas in general wafted from our glasses, however, the wine finishes were seemingly hidden in the complex depths of the malts. It was interesting to see people going with their initial gut feeling and sussing the finish, only to lose their way in the sea of adjectives that emanated from the collective opinion in the room.
It was time to taste. Despite claims of sour wine notes here, and sweetness befitting a PX, port or madeira there, it soon became apparent that the finishes were just as hard to spot on the palate as they had been on the nose. But was this really surprising? Let's not forget the magnitude of the task at hand. The cask finishes were, in many ways, like needles in a haystack, considering the whiskies were all first matured in sherry or bourbon casks, combined with a multitude of other factors specific to the wine casks themselves; the oak used to make the cask, the actual wine in the cask (after all, oloroso comes in many guises) and the general activity of the cask.
Having nosed, tasted and assessed, it was time to score the whiskies and decide, regardless of the night's subplot, whether the whiskies were any good.
These tastings have always proved a great leveller of the playing field, offering a fine opportunity to test drive a single malt without stumping up the investment required to purchase a bottle. Mighty whiskies bearing giant prices often fall by the wayside, whilst lesser whiskies stand on their shoulders to raise above the melee.
Tonight was no different, but not so typical on this occasion, The Mystery whisky was deemed best in show, and to make things even more interesting, this was the whisky with the most unconventional finish. It was aSwedish Single Malt finished in casks previously containing raspberry, blueberry and cranberry wine - the Mackmyra Moment Vinterträdgård is atypical in every sense. Smooth and fruity, it shows balance, length and composure. Its finish had been one of the harder to spot, but once it was common knowledge, the fruity flavours were there for all to taste.
With the Benriach 17yo PX and Redbreast Laustau Edition coming 2nd and 3rd, it was evident too, that the sherry finished whiskies has typically done well. I couldn't help but wonder if this was due to Sherry inherently working well with malted barley distillate (a pairing equivalent of lamb and mint if you like) or whether the common use of sherry casks for whisky maturation, simply had our palates primed? A chicken and egg scenario if ever there were...
So, it was a thoroughly interesting tasting that seemed to prove that wine finished whiskies do not necessarily taste of the wines from those casks, and that the final results are both good, bad and occasionally ugly.
One thing's for sure, on a night when we were all concentrating on the finish, it was the Swedes who stole the show.
Here's how the whiskies placed. Click the links to purchase them.
1) Mackmyra Moment Vinterträdgård
2) BenRiach 17yo PX finish
5) BenRiach 21yo Tawny Port Finish
6) Benromach Hermitage Finish