Manzanilla sherry is very similar to fino in that they are made the same way. Both are ‘flor’ sherries, where a thin layer of yeast (Saccharomyces – an abundant airborne yeast strain) forms on top of the sherry wine in the ‘head room’ of the barrel. The flor layer encases the liquid protecting it from oxidisation. Fino and manzanilla are both biologically aged under this layer of flor, whereas oxidative sherries (such as amontillado, oloroso and PX) may spend some, or even none of their time protected by flor. The manzanilla variety is made around the port of Sanlucar de Barrameda in Cadiz, Spain.
It’s quite difficult to discern the differences between manzanilla and its other fino cousins – though the cooler coastal temperatures of Sanlucar de Barrameda often promote increased flor growth, and have been noted as adding both chamomile (manzanilla being the Spanish translation of the word) and also a degree of salinity into the taste profile.
Bowmore’s Vintner’s Trilogy, launched in the latter part of 2017, focusses on the influence of wine finishes on its Islay-based whisky. The 18 year old spent 13 years in ex-bourbon and was then finished in manzanilla sherry for an additional 5 years. The 26 year old was again aged for 13 years in ex-bourbon, but doubled down with an additional 13 years in French wine barriques. Finally, the 27 year old, which is due for release later in 2018, will focus on the effect of port cask finishing – expect more precise information on this bottling soon.
In no surprise to anyone given the introduction to this piece we’re taking a look at the 18 year old manzanilla – it’s bottled at 52.5% ABV is available from Master of Malt for £99.74 as of writing.
Nose: Bright juicy berries – raspberries, strawberries, blackberries and blackcurrants – all sugar-dusted and rather sweet. Fruitiness gives way to bold coastal aromas – smouldering ashy peat and sharp minerality – granite, salty rock pools and sea shells. Underlying there is a wealth of additional fragrance – meatiness from reduced ham stock – vanilla pods and vegetation – mosses and lichen. A few drops of water heightens the fruit levels further with oranges, apples and apricots. Quite complex, but everything fits together rather nicely.
Taste: A slightly oily mouthfeel that is coating and initially delivers high-impact sweetness – candied fruits and gummi-sweets (berries, apples and oranges). Smokiness is fairly pronounced and takes several forms - charred meats, chalky ash and embers, licks of iodine and a slightly chemical-tinged char. Vegetation and spicing follows next – moss, nettles, shredded lettuce all heavily seasoned with black pepper. The addition of water is quite the revelation, taking an already excellent whisky and adding syrupy peaches and apricots, as well as even further reinforcement of both minerality and salinity.
Finish: Quite long, quite drying and delivering ash-dusted cocoa beans.
Bowmore Vintner’s Trilogy 18 year old is a fascinating whisky. It manages to maintain high sweetness, whilst delivering some excellent mineral, umami and vegetal notes from its 5 year manzanilla finish. There’s high complexity here, but also balance too – despite the broad aroma and flavour palette, everything feels rounded, well composed and in-step. A modern-style Bowmore and one that’s easy to recommend.
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