Posted 26 March 2021 by Matt / In Bunnahabhain
Bottle Name: Bunnahabhain 2010 Moine Amontillado Finish
The suspects are gathered in the ballroom. Each one of them with a secret to hide. Their flickering, beady eyes catch the attention of their fellow guests, giving away their sense of unease and a growing feeling of suspicion. None of them had left the manor that evening and therefore one of them had most certainly committed a murder most foul. The trench-coated detective stood to address the room…. Meanwhile in a living room somewhere in suburbia…”Wait. Yeah, I got it. The killer is left-handed. The handprint on the wall is from a right hand if you look at the direction of the thumb - and because the killer was leaning against the wall with their right hand, they shot their gun with their stronger hand – the left. It’s obviously the butler. Boom”.
Whilst some of us enjoy whodunits for their complex, plot-driven mysteries. Others simply like the ‘who’ to be the person they suspected all along. There is of course a smug sense of satisfaction that stems from correctly guessing the denouement – but for me, the fun of crime thrillers and detective stories is always the opportunity of figuring out the narrative for myself. And I see many aspects of whisky production and appreciation in a similar vein. A puzzle to be unpicked.
Whether it be the intricacies of production and how tiny, seemingly innocuous changes can have a marked effect on the final product. Or of our perceptions of what is in our glasses – and how our senses unravel these in entirely unique and personal manners – the beauty and excitement of whisky does not for me derive from what I already know. It comes from what I don’t.
Similarly to not knowing who the murderer is, not understanding every facet of whisky can be fundamental to our enjoyment of the spirit. The effects of surprise and astonishment not only encourage us to seek more knowledge and to understand the ‘how’ – but also to question our own perceptions – be those intellectual or olfactory. Being aware of our not knowing makes us more open to questioning our own sensitivities and insights. It makes us more likely to seek out wider knowledge and to further our understanding of a complex spirit crafted within a complex industry.
A new distillation technique, an entirely different approach to maturation or a radically unexpected flavour combination. All of these things and many more unknowns are why I deeply appreciate whisky. For me, the not knowing is actually empowering. And the fact that not everything can be explained a reassurance. The moment I start to believe that there’s nothing more for me to learn, is the moment that whisky will hold less allure. I doubt this moment will ever come to pass.
I’m always sceptical of self-proclaimed experts, and particularly of anyone who loudly self-identifies as a whisky influencer. Being knowledgeable is a commitment to lifelong learning. There are no real pinnacles to summit here – there’s always more to absorb. And in that regard, I’m always more impressed by those who recognise the gaps in their own understanding. Gaps, which in my option are an absolute necessity to both encouraging critical thinking and of keeping enjoyment fresh. Not everything can be explained and easily understood. And that’s more than OK.
Today’s review segment is of a whisky which I’ll freely admit to initially not understanding. That’s not to say I do not comprehend its constituents or its journey from grain to bottle – moreso that my experience of it and its expression within my glass challenged my senses and at times asked more questions than it answered. And that’s OK too.
We don’t need to understand everything presented to us. In the same way that we don’t need to enjoy everything or agree with each other all the time. Black and whites are both a rareity and also inherently boring. If all whiskies gave up all of their secrets immediately, no one would ever talk of complexity, and enthusiasm would be a very linear experience meriting little further discussion or dissection.
On paper, this Bunnahabhain bottled for last year’s Feis Ile is straight-forward enough – Mòine (peated) in style, laid down in 2010 and then re-racked into Amontillado sherry for a three-year finishing period before being bottled last year. Nothing here screams either uncommon nor necessarily challenging. However, the manifestation of these facets within my glass did indeed confront my senses. Combinations which whilst pleasurable didn’t entirely make sense during my first dram, or even during my second. A puzzle to be unpicked.
Amontillado undergoes a dual aging process. It is matured under a veil of flor – as is typical for Fino and Manzanilla sherries. But then, this is followed by a period where the flor dissipates, and the wine is exposed to the air and undergoes oxidative maturation. As such, Amontillado sherries start their lives as Fino or Manzanilla, until the flor layer ceases to develop (it has run out of nutrients to feed it). There are many forced mysteries when it comes to Amontillado – with some bodegas spinning yarns about miraculous transformations. Don’t fall for it. By and large, Amontillado sherry is deliberately created by fortifying the wine in order to kill the flor.
The style is growing in popularity across both the whisky enthusiast market as well as within Bunnahabhain’s parent company Distell. This bottling was a run of 1658 bottles for Feis 2020 – and was the cheaper option of two releases – the other being a 2002 Maderia finish. Clocking in at 56.9% and a shy over £100, you’ll still find a few retailers stocking this. Though almost one year later, expect to pay over the odds.
Nose: Land of Leather. A warehouse of sofas and upholstery coverings, alongside waxed jackets and wellington boots. Umami aromas pervade with Frazzles and soy sauce sitting alongside burnt, bitter caramel and aromatic pipe smoke. Sweetness supports but is restrained – it focusses on dried fruits – prunes and figs – but there’s a lighter aspect lurking – maraschino cherry and orange peels. Development occurs in the glass quickly with an increasingly earthy character or crumbly soils and flaked, sun-dried oak. Dilution presents a lighter character – lemon balm, honey and honeycomb and golden sugars – the peat is also brighter, with a cleaner ashiness and less meaty, ‘burnt’ quality.
Taste: Highly oily and opening very industrially. Dirty engine rags, axle grease, lubricant and prominent, tarry smoke. Dark chocolate torte, liquorice and plum jam bring a foreboding sweetness which is offset by a healthy sprinkle of sea salt. Leather again, with bung and sack cloth and overly reduced orange. In time sweetness and filthy peat becomes sharper – both more mineral, and sourer – with sticky oak revealing resinousness and char. The addition of water softens things up quickly (which may or may not be what you want to achieve here) and the peat influence is pushed to the back of the palate. Simple syrup and charred peaches join maple with aromatic cedarwood and powered cinnamon.
Finish: Medium in length. Spent espresso grounds and sappy oak alongside sour cinnamon spice and a final hit of earthiness and menthol.
I did not, and I still do not find Bunnahabhain 2010 Mòine Amontillado Finish an easy whisky to fully comprehend. And it’s my lack of understanding of how the features of this dram all successfully mesh together that keeps me coming back for more. The industrially heart of the Mòine distillate is well suited to the inherent complexity of the Amontillado – which foregoes immediate sweetness for structure. And yet at the same time, the combination of aromas and flavours swirls in the glass – moment to moment, dram to dram, emphasising a different characteristic of the composition. There’s a lot going on for a whisky which is neither old, nor necessarily convoluted in its creation. As mysterious as it is tasty. And a puzzle-box of a whisky that is to my mind the best type of whodunit.
But don't take our word for it..
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