Whilst fortified wines such as sherry and port have long been associated with whisky maturation, unfortified wines, your merlots, sauvignons, chardonnays etc are a relatively recent addition to the category. Over the last two decades, experimenting with different cask types, particularly for short ‘finishing’ periods has been widely adopted by the Scottish, Irish and American whisk(e)y industries. And yet, to many people’s tastes, whisky and wine often seem like awkward bedfellows. Fortunately, not so today, as we’ll be looking at a whisky that has both worked exceptionally well in a wine cask, but also been in matured in it for quite some period of time too.
This Highland Park from 1988 has been matured for 27 years – 7 of those have been spent in a claret wine cask. Claret being wine from the Bordeaux region (modern definitions would include both Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, or even just generic red wine to some folks, whereas historically the term referred to ‘clear’ or ‘lightly coloured’ wine from the region). Anyhow, that’s quite some period of wine maturation, and much more than you’d expect for a finish. Whilst not specified, we can presume that the whisky was slumbering in ex-bourbon for its first 20 years – so it certainly should have picked up some complexity before being re-racked into the wine barrique.
The bottling comes from the ever-reliable Cadenhead’s and was one of 234 bottles. It’s delivered at 53.3% ABV.
Nose: Initially quite tropical with kiwi, mango and melon. Fruitiness continues with baked peaches and apricots and some thick, concentrated orange juice. Then, we’re into deeper aromas – dusty wood and lightly earthy spice – cumin, cardamom and even some hints of spicy chilli pepper. The addition of water brings out some earthy/vegetal notes here – mosses, damp soils and a hint of roasted parsnip.
Taste: Particularly juicy fruits on arrival which are part tropical (again), but now part berry – blackberries and blackcurrants alongside raspberries and redcurrants. Oranges too are still present, now, fresher, more like segments. There’s some citrus keeping everything sharp and garden-fresh – limes in particular. In the mid-palate, a hint of heathery smoke is perceptible, but its ever so light. It’s also a touch mineral – coastal outcroppings and rock pools. Spicing is peppery and quite sharp. A few drops of water really heightens the fruits and makes the spices less embolden, it also added a touch of salinity and nuttiness – salted peanuts!
Finish: Medium to long and with the wine influence finally coming out to play in the form of concentrated blackcurrants alongside just a tinge of tannic influence. Oranges (running theme), cough syrup and pepperiness all in play here.
This Highland Park shows that whisky and wine can play together nicely. The whole experience shows both balance, and control - bringing wonderful overall fruitiness and big berry flavours, but omitting the usual huge serving of oak and wine tannins. Perhaps this is a result of the longer wine maturation period – the influence calming and merging with the whisky, rather than railing against in, as you sometimes find in shorter finishing maturations. Who’s to really say, but to my taste, it’s done the job nicely here. This all said, the resultant whisky is unrecognisably Highland Park – don’t be expecting soft highland peat and heathery honey here - you’re not going to find those here. But, you will find a very good wine maturated whisky.
But don't take our word for it..
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