German-based Malts of Scotland seems to have a soft spot for Laphroaig – they've bottled a wealth of it over the past decade – including a solid dozen from the year we’re going to be turning to – 1998.
This 20 year old has been finished for an unspecified time in an Amarone wine cask – a style produced in the Italian DOC Valpolicella.
A wide variety of Valpolicella wines are produced from three main grape varieties: Corvina Veronese, Rondinella, and Molinara. One of the types of wine produced from Valpolicella is Amarone - where the grapes have been allowed to partially dry out before production has commenced. This drying causes the grapes to shrivel, but also to intensify in both sugar and flavour. As such, Amarone wines are usually high in alcohol and are often quite expensive – after all, if your grapes are half the size, you need twice as many.
The release comes from cask #18036 which gave up 322 bottles at 47.7% ABV. Last time I saw this in the wild it was £250 (Laphroaig, indeed much of Islay, is just getting perversely expensive) – now you’re more than likely going to need to frequent some auction sites to find it.
Nose: Bright, fresh and fruit forward with redcurrant jelly, rhubarb (OK, technically a vegetable) and strawberry cordial. Supporting this is a vein of coal ash – it dips and dives in an out of medicinalness with bandages and sticking plasters substituting for anthracite and vice-versa. Running throughout, a combination of coastal cliffs and sandy beaches, after time joined by soils and mulch – all rather alluvial. In the background, dusty books and firm sea breeze meet a squeeze of lime juice and vanilla cream. Water reveals petrichlor and ozone whilst the medicinalness peat is unlocked further – sudocream, pickled onions and a drizzle of balsamic.
Taste: Immediately bolder and more forceful. Overt TCP, iodine, floor cleaner and smouldering pipe tobacco. Raspberry chews and reduced liquor meet damp wood, mossiness and musty cellars liquorice and foam strawberry add a fading sweetness. Reduction reveals burnt wood – fireplace and bonfire alongside earthy smoke and dry oakiness. Juicy berries persist alongside salted caramel.
Finish: Long with ashiness, jams and preserves and lingering antiseptic.
Whilst the nose of the Amarone influence Laphroaig teases the distillery’s spirit character, the palate delivers it in spades. Quite remarkably, despite the two decades of maturation, this still has plenty of vigour and punch left in it. The aromas and flavours are precise, complementary and integrated throughout – with the wine cask adding layers of fruits and sweetness which feel in harmony with the drier, medicinally-tinged spirit. An enchanting example of sweet meeting peat. Excellent.
With thanks to Jez for the sample - happy 50th!
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