Wine casks can be a tricky thing. Tricky to get right in terms of the balance between spirit, wood and particularly tannins, but also tricky for some whisky enthusiasts to fully appreciate – they can be rather divisive things. The use of wine casks has grown exponentially over the past 20 years – and this trend doesn’t seem to be abating anytime soon. But, for every great marriage of whisky and wine, there’s another which doesn’t quite hit the same high spots. Campbeltown’s Springbank regularly utilise wine casks from a fairly broad range of grape varietals. And more than most, they tend to make it work.
The distillery is quite experimental and liberal with its wine cask use. Each of their distillate types (medium peated Springbank, unpeated Hazelburn and heavily peated Longrow) has been matured in both red and white grape types – occasionally at the same time, resulting in the opportunity to taste the same wine treatment (the most recent example being Sauternes) across each of the three different distillates.
Springbank 12 year old Burgundy was released in 2016 as a limited batch of 10,260 bottles drawn from 1st fill Burgundy barrels. The Burgundy wine region is primarily (but not exclusively) focussed on the production of wine from Pinot Noir, Gamay and Chardonnay grapes, and whilst the barrel type is not specified on this whisky, it’s a fair bet to guess Pinot Noir as the likely candidate, being almost eponymous to Burgundy. The wine influence here is not merely a finish - the whisky has matured for its entire 12 years within these barrels before being delivered at a cask strength of 53.5% ABV.
Nose: A pronounced combination of steely minerals, earthy dunnage warehouses and bright, juicy red berries – quite wonderful. Smoke is a supporting aroma here, but it touches all aspects of the whisky – intermingling with charred raspberries, singed strawberries and caramelised cherries – whilst also delivering a slightly coastal brininess. Sharp black pepper is perceptible and adds another layer of interest. A few drops of water ups the sweetness levels a notch with both stewed plums and golden honey.
Taste: An arrival that is part oily and part zingy – the red wine influence can be detected immediately. Red berries, grapes (no surprise there) and chilli peppers are joined by sherbet and citric minerality. In the mid palate, chocolate intermingles with wet soils, mosses and earthy peat – surprisingly sweet in places. There’s still a fair dunnage influence here, mustiness, damp….a bit on the dirty side. The addition of water ups the sweetness again, coating the berry fruit in a dusting of icing sugar, as well as emphasising some of the Campbeltown peat – pungent with a slight rubbery edge.
Finish: Medium in length, quite drying, quite tannic and with plenty of oak – but still rather sweet.
There’s a lot to like about Springbank 12 year old Burgundy, especially the nose, which is quite the lovely thing. The combination of wine with the underlying Springbank mineral, earthy/peaty style works exceptionally well in this instance - and it still feels like a very old school style whisky. Flavours are pronounced, varied and interestingly composed, and the oak doesn’t make an appearance until the finish, where its drying influence is welcome and altogether rather pleasant. Perhaps a bit overly saccharine in places, but I’m starting to nit-pick now - this is very solid whisky indeed.
But don't take our word for it..
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