On the 1st September 2011 an update, made the previous year, to the Australian Wine Corporation Act 1980 became enforceable - ruling that ‘sherry’ produced in the country could no longer be labelled as such. The decision was similar to those made in the 90s when the EU sought to inforce geographical indicators (such as Champagne and Burgundy) with their trading partners outside the Eurozone. Overnight, sherry, fino, oloroso, Amontillado (and several others) all disappeared from Australian labels. It was felt that as a category name, whilst ‘Australian fortified wine’ was certainly literal, it was also far too vague – there are many types of fortified wine products. Specificity was required to avoid confusing the consumer. Australian ex-sherry (see what I did there) needed a new name. Enter Apera.
Apera – a play on the word ‘aperitif’ was created to give Australian ‘sherry’ a new and recognisable face. It’s still what us Europeans would recognise as sherry – made in decades old solera systems - and with many of the stylistic differences utilised in southern Spain. A similarly adaptation was introduced for Tokay – which is now termed Topaque in Australia.
As a part of communicating the updated name to their customers, producers took the opportunity to try to promote the drink – as an aperitif (from its new namesake), and as an ingredient used by bar professionals for cocktail creation. I’d be interested to learn from any Australian readers whether the apera name is gaining traction in its usage…..as far as I can tell both Spanish sherry, and Australian apera still appear quite unpopular. A long-term global decline stemming from the 1960’s which sadly shows no signs of abating anytime soon.
Today we have the last of four recently released Whisky Exchange 20th Anniversary exclusives – A 2012 7 year old Starward drawn from a refill apera cask. Interestingly the 1st fill was also a Starward whisky, which marks this TWE bottling out as a little different – the distillery has a preponderance for 1st fill apera casks across their recent expressions. The release consists of 220 bottled at 59% ABV. They’re available directly from The Whisky Exchange for £99.95.
Nose: Creamy fudge and toffee drive the heart of this whisky – they’re supported by a selection of orchard fruits and red berries – part fresh, part-baked and reduced. Running throughout, oat-based cereals, split vanilla pods, café latte, crème patisserie and oven-baked stone fruit flans. Oakiness is dusty, almost dried soil like and is joined by almonds from marzipan and glass of freshly whole fat milk. Reduction adds additional fruit elements – pear, melon and kiwi alongside Birds Custard (custard powder mix).
Taste: The arrival is very thick and weighty, packed full of viscose texture. It’s also much more tropical now with spit-roasted pineapple chunks joining cooking apples and raspberry and cranberry jams and preserves. Next on the journey is spice – and this is packed full of it –pepper and cinnamon – intense, heady and not pulling any punches. It is softened gradually by the introduction of crème brulee, and milk chocolate. The back-palate favours the cask with creamy aromatic oakiness – brown sugars and a pleasant dryness. Dilution here is ill advised, whilst it brings the spicing back from the edge (which is needs), it also makes the whisky much less characterful – generic, non-descript flavours, rather than precise and defined. It also brings out some unexpected spirit youth – copper piping and under formed esters.
Finish: Long and packed full of spice influence – cinnamon (which calms quickly) and pepper (which doesn’t). Sponge cake adds sweetness, whilst the charred cask lingers, gradually adding tannins to the mouth.
An interesting Starward that hasn’t been beaten repeatedly with the sherry stick, so as such, it still retains a high proportion of its underlying fruitiness. However, the spice on the palate is pushing it, even for me – and I’m far from spice adverse – and the addition of water works on the nose, but proves much less productive on the palate. Well-made and characterful, but I’m not falling over myself for it.
Review sample provided by The Whisky Exchange