2016 hasn’t been a fantastic year, pretty much wherever you are in the world – it’s kind of heart-wrenching when you can look at your country, where the value of your currency is plummeting and racial tension is skyrocketing, and think you got off lightly. But fear not, for I bring tidings of great comfort and joy. 2016, whatever else it may be, is the year of the red wine cask.
I don’t mean to claim that red wine-finished whiskies are a new thing, by any means – if you can bear with me a bit longer, I’m actually going to review one released way back in the distant days of 2013. People have been dipping their feet in the water (or wine) for a while, refining and improving, and it feels like this year more than ever the whisky world has it nailed.
We kicked things off with the Glenmorangie Milsean, from their Private Editions. Milsean roughly translates as “sweet things”, and they are not kidding around here. Little Tipple owes me a shamelessly thieved tasting note, and I’m going to steal his absolute favourite – sweet shops! It’s a larger-than-life, bombastic fruity explosion that splashes red berries, lemon sherbet, blackcurrant and spice onto a Pollock-esque canvas for which Glenmorangie’s trademark vanilla creaminess is a warm and calming base.
Since then they’ve come thick, fast, and yummy. Independent bottlers have been getting in on the action, with Hunter Laing releases from Inchgower, Auchroisk, and Ardmore (the last a particular gem, lightly peated with a tangy citrus and salt offsetting the sweeter flavours from the Bordeaux). I also managed to snag a try of a 19 year old Rioja finish from Aultmore, exclusive to the Whisky Shop, which has to be tasted to be believed. But the one I most want to gush about is one I picked up in duty-free, Bunnahabhain’s Eirigh na Greine.
It was a bit of an impulse buy – I’d spent a while chatting to the lady in World of Whiskies, tried a Royal Salute and the Longmorn Distiller’s Choice (I hate to be the guy who says everything was better before it changed, but I miss the 16 year old). But Bunnahabhain’s whiskies have always had a knack of having something elusive about them, something I try and fail to define time after time. And so I plumped for the maroon one with the funny name. Eirigh na Greine translates as “morning sky”, and from the colour I assume they’re thinking of the one shepherds warn you about – it’s a lovely warm bronze with a little tinge of pink, although less than a lot of other wine-finished whiskies I’ve had.
The nose is a tempter and no mistake, combining an easy-going caramel centre with a zingy orange sherbet and baked apple pie. A touch of water brings out a slightly floral side, I think honeysuckle, although I’ll be completely honest here, botany is not my strongest suit. On the tongue, you get a lovely thickness – one look at the legs on this beast will tell you that. I managed to pull off a trick that I was first shown with the Bruichladdich Islay Barley, and only works with very oily whiskies, of running the water gently down the side of the glass and letting it sit on top rather than mixing with the whisky. The first impression I got was of condensed milk, and then of strawberry ice-cream – the type made with actual strawberries. But as you might expect from a whisky as oily as this, there’s a lot more to crop up on the finish. The sherbet from the nose drops by for a quick visit, I would guess as a result of tempering Bunnahabhain’s classic ginger with the sweetness from the cask. There’s some salted caramel, particularly prevalent with water, and a bit of blackcurrant. I would like to spend as much time with this beauty as possible, to find out all her quirks and to tell her time and again how much I love her. And the great thing about buying it from duty-free is that I get to do this for 43% longer than usual!