I am not generally a fan of whiskies finished in red wine casks. A lot of this is Glenmorangie and Murray McDavid/Bruichladdich’s fault, but when I see that a whisky has been finished in a red wine cask I assume the worst. That said, peated malts seem to survive such encounters the best and this here is a Caol Ila. Like Friday’s Ardbeg, this was bottled by Malts of Scotland for van Zuylen in their “Dunes An Oir” series (Gaelic for “dunes of gold”, I believe) and it was finished in a Banyuls cask. Banyuls is a sweet, fortified wine, and so, in theory, at least, it may end up closer to a sherry or madeira finish than to a regular red wine finish. I think this was matured for 15 years in a bourbon cask and probably only saw a very brief “finish” in the wine cask—I’m guess the original cask was bourbon both from the outturn and on the basis that it’s unlikely anyone would do a wine finish on top of sherry maturation. Anyway, this is a rusty red in the glass—let’s see what it’s like on the nose and palate.
Caol Ila 15, 2000 (55.6%; Malts of Scotland cask #15036 for van Zuylen; Banyuls finish; from a purchased sample)
Nose: Sweet notes of smoke and raisins; barbecued pork with a sweet glaze; wet earth. After a minute or so there’s a more acidic edge to the smoke and more red fruit (cherry jam) and some hoisin sauce. Very nice. With more time it’s plum sauce, not cherry jam and there’s a cereal note as well pushing out past the smoky and sweet notes. Water brightens it up, pulling out citrus (orange) and apricot; a bit of leather too.
Palate: As on the nose, the smoke and the sweeter notes are in very nice balance. This is rich without being cloying and the wine is not floating on top of the whisky. Much ashier smoke on the second sip and some chilli pepper too. The pepper hits earlier with each sip and the smoke gets ashier, pushing the sweeter notes down; gets saltier as it goes too. Water makes the smoke expand further at first, but at second there’s more of the red fruit—the smoke never goes away though and it’s more phenolic and oily too now.
Finish: Long. It’s the ashy smoke and the chilli pepper that keep going for a while. With more time some citrus floats out from the under the smoke and pepper (orange peel). At the very end it’s the salt that remains. With a lot of time the wine begins to separate a little on the finish. Tarrier with water and saltier.
Comments: Oh, I was surprised by how much I liked this given my religious fundamentalism about wine cask finishes. This is no winesky at all— no cologne-like notes and I barely even registered any red fruit on the palate. It’s not very Caol Ila either but it’s very good peated whisky: the balance of the peat and wine finish is reminiscent of the Lagavulin D.E. It’s just missing some secondary development on the palate. If you like the various Ballechin wine cask releases, the chances of your not liking this are very slim. I’m going to get a bottle (yes, this is still available).
Rating: 87 points.