Malt Mongers Israel Red Wine Finish Night

mmi-red-wine

We recently had our June meetup for Malt Mongers Israel (MMI). This one was held at the Yacht Club Resto-bar in Tel Aviv. The theme for the evening was whiskies that had been finished in red wine casks.

A lot of whiskies have been either entirely matured or just finished in sherry casks, an old tradition with some really fantastic results. A lot of distilleries built their reputations on good sherry casks, like the The Macallan. The problem is sherry has dwindled in popularity and demand for whisky has skyrocketed, so there aren’t enough sherry casks to go around. Some companies have even resorted to filling their casks with sherry for a bit, and then just dumping it. But of course this won’t have the same effect as a cask that held sherry for many many years. This is particularly troublesome for the aforementioned distilleries which built their reputations on their fine sherry casks, like the The Macallan.

Enter red wine. Red wine is aged in oak casks, red wine is always in demand, red wine is everywhere. So a lot of distilleries have been experimenting with red wine casks and we at MMI decided to see how that’s going. The whiskies we tried were:

  • Benromach Wood Finish Hermitage 2007 – 8 years in first-fill bourbon casks and then 18 months in ex-Hermitage wine casks (Syrah). Aside from their core range Benromach releases a few odd bottlings, two of them are red wine matured, this one and  Sassicaia.
  • Bunnahabhain Eirigh Na Greine Batch 4 – NAS, contains a ” a significant proportion of high-quality ex-red wine cask-matured Bunnahabhain whiskies of various ages”. This expression is a travel retail exclusive and meant to replace the Darach Ur.
  • Glenmorangie Milsean – NAS, but according to their marketing materials this is the regular 10yo aged for another 2 years in re-charred barriques that held sweet portuguese red wine, then vatted and further aged for 6 months. This is their annual private edition release, themed after a victorian sweet shop with eye searingly hideous red and white striped packaging.
  • Blair Athol 1988 by Signatory – 25 years in a “red wine treated butt”, not 100% what that means but I’m assuming they put some red wine into the cask before they put the whisky in, would be nice to at least know what type of wine.

On to the drams:


Benromach Hermitage 2005

Aged 9 years. 45%ABV. Matured in first-fill bourbon casks and finished in ex-hermitage casks. No colourant added and non-chill filtered.

Nose: Sulphury. Match heads. Leather. Creme brulee. Mulch. Seville oranges. Toffee.

Palate: Spice. Red grapefruit. Cacao. Bitter seaweed.

Finish: Long. Plenty woodspice. More grapefruit. Bitter wood.

Would I buy this: Yes

Would I order this in a bar: Yes

Would I drink this if someone gave me a glass: Yes

VFM: 4/5


Bunnahabhain Eirigh Na Greine

Aged 3 years*. 46.3%ABV. Vatted with ex-red wine cask matured whiskies. No colourant added and non-chill filtered.

Nose: New make. Plastic. Salty honey. Brine. Woodspice. Maple.

Palate: Chalk. Dry citrus. Candies cherries. Blood orange. Bit of anise.

Finish: Long. Malty. Sweet fruits. Woodspice, lots of woodspice. Anise.

Would I buy this: No

Would I order this in a bar: No

Would I drink this if someone gave me a glass: Yes

VFM: 3/5


Glenmorangie Milsean

Aged 3 years*. 46%ABV. Finished in ex-Portuguese red wine barriques. No colourant added.

Nose: Iced cinnamon bun. Rich wood. Caramel. Creme brulee. Salt.

Palate: Woodspice. Ethanol. Bitter wood. Bubblegum. Bit of peppermint.

Finish: Medium long. Peppermint. Boiled sweets. Sponge cake. Dry wood.

Would I buy this: No

Would I order this in a bar: No

Would I drink this if someone gave me a glass: Yes

VFM: 2/5


Blair Athol 1988 Signatory

Aged 26 years. 59.6%ABV. Matured in a wine treated butt. No colourant added, non-chill filtered and bottled at cask strength from cask no. 6792.

Nose: Spicy wood. Match heads. Nutty wood. Red fruits. Cacao powder. Blood oranges.

Palate: Cherry cigar. Boiled sweets. Ruby grapefruit. Caramel. Citrus spray. Cacao.

Finish: Long. Citrus spray. Spice. Nasal spray. Bitter coffee.

Would I buy this: No

Would I order this in a bar: Yes

Would I drink this if someone gave me a glass: Yes

VFM: 2/5


* for lack of age statement

This was an interesting evening. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of the style, but I can see what people might like in it, the red wines add a certain sweet and spicy mix to the whisky. It won’t work well with every malt, but it should be great for some of them.

The Benromach was actually my favourite of the evening. It’s a very affordable dram, at a modest age, and surprisingly complex yet also quite balanced.

I found that the Bunnahabhain had a bit of a young note to it on the nose at first, this went away after a bit, and the palate was quite nice, but it just felt underwhelming when one considers the quality of their core expressions.

The Glenmorangie was probably my least favourite of the night. There was a certain cloying sweetness to it that I didn’t like, and that aside it felt a little unbalanced and a tad one-dimensional. This generated a lot of hype and carried a hefty price tag, so that’s disappointing.

The Blair Athol was a very nice dram, good level of complexity and being bottled at cask strength gave a good oomph factor, but it too left me a little underwhelmed considering that it’s a well aged whisky, from a distillery whose malt is known to age well. Don’t think it goes so well with wine casks.

In all a fun evening nonetheless, I was very interested to see the wine cask influence on whiskies from distilleries whose profiles I’m familiar with. Would be interesting to see what kind of influence different types of red wine do to the malt.

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