Wine: A sophisticated new dram heralds the whisky festival season
I have been in search of a good whisky to drink in the summer for some time. I may just have found it, and the perfect opportunity to enjoy it, at a new whisky festival.
Firstly – the whisky. This brand-new malt is from the relatively new Arran Distillery, set up in 1995 at Lochranza and one of the great success stories in the modern whisky era. I was intrigued to see the malt had been finished in casks from my favourite Bordeaux appellation, Pomerol. As Arran's malts are usually unpeated and mild-mannered in flavour, they seem to work well with fruity wine finishes; Arran's previous Amarone and St Emilion finishes (from Chateau Fonplegade) both proved popular.
"We thought the Merlot-based Pomerol clarets would make an interesting fit with our whisky," says Ewan Mitchell of Arran. "We had to be very careful that the oak did not overpower the whisky, we just wanted the French oak to give it a top-dressing of flavour."
Arran did not manage to get casks from the Pomerol icon Chateau Petrus, but they went for a very good second best – Chateau La Conseillante. The quality of Conseillante, under the aegis of the Nicolas family and manager Jean Michel Laporte, has been exemplary in recent years and is currently one of Bordeaux best buys, although the prices have risen. This 30-acre vineyard, in its superb situation on the eastern side of the Pomerol plateau next door to Vieux Chateau Certan, produces some of Pomerol's lushest and most deliciously succulent wines. I was interested to see if Conseillante's sumptuousness came through in this single malt.
Mitchell and his co-director, Douglas Davidson, bought 20 casks at a300 each. These had been used by the chateau for just one fill for 18 months, so the oak and fruit flavours would have been very intense. Conseillante usually uses 90 per cent new oak each year, but in the best years like 1989 or 1990 they have used 100 per cent – so they sell off their casks to fund new oak purchases.
After eight years' maturation in traditional oak casks, the malt was transferred to the Pomerol casks and kept there for just six months. "We gave it a fairly short finish, compared to our St Emilion finish, as the whisky took on the character of the Pomerol very quickly. We wanted sweet- sour notes, but not too much bitterness from over-oaking," Mitchell explains.
The colour of the whisky reminded me of an old Tavel ros, with a touch of onion skin and Irn-Bru. Mitchell calls it polished copper, which probably sounds more appealing. The aroma is very enticing with rich red cherry and very plummy bouquet. The main theme of the taste is red fruit (raspberry) and kirsch-like fruit, with an underlying fruitcake, spice pepper note, hint of smoke with a deliciously creamy texture and elegant light finish. To be honest, it's probably the closest experience I have had to tasting a whisky that was quite like a ros wine, although the alcohol at 50 per cent gives you a far headier experience. I think it might well appeal to some wine lovers as much as whisky lovers.
This exciting new limited-edition whisky (only 9,420 bottles produced) will be one of the highlights at this year's new west coast whisky festival, Spirit of the West, 16-17 May, set amid the dramatic scenery of Inveraray Castle. No less than 16 west coast distilleries will be taking part with stands from Campbeltown's Springbank and Glengyle, Skye's Talisker and Islay's Laphroaig in the Whisky Coast marquee. The festival will also include music from The Red Hot Chilli Pipers, performances by folk singers Robin Laing, Norma Munro and the pipes and drums of Clann an Drumma – with plenty of outdoor activities for the family, genealogy advice and a tartan fashion show.
For whisky aficionados, Spirit of the West will feature 12 special whisky masterclasses. Most interesting looks to be Arran's masterclass (Sat, 2pm); "the new kid on the block" with Anthony Wills from the tiny new Kilchoman distillery on Islay (Sat, 4pm); the entertaining Jim McEwan from Islay's well-established Bruichladdich (Sun, 1pm); and the charismatic Willy Tait from the Isle of Jura (Sun, 4:20pm).
May is certainly now our "whisky month", with three festivals dedicated to it. Speyside's now extended Spirit of Speyside festival (May 1-10) is already under way; the Spirit of the West festival follows (May 16-17); and the month finishes with Islay's whisky and music festival (May 24-31).
• Limited Edition Arran Malt 2009 Pomerol Cask Finish, 39.99 (70cl bt), Loch Fyne Whiskies, Argyll, 01499 302 219; Royal Mile Whisky, Edinburgh, 0131-524 9380; Spirit of West Festival, Argyllshire
• Spirit of the West Festival: 16-17 May at Inveraray Castle, Argyllshire, 14.50 adults per day; 22 for weekend, 45 family per day, 10 senior citizens & concessions. Whisky Masterclasses: 10 for 40 minutes or 15 for one hour per head.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Wednesday 19 June 2013
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