Review -Analysing a Pair of Wine Cask Finished Arrans – With The Malt Mentalist.

This week The Malt Mentalist and I will be dissecting and ruminating upon a couple of rather curious wine cask finished expressions from Arran distillery.

Stew has done most of the legwork on this and they are his bottles after all so it’s only fair I let him go first…

The Malt Mentalist

I’d just like to point out that  I’m a Arran evangelist, I might be slightly biased with my opinion.

Recently while searching through an online auction I noticed some bottles of earlier Arran expressions going fairly cheap, so I decided to throw my hat into the ring and try and grab a bargain and I think I got exactly that.

I managed to pick up two bottles for the measly sum of £40 each, the first being the Moscatel De Setubal wine cask finish and secondly the Fontalloro wine cask finish, both being whiskies I hadn’t tried previously.

The thing that grabbed my attention was the wine cask they were finished in. I’m a huge fan of whiskies finished in wine casks but not really a lover of wine, so I decided to embark on a little experiment with these two offerings.

I decided to attempt to purchase bottles of wine from the same regions and stupidly thought this would be an easy task.

The Moscatel was easy to source after a quick internet search, I guessed it was a dessert wine due to how sweet the whisky smelled straight off the bat and managed to pick one up from Asda for under a tenner. I honestly didn’t expect to find such similarities between the two but it was scary. The nose of both was incredibly sweet. The 2008 Arran offering was an 8 year old whisky then placed into one of the 225lt barriques from the southern region of Lisbon and matured for 10 months. I found the whisky being such a smooth experience that I couldn’t help but reach for it every time I fancied a dram. So diverse and beautifully presented, I was hooked, even with the higher alcohol level of the whisky and obvious ever present spice associated with Arran it leaves such a great aftertaste lingering in the back of your mouth. If ever I wanted a dram after a great meal I would always be reaching for this. This particular bottle comes in at 55% and was limited to 5,730 bottles.

Next up was the Fontalloro finish and bloody hell did I have a job on my hands finding a wine from the same region. Fontalloro is a classic red wine from the area of Felsina in the heart of Tuscany. It is produced solely from the Sangiovese grape and matured in oak barriques from what I could find online. Finding a bottle locally was impossible and had to order one online. I also had to bite the bullet on this and pay £28 for a bottle but I’m not going to lie, I thoroughly enjoyed the wine and had it with a few friends to help soften the blow to my cost-saving persona.

Even now after having this whisky for over a month I’m struggling with the complexity of the spirit, don’t get me wrong I love it but it’s hard to compare it to anything I’ve had before. I can pick up from both wine and whisky the nose but on the palate I found them very different. The wine was very smooth and slightly nutty in taste. As for the whisky it’s heavily on the side of red fruits and cedar wood, the only reason I can compare with the wood is due to my humidor smelling so strong, it’s easy to match both. The whisky has such a complex and ever evolving taste I’ve struggled to pinpoint the richer side of the dram but I won’t give up trying.

This bottle was a limited run of just 1,994 and bottled at 55% too, I think I got a bargain with these two. Both whiskies being fantastic offerings from Arran and part of a range I need to work my way though at any cost.

Now I didn’t go as far as sourcing the wine (excellent effort on The Malt Mentalists part) but here are my notes on the two expressions.

Arran Mosatel de Setubal finish, OB, 2008, 55%abv (sample swap)

On the nose the is a cereal and malty hit straight away. There is a citrus sharpness here along with some toffee based sweetness and a melon element. It’s a little prickly at 55% and some of the more subtle elements are lost until the addition of water.

The palate is dry, apricots and some fresh pineapple leaves are the stand out elements. There is a crisp apple sharpness, not like a Sauvignon Blanc dryness, it’s sweeter than that, but it is there.

This almost feels like virgin oak and there is just a slight damp note reminiscent of wet paper or wet wood. Hopefully not an indicator of cork damage to the bottle.

The finish continues to be dry and spice led but there is a small vanilla revelation at the end.

It’s quite syrupy and viscous. It feels like it should be sweeter than it is but for some reason it’s not, it’s very drying in the mouth but not unpleasantly so.

Arran Fontalloro Finish, OB, 2007, 55%abv, (sample swap) 

The nose on this feels much darker than the Moscatel finish. Sweeter too. Quite a lot going on here. Red fruits are here along with some stewed apples and a sweet citrus element I can only describe as Limoncello fudge.

The palate is again fruity, but this time more like pears and apples and an interesting grape note. Again, it seems a little spirity which suppresses the fruity character a little too much. There is a woody note here but much more subtle than the strong oak before. More like cedar or light mahogany. No damp notes here either.

On the whole I’ve always felt that Arran spirit really does need some good age behind it. Their 18 is a masterpiece indeed. I have the same general feeling with Glen Moray, who’s older expressions are exponentially superior to its younger ones.

Two very unique expressions to try. Perhaps not to my taste but massively interesting to sit and analyse two drams I wouldn’t otherwise have been able to try.

Thanks to The Malt Mentalist for the samples and for his diligent research.