Over the last few years, cask finishes have really come into vogue. The practice allows producers to add a twist to the flavours imparted by the original barrel. It’s a valuable tool to enable distillers, and blenders, to create an interesting new take on their existing range. When done well, cask finishes can be used to elevate a distillery’s typical character. However, there are a few bottles on the market where the result is an unbalanced mess.
These finishes are no longer confined to the bottom to middle end of a distillery’s range. As brands become more comfortable controlling the result of a cask finish, we’re seeing them apply the process to older and older expressions: there is less hesitancy to risk ruining a valuable batch of aged spirit. One of these expressions is Tomintoul’s new 18 Year Old Sauternes Cask Finish.
Sauternes, a sweet wine apparently perfect for pairing with foie gras, sounds like an ideal addition to Tomintoul’s famously “gentle dram”. When the distillery offered me a sample, I gladly accepted, eager to see the result.
Tomintoul 18 Year Old Sauternes Cask Finish
Speyside Single Malt Whisky
43% ABV, matured in ex-bourbon casks, finished in Sauternes casks.
Colouring and chill-filtration not disclosed.
Nose: Bags of sweet fruit. There’s rich orange marmalade, lemon curd, runny honey, and ripe cherry.
Palate: The palate has a beautiful balance of sweet, fruity, and a little spice. Zesty lemon, peach and passionfruit lead the way and are joined by vanilla, lashings of honey, and a slight nuttiness. The spice comes through as freshly cracked black pepper, a little cinnamon, and a hint of mint. The mouthfeel is rich and creamy.
Finish: Honey, lemon sherbets, and white pepper fade to a warm, lingering and sticky sweetness.
Opinion: This dram is so light and citrusy that it could almost be used as a palate cleanser. This is not at the expense of balance or depth either: there is a lot to explore with this whisky, especially on the palate. Tomintoul seems to have got this cask finish spot-on: they’ve produced a whisky which is recognisable as a Tomintoul, just elevated by the sweet fruitiness imparted by the Sauternes cask.
I can’t help but notice that the 18 Year Old Sauternes Cask Finish departs from the usual Tomintoul formula in more ways than just its wood of maturation. While the core range is a uniform 40% ABV, this expression is released at 43% ABV. For me, this contributes to the spice and warmth on show and the pleasant mouth feel.
I do have to mention the price. £110 isn’t unusual for an 18-year-old these days but will cause some buyers to have second thoughts. I believe the 18 Year Old Sauternes Cask Finish competes well at this price point but wouldn’t blow away its competitors.
I’m starting to suspect that whenever Tomintoul breaks away from their core range, they produce something excellent. This is no different; all in all, a great dram and a well-executed cask finish.
Disclosure: The samples and virtual tasting experience that informed this article were provided to the Water of Life team by Angus Dundee Distillers free of charge. Angus Dundee Distillers have not had any other input into this article, nor has the Water of Life team relinquished any editorial control.