A few months before Ireland’s dominant Six Nations Grandslam, I had a bit of a dilemma. I had wanted to celebrate rugby’s greatest tournament with a whisky tasting featuring a dram from each competing nation. Unfortunately, whilst it would be easy to find a representative spirit from Scotland, England, Ireland, Wales, and even France, the Italians don’t make whisky… do they?
It turns out that Italy has been contributing to the world of whisky since 2012. Hidden in the alps in Italy’s South Tyrol region, the Puni distillery is the brainchild of the Ebensperger family. Their idea was to combine pure alpine water and local grain with stills made in Scotland to create something unique. Puni believes that the climate of the Italian Alps, with warm summers and freezing winters, offers the perfect setting for maturing a whisky, leading to spirits that are quickly at their best. This is enhanced by their access to some excellent Italian casks. In the case of the Marsala Edition, unsurprisingly the casks have previously held Marsala fortified wine, hand selected in Sicily.
The Italians have a reputation for excellent design. This has certainly been considered when Puni’s packaging was created. The two-tone bottle and textured box make for an attractive combination. But the important question is, what is the whisky like?
Puni Vina – Marsala Edition
Italian Malt Whisky.
43% ABV; matured in Marsala Vergine casks.
Natural colour; non-chill-filtered.
£45 (FineDrams.com). Readers in Italy can buy directly from Puni for €59.90.
Nose: Light and fruity, with sultanas, apricots, white grapes, figs, and cherries. This is underlined by a pleasant nuttiness – especially walnut – as well as some cereal notes and a hint of cinnamon. Very well balanced, with an excellent depth to the aromas.
Palate: Creamy walnut whip, maple syrup, and sweet sultana quickly give way to rising alcoholic heat. This speaks clearly to the whisky’s youth. The balance promised by the nose is notably absent. There is still a depth of flavour, though: raisin, caramel, bitter almond, charred orange peel, and black pepper.
Finish: Creamy but short, with a burnt toffee bittersweetness. As time goes on, this resembles Angostura bitters more and more.
Opinion: Unfortunately, this is a case of a nose that overpromises. My first sniff built much expectation: this could well be a whisky that I would really enjoy. While the flavours on the palate are far from bad, I am left a little deflated by how average they were in comparison. The balance is a bit off for me: the combined sweetness and harshness on the palate, and bitterness on the finish come across slightly too strongly. I feel that this may be down to the choice of cask: perhaps a marsala finish would have worked better than using the barrels for the whole maturation.
Having tasted this with a mixed audience, I was interested to note that younger drinkers tended to enjoy this whisky much more than older ones. I suspect this may have been down to a preference for sweeter spirits. It does improve with time, and with consumption as your mouth grows used to (or numb to) the initial harshness and heat.
That said, I’m far from put off by my first try of Puni. This is a new distillery in a country without a distilling heritage. However, Puni has shown that there are some great ingredients, especially wood, available in Italy. I suspect that, as the team becomes more experienced, they will produce better and better whiskies which can exploit these. Puni distillery may well be one to watch.
For now, I would consider buying this if I saw it – it’s better than many whiskies at the same price point. However, its attraction is still its novelty (“hey, try this Italian whisky”) rather than based on its underlying quality.