An interesting sort of academic whisky exercise, that’s what Goldfinch Whisky Merchants have created. They took five ex-sherry hogsheads with 12-year-old Blair Athol and finished each for up to two years in different wine barrels. All were bottled at the same strength to maintain consistency across the range. The result is the Goldfinch Wine Series.
Goldfinch’s objective was to create a range that allowed whisky connoisseurs to experience the effects of finishing on the same single malt. And in a way, that’s what they did. But as we know, every cask of whisky is different. Even if they were filled on the same date and matured next to each other in the same warehouse.
They could’ve pushed it just a little further though. For example, by marrying the five sherry hogsheads first, creating a more homogenous whisky that would’ve then been finished. Then again, this experiment was never intended to be scientific, but just a little fun. And that was certainly accomplished.
Compare and contrast we shall.
Blair Athol 14 Years Marsala (52%, The Goldfinch, 329 bts.)
Nose: An initial array of candied red berries, a gentle fizzy touch, as well as dark toffee, caramel and walnut skins. Given time, it veers more towards the sugar-y end of the spectrum. Sweet with a touch of cigar boxes and chocolate. Taste: A viscous mouthfeel and a somewhat spicy arrival. The rather intense sweetness can’t balance things out entirely. Honey, fudge, tablet. But also stewed red fruits. Whispers of tobacco and leather too. Finish: Medium length with sweet fruits and soft bitter notes.
The wine overtakes the palate, where it displays that typical sticky, vinous sweetness. Some years ago, this used to be a hallmark of almost every wine-finished whisky. In general, the industry has become better at sussing these out, so I’m a bit surprised to encounter this again. It’s been a while.
Blair Athol 14 Years Red Wine North Pauillac (52%, The Goldfinch, 329 bts.)
Nose: Hints of plums, but also rather vinous with just a touch of charred oak and sulphur. The latter disappears after 15 minutes or so. A bit earthy at times, while the dried fruits are rather apparent also. But the red wine really is dominant. Taste: Winey, but less sticky and not as intensely sweet. A gentle herbaceous side highlighted by mint leaves, but there are also blackcurrants, white pepper, ginger and jammy raspberries. Slightly tannic too. Finish: Medium length. Somewhat dry and there are warming oak spices. Soft red berries.
It’s not mentioned on the label, but I have it on good authority this is an ex-Chateau Lafite cask. Again, there’s no denying the red wine influence here. Not as sweet though, more earthy maybe. It displays more of a balance than the Marsala. Still not entirely a winner.
Blair Athol 14 Years Red Wine South Pauillac (52%, The Goldfinch, 327 bts.)
Nose: A bit fresher than its North Pauillac sibling. Bright red fruits with a touch of blackcurrant. There’s also room for a whiff of fermented apple, leather, and some dusty chalk. Lingering in the background there’s a touch of sulphur. Taste: A hint of strong breakfast tea, ripe apple, and soft cereal notes. Also, gentle wood tannins and soft oak spices, accompanied by tart cherries. Water brings out a creamier, sweeter side. Finish: Medium length. Rather dry, with quite a bit of oak.
Again, not mentioned on the label, but this an ex-Chateau Latour cask. Markedly different than the other Pauillac finished Blair Athol. More tannic and oaky, yet also fresher and a little more summer-y, although not a summer dram by any means.
Blair Athol 14 Years Sweet German Wine (52%, The Goldfinch, 318 bts.)
Nose: Vibrant with a soft mineral hint and gentle earthy notes of damp leaves. Some rich fruits too, mostly green grapes, some coconut, and baked bananas. There’s a touch vanilla and pollen as well, accompanied by cedar and tobacco leaves. Taste: Mild hints of eucalyptus are quickly followed by oak spices, which then make place for elegant notes of beeswax. Some caramel-glazed apples too, as well as a touch of tobacco. Finish: Medium length with soft herbs and mild spices. Warming.
The standout of the bunch. Yes, the spices are a bit prominent on the palate, but there’s also room for lovely white fruits and even some beeswax.
Blair Athol 14 Years Tawny Port (52%, The Goldfinch, 325 bts.)
Nose: Touches of mocha and nougat to kick things off, but accompanied by cassis, cigar tobacco, some blackberries, and hints of Werther’s Original. There’s a whiff of damp oak staves and an array of warm baking spices. Taste: Creamy mouthfeel with notes of raspberry-filled bonbons, pralines and a touch of orange zest. The cereal notes stay in the background, while the tannins are slightly more prominent. Finish: Medium length. Hints of sandalwood, stewed fruits. Drying too.
The most winter-y in this lineup. Plenty of darker, warmer notes. It's the dryness that keeps me from giving it a higher score.