The use of wine casks for whisky maturation has always been somewhat controversial, because it is very easy to overpower a spirit. Wine casks often add a lot of weight and body, but whereas sherry and bourbon casks seem to naturally work well with most new makes, there’s often a sort of discord between wine influence and spirit character. It’s the integration between the two that has been lacking in the past.
Ageing whisky in wine casks isn’t anything new, but the practice seems to have matured in the past few years. I think there’s a lot better understanding of how certain wine casks interact with whisky. For example, Aberfeldy has released a number of wine cask finished single malts in recent years – sometimes this second maturation period only lasted a few months. It leads to a more subtle whisky where the wine is present but never too loud.
Having said that, the Longrow Red series has never been about subtlety in particular, and I don’t expect the new Longrow Red 15 Years Pinot Noir Cask to be either. While it matured the first 11 years in standard bourbon barrels, the whisky then spent an additional 4 years in Pinot Noir casks. These casks were sourced from Grant Taylor’s Valli vineyards Central Otago, New Zealand, and only 9,400 bottles were released.
Compared to last year’s Longrow Red release, the biggest dissimilarity to me is not the difference between Malbec and Pinot Noir. Instead, I believe that the use of refill Malbec casks contributed greatly to the successful pairing between the Longrow spirit and wine influence. It was explicitly mentioned on the label last year. Not so much on the label of the new release, which most likely means the Pinot Noir casks are first-fill. Hopefully the Longrow Red 15 Years Pinot Noir Cask turns out just as magnificent, but I’m slightly skeptical.
Longrow Red 15 Years Pinot Noir Cask (51.4%, OB, 2022)
Nose: More gentle than you might expect, the earthy peat smoke plays a supporting role and is chaperoned by tobacco, damp leaves and bung cloth. There’s some breakfast tea, as well as a sliver of smoked paprika powder and a few redcurrants and strawberry jam. We’re off to a good start. Taste: An oily, almost sticky mouthfeel followed by earthy peat. It’s winey for sure, much more than the nose suggests. There are jammy red fruits – mostly strawberry and a bit candy-esque. A tinge of struck matches, some ashy smoke and a faint salinity. Subtle spices too. Finish: Sticky, winey and sweet smoke. Long.
Considering the heights of last year's 10-year-old refill Malbec, the new Longrow Red 15 Years Pinot Noir Cask is slightly disappointing. The nose displays a good balance between spirit and cask, but the palate is a little too winey for me. It's hard to find another descriptor – this is the best I can come up with right now.