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Issue 51 - Mixing the grain with the grape

Whisky Magazine Issue 51
October 2005


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Mixing the grain with the grape

Ian Wisniewski looks at wine finishes

Fortified wine casks introduced the concept of special finishes, with spirits such as calvados, cognac and rum following, but the range of wine cask finishes has become the most extensive.

This includes grape varieties including chardonnay and chenin blanc, styles of wine such as Bordeaux, Sauternes and Tokaji, and even individual estates such as Chateau Margaux.

Regulations stipulate that special finishes must comply with the ‘traditional casks' principle, which includes “still wine (of whatever type or origin).” This may sound liberal but there's an important proviso.

“Even if the cask used for maturation or finishing of Scotch whisky is of a type which has traditionally been used for maturation of Scotch whisky, if as a result of that maturation the spirit ceases to have the taste and aroma and colour generally found in Scotch whisky, it will no longer qualify as Scotch whisky.” Going too far is one consideration, but not going far enough is another.

“The spirit should have been matured for long enough in the ‘finishing' cask to affect the organoleptic character of the spirit. How long that period of time should be will be a question of fact in each case, depending on the development of the spirit in the cask.” Meanwhile, what's the rationale of a special finish for distillers?

“You're aiming to show a different side of a particular malt, which consumers can compare to the original. The finishing period needs to be long enough to allow for integratio...

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