The holidays are approaching. That means parties, dinners, and family gatherings—many of which you’ll want to attend bearing a gift. Wine is the all-to-obvious route. So why not present your host with something more exciting (and stronger)—like wine cask-finished whiskeys?
Wine cask-finished whiskeys strike a balance of strength (always at least 40 percent ABV) and elegance, thanks to the influence of the finishing casks. Their previous contents might have been a fortified wine like sherry or port, a sweet dessert wine, or a table wine. Either way, that liquid has left its mark on the oak itself—and, in turn, the cask changes the flavor of an already-mature bourbon, scotch, or other whiskey that spends a few months finishing.
The barrel’s impact is most evident in flavors (think jammy or dried fruit), but it also shows up in the liquid’s texture. Wine casks can beef up velvety texture and lush mouthfeel, creating a sipping experience that stands up to food pairings—and just as easily stands on its own.
If you turn up to a dinner party with a bottle of whiskey, it can be opened that night and enjoyed for as long as the liquid lasts. No need to finish it within a few days like wine. Short- or long-lived, any of these 10 wine cask-finished whiskeys are bound to steal the show.
1. Royal Salute 21-Year-Old Polo Estancia Edition
Blended scotch often gets overlooked in the single malt frenzy, but offerings like this Royal Salute gem prove why that’s a mistake. Created by master blender Sandy Hyslop, Estancia pays tribute to Argentina’s polo tradition with a finish in Bodegas Etchart Cafayate malbec casks. It’s rare to find a malbec-finished whisky. The varietal adds rich fruit and chocolate notes as well as texture, giving Estancia a plush, velvety body without becoming heavy or overly dominant with food. Aged for 21 years, it’s priced more in line with single malts several years its junior—something only a blend can pull off.
2. The GlenAllachie 11-Year-Old Grattamacco Finish (and 13-Year-Old Rioja Finish)
Speyside single malt scotch distillery GlenAllachie has a whole series of limited-edition wine cask-finished whiskies, including two that recently debuted in the U.S. Both were initially aged in ex-bourbon casks before spending almost two years in wine barriques—from Bolgheri’s Grattamacco winery for the 11-year-old ($110), and the Spanish region of Rioja for the 13-year-old ($130). Each whisky is bottled at a generous 48 percent ABV, highlighting the natural complexity created by the wine casks. Less than 1,000 bottles of each made their way stateside, so keep a sharp eye and grab if you find them.
3. Compass Box Canvas
While sherry, port, and red wine are all common finishing casks, Compass Box Canvas turns to a wine style that’s virtually unheard of to create its notes of marmalade, honey, and cocoa: vino de naranja. Produced in Andalucia, Spain, vino de naranja is an aromatized sweet wine, made with white grapes and macerated orange peel that’s aged in a solera system. With such a rare finishing cask, this blended malt whisky is guaranteed to be unique. But if that’s not enough, Canvas offers an even more special experience through its label, which can be customized with your own photo or image via QR code.
4. Angel’s Envy Cask Strength
Compared to scotch, Kentucky bourbon is a relative newcomer to cask finishing. Angel’s Envy began leading the way about a decade ago, offering its flagship port cask-finished bourbon that’s now become a staple on bars nationwide. The annual limited-edition Cask Strength ramps up the proof—and thus the inherent jammy fruit notes from the port casks, including dark plums, blackberry cobbler, as well as burnt sugar. Always in high demand, Angel’s Envy Cask Strength is more available than ever in 2021, with nearly 15,000 bottles of the 120.7 proof bourbon rolling out nationwide this December.
5. Aberfeldy 18-Year-Old Red Wine Cask-Finished
Master blender Stephanie Macleod turned to Côte Rôtie casks for this limited edition. The famed French wine is made mainly with syrah grapes and sometimes viognier—lending it flavors that are both meaty and floral at the same time. In the Highland single malt, this is expressed as flavors of redcurrant and lingonberry alongside the distillery’s signature honey notes.
When WhistlePig branched out from rye whiskey a few months ago, it headed to the Emerald Isle, co-founding Limavady with longtime Irish whiskey master distiller Darryl McNally. The brand launched with a triple-distilled single malt, aged initially in ex-bourbon casks and finished in PX sherry casks. Each cask is bottled individually, meaning there might be slight variations, but every drop should showcase the sweet dried fruit flavors and warm spice that PX imparts. At 46 percent ABV, it’s a great choice to match with dessert or a cheese course—or just solo at the end of the meal.
7. Bunnahabhain Aonadh
Islay’s Bunnahabhain Distillery doubled up on the wine casks for this limited edition, which was distilled on February 7, 2011 (to be precise). The whisky was filled into two cask types (port and sherry), which spent a decade maturing separately before being combined for bottling. That full-term wine cask aging, plus a cask-strength proof of 56.2 percent ABV, makes this unpeated single malt impressively rich and rounded. Wondering how to pronounce the bottle’s Gaelic name properly? It’s “oon-ouch.”
8. Town Branch Sherry Cask-Finished
Lexington, Kentucky-based Town Branch Distillery opened in 2012 and has been making some of the state’s most interesting whiskey ever since. Its new oloroso sherry cask-finished bourbon is the result of several years’ worth of experimentation by master distiller Mark Coffman, who blended a 26-barrel batch with several unique single barrels to create the final product. The ages of the whiskeys in the blend vary, but most are around six years old—which Town Branch says is its sweet spot.
9. Highland Park Cask Strength
Until this whisky came out, cask-strength Highland Park was more or less only available if you could find the odd independent bottling—a shame, since this whisky at barrel proof is absolutely incredible. Matured mainly in sherry casks made with both American and European oak, it’s intended to help drinkers explore their own palates and how they best like to enjoy the whisky. Add water, add ice, heck, add soda if you want. This characterful single malt can take it. Batch two is just now hitting shelves, and makes a great comparison with its predecessor or with any of the other sherry cask scotches on this list.
10. Macallan Double Cask 30-Year-Old
Famous for its sherry cask maturation, Macallan carefully controls the process of creating and seasoning barrels in Spain before shipping them off to Speyside to be filled with whisky. That might sound rather calculating, but it’s necessary to consistently produce the world’s most collectible single malt. For its Double Cask series, Macallan uses both American and European oak barrels, each imparting unique flavors and aromas, thanks to the varied growing conditions of the different tree species. The 30-Year-Old joins 12-, 15-, and 18-Year-Old expressions, and comes in a beautiful oak box that’s ready-made for a (very generous) host gift.
[$4,000; search local distributor; themacallan.com]
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