This limited edition from the Highland Single Malt’s unique French Red Wine Cask Collection, Aberfeldy 18 Year Old, is finished in barrels from the prestigious Côte Rôtie appellation.
Wine cask finishing has become one of the hottest trends in Scotch whisky and Highland distillery Aberfeldy has certainly led the charge. Founded by John Dewar & Sons, Aberfeldy was built in 1898 in a lush valley where the distillery uses high-quality water drawn from the nearby Pitilie Burn, renowned for its gold deposits which lend the brand the nickname “Golden Dram.” In 2019 Aberfeldy launched its French Red Wine Cask Collection.
The first release in the series was Aberfeldy 15 Year Old, finished in Pomerol casks from Bordeaux; it was well-received by critics and fans alike. 2020 followed with an 18 Year Old expression finished in Pauillac casks, also from Bordeaux, which was recognized as a Top 20 Whiskies of 2020 by Whisky Advocate. For the third bottling in the series, Malt Master Stephanie Macleod has chosen casks from the Côte Rôtie appellation in the northern tip of France’s Rhône Valley.
“This style of wine has got these wonderful fruity notes, but also floral notes,” says Aberfeldy’s Malt Master, Stephanie Macleod.
Being from the birthplace of Syrah, Côte Rôtie wines are predominantly made from that grape, however up to 20 percent of Viognier can be used. The wine offers aromatics such as dark fruits as well as pepper and spices. Yet there is an elegance to the body, with sensuous and silky textures that caress the palate while still offering a freshness on the finish. This is surely due to the unique way its fruit is grown.
Côte Rôtie can be translated to mean “Roasted Slope” and the region is indeed home to some of the steepest vineyards in all of France, with southeast-facing slopes amongst well-draining granite soil. The climate is also described as “Continental,” meaning there are blazing hot summers yet frigid cold winters with precipitation throughout the year. The vineyards are, thus, terraced to keep the soil from eroding while retaining the warmth of the sun. As you can imagine, this means supply of this prestigious wine—and, in turn, its aging vessels—can be quite limited.
“These wine casks don’t come around very often, so when we were offered them we snapped them up immediately,” recalls Macleod.
Macleod still recalls the day the emptied Côte Rôtie casks came to the Aberfeldy distillery. They were opened up and the immediate aroma was overwhelming. “It was just amazing. I felt there and then this was going to work.
The casks bestowed an expressive and seductive quality to the Aberfeldy single malt, whose unusually long fermentation process produces a whisky abundant with rare, honeyed notes, as seen in the highly-awarded core range which includes a 12 Year Old, 16 Year Old and 21 Year Old. The whisky now bursts with intense notes of raspberry, lingonberry and red currents smothered in honey. Some people might find it evocative of an Eton Mess—the traditional English dessert made of strawberries, meringue, and whipped cream—but this is clearly red wine cask finishing at its finest, as Macleod notes:
“It’s just a match made in heaven for Aberfeldy.”