For this tasting we will stay in the New Aquitaine region and head for its capital Bordeaux. Like the whole region, it is of course renowned for its wines, but like the region too, it is beginning to concentrate some whisky producers and refiners.
Among the latter, today, let's meet AYMERIC ROBOREL DE CLIMENS, the link between these two specialities.
To meet him, I park BRAD PEAT on the Cours du Médoc (if we are not directly in the mood!!) in Bordeaux and I go to the communication agency Hémisphère Sud (@hemispheresudrp) which brings together "epicurean" wine and wine tourism lovers.
It is here that I meet Aymeric and especially in his company that I am going to taste for you two of his creations: the permanent FINITION MERLOT and the limited peated FINITION SAUTERNES.
I already had the opportunity to introduce you to the oenologist Aymeric and to let you taste the FINITION SEMILLON (see here the tasting). Because yes, we are dealing with an oenologist who has made it his mission to make wine lovers benefit from wine finishes and to link French whiskies to the ancestral know-how of wine and grape varieties.
In order to do so, Aymeric went on a tour of France, first of all to the distilleries, as a companion of the spirits' duty.
He found the right place in UBERACH Alsace with Yannick HEPP and his eponymous distillery (I already had the opportunity to introduce him here). He found fruity distillates produced in a still with a rectifying tray in the Grand Est. To this day, HEPP remains his only supplier, allowing him to give free expression to his ageing finishes from a single distillate (peated or not). He starts all his ageing in the same way: 2 or 3 years in French oak casks (20% new and 80% ex-Hepp whisky casks).
In this way, he obtains a distillate that is ready to live out its final years in wine casks.
Now it was time to find the grape varieties.
To do this, Aymeric went back on his tour of France, but this time in his initial training sector: vineyards and grape varieties.
He went to glean barrels in the Loire Valley (for his CABERNET FRANC finish), in Provence (for his ROLLE finish), in Roussillon (for his GRENACHE finish). He then moved closer to home via Cognac (for his UGNI BLANC finish) and finally Bordeaux (for the SAUVIGNON, MERLOT and SAUTERNES finishes).
In order to show the wide range of flavours of these whiskies, I have deliberately chosen to offer you to taste two diametrically opposed types of whiskies: one peated and one not peated.
Before having your palate "smoked" by the peated one, I suggest you start with the MERLOT finish.
As we saw above, this distillate started its ageing partly in a new oak cask and mostly in an old whisky cask from the HEPP distillery (80% of the liquid).
Aymeric then wanted to age it in a red wine cask in order to give it red fruit notes.
To do this, he went to Saint Emilion to get some MERLOT barrels. He found some at CHÂTEAU GUADET (Grand Cru Classé de Saint-Émilion). He immersed the distillate in them for a little over 6 months.
From this cask path, he obtained a whisky of 43%/vol with a marked copper colour and almost orange reflections.
The first nose of the MERLOT finish is clearly marked by sun-drenched red fruits (cherries) but remains fresh thanks to a hint of citrus. Without taking the nose out of the glass, spices come next and become more and more peppery, accompanying us throughout the tasting.
The second passage reveals a slight hint of smoke but above all a smell of candied apple.
The third passage marks the return of red fruits but is accompanied by woody notes.
With all the spices we smelled, it seems very surprising that its entry into the mouth is overall warm and sweet.
But this is just a red herring as it quickly reveals its power and delivers its spices on the tongue. It is loaded with vinous notes (velvety texture).
The spices accompany us throughout the tasting, barely rounded off at the end by a refill of sugar. But that's without counting on the power of the spices which come back to attack like a baroude of honour and sting the corners of the mouth.
Once swallowed this whisky which is very present in the mouth, there will remain a rather long finish on new drier spices (cinnamon) and a touch of liquorice. The red wine cask effect brings a slight dryness in the mouth.
As we have just seen, the birth of this distillate is the same as for the one we have just tasted, with the difference that the barley used by the HEPP distillery was peated (at 40 PPM). Aymeric explains me that the distillation in rectifying column stills crunches the phenols and leaves a much less peaty liquid than it should be. On the other hand, it makes the remaining phenolics much more subtle. Let's see what happens!
Before that, it is important to know that the casks used are initially the same as for MERLOT, but the last 12 months of ageing are carried out in old Sauternes casks from Château Doisy-Daëne on the left bank of the Garonne, which gives it a magnificent copper colour, but with more yellow reflections (like an old Sauternes).
The nose of this peaty limited series is going to be warmer and more candied than the previous one. The spices are going to be more in the background and give way to woody notes.
But the spices are tough and reveal themselves more in the second passage with a very soft and discreet peaty background. On the other hand, the second passage announces honeyed notes.
The third passage is marked by baked apples and jammy notes, and a strong return of spices (more or less the same as the pepper in the merlot).
The smell of peat is perceptible from afar but especially in the palm of the hand where it reveals itself.
While it has a higher alcohol content than the previous one (48% versus 43% for Merlot), it is very smooth on the palate. But soon lemon and spice notes merge and invade the space.
Then it softens and becomes silky and smooth again. There are still some spicy notes on the sides of the mouth, while the harshness of the cask (admittedly less marked than the red wine) remains on the front. This whisky is a honey with occasional clumps of oak and smoke. On swallowing it throws some final lemony notes into the mouth.
Swallowed, the finish is long. The aromas of the distillate come up from the heat in the mouth and remain on the liquorice and a hint of sweet and very fresh smoke in the throat. There are also peppery notes that linger on the palate.
Overall, those who know me will suspect that I will have a penchant for the latter.
Nevertheless, it is not only for its phenolic and smoky aromas, but also because of the sweetness of the sweet white wine barrel which brings more honey and sweetness than the red wine.
On the other hand, the MERLOT finish has the advantage of awakening the taste buds with its spicy notes.
I will continue on my way and let Aymeric continue his in search of the good whisky-varietal combinations that will soon delight us, and I will come back to make some tours in Scotland.