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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Single Malt Report: Bunnahabhain 13 year old 1997 Murray McDavid, Chateau Lafite ACEing

Yes, another 1997 Bunnahabhain!  But this one's a different creature than yesterday's.  Today's was bottled by Murray McDavid -- yes, the one indie bottler whose name alone inspires a physical response in many a drinker.  This particular Bunnahabhain spent the better part of its life in ex-bourbon casks, then was ACEd finished in Bordeaux casks (courtesy of Chateau Lafite Rothschild).

Often Murray McDavid's whiskies come across as unbalanced who-knows-what'll-happen experiments to salvage crap casks. While that's not necessarily a bad thing -- strange whisky often equals fun whisky -- only once was I convinced that anyone should pay money for a MMcD's tootling product.

But because this was a '97 Bunnahabhain and because Jordan (Mr. Cocktailchem) had a sample to swap, I figured what the hell.

Distillery: Bunnahabhain
Independent Bottler: Murray McDavid
Age: 13 years (1997-2011)
Maturation: ex-bourbon casks
Finish: Bourdeaux casks from Chateau Lafite Rothschild
Limited bottling: 1200
Region: Islay
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered: No
Colored: No

Color - Sazerac cocktail.  Think orange, peach, pink, and gold. At least it's not maroon like the $300 McEwan wine spit bucket known as Black Art (Parts 1 through 4).

Nose - The peat reek stands tall above the wine.  Smaller, well-incorporated notes like brown sugar, cinnamon, coconut, and creme brûlée appear.  With time, the peat element peels back, revealing a big vanilla buttercream frosting note.  Then there's peach candy and something PX sherry-ish.

Palate - Aggressively dirty peat with an underpinning of something sweet.  But then they flip-flop as something (the wine?) gets very sweet very quickly.  A big peppery spiciness, like white and green peppercorns, rumbles beneath.  Some overripe stone fruits here and there.  A bit of salt.

Finish - Ashes and char.  Cigarettes and cracked pepper.  Hint of sweet wine, sort of like Madeira.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
Nose - Wine gets stronger, peat weakens.  More frosting.  Some peachy stuff.  Lots of lemons.

Palate - Peat and sweet.  An herbal bitterness now appears.  The peat is up front.  The sugar and overripe stone fruits are in the exhale.

Finish - Peat smoke, sweet wine, sugar, and salt water.

The nose was a surprise, working even better when I had the second half of the sample the day after the tasting.  Wine element is not only pleasant, but also plays very well with the malt, in the nose.  I'm less convinced about their interplay in the palate.  I'm not sure where the palate's aggressive sweetness is coming from as it feels more like a dessert/fortified wine rather than a Bordeaux.  If the sweetness is due to the malt, as Jordan mentions in his review, this would be the first time I've seen this level of sweets in a '97 Bunna.  Or perhaps it was due to some booming first-fill bourbon casks.

While I'm in no way panning this whisky, Jordan is a bigger fan of it than I.  He had a whole bottle of it to ponder, so I recommend giving his review a read.  I wish I'd discovered the dry and savory notes he found!

As mentioned, the nose is very good and the palate shows better (for me) with some water.  It's also the second best Murray McDavid bottling I've had and the best of their wine finishes I've tried so far.  It's an MMcD experiment that is worth paying for, though I'm not sure how much retailers are charging for it as it has become scarce.

Availability - Scarce
Pricing - $??.??
Rating - 83

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