From what I’ve read, I gather the solera process of aging sherry is a black art practiced by blind, deaf, abnormally tall monks who are trained from infancy to be preternaturally sensitive and attuned to tell-tale sounds of liquids aging in oak. They spend their days in silence with their ears pressed to casks, only emitting a guttural croak when they deem the contents inside mature enough to be bottled…
Actually, now that I think about it, that might not be entirely accurate. The solera process is, in fact, a revered tradition used to mature not just sherry but a few other wines, spirits, and even vinegars. The process begins with a series of casks that are filled with…let’s say sherry… in specific and equal intervals such as one year apart and set to mature. Once the earliest-filled casks are deemed ready for bottling, a good percentage is disgorged, and those earliest-filled casks are re-filled with liquid from the next earliest…and the next earliest are re-filled with liquid from the next-earliest after that. This goes on down the line until the casks that were filled last are re-filled with new liquid and the whole damn thing plays out all over again. Each bottling is basically a vatting of a wide range of ages with each bottling containing at least a small amount of the oldest liquid in the Solera. This process was developed by Sherry and Port producers as a way to bottle a consistent product year after year as opposed to the more inconsistent, vintage driven system of French and Italian wine makers.
Why is this important, you ask? Well, for one, good sherry is absolutely delicious, so you’d be doing yourself a favor to try lots of it, including solera-aged stuff. It’s also important because the solera process has crept into the whisky world on several occasions. You might remember a 15 year old expression from a little distillery called Glenfiddich, or a 25 Year Old Solera from Speyburn. There’s also this 15 Year Old from the Dalmore which, while not aged with the solera process, has been aged entirely in three different types of sherry wood. There are casks formerly used in two renowned soleras, and casks which formerly held Amoroso, which is a type of sweetened Oloroso sherry. All three types are sourced from the legendary sherry producer Gonzalez Byass, with whom the Dalmore has an exclusive arrangement. If I undertand correctly, the two soleras that these casks came from are the Matusalem and Apostoles Soleras. I’m not sure how many casks were plucked from a life of sherry to be used for single malt, but according to the Dalmore’s website they are “bespoke” casks. A somewhat oblique and confusing term in this context, it leads me to believe that they’re re-constructed casks made up either entirely or partially of wood once used in the soleras. Could that be right? If anyone has any more insight or more info on this, I’d love to hear from you.
It’s worth mentioning all this solera stuff in regards to this expression because usually there’s not that much attention paid to the exact type of sherry cask used. Often the casks are just filled with a “seasoning” sherry that never sees the inside of a bottle. In theory (Dalmore’s theory that is) these former solera casks have been seasoned by years and years and years of good sherry, thereby by imparting their whisky a unique complexity and richness.
The Nose: Lush, heavily sherried as expected with deep, rich notes of raisins, chocolate-covered raisins, stewed raisins…you get the picture. Ripe, juicy orange, candied nuts and more cocoa follow right behind. Subtler notes of cinnamon, candied ginger and polished oak are there as well, but they’re almost washed away by the stronger sherry notes. There’s a real dessert wine quality here no doubt helped along by the type of casks it’s been aged in.
The Palate: A silky mouth-feel starts with more sherry tones, orange, and cinnamon and moves into deeper chocolate notes. The palate is not as sweet as I expected, which is a good thing because, the nose is so voluptuously sweet, I was expecting an almost cloying palate. A nice mix of clove and oak give this a good rugged quality as it progresses, leading into the finish with a faint, earthy, herby-ness.
The Finish: Lots of lingering clove, cinnamon, subdued oak and a bit of saltiness. Still more sherry notes creep in as it fades away.
Thoughts: A delicious malt and more evidence to me that my preferred age range of Highland/Speyside whiskies is between 15 and 20 years old. The use of the “bespoke” and unique sherry casks must be more than just a marketing grab because their rich influence is very pronounced. Though the nose comes off as almost too sweet, the palate does a good job of allowing more rugged earthy notes in to keep this from being too sweet and sherry dominated all the way through. I see this around for a wide range of prices, if you can find it for under $75, I’d say it’s a good value and well worth trying. I also see it for closer to $100 which seems a little pricey compared to others in this age-range, but you know, still worth trying.
The Dalmore 15 Year Old, Highland