The Pinot Noir grape, the one responsible for that little wine making region in France called Burgundy, is one of the oldest offspring of Vitis vinifera, and one of the oldest varieties of grapevines to be cultivated by man. There is some thought that a similar vine was already being tended and grown by the Gallic tribe, the Allobroges, in the Burgundy region when Julius Ceasar’s army marched up the Rhone and made everybody speak Latin. Likewise, that hotshot naturalist Pliny the Elder makes mention of a Vitis Allobrogica in the first century AD. In the 1300’s mention of a vine with dark, pine cone-shaped grape clusters appears in Burgundian records, and since the “Pinot” in Pinot Noir trickles down from the French word for “pine” and noir being the French word for black, they were probably talking about our vine. In any case, uncertain evidence made even sketchier by my cursory research aside, this is an old grape. Today, Pinot Noir has been mutated into several sub-varietals and is grown in wine-making regions all over the world. If you wanted to sum up Pinot Noir in a wildly general way, you could say its flavor profile has lighter tannins, relatively subtle dark fruits, and some earthy, savory notes.
So why am I mentioning this? A fair question, especially since my rather cavalier research on Pinot Noir will probably result in my butt getting kicked by Jancis Robinson and Hugh Johnson. Since one of the Single Cask Nation’s inaugural whisky society bottlings, this 12 year old from the Arran Malt, was aged in an ex-Pinot Noir cask, I thought it might be interesting to find out just where Pinot Noir came from in the first place. This bottling was distilled in 1999 and bottled in June of 2012 after spending eight years in a first-fill bourbon barrel and then four years in the aforementioned Pinot Noir cask.
The Nose: I found the nose to be quite tricky to decipher initially, a complex combination of fruit and spice with that unique Arran Isle tang. The Pinot cask influence shows itself right away with plump juicy raisins, macerated red berries, and a little grape juice. Woodspice notes are upfront as well with star anise and cinnamon. Subtler notes of malt (with just a hint of beery sourness), wet, briney stone and wet wood, and believe it or not, soft rye bread. A bit of water tones down the fruit a little too much, and opens up more of the slightly sour malt and brine.
The Palate: Thinly oily mouthfeel, quite zippy and numbing. Intensely fruity and peppery at the same time. More red berries, more sharp and acidic than the ones on the nose, and fermented apples along with white pepper and grated ginger. Caramelized sweetness, raw vanilla bean, and just a touch of salted nutty-ness lead into cinnamon and big, drying clove. Water calms some of that initial zippy hotness and intense fruit, instead drawing out more caramel and salted nuts, and rounding the big spice notes towards the end.
The Finish: Grows a bit more tannic as it fades with the fruit wafting over continued white pepper, clove and ginger.
Thoughts: Interesting and challenging, my guess is this one might take some time to get to know. The influence from the Pinot cask is strong, steady, and insistent, its fruit and spice combo nearly overwhelming the Arran notes. Without water, I found the nose a little thin and hot. though I did enjoy those lush, winey, fruit tones. The palate definitely benefits from a bit of H2O, toning down the intensity and smoothing out some of the rougher spice. This is a hard one to judge, though idiosyncratic and a little rough, it’s also nicely balanced with some unique flourishes to make it worth trying.