Turning wine into whisky

xLast year I recieved an invitation to the Glengoyne distillery, set in the Dumgoyne Hills near Glasgow. As a humble wine writer who enjoys the occasional dram, but knows little about whisky otherwise, I would normally pass such an invitation straight to the vastly more qualified Gavin Smith, my Contributing Editor on whisky-pages.com. But this invitation was different…

I was to meet up with Robin Tedder of Glenguin, one of Australia’s top wine producers, and Distillery Manager Robbie Hughes. Robin was in Scotland to see the work in progress on a special new whisky that was being finished in 20 barrels he had sent over from Australia. Above: Robbie and Robin, left and right.

Glengoyne or Glenguin?

The connection between the two very different drinks companies is based on fascinating historical Scottish roots: Robin Tedder is of Scottish origins. His Scottish grandfather, Arthur William Tedder, had a distinguished military career which saw him appointed Allied forces Deputy Supreme Commander under Eisenhower. He became a Peer of the Realm, and adopted the title Baron of Glenguin, chosen because of his happy memories growing up in Glenguin, where his father had been the Customs & Excise officer at the local Distillery. Serving from 1889-1893, he had famously created the law that Scotch whisky must be matured in oak casks in Scotland for at least three years and one day.

That distillery where Robin Tedder’s great-grandfather worked was the Glenguin distillery, which around 100 years ago, changed its name to Glengoyne. So his Glenguin winery in the Hunter Valley near Sydney shares a name with Glengoyne, and has very direct links: indeed, Robin Tedder officially bears the title of 3rd Baron of Glenguin, and is fiercely proud of his Scottish roots.

To celebrate their shared history, and the fact that both are now occupied in very different spheres of the drinks industry, a plan was hatched to create a cask-finished Glengoyne, using barrels that were shipped over from Glenguin, and which had previously held Shiraz, including the estate’s top wine called Aristea.

I met up with Robbie and Robin to taste through samples of all the single casks of the Shiraz-finished whisky, which at that stage had been in the wood for around 13 weeks. These are absolutely top-notch French oak casks of 225 litres, from the Burgundy cooper Seguin Moreau, that were on average three years old.

xThis was a fascinating and enlightening exercise, both sides keen to see if the wood, or the wine it had contained, would influence the flavour of the whisky, and the whisky men interested in whether Robin could taste any element of his Shiraz in the whisky.

As we settled down to taste the 14 samples in front of us (six casks had already been rejected by the distillery as not good enough for the final bottling), Robbie explained that the base whisky was a 16-Year-Old organic single malt.

The first thing I noticed about the samples was the really distinctive ruby colour at the core of the whisky, but each sample was subtly different, with shades of Shiraz fruitiness evident in some, but more suppressed in others.

Robin thought he could identify sample six as an Aristea barrel, but in truth the whisky’s character was the dominant force for me.

xRobbie Hughes then made a rough and ready blend that he thought might work using a dozen of the whiskies, cut to around 48% proof with water. I would have said he was lucky, but I suspect it was the hand of an expert at work, but no matter the explanation, the result was to reveal a deeply aromatic and sonorous whisky, that for me was much greater than the sum of its parts.

Whether or not this exercise will ever be repeated I do not know, but I sense a genuine kinship between Robin Tedder and the current custodians of the Glengoyne distillery. Robin Tedder told me “I don’t want this to be just a marketing exercise. There’s got to be real credibility in the fit between my premium, carefully produced Shiraz and this small, organic, very traditional distillery.”

I am pleased to say he can be reassured. The Glengoyne Glenguin is a fascinating dram – from all sorts of viewpoints.

Available in 70cl and 75cl bottles at 48% ABV, there are only 3,800 limited edition and individually numbered bottles of Glengoyne Glenguin Shiraz Cask Finish.