As we arrive, the bells of the cathedral ring through the Spanish town of Jerez de la Frontera, the sun sinks into the stone walls and cobbled streets. It’s apparent that an adventure is beginning.
The town is famed for its vibrant Andalusian architecture and culture, but more so for being the true home of sherry wine. In the center of town stands the winery of Gonzalez Byass, a historic, fifth-generation winemaker, and one of the biggest producers of sherry wine.
The company’s boutique hotel next to the winery takes its name from Tio Pepe, or Uncle Pepe, the man in the family who turned the Gonzalez Byass brand into a global phenomenon. The winery and hotel tie effortlessly into the architecture, their cellars underground full of maturing wine and wine lovers.
We’ve been invited here by The Dalmore, one of the world’s most famous Scotch whisky makers and a brand known far and wide for their ex-sherry cask matured whiskies. The range we are here to celebrate is the first installment of The Dalmore Cask Curation Series. The inaugural release revolves around sherry casks and more so, the strong partnership between The Dalmore and Gonzalez Byass.
We are here to delve deeper into the lesser-known but vital relationship between sherry wine and Scotch whisky, a relationship that spans decades and has produced some of the best and most sought-after whiskies in existence.
Put simply, this is the cycle. The sherry, which has carefully matured in oak casks in the cellars under Jerez, is emptied and bottled. Of the now empty barrels, only the finest are sent to Scotland. These casks are tested and observed before finally being filled with Scotch whisky.
The whisky is then left to slowly mature and evolve further. Ex-sherry cask matured whisky releases are some of the most popular, as the impact the wine has on the spirit delivers many beloved notes, such as red fruits, winter spice and dried fruits.
However, as we come to learn in Jerez, the journey of the cask begins long before the wine is emptied, and whisky is filled into it. It begins with the relentless rain over the region, with the planting of the grapes and the long and difficult journey each grape takes to grow, be cut and then dried, before finally being turned into a premium sherry wine.
Before whisky even meets the wood, the sherry matures in the oak, often for over 30 years. We are taken through the wine maturation, chapter by chapter, by the master winemaker, Antonio Flores and his daughter, Silvia Flores.
The journey finally brings us to the whisky, which then also takes its time, before turning into the masterpiece that is The Dalmore Cask Curation Series. Limited to only 150 sets worldwide, this set celebrates the long and complicated journey from the planting of the grape all the way to the whisky we find in our bottle, decades later.
On the rooftop of the Tio Pepe boutique hotel, we are introduced to the set by Gregg Glass, The Dalmore’s master whisky maker. The first in the set is a Dalmore 26 Year Old, finished in a rare Gonzalez Byass 2002 cask. Coming in at 48.2% this whisky bursts out with light notes and freshness, very different to the classic Dalmore character.
This was finished in the sherry cask for over two years, and delivers notes of honey, mandarin citrus, and vanilla both on the nose and palate. It finishes with a long orchestra of citrus, brioche and spiced vanilla.
We move on to the second in the set, the 28 Year Old finished in a Matusalem sherry cask. This name states that the wine itself first matured for 30 years before being bottled. Only then was the cask used to mature the whisky. Factoring in the production time, this whisky took a combined 60 years to produce.
This expression immediately brings forth the rich dark chocolate and blood orange notes The Dalmore is famed for, alongside dark fruit aromas, and a delicate tropical fruit note on the palate. This one comes in at 53.3% and finished for a long 19 years in the Matusalem cask.
The sun begins to set over Jerez as we reach the final and oldest whisky in the set, a 43 Year Old finished in a Gonzalez Byass 30 Year Old Apostoles sherry cask. It’s worth noting, the difference between the Matusalem and Apostoles wine lies in the grapes and percentages that are used.
The four-decade old liquid was finished for 12 years in the sherry cask, and stands at 46.8%. Distilled in 1979, this expression is warming and elegantly subtle, with notes of honey, Seville oranges and almonds on the nose, followed by rich vanilla and dark chocolate on the palate.
A long and fruity finish now brings the tasting to an end and both teams of The Dalmore and Gonzalez Byass come together to embrace and celebrate the launch of the exceptional Dalmore Cask Curation Series, which in many ways, is both a statement and celebration of the strong relationship that’s been nurtured over the decades.
Priced at £30,000 ($36,500), this highly limited set is the first in a series of four releases.
Each one will tell a tale of wood and whisky, and the stories, relationships, and amazing people behind every stave in the cask and drop of whisky in our glasses. The Dalmore pulled us into the world of sherry wine and took us through the rich history of the town of Jerez de la Frontera. One can only guess where the brand will take us next.