Balvenie 17 Year Madeira Cask Tasting Notes

Madeira is both and island and the name of a Portuguese archipelago, of which the island is a part of, that is one of two Autonomous regions of Portugal (the other being the Azores). It’s a popular tourist destination spot and gives its name for Madeira wine, a fortified Portuguese wine. Whereas port is producted in the northern provinces of Portugal, Madeira is produced only on the island of Madeira. Much like how the Balvenie 21 Port Wood is finish in port pipes, the Balvenie 17 Year Madeira Cask is finished in Madeira casks.

If you’ve been following my blog for any period of time, you’ll probably know that I’m a little biased towards Balvenie. Their DoubleWood is an exceptional dram for the price and style, at least in my book, and their other bottles aren’t far behind. In my first tasting, I knew that this would be dangerous for my wallet. On the nose, it’s sweet, with a hint of cinnamon and a little muted fruitiness. There is, of course, that splash of vanilla as well. As for taste, it follows through what you got in the nose, with sweetness paired with fruitiness and some spices on a medium bodied dram. The finish is smooth but doesn’t surprise you in any way, it just continues the same note from nose to palate to finish. It makes me eager to try some Madeira dessert wine, in order to fully understand how the maturation in Madeira Casks affects the whisky (if you’re familiar with port, then you can immediately sense the port influence on the Balvenie Port Wood – I want to have that same feeling).

At $130 USD locally, it’s a pricier bottle but not unexpected given its age expression. The Balvenie 15 is available at around $80 USD locally (and the 21 is priced at $180). I still maintain that the 12 Year DoubleWood at $45 is the best value scotch in the range, but the Balvenie 17 Year Madeira is quite impressive in its own right. Time to find some Madeira…

What is Wood Finish?

As you may know, Scotch is typically aged and matured in oak casks for the number of years listed on the label. As you may also know, oak is a type fo wood, so what does it mean for a single malt to be wood finished or to have a wood finish? If it’s already in a oak-wood cask, aren’t all scotches finished in wood? (No, it’s not a trick question!)

A wood finish means that the scotch was then aged another two or more years in a cask that once held some other spirit in them. The popular choices are port, sherry, etc. This adds a different layer to the scotch because in the maturation process, the scotch gets pulled into the wood and then released as the temperature changes. Since the cask once held something else, which presumably went through this same process, some of the flavors and essence that make up the other spirit will be passed onto the scotch.

Balvenie Doublewood 12The Balvenie Doublewood 12 is the only wood finished Scotch I’ve ever tried and I really enjoyed it. The Balvenie is located in Speyside and the Doublewood 12 is aged in both a traditional oak cask and a “first fill European oak sherry cask.” When I tried it, the sherry was very easy to detect in the nose and I enjoyed the sweet flavors imparted by the sherry cask. Having never tried The Balvenie without the wood finish, I didn’t know if the sweetness and vanilla notes were more from the Balvenie or more from the sherry cask. Either way, I enjoyed it. I think aging it in a cask that held something else is a great way to add a layer of complexity to something. I would really like to try their PortWood 21 someday too, perhaps side by side against the one matured in sherry, it would provide an opportunity to compare the two (though 12 and 21 years is a big maturity difference).