The First Stunning Scotch of the Year

February 2, 2016
Nick Taylor


The First Light’s Out Scotch of the Year

Gordon & MacPhail 1998 Linkwood Côte Rôtie

Let me start by saying this is the first whisk(e)y released this year that I am really hot on.

Single malt scotch is defined by the astounding variation of products and palates produced simply using water, barley and yeast. Much of the variation comes from the shape and size of the still and then of course the type of wood used to age the whisky. Unlike American whiskey, scotch is unrestricted in the type of wood used and the number of times a barrel can be used.

The panoply of cask finishes continues to diversify as the single malt consumer develops a more sophisticated palate. Gordon & MacPhail accesses a wide variety of wine barrels in part because they bottle wine in the UK for many wineries.

You may not recognize the Linkwood distillery. It is one of the workhorses for the Johnnie Walker blends. Diageo (owner of Johnnie Walker) very rarely produces official single malt bottlings of Linkwood. However, many independent bottlers purchase casks of Linkwood and bottle it as a single malt. What separates Gordon & MacPhail from the pack of independent bottlers is the company’s insistence on buying raw spirit and aging the whisky in house.

Using a wide variety of distillates while maintaining complete control over the aging process gives Gordon & MacPhail a unique position within the industry. When you couple their position with 100 years of producing single malts you have perhaps the most experienced producer of single malt whisky in the world. As such, they are the masters of wine barrel finishes (those of you who remember the 2001 Caol Ila Hermitage finish G&M did last year, will know what I am talking about).

Oak is a wonderfully complex but finicky lover of whisky. She is supple, malleable, sturdy, watertight but porous. She is needy and above all mischievous. When it comes to scotch, wine barrels are notoriously difficult to please. They are tannic and often sulfurous. Gordon & MacPhail has a soft touch and a knack for drawing out the luscious wine flavors without drying out the whisky or overwhelming it with sulfur.

This particular Private Collection Linkwood 1998 is a beauty. Distilled in December 1998 and bottled in October 2015, this limited production bottling (4000 bottles) spent its last 23 months in Côte Rôtie barrels. Côte Rôtie is an appellation in Northern Rhone known for producing syrah blended with a little bit of viognier white grape. The appellation produces meaty, gamey wines often with notes of black pepper, olives and tar.

The first thing to notice is the pinkish almost violet color in the whisky. The wine casks were clearly very wet when filled with Linkwood. Then the nose… lightly sulfured (Jim Murray would wrinkle his nose but… he’s lost my trust for a while) followed by a blast of crushed grapes. The whisky reeks of tar and certainly retains a savory characteristic reminiscent of the Côte Rôtie wines that previously resided in the barrels.

What a lovely mouth-feel with a little spice, fresh mint tingling, sizzling and drying up on the back of your palate, leaving a long dry resonance of grape and cinnamon stick. The transition from fresh wine notes to dried spice back to a simmering red fruit finish is wondrous.

This is the first stunner of the year.

Click here to order: $134.99 a bottle

Available at our Boston Store and our Waltham Store. Email Ken Gordon if you would like to pick it up in Boston.

Nick Taylor

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