Thursday, April 30, 2015

Longrow 7 Year Old Gaja Barolo Wood

This was the first Longrow I ever tried, back in the day.

 Being something of a wine wanker at the time (now long since lapsed), I guess I was immediately seduced by that magical word on the label (at least to an Italian wine lover) "Gaja", makers of some of the best - and most expensive and sought after - Barbaresco (like Barolo, made exclusively from nebbiolo) the eponymous commune in Piemonte has to offer. They also own a couple of small parcels of land in Barolo and produce a good quality - but far from earth shattering like their Barbaresci - cru from these vineyards called "Dagromis" (at least it was called this the last time I tried it (the 2004 vintage) in 2010 - not too long before I tried this whisky I guess - but the name has changed previously so may well have changed since, I don't know.) It is (or was, see previous disclaimer), at least in Barolo terms, an approachable, early drinking style, less tannic and more fruity than some other examples.
And so, the barrels used to finish this whisky - and the more recent Springbank bottling (more on that below) - must have once housed this Dagromis, or an earlier iteration of it.

Wow, how easy is it to fall back into bad habits? I just blah-blahhed on there about wine for ages without even realising it. Anyway...

"Gaja" on a whisky bottle - a Springbank-made whisky no less, although this was before I truly knew much about the stuff - meant I just had to try it. And also meant that I was probably positively inclined to it even before actually drinking it. If you're still here reading and you actually care either way, I'll tell you that yes, I really quite enjoyed it. It was different, obviously, than anything I'd ever had before - Longrow peat, wine-y fruit - and was a bit of a brute to boot, but I recall enjoying it more and more the deeper I got into the bottle.

Now, years later, time to open another bottle and see what I makes of it - this time as something of a whisky geek as opposed to wine wanker, with all the experiences and expectations that this may or may not entail.

[As an(other) aside, the Australian distributor of Springbank has stated that Gaja requested that their name be removed from all paraphernalia associated with the subsequent (2013) Springbank bottling [it was OK - good, even - not nearly as wine-influenced as the first, my brief notes describe it as grapey (as opposed to wine-y), coastal notes accompanied by ginger and spice, with building ash and smoke], which apparently saw these same barrels used again, pretty much straight after (as per the labels, the Longrow was bottled January 2008, while the Springbank was racked into the Gaja barrels some time after February (but before October) 2008). When I asked him why Gaja disowned the second release - I assumed that it was simply unauthorised, the name used again without permission - the distributor had no idea either. He had been told by Springbank, though, that "if the barrels still have the winery's name stamped on the heads, then they, Springbank, will use it."

So, it probably is just a case of Gaja not being happy about their name being used a second time. One thing I did notice, however, when looking at my empty bottle (*see pic below) of the Springbank version, is the use of the words "Fresh Gaja Barolo Casks" again on the label (you'll note that these same words appear on the Longrow label, below). Now, if these are the same barrels - as I have been told they are and as surely they must be - then they can no longer be described as "Fresh" casks, can they? Surely they are now "Re-fill" Gaja Barolo casks, no? (I suppose "Fresh" can be made to mean anything really, though, can't it?)

Is this what someone at Gaja objected to? Probably not, as it seems a bit of a stretch for a wine company to bother itself with the arcane arts of whisky labeling nomenclature rules and regulations, but interesting all the same.]

Longrow 2000, 7 Year Old, Gaja Barolo Wood, 55.8%

Nose: Choc-caramel Rolos at first. Then after a little while comes some mulch, heather and peat. Soon after there's also BBQ sauce and sweet underarm BO.
With water, the nose lightens a little, less mulch and more nutty peat. Still a touch of BO and BBQ sauce.

Palate: Heavy peat, and not - at first - nearly as sweet as suggested by the nose. Aggressively hot. Smoke builds at the rear. After some time the sweetness arrives. At first it's fairly subtle, but slowly becomes full of red berries - lots of raspberry - and jams, sitting in a heavy layer on top.
The addition of water further integrates that sweetness and tempers the fierce heat somewhat, making the whole thing more comprehensible.

Finish: Quite long. A layer of sweet fruit, coupled with smoke, peat, heat and menthol that lasts and lasts.
With water, the smoke seems to dominates more, while as with the palate, the sweet fruit is better entwined with the peat. More acrid than menthol at the death now.

It takes water well, this. And needs it, I reckon, along with a bit air. It's pretty fierce. (The first couple of pours from this bottle were a jumbled, scorching mess. I left it alone for a few weeks to sort its shit out before coming back to it again.) The integration that time and water bring turn it into quite an interesting dram actually. Not complex, but interesting and tasty all the same.
And no, probably not quite as "good" as I remember it being the first time round, but that's taste and experience isn't it? Both always changing.

*Here's the empty bottle pic