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Vintage

Vintage within its name conjures up the image of provenance, rarity and limited allocation. With such portrayal, brands are using the vintage format to release limited editions along with offering further insights into the distiller’s house style. Our final view to conclude the way we examine whisky comes from this year’s winner of the coveted Best Single Malt at the World Whisky Awards, the Yamazaki 1984 Vintage.

Marketing vintages have a comprehensive appeal luring collectors, connoisseurs and those that are looking for ‘that’ sentimental gift. Holding a specific year on the label appeals to consumers that shop the category by age along with incorporating the non age maturation philosophy of bottling whisky at the peak of maturity.

 

The Glenrothes, creator of the Vintage range concept and one of the fastest growing single malts in Taiwan implements such philosophy. Bottling a vintage from a range of casks representing that year’s crème de la crème provides a specific year insight into the distillery’s production. In comparison, fix aged single malts are unable to implement such practice. Constrained by consistency, distillers are forced to draw from a variety of years and ages – older than that stated on the bottle - to cater for demand.

Traditional art forms that are no longer used at distilleries also assist the vintage offering. Advances in technology, the drive for consistency and simple economics, have driven many distillers away from malting barley onsite at distilleries.  Today there are only seven distilleries using such traditional floor malting methods. Capturing a vintage whisky where such a dearly departed art form once took place increases the vintage’s rarity and collectability.  

The origin of the ingredients may also become a victim of time something Vintage whisky can preserve. The highly sought after Laphroaig 1960 Vintage Reserve is a testament to this. Created from barley harvested on Islay, smoked by Glenmachrie peat and water coming from the Kilbride Dam is a truly unique expression that will not be replicated today.

 

Such details certainly assist the heritage and the romance of the Vintage story. However, the purest and arguably the most exclusive form appealing to many are single cask vintage releases. Holding a specific year, drawn from one cask, bottled at cask strength, distilled at one distillery is the ultimate insight into both maturation of that specific cask and the house style at a high ABV.

For mentorship, Single Cask Vintages specifically sit favourable with consumers well versed in consuming Kaoliang & Maotai. Its high ABV, the transparent year and the boutique nature comes as no surprise why some Chinese consumers have embraced Single Cask Vintages.

However, like fixed age and non age stated whiskies, the vintage concept also has constraints. Whilst the vintage year provides the main focus on the bottle label, our primary consideration should be on the bottling date. Many people define the age of the bottle by using the current year. As whisky does not mature in the bottle, a 1991 Vintage may actually hold older whisky than that of a 1980’s vintage. This can be extremely misleading if not communicated properly.

 

Limited quantities may also lead to consumer disappointment. Enjoying a vintage bottle is one thing but being able to replicate such experience again is restricted to availability. Conversely, industrious sales and marketing departments that are enjoying the rise in vintage popularity walk a fine line of catering for the growing demand without compromising on the essential sense of exclusivity. 

威士忌的年份

 

「年份」透露著一瓶威士忌的出處、稀有度和分配情況。品牌藉著某些年份推出限量版本,同時宣示蒸餾廠的獨特風格。早前於World Whisky Awards贏得「最佳單一麥芽」殊榮的一瓶「山崎1984年」,總結了我對品評威士忌的一些準則。

 

「年份」威士忌吸引著收藏家、鑑賞家和那些正在尋找「驚喜禮物」的買家。 在酒標上列明一個特定的「年份」,就是在告訴消費者,該瓶威士忌在熟成期的最高峰裝瓶,並暗自遊說著消費者要看年份購買。

 

「年份」威士忌的始創者,正是近年在台灣發展迅速的單一麥芽Glenrothes。「年份」威士忌的所有原酒,均取自同一年份的酒桶,不僅代表了當年最佳品質的酒,也能體現出蒸餾廠該年份的風味特質。 相比之下,「固定年齡」的單一麥芽,因為要做到品質一致,必需從各種年齡的桶中取酒去勾兌 —— 而且是比牌面年齡更高的原酒 —— 以達致需求。

傳統技藝也有令「年份」威士忌更為矜貴。科技進步、追求一致性、經濟等因素,驅使著許多蒸餾廠放棄自己發麥,目前只剩下七家蒸餾廠還在使用傳統的地板焙燒方法發麥。但是一些年份久遠的威士忌,生產於自家發麥還未式微的年代,為這些威士忌添加額外的稀有度和收藏價值。

 

「年份」威士忌有時會保存了一些已不復存在的原材料。 獲高度追捧的Laphroaig 1960 Vintage Reserve就是最佳例子。它採用來自Islay的大麥,以Glenmachrie泥煤煙燻,水源則採自Kilbride。這種獨特的組合,今天已不能被複製。

 

這些細節賦予了年份威士忌更多的懷舊和浪漫氣息。然而要數最獨特、最純粹的年份威士忌,應該是單一年份單一酒桶的威士忌。 在一家蒸餾廠、一個特定的年份、從一個酒桶中取酒、以原酒精度裝瓶,這是對蒸餾廠個性以及熟成度的終極體現。

單一酒桶單一年份威士忌也獲得高梁和茅台擁躉的青睞 —— 其高酒精度、年份的透明度和限量生產的特質,對於一些中國消費者來說無疑相當吸引。

然而,像固定年齡和沒有年齡標示的威士忌,年份威士忌也有其限制。 雖然酒標上標示的年份是很多人的焦點,但我們更應注意的,是威士忌的裝瓶日期。 許多人使用當年來定義威士忌的年齡,由於威士忌一旦裝瓶就不會繼續熟成,因此一瓶標示1991年的威士忌可以比一瓶標示1980年的威士忌更老,所以說年份容易造成誤導。

限量出產可能讓消費者失望。 品飲年份威士忌,不外是享受它的不可複制及稀有度。 另方面,銷售和營銷部門正享受著年份威士忌帶來的收益。