Casa De Vinos 10th Anniversary Tasting

Casa De Vinos 10th Anniversary Tasting

The Whiskies (in order of tasting):

  1. Ichiros Malt, Malt and Grain 505 (50.5% abv)

2. Ichiros Malt, Malt and Grain (46% abv)

3. Wardhead 1997 21 (47.7% abv)

4. Sullivans Cove Double Cask (44.9% abv)

5. Ichiros Malt Mizunara Wood Reserve (46% abv)

6. Sullivans Cove Exclusive Store release for Casa De Vinos (56.5% abv)

7. Chichibu Exclusive Store release for Casa De Vinos (62.8% abv)

Countries of Origin:

Scotland (Speyside)

Japan (Saitama prefecture)

Australia (Tasmania)

The Location: Casa De Vinos, Melbourne (via D’s dining table)

Casa De Vinos are a phenomenal liquor store based in Melbourne, Australia. Specialists in spirits (whisky, rum, tequila, gin, sake, etc) they have a terrific range of rare whiskies and have established relationships with renowned distilleries giving them access to spirits that other stores can only dream of.

Casa De Vinos was started 10 years ago by Jose, a winemaker by trade with a passion for whisky and infectious enthusiasm. An absolute gentleman and connoisseur Jose has built Casa De Vinos into one of the most respected whisky stores in the country.

Today’s festivities are to celebrate Casa De Vinos 10th birthday and like so many events this year we’re coming together virtually with the help of Zoom. 

Casa De Vino’s tastings are always something special with epic line ups usually culminating in an impossible to get whisky. 

Tonight is no exception with two whiskies specially (and exclusively) bottled for Casa De Vinos. The party guests include whisky lovers and staff from other liquor stores and representatives from several distilleries – including Sullivans Cove and Chichibu (whose whiskies are in the line up). Tastings with distillery staff are becoming more common with virtual tastings but having senior staff from two of the world’s most renowned ‘boutique’ distilleries AT THE SAME EVENT is pretty incredible – but unsurprising for a Casa De Vinos event.

D is kindly hosting for the night and we’re joined by P – another whisky fiend sure to keep the mood positive and the jokes smutty. A huge thanks to both of these larikans for making the night so enjoyable and for contributing to my tasting notes.

I’ve grabbed pizzas from Via Napoli to keep us fueled up and we kick off the night jovially with bad jokes and woodfired goodness.

We’ve pulled out the fanciest glassware while Jose and Johnno are resplendent in bow ties and tuxedos.

After a little banter and some introductions we launch straight into the tastings – guided by Jose.

Casa De Vinos tastings usually start with a ‘welcome drink’ the signature Casa Vino Highball combining Ichiros Malt and Grain with Fever Tree Spiced Orange Ginger Ale. It’s a tasty, refreshing highball but we’ve opted to skip it tonight (as we’ve has several in the past) and start the night with an Ichiros 505 (Note: not part of the tasting, this was from D’s cellar).

  1. Ichiros Malt, Malt and Grain 505 (50.5% abv)

The 505 is basically an amped up version of the white label Malt and Grain and was developed with bars in mind – although plenty of it has found its way into the consumer market.

Nose

Malty, vanilla, light oak, honey.

Palate

Sharper than the white label malt and grain with more punch and more intense delivery of the vanilla, malt, sweetness and oak.

Finish

A little sweetness to drying oak. Some heat.

What do I think?

Good and likely better in cocktails and mixed drinks than the ‘standard’ Malt and Grain – although the price tag is a barrier (close to double the standard Malt and Grain).

Next we’re into a sneaky soda highball with the Malt and Grain (White label) while the other guests finish their Spiced Orange and Ginger Highball.

2. Ichiros Malt, Malt and Grain (46% abv) (Highball)

Ichiro’s ‘entry’ level whisky, this is a blend of malt and grain whiskies from around the world. One of the best soda highball whiskies around.

Nose

The water brings the usual maltiness down but the honey and vanilla are still there.

Palate

Brings out the vanilla, honey and grain notes and makes them sparkle. There’s a still some of the fruitiness in there and the oak peeks out too but the biscuit ingredients are what come out foremost in a highball.

Finish

Tasty sweet and malty. A lingering honey.

What do I think?

The Malt and Grain is the epitome of a highball whisky – delicious flavors that aren’t lost with a mixer and I find that the honey and grain notes really make this. I have no doubt that this style of preparation was in mind when this whisky was crafted.

3. Wardhead 1997 21 (47.7% abv)

Next we get serious with the Wardhead 21. Wardhead is an exclusive arm of the Glenfiddich stable and this independent bottling was a surprise to see on the list – although a very welcome one.  

Nose

Light spearmint and vanilla. Sweet lemon.

Palate

More vanilla with soft, caressing peat. Fruit – red berries and orchard fruits. A little more mint.

Finish

Biscuity, vanilla and rounding out with oak and a sweet/sour lemon syrup. The finish is sweet, soft and lingering.

What do I think?

Exceptional. Balanced and magnificent it combines some classic Speyside and American oak characteristics with well moderated peat and coaxes gorgeous, harmonious complexity out of the spirit. This will be hard to beat

We head closer to home for the next dram – the Double Cask from Tasmania’s Sullivans Cove.

4. Sullivans Cove Double Cask (44.9% abv)

The recipient of numerous awards this single malt is matured in ex bourbon American oak as well as finishing up in french and American ex tawny casks It contains 11-17yr old spirit and is pretty much Sullivan Cove’s entry level whisky – that’s a very high level.

Nose

Red berries (especially raspberries) and dried fruit (date, apricot). Rich oak.

Palate

Spice (with a little heat and some kick) then sexy rich oak. Great texture. Vanilla, Malty, fruity (baked apple, date).

Finish

Drying herbaceous and oakey – tiny bit of heat into the chest.

What do I think?

Impressive and delicious. But it jumps around a bit and it’s be more enjoyable if the spicy heat was tempered.

5. Ichiros Malt MWR

Next up is the Ichiros Mizunara Wood Reserve from Chichibu. The MWR is a vatting of several single malts in the notoriously temperamental, exceptionally on trend Mizunara Oak (Quercus mongolica). Literally translated as  ‘Water Wood’ Mizunara is known for behaving unpredictably and often doesn’t seal well, meaning that leaks are common. It gives whisky an unmistakable funkiness – mildly spicy but earthy oak notes. 

At the start of the night we spotted that Casa De Vinos has put out a bottle of the double distilleries – not the MWR – and Jose distracts us while Johnno scurries off to hunt for a bottle out the back. Johnno returns successfully and the MWR is poured at Casa De Vinos.

Nose

An abundance of mizunara funk, but very elegant. (Note: I used to describe the smell of mizunara as ‘cognac incense’ – but some people thought that implied smokiness. It’s got a pungent sweet woodiness like sandalwood incense with a slight musty sourness and slight nuttiness like in aged cognac. Some people find more coconut than tree nuts).

Palate

Numbing spiciness and (like a lot of Japanese whiskies especially from Chichibu and Mars) it feels like an epic wave of heat is about to engulf you but it never arrives. I usually find this pretty distracting and jarring. There’s a quality to it that reminds me of a sherry cask finish – the type of sweetness combined with the oak, the slight mustiness and the texture. Tastes as if it has a much higher abv (from the texture and intensity).

Finish

Dry, sour and oaky. There’s a raw sugar sweetness initially before the mizunara regains dominance and leads into a sour astringency.

What do I think?

A really interesting whisky but not one I’m drawn to on its own. It feels like it needs some grain mellowing and a bit more aging but it is a fantastic example of mizunara influence – the funky oak is close to dominant. But compared against the Double Distilleries and the Malt and Grain Limited edition this falls short and I don’t think it’s one of Chichibu’s best.

The energy levels are up and to this point the tasting has been brilliant – superb whiskies showing difference in distillery style, regional characteristics, maturation and finishing. If the tasting finished here it would have been a pretty incredible event

But we’re only just getting to the main event.

To finish we have two whiskies bottled exclusively for Casa De Vinos 10th birthday. These are very limited run whiskies and it was quite exciting to sample them.

The first of the two was a single cask single malt from Sullivans cove.

6. Sullivans Cove exclusive store release for Casa De Vinos (56.5% abv)

Nose

Rich sweetness, sexy sexy rich oak. The oak is close to dominant. A pleasant earthy funkiness. Tobacco. Chocolate and coffee. Dried papaya and pineapple.

Palate

Silky yet spicy. Mild cardamon. Sweet black espresso – like a fruity Guatemalan bean.

Finish

Some tannins and plenty of dried fruit before finally drying out totally.

What do I think?

Very very tasty and a beautiful single cask expression. Comparing to the (excellent) Double Cask it shows how the extra care with this has resulted in improvement in all aspects – this is smoother, more intense, more textural, more complex, more enjoyable. This is sensational.

7. Chichibu exclusive store release for Casa De Vinos (62.8% abv)

Finally, the last whisky for the night is a special bottling from Chichibu. The first ever exclusive bottling for Australia by Chichibu, this whisky demonstrates the reputation and goodwill Casa De Vinos and Jose in particular, has with this legendary distillery.

Nose

A dry weird oak. Vanilla. Candle wax. Double cream. Tropical fruits. Minty. (Note: water also brought out some elegant dry oak).

Palate

Without water this kicks like a mule and is much too strong and sharp. With water the creaminess oddly enough disappears to the background more. There’s an energetic texture (like in a Mars Kagoshima). There’s an odd numbing sensation. Custard apple and banana join the other tropical fruits. There’s also vanilla.

Finish

Quite a lot of heat in the chest – too much for me. There’s chewy oak and vanilla leading to a fairly neutral finish of moderate length with everything just fading out.

What do I think?

There’s a lot to like in this but too much that challenges me. It’s a fascinating expression and super complex but I feel like I still don’t get where this whisky is coming from. The combination of flavor is exciting but there are too many surprises and too many flavors that don’t fit for me to settle into this before there’s none left. I love experimentation, especially in Japanese whiskies, but this time I’m left a bit bewildered.

After these Jose winds down, with special thanks to those that have supported Casa De Vinos over the years and especially over the previous year.

Once again Casa De Vinos have put on a brilliant, enjoyable night with an epic line up of quality, interesting and difficult to find whiskies. At this point of the night it’s hard not to miss the mingling and chatting that would usually come with a tasting event in person – with the attendees gradually drifting away. Instead it’s a last round of thanks and the zoom feed ends.

For the three of us it’s a couple of final sneaky pours and a comparison of notes.

For me the Wardhead 21 was the stand out for the night – even after returning to it at the end of the night for comparison. It’s close to flawless – with divine flavor, intensity, balance and wonderful complexity.

If we’re handing out medals the Sullivans Cove exclusive store release comes in 2nd place. Stunningly delicious and balanced – it’s awesome and the best Sullivan’s Cove I’ve tasted. This was like a platter of dried tropical fruit, chocolates and biscuits with a fresh espresso. Incredible. I could happily spend a lot of time with this (note: out of everything we had this was the whisky foremost in my memory the next day and the one my tastebuds were missing the most).

There are plenty of great tastings around at the moment, but Casa De Vinos are among the best and come highly recommended. A round of applause for the Casa De Vinos team and congratulations on 10 years of success.

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