The Balvenie 21yo “Portwood” (40%, OB, Circa 2002)

Just like some of the previous reviews, here is another bottle from my lectern. I bought this one way back in 2002 after I sampled it at a friend’s house. I have very fond memories of this one, so in my case the disappointment was humongous when I tried the freshly opened bottle. Almost a year has passed since then, so I believe it is time to have another go. Truth be told, In the passing year I have sampled it several times and found it to be better every time I tried it, so for the second time around I again have high hopes for this one. Oxidation rules! Often, not every time, but often.

Color: Copper gold, with a pinkish hue.

Nose: Winey and sweaty. Nice old, soft and wet, wood and warm wax. Underneath some old vanilla lingering, mixed in with a winey note, sweetish Port. After the initial wet wood, the note shifts into old dry oak. So the original Whisky matured in American oak alright to be finished in Port casks. Very perfumy. Very distinguished. It feels like a member (not a Whisky) of a members only gentleman’s club. Fresh homemade pot-pourri, not the soapy dried hideous stuff, that smells of grannies closet. This bottling oozes the sense of a Whisky from yesteryear, something that can’t be repeated. It also gives me the feeling the whole has worn out a bit, again adding to the note af antiquities. If there is a beef to be had with this Whisky it’s that even with this many years under its belt, it does lack development. The Whisky establishes itself big time, only to not change much in your glass. So breathing in the glass doesn’t do much whereas breathing in the bottle did bring a lot of balance since opening. Oxidation can be a strange phenomenon.

Taste: Not as big as I’ve expected from the nose alone. A bit simple on entry. Sweet and nutty. Yes moving into fortified Wine territory now, complete with a raw and bity (and a soft bitter) effect right after the start (typical for Port finishes). Red fruits and more nuts and wax. The red fruits form a very nice layer on top of the nutty bit. If you’re familiar with tasting Wines, this Balvenie gets richer when you take in some air while you sip this (the more the better actually). Since is so low in ABV. take big gulps! Vanilla, raisins. yeah, now we’re talking. Sure raisins, but in no way does this taste like a Sherried Whisky, no its raisins, but different from a Sherried Whisky. The low ABV. isn’t capable of carrying the finish for a long time, nor does this Whisky have a noticeable aftertaste. After the finish it gets weak quickly and you wait for an aftertaste that doesn’t come. When its gone, its gone. So, in the end, this is very, very nice, all aroma’s fit together nicely, but also (and I hate the word but) I still expect a bit more form a Whisky with a reputation like this one. It’s very nice, highly drinkable, but lacks complexity, development and a bit of oomph. On the other side, after extensive breathing this is a balanced whisky with nice aroma’s and no off notes whatsoever.

Just like the Kilkerran I reviewed last, both are examples of Whiskies that weren’t all that great right after opening. I took this bottle with me when I was invited by Nico to sample some odd Balvenie 12yo from 2016, alongside many other Balvenies. We both had high hopes for this one, since it is an oldie, and everything was better some decades ago, wasn’t it? Yet all we could muster was “is this it?” Again rightfully disappointed with a freshly opened bottle. Did it get better? Yes it did, is it as great as memory serves me? No not really, so this goes to show, that oxidation isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and that tasting Whisky can be a very subjective matter to boot.

Points: 88

For fun, I unearthed a Port finished Imperial, but both are remarkably different so there is no sense in comparing. Where one seems old and distinguished, the other is more modern and even bigger on the nuttiness. Both are quite sweet and they share the need to be had in big gulps. Maybe 81 Points for the Imperial was a bit on the conservative side though (but not by much).

 

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