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Whisky vs Wine, Do You Know The Differences?

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At face value, the differences between whisky and wine may seem obvious but it's not as straightforward as you might think. If you are a wine aficionado, don't expect to be able to simply transfer that knowledge to whisky and vice-versa. Some of the differences if ignored, could be very costly, especially if you are a collector.

Aging

Whisky ages in the barrel or cask and ceases to age once bottled. Wine, on the other hand, continues to age in the bottle. Don't assume that holding onto a 10-year-old bottle of whisky for 10 years will turn it into a 20-year-old bottle of whisky or that it will taste any different.

Storage

Wine (if sealed with a cork) should be stored laying down so that the cork does not dry out. Whisky corks are different to wine corks in both construction and intended use. Wine corks are softer, absorb liquid and once removed, expand and are not put back in the bottle. Whisky cork stoppers are harder, often sealed and are intended to be removed and replaced multiple times. Whisky is also much higher in alcohol by volume (ABV) than wine. The average wine is about 12% ABV whereas whisky is 40% ABV or higher. A spirit of such a high ABV will degrade the cork over time, therefore whisky must be stored upright so that there is no contact between the spirit and the cork stopper. If you store whisky for extended periods lying down, it is likely the cork will break down and contaminate the whisky.

Additionally, whisky is more robust when it comes to temperature changes than wine so you do not need to store your whisky in a temperature controlled environment like a wine fridge or cellar. You may want to limit exposure to direct sunlight and high humidity, however, because fading or moisture damage to a whisky bottle's label will affect its resale value for collectors.

Vintage

Whisky has no vintage in the same sense as wine. You may see a year printed on a whisky bottle but it is not common. Wine is greatly affected by seasonal changes at the winery where the fruit is grown. Whisky is not affected in the same way and most distilleries go to great pains to ensure consistency across every production run. There are some exceptions and declared whisky batches are perhaps the closest comparison to a wine vintage. If a whisky has been bottled from a single barrel or cask, there will likely be some differences from barrel to barrel. This will be more often the case with smaller craft distilleries rather than larger mass producing distilleries.

Food Pairing

There is no doubt that wine is more commonly paired with food and this is a practice that has been going on for hundreds of years. But as whisky has become more popular, so has pairing particular whiskies with certain food. If pairing red wine with red meat and white wine with white meat is an accepted simplification of wine/food pairing, the following should suffice for whisky. Pair Scotch style whiskies with rich food such as heavy cheeses, sausages or fatty meats like rare waygu steak. Pair sweeter American whiskey like Bourbon with sweeter dishes such as any based on chocolate, ice cream, fruit, sweet vegetables, light cheeses or anything caramelised. 

Wine may be easier to pair with food, but whisky taken neat (or however you prefer) is a great digestif following a meal. If you want to have whisky prior to a meal as an aperitif, then best to stick to light whiskies and mix it with either soda water or in a cocktail of your choice to bring down the ABV. I would avoid drinking peated or smoky whisky prior to an expensive meal as this is likely to coat your mouth and may even annoy other nearby diners if they are particularly sensitive to the peated whisky aromas, which are quite volatile.


Shelf Life

Different wines have generally accepted time frames when they should be consumed once opened. White wine lasts 1-2 days, red wine 1-2 weeks and fortified wine 1-2 months once opened. Whisky, on the other hand, has a near infinite shelf life, even when opened. Some people may claim the taste of a whisky changes over time once opened and that may be the case, but for the majority of people, the changes will be indistinguishable. What's important to note is that whisky will not go off, so you do not need to throw out your whisky if it has been open for a few years. But I would question whether you should really drink Grandma's bottle of port that has been open since Christmas five years ago.

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