Whisky tasting is informative as well as entertaining
Whisky tasting is informative as well as entertaining

Interview with whisky expert Mark Davidson.

Mark Davidson is passionate about whisky and, in his own words, “never tires on the subject”. During the day Mark manages the Cadenheads whisky shop on Edinburgh’s famous Royal Mile with their authentic and original whisky collections, and classic range. Cadenheads is Scotland’s oldest independent bottling company and is owned by Scotland’s oldest family of distillers. Mark clearly comes with all the right credentials for running tutored whisky tastings at Winton.

Mark begins by describing his tastings:

“My approach is intended to be both entertaining and informative – I cover whisky’s history, production and regionality. I take along malted barley grains for visitors to chew, some new spirit, and part of a whisky barrel to show how the inside has been burnt to add certain flavours.

“It’s important to make the talk entertaining. There are always personalities in the audience who are there for a laugh so I play along with them. If I find myself losing the non-whisky drinkers in the audience, the chocolate is brought out – that always rekindles their interest!

Spoilt for choice
Spoilt for choice

“Overseas visitors, in particular, like to have an opportunity to taste whisky when they visit Scotland, and Winton attracts a lot of corporate groups from Germany, France, Spain and Scandinavia. A typical party might be about 20 people who are at Winton to have dinner. They like to taste whiskies before their meal then have a ceilidh after dinner.

“There tends to be a broad cross-section of visitors at Winton House; some have an active interest in whisky – some may not like whisky.

“Different whisky regions in Scotland are associated with different tastes. Often I offer three whiskies to illuminate the different tastes. One from a sherry cask, one that’s not from a sherry cask and not peated, and I finish with a distinctive ‘peated’ whisky like an Islay.

“Sometimes I offer four or five whiskies to taste. Grain whiskies used for blending are interesting to include. Although less well known, these were invented by the Victorians to provide a more affordable style of whisky. I tend to use the North British, a local grain whisky from Edinburgh produced in Scotland’s biggest distillery.

“Different whisky flavours enhance different foods. Oatcakes and shortbread go well with whisky. Dark chocolate with a high cocoa content complements the style of sherry matured whiskies. Cheese and whisky and smoked salmon and whisky also go well together.”

When asked what he liked about Winton, Mark replied:

“Winton House is not what you would expect to find. Being a family house makes it very special. You genuinely feel like a guest at Winton. The place is original – the history, the fifteenth century vaulted cellar with its six foot thick walls, the aromas of old books, the terraced garden and the trees. It has a wonderful ring to it. There’s a great feeling of togetherness and you really feel part of the team.”

You can find out more about Mark Davidson and Cadenheads at www.wmcadenhead.com