The colour is a deep caramel. Like many a Balvenie, the immediate hit on the nose is honey and toffee, with custard, baked apple, cinnamon and clove. Blood orange. Definite sherry note. Quite nutty. With water a smidge of peat and the nuts become more roasted. Fruity, honeyed, malty and quite lovely.
Creamy on the palate with dark honey, fruitcake, more cinnamon-and-clove and thick caramel. Quite malty. I detect the faintest hint of peat, especially with water, which also brings out some chili heat and a balsamic note. Orange pith. Dates. Nutmeg. Touch of sulphur. Not hugely complex but everything is very much in balance.
The finish is oaky and peppery with clove and burnt almond. Let's compare it with the current 750ml 40% bottling (a theatre programmer brought me a bottle as a gift during TIFF this year). Colour is about the same; on the nose, the 40% is much flatter, less malty, somehow "heavier" (perhaps deadened by E150?); similar issue on the palate, as well the 40% has a much thinner mouthfeel. And the 40% is more peppery - and a bit more sulphurous - on the finish. I pretty much stand by my eight-year-old 78 point review of the 40%; but the 43% version? High 80s for sure. There must be more to this than just a 3% difference in alcohol, but I have no idea what that could be.