Friday, 17 May 2013
One of the most incredible aspects of the trade of wine and spirits it the history. Of course, we know that Jefferson liked Hermitage, and Pepys loved Haut-Brion. Shackleton had his legendary whisky to warm him to the south pole and Bonnie Prince Charlie invented Drambuie (for better or worse). As the great boozy catalogue of history goes back in time we find bottles of wine and whisky that have become iconic despite their humble origins.
For instance, what was so auspicious about the distillation at Mortlach distillery on the 26th day of January 1957, that it has come down to this day so that I see what has become of it? Probably nothing, to be perfectly fair. In fact this is not the only Mortlach from the 1950's I've tasted, nor is it the oldest. Basically it is a forgotten sherry cask from a distillery that produces a huge volume of whisky and consequently the result is a large amount of old, backlogged stock that can be bottled at an exceptionally old age.
But what does such old whisky taste like? When I first put my nose in the glass I was reminded of my first visit to a 50-year-old Mortlach and was greeted by an intense wave of fiery booze. Hugely alcoholic with hidden aromas of shoe polish, wood sealant and lemsip. A bit of dry fruit found it's way through, but the 50 year contact with what I imagine was first-fill Oloroso left a hot, sticky mess of a whisky.
Unfortunately the 1953 distillation was not far removed from this effort. It smelled of alcohol, almost as grainy as Glen's vodka and the flavour was dry and tannic, almost like a freshly cut sapling cured in pure ethanol. In essence; unpleasant.
So why do bottles of whisky that are so old retain such a reputation for quality? My thinking is that not enough people have tasted and criticised them. I recall one day early in my career as a wine and whisky merchant selling a bottle of Mortlach 1936 (70 y-o) for £21,000 alongside a Glenfarclas 50 for £3,000 and a MacAllan 1940 for £2,000 all in one transaction to one collector. All I can think is thank goodness someone bought it, and hopefully he will enjoy the way it looks on his mantlepiece as he tells his friend how much he paid for it all; because it sure as hell isn't going to taste very good!
I know I contradict myself when it comes to old whisky, because some of the best whisky I've ever had has been quite old (Brora 36, I'm talking about you!) but then again, it doesn't take an absurd age statement to be exceptional. The youngest and sometimes cheapest in the lineup, Laphroaig Quarter Cask is far superior to the rest of the Laphraoig range (Up to the 25, after which I cannot say). Likewise I prefer the 15 year-old offering from GlenDronach to the 18 though both are lovely.
But when you find a whisky that is exceptional just fo it's sheer age, it may well be that it was unremarkable for so long that the cask-manager thought they may as well leave it until they could sell it as a budget end 50 year old. Because older is considered better for whisky, the market responds and the bottles are more expensive. Consider this; Ardbeg Uigeadail is somewhere between 5 and 9 years old (technically) and it is consistently ranked as the best or among the best whiskies in the world.
There is a skewed sense of logic in the world of whisky and it is up to us, the dirnkers and the lovers of malt to seek out the gems. I say we allow these ridiculously overpriced, overaged monstrosities to go up in price while we happily enjoy the balanced flavours of appropriately aged whiskies and live within the realms of reality.
Tuesday, 7 May 2013
Long while since I posted to this or any blog but I'm happy to be doing so again! Today I'm writing about a wee tasting I put on for a few friends of mine as they prepare for a high profile tasting competition at the Residence de France in London a fortnight from now. The theme of the evening is Left Bank Bordeaux, including Médoc, Graves, Sauternes and Barsac. I took part in this tasting last year and despite doing somewhat poorly (then having my spirits lifted by a stunning meal and lovely wine) I feel that the exercise of analysing Bordeaux from a blind tasting perspective was very enlightening.
When training for blind tasting, you always look at the general styles of grapes and regions in the following manner: Syrah tastes of violets, but is fruiter in Australia and more briny in the Rhône and so on. Basically you paint a region with a broad brush and Bordeaux is the same. There is a character to Bordeaux that makes it unique from wine anywhere else in the world. I am fairly confident I could pick out a Pomerol in a line up of Merlots from the rest of the world, but when it comes to picking apart the differences between the various cabernet-based communes of the Left Bank things get a bit tricky. So today's tasting was aimed at four appellations and three vintages.
1. Chateau Le Pey 2010 Médoc- The nose was creamy, sweet salted caramel and milk chocolate followed by cherry and crème de cassis. The colour was youthfully red; no traces of ageing yet lighter than some of the older wines showing the wine to be less concentrated. The palate agreed with lighter tannins, less intense flavours and acidity. A pleasant wine, but not the product of great grapes.
2. Chateau de Cardaillan 2007 Graves- Deeper colour but with some brickish hues showing the affects of ageing. 2007 is an early drinking vintage so it follows that maturity was reached quickly in comparison with the older Fourcas-Dupré. The nose was marred by a slight cork-taint but the character showed through in a perfumed fruit nose
3. Chateau Fourcas-Dupré 2004 Listrac-Médoc- This one was difficult to describe. There was not a whole lot to distinguish it from general Bordeaux wine. It lacked the cocoa powder of St-Estephe, the perfume of Margaux or the woody cedar of Saint-Julien. It was a good wine, but there really wasn't a whole lot to tell us what exactly a Listrac-Médoc was like. That said, it was a lovely bottle of wine!
4. Chateau Martinens 2007 Margaux- Classic to Margaux, the nose showed plenty of floral aromatics, perfume (almost like Campari smelled from a distance) and something along the lines of kirsch liquer. The palate showed fine grained tannins and an elegant finish. A really great wine and amongst this line up, I think it showed as an amazing wine.
Overall, I find the concept of blind tasting a highly invigorating experience, especially when put into such a singular context as Left Bank Bordeaux. It also shows what a versatile region Bordeaux is for wine production. It's not a tired region only good for putting out overrated and expensive wines. Rather it does offer some good value and quality across the board. Especially in an age where so many new world wineries boast of their high altitude or extreme conditions, Bordeaux is temperate by comparison and never more than a few metres above sea level.
For whatever reason, wine from Bordeaux is often overlooked by the casual drinker, but it should not be. It offers good quality, easy drinking and food friendly wine at a reasonable price point. These four bottles showed particularly well, but there are countless others like them.