Pilton Ice

Is it just me, or does everybody think of the Piltdown Man when they see a bottle of Pilton? Just me? Right. Fair enough.

This empty bottle held a most rare, and most tasty, liquid. Britain doesn't have the right climate to permit cider makers to make ice cider al fresco, so there's a good deal of faffing about with chest freezers, not to mention the difficulty of pressing frozen apples, or, as has happened in this case, the freezing and slow careful thawing of already pressed juice. The result is delightful.

(I should say, by the way, that this tasting note was written at a point when the bottle had been open a few days)

Colour is a vivid red amber. Not quite copper. Vivid and beautiful.

The nose is very earthy. It seems tannic  - so I guess it's making me think of apple skins. Mossy sticks. Spices and apple skins. Herbal? Aye, herbal, green-grey, lichen on stones . It's a fascinating herbiness. Grey-green, but not as sweet as sage.

The taste is tangy sweet, but with drying tannins. Earthy again. Vivid fruit acidity. Red fruits. Dark. Not yellow. Perhaps some green gooseberry acid. The tannins are very gentle. There's some bitterness in the finish, but it serves to balance the intense sweet attack. A delicious, complex drink.

I'd class it as Outstanding. Can I have some more please?


Tannins of Wood and Skin

I've thought about it every time I opened the cupboard and saw the can looking at me (and it's been in there for a solid month and a half). I can't escape the feeling that I'm missing some sort of cultural reference or in joke or something. I've googled 'BAE' and think I have a handle on that, but then, a badly formed search term can throw one off the scent forever.

Despite all that, I'm reasonably confident that I can still assess this beer fairly. If not, well, oh dear, how sad, never mind.

So, what I'm drinking is a Sour Ale with Pinot Noir grapes, aged in French Oak. I don't know anything about Stillwater Artisanal except that they're American (and that only because of the label).

This is a beer not heavily carbonated - although the style doesn't seem to lend itself to a good head. (Note to self: Investigate relationship between pH, acidity, brewing adjuncts, and head formation / retention) It has an attractive red-amber colour with an interesting (and, to me at least, unusual) gold rim.

The nose starts off with the sort of grubby, earthy sweetness that French oak so often gives to beer or whisky (something to do with malt perhaps?). Then there's the flat sweet note of sour beer, and something a bit straw-like - akin to a cider, but not as sweet.

The palate has a sherbet-y acidity. Perhaps it's a combination of oak sweetness with kettle souring but it seems more sweetie-like than many sours.

(NB! I'm assuming this is a kettle sour, purely on the basis that it lacks the depth of a koelschip/lambic style beer)

There's less tannin than I'd expect given the Pinot Noir grapes and French oak, although now that I've mentioned Pinot, I can indeed taste red fruit. And perhaps the tannins of wood and skin are coming through in the bitter finish this beer has. Or perhaps not.

The red fruit notes are really quite generic - there's not a specific fruit I can pick out.

I would rate this beer as Good. It's more interesting than most kettle sours, but then they have thrown Pinot grapes and French oak at it, so one would expect some complexity.

I'm still not sure what to think about the name. I suppose brewers produce so many different brews that after a while it must be difficult to think of new names. Certainly, it's no sillier than, say, Disco Forklift Truck. I suspect it comes back to my original point -  I feel that I'm not in on the joke.


I Might Change My Name To Hendre Huffcap

My very good friends TallAsAVan and DrinkBritain kindly gave us this bottle last Christmas. They said that it was something rather special, so when the Prodigal Wean came up the road for a few days that seemed like a good occasion to open it.

I could tell straight away that it was something out of the ordinary. The muzzle took nine half twists to remove. Nine, I tell ye! And take a look at that picture. Have you ever seen such a nubbly little cork, even on a bottle of gueuze?

The three varieties of perry pear used for this bottling are Antricotin, Rock, and Hendre Huffcap. Gotta love perry, just for the fruit variety names! 

To start with I was a wee bit concerned that it seemed very bretty but that cleared off pretty quickly, so maybe it was just bottle stink.

The nose was very complex, and quite intense. There was pear and elderflower, mossy sticks, a touch of what might have been spicy honey, plus fresh silage or cheesy straw. Inexplicably, the overall effect reminded me of stir fry. The Prodigal Wean liked it too - she suggested, "the fresh greenness of spring onions without the onionyness", and, "ginger?”.

The palate was light and airy (one of the things I  love about good perry - that it can be so light and yet also intense). It tasted of green apple skins, more of the green sticks from the nose, a touch of clean dark earth, and honeyed pear juice. 

And just to wrap it all up, there was such a lovely clean finish. Pretty much everything about this bottle was perfect.

So thank you DrinkBritain & TallAsAVan for the gift, and thanks Wean, for that spring onion tasting note. 


Things Not To Do With A Pineapple

That Boutique-y, the hydra-headed bottling offshoot of Master of Malt, produce some very fine drinks. Indeed, I was lucky enough to attend a tasting hosted by the estimable and very congenial Dave Worthington earlier this summer where he let us try a two decades old Tormore which was quite the best expression I've ever had from that distillery.

However, their approach is somewhat scattershot. And whilst an open mind and a willingness to experiment is to be commended, I'd respectfully suggest that some things might be better left unbottled.

As witness this oddity, That Boutique-y Gin Company Spit-Roasted Pineapple Gin Batch 2.

According to the accompanying press release, during the second Golden Age of the Cocktail fruit gins were all the rage. But then, and again according to the press release, the second Golden Age of the Cocktail was the 1950s-1960s, an era which also gave us whiskey flavoured toothpaste and jellied salads. Which makes their judgement in matters of taste suspect, wouldn't you say?

The nose is certainly very pineapple-y. Not fresh pineapple, but the juice, from a carton, or perhaps the syrup from a tin. Hang on though, where's the juniper? Seriously, there's no juniper.

The palate is suprising. It's very thick, sweet, syrupy, and sticky. I'm reminded (although I'm pretty sure it's a false memory) of an old liqueur that's been at the back of the drinks cupboard for years, perhaps a dodgy knock-off Benedictine clone, or a not very orange-y Cointreau-alike. I suppose the faux-Benedictine memory must be the gin botanicals.

In conclusion, bleh. If this had a clear gin character, or fresher pineapple notes, then maybe. But as it is, bleh.

Rereading the blurb, I see that pineapple gin was supposedly also popular in the 1920s. Which means that after this batch of 3300 bottles is done, we ought not to see any more until the 2060s. Fingers crossed.


Sweet Wine Wednesday - Aged Sauvignon Blancs

Sweet Wine Wednesday, a Glasgow-based wine trade tasting group, has been on the go, sporadically, for nigh on ten years, and for most of that time it's been a running joke that one of us would threaten to bring along his vertical of aged Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.

Well, it finally happened, and it was a delightful surprise. (I hesitated over my choice of adjective there. Really, I need a word which means delightful with a touch of astonishment)

We tasted three vintages of Villa Maria Clifford Bay Sauvignon Blanc, the 2001, 2002, and 2003. The oldest of these was bottled under cork.

All three were in very good condition, very clean and lively, with plenty of fruit still showing. I'd say that the ripe tropical notes of a fresh Kiwi Sauv had diminished in all of them, and green flavours were much more to the fore. "Peas and asparagus" is a bit of a Sauvignon Blanc cliché, but it was very applicable here.

For me, the 2002 was the most tart, and I found plenty of gooseberry notes, as well as an intriguing green chilli aroma. The 2003 rather reminded us of Riesling, in that it seemed to have a mineralic or petrol note, and a distinctly sherbet-like palate.

But the real revelation, and my favourite, was the 2001, the last vintage of this wine to be bottled under cork. There was a richness to it, a creaminess, which I've never encountered in a Sauvignon Blanc before. It reminded me of rice pudding or lemon cream. It was wonderful.

I can't quite credit that I'm actually writing this down, but the conclusion that we took away from this tasting was that we ought to lay down some Awatere Valley Sauvignon Blanc, with a label tied to the necks saying, "Not to be drunk before 2030".

What I can credit, and say most firmly, is that New Zealand winemakers, and Villa Maria in particular, have risen considerably in my estimation. Whilst I've always known that they are experts in capturing the fresh fruit flavours of wine to be drunk young, I never entertained the notion that these sorts of wine could be in it for the long haul. Until now....


A note on Nicolas François Billecart 2002

I hosted a champagne tasting last night, with wines from Pierre Peters, Fleury Père et Fils, Palmer & Cie, Moutard, and Billecart-Salmon.

It was my first tasting of a Pierre Peters wine, in this case the Cuvée de Reserve Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru, and rather disappointingly I didn't really understand the wine, although I suppose that's an excuse for another bottle.

But that's not the main thing I wanted to say. I've tasted the 2002 Nicolas François three times now; in 2015, last year, and last night. The first of these was in ideal conditions, and the wine, while clearly still very youthful and tightly wound, also managed to be reasonably expressive. Last year's bottle was completely unexpressive, so I was a little apprehensive about opening it again last night, but I have rather done Krug and Dom Pom to death over the last twelve months, so Billy it was.

And I'm so glad I did. It was beautifully expressive. Lean, yes, tight, indeed, but it had such lovely aromas of white flowers, and there was a slight saline edge to it which I hadn't seen before. It was the wine of the night by a country mile, and I look forward very much to tasting it again in another year's time.


Tasting Notes: Some Things To Read

This post gathers up some links to articles (and one or two books) I've read which have some bearing on the matter of Tasting Notes, and which I've found useful. I then give a brief summary of Peynaud's classification of types of tasting, and finish with a quote from the master.

I ended up in the booze trade by accident, and stayed because I found it congenial. Over the years my particular interest has shifted from topic to topic, region to region, but whatever my current obsession I've always been very keen on writing tasting notes. It's not the easiest habit to acquire, and the craft of writing good tasting notes isn't learned overnight. Indeed, after sixteen years I'm still trying to improve my tasting ability.

A good starting point for writing tasting notes is the Wine & Spirits Education Trust Systematic Approach to Tasting. It imposes a structure and vocabulary which is very helpful when one is just setting out on the tasting journey.

The Taste of Wine, by Émile Peynaud, whilst perhaps a little dated in places, remains the foundational text for tasters. It introduced me to many useful tasting exercises, and is beautifully written too.

Having read The Taste of Wine, it is useful to then read Classification and hierarchy in the discourse of wine: Émile Peynaud’s The Taste of Wine, by Nigel Bruce. This is an analysis of Peynaud's book from (I think) an anthropological point of view. Reading this probably won't make you a better taster, but it will certainly make you think more deeply about Peynaud.

Next, a couple of short pieces by Andrew Jefford, plus a slightly longer one from Bianca Bosker. These all address the perceived shortcomings in present day tasting notes, and suggest a few ways to improve your notes.




Lastly I must mention Gordon Shepherd's books Neurogastronomy and Neuroenology. Reading them has given me a much better understanding of the workings of the human sense of smell.

Some notes derived from The Taste of Wine, Emile Peynaud 
All tasting can be classed as either:
  • hedonic – purely for pleasure
  • analytical – tasting done with some professional or commercial aim in mind 
It is important to be clear in advance what is the purpose of an analytical tasting, as otherwise the results may not be useful.

Peynaud divides analytical tasting into three types:

Descriptive tasting – studying, identifying, and listing all of one's sensory reactions to a drink, and explaining them as far as possible according to the raw materials and production methods of the drink. One important part of descriptive tasting is the use of a precise vocabulary, which is understood by other professional tasters.

Differentiation between & identification of samples – necessary for comparisons between eg different drink recipes, or when making a choice between two similar products. Often done 'blind', so as to minimise preconceptions. This type of analytical tasting often leads into:

Appraisal and quality ranking – assessing a product in terms of commercial quality, for example in choosing which of two rums to stock, or in tasting a range of one product type at a trade show

All analytical tasting is a form of comparison (even when only tasting one sample – in this case, one is comparing with memories of previous similar products), but none of the three types of analysis listed above includes personal preference. The key thing in becoming a good analytical taster is to set aside one's likes and dislikes, at least until after the analysis is done.

Tasting accurately is a skill which can only be acquired with regular practise, and all tasters will have good and bad tasting days. The following quote (about blind tasting) sums it up nicely

...all of us go through some periods that are better than others, during which we can be remarkably successful at blind tasting. I know of tasters who live by a reputation forged on two or three inspired guesses. I myself have experienced moments of glory when everything seemed obvious to me, and I have also drunk the cup of humility to the dregs when, unable to interpret any clue at all, I have ended up making enormous blunders. Blind tasting is one of the finest schools for teaching modesty