Tonight's Tasting Brought to you by the Letter B

Small Island Boy was up to his tricks again, this time with some brilliant whisky. He gave us two Balvenies versus two Bruichladdichs (kind of) and then finished off with that ne plus ultra for whisky-twitchers, a bottling from a deceased distillery.

It was a hellish cold night in Partick, but after the tasting I found myself to be quite comfortable sans jacket. More to the point, all the next day I was clad two layers lighter than usual saying to myself from within my cereal glow, "uisge beatha truly is the water of life" - I really have to tell you, whisky fires you up and gets you going, it fires and inspires me, all hail the acrospire!

Whoops... slightly carried away there. For your convenience: acrospire defined. Things not any clearer? Just ask SIB, for he is the Man Who Knows.

The whiskies:

Bruichladdich 1993 recioto cask finish versus Balvenie 1993 Port wood
I liked the nosefeel of the Laddie - kinda velvety - but the Balvenie won this bout, by virtue of its relaxed mellowtude and digestive biscuit finish.

Port Charlotte 5 year old versus Balvenie 14 year old roasted malt
I suppose the malt one might imagine regularly sipping, of all tonight's offerings, would be this Balvenie, for its easy character, and especially for the hint of honey-dipped cigars it occasionally offers. Yet the winner here was the PC5. Freshness, that full on Islay Wow! character that first drew me to malt whisky, or just the complexity in the glass. Or all three...

the Brora 30 year old scored highest for the night (4 - 5: excellent - astonishing) and brought me a new organoleptic experience : the scent of lilies. Only once, and fleetingly, but lilies. From malt whisky. There were other things, perhaps less desirable. Cowbyres. Sunwarmed animals. Seabirds. Leaves - mouldering ones. Caboc (also know as 'Here, this butter is past the sell by date. I know! Let's repackage it as cheese')

A great night. Thanks, SIB. Thanks, 'B'.


Chalk and Cheese

SmallIslandBoy hosted a tasting of wines from the Chalk Hill winery in McLaren Vale, South Australia - not to be confused with the other Chalk Hill. SIB is very keen on having a relaxed atmosphere for his tastings - this one featured an interesting variant on the Australian Philosophers Rules ("Rule 1: No Not Drinking") - and I fear I relaxed too much because I came at the first wine, the only white of the night, from quite the wrong angle.

Chalk Hill The Procrastinator Sauvignon Blanc (02006, stelvin) is bang on target if you think of it as an Italian aperitif wine. As an Ozzy SB it sucks. It's fairly neutral, you see, rather than being green grass and wet pebbles. I should have been nibbling the tasty cheeses along with this one. As it was, cheeseless winegeek that I am, I made a face and scored it as 1-2 (crap - ordinaire). Sorry SIB, I promise to try it again, this time with a selection of antipasti.

The Italian Red varietals, on the other hand, were absolutely top notch. The Barbera in particular is well worth trying. For £12.99 you get an excellent glassful, with a complex nose, full of earthy, olive-y and green pepper notes. The palate is mellow, smooth and savoury, with remarkably good balance for such a strong wine - 15.5%. Chalk Hill Barbera (02005, stelvin): 4 (excellent).

Chalk Hill sponsor the Glossy Black Cockatoo Project, to the tune of 12 acres of drooping sheoaks every year. I wonder if they ever pause to consider the effects of the Australian-led move from corks to screwtops on the habitat of birds like the Iberian Eagle.


Brilliant. Bonkers, but Brilliant.

To the rather posh Hotel du Vin for a tasting of Mas de Daumas Gassac, presented - by Samuel Guibert - very informatively, and with almost no smoke or mirrors. He told us we would have had the product of forty five varieties of grape by the evening's end. This in itself excited my inner list-ticker, and I was not disappointed.

There were several lesser wines, all very tasty and pretty much accurately priced, but reaching the Mas de Daumas Gassac Blanc (02005, cork) was something of a two or three level power-up.

As the Big Egg says, the Blanc is bonkers. A blend of Viognier, Chenin, Chardonnay, Manseng, with other varietals for seasoning, this one utterly bamboozled me. Here's my initial tasting note.

"over-ripe fruit, fish, smoke, animals, bananas, more smoke, Lagavulin, sherry fish. Then green. celery juice, then nutty."

Over the evening it evolved into a brilliant full viognier dominated blend, although without the wonderful downy billowing texture of Condrieu. Rather there was a soft oiliness, like good white Chateauneuf. Whatever that note means, the wine certainly deserves its score of 5 (astonishing).

The Mas de Daumas Gassac Rouge ('04, '03, '02, cork) were all very good to excellent (score 3-4), complex and fascinating. The technical note says they are currently in their 'Period of Youth'. I should very much like to try them when they have reached their Period of Plenitude, aged between 14 and 21 years. Fingers crossed. Anyway, here is - just to persuade you to rush out and buy some - my tasting note for the Rouge '03.

"strong cow poo and warm fur. chocolate melted on the hands of a toddler who urgently needs changed. chocolate bananas"

Ahhh! Lovely.

The Small Egg raised a very interesting point. Can a wine which varies so much over three consecutive vintages be said to have its own character? He asserted that all great and/or unique wines have their own recognisable character. Can one say this of Mas de Daumas Gassac? I don't know. After all, 02003 was an odd year, and '04 was kind of the rebound from that, in terms of vine growth / production, so you might argue that these three vintages are not a typical vertical tasting.

Update: a bit of rummaging has resulted in this partial list of grape varieties used at Daumas: Clairette, Sauvignon Blanc, Grenache Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Grenache Noir, Mourvèdre, Carignan, Chenin, Chardonnay, Viognier, Petit Manseng, Malbec, Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo, Petit Verdot, Muscat de Alexandria, Sercial, and Cabernet Franc. Nineteen, which is some way short of the promised forty-five. Any information you might have would be very useful as a comment.