Lochside 1965

The star of an excellent tasting by Adelphi for Glasgow's Whisky Club was this rare, unusual, old single blend (that's right, single blend) from the long closed Lochside distillery.

Lochside, which operated at Montrose between 1957 and 1992, is one of a small number of distilleries to have produced both malt and grain whisky. But it's rare indeed for the two to be blended together before being put into cask.

46 years is a very long time for a spirit to spend in cask, and it does result in aromas and flavours which younger whiskies never exhibit. Indeed even the appearance is unusual - it's as dark and viscous as a Pedro Ximinez sherry.

The nose is frankly amazing. Super sweet, but also savoury like a marinade for something about to be grilled, there is a complex array of notes from coconut to chocolate to malt to floor polish to violets. It changes too, sometimes showing the grain character, and seeming very rum-like, as old grain whiskies do. At other times it seems much maltier, with the classic christmas cake nose of a rich old Highland dram.

The palate does not disappoint. Treacle, chocolate, coconut, burnt toasty malt, creamy coffee, burnt toffee, dried vine fruits, this is a real meditation dram, but it's also very moreish. Those sweet flavours are so attractive, yet so well balanced by the bitter notes, I could drink this all night (whilst stopping occasionally to wonder at that rare violet note - something I almost never find in whisky).

A truly excellent dram, but sadly rather out of my price range at around £225. Not to worry: once tasted, never forgotten!


You have to warm to a winemaker whose website opens with a haiku from Basho. The stylish label, with its Böcklin-like lettering, also helps.

97 Parker points rather spoils the party, and the 15.9% ABV doesn't promise greatness.

The alcohol is immediately apparent on pouring - this is a very teary wine.

It smells fantastic, combining freshness and green notes with more evolved aromas like preserved lime peel and, oddly, coffee creams. I say oddly because the wine didn't see any oak.

Not surprisingly, it is very full bodied, concentrated, and delicious. The flavours match the aromas exactly, and it has an attractive creamy texture.

There is a little bitterness late in the finish, but at fortified wine strength that would be hard to avoid, I should think. An altogether excellent wine, 4.


These Romans Are Crazy

I was talking before about the mysteries of taste, and how wine can seem to offer aromas which ought not to be desirable, yet in some mysterious fashion are.

Brossette's Empreinte Beaujolais is a case in point. It smells decidedly of strawberries sizzled in butter—a delicious smell—but who would fry strawberries? (Admittedly, I have a recipe for risotto alla fragola, but as has been observed elsewhere, these Romans are crazy)

Perhaps a better analogy - it is all analogy, after all - is with the making of jam, where you add a little butter to the boiling pan, a smell which always throws me back into childhood and innocence.

Or perhaps the point of wine (if it even needs one) is to intoxicate us while offering unlikely flavours and aromas. And that's good enough for me.


Whisky for Grappa Drinkers

I'm sitting here enjoying three "whiskies" (lawyer-types: I know, I know, "new make spirit") from the recently re-opened Glenglassaugh distillery, which between them can't even scrape up a single year of ageing. As a grappa fan, I couldn't be happier. They all have that solventy, estery fruity nose found in fresh distillates - lovely.

The Clearac is a straightforwardly fresh, plain spirit . It definitely smells of barley, but I also found marmite and toffee pennies. It's a bit rougher than the other two. The palate is oily, sweet, a little malty, peppery, and mineralic (the sea, ozone, ammonia). The metallic finish lets it down, but still, I'd rate it Good.

Blushes  is the old lady of the bunch, with a whole six months in ex- red wine casks, which we are told come from California (as if you could tell otherwise from tasting). It is a beautiful pink gold colour, what Aunty would call rose gold, and smells very youthful still, with the same salty and ammonaical  notes found in the palate of the Clairac. On top of that there's a pippy, stalky, vinous element - tannin, I should think. Left in the glass for a while it evolves some very attractive red fruit notes, plus the classic grappa nose of honeycomb nougat. It  tastes interestingly earthy or musty, and I found a floral note too. Complex and interesting.

And so to the Peated clearac. I don't know what the Parts Per Million of Peat is for this, but they haven't stinted. And it's a fantastic interesting smokiness - dry, charred wood. If you could have smoked grappa - which would be a good thing  - you would want it to smell like this. It tastes sweet, oily, and very smoky, with more of that charred wood in the finish. Very good.

Newly opened malt whisky distilleries are always confronted with a huge cash flow problem, and have come up with various wangles to get round this. Glenglassaugh's approach is very interesting, and in the case of the 'Blushes', a definite winner. There is plenty of flavour and complexity in it, even for folk who don't usually enjoy young spirits.


Directly Above The Centre Of The Earth

A Helpful Bottle Top
I've been occupied with WSET diploma lectures and a jaunt to North Wales, so the Miles From Nowhere Sémillon / Sauvignon Blanc (which arrived in the shop a couple of weeks ago) has had to wait.

Resisting the urge to do a full diploma-style tasting note (they are great, but I haven't yet mastered the trick of combining a diploma note with catching the soul of a wine), I enjoyed the wine outside in the glorious spring sunshine, sitting basking in the kind of warmth which this wine was made to complement.

Miles From Nowhere smells fresh, grassy and fruity. After I'd tasted it I went back and confirmed that, yes, there is a little bit of waxiness on the nose.

The wine has a really clear-cut lovely waxy texture to it, along with plenty of lemon and grapefruit juiciness. There's also a tiny touch of citrus pith, a wee bitter note which is just enough for refreshment without being obtrusive.

It's an excellent summer drinker, and I wish I'd tasted as soon as it arrived in the shop - we would have taken several bottles on holiday. (excellent summer drinker = 4++)


Precision Wine

Sometimes (not often enough, sad to say) a less expensive bottle really over-delivers.

And so it is with the Schiefer Dry Riesling 2007, from Kendermann. It's not really a complex wine, but what it does is expressed so purely that it's a delight to taste.

The abiding impression I took from my glass was of pure lime fruit alloyed with delicate mineral oil. Right the way through from first sniff to final after taste, this wine gives those two aroma or flavour notes. Harmoniously sustained, they are deeply satisfying (Deeply Satisfying = -4).

Best of all, this bottle sells for a mere seven quid. Buy one today and make a Riesling lover happy.


Ave atque Vale

I'm drinking the last glass from the last but one bottle of Château De La Selve Palissaire 2007. I say this because if you are quick (and, I suppose, lucky) you can rattle off to the shop and get the final bottle, and I am feeling well-disposed to the world, and in particular to you, dear reader.

You might want to taste this fine drop because it's from an organic, biodynamic, low-yielding family-run domaine. But better to taste it because it is so very fine.

The aromas are a poised contrast, from metallic iron-rich minerality to animal, leathery sharpness to bright red fruits. The palate is dry, medium bodied and sharp (oh how this wine likes fatty foods). The tannins are, rather like an experienced butler, discreet but persistent. The flavours are red winey much more than they are red fruits, and a good thing too, say I. Altogether excellent, 4, and even if the 2007 is all gone, I'm sure the 2009 vintage will be just as tasty, given a little time.


Fyne by Name, Fine by Nature

Fyne Ales are a wee brewery at the head of Loch Fyne. Set up in 2001, and almost from the start collecting awards, I like their beers because they take a generous approach to hopping. Here's a round up of tasting notes for five of the beers. I should also mention Avalanche, which I have a clear memory of being the best beer of a very good selection in the Guildford Arms in Edinburgh. A clear memory, but, alas, no tasting notes.

Hurricane Jack is a well hopped blonde ale. Of course this means it's the slightly worrying shade of yellow best described as 'sample coloured', but that's balanced by a lovely creamy white froth.

It smells very bright and clean, and, promisingly, there's plenty of bitter hop character. Dry too.

The taste matches the nose most excellently, being dry, clean and exceedingly hoppy, with the long aftertaste being dominated by the hops. This is a properly refreshing glass of beer. All it needs for perfection is a long hard bike run. Hurricane Jack, excellent.

Highlander is a fruity Amber Ale. Slightly sweet, but with a nice drying finish from the hops, which are rather less bitter and more coppery than in the Hurricane Jack.

Definitely fruitier too. Highlander, good to excellent.

Pipers Gold is the beeriest of these beers, by which I suppose I mean the most malty. It has a light but persistent froth, and a good dry, hoppy nose.

It tastes light, dry, and hoppy, with an interesting salt/sweet finish. It's perhaps a little too gassy to be a good session beer. Pipers Gold, good.

Vital Spark is a dark brown ale, which smells beautifully of sweet jammy fruit - strawberry jam, to be precise.

Off-dry and lighter bodied than the colour would suggest, it has a nicely rounded nutty-to-hoppy palate with a neat wee salty note like the Pipers Gold. A very decent session beer.

Holly Daze, a winter-only beer ("available Advent to Epiphany"), is a dark amber ale. It smells nutty, woody-spicy, and a little bitter - good hoppy bitter, that is.

It tastes dry, with a really good creamy texture. There's a hint of smoke, a generous dollop of hops, and the finish is toffee-sweet but also a little salty, before fading to a memory of very fine hops. Interesting and nearly excellent.


Sweet Wine Wednesday #13

Tonight's theme was Chardonnay, but as ever there were a couple of ringers thrown in.

We started with an elderly fizz, the Sieur d'Arques Cremant de Limoux NV. If it were a person you'd feel the need to qualify "elderly" with "sprightly" or some such. The sparkle didn't last long after pouring, but that didn't matter, because it had a lovely masculine perfume, spicy and woody; and a well developed palate alternating from candied orange peel to almonds. Excellent, 4.

Then, an interesting pair of wines from Marlborough. Cloudy Bay Chardonnay '03 and Highfield Chardonnay '05 were both very full bodied and elegant. The Cloudy Bay, being older and under cork, had a much more evolved character, with plenty of butterscotch and a little bit of earthiness. The acidity was still fairly tangy, though, suggesting that the wine has a couple of years in it yet, and is still excellent, 4. The Highfield was by far the oakiest of the evening's wines, but for all that it is two years older than the winery seem to recommend, it was still fantastically well balanced, with plenty of tropical fruit in the mix. Only the acidity seems to be diminishing, but there was still enough to make it an excellent 4+.

Next, two youthful wines were a refreshing contrast (yes I know we should have tasted the younger ones first, but the logistics of tasting blind make this rather difficult to achieve). Innocent Bystander Yarra Valley Chardonnay 2009 was very fresh, cool, and intriguingly perfumed with flowers over toasty oak; an excellent 4. By contrast the Michelot Bourgogne Blanc 2008 was much greener, lighter, and with a distinct green tang. Almost excellent, -4.

The first of the ringers gave itself away by being red. Domaine Pouderoux Maury 2005 in fact looks very like a young ruby port. It had a lovely blue fruit and flowers aroma which follows through on the palate, and it does in fact taste rather porty. Porty and excellent, to be precise (porty and excellent = 4++)

And the Pérez Barquero Gran Barquero Pedro Ximinez was fairly unmistakeable (I was convinced it was Rutherglen Muscadelle). It smelled intensely of licorice and cold tea and had that trick of coating the sides of the glasses and then not running down again. It tasted like sweet sticky treacle toffee or honey sweet cold tea. Really rather tasty, 3-4.


Wild Roses

Goodness, I've never seen such a dark champagne before. If I didn't know what it was, I'd be guessing Shiraz for the grape, or perhaps a Cabernet - Merlot blend.

The Piper-Heidsieck Brut Rosé Sauvage NV is really dark, but when you hold it up to the light you see more of onion-skin than raspberry. And it smells pretty fantastic.

It smells, in fact, properly Champagne-like, but with a big blast of red fruit flavours and a strong mineral - specifically metallic, most specifically copper - element. The coppery tang almost makes me think of a well-hopped amber ale.

The palate is complex, offering a dry attack, a sweet mid-palate, a drying finish, and lovely red-fruit aftertaste. There's more of the coppery flavour in there; coming from, I think, Pinot Noir.

It looks really beautiful too. The dark colour is complemented by a very lively stream of fine bubbles. An excellent and unusual champagne, 3-4.


Penderyn, Bunnahabhain, Machrie Moor

Lightly peated whiskies are a tricky business.

Big bold peated malts are a great style, shouldering their way across your palate with their salt and smoke and earthiness, but at times they can leave you feeling like a crockery salesman in Pamplona.

Speysiders or Highlanders would say they have a touch of peat in them (from the water), before changing the subject to honey or sherry or such like.

Lightly peated malts fall somewhere between these two stools, landing in an awkward area which not many whiskies can comfortably inhabit.

Hence the great fascination of Bunnahabhain. Good Bunna is one of life's pleasures. Bad Bunna, as Oz Clarke says of bad Burgundy, leaves you discontentedly fingering your wallet.

So where do Penderyn Peated and the new Isle of Arran Machrie Moor fall?

My first impression is that they are mood whiskies - sometimes fantastic and other times so-so. This isn't a criticism, it's true of most drams.

The Isle of Arran Machrie Moor has a quietly attractive nose, starting with toffee and then letting out a little puff of smoke, nothing ferocious. To taste it is nicely oily, with a lemony spicy sweetness and a fair bit of dry smoke - dried pine twigs rather than big bonfires. It dries out in the finish, leaving the smoke behind to remind you to take another sip (yes, it is rather moreish).

The Penderyn Peated is less intense to smell, with something like mint tea and a sort of fresh smoke - maybe smoke on a windy day. Tasting it reveals a herbaceous edge to the smoke, like throwing thyme on a barbeque, and then it gets all hot and peppery in the finish.

After these two the Bunnahabhain 12 year old seems pretty mild mannered. Sweet, malty or cerealy to begin, becoming really as sweet as a toffee penny. Tasting it, the body is much fuller than the other two, and I can't really see any smoke in there at all. Perhaps the peat is doing the Highland trick of broadening the malt, but behind the scenes, so to speak.

Both of the newcomers have been growing on me with repeated tastings. But (it's a small but), my overall impression, as has been the case with the standard release from each distillery, is that, while good, they'll be better when they are older. I'm really enjoying the standard Arran 10 just now, which has a decent breadth that younger releases lacked, and I'd love to taste a smoky version of that. So the Penderyn Peated is pretty good, 3; the Isle of Arran Machrie Moor is really rather good, 3++; and good old Bunna (tonight, at least) is comfy and reliable, 3.


A Penderyn cyber-tasting

With a view to synchronising our palates, SF and I (with expert kibitzing provided by TallAsAVan) conducted a tasting of Penderyn whiskies at a distance of four hundred miles, using Skype. This worked really well, except that I found myself rather bellowing.

I'm in two minds about what Penderyn do. They have a weird setup which seems to be the bastard offspring of a pot still and a column still. And they distill to 92% ABV. In other words, they are making something like grain spirit, and relying on the casks to impart a much higher proportion of flavour than normal. On the one hand, selecting high-quality casks to finish your spirit can produce lovely whiskies (think Compass Box), but on the other, what about terroir, typicity?

We tasted the Madeira, Sherrywood, and Peated finishes, and while they are all what I'd call restrained whiskies, I enjoyed them. There's a common theme of tangy fruit; oranges or apricots, and often with a lick of chocolate to them, as well as the same minty note I've found in the Saint George English whisky - the same mintiness you find in Glenkinchie 12 year old.

The Madeira finish is Penderyn's standard expression. No age statement, but it doesn't taste young (no new make spirit character I can see). Instead it tastes smooth, light, and fruity - definitely chocolate oranges. Good to Excellent.

The Sherrywood is the woodiest of the three. On top of the orange-to-apricot flavour, there's a generous handful of dried fruit and nuts, and a surprising, but very tasty, layer of butterscotch. Good.

The Penderyn Peated is drier than tonight's other drams. It has a nice dry smoke to it, with dry earth and a smell of sheds. It tastes of the seaside, but the sweet chocolate orange character comes through nicely. Also Good.

Tasting via Skype was good fun - much laughter - and certainly easier than tweeting, if you are trying to take notes too. I'd recommend you try it. Just don't spill anything into your keyboard...


A peck o dirt willna kill ye

I once attended a tasting presented by Bruce Jack, the endlessly innovative chief winemaker at Flagstone. The conversation came round to the subjects of hygiene, and specifically Brettanomyces. Mr Jack boldly suggested that all wine made in Burgundy is dirty. Fortunately there were no Frenchmen present, but I was reminded of that evening when I tasted this wine.

Badia di Morrona I Sodi del Paretaio Chianti
2007 is an absolutely wonderful wine, with a good deal going on. There's a great big chunk of leather in there, loads of red fruits (definitely red, not black), dry sandy loam, something biscuity, a sharp solventy edge, dry autumn leaves, five spice powder, beefsteak mushrooms, and a touch of some animal smell.

To taste it's delicious, with sweet red cherry fruit, tangy acidity, fairly smooth tannins, a slight earthy or musty note (which seemed very claret-like), a refreshing juiciness, and even a scrap or two of leather.

It's 85% sangiovese, made and matured without any oak, and I think it's just fabulous (just fab = 4-5). Strictly, it doesn't really deserve that score, since it lacks true finesse, but it's so cheap for what it does.

You do need to like Brett, mind.


Gruss Muscat d'Alsace Ottonel 2009

I had to go and look it up, and the Oxford Companion to Wine says that Muscat Ottonel is "paler in every way, a relative parvenu".

Well, in that case it's probably just as well that M. Gruss isn't growing Muscat Blanc à petits grains, since this bottle was amply aromatic enough to please us, and indeed to stand up very well to the spicy pakora we were having as a starter.

The nose was really very fresh, with white flower, lime jelly, and mealy or grainy aromas, along with a touch of something green and herbaceous, like angelica.

The palate was fresh, juicy, and just off dry. A layered, complex wine, with lots of floral loveliness coming and going to an almost oily, steely minerality.

The flowers versus minerality had the effect of making the wine seem to gently swing back and forth from dry to off-dry. I do so like it when a wine constantly changes, and this is a cracking example. Really very lovely, 4+++.