Sunday, December 20, 2009
Dalwhinnie 15 years Highland Single Malt Scotch
Aged exclusively in ex-bourbon casks. However, Distiller's Editions released by this distillery frequently involve some aging in ex-Oloroso sherry casks.
Vanilla, lemon, apple blossoms, pears.
Apple skins, bruised apple sweetness, salted almonds drizzled in honey, caramel, syrup and barley toys.
Spiciness emerges, baking soda, black pepper, but only slightly.
Drying malt, pencil lead, graphite, oak, balsa, a wee smoke, peat and heather.
Whenever I encounter the flavor profile of Dalwhinnie, the best word to describe a unique aspect of the flavor profile at mid-palate is the word 'heather.' I hate to use a term that I cannot define well. Who eats heather? What does it taste like? Heather is a common, low-lying shrub that goes by the latin name of "Calluna vulgaris." Wikipedia states that it has a characteristic strong taste. Bee hives located near bogs or moorland containing heather tend to produce a much stronger variety of honey. So, when I use the term 'heather' think of it as that taste you experience of the other flavors on steroids so to speak. "Heather honey" is stronger than ordinary honey.
In any event, the heather works beautifully with the honey, cinammon, cocoa, coffee and other flavors (ie. oak) in this Highland malt.
Tasted neat, it's a single malt scotch that starts out silky, very sweet, but quickly develops very rich honey flavors. Nothing bitter or too robust that will put off the novice drinkers.
Dalwhinnie also delivers 'some' complexity of flavor that will set it apart from others. I say 'some' because it is not overly so.
I recommend this as a great gift to all those who want an inoffensive, yet interesting Highland single malt.
© Jason Debly, 2009- Present. All rights reserved.
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Well, winter has arrived in Atlantic Canada. Above is a picture of my snowbound abode. I just got in this evening from snowblowing the driveway. Temperature is colder than a witch's tit and a wind that causes snow to pelt my face at a most unpleasant angle. Ah! winter. You lush, you white bearded tormentor. I am ready to do battle, armed with my L.L.Bean parka, fleece lined jeans and trusty snowblower. I happily take up arms against the hostile elements of howling wind, driving snow and cold temperatures. Happily? Yup, because my reward, once the driveway is cleared of snow by my weary snowblower, is waiting inside the house. In the basement . . .
Well, the driveway has been snowblown, my walk is shoveled, the wife and children are asleep, it's 10pm and time to come in. The blizzard continues outside. I hear the gentle ping of freezing rain pellets against the window panes adjacent to the front door. I shake off my parka, hat and boots, leaving a massive puddle of snow on the tiled entry way. I head to the basement, kickback in the recliner, pull a blanket over me and reach for some Lagavulin 16yrs.
The Lagavulin just doesn't warm me up enough. I need something more intense, warmer. I reach for the Knob Creek. Now we're talking. 9 yr old Kentucky bourbon warms me up big time as I kick back in the lazy boy. Big rounded flavors of sweet corn, rye, brown sugar and candy cane make for the perfect whisky on this cold night.
This is just a quick post. Tomorrow or the next day I hope to finish my tasting note for Royal Salute, a 21 year old blended scotch whisky. Royal Salute is one of those ultra premium blends and what I have been pondering is whether or not it is worth the price.
Until then cheers!
Saturday, December 5, 2009
It's an overcast Friday afternoon with the temperature dropping. Work is finished for another week, and so my day as an office gnome has come to a close. I head down the street to the local pub. You know the place. There is one in every city. There's a bartender, a college kid, standing behind the bar that has a line of bottles behind him, piled in pyramid fashion against a mirrored wall. Up above is a shelf lined with many different spirits, nearly all scotch. The place prides itself on its claim of 200 plus different scotches.
Elsewhere in the pub are college students adorning tables and chairs. The guys talk tough to their admiring lady friends while middle aged, disheveled suits like me collapse into one of the polished brown chairs that have more nicks and notches than David Lee Roth or Tiger Woods have in their belts.
The lone waitress spies me from a afar, nods, heads for the bar reaches for a thick black binder and brings it to me with a tall glass of ice water.
I leaf through the binder which lists the 200 plus whiskies from all over the world. What shall I have? A question I always enjoy answering.
All week I have been thinking about what I would have on Friday afternoon and post on this blog. Lately, I have been sampling a lot of single malts and bourbon. I thought, it's time to return to what attracted me to scotch and whisky in the first place. The blended scotch.
For me, it all started with Johnnie Walker Black. Hmmm . . good stuff, but need to try another blend that I read a lot about but never had. And so, that is how I arrived at Chivas Regal 18yrs old.
I really like Johnnie Walker Black, Green and Blue. No need to revist them today. Other scotch blends have not always been so great. Grant's Family Reserve and J&B are on my most hated list of scotch blends. There are others too. Will save those for future reviews. Nevertheless, I am still on a quest to find a blend that rivals some of the Johnnie Walker line, particularly Black Label, just the best blend for me. So, the brand Chivas Regal comes to mind as a possible rival worth exploring.
A long time ago I had tried Chivas Regal 12 yr old and just found it unremarkable. Not great, but not terrible. Very suitable for using as a component of a mixed drink. Now, I had heard tremendous praise for Royal Salute 21 yr old, another Chivas Regal offering. A blend that is praised by everyone. At $20 a dram, I have decided to take a pass on that today. I usually have two or three drams before formulating my tasting note. Today that was just too expensive for me. So, by default I decided to Chivas Regal 18yrs a try. So, I looked up at the waitress and uttered the magic words "Chivas Regal 18." Without a word she turned and headed to the bar. God lover her!
Easy peat, a little pepper and sea salt. New risen bread fresh out of the over. Nice nose, but no show stopper.
Sweet. Very sweet to start. Orange rind, some honey, sugar donut and classic malt flavors. Medium body and warming, without burn or bite. The scotch is a little sweet at this point. What I do not detect much of is sherry. There's a little. Not a flaw, just an observation. It is also a tad grainy.
The malt and honey flavors are crowned by peat and salt. There is a hint of peat on the finish that zings across the palate at the very end taking away the sweetness of the midpalate. I say hint of 'peat' as it is very close to becoming grainy. I am shocked by the grainy elements of the flavor profile.
A smooth, honey, malty, sugared cheerio scotch with peat and salt on the finish. Every component of the aforementioned flavor profile is in balance, but that is the problem! It's kinda boring. It's like the scotch was blended by a computer program targeting the mainstream demographic of the middle aged dad who gets a nip at holidays only and so wants something that is very, very easy drinking and takes no chances.
Value for Money?
At the high price tag attached to a bottle of this blended scotch, you expect much more complexity and pizzaaz! You also expect a total absence of grainy flavors. This is a big let down for me. For $20 to $30 dollars less you can purchase single malts that are much better than Chivas Regal 18 yrs old. Which ones? Dalwhinnie, Cragganmore, and Glenfiddich 15 yrs Solera to name but a few. But, those are single malts. How does it compare to other 18 year old blended scotch whiskies? Not well, I must advise.
Johnnie Walker Gold Label 18 yrs and Famous Grouse 18yrs are better. By better, I mean more flavor and less grainy. Matter of fact, Johnnie Walker Green Label 15 years is also superior and lower priced. Frankly, Johnnie Walker Black Label has more flavor.
Flavor is a problem with Chivas Regal 18. The smooth quality of this blended scotch comes from the use of grain whiskies. Trouble is, the more grain whisky used will reduce the impact of the flavors of single malts in the blend. Hence, I find myself taking big sips in search of flavor.
You are not getting value for money when you buy Chivas Regal 18 yrs old blended scotch.
So Why Buy It?
I would only buy Chivas Regal 18 yr old blended scotch if I had to buy a gift for someone who I understood liked scotch without knowing whether or not they liked blends, single malts, peaty, smokey or honeyed drams. Moreover, if the person was a bit of a status nut, or liked impressive or snobby aspects of scotch, Chivas Regal 18yrs would fit the bill with its fancy packaging and high price.
It has a little smoke, a little peat, some honey, a little this, a little that, a little of everything. Pretty hard for the casual drinker of scotch not to like it. A very safe bet is Chivas Regal 18yrs. Very smooth which is generally the novice's sign of quality. Mistake! Really unimpressive. Not horrible, but not great.
But, if you are like me, you require more! For that reason, I, personally, would not buy Chivas Regal 18yrs again because there is always a better single malt or blend (Johnnie Walker Black - just add a little water to take away the graininess) that is much lower priced.
P.S. I updated this review about a year later. You can read it here.
© Jason Debly, 2009-2016. All rights reserved.
Saturday, November 28, 2009
"For relaxing times . . .
make it Suntory times." This famous line comes from the quirky and highly entertaining film, Lost in Translation. Bill Murray portrays an American actor in Japan for the purpose of doing an advertisement for Suntory whisky. The film gave tremendous exposure for the Yamazaki whiskey to the rest of the world, particularly, North America. Suntory have always run a lot of whisky ads with film stars too like Sean Connery. If you go on "You Tube" and search Suntory Advertisements you can see them for your self. Really quite entertaining. Getting back to the movie line above, I can personally attest that Suntory's Yamazaki 12yr old makes for relaxing times!
Single malt whisky can be distilled outside of Scotland! As much as scotch afficionados think only Scotland can deliver the finest whisky in the world, there are contenders elsewhere within grasp of taking the title.
Japan is home to a great distillery, Yamazaki, owned by the Suntory conglomerate. Matter of fact, this distillery was the first single malt distillery outside of Scotland. It was founded in 1923 in the Vale of Yamazaki, on the outskirts of Kyoto. The site was selected for its access to fresh air, pure water and ideal humidity for aging whisky in casks.
The Japanese love their whisky and like most endeavours that they attempt, they succeed when it comes to producing a great single malt whiskey. It is the Yamazaki 12 year old. My tasting note is as follows:
The aromas are a little different from what I expected. At first a little strong waft of alcohol, but sniffed more carefully, I detect malt and cereal. The nose is not impressive. Hard to read and so I really had no idea what would unfold upon tasting.
This is medium bodied to heavy. It has a viscous texture releasing malt, chocolate, sweet spice and some peat. It starts out sweet but by the finish starts to dry across the palate. Incredibly smooth dram of honey and cinammon. Could easily pass for a 12 year old Speyside single malt in a blind tasting test.
Nice length of flavors. Lingering cinammon/burnt toast and faint echo of peat, black tea and mint.
I like this a lot. It is interesting and totally inoffensive. Tastes like scotch and if I was conducting a blind taste test, I am sure it would pass for a Speyside as I mentioned above. Sophisticated, silky and reasonably priced too. You buy this and can be assured that you are receiving value for money. I rank this better than other 12 year old single malts like Glenfiddich and Glenlivet, but not as complex as say Cragganmore 12.
This is a sweet whisky with drying qualities upon the finish. Dalwhinnie is a good reference point for comparisons with this whisky.
What you will not taste in the Yamazaki 12 yr old is: sherry, tobacco and peat beyond a little tease.
The Yamazaki 12 yr old has made a new fan! I hope you will give it a try sometime. You will not be disappointed.
© Jason Debly, 2009-2011. All rights reserved.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Barolo - Popular with the Wine Fanatic
If you ask most people what is their favorite Italian wine, the response invariably involves a painful rehearsal of Anthony Hopkins' line in Silence of the Lambs where he mentions a "fine Chianti."
Italy produces a wide variety of wines. Some very great and others very poor. Besides, Chianti, there are others which make for interesting drinking like: Bardolino, Valpolicella, and Brunello di Montalcino. The first two are easy drinking, light bodied and great for parties and light hearted get-togethers. Brunello is a poweful red that is comparable in intensity and concentration to Napa cabernet sauvignons.
A non-mainstream, fascinating wine that evokes plenty of debate is Barolo. Barolo is not easy-drinking. No idle chit-chat with the stewardess, about her failed college plans, aboard the plane to the Bahamas for this one.
Barolo is a wine known chiefly by wine aficionados. College students and rummies aren't reaching for these bottles for a couple of reasons. First, the price will be out of their grasp and secondly, this wine is usually behind glass, lock and key.
The price for a good bottle of Barolo starts at $50 and goes up to about $150. A lot of variables can drive the price even higher if you are trying to buy from certain producers of an excellent vintage.
So, what's the big deal with Barolo?
If I ask you what is your favorite wine, you may think of Napa Cabs like Silver Oak, Robert Mondavi, Joseph Phelps, Screaming Eagle and Cakebread. All can be wonderful and all are somewhat similar. They are fruit bombs. Lots of cherries, rasberry, dark fruit, and jam flavors that might be spread on breakfast toast. As great as those flavors are and within the hug of oak, they can get boring, and when one wants a change, Barolo is there to meet that need.
Barolo is produced by a single grape variety, the nebbiolo. This grape produces a wine that provides flavors of black tea, spices, roses, anise and a hint of tar. A young Barolo usually is fiercely tannic and bitter, but with age can become soft, yet powerful with flavors of tobacco and mushroom that are gratifying and simply not available by any other grape. This is a grape that has proven very fickle and attempts to cultivate it outside of the tiny region of Piedmont, Italy have all failed.
Barolo secured its name from an Italian town located nine miles south of Alba in the Langhe hills. Alba does produce Barolo and Pio Cesare is one of the most respected producers.
The summer of 2004 was exceptionally hot and there was a fear initially that the grapes would suffer. Hot weather can produce flabby wines that lack a sufficient level of concentration of flavor. Fortunately, while 2004 was hot, it cooled off in the late afternoon and the end result was a wonderful vintage.
So, now lets turn to the tasting.
A word about stemware. Use crystal red wine glasses made for bordeaux. Spieglau or Riedel are excellent manufacturers. You cannot use those thick drinking glasses that were a long ago complimentary gift from the gas station with the purchase of a fillup of your grandmother's 1976 canary yellow station wagon with the faux wood planks on the sides.
The Pio Cesare Barolo is not in the least bit similar to your garden variety Australian red wine that has a screw cap that you simply twist off and pour. This Barolo must be decanted for three (3) hours. Why? By pouring into a decanter and leaving it for three hours, the wine will react with the oxygen it has been exposed too. This reaction results in a tremendous softening of the wine, yet at the same time will enable some of the flavors to soar (I know this sounds a bit over the top, but its true.). How do I know this? By painful trial and error. I too, scoffed at some wine critics demand for decanting and recall pouring a glass of barolo after opening and being confronted by sharp, acidic red wine that I could not fathom what all the fuss was about. People were over, we were chatting, I did some cooking return to this wine three hours later and low and behold, guess what? The wine had transformed from a sharp, acidic harpie of a red into a luxuriant (like I imagine Salma Hayek), soft yet soaring powder dry cherries and tobacco. So, as Dennis Miller used to say, "I don't mean to go on a rant but . . . ." decant, decant decant for three hours before sampling.
The other important serving suggestion is that barolo is to be enjoyed with food. It is not suitable for drinking on its own. It compliments roast (top sirloin), steaks, in gravy, and osso buco divinely.
In the glass, it is pale red, ruby. Similar to pinot noir, but that is where the similarity ends.
Pio Cesare Barolo is always exciting to nose. There is always a wonderful bouquet of wild flowers and strawberry.
Take a big sip and let it roll over your palate, and you will be surprised by the taste of soft tannins, dry cherry, strawberry held in a gentle embrace of black licorice, creamy acidity, anise, portobello mushrooms and tobacco. Nevertheless, this is a big bodied wine in spite of its subtle flavors woven together in perfect harmony.
The taste that lingers is powder dry cherry. It is as if the wine has dried in your mouth to the point of a powder black cherrie. Not puckering dry though. Wonderful length.
This is a big, robust red wine of great oppulence.
If you are tired of California Cabs, Australian and Chilean reds, this wine will offer a very different wine tasting experience. As you can see from above, it offers up unique flavors not found in other wines elsewhere in the world. I am not exagerating. This is why it is so expensive. In fact, in a poor year, some great producers will not bottle anything. 2003 was such a year.
Some critics have written that Barolo is an intellectual wine. A fairly elitist and snobby comment but there is a grain of truth to what they say. What they mean is that it is a wine that will intrigue some while confound others as they contemplate the taste.
When I first drank Barolo, I had read so much about it and expected to be knocked off my feet like I was when I discovered great Napa Cabs like Cakebread. This was not the case with barolo. Instead, I was intrigued, but unsure what to make of it, but days later I was still thinking about that wine. Learning to decant the wine for a long time and pairing it with a rich red meat brought me a deeper appreciation of this wine. Take a drink after a fork of red meat and the acidity that critics speak of is a zingy, spicy cream that completely compliments the food.
I served this wine to serious wine drinkers and they enjoyed it greatly because it was different, interesting and of course, a joy to drink. I would never serve this to people who no great affection for red wine or are the type who like reds that taste like cream soda. Those people will not enjoy this wine.
Pio Cesare is a wonderful winery and this standard bottling of their Barolo is no exception.
P.S. A quick note on the life span of this wine. Barolos like great Bordeaux can be stored for 10 to 20 yrs. As the wine ages, it will become less tannic, soften and improve. 2004 vintage drunk now is very young, and if you can afford it, I would recommend buying a case, and open one a year. Although the 2004 can be drunk now, most Barolos should not be opened until they are nine or ten years old from the vintage. This particular barolo is an exception.
It will hit its zenith around 2014.
© Jason Debly, 2009-2010. All rights reserved.
The Barolo Wars
Did you know that during the 1980's there was a fierce civil war raging in the Piedmont region of Italy? On one side were the old school vintners of Barolo, a wine made from the immensely tannic nebbiolo grape, who made their wine by making the ‘must' (freshly pressed juice of the grapes) undergo a minimum of three weeks of fermentation upon the grape skins. The result was a massively tannic wine that, even after aging in Slovenian oak casks, could still be virtually undrinkable at the time of bottling. These old schoolers' or "traditionalists" as labeled by the press insisted that only this process would yield the famous Barolo wine. Following bottling, the wine had to age for roughly ten years before the tannins softened sufficiently to make the wine enjoyable. At fifteen years post-bottling, the wine may become stellar. Flavors of rose petals, big drying cherry, licorice, anise and tar combine to make a very unique wine drinking experience that cannot be copied elsewhere in the world.
Pitted against the "traditionalists" were another group of Piedmont vintners in and around the town of Alba (the only place in the world where the nebbiolo grape produces this incredible wine). This group of vintners, well aware of the world wine appetite for fruit-forward wine styles, wanted to take Barolo in this direction. They claim for the love of the wine, but I suspect more for the love of increased sales. In any case, these Italian vintners, including Poderi Luigi Einaudi, discovered that they could produce a Barolo with a more fruit driven flavor profile by reducing the fermentation period from a minimum of three weeks to a maximum of ten days! The result was a Barolo that could be drunk five or six years post-vintage. These innovating vintners were labeled the "modernists" by the press.
The press declared the clash between the traditionalists and the modernists to be the ‘Barolo wars.' The traditionalists declared the modernists were traitors and producing a wine that was not Barolo. The modernists spewed vitriol at their opponents calling them dinosaurs.
A ‘Modernist' Barolo - Introducing the 2004 Poderi Luigi Einaudi Nei Cannubi Barolo
The 2004 Poderi Luigi Einaudi Nei Cannubi Barolo is a beautiful example of a modernist Barolo. On the nose, you will experience the equivalent of a bouquet of wild violets and roses, a floral scent that will bring you back again and again to the rim of your wine glass. On the palate, you will be very pleased by a big aromatic cherry mouthfeel, delivered on a bed of smooth, ripe tannins, followed by rose petals, tar, tobacco, spice and a little anise. The finish is stellar. Lingering in your mouth are flavors of red fruit, oak, spice box, and tobacco which cover the entire palate and seem to pucker dry in a wonderful fashion. This wine has it all. The word "perfume" comes to mind, a "perfumed" wine, but not in a cheap way. Think Armani.
Drinking well now and can be enjoyed up to 2020. Yes, "2020." This is one of the few wines in the world that has the ability to improve with time, a long time. As it ages, the fruit orientation will become less prominent and the tar, anise, and rose aspects of the flavor profile will become increase.
Decant, Decant, Decant . . .
Never uncork, pour and drink. This is a big wine, actually one of the most robust red wines in the entire world (I am not exaggerating). Decant for a three hours, and time it so that your dinner of rosemary encrusted leg of lamb, osso busco, or homemade lasagna is ready at the same time. This is a wine of great acidity that needs a heavy rich, meat based or tomato based entrée.
Horribly expensive. No doubt about it. This is not a wine that I would recommend for the casual drinker. You must love red wine, having tried a wide variety, over a number of years, before you can properly appreciate this wine. I know this sounds incredibly arrogant, but it is indeed true. Even though the 2004 Poderi Luigi Einaudi Nei Cannubi Barolo is made in the modernist style, meaning it is fruit-forward, remember, it is fruit rich when compared to traditional Barolo. If you put the modernist Barolo next to a Napa cab, you will correctly regard the Barolo as austere, dark, and certainly not fruit driven. Some people try Barolo, and don't understand what the fuss is all about. Others are obsessed. If you are only a casual wine drinker, I would stay away from this one. It's very expensive and has a flavor profile that is not mainstream.
Part of the reason for the very high price is due to the fact that the Nebbiolo grape has not been successfully cultivated anywhere else in the world, outside of Alba, Italy and a couple of close surrounding Italian communes. The Cannubi vineyards are among the best if not the best in the Barolo producing area. The price reflects this scarcity.
So, Who Won the War?
There was no clear victor. There are still Piedmont vintners making wine in the very traditional way. Their wine takes much longer to mature than the modernist's wines. But even at maturity, the traditionalist Barolo is more austere, much less cherry fruit than the modern style. Who won? Well, that is for you to decide!
© Jason Debly, 2009-2010. All rights reserved
Hey! Isn't this a Scotch Blog?
I know, I know, the title of this blog makes no mention of wine reviews. Nevertheless, I do stumble upon great or note worthy bottles from time to time, and the 2005 Sterling Vineyards Napa Cabernet Sauvignon is one of them. So, here goes . . .
When I find myself in a restaurant . . .
Whenever I am in a restaurant and unfamiliar with the wines appearing on the wine list, and not in an adventurous mood, I usually choose a Sterling Vineyards wine. With Sterling Vineyards, I am comforted by the knowledge that the wines they produce meet certain fundamental benchmarks of quality. By 'benchmarks' I mean, the wine will have a pleasant nose, decent body and a pleasant flavor profile. The other reason I choose Sterling wines is because they are the number one best selling wine purchased by American restaurants. So, I know it will probably be on the wine list before I even crack it open.
Entry Level Napa Appellation - Reasonable Price
The practice of restaurateurs is to double (at a minimum) the regular price of a bottle of wine and some times mark it up even more. So, ordering a bottle to share with a guest can get pricey. When not partying like it's 1999, the Napa bottling by Sterling wines enables me to stay within some semblance of a budget as they are reasonably priced.
Sterling also puts out another bottling branded as their Vintner's Collection which are also very common in restaurant wine lists. Some good value there too. They are even cheaper than the Napa brand by Sterling. Nevertheless, I'll save my comments on the Vintner's Collection for another review.
Minimal Decanting Needed
In high-end restaurants, if you know the establishment, know what you and your guests will be ordering from the menu (or possibly off menu), you can select a special wine, and they can decant it for 30 minutes or the appropriate time prior to your arrival and so it will be ready for consuming as those lovely appetizers land in front of you. If you are like me, and do not dine in such fine restaurants often, but rather are in more humble haunts where the food is good, but knowledge of decanting is limited, well again, Sterling Vineyards is a good choice. I find most of their wines benefit from a bit of air, let it oxidize in the glass for 10 minutes or so, and you will get more rounded flavors to compliment your meal.
Sterling Vineyards Napa Bottling
Under the Napa brand by Sterling are several different offerings. They are: cabernet sauvignon, merlot, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. Each can be great depending on the vintage, but even in an "off-year" they still work to satisfy.
The 2003 vintage was the first of the Napa Cabernet Sauvignon I tried. It was a show stopper! I couldn't believe how great it was and for the price! Since then I have regularly purchased it in restaurants as well as for home.
Thinking of Cellaring? Think Again
I liked the 2003 vintage of Sterling Napa brand for the Cab so much that I bought a case and thought well it's so great, I am sure I will enjoy it for many years to come. I contacted the vineyard and inquired about the aging capacity and they assured me that I would be able to enjoy it for a good ten years from the date of bottling. Well, my personal experience indicates otherwise. While the 2003 was fabulous when I drank it upon release in 2006/7, it started to fade fast in 2008. By fade, I mean it lost its powerful flavor profile, went from concentrated to flat. I have known this to be true of other Sterling bottlings and their respective vintages. Bottom line: These wines are intended for immediate consumption, not cellaring in the hopes that they will improve with age. Now this statement applies only with respect to their Napa and Vintners brands. Their Reserve label has great potential for improvement by way of years of cellaring, but again, that is a subject for a separate review.
Overview of the 2005 Sterling Vineyards Napa Cabernet Sauvignon
The 2005 vintage delivers what you expect from a Californian cab, which is lots of dark berry fruit, nice aromas, some oak, a little jam sweet, a finish without alcohol or water detectable on the palate. It works! A good middle of the road, mainstream crowd pleaser. When you order a cali cab, you have a certain expectation as to the flavor profile and it meets and maybe exceeds. For the price you will be satisfied.
Now that we have an overview, lets turn to my tasting note.
Chocolate, anise and some vanilla. Very nice.
Sweet, ripe, black cherries/black berries moving into some creamy American oak, silky tannins which do not offer up any resistance, and medium bodied weight in the mouth with a little zing of peppercorns ever so soft.
The length of flavor remaining once the wine has left the palate is moderate. Great cabs will leave the flavor lingering like Big Foots footprint in Alaska. Not the case here, but that is acceptable given the price.
I like this wine. It goes well with food, cheese or on its own. It does what it sets out to do, provide a cali cab at the price point stated. It is not the finest cali cab out there but you are not paying the finest price either. Online this can be purchased for as low as $15 approximately. At that price, it is an absolute steal of a deal!
A truly great cali cab could be distinguished from this effort in terms of concentration of flavors. The great ones like Caymus and Cakebread are very concentrated beams of berries and fruit dancing upon your palate while Sterling's taste profile is a little jammy or a little too sweet. I am now speaking as a serious wine nut. The Sterling is by no means flawed or offensive in any way, but not in the league of the great ones for the aforementioned reasons. Mind you the great ones come at a much greater price too!
Still good stuff, that I will not hesitate to buy when casually dining in restaurants across America! While this review pertains to the 2005 vintage, I think it would serve as a basic guide to subsequent vintages as the wine is fairly consistent year to year.
© Jason Debly, 2009-2010. All rights reserved.
Saturday, November 14, 2009
Rodney Dangerfield & Bourbon
The late, great comedian, Rodney Dangerfield, and bourbon share at least one common characteristic: “No respect.”
A lot of my scotch drinking friends and the whisky media regularly scoff at the idea of bourbon being a spirit that can be used in the same sentence as scotch. “Why?” you ask. They claim bourbon lacks the ‘complexity’ of flavors that scotch can deliver. While I will concede bourbon is probably less complex than top end scotches, nevertheless, it can offer complexity that beats out many scotches and provides a most enjoyable drinking experience.
It all comes down to how much you want to spend. Famous Grouse or J&B blended scotches are hardly complex in terms of flavor profile. Similarly, Jim Beam White Label is not complex. However, if you move up the Jim Beam product line (premium bourbon aged 8 yrs), complexity emerges. Jim Beam Black has some complexity but not a lot. Move into the ultra premium bourbons like Knob Creek (owned by Beam Global Spirits) and you will discover impressive complexity.
Knob Creek bourbon is aged nine years in new charred American white oak barrels. Nine years is around the very high end of aging for bourbon. There are very few bourbons aged longer than nine years. When bourbon first goes into the barrel it is white, crystal clear. The longer it ages, the darker it becomes, taking its’ color from the wood of the barrel. Those barrels are subjected to fire in order to char the wood. This is done because sap or sugars of the wood become absorbed by the bourbon resulting in color change and that charcoal / caramelized sugar taste that is unique to bourbon. Hence, the longer it ages, the sweeter the bourbon.
Barley, corn (at least 51%) and rye grains make up bourbon plus pure water and a particular strain of jug yeast (the type of yeast is unique to each distiller and contributes to the signature taste). In the case of Knob Creek, a much higher percentage of corn is used than the minimum 51% requirement. No other additives are permitted. Also added to such a mash is a bit of mash (called the ‘setback’) from a previous distillation, which functions to ensure consistency of flavor and a signature flavor profile. These basic ingredients, by law, must originate in the United States.
All of the grains used in this bourbon come from within Kentucky. Specifically, within about 80 miles of the distillery.
Ultra premium bourbon like Knob Creek is about twice the price of its entry level brethren. However, even at its price, it is still cheaper than most, if not all, entry level (ie. Glenlivet/Glenfiddich 12yr) scotch. From that perspective, it’s a bargain, as entry level scotch does not have the complexity exhibited by Knob Creek.
You also have to appreciate that a standard bottling of bourbon only has to be aged for two years. Naturally, aging additional years drives up costs.
All 2009 Knob Creek has been sold by the distiller. Apparently, no further orders to the distillery can be filled. Next year’s Knob Creek bottling commenced in October.
The Jim Beam group that owns this brand ran advertising in the Wallstreet Journal and the Washington Post about this ‘shortage.’ Much was made of this shortage, but I would not read too much into it. Their definition of such scarcity is a little self-serving. Oban, Lagavulin and many other single malt scotches have a limited production run each year and typically sell out too within the same calendar year. These distillers do not describe the sold-out situation as a ‘shortage.’ I guess the Jim Beam people just have more creative advertising/marketing people.
Sniff deeply, tilt the glass, so the bourbon almost touches the bottom of your nose. Big yellow dandelion flower up front, followed by minty, honeyed, rye and orange scented marmalade aromas. Southern refinement and sophistication is what you are enjoying.
The secret to drinking bourbon (and enjoying it) is a tiny sip. Very tiny! Take a big swig of this and you will instantly regret it as you feel a nasty burn triggering thoughts of air sickness. By taking a little sip the burn is limited or eliminated and in its place are many warming flavors to savor like: sweet corn, crème brule, maple sugar, slightly burnt caramel (but in a most pleasing manner!), a little dark chocolate, big oak, expansive smoked hickory and of course classic Jim Beam charcoal and vanilla.
Sweet honey/caramelized sugar and vanilla play a tug of war with drying charcoal/oak that eventually wins, as it evaporates across the palate with impressive spiciness.
Add ice and you have a great party drink! I had a little Christmas party and was pouring this with ice and it was the surpsise hit of the night. Most of the guys were skeptical, but I urged them to try it and within a couple of sips I was hearing "That's good . . ." I must admit that drinking it neat is more for the serious bourbon fan, but with ice, it becomes enjoyable by anyone who likes a little hard stuff on the rocks.
A total pleasure! Big bodied with larger than life flavors of smoked hickory, vanilla, oak, charcoal and maple sugar just impress the heck out of me. This is refined, sophisticated, and balanced. Every element of the flavor profile fits. I wouldn’t change a thing, even if I could.
That being said, I think if you are new to bourbon, this would not be suitable as your first ‘toe in the pond.’ Why? For the novice, if they make the error of taking to big a sip of this spirit, they will likely find it revolting and forever after never try bourbon again. That would be a terrible mistake! I want you to discover the secrets and wonderment of bourbon. So, if you are novice, start with Jim Beam White label or Wild Turkey, add a little ice and take a sip. Once you become accustomed to the standard bottling, it will be time to move on to Black label and other premium bourbons before finally arriving at Knob Creek, Wild Turkey 101, Woodford Reserve and others. A process that would take several months in my opinion if not a year.
Woodford Reserve is direct competition for Knob Creek. I tasted them both side by side and preferred the Knob Creek by a wide margin.
A fantastic, big bodied bourbon, serving up maple sugar, vanilla and charred oak flavors with sophistication and charm that the American south is known for! This is the reason Knob Creek is the No.1 selling ultra premium bourbon in the world.
© Jason Debly, 2009-2011. All rights reserved.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
A tiny town . . .
. . . is Oban where Gaelic is still spoken by some of the residents in the course of their day. The population is a little over eight thousand but swells in the summer to around twenty five thousand, as it is a favorite coastal tourist resort.
Lots goes on in the little town from the soccer games to "shinty," a field hockey sort of a game played with wooden stick and ball. But for us, we are interested in this little Scottish town because of the distillery, founded in 1794, bearing the same name.
The Oban distillery was established by John and Hugh Stephenson. It changed hands many times over the years, built, taken apart, rebuilt, financial troubles, prosperous times, and lots of drama. But, that is not our concern. We care about the magic spirit that is produced by this seaside distillery in a horseshoe bay.
Oban is Expensive
The chief reason for the high price is due to a limited natural water supply that has been negotiated with the local government. The water, of course, imparts the unique flavors of this single malt scotch and gives it dignity.
The most available expression is the 14 year old, but there are three others: Distiller's Edition; 18 year old and a 32 year old. The latter two bottlings are very difficult to obtain. I have not tried the 18 or 32 year old, and so this tasting note is limited to the 14 yr old. And now let's move on to the main event.
Malty, smoke, citrus, and Florida oranges. Very refined.
This is big bodied, very malty, single malt scotch. Upon entry it warms the mouth with lots of cereal and malt flavors. Other flavors slowly emerge a little from the background, but more subtle. Flavors like anise, orange chocolate and lemon zest waltz across the palate in a sensuous and careful fashion.
Swallow this and you will be left with flavors of Grampy's big cigar smoke, more of that malt, glazed brown sugar, chaperoned by soft, slight wafts of peat. The lingering smoke, malt and teensy weensy bit of peat couple to produce a semi-sweet tang offspring. As much as I like the inital and mid-palate flavors, I really look forward to the subdued smokey-malt/peat finish. I also enjoy the lack of over-the-top sherry notes in the flavor presentation. I find lately that too many single malts rely to heavily on sherry casks for aging and the result is an over sherried spirit. Oban is a refreshing departure from the hackneyed practice of overly sherry imbued scotch.
What happens if we add a little water?
Some single malt scotches do not benefit from the addition of water, while others flourish, revealing greater complexity of flavor, and generally sing like a chickadee. Oban is one of the latter such single malts.
To one standard shot, I added half a teaspoon. The water makes the scotch more creamy. The smoke and malt are still there, but now I am picking up milk chocolate shavings, peanut brittle, more pronounced honey and a little heather.
After swallowing, the palate is left with rich cigar smoke, brown sugar and that malty flavor that only a great single malt can deliver. The last impression upon the palate is heavy malt with pepper. More peppery finish with the addition of water.
I am very fond of this single malt scotch. It is very malty, chased by brown sugar, Cuban cigar smoke and a little, very little peat. If consumed neat, I am surprised by the delicate citrus flavors hidden in the background. Well done! While medium bodied and not overly complex (if drank neat) in terms of how the various flavors are weaved together, this is definitely a repeat purchase. Balanced! I really cannot criticize this single malt.
Sometimes I can get in a little bit of a rut with my scotch choices. Generally, I like big bodied, dark caramel and cinammon toast flavor profiles. Trouble is, they can get boring. Oban 14 falls within that category, but is not boring. It has a heavy malt taste with smoke and orange rind that is simply great. It is a superb starter whisky for the single malt newbie, yet very pleasing to the veteran like me who seeks variety on a classic flavor profile.
There are only two possible criticisms of this single malt. First, consumed neat, the flavor profile is not what one would consider "complex." There may be the odd connoiseur who demands greater complexity for the price point charged. I do not regard the lack of high level complexity as a flaw. The flavors are held in such a balanced fashion that it is very enjoyable and pleasing. Besides, if you want more complexity, just add a little water.
The second criticism that could be leveled relates to the price charged. Sometimes deals can be had for this single malt, but they are far and few between. If you see it in the $40's buy as much as you can. Unfortunately, much of it is sold at $60 and above in the United States. In Canada, its close to $90. I will admit the price is heavy and if "value for money" is an important consideration when buying scotch, this may be a reason not to by Oban 14 years.
In any case, I like this and will certainly buy it again! I am still thinking about that initial malty flavor that transitions to orange chocolate and from there becomes smokey and ends with that sweet tang finish! Damn! This is good!
© Jason Debly, 2009-2012 All rights reserved.
Friday, November 6, 2009
Upon opening (for the very first time) the bottle and pouring a dram, there was an initial strong alcohol scent, which quickly changed to lemon citrus with some malty undertones. These aromas are nothing special. However, if you let the whiskey breathe in a tumbler for a few minutes, the aromas rising up become much maltier and therefore quite pleasant. The initial unpleasant alcohol scents never return once you have opened the bottle.
Nose of dandelion flower, wet grass, early morning cool misty air against a malty background frame the aromas.
Initially, sweet ginger and thick honey dance upon the palate. Cinnamon and sherry emerge mid-palate.
Crunch of dark toast moving to spicy hot cinnamon, then sherry and finally the distinct taste of bruised Japanese tangerine on the finish. There is an interplay between spoilt sherry and spicy ginger and the former wins out in the end.
Add one teaspoon of water and this whiskey reveals its complexity of flavor. It tastes more honeyed rather than the concentrated cinnamon and sherry revealed when sampled neat. Besides the honey being brought to the foreground, there appears rich cinnamon and ginger weaving a pleasing tapestry upon the palate. What I enjoy about the addition of water is that it subdues the sherry considerably. Drank neat, the sherry is out of balance, too dominant. The water beautifully remedies that imbalance. Besides the cinnamon, the other flavors of honey and ginger emerge as if drizzled on the dark toast I noted when drammed neat. Big, round flavors of maple syrup drizzled Belgian waffles participate at mid-palate.
The addition of water does not ruin the drink by any means. Some whiskies benefit enormously from the addition of water, while others do not. Redbreast 12 yr falls into the former category.
Spiced butterscotch, toffee and the faintest of ocean spray emerges on the finish.
In a blind taste test, this Irish whiskey, if diluted with a teaspoon of water to a shot, could pass for a Speyside single malt scotch. It has all the classic flavors of honey, cinnamon, toffee and butterscotch without any peat. I am going out on a limb here, but I find considerable similarities (if diluted) with Cragganmore 12yr old.
Big bodied, round flavors of malt, cinnamon, and burnt toast. Consumed neat, this whisky has some complexity of flavors, but not on par with great Speyside single malt scotches. No grainy flavor, nasty bite or burn here. Just lots of rich chocolate, thick, spiced honey and cinnamon flavors bouncing off each other. Needs water to bring out the complexity of the aforementioned flavors.
It’s good but not great if enjoyed neat. The sherry has an alcohol imprint and the spoiled taste of bruised tangerines, ever so slight on the finish, cheapens an otherwise good Irish whiskey.
I would buy this if I could not locate Cragganmore 12. If I am in the mood for an Irish whiskey, I would probably pass on this and go for Bushmills Black Bush. To my palate, it is so similar to Speyside scotch that I would rather buy the real thing. That being said, this is a fine whiskey that would make an acceptable gift or serving to your whiskey loving friends.
The online reviews for this whiskey are almost universally positive, but I cannot give it an automatic thumbs-up. The sherry and bruised tangerine flavors result in a finish that also has a distinct alcohol flavor that unpleasantly cheapens the flavor profile. For that reason, I am put off by this Irish whiskey. It’s good but not what I would call "great" to borrow from 'Tony the Tiger' of childhood cereal advertising (Frosted Flakes). I am in a minority opinion on this point, but hey I call it how I taste it. I am fairly sure I would not buy this again because I keep thinking this is a lot like Cragganmore 12 yr old, and why buy the imitator when you can have the real thing!
P.S. I have been drinking this over the past few weeks and like it less and less. The off sherry and tangerine notes I mention above are ever-present. Not liking this very much and definitely would not buy again. This is one to pass on, especially in light of the moderately high price.
Update April 2010: The above review was for a 2007-2008 bottling that did have problems with off notes. Apparently this issue has been resolved and it is much better. If those off notes are not in it now, it is a very good Irish whiskey to buy. Trouble is, I have not been able to pick it up where I live.
© Jason Debly, 2009 - 2011. All rights reserved.
Sunday, November 1, 2009
Throw Back Some Scotch with the Game on the TV?
I think not. There are a lot of beverages that can be casually consumed. Beer is a great example. Mow the lawn on a hot sunny day and there is nothing better than having a beer in a chilled glass afterwards as you survey your well manicured lawn. Watching football? Beer works great again. Especially when you consider marrying it with the salty potatoe chips and cheddar drizzled nachos. Barbecue? Beer is great to start with and then move into a nicely decanted Cabernet Sauvignon when you take charge of that t-bone with mushrooms and risotto, as you chat it up with the neighbors.
Scotch and other whiskies (ie. Irish, Canadian, bourbon, etc.) do not lend themselves to the above occasions. Why? No elitism here friend. There is nothing wrong with watching football or organizing a barbecue in your backyard. The problem rests with scotch itself. The stuff is very powerfull and if you sip too much (which is not very much in terms of volume) you'll be more than intoxicated. You'll probably embarrass yourself (which may not be a big deal to you), but more importantly you will embarrass your wife, and then you know it's a big deal. So, the solution? Stick to beer and wine for the casual get-togethers and reserve the scotch for yourself and a few choice friends.
Besides the lightning quick intoxication, the other reason it is not ideal to casually toss back this wonderful spirit is that you miss the great experience of pondering the complex flavor profile. So, what follows are some suggestions as to how to drink scotch and appreciate it in its splendor:
1. Find a Quiet Place. The den, the basement, beside the fireplace, your cottage overlooking the lake, you get the picture.
2. Get Comfortable. Kickin' back on my favorite, beat-up, ol' lazy-boy in the basement, the kids are in bed, the wife is reading in the bedroom or asleep, means this is my quiet time to unwind. Ya gotta be comfortable. If that means your adirondach chair facing the lake or the ocean with the dying embers of the campfire glowing near you, well then do it. Dad's Hideaway. That's what I call my basement den. Find your's.
3. The Tumbler. Lately, if you read an article on scotch, there will invariably be a reference to the Glencairn glass. The glass was designed and manufactured by the Glencairn Crystal company of Scotland and introduced into the marketplace in 2001. It is a rounded crystal glass at the bottom but, tapers inward toward the top of the glass in an attempt to trap some of the aromas of whisky. It somewhat enhances the drinking experience in the sense that the tapered body traps the aromas more effectively than a regular tumbler. It will not improve the whisky upon the palate. I think a brandy snifter is actually more effective for drinking scotch. If you just have a crystal tumbler, that will work too. Just stick your nose deeply into the tumbler and sniff.
Bottom line friends is get a clean crystal tumbler, brandy snifter or Glencairn glass and get ready.
4. A Tall Glass of Water and a Spoon. You need the glass of water to drink in between sips of scotch. This assumes you are drinking the scotch straight. If you like it with ice, you should still drink the water to hydrate yourself and clean the palate in between drams.
The spoon is for experimentation. When trying a new scotch, whisky or bourbon, try it straight for starters, then with a teaspoon of water to each shot and finally ice. You will quickly learn your preference. If you always drink with ice, have one or two with ice, and then change to two teaspoons of water to each shot. You might surprise yourself. I used to always add ice, but over time on the second or third drink I would be too lazy to get out of my chair and get ice out of the fridge. So, I ended up pouring a shot straight and taking just tiny sips. Key word here is "tiny." I was surprised that I enjoyed it greatly. Eventually, I abandoned adding ice altogether. That was a shocker as I drank whisky with ice for many years.
Just a note on the water. Use distilled water or Brita filtered water. It makes a difference.
5. The Pour. When opening a new bottle, you can't just pop the cork, pour it and immediately sample. Well, technically you could, but I am going to give you a compelling reason not to. It has been my limited experience that upon opening a new bottle it is not uncommon to get a sharp flavors and even alcohol tastes upon the palate. Solution? Pour your dram and let it sit for a few minutes (ie. 5 - 10). You do not need to do this everytime you want a drink, just when it is a new bottle and you are opening it for the first time. Once the air reacts with the whisky in the tumbler, it will soften and generally improve. Some scotches don't need this procedure, but many do.
6. Take a Sip . . . Not a Big Gulp! A lot of people don't like scotch, whisky or bourbon. Why? Well, they made two fatal mistakes when drinking it. First, they probably took to big a mouthful, downed it, and promptly gagged or had a facial expression that no mother could love. So, the first rule of drinking whisky is to take a little sip, and I mean little, think tiny, think half a teaspoon to start. If you take a whisky, scotch or bourbon in such a small quantity your drinking experience will be quite different. You will not gag, grimace or have the urge to woof. Instead, you will note the flavors and upon tasting you will be ready to make a decision in relation to the second most common mistake of people new to the whisky world. The second rule to remember is that upon obeying the first, you need to determine whether or not you would prefer your whisky with a little water or ice. Of course this is only a decision that you can make. When I intitally started drinking scotch, I added two ice cubes and poured a dram to just cover the top of the ice cubes. With the passage of time there were occasions when I was too lazy to go to the fridge upstairs and get more ice. Accordingly, I found myself sipping some scotch neat, and I was surprised to discover that it could be quite enjoyable. Today, I have lost the desire for ice in my scotch, but do like to add a teaspoon or two depending on what I am drinking. You have to do the same experimenting to determine what you like best. When arrogant, self-proclaimed scotch experts declare that scotch must be consumed neat, you have to dismiss such pronouncements. It's all up to the individual
7. Have an Open Mind. When evaluating a scotch, don't get hung up on whether or not it is a blend or a single malt. Just enjoy it!
© Jason Debly, 2009 - 2011. All rights reserved.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Bourbon is a classic American whisky. A spirit with a poorly recorded past, but the general consensus is that it was originally distilled in and around the county of Bourbon, in the state of Kentucky, during the 18th century. The Jim Beam brand can trace its existence back to the earliest beginnings of bourbon.
Barley malt, corn and rye grains, in varying proportions, are mixed together with Kentucky water to produce a “mash.” You will note on many bourbon bottles, “sour mash” and this refers to the the mash of a previously distilled batch being added to a new one. The distillation process is fairly complicated, and I will stop at this point because I do not pretend to fully understand it, nor do I want to lose you, the reader.
Charred Oak Barrels
Bourbon is aged in charred oak barrels. When I say “charred” I mean these barrels were subjected to flames! The spirit is clear when it goes in the barrels, but during the aging process acquires its amber color from the barrels and more importantly that wonderful charcoal flavor.
In any event, that’s enough chit-chat, let’s turn to the matter at hand. What does the widely available Jim Beam Black taste like?
Delicate, slightly floral, more oak and lots of vanilla. Maybe a little charcoal too. Impressive. Not what I expected from a bourbon.
The palate fulfils the promise made by the nose. Initial mild sweetness that I had difficulty putting my finger on. Eventually, I figured it might be corn or rye flavor, but still not sure. What I am sure of is that it’s damn nice. Anyhow, following entry to the palate, the flavor moves to big, soaring oak, followed by, at the mid-palate point, wonderful, tremendous cleansing wafts of charcoal. The charcoal flavor is fantastic! Very cleansing! Last but not least, tsunami waves of vanilla wash across the palate.
Short to medium finish begins with a sweet burn of cinnamon and candy cane, after which it moves onto a grand finale of charcoal and vanilla, fading like embers of a late night campfire. It’s nice.
What is such a pleasure about drinking bourbon is that sweet charcoal flavor that you will never find in scotch. No nasty bite, heat or aftertaste. Lingering vanilla, oak and charcoal woven carefully like a hand rolled cigar. Very, very nice!
I like this! It’s pleasant, easy-going, not pretentious. I keep thinking about the charcoal flavor. It’s perfect. I really enjoy drinking this straight. I tried it with ice, but did not notice any improvement. If anything, the addition of ice degraded the flavors.
This is so easy-going that people who generally take a little ice or water with their whisky should consider trying this one ‘neat.’ If I were salmon fishing, overlooking a brook in an Adirondack chair with a friend, I would be sipping Jim Beam Black. An unpretentious whisky that compliments a memorable moment of kicking back.
This is a "premium" bourbon due to the lengthy (8 yrs is a lot for bourbon!) aging process. Accordingly, it is not surprising that this is superior to the entry level bourbon offered by Jim Beam, the "White" label. The difference in price is a mere $8 to $10, but what a world of difference. Well worth the few extra dollars. Don't be cheap! Spend a few extra dollars and get a drink that you will still be thinking about days later.
I guess the only criticism that could be voiced (not by me) is that it is not very complex. The presentation of the principal flavors (oak, charcoal and vanilla) is rather straight forward. I can understand how one might raise this criticism, but we are not sipping scotch, we tasting bourbon. Bourbon, by its nature is does not need to have a complex flavor profile in the same tradition of scotch. Why? Because it is bourbon. Bourbon can get a way without such a requirement, but if it is not complex, it better be damn pleasing to the palate. Jim Beam Black is very pleasing. I am not saying bourbon cannot have a complex flavor profile. There are some high end bourbons (ie. Woodford Reserve), but the fact that Jim Beam Black is not, cannot be regarded as a flaw, especially given its reasonable price point.
While I might concede the presentation of flavors is “straight forward” as mentioned above, I would add that the presentation is very elegant and sophisticated, without being over the top (ie. Woodford Reserve).
Jim Beam Black is aged for eight years and I think that makes a big difference. Bourbon aged less than that amount of time tends to have excessive heat, bite and roughness. Jim Beam Black is a classy bourbon that is sure to impress your whisky fan friends! However, Jim Beam Black exported outside the United States is not aged 8 years, but rather 6 years. I notice some difference in the quality of the bourbon. While it is good, it is not as good as the 8 year old bottling only available in the United States. This will explain why Jim Black bottles outside the US do not have any age statement on the label.
Recommendation: Buy it!
© Jason Debly, 2009-2011. All rights reserved.
Friday, October 16, 2009
If you take a look at most of the tasting notes I have posted in this blog, you will observe that I praise most of the different scotches. Reviewers of scotch, amateur (myself) and professional (ie. Jim Murray) tend to heap praise on every spirit evaluated. Trouble is, we may give the impression that it is all good. Not so! There are some dogs out there and the question for this post to consider is whether or not Grant's Family Reserve Scotch Whisky is one of them.
Whisky expert, Jim Murray, in his book, Classic Blended Scotch, described Grant's Family Reserve as "A stunner of a whisky, one of the most complex blends the industry will ever produce."
Ok, that is saying a lot. Too much in my opinion. It's one thing to like a blended scotch, but when you make statements like ". . . one of the most complex blends the industry will ever produce" you catch my attention. For me, Murray had thrown down the gauntlet and challenged me through his words. Me, being a big fan of blends, decided to try this blended scotch and see if it lived up to his high pitched praise. I had tried this blend in the past and did not like it one little bit, but in light of Murray's eloquent admiration of the highest order, which is trumpeted on William Grant's & Sons website (http://www.grantusa.com) I decided to second guess my earlier judgment and revisit this very popular brand (4th best selling blended scotch in the world).
Faint malty notes. Not picking up much else. Not overly inviting.
Water added to this blend seems to accentuate the malty notes.
You need to take a big slug of this to get any flavor. Don't be shy. This is not a 25 year old single malt that rewards the tiniest of sips with an explosion of splendid flavors. Not so here.
Once you take the medium to big sip, you will be greeted by light/thin flavors of cinnamon stick, cloves, and nutmeg enveloped in an unmistakably grainy, unadulterated alcohol bear hug.
Drank neat, there is no complexity of flavors. I am dumbfounded as to how Jim Murray can say ". . . one of the most complex blends the industry the industry will ever produce." There's truly nothing here.
I added a splash of water (ie. one teaspoon per shot) and was able to detect some creaminess in addition to the malty/cinnamon flavors present when drunk neat. The water lessened the grainy, alcohol soaked backbone of the flavor profile. Bottom line: Water improves this blend.
Almost non-existent. The finish is gone in a flash and while it lasts, it's mostly a grainy alcohol imbued couple of seconds.
Strangely, the addition of water adds some body to this scotch that translates into a finish with more depth and even a richness to the aforementioned flavors than when drunk neat.
Served neat, this blended scotch tastes cheap mainly due to the alcohol hanging in the background like a groupie at a rock concert. How Jim Murray can praise this blend at all is beyond my comprehension. This is not a stunner of a whisky. It has virtually no complexity of flavor.
Served with a splash of water, this blend improves. Alcohol is toned down, the grainy character is still there but more tolerable, and there is a creamy richness that emerges. Does the addition of water transform this blend into a "stunner?" I think not. It still tastes cheap, but simply more tolerable. Maybe on a very hot summer's day with ice, it would be pleasing or as a base ingredient in a mixed drink.
Whether consumed neat or with water, there is no peat flavors. The constitutent single malts used are Speyside classics: Balvenie and Glenfiddich. You can taste the Balvenie, unfortunately, not enough of it. There is a great deal of grain whisky in this blended scotch, and that is not a good thing.
My lasting impression from tasting this on several occasions is that it Grant's Family Reserve is cheap, bottom shelf, blended scotch, that is not worth the low price charged. For the same price, there are significantly better blends out there like: Black Bottle, White Horse, Teacher's Highland Cream, Johnnie Walker Red, and Cutty Sark.
So how come this blend is one of the top world leaders in sales? I think the combination of the low price, a weak flavor profile that lends itself easily to mixed drinks results in it being a staple of bars around the world.
Anyway, you deserve better! Avoid this.
© Jason Debly, 2009-2013. All rights reserved.
Friday, October 9, 2009
Bushmills Black Bush
I’ve always felt that Irish whisky never quite gets the respect it so richly deserves. What I mean is that people who go to the local liquor store in search of a whisky as a gift often reach for scotch, much like people who know little about wine automatically reach for French wine. Just as there are many great wines produced outside of France, the same can be said of great whisky being found outside of Scotland. Ireland is a case in point.
Bushmills Black Bush is one of a number of whiskies produced by the distiller, Old Bushmills Distillery, located in the village of Bushmills, in the county of Antrim, Northern Ireland. The claim to fame of this distillery is its age. It was founded in 1784 and needless to say with such a long history, they have perfected the production of fine whisky.
Irish Whisky versus Scotch
In general, the most obvious difference between Irish whisky and scotch is the lack of peat and smoke in the former. This is due to the lack of peat during the distillation process. There is an exception of course to this generalization, Connemara Peated Irish Malt has peat and smoke flavors.
Black Bush is made up primarily of single malts and the remainder with grain whiskies. The majority of single malts used in this blended whisky results in a rich dram with big rounded flavors of chocolate and malt that is memorable, but subdued at the same time.
No age is stated, but I am convinced that the whiskies making up this spirit are in the vicinity of ten years. There is a real depth of character to this whisky. While it is aged in former Oloroso sherry casks, it is not what I would characterize as a sherried whisky. A small percentage of grain whisky is blended to give it a sweet character. This is a sweet whisky but not overly so.
This is too fine to use in a mixed drink. This is deserving of being consumed neat or with a little water or ice. This tasting note was based on a neat serving.
Restrained. No over-the-top aromas wafting up. Instead, nosing this whisky will result in the enjoyment of delicate, soft notes of malt, warm fruitcake and molten chocolate.
Smooth, sweet chocolate mousse introduction followed by a nuttiness, think of cashews and brazil nuts. Next comes some spiciness, but not to the point of being peppery. The spiciness rests upon a malty background mixed with some dark fruitcake. Really intriguing. This is medium bodied.
Medium to short finish. Chocolate mousse again, oak and soft spices combine to be gentle and never offensive. No bite on the palate. Nice, but relatively short lingering warmth of spice box upon the palate rounds out this taste experience.
Rich, mildly sophisticated, but not so special that you cannot properly enjoy it in the presence of friends in a pub. Put another away, you can drink this casually and marvel at its smooth yet gentle spices, without thinking I am wasting my money by not paying more attention to it. This is not Royal Salute, Johnnie Walker Blue or Ballantines 17, all of which cannot be tossed back casually in a pub, unless you are a billionaire. The very reasonable price of Bushmills Black Bush makes it accessible.
Black Bush is not very complex. The flavors are pretty obvious: chocolate, malt, hazelnut and caramel. For this reason, I cannot descibe this whisky as overly sophisticated. The flavor profile is not as simple as the Bushmills White Label, but not too great a departure either.
In conclusion, this is a great blended whisky that every whisky/scotch drinker should try. It's easy going, not offensive and great for social occasions. I would give this as a gift to the casual whisky drinker. If I was buying a gift for the serious whisky fan, I would not choose Bushmills Black Bush because the flavors roll out in a very simplistic fashion.
© Jason Debly, 2009-2012. All rights reserved.
Saturday, October 3, 2009
I was at a wedding reception this evening and standing at the bar asked for scotch.
"Sure" replied the college kid. "I've got scotch" he bellowed over the din of people talking before the bride and groom arrived in the ballroom.
"What kind?" I asked, fearful of the response.
"Dunno, lemme check" the pimply kid replied, as I recoiled at the thought of what he might produce for a bottle.
He held up a bottle of J&B Rare. Never had it before, but thought I would give it a try.
"You want that with ice or pop?"
"Neat will be fine" I answered.
"No ice, no pop, just pour me a double."
"J&B" are the initials for "Justerini and Brooks." Giacomo Justerini was the original founder and Alfred Brooks bought the entire business in 1831. Royal warrants issued by the British Royal Family served as confirmation that this blended scotch was regularly supplied to the royal court.
Today, the J&B Rare blended scotch product is owned and marketed by the multination alcoholic beverage company, Diageo PLC. This brand is the #1 selling blended scotch in Europe and #3 in the world according to the Diageo website. Spain is where the greatest sales levels are. According to the Diaego website (Diaego.com), sales are up 15% in 2008.
Bearing in mind this level of wide spread popularity, I sat down at my table and tried a sip.
Faint peat and a little marsh salt air.
Sweet, light bodied, very faint peat, cinammon, more candied sweetness, like a couple of packets of Sugar Twin.
A little pepper, slight salty tang, a little tingle of the nostrils as the peat disappears very quickly leaving a pepper and sweetness on the palate. Not a great finish. This blended scotch flavor disappeared from the palate as quickly as it appearred.
For a blended scotch whisky that has been around for so long and having impressive worldwide sales, I was frankly expecting a lot more. This scotch is in direct competition with other economy blends like Johhnie Walker Red Label, Ballantines, Teachers Highland Cream and others. I would pick its competition over it everytime.
Why? Well, let me count the ways: Sickly sweet, cloying, no complexity. Adding water didn't help things. While it was a tad more malty with water, I also detected graphite on the palate much like putting a lead pencil to my lips. Not pleasant.
The bottom line is: I don't like this. Too sweet! Simple, no complexity of flavor, no smoke, in a word "boring." It's like drinking several packets of Sugar Twin and Splenda mixed with alcohol and a cinnamon stick.
I visited the J&B Rare website. The website has the logo "Start a Party." And that is appropriate. This is a party drink to be used as a mixer. I suspect with soda, this could become a refreshing drink. The site recommends mixing with ginger ale or cola. I am sure taking such action would result in a decent party drink. Disguise that scotch with some pop and you have something you can down pleasantly and get intoxicated on quickly. For those of us who enjoy our scotch on the rocks, a little water or neat, we should pass on this.
By the way, at the wedding, a waiter, attempting to keep the tables free of dirty glasses and dishes, scooped up my partially finished glass of J & B Rare, probably thinking it was just the remnants of a full glass of gingerale. Normally, I would have strenuously objected, but in this case, I just smiled at my good fortune. I knew my little sample of J&B would soon find an appropriate final resting spot, as it is poured down the drain.
© Jason Debly, 2009-2010. All rights reserved.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
The Glenlivet distillery produces the number one top selling single malt scotch in the United States. Turning to the rest of the world, it is the second largest seller of single malt scotch. I am guessing that Glenfiddich is number one based on its presence in all the bars I have ever been in. In any case, The Glenlivet 12 yr old is enormously popular. The question is: Is it a decent scotch? The answer is a resounding "yes!"
Nose (without water/ice)
A gentle floral scent will waft out of your glass like apple blossoms and vanilla extract.
Palate (without water/ice)
Medium bodied, chewy, dark toast, cinnamon rolls, fresh bread, a little apple, and plenty of dark plums.
Finish (without water/ice)
Fresh ground pepper on the finish with gentle sherry notes and a maltiness that hangs on the palate for quite a while.
I like this! There is a reason this is the number one selling single malt in the United States and number two in the world, it's damn good! Now, it is not the finest single malt scotch in the marketplace, but it doesn't pretend to be. It is not the best 12 year old single malt, but it is in the top ten.
This is a scotch that has no offensive edges. No alcohol burn. Pretty smooth except for some pepper on the finish.
I tried it with some water and did not find that there was an improvement. Some scotch improves with the addition of water, but not this one. Its' older sibling, the 18yr old certainly benefits from the addition of one or two teaspoons of distilled or Artesian water. Not the case with the Glenlivet 12 year old. The addition of water just seems to dull all the flavors, whereas the addition of water to the 18yr old brings out a unique complexity of flavors.
The Glenlivet 12 yr old provides great value for money. The price is very reasonable for the flavor profile. Its' chief rival is Glenfiddich 12 yr old and in a head to head tasting competition the Glenlivet comes out on top.
Another great point to make about this single malt scotch is that it is amazingly consistent from batch to batch. No change in the flavor profile and not known to have spoiled or flawed bottles. In a word, the quality assurance is A-1.
This is a single malt that I would not hesitate to serve at a party. It is particularly appropriate to serve to the casual scotch drinker or a crowd where you are unsure of everyone's tastes.
It is reasonably priced and of good quality. Something of interest to the serious scotch drinker and at the same time a pleasant experience for the novice.
© Jason Debly, 2009-2012. All rights reserved.
Sunday, September 20, 2009
I love this ad!
This photo was taken in Beirut, Lebanon a couple of years ago. Lebanon, as you probably know, is a country that has seen a lot war. The destruction of lives and buildings is inescapable anywhere you look in Lebanon. Nevertheless, the people are optimists and a local design company that did work for Diaego (the company that owns the Johnnie Walker brand) came up with this great ad. It tells the Lebanese, despite the fighting, wars, destruction, "Keep Walking."
This is pure genius advertising when you can convey a powerful message that is inextricably bound up with your product. No wonder Johnnie Walker is enormously popular in Lebanon. They should run this ad in Israel and any country touched by war or terrorism.
© Jason Debly, 2009-2011. All rights reserved.
I was perusing some vintage scotch ads and really get a kick out of them. My how times have changed.
Scotch at one time was marketed at the male target audience exclusively. Men of wealth and taste are depicted in the ads in drawing rooms pondering their next billiard shot, etc. Of course, now scotch ads have abandoned such a blatantly elitist world view. The snobbery is still there but much more subtle. That is what is unfortunate with scotch whisky. It tends to have an elitist whiff about it. And this may be due to the fact that years ago, one had to be somewhat well-to-do to afford this magical spirit. Even today it is expensive at times, but I certainly think the elitism has disipated somewhat, thank God!
Nevertheless Johnnie Walker ads and others perpetuate the myth that scotch is for the rich and affluent only. Obviously, this marketing strategy produces results or they would not have continued in this manner.
The aim of this blog is to encourage everyone, men, women, people of any ethnicity, race or social standing to try scotch whisky, and discover its' secrets.
Anyway, hope you enjoy the ads! By the way, the ads are all for Teacher's Highland Cream, a blended scotch that has been around a long time and will continue for a long time into the future.
P.S. Click on the ads for full size!
© Jason Debly, 2009 - 2012. All rights reserved.
Friday, September 11, 2009
I know this is primarily a scotch blog, but I also get excited about great wine from time to time. So, here and there, I will post my tasting notes and meandering musings on wine also. So, here goes!
Poor Merlot and its' undeserved reputation
Sideways was an off-the-wall comedy film that came out in 2004 about two guys, Miles and Jack, one facing the prospect of marriage, while the other, not facing much of anything other than a lot of disappointment and regret in life. So, the two embark on a road trip of Californian wine country (Santa Barbara, I think), doing a fair bit of drinking and ending up in some ridiculous predicaments. What I and many people remember from the film was Miles' tirade on how much he hated Merlot. I mean the guy really hated Merlot. Why? It's boring, flat, unexceptional, hopelessly mainstream. Pinot Noir, declared Miles, was what people who knew wine were drinking.
Sideways was a popular film back in 2004. It was not a blockbuster by any means, but it was successful. It won a few awards, and the two lead actors were nominated for Oscars (they didn't win). Now here is the surprising tidbit. The negative comments of the fictional main character 'Miles' about Merlot actually caused sales of Merlot to drop. Use Google to search "Sideways movie merlot" and you will find articles on this. I checked Wikipedia and it notes this phenomenon too. Merlot sales dropped by 2% while Pinot Noir sales increased by 16% shortly after the movie was released. It's unbelievable that people would alter their wine selection based on a movie, but it just goes to show that not all the monkeys are in the zoo.
The Defender of Merlot's Tattered Reputation
That task is the aim of this review. Merlot can be interesting, nuanced, delivering flavors of great complexity and tannic structure in a manner that the other noble grapes (Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, etc.) cannot.
It is true that Merlot can be boring. No doubt about it. Part of the reason for this propensity is due to the thickness of the skin of the Merlot grape. It is considerably thinner than the Cabernet Sauvignon, Nebbiolo or Syrah. The skin is the source of tannins. Hence, a thinner grape skin means a less tannic wine. And so, Merlot being less tannic, is less offensive than say a mighty Cab that needs aging during which the tannins soften.
Many novice drinkers of wine prefer Merlot because it is very smooth, and often a flat flavor that is totally inoffensive. Hell, the stuff tastes almost on par with cream soda. Californian vintners are not alone in producing very boring Merlot. Argentina, Chile, South Africa and especially Australia produce some terribly uninspired wines based on this grape.
However, there is a notable exception. France. In particular, wines from the lovely little town of Saint Emilion are almost wholly based on Merlot, and the result is anything but boring.
This quaint little French town with its narrow streets, yellow stucco buildings tightly fitted on a grid of streets, has been producing wine since at leat 2 A.D. Today, it is most famous for its red wine that is often pure Merlot, meaning it has not been blended with other grapes (Cabs, Petit Verdot, etc.). What is amazing is the wine. It is like a distant cousin of Merlot. It shares some of the same attributes, but is very, very different and intriguing.
How do the winemakers of Saint Emilion do it? Well, in a sense it is done for them. The soil (limestone and clay), weather (warm and sunny, but not heatwave material) and plenty of aging in French oak barrels. The 2006 Chateau Pipeau Grand Cru from Saint Emilion is a fine example of how Merlot can be interesting and of course quite enjoyable in a manner much different than possible with other varietals.
Although I said above that many Saint Emilion wines are made purely from Merlot, there are also some that blend in a few other grapes in small percentages. Chateau Pipeau is such a case. The 2006 Chateau Pipeau Grand Cru is made up of 80% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc. The Cabernet Franc is a nice touch that adds some of the tannic flavors that will come up later in my tasting note.
Dark purple, no light will pass through this one.
Some flower, but fairly restrained.
You will taste lots of silky red fruit like dark berries, black cherrie, fig and kitchen spices accompanied by a soaring tannic flavor profile, that I am sure you have never experienced in a Merlot before. It is tannic with a capital "T" but will soften as time passes. Even though I did not sample this until 45 minutes after decanting, it still was tannic, but please understand, it was in a very pleasant way. Another element to this wine upon the palate is: oak. French oak tastes different than say Merlot aged in Californian or Slovenian oak. For some people, it may take some time getting used to it, but well worth the endeavor. Other flavors I pick up are graphite, earth and flint. This is a good thing, to borrow a phrase from Martha Stewart.
The dark fruit fades into some smooth licorice and a zing of mint/bay leaf or maybe tarragon which lingers for quite a while. nice!
Most Merlot can be opened and drank almost immediately, but not this one or most Saint-Emilion wines. The 2006 Chateau Pipeau St Emilion Grand Cru requires time. Exposure to the air is a must to take the edge off the tannins, while never rough, it becomes more rounded with time.
A lot of American and Australian Merlot is intended for immediate consumption or within 2 yrs tops of hitting the shelves of your favorite wine shop. Not the case with this one. Aging will soften the tannins and reduce the fruitniness to some extent. This is a young wine that can be drank now, but could be cellared for up to ten years.
For those who can afford it, I would recommend buying a case and open one bottle a year to see how the flavor profile changes over time. When it reaches what you consider to be ideal, consume them all (not at one sitting of course, unless you want to end up face down pretty quick).
In any case, at this point the wine is very young with plenty of life.
Like so many wines, this is best with food or at the very least some strong cheese like gorgonzola and crusty French bread.
To the accusation of being boring and hopelessly mainstream, Merlot's response is: Chateau Pipeau Grand Cru, a wine which demonstrates that this such a proposition is not true. Matter of fact, I would go even further and suggest that most grand cru classe wines of Saint Emilion are hardly boring.
Great value at this price. The aging potential is exceptional and will assure years of pleasant surprise as you open a bottle here and there and note the changes. I highly recommend this wine.
The wine critic, Robert Parker, rated this 89-91pts out of 100.
© Jason Debly, 2009 - 2011. All rights reserved.