Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Perfect Pairing

Whisky and whiskies have risen back with a vengeance. Driven by the younger generation with a ferocious drive for maximum flavors in all things alcoholic, from extreme beers to rare and powerful spirits, the current demand was not foreseen 15, 18 and 25 years ago when the spirits the market demands today had to have been fermented, distilled and laid to rest in casks. Twenty years ago, distilleries were being mothballed and cask stocks were being sold, converted into cash. The result is that today, releases are carefully parcelled out of dwindling stocks, allocated to lucky stores who sell them to loyal customers who have the foresight to put their names on waiting lists well in advance of the availability of the goods.

Recently I was lucky to share the latest release of the Sazerac 18 Year Old Rye Whiskey, which was bottled in Fall, 2009. The whisky is smooth and rich, with a heavy viscosity which coats the tongue like heavy satin. The flavor is surprisingly light yet full of the buttery brown sugars of baked apples and candied citrus dancing through the long finish. It's hard to imagine doing anything with this liquid but just savoring it neat and somehow trying to make it last as long as possible.

However, I was also lucky enough to have on hand a praline made by one of the masters, R.J. Shonuff. The pralines are large flat puddles of crisp and creamy brown sugar with a mound of pecans piled in the center. They were the perfect extension of the whiskey, taking the flavors to a deep rich nutty vortex of deliciousness. The whiskey and the praline joined in ecstatic union. Pretty hedonistic stuff for an old man like me!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Addicted: Ardbeg

Devotees of the Smoky Peat and Honey gathered at the store on a cool and drizzly Monday night to meet the spirited Ardbeg 'Evangelist' Davinia Small and to welcome the newest Ardbeg offering "Corryvreckan" to Dallas.

Ardbeg is a small Islay distillery that produces some of the peatiest intensely flavored whiskies to be found. Production is tiny, they only have two stills. The distillery has been mothballed and the startup has been slow. Offerings have been limited blends of existing stocks, but are avidly sought after, achieving cult-like status.

We tasted four expressions.

The Ten Year Old, aged solely in ex-bourbon casks offered brisk smoky peat of the pure malt, highlighted by the salty lime and iodine notes of the Atlantic. Davinia kept referring to oysters! Among the publicity materials was a recipe for an Ardbeg margarita, which I initially thought was something of a heresy, but then I remembered having margarita's in New Mexico with the complex smokey Del Maguey Mezcal floated on top. Hmm. Good Reposado with Agave Nectar and lime juice, shaken, served up, Ardbeg on top.....

Uigeadail, aged in bourbon and sherry and bottled at 54% abv, packs a more powerful punch. I was able to sit at home the other evening and compile some detailed notes on both Uigeadail and Airigh Nam Beist, tasting the two side by side. They are surprisingly different expressions. Uigeadail present aromatics (in approximate order of perception) of smoke, peat, iodine, citrus oils, salt, rosemary, cedar, and honey. Tasting revealed smoke, peat, more smoke, more peat, honey, citrus oils, dense medicinal herbs followed by still more honey and then the creamy, oily texture dominates the sensation followed by sweet fruits with a long smoky floral and honeyed sweetness on the lingering finish. And then dizziness.

Airigh Nam Beist is a limited 1990 release. My understanding is that what is in shops is what there is, so don't delay if you're interested. At 46%, the whisky is a little less hot than the Uigeadail. Oak comes first on the nose with notes of vanilla  and nutmeg, followed by smoke, peat and citrus oils, with apple, fennel and pine transitioning into lingering notes of smoky floral honey. Luxurious vanilla scented honeyed cream coats the palate accented by smoke, citrus oil, apples and spice before finally coming to ground in dense salt, peat, iodine and medicinal herbs, dissolving in a cloud of delicate floral creamy honeyed sweetness. Intense stuff.

Corryvreckan is the newest release. The French Oak finish gives it a different character from the other expressions which are grounded in traditional bourbon casks. First impressions are of deeply burnished wood. Polished nutmeg and spice with notes of burnt oranges give a deep resonance and then more traditional flavors of smoky, peaty honey begin to intermingle with rich warmth of creamy spicy vanilla. The 57% abv combines with the caramel and allspice to keep the richness lively on the tongue through the long finish. Quite delicious.

The following week has been one of intense addicition and withdrawl. Waking hours are spent craving any and all these flavors. As I sit here writing at 8 in the morning I have two bottles on my desk. They are so tempting. Well.... it is Friday!

Back! Outrageous Sauvignon Blanc

Sorry for the absence. I've been fighting a cold and hit a lull after that very busy last week in October, but it's time to get caught up!

At last week's tasting meeting, I experienced an outrageous Sauvignon Blanc. It is the new vintage Blueprint Sauvignon Blanc from Robin Lail. The wine presented brisk aromas of candied citrus peels: lemon, lime grapefruit and hints of tangerine. It then coated the palate with tremendous viscosity. The citrus peels continued on the palate transitioning through a brief grassy interlude into a long complex minerally finish, kept sparkling with vibrant acids. The sensation was not unlike drinking a bone dry Sauternes. The wine is so rich, it's hard to believe it is crafted totally in stainless steel. After the meeting everyone joined in one common reaction, "WOW!!!" Randy was working on a dinner pairing the next day that involved grilled halibut with a pinapple glaze which would be a tremendous pairing with this wine.

For those not familiar with Robin Lail, she is an amazing woman who grew up in the inner circle of Napa Valley. Her great-uncle, Gustav Niebaum founded Inglenook Cellars in the late 1800's with the vision of making world-class wines. He passed this vision to Robin's father, John Daniels who oversaw the production of the legendary Inglenook Cabernet's of the mid 20th century that are still magnificent 50 years later. Robin grew up in the cellars while her father passed the vision to Robert Mondavi. While working with Mondavi on the Opus One project, she met Christian Moueix and together founded Dominus from the old Napanook vineyards then founded Merryvale with a young real estate developer named Bill Harlan. In 1995 she founded Lail Vineyards.

Follow the link to hear her tell her story: Robin Lail, Lail Vineyards.