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Italy Wine Tours
We have just been lucky enough to have a family holiday in Italy with friends and stayed at a fantastic villa (L Olmo, see links page) in Tuscany and more specifically overlooking Chianti Rufina. The villa is phenomenal, set in a rural location with magnificent views across the valley, a swimming pool and all the amenities you need in a rental. Not only that the owners are wine fans and Martyn is a bit of a local expert who runs personal wine tours round some of the key wineries in the region. I must however stress that his knowledge is not just limited to Chianti, Martyn has a wide range of wine knowledge and love for everything from Australia to Bordeaux and just about everything in between.
So a private wine tour round two of the regions top producers starting with Fattoria Nipozzano owned by the Frescobaldi family.
This winery is situated high on a hill over looking the vines and olive trees and is very picturesque, set just down from the castle that dominates the crown of the hill. The winery is very up to date using modern techniques and equipment. We get to root around the old buildings and see how this has been in the family for many generations with the photos and memories to prove it, before going into one of the older cellars in and use taking in the vapor from the casks and the heady atmosphere before retiring up to the modern visitor reception and shop. Once Martyn had stopped flirting with the attractive young lady who runs the place we got to try some of the wines. They do classic Chianti wines but also ITG or Super Tuscans as they are known locally which are wines using grape varieties not native to the region for the international palate. For me the classic Chianti wines spanked the ITG we tried which I feel shows that if the variety thrives and the wine makers have the feel of the grape it will always out shine the more recent international additions. The two clear favourites for me were the Nipozzano Chianti Rufina Riserva 2007 with great depth of flavour yet easy drinking and the huge Montesodi 2004 which went really well with the local half cow Fiorentina Steak because it had bags of umph. The wine is not cheap, circa £20 for the Nipozzano and £35 for the Montesodi(local price) but both were definitely worth the money.
Then onto lunch at a local restaurant, La Casellina (included in the price of the tour) and what a little gem, old Tuscan recipes brought back from the lost archives. The real prize here is the pear and ricotta pasta with cream and white truffle sauce, what a stunning dish and then fillet steak topped with black truffles (although not included in the price, we went back 2 days later to have it so had to mention it here). Martyn can also arrange a cooking lesson at Casellina as part of the tour and you can make these old recipes and then eat what you make. He also introduced us to Fattoria Grignano and their Chianti Rufina 2007 which was a really good wine as it supported the food so well and a bargain (£6 in the local shops). Later in the week we had another Grignano, the riserva Poggio Gualtieri 2001 which was very rich and complex and had me thinking that I could start to get a taste for the Italian stuff.
Then after the sumptuous lunch it was on to Fattoria Selvapiana owned by the Giuntini family. If I thought Martyn was familiar at Nipozzano he looked like a complete stranger there compared to how he is viewed here. We had seen the winery, the private stock of the owners, vintages of their top wine going back to 1948 and were tasting the second wine before anyone came to see how he was going on. I think the Giuntini family might have an English branch with Martyn as the head or he has certain photos which they want kept secret. Their top wine is the Bucerchiale and we tried the 2007 amongst others. This was far too young to be drinking but had all the signs of being a classic in 4 or 5 years once it has aged properly (for my palate anyway). I would have bought a case to lay down but that would have meant leaving one of the kids in Italy and using their seat on the plane for it and I still love the kids more than fine wine (most days) so could not. However Martyn sweet talked the owner into selling us an earlier vintage so we could try this when it had reached a drinking age, 1999 was provided and by gum was it good except for one thing, far too easy to drink and we only got 2 bottles which lasted no time at all, especially as Sam and Christine helped. If this is what age does to the wine then my earlier assumption that 4 or 5 years will deliver a classic in the 2007 should come true.
Martyn was a perfect host had many tales about the local area and wine history and how certain historical events have changed the approach and grape varieties but if you want those you will have to visit L’Olmo and get on his tour.
A fantastic villa, excellent hosts in Martyn and Margaret and fine wine and food. My advice, save up and visit.
As a foot note I can supply the Nipozzano Riserva at £19.50 and the Montesodi at £40 a bottle, which makes me think one or both may be on the next order!
You either collect stuff or you don't. If you do and you are reading this then you might collect whisky (well done Sherlock I hear you cry). As always there are a number of schools of thought on collecting whisky:
The first ones are those who feel that it is an insult to those who put their love and labour in to it if you don't drink it, they made it to be enjoyed not looked at. Then there are those who see it purely as an investment like art and a way to make a few pounds, which certain ones often do. Finally there are those who collect it now with a view to one day opening when it can no longer be found. There is possibly a subset who originally wanted to save it to enjoy when all else was gone but then saw how much it was worth so traded it in to buy more stuff to then enjoy, or fund kids through university, house deposit etc.
The first ones who do not collect and drink the stuff are fine people and I support their desire but do not subscribe to it. I fall into the subset whereby I originally started collecting to enjoy at a later date some rare whiskies but then found marriage and kids an expensive pastime so may end up selling it to fund the kids future although you always hope for the little windfall that allows the original aim to be fulfilled, Kildalton, Provernance and the 1976 committee and 1969 Springbank and a 1937 MacPhails needs to be drunk with good friends.
However which ever collecting set you belong to there are sage words to consider. As with all potential investments values can go up as well as down and no one knows how long the whisky world will be fashionable and give good returns so be careful what you buy. If you buy just because you think it will go up in value then what are you left with if it doesn't? Not all whisky with price tags deserve it. Pick your distilleries with care even if it has been closed for many years it might never appreciate because it made poor whisky to start with, Littlemill would be a prime example of this although there is some that will have appreciated in value (but definately not in taste - yek). Alternatively there may be more stock than they can shake a stick at so it will not be rare for the next 40 years as they had a glut and it was not that good so is not shifting. If it is still open is it one of the top class distilleries that has a following? If not even limited edition bottlings do not gain appreciatively except in the long term.
The best advice I can give is if you like a distilleries style and the generally get on with the whiskies it produces look to start there,why you ask? Simple, if it does not go up in value or drops then you can at least enjoy it as it was intended which is better than shares as all you can do with them is put on a nail in the outhouse. If you buy a bottle from a distillery you do not like e.g. a peaty little number such as PC8 and you do not like smoke and iodine then you might as well give it away (or clean the outhouse with it) or better still give it to me to help because I think it is great!
Collecting can be fun for us anoraks as we can get excited about owning something rare and special and sometimes very valuable, but often it is knowing how good it taste and having it that appeals rather than pound notes and secretly hoping the kids will get good jobs and find their own deposit so we can drink it!
Springbank & Glengyle Open Day
I have been to the odd distillery and now I have visited the ODD distillery (christened that by a famous Islay owner) and the folks that run this ODD place.
21st May saw an open day at Springbank and Glengyle distilleries in Campbeltown and me and a couple of customers (Big Andy, Doc, Fatman and Big Phill) decided that 335 miles was not that far when the prize at the end was masterclasses with Stuart Robertson (Springbank) and Frank McHardy (Kilkerran) plus a chance to look round the new Glengyle distillery and the slightly older Springbank one.
The day started well, it was not raining and a strange yellow thing hung in the sky, a little bright after the quiet sensible evening the night previous but it did look like a day we would not get wet, well not on the outside anyway.
After two breakfasts, continental in the guesthouse (Westbank on Dell Street, thanks Hazel and Bob) and a bacon butty at a cafe down from Cadenheads shop we ventured to the place where it was all going to happen. 10:45 and we were through the gates of Glengyle. Nothing was ready except the whiskies available to try so we tried, port cask Kilkerran which you could buy a bottle of that day as a special. We tried it and bought it, then the bourbon barrel and you guessed it we bought that too, great whisky, how could the day get any better?
Brewdog where supposed to be there but did not show, still no idea where they got to? Could not have gotten lost, there is only one road to Glengyle (A83) but the Argyll farmers market turned up with the venison burger stall, fudge stall and cheese stall so we had venison burgers (big, meaty and tasty) to start the soaking up process and set off to Springbank with Stuart.
I have done a few distillery tours but this was a new way, dramming as you go. The malting floor was toasted with Hazelburn 8yo now showing more Springbank character as it has aged a little more, not as floral but still light and easy to drink. The malt bins had Springbank 10yo top draw stuff for under £30. The stills has Springbank 15yo with the great sherry overtones and richness with the brine hint. Filling store had Springbank Madeira cask and what a beauty, no wonder it won whisky of the month in whisky mag, full flavour and depth with hints of fruit and sweetness. Finally into the warehouse and Longrow from a Longrow cask. The second Longrow is an Australian cabernet sauvignon and this is not a finish (or dreaded ACE) but a bung it in, mature it and bottle it if it is any good. It is only 4yo but has all the hallmarks of a great Longrow, peat and spirit with a rounded mellow edge, it is maturing well and quickly, could be out in another 4 years. Stuart was a great speaker and guide, plus he has a great number plate D15TLR and as tours go, dramming through one is definitely the way to go, brilliant.
Back to Glengyle then and another burger and some local cheese, you need to keep the solids up to help enjoy the liquids. Another couple of tries of some other whiskies from Cadenheads (the Highland Park 18 and Laphroaig 17 we amazing expressions far better than the proprietary offerings) and Duffies (Caol Ila being a star here) before the next masterclass.
Frank McHardy started in the industry in 1963 so knows a bit about whisky. Glengyle was re-opened under his watchful eye and the Kilkerran is his baby so what a chance to have him take you through 6 expressions from 6 different barrels. First up bourbon barrel, it has taken the wood well after 5 years and is quite light and delicate, hints of smoke and vanilla coming through. Rum cask next, not a heavy rum judging by the subtle influence but noticeable all the same and fine to drink. Fino brings the tropical fruits out and floral offerings. Then a very cloudy one from a Madeira cask, oh what a beauty so complex, fruity, hints of sweetness and loads of depth and length. Oloroso cask is number 5 and if you had have given me this and told me it was a top class 15yo Speysider I would have believed you, completely different from the others but not showing enough Kilkerran for me but brilliant as a whisky. Last but not least a port cask, ruby red in colour, fruity rich nose big whisky and loads of length what a finish. All these were presented with exceptional knowledge of whisky (as you would expect), Campbeltown history, humour and good grace by a true gentleman of the industry. Frank McHardy was willing to chat to everyone from the first timer to the anorak wearing anorak of anoraks. I asked him for his favourite whisky (none Springbank of course), Highland Park came the reply, what age? 15yo seems to be the best says Frank, I could not agree more (see tasting review page). He did however add that any Laphroaig out of a sherry cask scored highly in his book too. If you are reading this and remember an excellent Signatory bottling of 15yo sherry cask Laphroaig about 5 years ago you will agree. If you are from Laphroaig and reading this, please take note of Frank McHardy and do something nice in sherry.
I must point out that these whiskies can be bought on the website en-primeur at £175 per bottle, £950 for the set of 6 with miniatures and have a limited run of circa 700 bottles. If I had a spare grand I would have them now. I might save up and see if Christine will let me have a set, they are seriously worth having to drink but knowing Springbank in the past these will rocket in value as a collectable. Frank and his team have created an exceptional range.
After the masterclass and another glass of the Madeira Kilkerran and the port Kilkerran, oh and the Oloroso Kilkerran, it was time to buy another bottle of each of the special casks available and head back to the guesthouse before going for more whisky and excellent food (great steak and excellent meat pie) at the White Hart Hotel washed down with Springbank 15yo from their bar before early to bed to sleep off an excellent day before the long drive back, drink driving is not a good idea and will not be condoned by us.
To sum up, I love the ODD people and the ODD distilleries they run and have created. The whiskies are top notch too. Campbeltown is a long way from most places but it is a lovely town and the ODD Squad make the journey twice as worth it.
Finally a big thank you to Pete Currie for the invite and all at Springbank and Glengyle for being perfect hosts and Stuart and Frank for masterclasses from whisky masters.
Hope to see you again soon
German Wine and my recent tasting there
Just been on holiday in German visiting Christine's sister and family (hello Gilly, Michael, Annabel, Jason, Jamie and Helena). Michael arranged for us to go to a wine tasting at Weingut Kohl (see links page) to try to convince me that German wine is not just Liebfraumilch and other such undrinkable stuff. So armed with a vast dose of trepidation we set off to see if my preconceptions were correct and whether I would have to lie about the stuff in order to be nice and polite in an ever so English way. On arriving a smashing little winery was presented to us with modern pneumatic press, stainless steel fermentation tanks and two different barrel types for the barrique (barrel to us common folk) aging, one standard European oak type in barrel shape and one German oak in the traditional German shape of an elongated oval. So onto the wine. First up is the 2008 Riesling and it is great, plenty of fruit, light acidity and soft gently finish (bought 6). We then had a 2007 Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc for us lot), slightly closed on the nose but fruity and light and better than the Italians do it. 2006 Grauburgunder which was rich, thick oils with good length. A 2008 Sauvignon Blanc which had been harvested later in the season and was all the more interesting for it, tinned peach and syrup nose, a belt of acidity in the mouth straight off and then the sweet tinned peaches come back, Foie Gras would work well with this. On to the reds then. 2007 Spatburgunder Weissherbst was very raisiney and like a very thin port, not to my palate. 2008 Spatburgunder Blanc de Noir was fresh and young with a nice structure and good acidity but very light in style. 2007 Dornfelder was fizzy on the nose and palate, light and refreshing and hints of fruit. 2007 Spatburgunder Rotwein was like beaujolais nuevo and I do not like that so not a fan of this either but some are and some would be of this. 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon had classic cab sauv blackcurrant nose, a hint of fizz on the palate with the blackcurrants back but at 12% it needed more for me, I like heavy reds this was too light so not for me. Finally the Regent 2002 and the best was last, 14.2% with big fruits, massive oak and vanilla drying to to a good length (bought some). We then had a fizzy Riesling trocken which was nice but not to my palate again.
They also produce bottles of grape juice (Traubensaft) or Kinder Wein as we christened it because Kathryn, Sarah and Helena loved it (we bought some) that can be drunk neat or schorle style.
The Germans in this region (The Palatinate) drink a lot of wine schorle style which is wine mixed with sparkling water (two thirds wine to one third sparkling water) in a 0.5l glass and I think this shows in the wine making as they tend to make wine that is light, refreshing and to be drunk to quench the thirst and the reds (excluding the Regal) would make great Schorle and refreshing drinks but I would struggle to drink them on their own with anything other than a light lunch which they would work with but not a big rump steak.
They also produce schnapps or Edle Brande and the Williams Christ (pear) is lovely when chilled, and you guessed it I bought a bottle.
Annette Kohl was a charming and informative host who spoke good English and gave us a lovely evening and an insight into German wines and should you ever venture into the Wein Strassa make sure you look the winery up and have a tasting.
So in conclusion, there are some great German wines you just need to go there and try them. So thank you to Michael for organising it for us, Annette for being a lovely host and to her dad for producing some good wines and helping change my perception a little.
Peat Freak Out
Various Blogs have been discussing the big peat battle going on in the whisky heaven that is Islay between Ardbeg and Bruichladdich, or more specifically Octomore versus Supernova. I've only tried the Octomore Futures so far having bought a dozen when they first came available and having the full intention of selling 6 of them to cover the cost of the other six once I saw what they were fetching on e-bay. BUT that was before I tasted it, suffice to say I've not sold any and won't be because it is a fantastic drink and I promise I will sacrifice one of those I have left to a tasting. Other than the excellent futures I have only tried Octomore as a new make when Jim did a tasting many years ago so do not know what 1.1 tastes like but again I have one put aside to do a tasting with, although it will not be on the same tasting as the futures but it will come on soon. I think it will be a cracker based on the new make and the futures. Supernova will be a difficult one as I only got one bottle and I am torn between the collection for my 2 kids future as Ardbeg is a good investment and seeing what it is like (I need some faith restoring after Blasda, I will let you know if I dig it out of the cellar). However there is light in sight that may allow me to taste supernova without having to steal it from the kids as it goes on general release later this year. As soon as it is available I will put the 1.1 against it and the customers who come to that tasting will decide. So is it a battle or is it just great news for peatheads? Personally as Islay is so small (and perfectly formed) I doubt there is anything but respect between the two distilleries (both head men been Ileachs will also help - Islay first from both of them). So it isn't a battle it is just good news for us that like a dollop of peat and I cannot wait for the general release of supernova and the head to head with 1.1.
Been a while, I was hoping to do this on a more regular basis but there you go. My thoughts (rant) this time is about the packaging of whisky. Lots of time and money are spent on packaging to attract the customers eye saying "buy me buy me" but what we have to remember is that although this works once it still needs the whisky inside to be good to back up the packaging. Balblair produced a fantastic new style of box, come display case for their whiskies when they relauched a year or so ago and it looked amazing, luckily for them the 1989 I tried was really good for a light highlander with floral and honey notes. Unfortunately this isn't always the case and if you've got someone to buy it once through the box, once they've tasted it they will never buy it again (if they have any sense). However often it is the converse that is true and the best whiskies can be found in the most dire of packaging - Gordon and MacPhail don't do exciting packaging, the Secret Stills 1.2 1986 came in a brown tube, no one would have bought this on looking at it but once tasted you want more. Blackadder have been the same - a black Blackadder box the same for all their whiskies but don't fret the whiskies are superb (especially the Raw Cask series). I'll add Signatory, Duncan Taylor and Dewar Rattray to the list as well, all these independents don't do posh boxes but these mentioned here do good whisky.
So what am I saying? Easy don't be fooled by posh boxes or put off by bad ones - look for content not the package, pay for what is in the bottle not around it. As me old dad said "you can't sup box".
The whisky magazine (www.whiskymag.com) recently ran an article on
innovation and this got me thinking about what innovations I've seen that I like and which ones I am not too keen on.
The classic innovation has to be the use of different barrels and this has been going on since barrels were first used to mature whisky in. This isn't the finishing of whisky in a cask but the full life of the whisky in a single cask type something other than sherry or bourbon.
Bowmore has one of the best one for me in the original Bowmore Claret Cask, seen as a bit of a gimmick at the time, priced very reasonably for drinking and now very collectable. It was a beautiful drink with the smoke and peat you'd expect but with fruity hints. They did it again with the 1964 Fino cask (ok it is sherry but not the usual type), a veritable fruit salad in a glass but blooming expensive due to the age and rarity. If you get a chance to try a glass don't turn it down and be very grateful to the person that shares such a wonder with you.
I mentioned finishes earlier and although they can be fun (Glenmorangie Port Wood finish fits the bill) I sometimes think that they have been used by some bottlers to try to hide some very average whiskies (or even some that the blenders wouldn't touch?). We have to remember that whisky is about the whisky not the fact that someone has turned it orange with yellow spots and a hint of Chateau Kwiksave by bunging it in a daft cask for 6 months. If it is a good whisky let it stand up on its own merits not try to make it an alcopop.
This brings me nicely on to what I think has been the best innovation of recent years and it is from Glenmorangie - The Artisan Cask. They've concentrated on the wood, the first fill of bourbon that has gone into the American oak and then the quality of the whisky they've made and then the storage of that whisky. The result is what I remember Glenmorangie tasted like before it became mass appeal and mass marketed - beautiful. The only problem is that the 0.5l bottle seems to last no time at all but that might just be me.
So for me the best innovation has been concentrating on producing good whisky based on skill and craftsmanship not gimmicks from the marketing department (my least favourite people after the accountants that closed Rosebank) who will no doubt come in for more stick as the articles progress.
About the authors: Andy & Christine Rouse run Executive Tastings a whisky and wine tasting company located in Lytham St Annes and they also have a range of whiskies available to buy. For more articles and reviews, please visit their website at www.executive-tastings.co.uk.
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