Classier Than Your Average Pocket Rocket

I bought this a while back, not really knowing what it was. Well obviously, it's Mural do Favaios, a fortified non-vintage Moscatel from the Douro, but why is it in this tiny crown capped bottle?

It sat around, not being drunk (for want of a suitable occasion), until tonight, when I had a sudden eureka moment - it's a pocket rocket! Which is to say, a small, strong, readily consumed slug of booze, in a handy, easily concealed format.

Having figured it out, and knowing I'd never use it as intended, there was nothing else to do but drink it. Which I did. Here are my observations.

Nose: faintly reminiscent of oloroso sherry. Or tawny port. Or somewhere in between. Toffee, and a hint of struck match.

Palate: 17%? Really? Actually, there is a bit of heat in the finish, but the attack and mid palate are very light. Watery, if one could have sticky water. For sticky it is, in a pleasant toffee apple fashion.

Conclusion: It's very simple, but it's also rather direct and to the point, the point being a strong wee sweetie. I sort of wish I'd bought two...


Tasting Note: Chassenay d'Arce Pinot Blanc 2006

Nose: yellow fruit. Clean and fresh. Nothing to say that it's a ten year old wine. Tangy. Citrus and pineapples. Under-ripe honeydew melon rind.

Palate: there is some evolution, but it still feels pretty fresh. Very tangy and tart. Real yellow fruit character, along with a light body.

Conclusion: this is a lovely wine, and distinctively different - I've never encountered that pineapple note in any other champagne. And, as with many wines from the Côte de Bar, it's very good value for money.

Champagne Grapes
Three grape varieties, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay, account for nearly all of the production in Champagne, but (of course!) things are a little more complicated than that.

Besides the more than 30,000 hectares devoted to the big three, there are a few hectares (less than a hundred, I believe) given over to Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Arbane, and Petit Meslier. Producers such as DrappierMoutard, and Chassenay d'Arce turn out small quantities of these unusual wines, but they are not easy to find.

And for the truly pedantic among us, the Champagne appellation law of 1919 can be read as meaning that all members of the Pinot family may be used for Champagne, which seems to me like the perfect excuse for some bolshie Brit to go over there and make fizz using Viognier and Aligoté.


Rogue Voodoo Doughnut...

... is the kind of name that could easily embarrass a person placing a drinks order. And when this, ahem, interesting bottle shows up, well, it ain't going to be easy to hide. The liquid, however, turns out to be remarkably drinkable.

The full name of this beer is Rogue Voodoo Doughnut Pretzel, Raspberry & Chocolate Ale, but when I smelled it, the dominant aroma wasn't Pretzel, but chocolate - the kind of cheap chocolate used in Easter eggs, I think. There's also a decent backbone of malt somewhere in the background.

The palate is very sweet - perhaps a little too sweet for a 5.4% beer - with plenty more of the cheap chocolate notes, along with a very enjoyable malt flavour. The raspberries provide some tartness rather than any flavour, and I couldn't pick out any pretzel at all. None at all.

In conclusion, I'd have to say the packaging is something of a sleight of hand. This beer is much more sensible and beer-like than I had expected, and really rather enjoyable.


It Is To Disappoint

So I finally managed to obtain some Casa Lluch Verdil 2014, long after my precious few bottles of a previous vintage were finished. Of course, I failed to check all the details, and - dammit - they've switched to stelvin closures.

Now this is definitely carping on my part, because I do think the current vintage is a pretty decent drop, but it's not as good as it was before. I'm going to have to keep the rest of this case for years before it evolves to where I want it.

Anyway, here's what's good about the wine:

  • It's organic
  • It has a pretty label
  • It's a very obscure grape variety
  • It's really rather tasty, like so:-

The nose is fresh, light, and lively, with tart citric notes and a (very little) something mealy or creamy. The palate is tangy - grapefruit and lime, but also mouth coating and slightly oily. The lime note is almost coconutty (which ties in, I think, with the mealy note on the nose). The finish is refreshingly sour.

Overall, it's a direct, refreshing summer white (with enough weight to handle salads and other light dishes, I reckon). Just not as good as the previous vintage, that's all.


Billecart-Salmon Cuvée Nicolas François Billecart 2002

By good fortune, today I was able to attend a lunch at Prestonfield House in Edinburgh, hosted by Billecart-Salmon, which served to introduce the recently released Cuvée Nicolas François Billecart 2002.

Arriving rather early, we sat on a rooftop terrace in the shadow of Arthur's Seat, sipping the excellent and bracing Vintage 2006 (a polyglot and slightly unhelpful name, omitting to mention, as it does, that this is an Extra Brut champagne, with a dosage of only 1.5g/l). The Vintage is a fairly new venture for Billecart, this being only the second release, but as we sit enjoying the sun and the fizz it is definitely my favourite Billy.

Some indeterminate time later we are ushered into a room which has never knowingly had any item of decor removed, ever, and there presented with the Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru 2004. Immediately, this is my favourite Billy. It's honeyed, with a glorious perfume of white flowers and biscuit dough, and even a little buttery. The palate matches the nose perfectly, and the mousse is billowingly soft (all of today's champagnes were decanted, which allows the wine to breathe and lessens the rasping initial carbonic acid bite of a freshly popped bottle). Over time, as the fizz lessens, the wine becomes ever more vinous. Not in an obvious, Burgundian Chardonnay1 sort of way, mind you. Vinous, but still Champenois.

Production of the Blanc de Blancs is 30,000 bottles, using grapes sourced from five villages in the Côte des Blancs - I wonder which of the six Grands Crus was snubbed? Avize, Cramant, Chouilly, Oiry, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger or Oger?

After a slightly embarrassing interlude (the food was distinctly fleshy, and I had foolishly assumed that in 2015 an establishment so prestigious would automatically be acreophage-friendly) the raison de déjeuner is poured. The Cuvée Nicolas François Billecart 2002 is intense, complex, interesting, and distinctly youthful. Aromas of white and yellow flowers vie with fresh blonde wood and, oddly, malt. There's honey as well, but an older, spicier honey. The palate is balanced and rounded, salt and honey and lemon pith all complementing each other. As with the Blanc de Blancs there's a vinous quality which champagne rarely shows. Whilst I'm enjoying this fine fizz immensely, the Blanc de Blancs remains my favourite.

The Nicolas François is produced using Pinot Noir from Aÿ and Mareuil-sur-Aÿ along with Chardonnay from Avize and Chouilly.

Billecart-Salmon is arguably the best of all the champagne houses. It gets my vote for its ability to produce wines that manage to fuse delicacy and intensity, finesse and sheer unadulterated hedonistic joy. Long may it thrive.

(Oh. We may well have drunk some Gevry-Chambertin and 30 year old Coteaux de Layon too. I wasn't really paying attention to the other wines)

1: I love Burgundy. But who can resist the opportunity to use 'Burgundian' as a put-down?


Waulkmill Mooseheid Perry

Perry seems to come in two varieties. There's the delicate, elderflower and fresh pear juice variety, and there's the more full bodied, tannic, occasionally funky type. The latter is much closer to cider, and can be very enjoyable, but the former, rarer version is, in my opinion, the more exciting drink. Mooseheid is very definitely at the cider-y end of the spectrum.

nose: initially very good in a brisk way, then rather sulphurous for a few minutes. With time and air, a proper woody (or tannic?), cidery funk develops.

palate: there's a light spritz. It's dry and fruity, with a light tannic note. Over time the pear flavours come through; very white pears, rather than green or yellow (I wonder if I'm actually picking up some stone fruit notes?). Overall it's well balanced, with pleasant tannins, and I reckon it's better than last year's bottling too,

Chris Harrison of Waulkmill brews a variety of drinks from apples and pears. Some, like the Irn Bru flavoured Clan McFannie, are alcopops. Mooseheid, despite the jokey label, is a proper perry. Waulkmill Mooseheid Perry: Very Good


Glen Garioch 1998 Vintage

At a tasting of the Glen Garioch range last night Phil Nickson of Morrison Bowmore Distillers (MBD) treated us to a preview of the latest vintage release, a 1998 distillation matured in ex wine casks, specifically Saint-Julien, a Bordeaux red wine appellation.

We started with the core expressions, the Founder's Reserve and 12 Year Old. These are drams of which I think highly, in part at least because they taste just right at 48%. This is not a common bottling strength, suggesting that it has been chosen for reasons of taste (easier to do if you only shift 19,000 cases a year rather than say 120,000 like Bowmore). Two sweet and spicy drams, good to very good.

Next was the cask strength 1999 Sherry vintage, first released last year. Very much in the bold spicy Glen Garioch style of the first two whiskies, it also showed loads of somewhat rubbery sherry, and a pile of sweet red fruits; tinned strawberries perhaps. The finish was treacly and spicy. Excellent.

Glen Garioch 1991, released in 2010, is an ex bourbon expression, dating from when Glen Garioch malted its own barley with a bit of peat in the mix.  A very elegant dram (most Glen Garioch is what I'd call powerful rather than elegant), with smoky honey and coconut notes and a milky waxy finish. Very Good.

And so to the drum roll dram, the new 1998 vintage. I have to declare an interest here. I am a claret fanboy, specifically the Northern Médoc, so I may be a little biased towards this dram. It's worth noting that Saint-Julien is best known for Cabernet Sauvignon, a cask type which is also used in the assemblage for Dalmore King Alexander, a superb whisky, albeit overpriced, and in the cracking Longrow Red from Springbank.

The spice notes I found in other expressions this evening were much rounder and softer in the '98. There was a qualitative difference in the fruit character too, with definite fruit-yoghurt notes, where the other whiskies showed dried fruits and lacked the creamy, buttery note. On the other hand, there is a bit of spirit burn, which the other drams didn't have. The palate is complex, with typical Garioch spice, soft buttery-treacle notes, and a wee touch - hard to pin down - of something savoury. Most decidedly excellent.

The one caveat I have regards the price. This release, 15 years old, bottled at 48%, costs about £100. The 1991, at cask strength and 19 years old, can be had for £70. It seems to me that MBD are cashing in on the current whisky bubble.

Or perhaps I just didn't like the whisky enough. Certainly, after the tasting, three people thought it was good enough to pre-order and pay for.

By way of a bonus, Phil then treated us to a wee taster of two other expressions, the Virgin Oak and the 1986. The Virgin Oak is delicious, although it perhaps ought to be called Bourbsky or Whisbon, since white oak is such a dominant flavour (irrelevant aside: naturalists say that a typical oak tree is home to some three hundred species of other plants and animals. Is it unreasonable to call humans the three hundred and first, since the flavour of oak is so important in so many human beverages??).

The 1986 was a fine, fine drop, and made all the finer by the subtle thread of smoke running through it. Since closing their floor maltings in 1994, Glen Garioch has been made with unpeated barley. On the basis of the '86, I would call that a big fat mistake.