KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2017: Day 11

11 12 2017

I’m not sure what shocks me more:  that there are not one but TWO Canadian whiskies in this calendar; that they have shown up in the first 11 days of Advent nestled in with offerings from England and The Netherlands; or that this one is from Vancouver Island!! Andrew Ferguson is a madman, the 2017 calendar is officially unhinged and this is by far the most fun Whisky Advent ever.  I used to live on Vancouver Island while in law school, and I never would have expected there would be a renowned distillery there, but as of 2011, there is:  Shelter Point, established across 380 acres running up the eastern coast of the island on land that was previously a UBC research farm.  Why do you need 380 acres to run a distillery, you ask?  You need it if you ALSO want to farm and grow your own environmentally sustainable barley with which to MAKE your whisky.  This sounds like an obvious concept when viewed through the lens of the wine world (the barley is basically Shelter Point’s estate fruit), but it is almost never done in the whisky world; the only other farm distillery that comes to mind off the top of my head is Scotland’s Kilchoman, whose ethos I admire greatly but whose products I can’t seem to get myself to enjoy.  No such problem here.

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Shelter Point is heavily committed to the health of its farmlands and the surrounding area, even donating a large chunk of its “estate” to Ducks Unlimited for use as a nature park.  They make vodka and liqueur in addition to multiple different releases of whisky, but tonight’s focus is their Artisanal Single Malt Whisky, all distilled from homegrown barley and then matured for years in a warehouse right alongside the ocean in what is rumoured to be all ex-Jack Daniels casks.  Badass.  At $85, it is roughly double the price of the previous Canadian whisky in this calendar, and it proves itself easily worthy of this price tag.

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My first Vancouver Island whisky has a zesty, spicy nose, lemon peels and cinnamon hearts rounded out with almonds, apple pie crust and warm leather.  I can’t remember ever writing this about a whisky before, but it is absolutely linear on the palate, driven and focused, powered ever-forward by an engine of grainy, peppery, malty verve.  There is no meandering here, no stopping for breath, at least not until the sip is long swallowed and a Coffee Crisp sort of finish makes itself apparent.  This is far more cohesive and structured than the Gretzky whisky from Niagara and easily cruises to the Top Canadian Dram crown of both this Advent and my lifetime.  It may in fact be my favourite whisky of the whole calendar so far.  Shelter Point, I’m coming over.

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Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 10

10 12 2017

I think it is officially Sugar Coma Weekend in the Bricks Wine Advent Calendar.  When the COMBINED alcohol level of your Saturday and Sunday wines is 12%, you know you’ll be facing an armada of unfermented grape sugar in the bottle.  After last night’s 6.5% abv Auslese Riesling, I thought we had hit our December alcohol floor, but the 2015 Braida “Vigna Senza Nome” Moscato d’Asti will see that 6.5% and raise it (well, technically, lower it), clocking in at an almost juice-like 5.5%.  The wine’s name roughly translates to “Vines Without Names”; the roughly dozen online sources I consulted trying to find out why declined to say so, though most of them noted that the corresponding motto on the front label “Sator Arepo Tenet Opera Rotas” means “the farmer at the plow chooses the path”, which is reflective of this classic producer’s focus on the quality of the vineyard, even if they decline to name the vines in it.

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I love Moscato d’Asti.  At its best it is equally refreshing and luxuriant, searing and delectable, a frozen rope of distilled fruit essence that disappears from the glass before you even notice.  It is made from Moscato Bianco grapes grown around the famed town of Asti, in the heart of Piedmont, which are harvested then crushed and immediately refrigerated before fermentation so that the yeasts don’t immediately kick in.  The cooled must is then transferred to pressurized sealed steel tanks before fermentation is allowed to begin; as the grape sugars are converted to alcohol, carbon dioxide is released as a by-product, which can’t escape the tank and gets dissolved into the wine.  Once the alcohol content clocks above 5% (which is WAY before all of the sugars are fully converted), the whole tank is chilled down to near freezing so that fermentation stops, after which the yeasts are filtered out and the wine is bottled under pressure, leaving an intensely sweet, slightly bubbly bolt of lightning for patio enjoyment.  It is best consumed as early as possible, when acids are crisp and bubbles are buoyant, and there is little to be gained in trying to mature it.

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Cork Rating:  6/10 (The extra expansion and vertical writing are winning somehow, even if the cork as a whole is bland.)

This 2015 Vigna Senza Nome is a surprisingly golden colour for a Moscato and has a slightly syrupy nose of baked pear, bruised apple, honey and caramel to go with brighter tropical and Fuzzy Peach notes.  Some lift remains on the palate in the form of hedonistic melon, lychee, blood orange and bergamot, but much of the life and effervescence that normally characterizes this style and expression has been faded away, whether due to time (it’s only two years old, but Moscato’s probably best at 20 minutes old) or (more likely?) due to storage conditions between its bottling and its insertion into the calendar. I’ve had this exact bottle multiple times before, albeit never in back vintage form, and this is the first time it’s tasted heavy; the bubbles aren’t quite up to the task of scouring away the sweetness, and quiet acidity doesn’t provide enough of a helping hand.  It’s still completely delicious, but it is drained of some of its usual joy and not quite showing at its peak.

86 points





KWM Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 9

9 12 2017

After a hectic first week and a bit of whisky, where every other day introduced a bottle from a new country (I’m still processing The Netherlands two days later, and I didn’t even write it up!) and every scotch was seemingly snatched from the jaws of obscurity, maybe it’s nice to sort of resettle and catch our collective breath with a Glen- that everyone recognizes (sorry, Glentauchers).  Glenmorangie is the first single malt experience of many fledgling whisky drinkers, and is very widely sold, but that doesn’t mean they don’t try to push the envelope every so often.  I got a firsthand experience of that phenomenon a while back with their floor-malted Tusail, a dynamite dram, and they try to take a step out of the ordinary here as well with their extra-maturation expression Quinta Ruban.  As far as I can tell, “extra-maturation” is just a fancy way of saying “aging something in one thing, then moving it to another thing”, but Glenmorangie has built a whole range out of this relocation, starting off whiskies in ex-Bourbon cask and then transferring them for the final stage of aging to a variety of other types of vessels.  The 12 Year Quinta Ruban gets to spend the last two years of its pre-bottle life in Ruby Port casks, and according to the Glenmorangie site it was the first malt whisky ever to do so.  It almost surely gets its name from this practice:  Quinta = a wine estate in Portugal, and Ruban is close enough to ruby that I’m not even firing up Google Translate to look into it further.

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First things first:  this is one sweet-looking mini-bottle of scotch.  I like the mini-bottles that retain the same sense of proportion as the full-sized bottles, and this one nails those little details.  The Quinta Ruban may be the orangest scotch I have ever seen, thanks to the staining impact of the used Ruby Port barrels.  The nose is spicy and fiery, all pepper, smoke, clove, all-spice and briquettes, forcing you to dig for the orchard fruit beneath.  It is big, rich and brawny, with an accompanying alcoholic burn (even with water added) amping up burly flavours of maple, mandarin orange, cast iron, sandpaper and chestnuts.  Its price is also extra-matured at $92, but I won’t be the one who discourages the big houses in the world of scotch from diversifying their approaches.





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 8

8 12 2017

I feel like I was slightly prescient yesterday when I said that most of the bottle picks in the first week of Bricks Half-Bottle Wine Advent were straight out of a Classic Wine Regions textbook, as today we hit probably the 2nd most likely remaining appellation in France to get the call in a Wine Primer All-Stars competition:  Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  (If Bordeaux shows up anytime in the next 3 days, we will definitely have cracked the code.)  Chateauneuf is the jewel of the Southern Rhone, spiritual birthplace of the GSM (Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre) blend, and purveyor of bold, brash, rich yet layered wines that are an Old World gateway drug for many a Cali Cab or Aussie Shiraz lover.  The area’s regal approachability arises out of a combination of extensive sunlight, scorching summer temperatures (over 30 degrees Celsius on average) and a whipping northern wind so famous that it has its own name (the mistral), which cools the grapes, prevents rot and allows for longer hang times and prolonged ripening.

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Tonight’s Chateauneuf representative is the 2012 Domaine Chante Cigale, a 100+ year-old winery that recently turned its winemaking duties over to someone barely out of his teens.  In 2002, with his father suffering from health problems, Alexandre Favier, freshly graduated from viticultural studies at the age of 20 (he started wine school when he was 15) took the reins and hasn’t looked back since.  The Domaine owns 40 hectares of vineyards, but they’re not in an orderly square surrounding the winery, instead plastered and scattered throughout FORTY-FIVE different plots all across Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  Favier relies only on ambient native yeasts present in the cellar for fermentation and ages his wines in an oddly endearing array of almost every type and size of oak barrel possible (foudres, demi-muids, barriques, mostly pre-used) as well as concrete tanks.

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This cork deserves its own picture.  See below.

This particular Chante Cigale is the Domaine’s entry-level CNDP (if there is such a thing), keeping with the classic varietal mix of the region at 65% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Mourvedre and 5% Cinsault.  It is a deep ruby colour and immediately smells like something that has been preserved:  beef jerky, molasses, date, sunbaked earth, hickory and Sultana crackers, if these had been cooked down in an Instant Pot and then set on fire.  The wine’s hefty 15% alcohol is well-contained, but everything in its profile is stewed or baked, leaving it begging for a touch of primary freshness that never comes.  Malty, Port-y, fruitcake-y, it is neither thick nor heavy in body but constantly feels that way due to a dense sluggishness in its flavours.  Like a Wagyu beef burger left too long under the heat lamp before being served, the pedigree is there, but in execution it just hung on a bit too long.  As fellow PnP Advent author Ray Lamontagne puts it, “it’s like an old venison milkshake”.  There are no kind similes.

86+ points

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Cork Rating: 9/10 (What a monster. Coat of arms, complete with cicadas [singing grasshoppers, aka Chante Cigales – nice], killer intricacy and coverage; glorious.)





KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2017: Day 8

8 12 2017

The unofficial theme of the scotches (that is, Scotland-derived whiskies) from the 2017 calendar so far is giving unsung heroes their moments in the spotlight.  Like at least two other scotches in the 7 days before it — the two that led off Advent this year — this bottle comes from a little-known obscure distillery (in this case, Glentauchers in Speyside) whose substantial production forms the workhorse component of much-better-known blended whiskies (in this case, Ballantine’s) but who almost never gets to release a single malt under its own banner.  Glentauchers was founded in 1897, managed to produce until 1985 before being mothballed for 7 years, was then acquired by Chivas Brothers and has been churning out blend backbones ever since.  Its fleeting solo appearance comes courtesy of independent bottler extraordinaire Gordon & MacPhail, which has a whole range of Distillery Labels that sees them release a hidden-treasure distillery’s whisky under the distillery’s own logo and branding – very cool.  It is not my first Advent encounter with this range:  in fact, my very first KWM Whisky Advent Calendar bottle EVER was a Distillery Label bottling from the Linkwood distillery, followed shortly in the 2014 calendar by another DL bottling from Mortlach.  Neither of those, however, were 20-year malts.  This one is.

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Distilled in 1996 and then aged in sherry casks before being bottled last year in 2016, the Glentauchers has had plenty of time to mature and develop flavours, and it shows in a sweeping nose of carrot cake, wheat fields, tangerine, lemongrass and marzipan, as holidays-ready a set of smells as I can recall.  Luxurious and pure, it spreads out slowly, taking its time to unfurl before hitting on a distinctly prominent Amaretto note about halfway through the midpalate, a double-take hallmark flavour that just continues to emphasize itself even (especially?) after you swallow.  It’s so remarkably vivid.  Wild.  If I had to try to pull out other flavours:  Sap?  Cinnamon toast?  Banana bread?  Nope, forget it, it’s Amaretto all the way.  One of the most fun offerings in the calendar thus far without question.





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 7

7 12 2017

In the first sign of undeniable Advent progress, we have finished the first six-pack column of the Bricks Wine Advent Calendar crate and are heading into the second.  Hard to believe that Advent is already 25% over, apart from living 12 posts from 4 different people over the last 6 days and thinking about repeating that pattern 3 more times.  The folks who compiled this calendar obviously have a love of the classics, as the first week of half-bottles, apart from the inaugural Canadian-sparkling-Gamay curveball and the glorious interlude into Austrian Gruner on Day 3, has been like reading the chapter titles of a Top Wines of the World textbook:  Brunello, Beaujolais Cru, Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, Burgundy.  And if you look for the regional chapter title for pink wine, you will probably end up in Provence.  And if you end up in Provence, there is a greater likelihood you will find this wine than any other.

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Whispering Angel is a behemoth.  The Chateau d’Esclans estate was struggling when Bordelais Sacha Lichine bought it in 2006, inheriting vineyards in disrepair but featuring 80-90 year-old Grenache vines and a production with no market presence.  Lichine, looking out on the sunny French Riviera from his estate, identified a gap in the market:  heavy, sweeter white-Zinfandel-style rosé could not quench your beachfront thirst on a scorching day.  He conceived of rosé as a serious wine, made clean and light and dry, meant to disappear at resorts and in backyards with the drinkers scarcely noticing, pausing only to reach for the next bottle.  Whispering Angel, released the following vintage, went from 13,000 cases to over 375,000 cases of production within a decade.  If you’re counting at home, that’s 4.6 MILLION BOTTLES of the current 2016 vintage, sourced from a full 500 hectares of grapes from d’Esclans estate fruit as well as a swath of neighbouring vineyards.  To understand just how much of a thing it now is, you can now buy Whispering Angel gummy bears…that is, you could until they all sold out.

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Cork Rating:  5.5/10 (A perfectly cromulent cork.)

Whispering Angel has its formula down cold:  a blend of Grenache, Rolle (a.k.a. Vermentino – a white grape) and Cinsault, crushed and briefly macerated at very cool temperatures to prevent oxidation and preserve fresh flavours, fermented in stainless steel tanks and served icy cold, ideally on a yacht.  It succeeds, and continues to pull in critical acclaim despite becoming its own commercial empire, because the formula works:  it is both tremendously refreshing and carefully unobtrusive, thirst-quenching yet generally unmemorable.  It is a super pale farmed-salmon colour in the glass and delivers up citric aromas of lemon pulp, pink grapefruit and unripe peach, dusted with ginger and an herbal greenness like basil or chives and overlaid with a chalky minerality.  Its lithe, svelte body brings a splash of bracing freshness, like new snow, and ghostly notes of strawberry, tangerine, copper and lemon-lime, finishing tart thanks to straight lines of potent acidity.  It executes its mission to perfection and has spawned a thousand imitators, but for me the rosé category has lost a bit of its sense of interest as a result.

89- points

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KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2017: Day 6

6 12 2017

No. 6 for Day #6 — I will give everyone involved the benefit of the doubt and assume that was cleverly intentional.  I was ultra-pumped to pull the extended-name Hyde 1938 No. 6 Sherry Cask Finish Black Label Special Reserve Irish Whiskey (phew) out of the calendar tonight, for two reasons:  (1) after I have (politely) campaigned for years to get more global representation in the KWM Whisky Advent Calendar, 2017 has seen FOUR different countries come out of cardboard box doors in six days; and (2) I absolutely adored the Hyde whiskey from the 2016 calendar, which almost made my top 3 overall from that year.

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Like that bottle (and all of Hyde’s lineup), this one sees time in two different kinds of barrels, starting out in bourbon casks before finishing in my nemesis, Oloroso sherry barrels, which lend salty kernel-y complexity to whiskies but also drive me to the point of near-insanity in their ubiquity.  Hyde’s mantra is “It’s all about the wood!” (actual promoted hashtag:  #itsallaboutthewood), which I would readily make fun of were it not for the fact that their website contains the best discussion of the details and effects of wooden barrel maturation I’ve ever seen.  When you walk the talk, I will grant you your double entendre slogan.

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Photo credit:  http://hydewhiskey.ie/the-wood/.  They take wood seriously.

Hyde Irish Whiskey is named after Ireland’s first president, Douglas Hyde, and this “1938” bottling is a tribute to his inauguration year, despite having nothing else at all to do with that calendar year.  It’s a special small release (only 5,000 bottles made, as well as at least 384 mini-Advent bottles) that intriguingly combines an 8 year-old grain whiskey with an 18 YEAR single malt whiskey to make a punching-above-its-weight power blend.  The result smells equally sweet and herbal, part honey and vanilla, part lemongrass and fresh leaves, part nutmeg and eucalyptus and creme caramel.  Fruit shows up in spades as soon as the whiskey hits your tongue, buoyant cantaloupe, kiwi and honeydew, backed by seaweed, Dixie Cup spoons and that same lingering trace of minty greenness.  This is really, really impressive, much more layered than your standard expectation of Irish whiskey and a steal at an $80ish retail price.  Keep the Irish coming!!








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