Each month, we spotlight a different wine or spirit that’s available to taste in our London Shop at 63 Pall Mall. This month, Account Manager Henrietta Gullifer celebrates a very special whisky: the Port Askaig 12-Year-Old Autumn Edition – a delicious and evocative dram, typical of Islay’s finest whiskies.
The Tobermory 25-Year-Old single malt Scotch whisky is the third release in the distillery’s Hebridean Series. At its launch last week, Alexandra Gray de Walden discovered the delights this dram, the Tobermory Distillery and the Isle of Mull have to offer.
A sense of place
Tobermory Distillery is an institution steeped in history. Originally opened in 1798, it has overcome periods of closure and almost, never opened at all. Local kelp merchant, John Sinclair, had his initial application to build the distillery rejected. Thankfully, he didn’t fall at that first hurdle.
We were honoured to be the exclusive retailer of Tobermory’s 25-Year-Old for two weeks. We were, therefore, delighted to host the dram’s official launch in the Sussex Cellar at No.3 St James’s Street on 24th February. Scottish flora graced the dining table and evocative images of the Isle of Mull decked the walls. These arresting pictures were captured by wildlife filmmaker and former Mull resident Gordon Buchanan.
Born and bred on the island, Gordon well remembers the aromas of the fermentation process wafting from the distillery. “It was better than the smell of rotting mackerel coming from the other end of the village” he reminisces. Gordon’s links with Tobermory run deeper than geography and are something of a family affair. His mother was Assistant Manager at the distillery, where she met Gordon’s step-father, then the Distillery Manager. “My brother then became a stillman at Tobermory in the 1990s,” Gordon continues. “I am proud to say that all today’s Tobermory whiskies passed through the copper stills under his watch.” Gordon is now working with Tobermory to promote the island and its amber nectars.
From coast to coast
The hue of Tobermory’s 25-Year-Old whisky is not far removed from that oft-overused descriptor. Its all-natural colour is extracted from the ex-Gonzalez Byass Oloroso Sherry casks in which it is matured. The notes of ocean kelp and sea spray on the palate evoke images of Tobermory’s coastal position. These flavours are no doubt bolstered by the salty sea air of Spain’s coastal Sherry region which these casks once called home.
The 25-Year-Old is the third of five annual releases in Tobermory’s Hebridean Series. Each one is made with liquid from Tobermory’s 15-Year-Old (originally released in 2008) and exhibits the evolution of the dram’s flavours and structures with each passing year. Cinnamon, nuts and caramel jump to the fore on the nose. These three flavours are all associated with the oxidative ageing process of Oloroso Sherry – another obvious clue to this whisky’s maturation vessel. There is a delightfully oily, almost unctuous texture which paves the way for that whisky warmth you might expect.
Purity led production
It is worth noting that this is a non-chill filtered whisky. Many whisky specialists and enthusiasts alike argue that when a whisky is chill filtered, it has a negative and reductive impact on the liquid. It can be thought to remove certain elements from the liquid which would otherwise add to its texture, flavour and sense of place.
As the flavours move through the mid-palate, strong citrus notes present themselves with ripe lemon playing the starring role. This has a beautifully cleansing and refreshing mouth-feel and welcomes the integrated tickles of black pepper and all-spice. The opening sweetness returns on the finish when that initial caramel reappears in a salted guise with suggestions of Caledonian heather-infused honey.
Tobermory: people and place
Julieann Fernandez is Master Distiller at Distell, Tobermory’s parent company. She started her working life in forensics. Clearly with a bent for all things science, she has put this passion (and pride for her national liquid) to excellent use in her work with Tobermory. In art there is science and vice versa.
Anybody who has been lucky enough to visit the village of Tobermory will long recall the happy colours of the houses which line its iconic seafront. Each release in the Hebridean Series is packaged in boxes of a different colour taken, of course, from the village’s architectural palette. Put together on the collector’s shelf, they would make quite the flattering homage to this site.
For a small distillery, Tobermory certainly punches above its weight – and this 25-Year-Old release is no exception.
While many still wines have well-established pairing suggestions – Malbec and steak, Chablis and oysters – sparkling wines aren’t always what spring to mind as an option for food matching. Yet, as our London Shop Manager – and in-house Champagne expert – Edwin Dublin discovered during a dinner hosted in our cellars last month, many Champagnes pair just as wonderfully with food as their still counterparts.
In recent years, Champagne houses have been keen for consumers to see their famed product as an alternative to still wines when matching with food. Indeed, prestige cuvée producers now often launch new vintages in collaboration with Michelin-starred chefs around the world. So, for this event, there was as much interest in this aspect in the room, as there was in the prestige Champagnes themselves.
Starters, fish and classic Champagnes
The evening began in epic style with the 2008 Dom Pérignon. Its characteristic toast-and-brioche notes were beautifully held together by a noticeable (but never harsh) acidity. This was seen by all as the perfect appetiser to begin the evening, with cheese gougères a delicious addition.
We began by playing with the traditional “white wine with fish” pairing. On offer were two Blanc de Blancs Champagnes: the 2010 Dom Ruinart and 1995 Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millénaires. These were paired with a brill in moilée sauce with langoustines.
The contrast in maturity was itself a point of interest. The Charles (the original “Champagne Charlie”) was a reminder of how long great Champagnes can develop and drink for. Its delicate pungency on the nose and light tertiary palate notes danced evocatively with the brill. The Dom Ruinart (named after the uncle of Ruinart’s founder, Dom Ruinart – a colleague of that other famous monk Dom Pérignon – provided a bright foil to the richness of the brill dish, thanks to its relative youth.
A vegetarian course with sparkling
The next course brought us to briny depths, with Leclerc Briant’s 2017 Abyss, Brut Zéro. This artisan producer practises organic and biodynamic viticulture. As part of the team’s ethos, they return this cuvée to the sea for nine months’ post-production ageing in bottle, in a holistic nod to their terroir’s origin.
The bottles’ exterior ends up with barnacles and other marine life growing on them – still present when purchased! We sampled this alongside morels, truffles and white asparagus, a dish that brought out the light salty tang in the champagne alongside its gentle light red and citrus fruit notes.
Rosé Champagnes and the main event
The main course of Iberico pork belly and loin saw us still exploring the depths, with the 2018 Abyss Rosé counterpart to the Brut. This was widely agreed to be a definite “food wine” – which is Leclerc Briant’s intention for most of their Champagnes. Primarily Chardonnay with a portion of red wine that adds colour and fruit, its mineral character with violet top-notes worked particularly well with the loin.
We also enjoyed the Fleur de Miraval ER2 alongside the main course. A collaboration between artisan champagne producer Rodolphe Péters and the Brad Pitt-owned Provence estate Miraval, its more lifted wild strawberry and pomegranate notes proved a stylish match to the sweeter pork belly.
Champagne with cheese
The final course paired two 2013 prestige cuvées, inspired by an esteemed British prime minister and a Tsar respectively: the Pol Roger Sir Winston Churchill, and Louis Roederer’s Cristal. These shared a richness from the late burst of sunshine of this vintage, with the Cristal at this stage reflecting the coolness which preceded this with a mineral, rapier-like core.
Both were excellent foils to a Comté (my favourite Champagne and cheese combination). A Waterloo cheese did marginally favour Cristal, while and a Keen’s Cheddar leant towards the Winston.
This was a suitably flavoursome end to what had been a glorious evening of great Champagnes, all with stories to tell, alongside a beautifully-curated menu that showcased the often-fascinating results of Champagne and food matching.
We regularly run tasting dinners like the one described above, in our cellars at No.3 St James’s Street. Browse a full list of what’s upcoming here.
If you’re interested in more content around food and wine pairing, browse our current articles here.
During his 25 years with Berry Bros. & Rudd, Account Manager Chris Pollington has helped many customers to build their fine wine collections. Here, he tells us about Tuscany’s wine history, how Super Tuscans came to be and why everybody should have a touch of Tuscany in their cellar.
Where it all began
Tuscany is one of Italy’s, indeed the world’s, best wine regions. Its wines were the first to really excite me when I began learning about wine 40 years ago. Before I joined the wine trade 10 years later, I would regularly buy great Chiantis and the odd Super Tuscan for drinking with my brother and my Italian girlfriend – now my wife. As time has gone on, my tastes for wine – Italian wine in particular – have broadened. But Tuscan wines still hold a great place in my affections and, of course, in my wine collection.
Chianti Classico is the oldest quintessential wine region in Tuscany and still produces some of the region’s finest wines. Chianti has always been an area producing good volumes of quaffable wine for early consumption. However, it has also produced more serious reds for lengthy ageing which mature splendidly, in the guise of Chianti Classico Riserva. Over the last 40-50 years, these have been augmented by the rise of the Super Tuscans.
The rise of the Super Tuscan
The origin of the Super Tuscans derives from the limitations of the wine laws when many of the wines were first created in the 1960s, ʼ70s and ʼ80s. At that time, the DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) laws stipulated that Chianti Classico could only be made from a blend of indigenous Tuscan grape varieties and must include white grapes. This had long been the recipe for flask Chianti but was not ideal for creating age worthy wines. To have the best ageing potential , these wines would need to be made from 100% Sangiovese, which was illegal at the time, as was adding any French varietals like the Cabernets, Merlot or Syrah to the blend.
Wines produced in Chianti Classico vineyards, thus falling outside the laws, included Antinori’sTignanello (Sangiovese with Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc), Fontodi’s Flaccianello and Isole e Olena’s Cepparello (both 100% Sangiovese). Thankfully the law has now changed, and 100% Sangiovese wines are allowed by the local wine laws, as are up to 20% of other red grape varieties. White grapes in Chianti Classico are now outlawed.
Away from Chianti Classico, the first Super Tuscan, and possibly the catalyst for all this rebellion, was launched in 1971. It was the 1968 vintage of Sassicaia. Sassicaia was made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc in the Tuscan coastal region of Bolgheri, not previously a wine region at all, so no DOC was applicable. Piero Antinori and his winemaker, Giacomo Tachis were involved in the launch of this wine, inspiring them to plant Cabernet vines in Chianti Classico to use in Tignanello’s first vintage, the 1971. Many age-worthy Super Tuscans were first created in Bolgheri in the 1970s, ʼ80s and ʼ90s with the likes of Grattamacco and Ornellaia joining the party. The Bolgheri DOC was eventually created in the 1990s, as was Sassicaia’s own DOC.
Elsewhere in Tuscany
Further south is Brunello di Montalcino territory. Sangiovese, known locally as Brunello, is responsible for these great, age-worthy wines. First highlighted in the late 19th century, these stunning wines have gained great momentum over the last 30 years, with more and more land going under vine.
The southern Tuscan coast has joined the band too. Fattoria Le Pupille are leading the way with their Morellino di Scansano wines and their own Super Tuscans: the Cabernet-based Saffredi and 100% Sangiovese, Poggio Valente.
Tuscany’s scope in your cellar
When I first started selling wine, Tuscan wines for laying down were few and far between. There was the odd Chianti Classico Riserva, Brunello di Montalcino or Super Tuscan but there is now a huge range of wines from across the region which are age-worthy and eminently deserving of a place in any collector’s cellar.
My own collection includes Chianti Classico Riserva, Brunello di Montalcino and Super Tuscans but there are wines I wish I’d laid down years ago (when they were more affordable). I first tasted wines from the sublime 1985 vintage in the early ʼ90s and indeed I enjoyed a bottle of ʼ85 Tignanello with a take-away pizza in ʼ92 — quite the pairing. Recently, I had the opportunity to taste the stunning 1985 Brunello di Montalcino, La Storica Riserva by Biondi Santi and was enthralled by its layers of delicious flavours.