Daftmill: an honest dram

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Daftmill Distillery, Fife. Photograph: Calum Rafferty

Since its first whisky was released in 2018, Daftmill has become a cult name, with each bottling selling out almost instantly. As our ballot for the latest release opens, Spirits Specialist Jonny McMillan considers why we can’t get enough of the Fife farm distillery

Generally, when one first discovers that Scotch whisky is undoubtedly the finest liquid on the planet, there are a few years spent in complete fascination. You buy multiple varieties of whisky glass, start posting nothing other than pictures of whisky labels on social media, and, of course, devour the books of Charles MacLean and Dave Broom (not to mention watching Richard Paterson threatening uninitiated drinkers over glass-holding etiquette via YouTube).

Often, however, once one truly pops the bung on the industry, it can be a little disheartening to find that most barley is sourced from further afield than Scottish fields, or that your favourite wee distillery may fill upwards of 200 casks per day on a relentless 24/7 production regime.

In a world where Scotch whisky seems to be drifting away from transparency and lurching towards nebulous marketing ploys, the chronic, final-stage whisky nerds (and I include myself in this description) will always be drawn to honesty amidst the storm of non-age-statement liquid and humongous wooden boxes. And this leads us to why Daftmill has become an instant hit; finally, here is a distillery whose whiskies speak with integrity, sincerity and honesty.

Though Daftmill began production in 2005, there was no garish press release or opening of a plush visitor centre. In fact, over the next decade Daftmill put zero effort into marketing at all, releasing nothing until the spirit was 12 years old. This may well be because their de facto “Head of Marketing” is also the sole distiller, farmer and is in fact the distillery owner. Daftmill is the only family-owned and -operated distillery currently releasing whisky and is a true farm distillery.

Francis Cuthbert on the farm, Fife. Photograph: Calum Rafferty

The distillery is owned by brothers Francis and Iain Cuthbert, with Francis heading up the distillery. It is crucial, however, to note that the distillery is a secondary business to their farm. While the farm is busy through spring and autumn, the distillery is silent; only in the less agriculturally labour-intensive months – across winter and summer – will the distillery come to life. This means that Daftmill barely fills 100 casks per year – making it one of Scotland’s smallest distilleries. While this seasonal production cycle is today unique among distillers, it harks back to the 1800s, when farmers would produce whisky only a few months a year, often as a way to use up, preserve and add value to barley.

The low amount of spirit produced also means that Francis can grow all the barley he requires for distillation on his own land. So far, Daftmill is the only distillery that has released whisky made exclusively with its own farm’s crop.

For those who are lucky enough to visit the distillery in Fife (which is not open to the public), it is instantly clear that Daftmill focuses on quality above all else. Generally showing guests around in his farm overalls, Francis is perhaps the humblest man in the whisky industry. With a sense of humour so dry it’s evaporated, Francis will rarely compliment his own production – and yet clearly puts a dogmatic focus on producing spirit of the highest calibre.

And the result? The beauty of Daftmill’s whisky is in its seasonal and vintage variations. Some years – such as 2006 and 2007 – come across as vibrant, floral and very fruity drams, while 2008 and 2009 display a drier, sometimes herbaceous note. And yet there is a certainly a common distillery character running throughout.

Daftmill’s only downside is that the tiny output means its whiskies often sell out on the day of release. Progressive initiatives, however, such as their partnership with The Whisky Bars of Scotland, are proof of Francis’s determination that their whisky will reach the hands of those who want to drink it.

For me, Daftmill is quickly earning its place amongst the “Grands Crus” of Scotch whisky distilleries. I believe in decades to come it will be spoken of in the same breath as Springbank, Glenfarclas and Bowmore – but for now we can certainly agree it’s a good, honest dram.

The ballot for the latest Daftmill release is now closed. You can register interest for future releases here.

Category: Spirits

On the pour: Condrieu

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Every month we highlight one of the wines available to taste in our London Shop. This month it’s the turn of a hedonistic Viognier from its heartland, Condrieu

2018 Condrieu, Côte Chatillon, Domaine Mouton, Rhône 

What is it? The new vintage from the Rhône is now available En Primeur, but this Condrieu is actually here already, offering a first taste of the 2018s. Condrieu produces extraordinary wines from the Viognier grape – exotic and voluptuous whites, the best of which have a thread of saline minerality running through them to temper the hedonism. 

Why’s it different? Jean-Claude Mouton is one of the top growers in the area, working with two distinct sites which produce very different but equally glorious expressions of Viognier. This, the Côte Chatillon, is the more powerful of the two, versus the more elegant Côte Bonnette. There’s a smoky mineral note alongside generous peach fruit, exotic florals, spice and candied peel on the nose, while the palate has the grape’s signature viscosity. It’s luxurious, but mouth-wateringly fresh with a long, saline finish. 

What should I eat with it? Sweeter shellfish – think langoustine, king prawns and lobster – would be superb. Recipes with gentle, aromatic spice would complement the wine’s exoticism, especially if there’s a fruity element, such as a Thai prawn mango salad, or pork and peach skewers. In fact, our Head Chef’s coronation chicken would be an excellent partner. 

How much? £4 for a taste, £50 for a bottle 

Drop into our London Shop at 63 Pall Mall to taste it for yourself. 

Category: Rhône Wine

Bordeaux 2019: prospects and potential

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Photograph: Jason Lowe

Later this month our team will be heading to Bordeaux for their first taste of the 2019 vintage En Primeur. Here our Wine Director Mark Pardoe MW lays out what to expect from the wines

The runes for the 2019 vintage are very promising. The top line is that the region has produced a fine quality crop in good quantity, with high levels of ripeness and a more evident freshness than in 2018 – but the growing season was not without its challenges. How these conditions affected individual properties, and how the properties responded to them, will help us frame our opinions when we begin our tastings at the end of the month.

As is becoming common for the region, Bordeaux had to endure periods of intense heat and drought, but both were eventually mostly mitigated by moderating weather later in the season. If 2017 was the year of the spring frosts and 2018’s hallmark was the vicious late spring mildew, then 2019’s cross to bear was the tail of Hurricane Miguel, bringing cold and rainy weather during flowering in June, although there was a bit of frost in the outlying districts. Flowering is badly affected by cool weather and rain, resulting in coulure – where a grape doesn’t develop (caused by wet conditions), and millerandage – where grapes develop unevenly in size (caused by cold weather). Both were widespread in Bordeaux in 2019, although, in truth, coulure can sometimes be a benefit, reducing yields, and millerandage is not an issue if there is careful sorting at harvest.

Again in 2019, Bordeaux’s summer was hot. There were two periods of extreme heat at the end of June and in July, which brought the now regular challenges of hydric stress and the risk of burnt grapes. The former was alleviated for some by 25mm of rain at the end of July. Under these conditions, it is the older vines with deeper roots and vineyards on more water-retentive soils (ie those with more clay) that do best.

As the drought slowed maturation, the harvest dates became more aligned to what used to be thought of as normal, with the Merlot being picked mid- to late September and Cabernets well into October. The weather held fine and warm all through harvest, and picking dates could be chosen without any pressure. Everything was in before the weather finally broke in mid-October. It is possible that it is this more normal hang-time that has endowed the wines with the year’s fresher aspect. The volumes are in line with the 10-year average at 5.1 million hectolitres, just below 2018, which is a little surprising given the difficult flowering – an interesting paradox that may merit further analysis in situ.

Overall the feeling about quality is very positive. Marie-Hélène Dussech of Château Brane-Cantenac declares it a year for Cabernet Sauvignon on the best terroirs, but is cautious about the effect of the drought elsewhere. At Beau-Séjour Bécot in St Emilion, Juliette Bécot feels this is a very important year, with her deep limestone sales adding a racy quality to an increasingly elegant vintage, and commented on the disparity between the short vegetative cycle of her Merlots compared to her Cabernets. In neighbouring Pomerol, Marielle Cazaux of La Conseillante finds it hard to believe she has a better wine than her already special 2018. This vintage, she thinks, has the richness of 2018 and the purity of 2016. With his négociant hat on, Charlie Sichel wisely observes that the more attentive viticulturalists will have performed well. Attention to detail was crucial.

Follow all our coverage of the vintage here.

Category: Bordeaux Wine

Rhône 2018: where to find value

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Photograph: Jason Lowe

Look beyond the Rhône’s most famous names and appellations to find serious value, says our Buyer Fiona Hayes. Here, she offers her tips on wines that offer serious quality at much less serious prices

I believe that it is always possible to find value in any region. We all have different interpretations of what “value” actually means, but the wines I have selected below demonstrate that you can still drink affordable, everyday wines from the Rhône. Most importantly, they don’t need to be cellared for years before being enjoyed. If you deviate just a little from the well-trodden track – of well-known producers or famous appellations, you will be justly rewarded.

Biodynamic pioneers

This holistic as well as ecological approach to viticulture, first spoken about by philosopher Rudolph Steiner in the early 1920s is becoming increasingly more common amongst winemakers. Although some of the practices involved may seem rather far-fetched (such as burying a cow horn filled with manure for six months), some of the most famous wine estates in the world are adopting biodynamic principles. Over the last 10 years more vignerons in the Rhône have been embracing biodynamics, but Domaine la Cabotte and Domaine de Marcoux were converted long before then and are well worth exploring.

2018 Côtes du Rhône Villages Rouge, Massif d’Uchaux Garance, Domaine la Cabotte: Full of black cherry, redcurrant and violet aromas, this Côtes du Rhône has a supple core of fruit with fine-grained tannins.

2018 Lirac, La Lorentine, Domaine de Marcoux: From the little-known village of Lirac, this is rich and inky, approachable with attractive blackberry and dark cherry supported by garrigue and sweet spice.

Ripe and ready

Fine wine isn’t always better with age. Some styles and grape varieties are really meant to be consumed when they are young, fresh and vibrant. Condrieu, for instance, makes some of the best white wines in the world, but I would certainly recommend opening these wines within a few years. There are also certain styles that are more accessible in their youth, such as a Côtes du Rhône; their juicier fruit profile and integrated tannin structure is far more approachable after a year or two than those from nearby Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Having said that, choose your growers and wines well and you won’t be disappointed in the ageing potential of some of these “lesser” wines.

2018 Viognier, Collines Rhodaniennes, Domaine Mouton: This entry-level bottling comes from one of Condrieu’s top growers, offering a slightly lighter style of this typically voluptuous region.

2018 Côtes du Rhône, Visan, Garrigues, Domaine Dieu-le-Fit: Violets, lavender and herbs fill the nose, leading to a juicy palate that nevertheless has the backbone for a stint in the cellar.

Franck Balthazar in Cornas. Photograph: Jason Lowe

Family first

We are proud to be a family business and whenever possible, we are always grateful at the synergy of being able to work with family-run wineries. In the same way that the ethos behind shopping locally and supporting smaller businesses is so important to many of us today, so are the relationships we forge with smaller producers. They are relying on us to tell our valued customers about their wines, their story, rather than being lost on some supermarket shelf.

2018 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Rouge, Domaine des Saumades: This tiny operation produces Châteauneuf-du-Pape of extraordinary complexity. Available only in minute quantities after a tricky vintage for Grenache (which normally forms 100% of the blend here), this is layered with plum, violet, bramble fruit and sweet spice.

2018 Côtes du Rhône, Domaine Franck Balthazar: Franck Balthazar makes top-tier Cornas, and his Côtes du Rhône offers incredible value, as well as an introduction to his style. A juicy core of fruit is complemented by powdery tannins and herbal complexity.

Northern soul

The North accounts for a mere 5% of the Rhône’s total wine production. Volumes in the North are more limited due to its size, as well as its steeper aspects compared to the South. Its cooler temperatures, higher rainfall and rockier terroir are in stark contrast to the landscape further south. Helped in part by its dominance of Syrah and Viognier, the wines have a different character and soul. The wines from the North can command eye-watering prices due to their scarcity, but look to earlier-drinking styles from St Joseph and Crozes-Hermitage for a seriously good deal.

2018 St Joseph Blanc, Domaine Pierre Gaillard: This is a really exciting wine – the pithy grapefruit and salinity of the palate contrasting with a sensuous nose of peach, orange blossom and candied peel.

2018 Crozes-Hermitage, Les Trois Chênes, Domaine Emmanuel Darnaud: From three different plots, this is vivid in colour and aroma. A rich, juicy core is complemented by firm tannins and savoury notes.

Read more about Rhône 2018 here, or shop our full range En Primeur on bbr.com

Category: Rhône Wine