Friday, March 7, 2008

Tastefully Done, Again

I was recently the recipient of a most thoughtful and satisfying charitable gift – an RSVP to a hyper-exclusive, 50 person list tasting party hosted by UrbanDaddy at a local high brow spa. Though this was not done with my knowledge, I was thankful that my benefactor knew me well enough to sponsor me, and grateful in every sense that I was even considered for inclusion in this avant-garde group. The event featured wine from Tribeca Grill, a menu sampling from Mai House, and the highlight – a tasting of two well aged scotches from the well respected Macallan brand. I learned a fair bit about wine and scotch that day, and finally understood the dynamics of a nose/ palette/ finish analysis of a spirit.

The wine samplings, which were found in the first station upon entry, included a very aromatic red Cotes Du Rhone, and a very satisfying and kicky Shiraz. I found that alone, they were powerful and memorable, particularly for their complexity and full body textures, but neither paired very well with the spicy foods served from Mai House (spicy food tends to assault the palette, making the tongue less prone to appreciating the complexities of more layered wines), which would have been more optimally paired with either a more simple wine (like a Pinot Grigio) or a sweeter wine (like a Riesling) to help cool and contrast. Since we didn’t know the menu ahead of time, I didn’t pick the right wines.

The food was a crab based spring roll, seasoned with black pepper and stuffed with assorted fresh vegetables, and a beef salad with pineapples and a mango chipotle sauce that left the mouth with a slow burn. To be honest, neither was very impressive, but Vietnamese food has always been a bit simple, grassy and bland for my tastes.

The Macallan was the headliner for my evening. As soon as I discovered the presence of it on the menu, I immediately did some research on the scotch genre and the Macallan. Scotch is born of barley, after the barely is forced into germination to increase the yeast yield. It is further refined into wort, which is then added to casks previously used to age and ferment other liquors to bestow their flavor, tannins and color to the mixture, thus bearing scotch whisky.

The Macallans I was privileged enough to sample were the
Fine Oak 21 and the Sherry 18. The Sherry 18 was aged for 18 years in oak casks previously used to blend and ferment sherry. Consequently, the scotch, although good in its own right, was single flavored and very simple to understand. The Fine Oak 21, which I have seen at list prices upwards of $250, was created by combining the scotches aged in an American sherry cask, a European sherry cask, and an American bourbon cask in equal parts. The result – a flavorful, complex spirit, full of berries on the nose and a woody, smoky flavor on the finish. The bourbon gives it the unique taste which contrasts sharply with the immediately noticeable nose of fruit, attributable to the sherry.

Understand, scotch is a hard liquor, fiery on the throat and not easily appreciated by the novice drinker. But once you have acquired the taste and can identify differences in flavors, pour yourself a glass of a fine liquor and sip very, very slowly. Take time to understand and interpret the tastes stimulating your tongue, and identify the undertones that make certain brands vastly more expensive than your run of the mill spirits. Research the brands, how they are made, and even take a few minutes to read tasting notes. There is no shame in embarking on a journey with a guide map. Patience is the key to appreciating any good food, but particularly with spirits.

And, as always,
drink responsibly.

-The UE

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