Terroir

When you meet a vintner or a salesperson these days they will immediately start to effuse about their “terroir.” If you have yet to figure this out, the French came to the conclusion around 1800 that the best wines were made in very particular vineyards for reasons they did not quite understand. They therefore awarded various vineyards classifications like “grand cru classe”. Anyone who has been drinking for more than a decade will be aware that any number of designated “great” vineyards are capable of decades of mistakes, sloth and crappy wine. Yet the story of terroir lives on.

The story becomes even sillier when you consider what are the non-human inputs to wine. They are the the soil, the weather, vine clones, the grapes, and the yeast. In many AOC areas both the clones and the yeast (usually wild, having evolved with the vinyards over the centuries) are specified.

So far so good. Anyone who has spent time around farmers will have heard about the storied quarter section down the road that produces #1 grain when everyone else is lucky to pull animal feed off. There are micro-climates, and particularly well drained or watered pieces of land full of the nutrients for specific crops. However…

Before you swallow the fine fairy tale spun by the salesperson in front of you, remember to ask a few questions. In particular ask:

– Do you notice a particular mineral profile in your wine?
– if so do you irrigate? And what is the water source?
– Do you innoculate the yeast?
– if so how often do adjust the yeast strains? Do you EVER only use one strain on one block of land?
– How often do you change clones?
– Is this the same clone grown in 1970? 1990?

The attentive reader will know why I’m a cynic. If you irrigate, your mineral profile is from the river or the well from which you pump. If you innoculate you can change the flavour profile of your wine from year to year. And when you change clones you are effectively changing your terroior.

The number of vineyards I come across that can make the terroir claim with a straight face are less than 10 per cent and probably less than 1 per cent. Call me about your terroir when you can answer the above questions without turning red.

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Whisky Age

bridges laphroaigI recently tried a bottle of Laphroaig Quarter Cask. It struck me as strange in that it had no date statement, as is usual in single malts. I guessed that the use of a smaller volume cask resulted in faster aging. Here’s what the brand manager responded.

If you’re a scotch drinker, and somebody who chases the big number (18+) scotches you need to read this as it may change your viewpoint.

Here’s the unedited correspondence:

Good afternoon James,

I hope you are well.

I was able to get in touch with Laphroaig North American Brand Ambassador Simon Brooking to have your Laphroaig Quarter Cask questions answered.

Please see below and confirm whether or not you have any further questions. Thank you!

Best,
Christina

Here is your original question:
“What is going on with the lack of aging for the Quarter Cask? Given that Laphroaig gives the age of their other whiskies; and given that this is normal even in blended scotch; why aren’t they disclosing that info for the Quarter Cask (as using smaller barrels exposes the spirit to more oaking and therefore will accelerate the “aging” process?”).”

Here is Simon’s reply:

Dear James,

Thanks for your interest in the aging process of Laphroaig .
As you point out Laphroaig Quarter Cask does not include an age statement (NAS). The NAS bottling is an industry wide trend to deal with the popularity and growing demand for single malt Scotches. In order to explain NAS whiskies, it is important to understand bottling whiskies with age statements.

According to the law, the age on a bottle of single malt Scotch is the age of the youngest whiskies that have gone into the bottling. For example, Laphroaig 10 Year as well as it being the No. 1 selling Islay single malt, Laphroaig 10 Year is a marriage of 10 yr, 11 yr, 12 yr and perhaps 13 yr old Laphroaig whisky. The century old tradition of marrying different barrels from different years is done to maintain the consistency of flavour.

As you know, aging in wood is not an exact science. It is very difficult to maintain consistency bottling from single barrel to single barrel . That ephemeral element is the beauty and challenge with single malt Scotches. Unless the label states the bottling is a “Single Cask” or “Single Barrel” , all single malts are a marriage (dare I say – a blend?) of those different years. They are technically not Blended Scotches because Blended Scotches are a blend of different single malt barley whiskies from different distilleries plus a neutral grain spirit.

Laphroaig Quarter Casks are a marriage of 5-11 year old Laphroaig in 200 ltr Maker’s Mark bourbon barrels . All the different aged whiskies are then married and then the liquid is put into 125 ltr “quarter casks” for up to an additional 8 months. The smaller quarter casks create more contact with wood to whisky so you get an oakier quality to the Laphraoig and not as smoky. If we put the age statement on the Laphroaig Quarter Cask we would have to call it a 5 Year Old! The difference is this – we are not bottling to a year we are bottling to a flavour profile which is exactly how aged single malt Scotches are bottled today as well.

Also, Laphroaig Quarter Cask is not new. It has been in the market almost 10 years now and is our second biggest selling expression. One of our newer expressions is Laphroaig Triple Wood. It is an extension of Quarter Cask. After the whisky has spent those months in the quarter casks all the whisky is married and the put into an oloroso sherry cask for an additional 2 years. Laphroaig Triple Wood adds elements of sherry sweetness, dried fruits, apricots and plums etc..

My recommendation is to try the whiskies…(all of them) to better understand the unique flavours of each bottling and find the one that’s right for you.

All the best,
Simon

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Spanish Rice Casserole

I was at a potluck with a few members of the Saskatchewan Indigenous Writers Circle the other night and I brought a casserole I’m quite fond of. A couple of members wanted the recipe so here is a) the easy version, b) the notes, and c) the version as served.

The basic version is dead easy.

Brown 3/4 to 1 pound pork sausage.
Fry to golden 1 medium to large yellow onion.
Add crushed clove of garlic one minute before removing from heat.
When onions are done stir in one half cup rice.
Add all of the above to a casserole dish after cutting sausage into bite size pieces.
Deglaze the frying pan with a cup of beer.
Add beer to casserole dish.
Add one cup chicken broth or home made stock to dish.
Add one or two bay leaves.
Cover and bake about an hour, 300 degree oven.
Remove from oven and stir in one 14 oz. can diced or pureed tomato
Add a pinch of crumbled saffron threads, and another pinch of thyme.
Return uncovered to 350 degree oven until no fluid remains in bottom of dish.
Remove from oven and stir in one cup shredded parmesan cheese.
Serve.

Notes

1. I usually use breakfast pork sausages. Chorizo, spicier sausages are also a good choice.
2. I usually use brown rice which adds considerably to the cooking time. You can reduce cooking time by not stirring the rice in the frying onions.
3. I use whatever beer is handy up to and including Lab Light (Gasp!). It tastes best with either a dark ale or a very sharp pilsner. (E.G. Pilsner Urquell)
4. I use either home made stock or a cup of Campbells or some other commercial chicken broth.
5. When in a rush, I brown the sausages and onions seperately (different heat settings) dump ALL of the ingredients into a casserole dish and bake at 350, about 1.5 hrs., until no visible fluid on the bottom of the dish. This is VERY EASY and quite tasty.
6. I hand grate parmesan reggiano and a cup is only about 50 to 60 grams. Commercially pregrated cheese is denser and much saltier. If you use commercial product I would add NO salt until ready to serve, and taste it first.

As Served

375 g. Johnsonville Pork breakfast sausages
1/2 cup wild rice
2 and 1/2 yellow onions (using up onions in fridge)
1 clove garlic
1 cup home made stock
1 cup Best Bitter (Northhampton Brewing, NB)
1 pinch saffron (crumbled between thumb and forefinger)… I forgot the thyme
3 tiny bay leaves
1 can 398 Ml. Unico Pezzetoni tomatoes diced
The rind of a wedge of parmesan, grated (The old dry stuff tastes great when warmed)
I added salt and pepper to taste when done.
I cooked it about 2 hrs at 300 and one hour at 375. Wild rice is a bit unpredictable in casseroles I find.

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The John Gormley Eggnog Recipe

As I said on the air today, I make this for myself using half the sugar, and skim milk. Dial in the variables to suit yourself. Also shaved dark chocolate on top is a nice touch. As is Fee Bros. Mint Bitters.

The original recipe

A couple of great suggestions from callers

The “Low Cal” and singeton version.

People as about the calories for the original recipe, somewhere between 1500 – 1600 total, call it 400 a serving. If you substitute 10%BF cream you save about 70 calories a serving. If you use skim you save over 100 per serving.

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The Wine Condom – a perfect solution

Today I found the perfect solution to several problems simultaneously. Best of all, unlike my usual perfect solutions, this one is affordable.

Meet the Wine Condom.

Wine Condom

Wine Condom

Cheekily named after its inspiration, it comes in a box of 10 with suitable instructions, for those of us unfamiliar with condom usage.

It is as you’d imagine a size extra-small, unlubricated condom. Once unrolled over the top of an open bottle it seals drip free. (As all good condoms must do.)

Bottle with condom attached

Bottle with condom attached

This allows for two things, both important in the endless fight for a foodie’s fridge space. Firstly you can store you bottle on the side without worrying your Petrus will be decanted overnight on to your lettuce. Secondly, should you wish to store it upright there is no height added to the bottle as there is with most stoppers including a cork. Also, although there is air in the bottle this is also an air tight seal which should slow oxygenation slightly.

Bottle with Condom partly unrolled

Bottle with Condom partly unrolled

I’d guess they’re reusable but at $10 for 10 I doubt if I’ll worry about that too much. Great product at a great price. A must for every wine drinker!

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