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I hadn't told you, but after my visit to the north of Scotland in Brora, I stopped off at Alness to wish Richard PATERSON a happy birthday.
Indeed, it is now 50 years since "the nose" has been working at WHYTE AND MACKAY (with among others Whyte & Mackay Blended Scotch Whisky, Isle of Jura and Fettercain) but above all at THE DALMORE here in the Highlands at Alness on the banks of the Cromarty Firth (just opposite the Black Island of Captain Haddock -NDLR-).
I arrive at the distillery created by Alexander Matheson in 1839 in the afternoon.
As always, despite his 50 years of work, I find Richard with his nose in a glass in the warehouse among American, Spanish, Portuguese and even French casks; who knows perhaps he was working on the mysterious Decade of The Dalmore planned for 2021?
He is surrounded by dreamy names: González Byass, Graham's Vintage Port, Domaine Henri Giraud, or terms like Apostoles, Amoroso, Matusalem, Pedro Ximenez (PX for his friends), Tawny Port... I even read Cabernet Sauvignon...
Seeing the arrival of this "French guy", he suggests I go for a walk in the new visitors' centre (completely refurbished for the 180th anniversary of the brand) to compare two 10-year-old versions of the Vintage small batch series planned for the French market: Today it will be No. 8 The DALMORE 2008 Madeira Finish and No. 9 The DALMORE 2009 Vintage Sherry Finish. The battle between island Portugal and the casks of Spanish La Mancha.
Comfortably installed in a club armchair of the most beautiful effect, it serves two glasses with feet engraved with the 12 antlers of the stag (I remind you shot by the chief of the clan Mackenzie to save Alexander III in 1263 -NDLR-).
Two drinks of a beautiful copper-gold colour (perhaps slightly darker for the 2009 version).
While my eyes are already shining at the idea of tasting these two drinks, my host takes the glasses and throws the contents on the carpet in front of the fireplace (according to him, the only way to rid the glass of its impurities).
Telling me that the tasting had just been cut short, he takes the bottles back to refill the glasses! Phew!!!
He then introduces me to the forces at work:
On the right side of the ring (uh of the coffee table) the deer distilled in 2008 aged in first-fill bourbon casks and then in casks of natural sweet Madeira wine.
On the left side, the deer distilled in 2009, also aged in American oak barrels that contained bourbon, then passed through the claws of a barrel of Oloroso sherry.
So what does it look like?
As usual Richard takes his glass and starts a polite discussion with him: "hello! how are you? Fine thank you ! "to give the scents time to leave their imprint in the nose.
Concerning the 2008 VINTAGE Madeira Finish: as you approach the nose of the glass (and before plunging it into it frankly as my host asks), you can detect some wood strawberry scents. Once immersed in the glass, one will notice a certain warmth in the glass. At the first passage, peppery notes appear on one side and liquorice on the other. It takes time to breathe a little air, and on the second occasion a beautiful smell of ripe pear appears. The third time is more pronounced and with its little smoke makes me think of the pipe my grandfather used to smoke but mixed with a hint of ginger and hay.
The 2009 Vintage Sherry Finish is going to be different. In fact, always before plunging your nose into the glass you can detect a very slight smell of smoke. Once it is well inside, however, driven by a degree can be less (42.5% against 46%) and a more frank attack, we discover a slightly caramelized almond smell. The second passage confirms the sweeter nature than the previous one with the arrival of sweet citrus fruits (tangerine). Finally as for the previous one, we will finish this olfactory flight on the smell of barley but this time accompanied by a slightly more tense touch of dark chocolate.
It is Richard's "slainte mhath" that launches the tasting of the first glass. As usual, a great discussion begins with the distillate: "Mùummum Ummummmme mmhhe umumme mmemm, then mmuumme mmee mmuuee and finally on the palate, Ummmmmmuuumm uumuum umm"!
On the palate, while the 2008 Vintage is slightly stronger, it is still light on the palate. On the palate, it has a nice taste of ripe pear but coated with a certain bitterness (perhaps linked to the Madeira wine barrel). But overall the palate is mellow at the beginning of the tasting. After a few seconds, a few peppery notes appear on the front of the tongue (as if they had given the pears time to boast before showing themselves). These peppery notes then wander up and down the palate. They then fade to make way for a large amount of honey.
Once swallowed, the distillate remains in the memories for a long time with a bit of dryness (wine barrel) but above all vanilla aromas and, in my mind, a very light pipe smoke (you know my grandfather's).
The empty glass lets it stagnate with the scent of dried hay.
The 2009 Vintage is softer and mellower on the palate (ahhh the sherry!! ). It begins its journey in the mouth with aromas of Limousin nuts. And like any good walnut, it is accompanied by a beautiful Limousin apple as well. Overall, it is quite sweet. Like its predecessor, it then lets the spiciness of pepper in a little but less markedly. It will seem a little more linear than the latter.
Once swallowed, the apples remain at the top but are accompanied by a stick of liquorice. It is much less dry than the 2008.
The empty glass will also be on the hay but with a hint of vanilla.
In the end, for myself, I might give a little preference to the 2009, which is more "simple" and perhaps a little less tannic. Nevertheless, the 2008 version (also a very good one) has the merit of having an uncommon finish (Portuguese finishes are much more common on Port than on the sweet Madeira wine so cherished by Shakespeare).
As my host's time is very precious, I will let him work and, thanking him, I will continue on my way.
Goodbye sir and happy birthday again!