Some people think that certain categories of libations are strictly seasonal delights. They believe most commonly that the so-called "brown" spirits, such as brandy and whiskey, should be served only when the weather’s cold and that the traditional "white" spirits, like gin and vodka, should be enjoyed solely in the year’s warmer months. I say, don’t be restricted, guided or inhibited by out-of-date beliefs. The world has changed and, with it, rigid views about what to drink and when to drink it have crumbled. Savvy spirits drinkers consume their favorite libations all year long and are not bound by antiquated axioms. Why not enjoy a single malt Scotch or XO Cognac in April when the weather’s becoming more moderate and the days are getting progressively longer?
To that end, I’m offering for your springtime pleasure a sterling array of fine French brandy and Scottish whisky. The brandy standout in this edition of the Spirits Buying Guide is the elegant Hine XO Fine Champagne Cognac, which used to be called Hine Antique. The designation of "Fine Champagne" means that the content is comprised of at least 50 percent Grande Champagne, with the balance hailing from Petite Champagne. The illustrious Champagnes are the two finest vineyard districts within the demarcated brandy region of Cognac.
As far as the Scotch whiskies go, I’m introducing some new "independent merchant" bottlings of single malt whisky. These special limited quantity offerings, which always cite the originating malt distillery on the label, are prepared and marketed by companies that have nothing to do with the distilleries. They simply purchase barrels of mature single malts from brokers, then bottle and identify the whiskies under their own label. This month, we have exciting new offerings from Murray McDavid and Duncan Taylor & Company. In the Scotch whisky section, I also review a few old favorite single malts that have been in the marketplace for a while—Cragganmore 12, Dalwhinnie 15, Talisker 10, Lagavulin 16 and Oban 14.
Longer evenings, daffodils, baseball’s opening day, the magical transformation of winter changing into spring. What more appropriate time for a chestnut-colored single malt whisky or Cognac?
Cheers and bottoms up,
—F. Paul Pacult
SUPERB (90-95)/HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Hine XO Fine Champagne Cognac (France; Cruzan, Ltd., West Palm Beach, FL); 40% abv, $100. Displays sophisticated aromas of lanolin, cream, light oaky resin, pine nuts, light caramel (like English toffee) and the early stages of rancio. Palate entry is creamy, medium-rich and sweet; at midpalate, the flavor profile expands to include sautéed almonds, bacon fat and sweet oak. Ends in a lush, sweet style.
VERY GOOD (85-89)/RECOMMENDED
Delamain Vesper Grande Champagne Cognac (France; Kobrand Corporation; New York, NY); 40% abv, $125. Lots of wood in the initial whiffs, then with aeration a gentle grapiness comes to dominate. Palate entry is graceful, semisweet and moderately candied; at midpalate, there’s a pleasing juiciness/fruitiness that’s alluring; I even note a delicate touch of honey in the tail end. Finishes elegantly.
Hine Rare VSOP Fine Champagne Cognac (France; Cruzan, Ltd., West Palm Beach, FL); 40% abv, $40. Mild, light aromas of tropical fruit and parchment. Palate entry displays a nut-like opening taste, then at midpalate there’s an expanding profile that includes oaky vanillin, young spirit and pear drop. Concludes austere and thin.
VERY GOOD (85-89)/RECOMMENDED
Larressingle XO Grande Reserve Armagnac (France; Kobrand Corporation, New York, NY); 43% abv, $80. Lovely, burnt umber/honey color—excellent purity. The opening nosings detect concentrated, nutty scents followed by dry, cardboard, parchment, and brown rice-like aromas; the palate entry is rich, honey-like and sweet. The midpalate gushes with piquant taste of nuts, nougat, dark caramel and dark honey; ends a bit too mossy/earthy/ mushroomy and sweet.
SUPERB (90-95)/HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Bruichladdich Legacy II 37 Year Old 1965 Islay Single Malt Whisky (Scotland; Winebow, Inc., New York, NY); 41.8% abv, $470. Aroma offers ripe, fruity notes of guava, light caramel, peach, banana, spice and maple; a totally integrated bouquet. Palate entry displays a honeyed richness that coats the tongue; at the oily midpalate, semisweet tastes of pipe tobacco, marzipan, cocoa and lanolin delight the taste buds. Concludes a touch smoky, warm and semisweet.
Cragganmore 12 Year Old Speyside Single Malt Whisky (Scotland; Schieffelin & Somerset, New York, NY); 40% abv, $39. The succulent aroma develops with aeration in the sweet forms of barley, cream, light caramel, and a trace of tropical fruit. Palate entry is round, borderline plump, breakfast-cereal sweet, and honeyed; at midpalate, there’s a slightly oily peat smoke. Sweetly concludes with the focus on the malt. Best Buy.
Duncan Taylor & Co., Ltd. Benriach 1968 Cask 2592 Speyside Single Malt Whisky (Scotland; Preiss Imports, Ramona, CA); 48% abv, $240. The vibrant, dry aroma is briary and floral; extra time presents the more delicate, heathery/flowery/ fruity side of the district with style and elegance. Palate entry is dry, minerally and totally focuses on the malt; the later flavor stages introduce maple, vanilla bean, coffee and black pepper. Concludes gently and politely in a soft, warm wave of malty flavor.
Duncan Taylor & Co., Ltd. Bruichladdich 1969 Cask 2331 Islay Single Malt Whisky (Scotland; Preiss Imports, Ramona, CA); 46.8% abv, $270. The early nose is charged with woody resin, nougat and honey; aeration adds more aromatic dimension in the forms of tobacco leaf, sea breeze and blue cheese. Palate entry is massive and concentrated; at midpalate, intense, sweet and buttery/oily tastes combine with dark honey, oloroso Sherry, marzipan, coconut, cocoa and dark toffee to make a lovely flavor experience. Ends sweetly. Find and buy.
Duncan Taylor & Co., Ltd. Glen Grant 1968 Cask 3882 Speyside Single Malt Whisky (Scotland; Preiss Imports, Ramona, CA); 56.1% abv, $230. The higher alcohol content is immediately apparent in the early whiffs as are unusual (for the distillery) scents of sulphur/burnt matches, saddle leather and candied almond. Palate entry is sweet, sugary and intensely honeyed; the midpalate stage continues the honey, brown sugar, hard candy and dark caramel theme. Finishes fiery on the tongue, concentrated. When room temperature mineral water is added, this malt comes alive.
Lagavulin 16 Year Old Islay Single Malt Whisky (Scotland; Schieffelin & Somerset, New York, NY); 43% abv, $55. Soy sauce, olive brine, peat, honey, oloroso Sherry, brewer’s yeast, bread dough, barley malt and cigar smoke in the bouquet. The flavor that magically includes the innate intense peatiness of Islay malts and the masterly employment of oak barrels phase defines "classy Islay." Concludes sweetly, without sacrificing the tangy, astringent peatiness that is inherent. Gorgeous. Best Buy.
VERY GOOD (85-89)/RECOMMENDED
Bruichladdich Vintage 1973 Limited Edition Islay Single Malt Whisky (Scotland; Winebow, Inc., New York, NY); 40.2% abv, $285. Offers gently sweet, moderately nutty scents of banana bread, just-cracked walnuts, grass, hay and light brine. The litheness found in the nose doesn’t prepare you for the alluring firmness and spirity punch of the palate entry; by midpalate, there’s a lovely honey/toffee quality that’s succulent. Ends politely and moderately sweet and honeyed.
Dalwhinnie 15 Year Old Central Highlands Single Malt Whisky (Scotland; Schieffelin & Somerset, New York, NY); 43% abv, $42. Opening aroma is assertive, dry, with peppery scents of barley husk, grainy oil and cracked wheat wafer; seven more minutes bring out a mildly sweeter, slightly vanilla bean, brown rice-like side. Palate entry is pleasantly prickly, textured and moderately sweet; at midpalate, the taste profile turns stunningly sappy and resin-like. Finishes dry to off-dry and keenly resiny. Best Buy.
Duncan Taylor & Co., Ltd. Bunnahabhain 1967 Cask 3326 Islay Single Malt Whisky (Scotland; Preiss Imports, Ramona, CA); 40.2% abv, $260. Displays a strong, mildly salty sea breeze aroma plus traces of mild peat, smoke and freshly mown hay. Palate entry taste is off-dry, grassy, moderately briny and delicate; by midpalate, the flavor profile shifts gears by going sweeter, more caramel-like and malty. Ends up on the sweeter side of the scale.
Murray McDavid Mission Series II Caperdonich 1968 Speyside Single Malt Whisky (Scotland; Murray McDavid Imports, Chicago, IL); 46% abv, $180. The aroma is assertive, vegetal, and damn near prickly in the nasal cavity at first, then with aeration it turns malty, biscuity and leathery in the final stages. Palate entry is sweet, concentrated, honeyed and caramel-like; the richness found in the entry continues at midpalate as the taste profile goes creamy, fatty and pleasantly oily. Finishes semisweet, malty, oily and warm in the throat.
Murray McDavid Mission Series II Glen Grant 1969 Speyside Single Malt Whisky (Scotland; Murray McDavid Imports, Chicago, IL); 46% abv, $180. The early stage aroma reeks of malt, porridge and heather; aeration brings out appealing scents of pears, peaches, brown sugar, honey and almond butter. Palate entry shows firm and slightly oily, light toffee, nougat tastes; by midpalate the flavor profile offers off-dry to medium-sweet tastes of oaky vanilla, maple, marzipan and oloroso Sherry. Concludes with a rush of toffee/maple.
Murray McDavid Mission Series II Strathisla 1976 Speyside Single Malt Whisky (Scotland; Murray McDavid Imports, Chicago, IL); 46% abv, $180. The aroma displays nut-like, nougaty scents mixed with resiny traces of grain husk and oak. Palate entry is sweet and biscuity, with traces of cocoa and vanilla bean; at midpalate, the taste features round, oaky, even buttery flavors of sherry, milk chocolate and honey. Finishes well in a medium-rich, creamy fashion.
Oban 14 Year Old Western Highlands Single Malt Whisky (Scotland; Schieffelin & Somerset, New York, NY); 43% abv, $40. The early aroma is a combination of malt, wood and sea breeze; the later bouquet is a deliciously harmonious, even creamy marriage of maritime atmosphere and malted barley. Palate entry is chock full of biscuity, peaty, tobacco leaf tastes; the midpalate stage is sweet. Concludes strong, firm, slightly hot, pungent and briny. The best-kept secret of Scotland’s Western Highlands. Best Buy.
Talisker 10 Year Old Skye Single Malt Whisky (Scotland; Schieffelin & Somerset, New York, NY); 45.8% abv, $48. The piquant nose offers immediate and stunning notes of sea salt, peat reek and black pepper; aeration time encourages deeper aromas including malt and almond. Palate entry is malty sweet and nicely peppery, then at midpalate the peaty iodine character kicks in. Finishes well as it gives off fiery, peaty/tobacco-like flavors. Best Buy.
Duncan Taylor & Co., Ltd. Glenlivet 1968 Cask 2844 Speyside Single Malt Whisky (Scotland; Preiss Imports, Ramona, CA); 43.1% abv, $230. The aroma is ethereal, astringent, and spirity. Palate entry is properly flowery (heather with a trace of rose petal) and mildly fruity (green apple, pears); the midpalate is moderately sweet, malty and floral, but there’s a fundamental hollowness to this edition. Finishes malty sweet.
Murray McDavid Mission Series II Glenlossie 1975 Speyside Single Malt Whisky (Scotland; Murray McDavid Imports, Chicago, IL); 46% abv, $180. Early on, there’s a strongly vegetal, earthy aroma that’s reminiscent of beeswax; further time gives rise to mildly pleasant scents of rubber eraser, tobacco leaf, light peat, cork and worn saddle leather. Palate entry shows a firmness and integration lacking in the bouquet; by midpalate, the taste profile displays a moderately toasty, malty, semisweet, if downward spiralling direction. Ends up malty sweet, simple and basically superficial.
Murray McDavid Mission Series II Linkwood 1973 Speyside Single Malt Whisky (Scotland; Murray McDavid Imports, Chicago, IL); 46% abv, $180. Aromas take time to rev up; following seven minutes of air contact, the dormant bouquet begins to emit muted scents that include breakfast cereal, light toffee and grapes. Palate entry is moderately oily, sharp, astringent and cereal-like; by midpalate, there’s more integrated, bittersweet flavors of old wood and oak resin, but also boiled cabbage, tired peat and deep-roasted malt. Concludes bitterly and hot in an astringent, resiny fashion.