Monthly Archives: May 2014

Granted!

It’s never too late to start a new career. William Grant was already 50 years old when, in 1886, he built the Glenfiddich distillery in Dufftown. William Grant & Sons is now the largest and one of the few remaining family owned blended Scotch whisky companies. From humble beginnings do such empires grow; Grants now produces 5M bottles a year and is the world’s third largest producer of Scotch whisky, distilling some of the world’s leading brands including Glenfiddich Single Malt Scotch Whisky (the world’s number one single malt), Grant’s Blended Scotch Whisky (the world’s number four Scotch) and The Balvenie range of single malts as well as other premium spirits including Hendrick’s Gin, Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum and has recently acquired Tullamore Dew Irish Whiskey.

The Glenfiddich Distillery at Dufftown

The Glenfiddich Distillery at Dufftown

The site at Dufftown was chosen because of the water from the nearby Robbie Dhu spring, still used today in the production and cutting of the whisky. Like Bordeaux, whisky is all about the blend; whereas Bordeaux blends varietals and plots each vintage to create the best wine possible, Whisky blending is all about consistency.  For example the Grants Family Reserve blend uses 25 different whiskies to maintain this consistency. Brian Kinsman is only the 6th master blender to work at Grants and he was trained with the 5th, again consistency. He has been with the company for 17 years, although you wouldn’t know it to look at him; whisky obviously has similar anti ageing properties to Red Bordeaux!

The beautiful copper stills at Glenfiddich

The beautiful copper stills at Glenfiddich

This notion of consistency is important to the family. The 5th generation are now running this, the largest family owned spirits company in Scotland. They are justly proud of this heritage and it is central to their philosophy, reflected in their commitment to quality, their attention to detail, and a policy of reinvestment not just in their products and in the place but in their staff. It gives them a long-term view and a respect for sustainability.

 

Kirsten Grant Meikle - one of the 5th generation of Grants to work for the company

Kirsten Grant Meikle – one of the members of the 5th generation of Grants to work for the company                                    Photo Georgia Sichel

 

But nobody is taking anything for granted here, respect for tradition hasn’t stopped innovation, or perhaps it’s the spirit of William Grant that encourages it.
 Until 1963, everything produced in Scotland was blended and even now, 90% of Scotch Whisky is blended. Glenfiddich was the first ever single malt, it was also the first whisky to offer cask finishes in 2001 and they were the first distillery to open their doors to the public in 1969.

They now welcome over 100k visitors every year to discover the distillery and Malt Barn bar and restaurant that serves local specialties (that includes locally made Haggis).

 They are constantly re investing.

We were lucky enough to be hosted at Torrin, a beautifully renovated old workers’ cottage overlooking their smaller neighbouring Balvenie Distillery. Local workers using local products have created a home here that perfectly reflects their notions of hospitality and sustainability; particularly the talents of master carpenter Paul Hodgkiss.

Torrin through the black trees

Torrin through the black trees

The Auld Alliance is a theme I’ve touched on before, unsurprisingly, as France is one of the largest Scotch markets in the world, and also as we were there to taste the first batch of a cask aged whisky finished in Cerons (sweet white Bordeaux) casks from Chateau du Seuil. 
As you will know, the use of new oak for ageing in Bordeaux, is an expensive choice, many properties age red wine in up to 30% new oak with some of the top growths using up to 100%. With whisky, things are different. They use casks (they seem to change from barrels to casks when they cross the channel) from all over the world, the thousands of barrels in the ageing warehouses are all shapes, sizes and colours reflecting their origins, be it Spain, Portugal, USA or France, making for a very different impression to the neat and tidy lines of barrels we are used to seeing in Bordeaux cellars.

Artwork made from the variety of casks used at Glenfiddich by one of the artists in residence they welcome each year

Artwork made from the variety of casks used at Glenfiddich by one of the artists in residence they welcome each year

Here, when they talk of new casks, they mean wood that has been previously used for ageing something other than Whisky: wine, sherry, bourbon, etc. whereas for us new oak is, well, new! Some of the casks are aged to order in Xeres for the distillery.

The tasting line up at Glenfiddich

The tasting line up at Glenfiddich

They are one of the rare distilleries to have their own on-site cooperage that allows them to recondition and re-toast barrels. Again, their definition of toast is not the same as ours; they flame their barrels, charring them rather that the mild toasting we are used to. So much so that some of the black char can be seen when they decant the whisky from the barrels during ageing. No photos of that I’m afraid; they were too concerned that a flash of a camera might ignite the strong concentration of alcohol in the air. This angels share, the part of the alcohol that evaporates through the wood during ageing, makes us look like amateurs in Bordeaux when we talk about 5 -10 percent lost to evaporation and racking. After ageing for 40 years there might only be the equivalent of 100 – 120 bottles in a whisky cask. They don’t top up here either, unlike wine, the Whisky will not be adversely affected by oxidation. There is so much Whisky in the air around the distillery it encourages the growth of a specific fungus on the trees that turns them a rather sinister black!

Cerons Sweet Wine Finish Gelnfiddich

Cerons Sweet Wine Finish Gelnfiddich

The parallels and contrasts in wine and whisky production, be it blending, the use of wood or ageing, is fascinating, the choices made reflect a passion for quality, an attention to detail and a respect for heritage that I see in both in Bordeaux and Scotland. It’s a successful blend and the proof is in the tasting, as with the blend of Scotch Whisky and French oak in the Cerons cask finished 20-year-old Glenfiddich; another successful example of the auld alliance.

 

Dining in and out of town.

Saint Julien is a prestigious appellation but it is one of the smallest in the Medoc and the village itself is tiny. It already has a lovely restaurant, appropriately called Le Saint Julien, however, should you want a less formal dining experience there is now a new roadside restaurant called Chez Mémé. It has been open for about a year now, and is the lunch spot for all the local winemakers. It is run by Didier and Nadege, both of who are well known having worked in wine and hospitality in Bordeaux for years. Their warm welcome and the excellent value for money (3 course daily menu for €15) explain the success they now enjoy. As they are open from nine to five, Monday to Thursday and nine to four as well as the evening on Friday and Saturday, you can even call in for breakfast or a coffee between tastings. Be warned it’s best to book ahead.

Chez Mémé

Chez Mémé

On an altogether bigger scale, on the right bank, Chateau La Dominique, Grand Cru of Saint Emilion, has just opened a roof-top restaurant ‘La Terrasse Rouge’ overlooking the vines of the chateau and neighbouring Pomerol. Run by the team from popular Brasserie Bordelaise in Bordeaux you can see them at work in the open kitchen and bar. The atmosphere is very much a brasserie and the food is simple, generous and classic french. They too are open as of 9.30 for a vigneron breakfast of cold cuts and fresh bread – the perfect way to set you up for a morning of tasting. The large terrace is built over the impressive new barrel and fermentation cellars of the chateau and is decorated with thousands of red glass pebbles, designed to look like the top of a vat in fermentation.

La Terrasse Rouge

La Terrasse Rouge – don’t fall in!

When you are in town try  Garopapilles the brand new wine shop and restaurant just opened by chef Tanguy Laviale. Tanguy knows all about wine and about food; he was previously the private chef at classified growth Chateau Haut Bailly in Pessac Leognan. It’s a great concept; open at lunchtime Tuesday through Friday, and evenings on Thursday and Friday. At other times they make the small (20 covers) restaurant  available for small private groups for hands on food and wine tasting events, either with his sommelier who selects the wines for the shop or bring your own wines (it’s already a favorite haunt of the wine trade).  You walk through the wine shop into the restaurant with its open kitchen and small private terrace (where they grow their own herbs too).

Seasonal fare from Tanguy Laviale

Seasonal fare from Tanguy Laviale

The lunchtime menu of the day is created from whatever appeals to Tanguy in the market that morning. His cuisine is a wonderful expression of classic local ingredients with his own personal twist, accompanied by friendly service and a great wine selection, not just from Bordeaux. Evenings offer a 5-course menu. Check on line or follow on Facebook for more information about his themed tasting evenings.

Garopapilles

Garopapilles

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wine Time.

Tradition has it Bordeaux wines are best serve with food, but that does not mean it has to be a formal dinner or lunch. To prove the point Chateaux in Bordeaux are now thinking outside the box and offering visitors the chance to taste their wines in a more relaxed atmosphere.

I mentioned in a previous post that Les Medocaines will offer you breakfast before tasting on a Sunday morning and for the summer Chateau Pape Clement, a classified growth in the Graves, is offering a series of themed brunches. Pape Clement is known for its wine tourism, with its Chateau bedrooms available for guests, as well as tasting rooms and cellars.  It is effectively an urban vineyard, a small green oasis in the middle of the Bordeaux suburbs, so perfectly placed to invite city dwellers over. The next brunch will take place on the 15th June with a fruit theme serving a selection of fruit juices and jams produced by Alain Milliat each one chosen to highlight the fruit aromas associated with the Château wines such as peaches, strawberries, blackcurrants, and much more. The 29th June will be a completely different Japanese theme with a Sushi selection and in July, on the 6th and 27th, the theme will be ‘pink’ so come dressed in pink to sample some rosé or on the 10th August for a seafood buffet.

Brunch at Chateau Pape Clement

Brunch at Chateau Pape Clement

If your prefer your wine in the afternoon, call in to Château Carbonneau in Pessac Sur Dordogne. Here, not far from Saint Emilion, Wilfrid Franc de Ferrière and his New Zealand wife Jacquie have created ‘The Glass house’, a ‘Salon du Thé’ named after the spectacular green house built onto the side of their 19th century chateau.

The Glass House

The Glass House

The chateau has been in Wilfred’s family since the 1930s and it is one of only a few vineyards in Bordeaux that still practise mixed agriculture with their 20 strong herd of Blonde d’Aquitaine cattle as a compliment to the 20 hectares of  ‘Saint Foy de Bordeaux vines producing red, white and rosé wines.

Tea Time

Tea Time

If driving home along the winding lanes after your tasting seems a too risky, book ahead to stay in one of the 5 guest rooms in the Chateau. You can then join fellow guests for dinner prepared by Jacquie in the Chateau dining room and the next morning take breakfast on the South facing terrace or in the conservatory – and you can start all over again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scottish Spa, Fletcher’s Cottage at Archerfield House

Heritage seems to be at the heart of almost every Scottish experience, whether it’s food, whisky, textiles or hospitality. Everywhere you go is a history lesson.

Archerfield House, not far from Edinburgh along the rugged East Lothian coastline, is a good example. The current house dates back to the 17th century but takes it’s name from when the bowmen of King Edward 1st were encamped there in the 13th century. The 7th Earl of Elgin, he of the Elgin marbles, was married to the daughter of the house, Mary Nisbet and the British Prime Minister, Asquith, also rented the house reportedly entertaining Roosevelt here before the D-Day landings of 1944.

Archerfield House

Archerfield House

You too can now enjoy the famous hospitality. Archerfield House is not a hotel, but you can rent the house with its 15 bedrooms. However, should you require something a little more modest, the 55 acre site includes the smaller Boat House or Marine Villa overlooking the Firth of Forth, once home to Robert Louis Stevenson, the lodges overlooking the Dirleton Links Golf course and the Pavilions; a series of self-contained suites around the main house – perfect if it’s just the two of you.

Apart from the history and stunning countryside, the main draw for me was the Fletchers House Spa. My liver needed a revamp in anticipation of a gruelling Whisky tour – more of which later.

A warm welcome

A warm welcome

Built in a walled garden, the spa is inspirational. The welcoming lounge is centred around a wood burning stove where guests receive a healthy carrot and ginger smoothie  served in vintage tea and coffee cups and, after changing in their own private changing rooms, guests are wrapped in warm duvets in one of the 12 treatment rooms. The most unique of these is the Himalayan Salt Room, the walls of which contain over 1500 Himalayan salt bricks. This 250 million year old salt, with its perfect ratio of minerals and trace elements, is known as a cure for respiratory problems. However even if your breathing is just fine, the light shining through these translucent bricks is very soothing.

The Himalayan Salt room

The Himalayan Salt room

If you prefer something a little less esoteric, you could try a seaweed bath in one of the two, stand-alone wooden bath huts, as the spa products on offer include the Irish range Voya made from organic seaweed hand harvested on the North East coast of Ireland. More Celtic heritage.

Having been suitably renewed my liver was ready for the next adventure – watch this space.