Alistair MacQueen attends a whisky tasting with a difference at Selfridges’ Corner Restaurant, and receives more of a mindful, than a skinful.
Master distiller Richard Paterson with his latest creation
Weaving my way along the thickened artery of Oxford Street after a peripatetic week of work, I was looking forward to tasting Dalmore’s latest limited edition release, ‘the Quintessence’.
Interestingly, the dictionary definition of the term is ‘refined essence or extract of a substance,’ which is apposite, as this is the first and only single malt whisky in the world to have a unique five red wine cask finish.
Carefully selected by Dalmore’s respected master blender Richard Patterson, it was his decision to split the casks of whisky between five hand-selected casks of Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon from a handful of carefully chosen Californian vineyards.
Before the tasting however, there was to be some cerebral preamble by dedicated ‘mindfulness practitioner’, James Milford (Msc). Once seated, a small dish of raisins were brought out from the kitchen and placed on the tables. James asked us to bring a single raisin up to our noses, examine it, sniff it, think about its journey here today – in fact everything but eat it. The point being of course that, by occupying one’s mind with these vexations, you are able to filter out the white noise of life. I myself found it particularly useful at reducing the sound of a nearby child’s vocal displeasure at his parent’s choice of a Diane von Furstenberg stretch-silk jumpsuit.
Indeed, this mindful approach did have the effect of focusing my thoughts to the task in hand, as opposed to letting my synapses fire constantly with customary, pointless fretting. Finally, after all the musing on the raisin, we were allowed to taste, but not chew it, allowing it to impart its flavours upon our tastebuds, until finally, devouring the hapless morsel.
To seasoned whisky drinkers, this experience would not be unlike the techniques used to appreciate the liquid as we reached for the first of many pourings of the Quintessence.
Again, we were to employ the same techniques of mindfulness when drinking the Dalmore: examining the reflections of buildings floating in its rich bronzed interior, bringing it up to our noses and searching for that assemblage of wines that comprise the dram. The raisin aromas were immediately apparent, but behind that lay a faint hint of blackcurrant. Finally, after much anticipation, we were able to taste it.
After an intense zing to the palate, there lay a 45 per cent abv punch, which plateaued out to impart a mélange of fruit on the tongue: cranberry notes from the Syrah and Zinfandel, hints of marmalade, as well as retaining the classic orange finish that typifies the Dalmore’s unique taste.
Subsequent to the raisin treats, appetites were sated by a delightful Dalmore-infused menu provided by the restaurant’s head chef, Olivier Couillaud. Starting with a wonderful duck liver parfait, complimented by a Dalmore 15 year-old glaze to lather on the accompanying brioche, it was followed by pan-fried venison and black truffle polenta that was married with Dalmore 18 year-old among the unctuous juices from the meat. Capping it off beautifully was a strawberry and pink champagne granite served in a tumbler, and dressed with Dalmore’s superb King Alexander III. A sweet treat indeed.
Suffice to say that votaries of the Dalmore are not going to be disappointed with the Quintessence, and it’s a testament to Richard’s vision and talent that he can infuse the weight and density of the powerful grapes that serve to enhance the whisky’s taste. And, as the tasting wound down and the department store began closing its doors, it certainly gave attendees plenty to think about.
Dalmore Quintessence: Available from Selfridges and specialist whisky retailers, £1,000, www.thedalmore.com