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Mar 26, 2009

Clarifying Butter: A Video

There are some things I just never seem to get the hang of, and one of them has been how to clarify butter. For some reason, whenever I try, I botch the butter. It's never been much of a problem until recently, when I've begun experimenting with Middle Eastern tagine cookery. Sometimes a tagine calls for ghee---which is basically, as you probably know, clarified butter.

But, thanks to a quick video from the Culinary Institute of America, maybe I now have the hang of it. Take a look for yourself -- it's free.

Mar 23, 2009

Ancient Champagne Redux

Chris James holding the 1893 bottle of Veuve-ClicquotChris James Holding the 1893 Bottle of Veuve-Clicquot

After reading my last post about the tasting of an 1824 Perrier-Jouet, a friend alerted me to a related story: the discovery last year of an 1893 Veuve-Clicquot--the earliest known bottle to bear the company's famous yellow label. Here's the original story, which appeared on the BBC website on July 28, 2008:

A "priceless" bottle of 115-year-old champagne has been found in a sideboard at a Scottish castle.

The 1893 bottle of Veuve Clicquot had been locked away in Torosay Castle, Isle of Mull, for more than a century. Owner Chris James made the find after employing a specialist locksmith to cut a key and open the piece of furniture. He contacted Veuve Clicquot, who said the bottle was the oldest in existence. The company now has it on display at its visitor centre in Reims, France.

When Mr James had the sideboard opened it became clear that he had unearthed a previous castle owner's personal drinks cabinet. Inside were a bottle of brandy, a port decanter, a bottle of claret and the single bottle of 1893 Veuve Clicquot.

The distinctive yellow-labelled champagne was in mint condition, having been kept in the dark.
"I really had no idea what to expect when the cupboard door was finally opened," he said. "I'm genuinely delighted that part of Torosay's 150-year-old history has turned out to be so important and the bottle is now on display in its rightful home."

Fabienne Huttaux, head of communications at Veuve Clicquot said: "The bottle is literally priceless. It is a one off and therefore unique.

"We would never consider selling it as it is far too important to us. It is a unique piece of champagne history.

"It was amazing to find this bottle and it's really an extraordinary story all in all."

Torosay Castle was built in 1858 for John Campbell of Possil, a wealthy Glasgow merchant.

He sold it in 1865 to merchant banker, Arbuthnot Guthrie, who lived there until his death in 1897. The castle was left to his favourite nephew, with the entire contents going to his widow. She removed all the contents except the solid wooden dining room sideboard, which was too heavy.

The drinks are believed to have been locked inside the cabinet since at least 1897.

Mar 20, 2009

World's Oldest Champagne Opened

1825 Perrier-JouetThe BBC reported today that the world’s oldest champagne---an 1825 bottle of Perrier-Jouet, bottled a dozen years before Victoria became a Queen---has been opened.

The twelve wine experts lucky enough to sample the ancient bubbly declared it quite drinkable, and better-tasting than younger counterparts. The head of Sotheby’s international wine department, Serena Sutcliffe, who helped organise the tasting event, said that she preferred the 1825 champagne “to later vintages we tasted, dating from 1846, 1848 and 1874."

She added that it was impossible to assign a value to the bottle, since nothing like it has ever come onto the market. She guessed that each sip might be worth “hundreds of pounds.”

One of those present, British wine writer John Stimpfig, said that “most of the bubbles had disappeared, although there was a slight spritz left.” He noted that the 184-year-old cork was in good condition, but the wine was heavily oxidized, with a “sherry-like character.”

Now only two 1825 vintage bottles of the champagne are left, but Perrier-Jouet has no plans to open them any time soon.

Read the complete story.

Mar 10, 2009

Single Malt Whisky Flavor Map

Single Malt Scotch Flavour MapI discovered Single Malt Scotch about three years ago, at a whisky tasting, and became an immediate fan. I liked the peaty stuff from the get-go, so the salesman at my local store suggested a 12-year-old bottle of Highland Park, from Scotland’s Orkney Islands. It was a good choice: smooth, mellow, and with enough peatiness to please but not overwhelm my newbie taste buds.

When it came time to buy a second bottle, I took his advice again. That time I opted for a famed brand, but was let down by what I considered its tame taste. Disappointed, I wished for a better method than guesswork to help me find a single malt that suited me.

Believe it or not, such a method has arrived.

Recently Diageo Scotland Limited (maker of Clynelish, Cragganmore, Glen Ord, Talisker, and other classic malts) teamed up with whisky expert Dave Broom to create the Single Malt Whisky Flavor Map, which makes it easy to identify the flavors you like and “explore the whisky landscape with confidence.”

Apparently I’m not the only person out here who’s puzzled by the range of whiskies, a fact that affects Diageo’s bottom line. As the company’s press release puts it: “…many consumers find the [single malt whisky] category complex and even intimidating. Faced with numerous brands, price points, ages, expressions and regional variations, they find it difficult to know how to reach a decision. This deters many potential malt whisky consumers.”

On the Flavor Map, whisky brands are plotted on a vertical/horizontal axis. Horizontally, they range from Light to Rich. Vertically, from Smoky to Delicate. Thus, once you determine a whisky you like, it’s likely that you’ll also enjoy other nearby whiskies.

For instance, Highland Park 12 is in the Smoky/Rich quadrant; its closest whiskies are Bowmore 12 and Talisker 18—so that gives me two likely possibilities to try. A bit further away, but still in my quadrant, are Cragganmore 12, Bruichladdich 15, and Lagavulin Distillers Edition (that latter one sounds really expensive, doesn’t it?).

The Flavor Map contains a succinct Guide to Flavors, which explains the terms used. Whiskies considered Rich, for instance, “contain characteristics often derived from the nature of the wood used during maturation. Typical flavors range from vanilla (given by American oak casks) to nuttiness to cigar box, chocolate, and dried fruit (from European oak casks).”

If you're a single malt fan, this handy Flavor Map is an absolute must. And it's free!

Download a free copy of the Single Malt Whisky Flavour Map.

Note: This post was updated in June 2010. Read the update