With literally thousands of choices of libation to sample from, the Montreal Wine and Spirits Show at the Palais de Congres (March 27-30) was about enough to send any reviewer’s head reeling long into the night and perhaps for days afterwards.
Between the 230 different exhibitors and the 2000+ products they were presenting from 30 different countries, there was hardly a moment for respite or modesty for the many distinguished professional wine tasters and sommeliers. To be fair, it was a hard call as literally half of the products on display were exclusive to the show and though many of the goods will eventually make their way to liquor-store shelves, with some items retailing in the hundreds per bottle, opportunity was knocking.
With that in mind, rather than going the practical route in trying to find lovely low-priced liquids that would compliment the sultry wild game and delicate fresh fish of the North, I thought of selecting products for special occasions instead and with that, lapped up the luxury.
When it comes to weddings, no beverage is more synonymous with the event than champagne and as the marital season slowly approaches, I thought to sample the finest in bubbly available at the event.
Arguably the best and probably most expensive champagne available at the Palais de Congres during the salon was Boizel’s Joyau de France. Effervescent and complex in flavour, this $125-a-bottle bubbly had lovely floral, fruity and spicy notes that gently tickled the palate. The Joyau de France is a sensational champagne that exudes sophistication.
The Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve was suggested by sommelier Jossee Roberge, who was staffing the tables for wine distributor Maxximum. “This is a champagne. It’s a 55% Pinot Noire and a Chardonnay and Pinot Marnier. It’s a traditional method. It’s very brut, and a bit mineral. I prefer it as an aperitif,” she said. So, enjoy this delight before the meal.
The fine yet forceful bubbles in Champagne Alfred Gratien Brut Classique Sans Annee were certainly memorable as were its delicate notes of citrus, mangoes, peaches and apricots. With a clear light-golden colour, this particular champagne would be most ideal on a warm day in the sun.
The Champagne Louis Roederer Brut Premier was a fruity, youthful breath of fresh air. Delicate and light with notes of almond and hawthorn, its creamy texture would go best with either white fish or seafood and would be ideal to drink at any time of the year.
Though Mumm Cuvee Napa Brut is not technically a champagne as the only wines that can carry the moniker are those from the Champagne region of France, Mumm has been in the business of making champagne for centuries. The Mumm Napa has a robust larger bubble and persistent effervescence that shows its true California spirit but on the palate it has all of the traditional trappings of champagne with a rose-petal aroma and complex flavour.
When it came to products that were just days away from hitting S.A.Q. shelves, three new pre-mixed bottled drinks stood out: the new bottled Jose Cuervo Margarita, the Smirnoff Mojito and the Smirnoff Cosmopolitan. “These are our new products for spring/summer, they are ready-to-drink products. Put them in a shaker and then pour them over ice,” said Nancy, the barmaid at the booth.
All of the products tasted quite similar to their handmade competitors that are served in just about any downtown bar. However, the mojito was a bit peculiar without the traditional white rum. These three beverages would be ideal for those who feel bartending-challenged as they can simply be shaken or poured over ice and are a great way to impress company -provided you keep the bottles hidden.
If it’s decked out completely in leopard velvet appearance does not leave an impression on you, Wild Africa Cream’s light creamy texture and luxurious caramel flavour certainly will. This beverage possesses a remarkably light texture as cream liquors tend to be heavy but this one had a refreshing yet comforting quality. This new product should be on store shelves later this year.
On my travels through the crowded aisles of the Palais de Congres I was happy to discover Chateau de Laubade Bas Armagnac, a delightful brandy that could give some of the world’s best Cognacs a run for their money. Though lesser known than Cognac, and hailing from a neighbouring region in France, the prestigious Chateau de Laubade is one of the world’s most renowned producers of Armanac. It varies from cognac in terms of its finesse, depth of flavour and dark, strong colour. Made from carefully selected grapes, Armagnac goes down surprisingly smoothly, and has distinct floral and dried fruit aromas.
As there were enough wines to please any wine-lover’s palate and aperitifs, elaborately mixed cocktails and novelty products enough to keep aficionados talking for months, the Wine and Spirits Show is like a Valhalla of sorts for Scotch lovers. Though it would have been difficult for any Scotch-man (or woman) to sample every Scotch on the floor and still navigate his/her way home, for those with a nose and a refined palate for “usquebaugh” (Scottish Gaelic for “water of Life”), it was the place to be.
Adding to the experience were various experts, there to guide the novices to their first samplings of finery and make helpful new product suggestions to the seasoned Scotch aficionados. Brian McQueenie of Edinburgh was kind enough to help me through his selection of Scotches and whiskeys at the Corby Distilleries table.
McQueenie’s table featured Ireland’s most famous whiskey, Jameson Irish whiskey, Jameson 12-year-old, and Redbreast, a new Irish whiskey to the Quebec market from the same company. When it came to the Scotch, however, McQueenie had some real gems. The Glenlivet 12-year-old Scotch stood along side the Oak reserve 15-year-old and 18-year-old also from Glenlivet, Chivas Regal, Chivas Regal 18-year-old, Chivas’s 21 -year-old Royal Salute, and a selection of fine products made by Aberlour that really stood out.
“The Aberlour A’Bunadh was the hit of the show. Many people were really surprised when they tasted it. For such a strong drink – 59.5% alcohol – it’s surprisingly light tasting. It has a nutty, fruity, sherry taste. After you get passed the first sip, it’s a nice, pleasant sipping drink,” said McQueenie.
McQueenie, who also organizes and hosts Scotch-tasting events, had his own opinions on how to get to know the beverage. “The only real way to get a feel for it is through tastings and I really like to do those little tastings. It was only the experienced people that I was steering towards the Aberlour A’Bunadh. It’s not a drink for a beginner or someone who has a light stomach.”
For those unfamiliar with Scotch but have a piqued interest, McQueenie recommends The Glenlivit 12-year-old or the Aberlour 10-year-old. “I always recommend those two at our tastings because first of all The Glenlivit 12 is a light, refreshing Scotch and it’s not too smoky. Both of them come from a region with the perfect condition for making Scotch. The water is soft, the peat isn’t too strong and the temperature is pretty much the same all-year-round so the maturation happens pretty evenly over time.”
McQueenie’s beverage of choice – the coveted Highland Park 18 – was not even on his table but halfway across the exposition hall being presented by another distillery group. “To me Highland Park has an overall perfect balance. It’s made in Orkney which is the highest distillery in Scotland. The water and the peat they use are unique to that area so it has a salty feel and the peat is strong but not overpowering. When they make the Scotch, they use beautiful sherry casks so there is a balance between the sherry, the peat and the smoke. I really enjoy the overall feel.”
For those interested in contacting McQueenie for a Scotch tasting party or fundraising event, call 514-636-1136 or visit his website at www.ouidram.com
Moving away from McQueenie, there were many other Scotches around to be tasted, including the Glenfarclas 25-year-old single malt. This smooth, full-bodied and well-sher-ried style Scotch, devoid of a heavy peat taste, is a fine quality beverage. At the same time, with a bottle of Glenfarclas going for $173, it is hard to imagine it displeasing the palate of any Scotch enthusiast.
Not to be left out, there was also a fine selection of Bowmore Islay single-malt Scotches available at the show. The Bowmore distillery is one of Scotland’s oldest, having opened in 1779. On display at the show were Bowmore Islay and the 12-, 15-, 18- and 25-year-old vintages. As it is always quite how a Scotch can change in flavour as it is aged, the Bowmore Islay and Bowmore Islay 12 both had notes of lemon with hints of honey though the sweetness was more prominent in the younger Scotch. Its “teen” vintages on the other hand, the 15 and 18, both had a smoky-sweet nose with notes of caramel and chocolate with the caramel tones being more prominent in the complex 18-year-old. The prized Bowmore 25-year-old on the other hand featured an intense sherry bouquet with mellowed hazelnut and toffee notes. Simply exquisite!
With all of that said, the dizzying corridors of Palais de Congrès began to blur together after a few hours of “reviewing,” so much so that it’s almost a relief that this event only happens once a year.