Tasting notes

Tasting notes

This week, they sent me out prowling the restaurants, bars, bakeries and grill rooms of Ossington Avenue, and there will be much to tell in May’s Toronto Life. But in between all the pho and sucking pig, the tequila-cured salmon and the free-form apple galettes, there was still time to squeeze in some special, extracurricular treats.

First, let me mention an olive oil from l’olivier de vassily, a gorgeous, greenish, unfiltered, single estate e.v. cold-pressed from vatsikes olives grown on the Ligris property in Kalithea, Kalamata. It’s one of the best Greek oils I’ve tasted, made from olives that aren’t as fully ripe as Greek farmers usually like them to be, which means they give oil that has a lower acidity and more of a grassy, peppery flavour than, say, the oil from my own trees. But that’s because they actually pick their olives in Sparta. On Corfu, we prefer to let the small, black, glossy, fully ripe lianolia drupes drop into nets. So much less effort involved! Then again, their harvest is over by February and ours can sometimes linger on into June before the last olive falls. The vassily oil is lovely (lacking that bitter hook that catches your throat in the aftertaste of a Tuscan oil) and I’ve been splashing it over everything from spinach to pizza. Check the producer’s Web site for more information and places where you can buy it.

Looking for something to turn to on a dry afternoon, I found an innocent, refreshing cider from Cidrerie St-Nicolas, just south of Quebec City. The LCBO carries the regular Crémant and it’s very charming, a mere 2.8 per cent alcohol by volume with a trace of residual sugar. I was lucky enough to try the drier Brut, which is even more delectable, generous with ripe red apple and apple blossom aromas, but not available yet in Toronto unless you wish to contact the agent, Barbara Murphy at ExquisiTaste. She can also supply the terrific ice cider that St-Nicolas makes from late-harvested McIntosh and Cortland apples.

And then there was the amazing 55-year-old expression of The Macallan. The brand’s ambassador in Canada, Marc Laverdiere, poured me a precious dram (very precious, in fact—at Harbour 60 they’re asking $1,000 a shot for this one) after an excellent rib-eye steak at Barberian’s. Now, I know what you’re thinking. How can there be such a beast as a 55-year-old single malt whisky? Isn’t it undrinkably woody after all that time in the barrel? And if you do the math, surely evaporation would have lowered its alcohol by volume below the 40 per cent required for it to be whisky. Ah, but this is very special stuff. It comes from only three spectacularly sound casks that have survived from so long ago—a sherry butt filled with new whisky in 1949 and two sherry hogsheads filled in 1945. The cask strength stands at 40.1 per cent while evaporation has stolen so much of the spirit that there was only enough left for 420 bottles.

“Can you imagine the patience and reverence of the men who watched over it,” exclaimed Laverdiere, leaning towards me over the table. “Think of how they felt the first time they tasted it, when it was 20 years old, perhaps, and they found the wood was still working on it! How many times in the last few decades must they have argued with the marketing and commercial interests of their own distillery to let those casks remain untouched? Their generosity! Knowing they might never taste it themselves!”

Oh, all right then. You’ve twisted my arm. I’ll try it…

To honour this extraordinary elixir, The Macallan has bottled it in Lalique crystal decanters, each one worth a small fortune. The whisky is exceptionally viscous and dark. The first sniff brings pomerance, lemon peel, glacé cherries, dark toffee, licorice. It is by no means woody. On the tongue, it is heavy and smooth as glass. It tastes most like fruitcake with all the juice-swollen raisins, cherries, peel, baked biscuit and brown sugar nuances you would hope to find in one of Dundee’s finest confections. And there’s even a faint impression of sherry, the ghost of that rich, round oloroso that once, briefly, filled those miraculous barrels in which the whisky slept its long, slow, dream-filled sleep in the silence of the glen.

Those of you of a cynical turn of mind will now be muttering that all this talk of Scotch must be leading up to a shamelessly blatant advertisement for the rare whisky tasting that is part of the Canadian Culinary Championship, this coming Saturday. Nothing could be further from the truth. I can’t afford to pour The Macallan 55-year-old. But Marc Laverdiere and Maxxium Canada have generously promised to make available the next best thing, something never before tasted in Canada. We will see how it stands up to other whiskies from my own collection.

Andrew Morrison, Vancouver editor of EAT Magazine, restaurant critic of The Westender and editor of Urbandiner.ca, is coming to Toronto on Thursday as the B.C. rep on my team of judges for the Canadian Culinary Championship. Though his evenings will be busy during the contest’s long weekend, he is keen to canvass local opinions on where he should eat while in our fair city. Anyone who would like to offer him some suggestions should click here and join the debate already in progress. Of course, it could all be a test to see if anyone ever reads this blog. Bon appetit, Andrew.