The Dalmore 14 Scotch whisky – exclusively in Chicago

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To be labeled Scotch whisky your creation must be made in Scotland and be part of a broad category that embraces a wide array of flavors – from the smoked-peat versions from Islay and the Glenlivets of Speyside, to the Highland malt whiskies like those from The Dalmore.

What makes a great Scotch whisky? Time, more than anything else, says Gregg Glass, Master Whisky Maker & Blender at Whyte & Mackay. He came to Chicago recently to introduce the latest expression from The Dalmore distillery: The Dalmore 14 – a beautiful whisky with cocoa, candied citrus, nutty, and slight cinnamon flavors. It’s a new expression of how the Mackenzie family continues to exercise its passion for creating old-school Highland malt spirits in styles and flavors even non-expert consumers can really appreciate.

We Chicagoans are privileged to be the first – and right now, the only – place in the U.S. where you can buy this particular expression. Contact Binny’s for help buying a bottle of The Dalmore 14.

The Dalmore was a pioneer in using age statements to differentiate Scotch whiskies from each other – a new way to indicate quality. Generally, the longer a whisky is aged, the more complex and rich its flavor can become. The Dalmore sources its barley from right around the distillery, far north and east of Highland. Gregg says he grew up 5 miles from the distillery, so it’s like home for him. He talks about how barley varieties and water can change the ultimate flavor of whiskies, but it’s how the combination is aged that makes all the difference.

To start with, the first stuff right off the still is pure spirit  – theirs is clear in color with notes of citrus and cocoa and a staggering 68% alcohol content. You don’t want to drink this by itself. But it is the beginning of the journey to becoming a fine aged whisky. In fact, says Gregg, 60-80% of a whisky’s flavor comes from the type of casks used to age it and the time and conditions under which it matures.

Once they’ve distilled the pure spirit, they put it into bourbon casks that give touches of vanilla and honey. For The Dalmore 14, the next stop is hand-selected casks from Pedro Ximenez sherry. I can tell you for sure that the Old Fashioned cocktail they sampled for media, made with The Dalmore 12, was excellent – just a hint of sweetness, and the handsome chocolate truffle-on-a-pick that garnished it was a rich, creamy surprise. How did chocolate happen here?

The Distillery staff, Gregg said, receive from 60 to 600 items to assess each year from companies that want to pursue a partnership with them. Recently they found a company they quickly recognized shared The Dalmore philosophy of using the finest ingredients to make a superior product that’s then showcased with the finest packaging. And now they have a strong relationship with Vosges Haut-Chocolat, a Chicago company that makes extra-rich, creamy chocolate truffles – the dark chocolate and orange are remarkable and the pairing with the whisky is genius.

The chocolate makers went back and forth on which characteristics of the whisky they wanted to bring out in the truffles they include in The Dalmore 14 Collection. The only way for you to find out what they decided is to buy a bottle and a box and sit down with no agenda other than to taste and enjoy all that lusciousness blending together in your mouth.

And for a great place to pair your whisky with food, you can start by ordering your whisky at Momotaro in Chicago’s West Loop. Even if you didn’t already like Japanese cuisine, you’re likely to become a fan after eating here. Gregg’s team collaborated with the chefs at the restaurant to build the delicious Old Fashioned cocktail and to choose just the right dishes to go with the flight of Scotch whiskies. From the delicious sea-salted edamame, the salad of crisp baby greens with sparkling citrus dressing, and the generous cuts of very fresh sashimi, to the super-juicy grilled strip steak with crispy edges, they put on a feast worth indulging in. Altogether, some pairings are made in heaven. Enjoy.

The Dalmore 14 Pedro Jimenez Cask Aged Scotch whisky. ~$90.

age statements | Highland malt whisky | Izakaya at Momotaro | Momotaro | Scotch whisky | The Dalmore 12 | The Dalmore 14 | The Dalmore Distillery
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Siepi Chianti Classico wines shine

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Sieti Chianti Classico 2012 (photo: Mazzei Winery)

Luxury wines are in a category outside the experience of the average person in America, and perhaps in most countries. Chicago did get a chance back in 2021 to taste a few of these elegant wines, thanks to Palm Bay importers. Winemaker Francesco Mazzei brought some of his Siepi winery’s Chianti Classico treasures here to Chicago. The vertical tasting, with vintages from 2005 through 2012, was a remarkable experience..And I started this blog post a long time ago and never finished. So even though Acadia (see below) is closed, these wonderful wines are still worth writing about.

All the Siepi vintages were made with Merlot and Sangiovese grapes, yet all were different. He said Merlot is bigger than Sangiovese and produces less acid, but growing in the Chianti region of Tuscany it acquires the character of Chianti. He talked about the season and the harvest for each of the Siepi vintages – fascinating stories of battling frost, drought, storms and global warming rising temperatures.

Francesco said Mazzei’s farming is 99% organic because conditions naturally permit that, and their bigger concern is using sustainable growing practices. “It is about trust,” he said, “and respecting nature. Wines are moody.” Time and oxygen change wines as they age and, in Siepi’s case, makes for wonderful results. He said in a way, it’s unfair to compare vintages to each other since that is not the way people traditionally enjoy wine.

He also pointed out the difference between an intellectual versus a physiological appreciation of wine. Perhaps saying, in effect, people are moody, too. How and where and under what circumstances you taste a wine can have a powerful effect on how you perceive it.

The venue for the tasting was the former two-Michelin-starred Acadia Restaurant, 1629 S. Wabash, now closed, in an out-of-the-way area of South Loop.  I remember how remarkable the setting was: Flower boxes on stands marked the site of the restaurant (dinner-only service Tuesday through Sunday) on the otherwise-semi-empty street. Not promising, but once inside, you basked in the rich but sleek-and-simple decor. The cuisine, paired with three additional non-Siepi wines from Mazzei, was a delightful surprise. Sad to know this restaurant gem is no longer with us.

The green garlic/ramp soup was delicately flavorful, rich and creamy and served with flowers and flourish. Tasting the perfectly cooked farm egg yolk as it spilled over the truffled crispy potato basket was a distinct pleasure.  The wines paired beautifully with the dishes, and the service was unobtrusively excellent.

Read more about all the Siepi vintages here. Read about the many other Mazzei wines here, some as affordable as $15 (e.g., Belguardo Rose 2015 – light and easy to drink).

A couple of the standout Siepi vintages include:

Siepi 2007 – an outstanding vintage that produced excellent quality grapes, well-balanced with soft tannins and concentrated antioxidants and anothcyanins (which contribute to color and stability in a wine – good for aging).

Siepi 2011 – a difficult year with good rainfall but extreme heat and sun. Even the oak leaves were turning from green to brown in the summer.  The fight they put up ended up producing a lovely wine.

Siepi 2012 –  a challenging year with late frost and snow and a dry summer. Production overall was down by nearly 30%, but the quality is high with just a touch of sweetness. This is a good one to age if you have a cellar.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Instant no-work snack/dessert

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Sweet Loren’s makes cookie dough. They sent me some to tell you about. And I’m so happy they did.

Sweet Lorens cookie dough – EAT IT RAW!

First, and most importantly, they taste delicious! Second, check this out. All clean ingredients. No raw eggs – yes, it’s safe to eat raw! and that’s half the fun of it. You open the package and in it are four rolls of stuck-together dough balls. You break off as many as you want to bake, put them on a tray and bake. OR – even more exciting – you break off a 110-calorie ball (or half a ball if you just want a taste) and eat it right out of your hand. These doughs are so tasty, you may never actually bake them.

Exciting, too, is the fact that they keep well in the fridge for at least a couple of weeks and, as long as the package is not opened, they will keep a couple of months in there. I’m guessing that’s because there’s no dairy to spoil. And according to their discussion with a dietician, “Sweet Loren’s Cookie Dough products contain whole grain within their Gluten Free Flour Blend, so you are getting some vitamins and minerals.”

I’m a huge fan of their Oatmeal Cranberry dough. My granddaughter loves the texture of the chocolate chunks in the Fudgy Brownie double-chocolate dough. Mostly we don’t want to actually bake the cookies, though they’re very good when you do. It’s so easy to pull off a hunk and enjoy that luscious shot of sweetness and rich flavor. Just delicious. This is an idea whose time has come. Find it stores at certain Whole Foods, Jewel/Osco, Target and other stores.

Thanks, Sweet Loren’s. Your doughs are now going to be always in my fridge.

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