Anthony Gismondi: Whiskey and wine have a long history of working together

Anthony Gismondi offers up five selections from the Okanagan’s Quails’ Gate sure to be worth your while

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Last week I took a day course in Irish whiskey, the iconic Mitchell & Son Green Spot Pot Still Irish Whiskey, where I gained just enough knowledge to become a menace. There was no final exam or an offer to become a whiskey ambassador, so sleep easy. I’ll return to wine next week.

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But first, in 1805, William Mitchell opened a bakery and confectionery business on Dublin’s famed Grafton Street. Then, some 22 years later, Mitchell & Son launched into the wine and spirit trade at a nearby location. Back then, most Ireland merchants bought distillate in bulk from local distilleries and matured it themselves in the casks left over from their on-site basement bottling of port and sherry.

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Using distillate obtained from the nearby Bow Street Distillery, Mitchell & Son matured whiskey in a mix of casks that had previously been hidden away in their cellars aging dark and light sherries. At the five-year mark, the light and dark casks were blended and given an additional five years of aging in neutral oak. Originally marketed as “Pat Whisky,” in 1933, it was rebranded as “John Jameson & Son 10-Year Old Green Seal,” which eventually morphed into the famed Green Spot logo.

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Historically Mitchell & Son offered a range of whiskeys under the “Spot” brand by marking casks of different ages with coloured paint spots, a seven-year-old Blue Spot, a 12-year-old Yellow Spot, and a 15-year-old Red Spot, but it was the 10-year-old Green Spot that endured. Today it is only Green Spot whiskey that has remained in continuous production.

When Irish Distillers closed its Dublin facilities (including Bow Street) in 1971, Mitchell & Son struck a deal to mature the whiskey on-site using their casks, with Mitchell & Son having sole rights to market, sell, and develop the whiskey. Previously a 10-year-old whiskey, the current-day Green Spot is a non-age statement whiskey made from a blend of seven to 10-year-old single pot still whiskeys matured in new and reused bourbon and sherry casks.

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Enter the Wine Geese, a term given to the Irish who smuggled themselves into Europe after the 1690 Battle of the Boyne and eventually built successful European wine careers. Today, the geese comprise a substantial Irish emigrant population across the global wine business. In 2015 Mitchell & Son launched a program to bring the geese home, so to speak, by creating unique releases of Green Spot Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey that, after the regular production regime of being triple distilled and aged in bourbon and sherry barrels, spend time in used wine barrels supplied by some specially chosen geese.

The first release was Green Spot Château Léoville Barton which spent 18 months in Bordeaux wine casks. Next up in 2017 was Napa Valley, California, Green Spot Château Montelena, aged 12 months in French Oak Zinfandel barrels. The latest Green Spot geese member supplying used Pinot Noir barrels is non-other than West Kelowna, Stewart family-owned Quail’s Gate.

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Deirdre O’Carroll, Blender at Irish Distillers, was in Kelowna for the debut and commented on the latest Limited Release: “Maturing Green Spot Irish Whiskey in the Pinot Noir casks from Quails’ Gate adds a fascinating and delectable assortment of rich red berries from the red wine seasoning that perfectly balances Green Spot’s orchard fruits and toasted wood finish for a flavoursome, complex expression. Whether a whiskey enthusiast or a wine connoisseur — or both — we hope this addition to the Spot family will be cherished by those in Ireland, Canada and everywhere in between.”

Cherished and likely sold out quickly. You can grab a glass now at the Quails’ Gate Old Vines Restaurant or a bottle in select high-end whiskey retailers across the globe. The Canadian release of very limited quantities will follow in June, including an allotment available at the annual B.C. Liquor Store Whiskey Release.

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Weekend Wine Picks

Green Spot Quails’ Gate Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey Finished in Pinot Noir Wine Casks Limited Edition, Ireland 

$110.00 I 95/100

A barely red colour penetrates the original Green Spot green-gold hue. Initially matured in American oak and ex-sherry casks, the completed whiskey then spent another 16 months in Quails’ Gate Pinot Noir barrels shipped to Ireland at the pandemic’s start. The result is an ethereal red fruit scent that threads through the whiskey. Ripe cherry and juicy raspberries are lightly embedded in the ultrasmooth texture of the whiskey. The palate is silky sweet, a harmonious mix of trace dried cranberries that disappears into the signature Green Spot red apple, sweet pear, vanilla and woodland spice (nutmeg). Complex and comforting, this is a terrific sip. It is a perfect partnership and a unique twist for what is already an iconic whiskey. Available by the glass at Quails’ Gate Old Vines Restaurant.

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Green Spot Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey, Ireland

$81.99 I 96/100

UPC: 00080432105993

Green Spot single pot still whiskey is widely admired by spirit critics, and as a wine writer, I can understand why. It is mature for seven to ten years in first and second-fill bourbon and sherry casks. The texture is the show’s star so creamy and silky smooth that it slides down effortlessly. When you nose it, sweet pears and vanilla light up the front end and spill across the palate, along with notes of barley/porridge with spicy menthol notes and a touch of toasted oak. Harmonious, complex and super long in the finish. A very stylish whiskey that will wow your guests.

Quails’ Gate Pinot Noir 2021, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada 

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$31.99 I 88/100

UPC: 778856121209

The Quails’ Gate classic Pinot combines clones from various sites. Post ferment, it spends about 10 months in Frech oak which is probably the limit for any significant production, cool-climate Pinot Noir to give the fruit its best chance to express itself. The 2021 nose pitches black cherry and cedar boughs. The tannins are youthful and Sticky, suggesting you give this another year or two in the bottle, then serve it with an umami-infested pasta dish with mushrooms and veal.

Quails’ Gate Stewart Family Reserve Pinot Noir 2020, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada 

$59 I 91/100

UPC: 778856220209

The Stewart Family Reserve has a long history of excellence. It is also a label that ages well, typically seven to 10 years, with ease, especially in great years like 2020. It is richer and more complex than the regular version, beginning with a deeper colour and riper fruit — more New than Old World. The mid-palate is dense, with some sweet tannins to shed, but this is packed with possibilities that will unfurl slowly over the next five years. The use of oak is very judicious and will further accentuate its ability to mature in the bottle. Veal chops in a mushroom sauce would be the match now.

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Quails’ Gate Syrah The Boswell 2020, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada 

$80 I 92/100

UPC: 778856420289

The Syrah honours the values Rosemary (Boswell) Stewart instilled in the family business and is one of the Okanagan Valley’s most northern plantings of Syrah. We love the cool-climate style, pitching classic blueberry and white pepper notes with a floral undertone. The attack is dry with peppery fruit pushing through a wealth of tannins that, while youthful and dense, come with a sweetness and roundness that leaves them practically unnoticed in the finish. Built to age, this will return any extra time in the cellar through 2030. You can now drink this wine with strong-flavoured dishes such as slow-roasted barbecue pork or beef ribs. Winery direct.

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Recipe match: Seafood risotto

Rich risotto, a northern Italian rice dish, is made even more exciting with seafood. This recipe, shared by Chef Umberto Menghi of Giardino Restaurant sees a bounty of fresh seafood added to the smooth rice mixture for a savoury dish that’s sure to delight.

2 cups (500 mL) Arborio rice

1/2 white onion, diced

2 stalks leeks, finely chopped

1 tbsp (15 mL) olive oil

1 tbsp (15 mL) butter, unsalted

4 oz (115 mL) dry white wine

Salt and pepper to taste

In a large deep pan, over medium heat, put in the olive oil and butter. Then, add the diced onions to the pan. Cook till transparent — do not burn. Mix frequently. It will smell sweet to the nose when ready. About three minutes.

Then, add in the leeks. Mix frequently for about two minutes. Season with a dash of salt and pepper.

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Add white wine to the pan. Mix frequently. This creates a great base for the rice. Let the wine evaporate, about one minute. It should be a creamy texture.

Then, add in the rice. Mix and incorporate everything together in the pan so it doesn’t stick. Mix until the skin of the rice is nicely coated with all the flavours in the pan, about two minutes.

Now, add in the fish stock 8 oz at a time per five or so minutes (it may be easier to ladle in two 4 oz scoops of the stock) until you finish the both. Each time you ladle the broth, be sure to keep mixing so it turns into a nice wet texture that isn’t too dry. Ensure there is no boiling that occurs. The heat is still set at medium.

While you are on your last fish stock pour and mix, you can start on cooking the seafood.

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1 tbsp (15 mL) olive oil

1 tbsp (15 mL) butter, unsalted

1 clove garlic finely chopped

1/2 lb (226 g) medium-sized mussels

1/2 medium-sized clams

8 pieces of medium-sized prawns, halved

8 pieces of medium-sized scallops, halved

4 oz (115 mL) dry white wine

1 tsp (5 mL) Pepperoncino chili oil

Salt and pepper to taste

In a medium-sized pan on medium heat, add in the oil and butter. Then, add in the garlic. Mix slightly.

Add in the prawns first and stir, followed by the scallops. Add in the mussels, stir. And then add in the clams, and stir.

Season with salt and pepper. Mix. Add in 2oz white wine and mix. Followed by 1 tsp of Pepperoncino chili oil. Mix again.

Cook until mussel and clams shells open. Turn off heat and set aside.

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To finish

Pour the seafood (and any broth) into the risotto pan. Mix constantly for about five minutes. Don’t cover. The risotto should be a nice consistency with a bite to it.

Portion the seafood risotto evenly in four shallow bowls. Top with freshly chopped parsley. Enjoy!

Serves 4.

Recipe match

This week’s match is strategic. A seafood risotto speaks Italian, and so do our white wine picks.

Sartarelli Tralivio Verdicchio 2020, Ancona, Marche, Italy (27.99)

A refreshing hit of citrus and pear with a soft leesy creamy texture that draws you along its palate with ease. Bring on the fish.

Nicosia Grillo 2020, Sicily, Italy ($20.99)

Sunny Sicily brings a honeyed pear, fragrant white peach, lush melon, and tangerine to this salty white destined to match a favourite Mediterranean seafood salad.

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