A review of Chateau de Parsac 2010 and an interview with Rachel Barrie, the new Master Blender at Morrison Bowmore Distillers.
By Joshua E. London and Louis Marmon
Washington Jewish Week January 18, 2012
There are few names better known in the world of wine than Rothschild. Primarily a financial dynasty since the 1700s, the Rothschild family expanded into the wine business with the 1853 purchase of the Bordeaux estate Château Brane Mouton by Nathaniel de Rothschild who renamed it Château Mouton Rothschild. His father-in-law, Baron James bought the neighboring Château Lafite in 1868, thereby establishing a rivalry between the two grand estates that has lasted until this day. In 1973 Edmond de Rothschild, the grandson of Baron James, purchased Château Clarke. The subsequent years have seen the three branches of the family expanding their wine holdings in France and elsewhere including California, Chile and Portugal.
Acquired in 2000 by Edmond, Château de Parsac is located on the “right bank” of Bordeaux’s Gironde river in Montagne-Saint-Emilion where the Merlot grape remains the dominant variety among growers. Its 2010 release ($20) is medium-bodied, garnet-colored beauty. This mevushal kosher Merlot-based wine also contains 20 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, which brings a distinctive currant and raspberry aspect that rather gracefully accents the underlying plum, blackberry and chocolate flavors. Additional hints of earth and oak add depth to the finish. This is a very well-priced wine for this level of sophistication and one that can be cellared or enjoyed now with roasts, duck and stews.
Spirits-wise, we are excited by some interesting news from Scotland. Rachel Barrie, formerly the “Whisky Creator & Master Blender” at Glenmorangie and Ardbeg, has been confirmed as the new Master Blender at Morrison Bowmore Distillers (MBD). The position was created specifically for Barrie, who will now also be in charge of the laboratory and oversee quality control for all of MBD’s whiskies, including Bowmore, Glen Garioch and Auchentoshan.
Why is this exciting? When Barrie became the first woman to be made a whisky “master blender” in 2003, she also became Dr. Bill Lumsden’s right-hand (wo)man at Glenmorangie, and so is largely responsible for crafting some of their award-winning whiskies. These include the Glenmorangie Signet, Astar, Sonnalta PX, and Finealta, as well as such Ardbeg superstars as the limited release Rollercoaster, Corryvreckan, Supernova and Alligator, as well as the mighty Ardbeg Uigeadail. Barrie also selected whisky casks and chaired weekly tastings for the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (we are both members). In other words, given Barrie’s track record, whisky lovers have lively expectations of even more great things to come.
Further, one of us had an opportunity to chat with Barrie a few years back, and is delighted for the chance to dust off the old notes.
Barrie studied chemistry at the University of Edinburgh. Following graduation, she did a brief stint as an analytical chemist at Scottish & Newcastle brewery before entering the whisky trade, in 1991, at the Scotch Whisky Research Institute. She was the only female scientist in the department for whisky “maturation and blending,” working alongside the legendary Dr. Jim Swann. They conducted extensive research on developing the ideal ex-bourbon American oak cask for the maturation of Scotch whisky, and also researched the effects of air-seasoned versus kiln-dried wood in whisky maturation.
Her expertise made for a natural fit for moving over, in 1995, to become quality lab manager at the Glenmorangie Company. Glenmorangie remains an industry leader in its innovative wood management policy, exclusively using slow-growth, air-seasoned American white oak from the Ozark Mountains for its primary maturation. Barrie developed Glenmorangie’s on-site Sensory Laboratory, and created a 50-person in-house tasting panel, before “becoming,” as she put it, “involved in all aspects of product quality management from barley selection to final bottled whisky.”
She was named Glenmorangie’s product development manager in 1998 and, among other things, focused on whisky innovation. Glenmorangie acquired the ArdbegDistillery in 1997, so after they thoroughly investigated Ardbeg’s warehouse stock, Barrie, working closely with Lumsden, taking a lead role in developing the Ardbeg range of whiskies. She also developed Glen Moray’s “wine-mellowed” range and worked on various Glenmorangie wood finishes; Glenmorangie sold the Glen Moray distillery in 2008.
As the new Master Blender for Morrison Bowmore Distillers (MBD), Rachel Barrie will be responsible for whisky creation, blending and management of all spirit quality operations. This will entail selecting casks of maturing whisky for the BowmoreDistillery on Islay, the Auchentoshan Distillery in the Lowlands, and the Glen Garioch Distillery in the Highlands. Just in case her employment history and whisky accomplishments are not sufficient to get you excited, consider this gem buried in our notes from that old interview. When asked, for a personal reflection of what whisky means to her, she said:
“Whisky is an adventure. It is my passion and favorite hobby – and, thankfully, my job. I’ve been extremely lucky, and still feel very honored to be in the trade. It’s the outlet for my imagination, creativity and my insatiable quest for knowledge – I have this endless desire to keep learning about all the distilleries in Scotland and the world; the science and technology of what makes every whisky so special, and how to unlock flavor characteristics from the barley and oak. This is the most exciting part of the job – creating new and unique tongue-tingling taste profiles or experimenting with barley and oak to unlock a surprising flavor dimension. I’ve dipped my nose into well over 80,000 casks of whisky, and I try and get to know every drop of whisky I’m working on. Whisky continues to bring exciting new challenges and chapters to my life.”
Given her magic touch with Ardbeg, we’re very curious to see just what she’ll do with MBD, and in particular with the Bowmore Distillery, the oldest distillery on Islay. While we all patiently await future releases, consider the excellent and easy-to-find Bowmore 12-year-old Islay single-malt Scotch whisky($45), the heart of the Bowmore portfolio.
This gently peated whisky opens on the nose with distinct floral notes amid the peat and sweet tobacco (think pipe) smoke, followed by ash, dried grass, sea brine, and zesty, lemon and orange, citrus notes. These are followed on the palate with lovely and well-rounded flavors of peat, spice and honey, offering a subtle balance between dryness, sweetness, peat and smoke. The finish is smoky, briny, citrusy, oily, and dry. This is not an massive peat monster, but this is a fantastic, elegant Islay classic. L’chaim!