Malternatives: Winter 2022

Six malternatives at random. Some bottles I’ve had open for years whilst others have been brief affairs. Can you guess which?

H&H 05yo [2021] Ob. Medium Rich Madeira 19% [50cl]

  • N: I’m loving this straight off the bat. Unexpectedly grain-based, like it’s made with grain and grape, I soon pick up on the leathery juicy raisins and a soft bone-dryness, light pear [oat] crumble, a little milk, a pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg, apple snow,…
  • T: Sherry-ish, perhaps, with mild lemon > melon juice, sublimely dryish yet salivating in its own way.
  • F: Beautifully balanced with heaps of sugar and heaps of [savoury fungal] sour, creating this astounding middle point.
  • C: Love it. Bring on a madeira tasting or three. For those who find sherry either too sweet or too sour, here’s a ‘sweet’ spot [as it were] alternative.

Scores 87 points

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Fletcher’s 40yo [2021] Tawny Port Aldi Douro Valley, Portugal 20% [75cl] decanter92

  • C: Me, glug a bottle? Surely not, especially something of this grand age [whoops]. Delicious stuff that works with and without food, I’m glad I stocked up. Buy every bottle you see of the same ilk.

[Not scored but highly recommended]

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Francois Peyrot 1959/2020 61yo Ob. Grande Champagne Heritage 44.2%

  • N: First impressions didn’t do this grand oldie any justice! Six months after opening, the majority of my early quibbles have disappeared, time and oxidization revealing everything one might expect and want from an old cognac. This one offers [amongst a plethora of descriptors] dark chocolate, biscuity Rusks > Nice =< Digestives = > Jacob’s Crackers, stewed rhubarb, chocolate-covered berries [cherry/>blackberries] – fresh, synthetic & liqueur-like all at the same time.
  • T: Equal to the nose, we’ve a certain continuity. With a soft bite on a subtle fresh fruitiness and the slightest hint of bubblegum, the main chew is on fructose sugar, soft sweet tannins, a hint of aspirin/liquorice,…
  • F: ,… soft yet heavyish tannic dry greasiness into black cherry yoghurt, succulent-fruity vanilla, slight sweet oaky detergent,…? I’m left wanting for better descriptors and an improved understanding of this spirit  
  • C: On the one hand, delicious, mellow [with time], and way too easy to drink, and yet it’s one that requires a considered approach to get the best from it. Ludicrous value too.

Scores 87 points

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Nocino di Valserena [1970s] Ob. 30% [75cl]

  • N: Likened to prune juice a number of times, there’s a complex [hazelnut] nuttiness on the nose, some fresh rubber of sorts, [green] olive tapenade, ginger cake, nectarines,… As I begin to understand and pick apart the rum cask Nocino [coming next], I appreciate this one even more.
  • T: Without the initial nuttiiness as seen on the nose, it’s even more like prune juice over dark rich fruit cake on the palate. Very sweet at first, we then wander within the murky tannic depths of grape-like spirits & fortified wines, perhaps a cocktail of tawny port & cognac being the closest likeness, but far closer to [PX = oloroso] sherry with water added.
  • F: A nutty bitter earthy/rock/tarmac finish.
  • C: Very tasty and way more appreciated alongside the following liqueur. Get yourself a cheap [old] bottle at auction for reference purposes.

Scores 85 points, perhaps?

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Nocino Special Edition [2018] Il Mallo Aged in Demerara Silver Seal rum cask[s] [btl #34/210] 40% [Lotto: LD17475] WF88

  • N: The rum influence is clear after the ‘regular’ Nocino. By comparison, this is far denser and initially trickier to read. Notes then – and there are some – of a new plastic raincoat [the lining], a rooty leafy salad mix, [stale] Garibaldi’s and Fig Rolls, breads and pastries, and even miso & mayo with a touch of mint and wintergreen. Also, I find it so dusty that I had to change my glass just to be sure. It’s the tannic/rum influence I think, that encourages a strange if not unappealing almost sulphury plastic dirty earthy vibe. On the whole, this is far more savoury and complex than the previous 1970s Nocino, with heaps to dissect. The extra 10% abv will help as much as the difference of time in space.
  • T: Hugely sweet, try not to think of coffee syrups or date syrup. Then comes a sweet bitterness towards dark chocolate, black [strap] molasses, the heart of a lettuce – a delicacy in many countries – box hedge leaves, chia seeds, shrivelled black olives in maple syrup,.. and we’re back to the sweetness again.
  • F: As sugar residue builds up on the lips, the palate appreciates more & more, the savoury bitter qualities. Long finish indeed on a tannic complex.
  • C: Got to love that rum influence that certainly adds another dimension. The underlying Nocino ain’t bad either. A triumph.

Scores 87 points

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Buton Prunella [1940s] Ob. ’Liquore Finissimo’ gr. 40 [75cl]

First contact: Receiving this with liqueur already weeping down the outside of the bottle – due in part to the wax seal being chipped – I smell aromas of dried [organic] Turkish Delight, apricots, ginger, rose water & scone cake mix, a touch of the wax seal itself, polished cricket balls, leather seats & leather-bound books, rubber tires,… We are flying high and that’s before I’ve even opened the bottle! What fool let this go for £26? Getting to the cork itself proved a little tricky, though it came out intact eventually.

  • N: Every time I treat myself to a measure, I’m initially greeted with waxy chemical all-sorts – methylated/petroleum/paraffin/white spirit – toasted almonds/Bakewell Tart and slightly stale treacle tart kept in a tin. Then there’s the vibrancy, the shimmering [albeit soft] potency of it. Sugar being the preserver here easily as much as the alcohol, we’ve a fresh < glycerol-sweet herbal quality with suggestions of pickles/sloe gin, a touch of nuttiness [unsalted peanuts, cashews, walnut kernels], and sugared almonds. I’ve said more than enough as per usual. Without a doubt, this is an astonishing nose.
  • T: Cinnamon & aniseed biscuits with a firm bitter herbal [basil/heather] quality help balance the scales, somewhat. but this is sticky sweet stuff let’s be under no illusion – one nearing Diplomatico rum levels. It’s liqueur after all yet with a dusty rancio herbal-sweet complex, a sprinkle of nutmeg, descanted coconut shavings, pine needles, almond sweets, the sweetest natural liquorice [dreamy/subjective levels, every time]. Dusty dark dried apricots with a light brush of turpentine take us to the finish.
  • F: With the syrupy sweetness subsiding somewhat, we’ve slightly dusty herbal cough medicine coming through that lingers on a leafy bitter-sourness, though the sweet syrup surfs through the whole journey. Let’s conclude with liquid cinnamon ginger cake, fig, and prune. Sure it results in thick, unadulterated sugars, but what a journey to get there.
  • C: Fabulous old yet intact liqueur that has perhaps even benefitted from a loose seal. Grappling with a mark, let’s say:

Scores [+/- ]90 points 

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