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Monday, October 9, 2023




Bas-Armagnac de Montal Les Hauts de Montrouge 2004 700 mL. +11426 Vintages October 21, 2023 $118: comes in a red wood gift box for the Christmas holidays. There are about 181 producers of Armagnac in Gascony, and many make single vintage bottlings unlike in Cognac. Hence, there are many bottles of older Armagnac brandies (10, 15, 20, 30 year olds) that sell everywhere in the world -- but in small lots. Montal's 2004 was aged a minimum of 19 years in oak. Armagnac sells well in Quebec – they recognize a bargain.
2004 is a blend of colombard, folle blanche, baco, and ugni blanc in a continuous distillation. Extremely aromatic with overtones of roasted nuts, caramel, vanilla, dried fruits (such as apricots), and oak character. Exceptionally smooth on the mid-palate and great soft length on the finish. 40% ABV. Watch for it in in the LCBO's Holiday release Oct 21 or Nov 4. Quality/Price rating is 93 points by Dean Tudor of Gothic Epicures.

Originally, I was going to call this review "Better Notes", but then I thought that was too coy. Bitters are better than they've ever been since they do a nice job of breaking down fried and breaded fats, oil and grease in the old tum-tum. Too many people today eat fried foods (I shudder to think what their digestive system will look like in 50 years), and that includes even some Japanese sushi. More sushi joints are adding tempura for extra crunch and filler, and as a way to keep costs down.

Zwack Unicum Bitters (500mL, +364851, $34) has come from Hungary (mostly) since 1790, with some production in other European countries. In 1992 it became a company limited by shares, and now has some involvement with other spirits such as Smirnoff vodka, Cinzano, Baileys, and Schlumberger TM sparkling wine.  At 40% ABV it has not changed over the years. It's full of great herb extracts, water, alcohol, and some sugar to ameliorate the finish. Over 40 different herbs and spices are infused and distilled, and then aged for 6 months in oak. It's widely used as a hot toddy. This digestive liqueur allows for indulgence and spicy conditions. It can even be used as an amaro for aperitifs or as a mixer.

Underberg Bitters (3 x 20mL in a box, +214809, $8.25) calls itself a "Natural Herbal Digestive"; it's been made in Germany since 1846. In 1949 the company began producing only the small 20mL bottles as a single-shot pacifist for digestive ails. Unlike other bitters and amari, Underberg has no added sugar, but finishes with the texture of palate sweetness from natural fructose. We know that it is gluten-free, and that licorice is one of the principal extracted herbs, and that the herbs come from 43 different countries. 44% ABV but easy to swallow.

Dean Tudor,  Prof Emeritus T'karonto Metropolitan University (formerly Ryerson) School of Journalism
Treasurer of Wine Writers' Circle of Canada

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