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The Wine Merchant: Highlighting problem drinking

Letter to The Wine Merchant. Follows a brave young merchant (Mike) who spoke out about his problem drinking.

I should, first off, like to congratulate you [Graham Holter, The Wine Merchant] for covering the Mike Oldfield story, and I should like to send Mike a huge hurrah for 1) being so strong in fighting his addiction, and 2) being so brave coming forward in this way.  Neither action will have been easy.  Yet, as a result, here I am compelled to write to The Wine Merchant now, and hopefully others will do so also.  Because let`s make no bones about it, we in the industry need to be addressing this. The subject of alcoholism, like the proverbial elephant in the room, can no longer be ignored.  Many of us are surrounded by bottles, even open bottles, all the time; and for many of us they are a passion, no less! Moreover, we have the perfect excuse:  they need sampling, and they need drinking up!  And then there are the wine-tastings, six hours of spitting out – one or two glasses with lunch, maybe – then the last hour, oh what the heck, head for the Grand Crus and swallow. `Lovely jubbly`. Oh, and a beer for the road.  Indeed, it`s all too easy to go down the wrong road, and we must all be careful.  Let Mike`s story be a reminder to us all. Meantime, as license holders (many of us), we are meant to be responsible and manage others – our customers – when they get into trouble or become difficult. It is, as I see it, our duty of care. As far as I am aware there is no instruction book on how to manage alcoholism and drunkenness (often two different conditions) when you are confronted with them, so we just get on with it, don`t we?  We do what we can and deal with difficult situations as professionally as we can, compassionately if possible, firmly when necessary. Sharing experiences might be useful if there was an appropriate forum. I don`t pretend, incidentally, to be especially masterful at this art. In terms of dealing with aggressive drunkenness I can only think of one time in nearly twenty years.  It involved an Irish gentleman of the travelling community. I was obliged to escort the man out of the building and, vexingly, he appeared to cast a spell on me! There again my shop is in a relatively crime-free leafy area in the home counties. It is not Birmingham.  Indeed, I have no doubt there are a good deal of horror stories out there that will make my Irishman pale by comparison.   But alcoholism exists in every community and I have been exposed over the years to my fair share of alcoholics, believe me; and I like to think I have been of some help to some of them. It might be a regular who is a little shaky and smells of alcohol (obviously a little drunk, but not offensive) and together with staff we play God: “If we don`t serve him, someone else will.”  “What if the rejection upsets him?” “He`s no trouble to us.”  “I know his son, shall we speak with him?” And so on. We do what we can. At any rate, in our Great Horkesley shop we have embraced Dry January these last few years and we continue to promote sensible drinking at every opportunity. The axiom: “Drink better, and less” has never been more apt for our time, and what`s more I truly believe it is good for business. It plays to  our strengths as independent specialists. Cheers everyone!

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A little history and an Easter Celebration

On Easter Saturday we will be celebrating our 20th year under current management, making the shop 56 years a wine merchant. Some of our older customers will remember the shop back then, freshly painted a burgundy colour in the summer of 1963, the new sign above the door “Peatling & Cawdron Wine Merchants”, later re-branded “Thomas Peatling Fine Wines” (though everyone just carried on calling the shop Peatling`s, as I recall). Owned by local brewery Greene King, it was managed by husband and wife team Brian and Maudi Hardwick.  Brian had been a good friend of my father; and having expressed an interest in learning about wine as a young man I am guessing my old man persuaded him to take me on as an apprentice. I still have a photo of the old team outside the shop in 1980 with me, as I looked then, thin as a stick with Rod Stewart-like sticky-up hair (all the fashion back then, obviously). Brian and Maudi finally retired when I bought the premises and business in April 1999.  In 2005 I married Janet who had been Operations Director at Colchester`s Williams and Griffin department store. Unlike me she really did have an idea or two about fashion, and it wasn`t long before we annexed “The Wine Centre” with what we have called “The Gift Room”, selling women`s fashion, handbags and jewellery. The deli came about after a trip to New Zealand, having been inspired by the wine-deli retailers there. It involved a major refurbishment at the time, but happily the investment turned out to be a good one. It was the food element, together with wine, which led to our hamper business, and ultimately to our events which have become the cornerstone of our business. Our “table of 18” wine-tasting dinners have proven especially popular with locals. Now here we are in 2019. I can hardly believe it has been twenty years! Which brings me back to our 20th birthday celebration:  Lifting a glass to our fantastic customers with thanks for   supporting us over the years (Sat 20th, mid-day-2pm).


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Cheese & Red Wine: Natural Bedfellows or not?

As a wine merchant selling cheese we clearly believe in the happy union. Indeed, when I first coined the term “Marriage in Heaven” I was talking about a specific cheese and wine match: Golden Cross, a goat`s cheese, and Sancerre Blanc, the pale, dry white wine from France`s Loire Valley. The high acidity in both cheese and wine “chime” deliciously, like the bells to church. I used the term again to describe another famous coupling: the blue cheese Roquefort, a sheep`s cheese this time, and the golden sweet wine Sauternes; the salt of the cheese contrasting magnificently with the sweetness in the wine; “opposites attracting”. Yet another fine match: the pungent Munster from France`s Alsace region, a cow`s cheese, together with the golden dry wine, Alsace Gewurztraminer. The wine is dry, but rich, with a heady smell of Turkish Delight. Having evolved in the same area you might say these two are “made for each other” – as it turns out, both smelly! And have you noticed the one common denominator, here? Yep: None of them are reds! Indeed, despite what many believe, reds are not the natural choice for cheese. Sweet reds can be – stilton cheese and port a case in point – but not so much dry reds, and especially those with a high tannin content. Tannins, from the skins of red grapes, can be astringent, even chalky, and jar with cheese. To continue the coupling analogy therefore (yes, I must), “they are like `chalk and cheese`, not meant for each other”. Oh please! But if you are a red wine drinker through and through – and I get that – then I suggest red wines from thin-skinned, low-tannin grapes, such as Pinot Noir, Grenache or Gamay Noir. Our Brie de Meaux and Fleurie by Dominique Morel work well together. Or with a harder cheese I might be tempted to flirt with a darker, richer, fruit-driven style, such as a pretty and voluptuous Australian Shiraz. Sometimes it`s worth the risk! Cheers everyone.

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Wine-tasting dinner March 29, Brexit Day? Er no.

I haven`t laughed so much in a long time. What a great group (golfers), must be all that fresh air. My thanks to them all for lifting the roof at The Wine Centre last Friday. Good sales too :). My thanks to Dominic our chef for a truly inspiring menu. I LOVED every dish, and they matched the food perfectly. 10/10, Dom, well done. And finally my thanks to our speaker, Julie, who coped fantastically [I use the word coped because I know sometimes I couldn't hear myself speak]. Brilliant job, Julie. For your info, wines & menu as follows:

Guest speaker: Julie Maitland

Host: Anthony Borges – Chef: Dominic Carter

Pikes Hills & Valleys Riesling, Clare Valley, Australia 2018, £13.99

Brilliant pale green. Attractive aromas of citrus blossom, stone fruit and bath powder are all on display with a hint of wet slate. Fresh, clean and bright; the palate is full of lemon and gentle stone fruit, the crisp acidity balancing the slight residual sweetness and providing a long, clean finish. 100% Riesling.

Bouchard Finlayson Sans Barrique, Cape South Coast, S. Africa 2017 16.99

A classic lean and crisp unoaked Chardonnay. Immediate hints of apple, gooseberry, guava and sweet melon tease the palate while the lees tones add complexity and boost the aging potential. 100% Chardonnay.

Rustenberg Five Soldiers Chardonnay, Stellenbosch, South Africa 2017, £33.99

Carefully-selected Chardonnay bunches are hand harvested for this special wine and then given royal treatment in the cellar. Characters of ripe citrus, melon and peach with great minerality are rounded out by well-judged oak maturation. A very complex wine with a long and creamy finish and a good acid backbone. 100% Chardonnay.

Paul Cluver Village Pinot Noir, Elgin, S. Africa 2017, £15.99 

Aromas of red fruits intermingle with roasted spices. Poached ripe plums are evident on the silky palate – this is medium bodied wine with soft edges. 100% Pinot Noir.

Bouchard Finlayson “Hannibal”, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, Walker Bay, South Africa 2016, £27.99

This vintage is fresh and alive with a characteristic Italian mouthfeel reflecting fruity complexity. Olive and redcurrant flavours combine with cranberry to result in a lingering finish and complex mouthfeel. Red wine blend. 94 pts. 45% Sangiovese, 18% Pinot noir, 15% Nebbiolo, 12% Shiraz, 7% Mourvédre and 3% Barbera

Topiary Shiraz, Franschhoek. S  outh Africa 2014, £19.99

Meaty, spicy and unfiltered, this is very much a northern Rhône style, with clove and cracked pepper notes and a core of bramble and red berry sweetness. Beautifully restrained, with cured meat and lavender notes. On the palate, it is luxurious and well defined, offering red cherry spice, Victoria plum and white pepper flavours. 100% Shiraz (Syrah)

Lemberg Spencer Pinotage, Western Cape, S. Africa 2014 £21.99

Lemberg Wine Estate lies in the heart of the scenic Tulbagh Valley surrounded by the Witzenberg and Winterhoek mountains.  Described as ‘a Pinotage for Pinot Noir lovers’ by Tim Atkin, this is an impressive cuvée with violets, cherry and bramble characters to the fore. Ripe dark berries and plums are backed by spicy oak with a hint of dark chocolate. A firm and balanced structure leads to a full-bodied and concentrated palate with a lingering finish. 100% Pinotage.

Darling Cellars Old Bush Vine Cinsaut 2016, Darling, S. Africa £16.99

A well-balanced red wine, with a bright ruby red colour and aromas of cherries, strawberries and a hint of oak. Flavours of red pepper, spice, raspberries and a hint of sweet vanilla are enhanced by succulent red berry fruits, good concentration and a nice fresh acidity on the palate, finishing long.

Escarpment Hinemoa Riesling, Martinborough, New Zealand 2015 (half-bottles), £13.99

Our sweet wine of the evening. Using the German classification this wine would be “Beerenauslese” quality. Mandarin and apricot from the botrytised grapes envelop the palate, leading to flavours of honey and lemon meringue pie. An ideal match for soft cheeses and    fruit-based desserts.


Salmon en Papillote, garlic and lemon Butter

Creamy Tuscan chicken thighs with crisp pastry disc and toasted pine nuts

Slow cooked beef short-rib, rosemary, Portobello Mushroom

Carrot & parsnip puree

Cheese Platter

Baked dark cherry and almond cheesecake cherry compote


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The Times and Climes are a Changin

While Italy, France and Spain continue to lead the world of wine, the newbies on the block, China, India, Brazil, Uruguay, are turning heads. China is already 7th largest wine producer in the world, Brazil the fastest growing. And while India is still tiny, by Jove, it`s producing some very nice wines. We were there a few years ago and one Cabernet-Shiraz blend I stumbled upon might have been a Margaret River. Later I discovered the great French winemaker Michel Rolland had a hand in it. No wonder! It`s oft the way, the flying winemaker who applies his trade in some distant land, working with the locals there, passing on his skills, spreading the love.  I recall some thirty years ago travelling to Brazil and Uruguay, to visit the vineyards there. Winemakers from Argentina had been tempted north, and they were beginning to turn things round.  These were wine-producing countries in their infancy back then, amazing what has been achieved in three decades.  Globalization also lent a hand to the development of emerging wine countries and regions. Old World companies searching New World pastures, bringing with them investment, employment and skills. Climate Change is another lever for change in the world`s wine map, with wineries looking to invest in cool-climate countries and those less affected adversely by extreme temperatures. In the north of the northern hemisphere, for example, England is a prime target for Champagne producers.  In the south of the southern hemisphere, Tasmania offers potential respite for vineyard owners in ever hotter South Australia and New South Wales.  Brown Brothers started buying up land there in 2010.   Changing politics has in the past been another catalyst for wine development: the collapse of communism having given rise to investment and a new lease of life in countries such as Hungary and Chile. Now, the world`s total wine production is falling – Climate Change again – just as UK`s wine production is increasing – and so the world`s wine map continues to turn. Is it just possible in fifty years our world of wines will be turned on its head?

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Louis Roederer Brut Premier Champagne, and friends

Guest Speaker: Mark Bingley, Master of Wine

(Maison Marques et Domaines)

Host: Anthony Borges – Chef: Dominic Carter

A huge thank you to our  enthusiastic, distinguished guests. My dish of the night was The Sardines, see menu below,  an excellent match with the delightfully zingy and fresh  Rapaura Sauvignon Blanc; and  red wine of the evening for value and drink-ability was, for me, the Saint Esprit Rhone, in magnum.  What a  wonderful quaffing red this is,  unusual for the appellation because  it is Syrah not Grenache dominant; Syrah grown on granite in a small  northern Ardeche valley, on vineyards south-facing, west of the river Rhone.  Grenache nonetheless plays an important supporting role. My second time of drinking this wine, this vintage, in magnum. See tasting note below. This time with the cheeses it revealed blueberry and black cherry, and an amazing freshness. But it would be wrong of me not to mention the outstanding wine of the evening,  Marqués de Murrieta Rioja Reserva, Rioja Alta 2014, such amazing depth and complexity, perfect with Dominic`s lamb dish. One for Easter, perhaps?

Introducing Mark Bingley, Master of Wine, and Louis Roederer, in magnum. 
Louis Roederer Brut Premier Champagne, France (Magnum) £105.00

A fine Champagne, refreshing and generous, with an underlying, creamy richness.

Clever use of barrel gives a luxurious feel to this pedigree Champagne.

40% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Meunier


Rapaura Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand 2018, £14.99

A pure and vibrant, crisp wine with lifted passion fruit, lychee and pink grapefruit aromas. On the palate layers of tropical fruits are punctuated by zesty citrus notes, gooseberry and herbs.

100% Sauvignon Blanc


Delas Freres Crozes- Hermitage Blanc `Les Launes`, Northern Rhone, France 2016, £23.99

The colour is bright with a golden hue. The nose is expressive, with mainly floral aromas such as hawthorn, lemon verbena, linden, mingled with hints of exotic fruits, such as lychees and mangoes, together with citrus fruit. The palate is fresh and fruity, delightfully seductive.

80% Marsanne, 20% Roussanne


Rapaura Pinot Noir, Marlborough, New Zealand 2017, £16.99 

Lovely ripe berry and dark cherry fruits combine with attractive smoky and spicy elements. Fleshy, silky mouth feel, expressive, with spicy oak nuances. A lingering, elegant finish.

100% Pinot Noir


Marqués de Murrieta Rioja Reserva, Rioja Alta, Spain 2014, £26.99 

Flavours of ripe plum, red cherry and berries blend with spicy notes of licorice and sweet balsamic. The wine is silky with rounded tannins and refreshing acidity. The long, mineral finish has sweet spice and ripe plum fruit.

84% Tempranillo, 5% Mazuelo, 9% Graciano, 2% Garnacha


Delas Freres `Saint Esprit` Cotes du Rhone Rouge, France (Magnum) 2016, £33.99

Deep, plum coloured hue with a classically “Syrah” nose. The wine is full of aromas of violets, liquorice and has a full, rounded palate with delicate tannins.

60% Syrah, 10% Grenache


Delas Freres Domaine des Genets Vacqueyras, Southern Rhone, France 2015, £22.99


The colour is a deep garnet. In its youth the wine reveals black cherry aromas which  evolve towards notes of woodland, spices, black olive and mocha. On the palate, this is a warm, heady wine whose texture is well-rounded and silky. The finish is perfectly balanced. 80% Grenache, 20% Syrah


Ramos Pinto Adriano White Reserva Port, Douro Valley, Portugal, £18.99

Pale gold with an intense and complex aroma of ripe golden fruit, blending tropical aromas with crystallized orange, plus hints of spices. On the palate is full bodied with a mature luscious tone and finishes with a balanced freshness and a long finish.

Codega, Malvasia Fina, Viozinho, Rabigato


Cuvee Christine Vendanges Tardive Gewurztraminer, Alsace 2007, £50.00


Generous, exotic Turkish Delight aromas, of rose petals, lychee, mango, papaya, passion fruit and blood orange. After a few moments in the glass more aromas are revealed with notes of lemon, apricot, white peach, almond, spices and candied ginger. A very long, perfumed and complex finish.

100% Gewurztraminer



Dominic`s Menu


Salt Grilled Sardines, Portuguese Salad, Herb/Lemon Butter and Sourdough Crouton

Apricot & Walnut Stuffed Chicken Ballantine with Grilled Asparagus and Fine Beans

Roast Cannon of Lamb with Honeyed Baby Parsnips, Celeriac Potato Cake and Rosemary Red Wine Jus

The Wine Centre`s Cheese Platter

Strawberry & Chantilly Cream Crepe Gateaux with Mint Strawberry Coulis




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South American Wine Tasting Dinner

A retirement party with a theme: South American wines. We included Argentina, Chile and Uruguay. Check out the line-up and Dominic`s fusion menu below.

Guest Speaker: Jane Macaulay

 Host: Anthony Borges – Chef: Dominic Carter

The Line-up: 


Montes Aconcagua Valley Brut Sparkling, Chile £18.99

Bright straw-yellow in colour with a slightly golden tone. On the nose white flowers, fresh fruits and breadcrumbs combine with a subtle hazelnut aroma. The palate is well balanced with good acidity and a fine, crisp mousse. It is silky on the mid-palate with a fresh, fruity and persistent finish. 70% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay
Amalaya “Green Label” Calchaqui Valley, Salta, Argentina 2018, £12.99 

Intense gold in colour, this wine has pronounced aromas of grapefruit and lemon peel. Delicate and silky on the palate with great freshness and crisp acidity on the distinctly mineral finish.  The winery is situated in Cafayate, Calchaquí Valley in Salta in the far north of Argentina at nearly 1,828metres above sea level. 85% Torrontes, 15% Riesling

Bodega Garzon Reserva Albarino, Maldonado, Uruguay 2018


This has floral aomas with touches of jasmine, citrus (grapefruit) and stone fruit (white peach). The palate is fresh, long, smooth and mineral-rich, and its acidity matches with its wide and persistent consistency.

100% Albariño/Alvarinho

Bodega Garzón Estate Pinot Noir Rosé, Maldonado, Uruguay 2018, £16.99 

Delicate pale salmon in colour, this elegant, expressive wine has intense aromas of strawberries and raspberries on the nose. Red cherries dominate the crisp palate which also exhibits distinct mineral notes and a lovely fresh acidity. 100% Pinot Noir

Montes Outer Limits Pinot Noir, Zapallar Vineyard, Aconcagua Valley/ Colchagua Valley, Chile 2016, £24.99

This elegant Pinot Noir has a very aromatic nose, pronounced notes of ripe cherries, blackcurrants, violets and a hint of mild toast from ageing in French Oak. A smooth palate with round tannins, alongside a fresh fruit character. Vibrant acidity gives the wine a bright and perfumed finish.

100% Pinot Noir


Bodega Garzón Reserva Tannat, Maldonado, Uruguay 2017


Intense black plum and rhubarb with complex notes of white pepper, tobacco,  dark chocolate, black tea leaf and liquorice, The palate is grippy turning to velvet with red meat.  Vineyards are on stony ground 11 miles in from the Atlantic coast, surrounded by forest. 100% Tannat.



Altos Las Hormigas Malbec Clásico, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza,  Argentina 2017, £14.99 

This Malbec is deep violet-red in colour. The nose displays characteristic notes of red fruits, raspberries and freshly picked plums with white pepper. The palate is fresh, supple and juicy, with soft but structured tannins and a long finish. 100% Malbec

Montes`Purple Angel` Colchagua Valley, Chile 2015, £48.99

Purple Angel showcases the rich flavours typical of Carménère. The addition of Petit Verdot gives the wine spice, colour, structure and acidity. Deep ruby red in colour, the wine has alluring red and blackberry notes on the nose. The palate is densely concentrated, with spice, chocolate and mocha which lingers on the finish. 92% Carmenère, 8% Petit Verdot

Montes Curicó Valley Late Harvest Gewürztraminer, Chile 2015, £11.99 

This sweet wine has a deep, bright-golden colour. Potent, complex nose with clear notes of honey, ripe cherries and sultana raisins all mingled with intriguing chamomile flower aromas. The palate has great volume and an attractive acidity that lingers on the finish. 100% Gewürztraminer


The Menu

Pork and Pepper, Coconut Thai Curry & Thai Sticky Rice

Fillet of Baked Seabass, Tomato Ratatouille & Charred Courgette & Basil Salsa Verde

Chinese BBQ Glazed Pork Belly, Crispy Crackling, Pickled Carrot and Mooli & Pac Choi

Cheese platter

Tarte Au Pommes, Apricot & Honey Glaze, Clotted Cream Ice Cream

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Looking for real value

My wine buying has recently been very focused on getting the best possible value in difficult times; achieving the best I can for my “buck” so to speak. It isn’t just the devalued pound which has sent costs soaring, it is the significantly smaller volume of wine available to us as well, the downward pressures of supply and demand. In Chablis, for example, some 40% of crops were wiped out by frost last year. Elsewhere drought was the problem, and in far-flung parts of the world it was flooding. Climate change? At any rate costs increased in real terms. My approach to the problem has been to shift my ranges. So, for example, where my burgundy range is concerned, I dropped many of the big name premier and grand cru wines, replacing them with the best of the village wines. Meursault “Sous La Velle” instead of Meursault 1er Cru “Les Charmes”, by example. I have kept some of the expensive high fliers, of course, but they are periphery and aspirational wines, not the focus of the range. I also added burgundy wines from outside the Cote d`Or, from the less known and cheaper Côte Chalonnaise and Mâconnais regions a little further south.   I was able to find a plethora of decent burgundies at sensible prices there. I proved it can be done – real value achieved, despite market pressures and without slashing margins or over-discounting. I have done pretty much the same exercise across the ranges in our shop, providing alternative up-and-coming better value options.  The prevailing discount culture in which we compete can make our work challenging, and it would be easy enough to hike prices to discount back again in response, but we choose instead to offer real wines at fair prices and thankfully most people get this. What is key, going forward, is that we remain an attractive proposition, while being profitable and able to re-invest in both the business and the building itself, ensuring we continue to be an asset to the community. Cheers everyone.





Anthony Borges

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Nothing quite so special as a wee dram of whisky on a cold, bracing day, in Scotland

Our recent trip to Scotland had many highlights, among them Gleneagles, bagpipes, Scottish dancing,  Cream Tea at The Balmoral, and the Edinburgh pubs and restaurants. Perhaps the most memorable was beautiful Loch Lomond surrounded by the Trossachs and their snow-capped bens, glens and forests. And the castles, of course: Stirling was magic – in the bleakness of mid-Winter, Robert the Bruce standing tall, the killing fields below us where the infamous Battle of Bannockburn was fought; with the mist all around images came unbidden of the film `Braveheart` and Mel Gibson`s William Wallace, a monument to Wallace appropriately visible on a hilltop nearby.  On another bitter cold day, we walked in lowland moorlands, surrounded by prickly gorse and feathery heather. It was a grey overcast day and colours were muted, but it had a raw, harsh beauty about it, underlined by the biting wind. A local told us to come back in Springtime to see for ourselves the bright yellow bloom of the gorse, or in August, to see the spectacular lilac-purple of the heather: the flower of Scotland. It was there I had my first whisky of the trip, a warming 10 year-old Glengoyn, sweet and spicy.  It rekindled an old passion, having not drunk whisky since my last trip to Scotland in my early thirties. I had strayed, giving myself to wine. It took this trip to rediscover days gone by “auld lang syne”.  I had always loved the Highland whiskies. My first ever 12 year-old was The Dalmore, silky-rich and luxurious.  It is no coincidence I have always stocked it.  In equal measure I always recoiled from the salty, iodine-peat of many of the Islay malts, Laphroaig and others.  I like the idea of these – the smoke – the terroir of Scotland. Somehow, in Winter, these whiskies appear to reflect this harsh, misty land more than the others.  Yet my palate appears unchanged in all these years, except I have a greater appreciation now of some of the lighter, more subtle lowland malts, The Glenkinchie 12 year-old my favourite.