Sunday, 10 January 2016

Under Siege. Part One - Disturbances in The Force (I know - hilarious, right? And so topical.)

The World is Changing. No, scratch that, the World has Changed. Old generalisations, once held as truisms - once possibly even true - have been debunked. Old Kings, we are told, have lost their crowns.

I'm a Whisky boy at heart, but I'm a Wine boy by trade, and dealing as I do primarily with men and women of a certain generation I am constantly presented with the statement 'France or Get The Fuck Out.' Or, you know, words to that effect. But the fact remains that the idea that French wine is inherently better than wine from anywhere else is now so outdated as to be utterly risible. Yes, at its best France punches with, and more often than not knocks out anyone else - but who can afford its best? I know I can't. The average amount of money spent on a bottle of wine in the UK is considerably less than £10. And frankly if you buy a bottle of French Wine, particularly from France's flagship regions of Bordeaux and Burgundy, for much less than £10 you're either irretrievably obstinate, irretrievably ignorant or your senses of taste and smell have ceased to function. Or all of the above.

Ok, that's a wild generalisation, but the point remains that with a handful of exceptions you'll almost always get a better return on your brown note from Spain or Chile or Argentina or California or Italy or Australia or New Zealand or any other of the myriad wine producing countries of the world. And this is not news. This has been established for years now. Decades. Longer than I've been drinking wine; longer than I've been alive. And with the nature of France's largely marginal climate and astronomical prices at its upper (and even middle) levels that isn't going to change. Olympus has fallen. The King is not only dethroned; he has been thoroughly guillotined. He will not rise again, and in 20-30 years the last generation of the 'France or GTFO' era will have all but disappeared too.

But this is a Whisky blog, and I've talked long enough about grape juice, so let's get back on point. I think it's fairly obvious where my analogy is going. A country long held as the unassailable fortress of a particular drink now under heavy siege and showing the cracks. Surrounded by rivals whose arsenals grow ever more formidable, and whose ranks of supporters more swollen, vocal and vociferous. For the second year in a row newspaper articles written by folk who may or may not be familiar with the subject have delightedly crowed of the Scots 'left reeling,' and 'Scottish distilleries in shock,' as Jim Murray admits none of their expressions to his list of the 'Five Finest Whiskies in the World.' Admittedly Jim Murray is only one man, however well-informed, so let's also consider the World Whisky Awards. 2016 has yet to be announced at the time of writing, but in 2014 Australia took the Single Malt Laurels with a Whisky from the Sullivan's Cove Distillery, and in 2015 it was Kavalan of Taiwan that emerged triumphant.

So where does that leave Scotland? And more importantly where does that leave the averagely-heeled Whisky consumer? Am I better off spending my precious pennies elsewhere, leaving the ancient Laird to moulder in some increasingly fragile castle? Or are the victory cries of the revolutionaries premature; the defences of that old fortress still equal to the battering of the aggressors? The issue is a gnarled and thorny one; certainly too much so for me to hack my way through in a single blog post. (Let's face it - you'd get bored! Or more bored. Shut up.) So this introductory aperitif will be followed by a two part main course, and hopefully once the plates are cleared we'll have a better idea of what we ought to pour into the after-dinner tumblers.


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