When is a Port not a Port, a Chardonnay not a Chardonnay, a Calvados not a Calvados or a Cognac not a Cognac? More than any other continent, the European Union takes its protected designation of origins (PDO) very seriously. In the case of Port, which plays an active role in the flavour profile of the brandy under review today, it can only be made within Portugal and is the oldest protected spirit name in the world.
Port wine, like most fortified wine, starts its life much like any other late-season style of wine. The wine is then fortified with a distilled spirit, traditionally a grape-based brandy, which ups the ABV and allows for a longer shelf-life when opened.
Other countries and wineries outside of Portugal have come up with creative names for their fortified wine, which brings us back to the curious name of the finishing barrel for Bridgeland Distillery’s Artisan Collection Moscato Brandy. The second in their Artisan Collection series, the Coruja barrel comes from one of my favourite wineries in BC: Burrowing Owl.
Quick side-note. When I was a Master’s student at the University of British Columbia, I would blow part of my twice monthly stipend paycheque on a bottle of BC Chardonnay. It was during this voyage of discovery that I encountered Burrowing Owl and a visit to their winery several years later only reinforced that devotion.
Fittingly, Coruja is Portugese for “owl”. Burrowing Owl makes their Coruja fortified wine from Syrah grapes selected from Black Sage Vineyards in Summerland, BC. The wine was then fortified with a brandy that was distilled from Burrowing Owl’s own white wine.
Turning our attention back to Bridgeland Distillery (learn more about this distillery here and here), this Moscato Brandy is the second expression in their Artisan Collection, which highlights single barrel spirit releases produced in unique and innovative ways. Distilled from Moscato Canelli grapes, the brandy spent 40 months in a new French Limousin oak barrel before being finished in a ex-Coruja barrel from Burrowing Owl Estate Winery. It was bottled at 45% ABV.
Nose: When I first poured this into my glass, all I got was the spicy character of the Limousine oak. Let this sit for about 5-10 minutes and you shall be justly rewarded. Make no mistake, the fruitiness of this brandy, coupled with the unique finishing barrel is very prominent. However, it’s this subtle floral note that emerges from underneath that really gives this spirit a refined aroma beyond its years. The fruitiness is dark and intense with blackberries, black currants, prunes and sultanas. The oak presents itself in equally dark shades of nutmeg, clove, allspice and toasted cinnamon. After nosing for a while, I’m picking up dried strawberries as well a hint of dark fruit and nut chocolate bar (both favourite notes of mine).
Palate: Fresh strawberries greet you at the entry way, drizzled in a little bit of honey. In short order, as this transitions to the development, these strawberries are dipped first in milk chocolate, then dark chocolate, then dusted with cocoa powder. Mid-way through the development, blackberries, slightly charred raisins, and candied orange peel join in. The subtle floral notes bob along the surface the whole way through. The spices from the oak that I got on the nose really start to build during the second half of the development and are joined by a sprinkle of cracked black pepper. There’s just the right amount of spice here. Not too hot, not too mild. Just right.
Finish: Medium in length and dries out as it progresses. The fruitiness fades about half way through, leaving you with a slight dark chocolate fudge note, a bit heavier on the cocoa powder and slowly fading spice.
With water added: The dried strawberries are much more prominent now, as is its floral nature. There’s also a bit of a herbal quality to this. Maybe chocolate mint. Seville orange marmalade (not shy on the orange rind) is coming up now. Dark chocolate is lurking in the background. Certainly a little fresher than without water being added. On the palate, it’s a little bit drier and heavier on the cocoa powder than the chocolate. The nuttiness has increased a little bit, especially towards then end of the finish. Definitely almonds. There’s still a good amount of spice, which bodes well if you want to make a cocktail with this.
Conclusion: Along with the first release in their Artisan Collection (a soon-to-be reviewed wheat whisky finished in an ex-Moscato Brandy barrel), this Moscato Brandy really shows off the skill that Jacques and Daniel (co-founders of the distillery) have developed over the years. At $59 each (although only available in the distillery and on their website), each expression is a steal for what you get and highlights some of the truly innovative spirits being produced in Alberta right now. I’m not a cocktail person, but I tried this in a Sidecar with two parts Moscato Brandy, one part Cointreau, and one part lemon juice. Mix that up and thank me later!