Thursday 7 July 2011

When I met Metté - An Eau-de-Vie Tasting

Just some of products Metté produces.
I recently found myself in my old surroundings of the City, heading up Threadneedle Street to Bond’s Bar; once famous for their Truffle Martini. The reason? An Eau-de-Vie tasting with Metté and Amathus.

What is Eau-de-Vie?
Eau-de-Vie (“water-of-life”) is a (generally) colourless fruit brandy made by fermenting or macerating fruit and then distilling the resultant mash. Some producers age their products, but this is not essential. It is very similar to German or Austrian schnapps.

Metté have been making Eau-de-Vie for over 50 years and, today, the distillery is run by husband and wife team, Philippe and Nathalie Trabber, although it was founded in the 1960s by Jean Paul Metté, Philippe’s godfather. In 1985, Jean Paul started teaching Philippe the art of distilling and in 1997, Philippe and his wife purchased the distillery. Distiller Metté is located in Ribeauville, North-East France in the heart of the Alsatian Vineyards. Today, the distillery makes over 87 spirits and 25 liqueurs.

When Metté makes Eau-de-Vie it uses one of two methods:

My tasting glasses and sheet of copious notes.
1) Fermentation
Fruit is fermented using only the fruit’s natural sugar. No sugar or yeast are added. Maceration times vary depending on the fruit. After maceration, the fruit is distilled twice.
This style is used for pears and stone-fruit such as apricots and sloe berries.

2) Maceration
The second method is the one favoured for more delicate floral and herbal flavours and berries. The ingredients are macerated in the alcohol and then distilled once. Again, the maceration period varies, for example, raspberry only takes 6 days, whereas ginger takes 8-10 weeks.

Wild Raspberry
At our tasting, we tried six Eau-de-Vie (all bottled at 45% ABV) and one liqueur (30% ABV):

1) Apricot
This is aged for 6-8 years in stainless steel vessels, which is thought to make the drink more balanced. There is also an XO Apricot Eau-de-Vie available, which is aged for 15 years. The aging vessels are kept outside and so are subject to temperatures ranging between 45oc in summer to -20 in winter; these large swings are thought to improve the results of the aging.

Nose: Dry apricot stones, as well as a hint of the fresh, sweet flesh. Like a dry apricot liqueur.
Taste: Dry sweetness, but it still has the jamminess of an apricot preserve. There is some warmth and a little tongue-tingle and bite. A long, floral-perfume finish. A fine start to the tasting.

2) Vieille Mirabelle (Plum) – Aged 12 years
Nose: Dry plum with some almond and vanilla.
Taste: Like a very dry sloe gin; spicier and more flavoursome than the Apricot. Overall, this is a more intense product. A nice balance of sweet and dry, I thought the product really opened up with a little drop of water, bringing a rich fruitiness and a full-bodied mouth feel.

3) Wild Raspberry – Aged 6 years
This is macerated for 5 days and distillation takes place 24 hours a day whilst it is being made to prevent oxidisation from spoiling the fruit.
Nose: Fresh raspberry with a hint of blackberry; quite sweet.
Taste: Exceptional; it tastes like I have just bitten into a freshly picked, perfectly ripe raspberry. Astounding. Smooth and sweet at the start, with a gradual building warmth. Probably the best fruit spirit I have had.

4) Marc de Gerwurztraminer (Greengage)
I must admit that I’m not too familiar with the taste of Greengage fruit.
Nose: Apple, pear and a little kiwi. Dry, not too sweet. Some hints of lightly oxidised apple flesh.
Taste: Fruity; fresh apple with a little citrus and rather jam-like. Lots of flavour with hints of almond and marzipan on the finish.

5) Pepper – Aged 15 years
I was expecting something rather hot and peppery (as in black pepper), but what I found was quite different.
Nose: Spicy and fruity.
Taste: Some heat, but rather light; the flavour is of red bell pepper. This is fruity, which goes well with the press pepper flavours. There was a hint of mint and lemon and, overall, quite a crisp spirit. Herbal and intense with some spice. Superb.

We had already had one surprise with the sophisticated flavour profile of this spirit, but we were in for another when Nathalie announced that she liked to drink it with tonic water. Having just come from Imbibe (and being an ardent gin fan), I happened to have some tonic water with me, so we gave it a try*:

There’s a dry fruitiness that you might expect the gin to provide in a Gin & Tonic, but there is also a rich jammy fruitiness and some spicy pepper, too. It’s lighter and more full-bodied than a Gin & Tonic, with a touch of elderflower. Very refreshing, delicious and unlike anything have ever tasted before.
Quince Liqueur
6) Ginger – Aged 6 years
Nose: Superb. There’s no mistaking the fresh fiery, spicy scent of ginger; some sweetness akin to gingerbread.
Taste: Very very good; not too sweet and the ginger is not too overpowering. Very fresh, like freshly cut ginger root. Some citrus, too, giving the spirit a pleasant zesty quality. There was also a little butter or cream, like that from a really good quality ginger beer.

7) Quince Liqueur
This is based on the Quince Eau-de-Vie (aged 6–8 years), but the liqueur itself is un-aged. Fruit and sugar are added to the quince spirit to make this sweeter variety. This maceration process takes 6 weeks.
Taste: Sweet and jammy with warmth and a lingering drynness. Very pleasant. Some almond and marzipan notes as well as a hint of rose Turkish Delight.

In Conclusion

It was great to try just some of the range Metté has to offer, Eau-de-Vie is certainly more diverse than I thought. I'd never expected to be able to taste such, full rich and fruity flavours. My favourite has to be the Wild Raspberry but the Ginger & Pepper (especially with tonic) were not far behind.

*Pepper & Tonic
[25ml Metté Pepper Eau-de-Vie, 50ml tonic water; serve over ice in a tumbler]

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