Post by Stefan Van Eycken, Tokyo
On the nose, the initial impressions are venison with balsamic prune sauce, honey-bourbon glazed barbecued ribs, mango chutney, old leather, old cigar boxes (the boxes themselves, not so much the cigars!) but it’s also got a bit of a Sicilian side to it, with cartocci siciliani, buccellati and mpanatigghi on the table. There’s also a bit of rosemary, thyme and some caraway lying about. When you spend more time with it, you may pick up hints of shiso leaf and strawberry-and-fennel compote. After a good 15 minutes, there are distinct notes of mimolette, porcini risotto and a teeny tiny (but oh so, delightful) trace of ruby grapefruit. Tasting notes are always partial – not only in the sense of revealing but a fraction of ‘what’s there’ (assuming there is such a thing), but also in the sense of revealing what the taster is partial to – but with these sort of Golden Age (i.e. early 80s) Karuizawas, you really could go on forever… The thing is: there’s a thousand things going on but there is no excess whatsoever in this case – which you can’t always say about 30+yo Karuizawas.
In the mouth, it’s the liquid equivalent of “The Odyssey” – what a journey! It starts with an intense citrus attack – not quite the sudachi that’s a signature note of old (and I mean pre-80s) Karuizawas, but something between lime and sudachi. Then, you get grapefruit peel, beef jerky, blueberry barbecue pulled pork, smoked kinmedai and burdock, ume plum jam, mole sauce, but there’s more… smoked chocolate chips, a fig log, espresso liqueur… the list goes on and on. This is like a whole week of fine dining rolled into a single dram. In that sense, Karuizawa is not all that expensive, come to think of it. You can just slowly work your way through a bottle of this, and feel like you’ve been eating in the world’s most fabulous restaurants for months on end.
The finish is long and fairly drying but pleasantly so… with the strawberry-and-fennel coming back, some bramble cinnamon crumble and a bit of shichimi.
Water tames the nose somewhat and makes it more approachable… but it fades out some of the aromatic ‘partials’ (to use an analogy from sonology) that give the nose that gritty wildness that’s so beguiling … well, personally speaking. On the palate, water dials up the citrus (Seville oranges, which you often get in early 80s Karuizawas at some point during the journey from glass to memory) and stewed fruits. It also brings out more of the wood. On the finish, with water, you get some hojicha, golden raisins, white pepper and a sliver of fresh mint.
What can we say? It’s up there with the best early-80s Karuizawas… but there’s only 50 bottles. Life can be a cruel…