Phil Hunter attends the press launch and tasting of the new-look Metaxa 12 star brandy at which the company unveiled its new brand ambassador, South African adventurer Mike Horn and finds the spirit still uniquely standing out from the crowd.
The signature notes of rose petal and sweetness are still there but there are also a number of changes to the new-look Metaxa 12 star brandy.
Metaxa has always struck me as a rare animal and at the relaunching of their 12 star premium blend I could see why, for this is a hybrid spirit, almost an inverted fortified wine.
All Metaxas begin much like typical brandies in so far as there is such a thing, with production of a wine-like wash fermented from various local grapes such as Greek Savatiano, Sultaniana, and Black Corinth, after drying in the sun.
But then comes the unique brush stroke with the addition of a little sweet Muscat, which combined with the added botanicals and the ageing in oak gives Metaxa its distinctive mellifluous honeyed taste, almost oleaginous on the palate against a little burnt caramel.
The star rating signifies ageing in years but not everyone at the tasting accepted this equates exactly with quality.
Metaxa’s Master Blender Costas Raptis was suitably coy about the magic formula, telling us little more than that the precise blend of distillates and the “secret bouquet” of botanicals had been tweaked for the relaunched version of the 12 year old 12 Star.
Indeed it was impossible to assess its specific merits without the previous version to taste alongside, or for that matter lower starred blends subject to less ageing.
I had recently though sampled the 7 star and agreed with others that the 12 star is a touch sweeter, which was not to everyone’s liking but hit the spot well for me, given the fine balance between the botanicals.
The signature rose petal – almost as definitive of Metaxa as juniper is to gin – is properly circumscribed with other essences including a light doping of anise as well as a pleasant after taste of dried orange. All this is underpinned by clear but refrained darker flavours including of course toasted oak from the barrels along with caramel and butterscotch, although unlike a few others I failed to detect coffee or chocolate. Then on the finish we had figs and dried prunes among other ingredients which were helpfully displayed in bowls to jog our palatal memories.
Apart from the addition of Muscat one point that distinguishes Metaxa from most other brandies such as cognac is a greater focus on the distillate, more akin to whisky perhaps.
There is as much secrecy over the blending of distillates as over the mixing of botanical ingredients after ageing, but what stood out was the emphasis on control of the end-to-end process going back from grape to fermentation, bearing in mind that in the case of some gins the raw spirit is delivered in tankers and it is all in the added botanicals.
Metaxa is more versatile than most brandies, very agreeable in the ginger ale cocktail we were served at the launch, although one does not need the 12 star for that.
It is best of all on the rocks, allowing some of the subtler floral flavours to emerge with growing dilution from the melting ice and while it does hold up well enough neat it does not match a fine Cognac as a digestif. But at £30 a bottle it is a good deal cheaper than most cognacs of comparable quality.
The point about the Metaxa 12 star, though, according to its new brand ambassador, South African born adventurer Mike Horn, is that it stands out from the crowd and is worth taking time over to dissect the flavours.
We all drank to that.