A review of the Beckett’s Flat Five Stones Sauvignon Blanc Semillion 2009 and the Maker’s Mark # 46.
By Joshua E. London and Louis Marmon
Washington Jewish Week July 6, 2011
The Beckett’s Flat Five Stones Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2009 ($15) is another one of those exceptional varietal marriages that the Australians do so well. A classic white Bordeaux blend, it has also found a home in the Western Australian Margaret River region where this combination of grapes produces a wine with outstanding flavors and character. This Aussie mevushal (boiled) kosher wine is richly aromatic with scents of apples, freshly cut grass and tropical fruit along with lively green apple, gooseberry and pineapple flavors with hints of herbs and lime. The finish is bright and mouth-filling, making it a great summer wine to enjoy with seafood or Asian flavored fare.
Beckett’s Flat is a family-owned winery located in the idyllic Margaret River region where the maritime climate is conducive to growing cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, shiraz, semillon and sauvignon blanc. Established in 1997 by Belizar “Bill” and Noni Ilic, all the wines are made on-site from grapes grown on their estate vineyards first planted in 1992. Bill and Noni are hands-on owners, involved in all aspects of the winemaking. Their kosher wines are marketed under the Five Stones label and are certified kosher by Kosher Australia, the Kashrut Authority of Western Australia and the O.U.
Spirits-wise, we are excited by a new expression of the familiar and much-enjoyed standby Maker’s Mark Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky ($26). Maker’s generally promotes itself as committed to two propositions: making great bourbon, and selling it the right way. The first point, we concede, is debatable, though we agree that Maker’s is great bourbon. The second point seems much harder to argue with. Maker’s sells about 1 million cases per year, and is in the midst of a $50 million expansion that will boost production by about 50 percent and will add at least 20 new warehouses for maturing whisky. Just by way of comparison, Wild Turkey bourbon is also about 1 million cases – though Jim Beam White Label, just to keep perspective, sells around 5 million cases a year. The new expression of Maker’s, the first new bourbon from them in more than 50 years, is the Maker’s Mark #46 ($37).
Maker’s Mark is the most well-known of the wheated bourbons, using more wheat-grain than rye to flavor the corn-based spirit (by law at least 51 percent corn). This results in a bourbon that is both mild and sweet and very smooth with hints of vanilla, caramel, wheat grain, allspice, cedar wood and pipe tobacco followed by a nice, rounded, if slightly quick, clean and cool finish. This incredibly drinkable bourbon is a great introduction to American whiskey, and is our preferred bourbon for such classic cocktails as an Old Fashioned or a mint julep.
So we approached this new expression of Maker’s with some anticipation, and concern. After all, if in over 50 years of producing quality bourbon they’ve resisted the temptation to mess with a good thing, why start now? Fortunately, this new Maker’s Mark #46 is basically just a happy experimental extension of the regular Maker’s Mark, and is good. Indeed, very good.
This new whiskey is basically just the old whiskey with a “finish.” That is, the whiskey has undergone a secondary maturation in a barrel that has more active or volatile physical and chemical properties in the oak, and so has a more dramatic influence on the whiskey, as sort of an overlay of flavors on the otherwise mature spirit. In the case of Scotch, for example, a finish typically means, say, moving 10-year-old used-bourbon-barrel-aged Scotch into a more fresh (meaning “less used”) wine or rum cask for six months to two years. The fresher the barrel, whatever its species of oak, the more active or volatile will be its chemical and physical properties, and so the heavier the influence it’ll have on the spirit.
In the case of Maker’s Mark #46, instead of tinkering with wine or rum casks, which has been done by other producers, they opted for something more interesting and novel in bourbon. Maker’s Mark #46 has been transferred to bourbon barrels that contain toasted or seared oak staves for several extra months of aging to “finish” the spirit.
The name “#46” was the profile number assigned to the particular process used to sear the oak staves that proved successful in creating the taste profile they were looking for. Resulting in a Maker’s Mark bourbon that is even smoother, a little less sweet, offers a little more heat, has a little less vanilla and a bit more earthy allspice, caramel, and a touch of something racy, though not sharp, from the seared oak.
Hard to say that Maker’s Mark #46 is better than the original, and yet it very possibly is. This is a delicious and inviting play on the friendly and familiar. Think of it more as an intriguing and enjoyable alternative than a replacement. If nothing else, it’ll make for interesting comparison with friends, loved ones or your local kiddush. L’Chaim!