A New Life

Review of the Hagafen Brut Cuvée 2012 and Gordon & MacPhail (“Rare Vintage” range) Glen Grant 1958.


By Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon


Washington Jewish Week  May 21, 2015


glen grant 1958We recently had some reasons to rejoice and make merry. As our readers would expect, there were more than a few bottles opened with family and friends. The occasion? One of us had an addition to the family!

As Judaism is simultaneously a family-centered as well as belief-centered religion, a simcha for one Jew is a celebration for all of the nation of Israel. So in this case—the birth, shalom zachar, and then later the bris milah and naming of a son (Moshe Reuven Ephraim London)—everyone gathered had reason to rejoice.

With a wide range of excellent kosher wines available at all price levels, choosing the best celebratory wines was a bit of a challenge.

After much contemplation, and since the father of the newborn is originally from California, we ended up opening CA kosher wines from Hagafen Cellars in the Napa Valley, from Four Gates in the Santa Cruz Mountains, from Covenant in Berkeley, from Herzog Wine Cellars in Oxnard, from the limited kosher run of Craig Winchell of the Agua Dulce Winery, and from the two stellar small-crush producers Jonathan Hadju (Hadju Wines), and brothers Gabriel and Shimon Weiss (Shirah Wine Company). While all the wines—red, white, dessert—were fabulous and accompanied each meal and moment well, the standout wine for all this was, on balance, the sparkling wine from Hagafen Cellars.

Sure, OK, it is a bit of a cliché. And we have long bemoaned the tendency to save sparklers for merely special occasions. Since we enjoy sparkling wines throughout the year, however, it seemed perfectly okay to pop open a delicious kosher CA Brut to celebrate our blessings.

The Hagafen Brut Cuvée 2012 ($37; mevushal—though not so’s you’d know it) perfectly matched the moment, each moment. Full-bodied with a lovely, bright peach hue and a robust head of large, lively bubbles, this dry sparkler offers aromas and flavors of peach, apple, strawberry, a touch of melon, citrus, dollops of cream, a touch of yeast, and an inviting smidge of brioche; there is also a generous hint of sweet syrup, finishing in a long citrus and green almond finish. This is a beautiful, crisp, and well balanced sparkler that should nicely enliven any joyous occasion.

Spirits-wise, we had the same dilemma: what to crack open for this special occasion? The immediate answer is, really, anything that underscores that notion of “special” or “distinguished” will service nicely for the moment. So, really, anything that is not your usual libation.

If you rarely drink a l’chaim, then having one marks the occasion as special. (Though if you rarely drink a l’chaim, you are probably NOT still reading this.) As we’ve said a great many times before, greater expense does not necessarily translate into better distilled spirits. The higher price-tag does, however, constitute a distinguishing or even elevating characteristic to the spirit, if for no other reason than that the price tag means neither you nor your guests are likely to drink such a whisky all the time. Expense, thus, can instantly convey special status to your beverage simply because the cost takes it out of the sphere of normal or usual.

Sometimes the price tag is all about marketing, and sometimes the price tag is high because the costs of bringing the particular beverage to market are high too. If you shop wisely, the high price tag will acquire you something truly special in every sense.

On offer for this occasion were a rather wide variety (especially at the shalom zachar) of delicious single-malt Scotch whiskies, as well as a few American and Irish whiskies—far too many expensive, rare and excellent choices than will fit this space. The most expensive bottle we cracked open, for those who care about the price tag, was:

The Gordon & MacPhail (“Rare Vintage” range) Glen Grant 1958 (bottled at 49 years old; over $1000 if you can still find it): Rarely does a whisky endure this many years maturing in wood, without being utterly beaten to death by it—yet this was a rich, complex, exceptional whisky! Deep mahogany colored, exhibiting enticing aromas of toffee, cinnamon, cloves, stewed fruit, oak and vanilla, followed through on the balanced palate with additional elegant flavors of malted barley, fruit, leather, raisins, orange and apple peels, pear, something like cider, and with hints of toasted cereals. The finish was long, lush and racy. This was liquid history and sheer bottled poetry! L’chaim!

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