A Taste Of Black And White
A review of the Vinobles David Cote du Rhone Villages-Reserve 2010 and Black & White Blended Scotch Whisky.
By Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon
Washington Jewish Week January 9, 2013
The Rhone river valley produces some of the world’s finest red wines. It is comprised of two geographically and viticulturally distinct regions. The Northern Rhone climate varies widely through the year and is known for cold winters and warm summers. Its red wines are exclusively syrah although some subregions permit the addition of a small amount of white grapes. In the southern Rhone, the weather is more Mediterranean with a milder winter and hotter summer. The wines are predominately grenache based blends that can include over a dozen other red and white varietals.
The region does not have a specific quality designation like other notable French wine-producing areas such as Burgundy and Bordeaux. However the various official sites of origin (AOC) designations for Rhone wines are regulated and their names on a label give an indication of the wine’s quality. The lowest is “Cotes du Rhone,” followed by “Cotes du Rhone-Village,” then “Cotes du Rhone-Village” along with the actual name of the village. The highest is “Cru,” the 15 appellations that are labeled only with the name of the specific site of production.
Located near the Pont du Gard, the famous Roman aqueduct that crosses the Gardon River, is the southern Rhone winery Vignobles David. Established in 1991, it is a family-owned winery that has 119 acres of grapes and olives and they have been producing kosher wines since 2005. Making kosher wine is a challenge in the southern Rhone since the different varietals rarely ripen simultaneously. This necessitates extended (and costly) kashrut supervision for weeks during the harvest and the subsequent processing of the various grapes leading to the creation and bottling of the final blends.
Owner Frederic David and his son Alain are known for creating stylistically classic southern Rhone wines of great depth and character. Their kosher, nonmevushal (nonboiled) Vinobles David Cote du Rhone Villages-Reserve 2010 is a 60-40 blend of grenache and syrah with expressive dark fruit and mocha aromas. It is a full-bodied, well-balanced wine with layers of cassis, mocha, black currant and spice with some pleasant earthiness and leather along with accents of oak that continue into the persistent finish. This is a terrific introduction into the fabulous wines of the southern Rhone.
Spirits-wise, this past Shabbos one of us had a wonderful surprise in store when our lunch host produced an old – very old, by the looks of it – bottle of Black & White Blended Scotch Whisky. Not only has it been ages since we’ve tasted Black & White, it’s been ages since we’ve even seen it.
The bottle our friends poured – thank you again Michael and Zahava – was imported by The Fleischmann Distilling Corporation, a group that began importing Black & White in 1938 and continued until 30 years or so back, when it was bought out. Since this particular bottle was older than anything you’ll find today, we obtained a more recent sample for this review, and discovered in the process that this classic blended Scotch whisky is not only still around, but can be procured fairly inexpensively.
Why, exactly, Black & White has fallen out of the limelight is hard to ascertain, considering its quality and value. A likely contributing factor is that the style is unchanged since its pre-Single Malt craze, post-World War II heyday.
Furthermore, following the usual mergers and acquisitions, the brand was acquired by the mighty Diageo, the world’s largest drinks company. Apparently, the brand is big in France, Venezuela and Brazil. According to a 2011 industry report, Black & White ranked 52 out of the 124 top performing spirits globally (Johnnie Walker was #1).
Yet back in the 1950s and ’60s, Black & White was one of the most popular Scotch whisky brands, especially in the United States. It was the whisky of choice for Dean Martin during this period, was drunk by James Bond in the Moonraker novel, and was a familiar prop in various films. As blends still account for 92 percent of global Scotch whisky sales (82 million cases annually), Black & White should, on the merits, be recognizable on the order of Dewars, Chivas Regal or Cutty Sark. Alas, it is not.
Black & White began life around 1884. The Canadian born, Scottish raised James Buchanan, one of the last great Scotch whisky barons, entered the Scotch whisky trade in the 1879 as a London distributor, but soon enough began producing his own blends out of Glasgow. Buchanan’s whisky was first marketed as “The Buchanan Blend of Fine Old Scotch Whiskies” and was meant to be a lighter-styled whisky that would appeal to the English palate over the stronger, heavier Highland malt whiskies. The whisky proved very popular and sales were robust. In 1888, Buchanan was contracted to supply whisky to the House of Commons. He briefly changed the name to “Buchanan’s House of Commons Scotch Whisky.” The bottle was black glass and the label was white.
Before too long, Buchanan embraced his customers predilection to simply refer to his whisky as, “that black and white whisky.” He began incorporating the slogan “Black & White” into his marketing around 1900 and then consistently made it part of the name on the label a few years later.
One aspect of its successful marketing was the representation of the Black & White name via memorable images. Buchanan, an animal lover, began working black and white animals such as dogs and horses into his marketing material around 1910. In 1912, Buchanan introduced little dogs to the marketing campaign: a black Scottish Terrier and a white West Highland Terrier.
These little dogs were a huge hit, making the brand, for a time, second only to Johnnie Walker’s Striding Man logo in consumer recognition. Known officially as “Black & White,” the whisky was selling close to 1 million cases by 1925, and Buchanan’s whisky empire expanded greatly to include various brands and multiple distilleries. The house blend still consists of 35-40 percent malt whiskies and 65-60 percent grain whiskies, and based on our experience has been pretty well consistent for the last 30 years or so, probably much longer.
Black & White Blended Scotch Whisky (40 percent abv; $17): this wonderful Scotch opens with aromas of pears, flowers, grains and oak enveloped in soft yet distinct peat, and then hits the palate with crisp, softly muted malt and fruit sweetness, slightly peppery, spirity grain, and soft wafts of smoke with a sensational manly bite and an ever so slight (odd) tangy undercurrent of tobacco and soap. The finish is mild and pleasant with additional notes of vanilla and caramel. We drank it neat, and loved it. It would probably be hard to put down mixed with ice and soda. L’Chaim!