A Variety Of Varietals


A review of the Balma Venitia Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise 2006 and several bottlings of Bowmore Single Malt Scotch.


By Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon


Washington Jewish Week   May 29, 2013


muscatMost casual wine drinkers are aware of only a few grape varietals such as Cabernet, Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Malbec and Shiraz. Others may have tried a Riesling, Pinot Gris or Petite Sirah. But there are literally hundreds more varietals that have been made into wines that are stylistically different and extremely enjoyable. All it takes is a willingness to explore the shelves of a well-stocked store and a sense of adventure.

An example is the Muscat, a floral and somewhat spicy, light-bodied varietal that is grown in nearly every wine producing country and may be the oldest domesticated grape. In Italy it becomes Moscato and it is made into Moscatel in Spain. These muscat wines are best enjoyed when young and chilled and they pair wonderfully with lunch and other light fare or as an aperitif.

Another Muscat variation is the fortified dessert wine created in the southern central Rhone valley. Named for one of the nearby towns, Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise is made from Muscat de Frontignan vines grown on narrow terraces called “restanques” or “faysses” upon the limestone soil along the foothills of the Dentelles de Montmirail. It is a “vin doux naturel” created by adding a neutral alcohol to stop the fermentation by killing off the yeasts while some residual sugar remains. The result is a very fragrant, lighter-styled, sweet wine that is delicious either poured upon or side by side with fresh berries, sherbert and other warm weather desserts. A kosher example is the tropical fruit and honey scented Balma Venitia Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise 2006 that has wonderfully balanced flavors of oranges, passion fruit, honey and minerals extending into a medium finish. It is a perfect way to accompany sliced fruit at the end of a summer meal.

Spirits-wise, we thought we’d once again consider the Bowmore Distillery, the oldest operating distillery on the western Hebrides isle of Islay. Established in 1779, Bowmore is the earliest recorded distillery on the Scottish island, and is also among the earliest established distilleries still operating in all of Scotland. The distillery stands in the town of the same name, on the Loch Indaal inlet, basically right in the center of the island.

Style-wise, Bowmore has always been considered somewhere in-between the heavy, peaty, smoky Islay bruisers, like Laphroaig, Ardbeg or Lagavulin, and the more dainty, lighter-peated Bunnahabhain, Caol Ila and Bruichladdich. In place of oomph, Bowmore traditionally offers elegance and class, but with enough body and muscle to remain a contender, and just enough peat and smoke to remind one of its Islay provenance.

Refinement and poise are not, however, hotly sought after in Islay Scotch whiskies of late, and so Bowmore has generally been under-regarded for the past 20 years or so. Indeed, not until 2007 did owners Morrison Bowmore Distillers Ltd., a holding company wholly owned by Japanese drinks company Suntory since 1994, begin to seriously rebrand and reposition the whisky. Just last year, Morrison Bowmore also hired Rachel Barrie as its new master blender, the first female master blender in the entire Scotch whisky industry. She previously worked her magic at Ardbeg and Glenmorangie. So before the price tags start to rise commensurate with Bowmore’s growing reputation, try some of its already delicious, often stellar whiskies. Here are some to consider:

Bowmore “Legend,” Islay single-malt Scotch whisky (40 percent abv; $30): this no-age statement whisky is obviously very young, but offers vigorous aromas of brine, iodine, toasted cereal, caramel, dried banana and sweet honey. On the palate, these flavors play second fiddle to the slightly green malted barley notes, though the net effect is rich and rewarding, with just enough peat, smoke and iodine to satisfy. The finish is dry and short. This is a great entry-level priced whisky.

Bowmore 12 Year Old, Islay single-malt Scotch whisky (40 percent abv; $45): This gently peated whisky opens on the nose with distinct floral notes amid the peat and sweet tobacco (think pipe) smoke, followed by ash, dried grass, sea brine, and zesty, lemon and orange, citrus notes. These are followed on the palate with lovely and well-rounded flavors of peat, spice and honey, offering a subtle balance between dryness, sweetness, peat and smoke. The finish is smoky, briny, citrusy, oily, and dry. This is not a massive peat monster, but this is a fantastic, elegant Islay classic.

Bowmore 15 Year Old “Darkest” Islay single-malt Scotch whisky (43 percent abv; $75): This lovely, absorbing whisky offers aromas of dark chocolate, raisins, nutmeg, dark toffee, black pepper, cigar smoke, brine, and cedar wood, followed by rich, concentrated, palate-coating flavors of bitter chocolate, dark honey, butterscotch, toffee, vanilla bean, wafts of feint smoke, sweet honey and a hint of smoke and treacle, finishing sweet, delicate, with a touch of smoke. A wonderful, most inviting whisky!

Bowmore 18 Year Old Islay single-malt Scotch whisky (43 percent abv; $130): This great whisky leads aromatically with a combination of rich dried fruit and citrus fruit, malted barley and subtle but distinct peat smoke, dark chocolate, and sweet caramel. The palate follows on with chocolate, more dried fruits, honey, brown sugar, vanilla, peat, bitter smoke, a hint of sea brine and some subtle citrus notes. The finish is long with balanced sweet characteristics, peat, and distinct if slightly muted beach bonfire like smoke. Delightful and complex.

Finally, though not an official Bowmore Distillery bottling, consider the recent Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) bottling: 3.188 “The Camping Trip” [the #3 is the society’s notation for Bowmore, while the #188 indicates that this is the 188th cask of Bowmore the Society has bottled].

SMWS 3.188 “the Camping Trip” (14 years old; 58.8 percent abv; $115 – available only to Society members – nu?, so join already): This great, complex whisky from the Bowmore Distillery exhibits aromas and flavors of molasses, butterscotch, peat and smoke, grassy and herbal notes, a touch of lavender, dried fruit and a smidgeon of chocolate, petrol, a whiff of extinguished match, sea brine and day old smoked kippers. Doesn’t sound so brilliant, right? Just try it – simply gorgeous! L’Chaim!

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