A review of the Dovev Cabernet Franc 2010 and some news about Bruichladdich along with a review of their 10-year-old, Unpeated, Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky.
By Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon
Washington Jewish Week July 18, 2012
Although often relegated to a secondary role in winemaking, Cabernet Franc is actually a very alluring grape varietal.
Traditionally utilized as a blending grape to soften the tannins of Bordeaux’s Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, Cab Franc has become successful as a single bottling in France’s Loire region as well as some New World wineries where convention holds less import. It also makes a fantastic dessert-style ice wine.
The highly revered Cabernet Sauvignon is a cross of Cab Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. But little honor is accorded cab franc despite its prominence in some critically acclaimed (and very expensive) wines from France and California. It appears to have originated in southwest France and was brought to the Loire by Cardinal Richelieu in the 17th century. By the next century, it had found its way to Bordeaux and became an important component of wines from Saint-Emilion and Pomerol. There are some excellent Loire red wines created from cab franc but typically these are considered to be too rustic for the American palate. Other wine regions with longer growing periods have been more successful in creating a softer, easier drinking version.
Aromatic and expressive of red and dark fruit, pepper and tobacco, Cab Franc can be nearly as complex as its noble offspring at a fraction of the price. The lesser examples are often the result of incomplete ripening and can have an unpleasant green pepper or vegetable taste. But most recent bottlings are very drinkable making it a varietal worth exploring. A good entry point into cab franc is the nicely priced kosher Dovev Cabernet Franc 2010 ($13). Grown in Israel’s Upper Galilee, it has blackberry and cherry aromas and flavors with cassis and some pleasant spiciness in the finish.
Spirits-wise, we’ve just learned some startling and not altogether happy news: French spirits company Remy Cointreau acknowledged, on July 9, that it is talking to Islay single malt producer Bruichladdich about acquiring the brand. Via Twitter, Bruichladdich managing director Mark Reynier confirmed this as well. Obviously, nobody goes public with such news unless it’s pretty well settled.
When asked by stunned fans, via Twitter, what the future holds, Reynier said: “It’s a very good thing for the distillery, brand & staff. & the shareholders that took the risk with my hair-brained idea [of purchasing and reviving the distillery].” In response to additional questions, however, Reynier added: “Everything will remain the same – we will exchange 60 shareholders for 1 – but ironically I will be ‘surplus to requirements.’ ”
That last line, alone, though an obvious consequence of selling the company, is a reminder that big changes are inevitable. In the short run, again as per Reynier on Twitter, “Jean-Marie Laborde, CEO of Remy, assured me that, with the price tag involved, they have no intention of changing a thing.” Yes, perhaps, up to a point.
The distillery currently employs around 50 locals, making it the single largest nongovernmental employer on the island of Islay, which does make one wonder what this sale means for Bruichladdich’s family of employees. Most distilleries these days employ far, far fewer folks. Will foreign decision-makers, looking at this in the context of a much larger bottom line, think of the impact on local jobs when comparing costs to industry statistics?
Just to remind readers, Bruichladdich styles itself as “Progressive Hebridean Distillers,” which says more than first meets the eye. They are obviously distillers, and they are obviously located on the southernmost island of the Inner Hebrides archipelago off the west coast of Scotland. Yet Bruichladdich has also been progressive in the ideological or philosophical sense. Bruichladdich has placed great importance on being local, authentic, and economically, communally, and even sociologically, relevant to the lives of the people of Islay and of Scotland. As we noted previously, Bruichladdich has fairly routinely taken swipes at the Scotch industry mainstream, and has doggedly asserted its own principles and total independence in its approach, and in its criticisms of the industry’s supposed old-boys network and their philosophic conservatism as to what will and will not be permitted under the general brand name of “Scotch Whisky.”
All of which makes one wonder what this sale means. Beyond the obvious, that ownership will change from a local private group of shareholders to a public foreign-based corporation, this sale suggests that the fierce independence of Progressive Hebridean Distillers is not above cashing out, or, not to mince words, of selling out. How does one square their selling the whole enterprise with their self-asserted image as industry outsiders and pioneers?
Industry analysts, as of this writing, speculate that the sale will likely be around $53 million. Bruichladdich, which has annual sales of around $18.5 million, is currently owned by a group of Scottish investors who bought the otherwise silent (industry term for dormant) distillery from the Beam company in 2000 for around $8 million. If the estimate is true, it’d be a pretty good return for shareholders on their initial investment and, admittedly, not a bad reason to sell out and move on to other projects.
Exactly what the future holds for Bruichladdich and, most importantly, for consumers is anyone’s guess.
On this we muse while enjoying a dram of the Bruichladdich 10-year-old, Unpeated, Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky (46 percent abv; $60): this is a smooth, delicious assemblage of both American and European oak-aged whiskies offering aromas and flavors of creamy vanilla, honey, lemon and lemon zest, apricot, tangerine, overripe cantaloupe melon, malt, banana muffin, fresh bread, candied ginger, and with a light but distinct brine. The finish is long and lingering. A delicious, unpretentious, easy drinking yet complex dram. L’Chaim!