A review of the Psagot Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 and the Glenfarclas 10 year old, 17 year old and their “105” Single Malt Scotch Whiskies.
By Joshua E. London and Louis Marmon
Washington Jewish Week October 5, 2011
The Judean Hills have been a source of wine since biblical times. Currently home to nearly 30 wineries, the hills surrounding Jerusalem now produce some of Israel’s best wines. The region’s complex soils, wide temperature variations, morning dew and modulating breezes create numerous micro-climates that allow the grapes to develop distinctive flavors and characteristics.
An example of a local vintner is Psagot Winery, which was established by Yaakov and Na’ama Berg in 2002. While preparing the vineyard, a tractor uncovered an ancient cave and wine press dating from the second Temple Era. Berg now uses the cave to age his best wines. Above ground he has a more modern facility for the actual winemaking, producing nearly 80,000 bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay and Viognier.
The label of his Psagot Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 ($25) features a raised replica of a coin found in the cave that is from the “Great Revolt” against Roman rule of 66-73 C.E. This lovely, medium-bodied wine opens with aromas of dark currant and red cherry that lead into well-balanced blackberry, currant, citrus and vanilla flavors. The finish is smooth with mild tannins, smoke and coffee notes that linger pleasantly with a bit of oak and spice.
Spirits-wise, our thoughts drifted back, as they inevitably do, to Scotland. In these days of international drink conglomerates, distant and disconnected accountant-driven decision making, leadership by executive committees, and marketing by professionals who sit hundreds if not thousands of miles away from producers, family-owned and operated distilleries in Scotland are few and far between. One of the very best, however, is the pretty Glenfarclas Distillery in Ballindalloch, Speyside, just off the A95 road between Aberlour and Grantown-on-Spey. Excellent whisky, and a fine distillery tour for all you whisky tourists out there.
The name Glenfarclas is Scots Gaelic for ‘the valley of the green grassland.’ The distillery was founded in 1836 by Robert Hay, but was bought in 1865 by John Grant and his son George (every male since is either a George or John). From 1865 until 1870, the Grants leased the distillery to John Smith who later went on to establish nearby Cragganmore distillery. Since then, the Grant family (J&G Grant) have owned and operated Glenfarclas, producing some of the very best Scotch whisky in the region. Brand ambassador and Director of Sales, George S. Grant, son of current chairman, John L.S. Grant, is the sixth generation of the family to be running the business. John has been at it since 1973, and in 1983 John made the decision to sell a single cask of his single malt to his friend Pip Hills of the then newly formed Scotch Malt Whisky Society – an historic decision in its day.
In 1968 George S. Grant, father of John L.S. Grant, created a Christmas gift for family and friends. He selected a single cask that was 105 British Proof (60 percent alcohol by volume). Thus the “Glenfarclas 105” was born, this first-ever commercially available, direct-from-distillery, cask-strength whisky has become the flagship expression of Glenfarclas for whisky enthusiasts. Recognizing early on the potential for single-malt madness, George S. Grant also made Glenfarclas one of the first distilleries to create a purpose-built visitor centre, which opened in 1973. The décor of the visitor’s tasting room, dubbed the “Ship’s Room,” exhibits the original ship’s bar and wood paneling from an old ocean liner (the “Empress of Australia”).
Glenfarclas has a large portfolio of malts and a wide range of high-end limited release expressions, all with elements of the “house style” which is big, complex, nutty, malty and comparatively sweet, with the clear influence of Sherry cask maturation (‘sherried’ in whisky-geek lingo). Here are three core Glenfarclas expressions to seek out and taste.
The Glenfarclas 10-year-old is not only a nice introduction to Glenfarclas, it is a fine introduction to single-malt Scotch whisky. This wonderfully smooth, deep, lightly sherried whisky offers rich aromas and flavors of red plums, raisins, ginger, apples, nuts, vanilla and other spices, with just a background hint of smoke. This balanced, stimulating, light but rich dram tastes more mature than it is. This is good value for the money. The Glenfarclas 17-year-old is a deliciously playful, rich, big yet refined and complex sherried whisky, with notes of butterscotch, custard, honey, ginger, malt, dates, raisins, a touch of peat smoke, and a long-lasting, slightly drying finish with a hint of spice. Wow. This isn’t cheap, but is well worth the price.
Finally, we come to the flagship of the range, the cask strength Glenfarclas 105. This is one of those sherried malts for which metaphorical seatbelts are required. This is big, rich and round, and without adding water is hot and warming, and with water becomes distinctly softer, sporting a longer, smoother finish. The velvety smooth 105 offers aromas and flavors of raisins, prunes, dates, baked goods, dessert wine type sweetness, something cocoa almost akin to Mexican mole sauce, with hints of what strike us as curry and even chili spices, ginger, honey and bran flakes. This is powerful, alluring, and delicious. L’chaim!