Better Than Chanukah Gelt
Our Chanukah wish list including some kosher wines and a bunch of the great spirits we’ve recently enjoyed.
By Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon
Washington Jewish Week December 5, 2012
Chanukah gift-giving is really just an American transmogrification mimicking Xmas of the actual Jewish custom of giving Chanukah gelt (money). Still, we have nonetheless given in to modern convention and have compiled a list of a few things that we wouldn’t mind being given.
The first is a bottle of Shirah Winery’s Power to the People Syrah 2009, a highly commended, limited production bottling from a kosher California boutique winery. Shirah was founded by brothers Gabriel and Shimon Weiss in 2009, both of whom worked in the Herzog and Covenant wineries before trying their hands at creating their own premium kosher wines. Sourced from two Santa Barbara vineyards and blended with 2 percent Viognier, this Syrah was named the top over $25 kosher red wine for 2012 by The Jewish Week (of New York). The winery also makes a Bordeaux-style blend called “Bro.Deux,” and another featuring a Touriga Nacional, Syrah and Petite Verdot blend named “Coalition” that would also make great gifts.
We would also like to try some of the newest wines created by Binyamin Cantz at his 3.5 acre Four Gates Winery. A true “one-man” project, the Four Gates Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir grown in the Santa Cruz Mountains have been well received by those fortunate enough to obtain some of the very limited production. One of us was fortunate enough to sample four of these wines back in 2003 and found them interesting and very, very good.
While we are on the subject, we would also welcome the appearance of a few more non-Israeli boutique kosher wineries. Small production enterprises such as Brobdingnagian have demonstrated that premium kosher wines can be made, and sold, despite the higher prices. Sophisticated kosher wine consumers not only exist, but they are also willing to purchase wines at a higher price point if the product in the bottle justifies the expense.
Another desire is to see a broader selection of kosher wines in nonkosher stores. Kosher wines favorably compete with their nonkosher cousins in nearly every category and it is mostly just in-store marketing and Jewish non-kosher-wine-consumer prejudice that mandates a “kosher” shelf. It would be wonderful to see a Yarden, Hagafen or Recanati in the Cabernet aisle.
Also on our wish list is a greater access to some of the treasures produced in Israel. One of our recent favorites, the Domaine du Castel Rose 2012, was nearly impossible to obtain for a review, and it was even more difficult to acquire additional bottles. There are many other Israeli bottlings that have been recommended to us by friends returning from the Holy Land, but have never appeared in the U.S. As both critics and consumers, we would welcome a greater distribution of these vineyard jewels.
Spirits-wise, we just love getting free hooch, so there seems little point in compiling a specific wish-list. Instead we thought we’d revisit a bunch of the great recent spirits we’ve enjoyed:
Ardbeg 10-year-old Single-Malt Scotch Whisky (46 percent abv; $55): This is an explosively smoky, light-straw-colored whisky, exhibiting deep, wonderfully balanced aromas of pungent phenolic, peat smoke, toffee, sweet chocolate, iodine, briny seaspray, fresh citrus, melon, floral white-wine notes and smoked fish – with maybe a smidgen of something like hickory smoke. This whisky offers intense yet somehow delicate interrelated flavors, starting with a moderate sweetness and then wave after wave of peat, tobacco smoke, espresso, chocolate and licorice. Not for all tastes, but a brilliant powerhouse of a whisky. Ardbeg 10 is certified kosher by the Orthodox Union (O.U.).
Auchentoshan 18-year-old Single-Malt Scotch Whisky (43 percent abv; $90): Aged exclusively in used bourbon casks, this triple-distilled whisky is light and refreshing, aperitif-like, with aromas and flavors of fresh fruits – raisins, flowers, honey, almonds – vanilla and a kiss of candied ginger, all against a deep and full backdrop of toasted malt and oak. Then a lovely, refreshing, zesty citrus quality emerges and shines through in the finish.
The Glenfarclas 17-year-old Single-Malt Scotch Whisky (43 percent abv; $90): 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.
The Glenlivet 18-year-old Single-Malt Scotch Whisky (43 percent abv; $75): A very fine example of truly great Glenlivet whisky. This pale copper-colored spirit offers aromas of flowers (peonies?), sultanas, fruitcake, honeycomb, barley, ripe plums and dark oranges, followed by flavors of panna cotta, honey, vanilla, prunes, a touch of fudge, a hint of smoke, subtle coconut and some chocolate nuts edge their way in, ending with a long, dry, spicy oak finish in which the various flavors dance gently on the taste buds. A lovely and absorbing dram.
Jameson 18-year-old Irish Whiskey (40 percent abv; $90): This charming Irish whiskey is distinctly bourbon-like on the nose, but with lovely flowery aromas, which soon thereafter return to Ireland from Kentucky with wonderful notes of honey, vanilla, barley and toffee, with soft, rich and juicy notes of apricots, oranges, dried fruits, fig preserve, butterscotch, hazelnut, cloves, nutty fudge and malt. The luscious, oily sweetness ends with a burst of dried fruits, spices and citrus fruits, finishing long and delicate with spices, melon, toasted barley and some subtle, spicy, toasted oak.
Russell’s Reserve 10 year old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (45 percent abv; $45): A wonderfully sweet and soothing, elegant whiskey, with tantalizing aromas and rich flavors of honey, caramel, pecans, cotton candy, light maple syrup, orange zest, coconut, stewed pineapple and creamy vanilla. Think of it as a more tame yet balanced and refined expression of Wild Turkey, minus a little of the alcoholic strength.
Suntory Yamazaki 12 year old Japanese Single Malt Whisky (43 percent abv; $50): Aged in casks of three different kinds of oak – American, Spanish and Japanese – this rich, medium-bodied, whisky offers aromas of dried fruit, peach blossom, pear, coconut, anise, spice and clover honey, with delicate, lingering, mellow flavors of citrus fruit, peach, fig, toffee, toast, honey and a little cracked pepper, all with a medium, drying finish of caramel, fading tropical fruits and rum. A very satisfying whisky. L’Chaim!