Between Red And White



A review of the Agur Rosa 2012 and 2 Speyburn Single Malt Scotch Whiskies.


By Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon


Washington Jewish Week  June 5, 2013


spyeburnRosé wines have become increasingly popular. The best embody the brightness of a white wine combined with the complexity usually only found in a red. They range in style from light and bone-dry to fruity and fuller-bodied. Well-crafted rosés are very food-friendly, particularly the graceful lighter ones that match perfectly with such summer fare as salads, grilled fish and the more subtle cheeses.

Rosés are most often created by allowing the pressed juice to have only minimal contact with the skins, usually only one to three days. The longer the contact between the juice and the skins, the deeper the color. Another method is known as “saignee” (French for bleeding). Saignee is the term used for when a winemaker, in their endeavor to produce greater intensity in their red wines, will bleed off only a small portion of the (red grape) juice from the crushed grape skins, while the remaining juice stays in contact with the skins. By bleeding off some of this juice from the vat, there will be a greater surface area ratio of skins to juice in the vat, so that more color and possibly even complexity can be extracted from the skins into their future red wine. The lighter juice that was bled off, can then be turned into rosé.

It is likely that most of the earliest made red wines were actually rosés since the techniques used to create the modern style of deeply colored and flavored wines were unknown to the ancients. During the Middle Ages, the English preferred “vin d’une nuit” or “wine of one night,” a very pale rosé with only minimal skin contact while the rougher, more tannic wines made with more skin contact were considered to be inferior.

Regardless of the methodology, the modern winemaker’s goal is to create a wine that maintains elements of the varietal’s character in a lighter more refreshing fashion. Nearly every red grape has been made into a rosé including some created by blending different varietals. A nice kosher example, one of many, is the Agur Rosa 2012 created from 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Cabernet Franc and 20%; Mourvedre that displays layers of strawberry, raspberry, cassis and a bit of kirsch within a medium frame with good balance. Definitely enjoyable now with grilled chicken served on the deck as the sun goes down.

Spirits-wise, we thought we’d shift from Scotland’s southernmost island of the Inner Hebrides (Islay), back to the mainland, to the famed Speyside region. Speyside, in Morayshire, is more of a sub-region within the Scottish Highlands. Despite being, geographically, a comparatively small area, the vast majority of working distilleries are located there (84 at last count). And amongst these are the worldwide bestsellers: The Glenlivet, Glenfiddich, Glen Grant, and The Macallan.

Hidden away in a steep wooded glen just outside of Rothes, in the heart of Moray, is the Speyburn Distillery. This is one of five distilleries in Moray—the others are Glen Grant, Glen Spey, the mothballed Caperdonich, and the Glenrothes. (The whisky from these distilleries tastes almost nothing like each other.)

Speyburn is a lovely, picturesque distillery, designed by the great Charles Doig (1855-1918), the then pre-eminent Scottish architect of Scotch whisky distilleries (he designed 56 distilleries). Doig’s designs are most famous for the pagoda roof, designed to more efficiently draw heat and smoke out of the building, thereby cooling the malt more quickly, requiring less fuel and producing less smoky malt. Even though almost no distillery still malts their barley, the pagoda roofs are maintained and recognized as a sort of emblem. Speyburn’s is a wonderful example, and its setting is lovely. Indeed the late Michael Jackson—no, not that Michael Jackson—noted in his “Scotland and its Whiskies” book, one of his many books on Scotch and beer, that Speyburn had “the prettiest location of any Scottish distillery.”

One of us, on a previous trip to Speyside, had thought about trying to arrange a visit to the distillery and on the strength of this description alone. In the end, we settled for a driveby since we had distinct memories of the actual whisky being pretty uninteresting. That was several years ago, and the taste-memory of the whisky is several years older than that. So, obviously, a re-tasting was in order.

Speyburn was founded in 1897 by John Hopkins & Company, then owners of the Tobermory Distillery on the Isle of Mull. It changed ownership a number of times over the years, eventually coming into Inver House Distillers Limited portfolio in 1991. Inver House is a subsidiary of Thai Beverages, one of the largest alcoholic-beverage companies in Southeast Asia (a more than $4 billion dollar operation). As part of it market-strategy, Inver House has been reinvesting back into its various distilleries (they also own Balblair, Old Pulteney, Knockdhu and Balmenach), revamping and relaunching its single malts. Since then, Speyburn was launched as a 10 year old whisky aimed at the low end of the market—for which it has been handsomely rewarded as, for years, one of the top ten selling single malt whiskies in the United States and also Finland.

For this retasting, we evaluated two of their four whiskies (three are available here in the US, a fourth is available only directly from the distillery). Suffice it to say, we will indeed try to pay the distillery a visit on our next trip. Here are out thoughts:

Speyburn 10 year old, Single Highland Malt, Scotch Whisky (43% abv; $25): This lovely, light, limpid gold colored whisky, with very subtle amber highlights, offers floral, grassy, fruity, vanilla, caramel, citrus and slightly nutty aromatic notes, with a whiff of cereal grain and possibly even smoke. On the palate, this light to medium bodied whisky is sweet and gentle, with pleasing, at times elegant, notes of citrus fruits, green apples, herbs, and nuts, ending in a most pleasing, lengthy, and interesting malted barley dominant finish. Very good malt indeed.

Speyburn Braden Orach, Single Highland Malt, Scotch Whisky (40% abv; $20): Gaelic for “Golden Salmon”, which are common to the nearby River Spey, Bradan Orach is a pale golden colored whisky, matured exclusively in ex-bourbon casks, exhibiting malty and fruity aromatic notes—the first whiff of which was a tad sour and off-putting, but after nearly a minute in the glass opened up really nicely with additional notes of citrus fruit, honey, vanilla and cream. The cream and citrus continue to develop very pleasantly in the glass. Initially much weaker on the palate, but gentle and warming, opening with just a little passing time, to reveal more of that creamy vanilla, and fruity, serial grain centered core, with hints of spice and oak. Nicely balanced and, again, with a pleasing, lengthy finish.

Both of these Speyburn whiskies are good, far better than remembered, and well worth the wonderfully affordable price. L’Chaim!

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