A review of the Tzuba Metsuda 2008 and the AnCnoc 12 year old Single Malt Scotch Whisky.
By Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon
Washington Jewish Week August 1, 2012
Israel is dotted with locations that attest to the Holy Land’s ancient links to winemaking. One such site is at Kibbutz Tzuba located in the Judean Hills. Known as Tzova in biblical times, the village is mentioned in the book of Samuel (Book II, 23: 36) as the hometown of one of King David’s 37 mighty warriors. The area abounds with archeological evidence of a large local wine industry. Scattered about are numerous ancient wine presses along with cisterns, mikvaot and burial sites. Archeologists think winemaking persisted here until the late Second Temple period.
Over time, and under Arabic influence, the name Tzova was changed to Tzuba. Kibbutz Tzuba was founded in 1948 by the Palmach fighters, later joined by members of Nahal fighting pioneer youth cells, who defended the area during the War of Independence. The kibbutz sits below the Belmont castle, a Crusader-era fortress built in 1187 to guard the road to Jerusalem.
The present-day kibbutz is now home to the thoroughly modern Tzuba Estate Winery, located 700 meters above sea level and just one kilometer from the ruins of the Crusader-era Belmont castle that overlooks the property. Originally the kibbutz only grew grapes, preferring to sell them to local wineries, including Domaine du Castel. The winery was established in 2000 and released its first vintage of 30,000 bottles in 2005. While it still sells most of its grapes to several other Judean Hills wineries, Tzuba has been slowly expanding its production since 2007 under the supervision of winemaker Paul Dobb, an ex-pat South African who was also responsible for planting the original grapevines in 1996.
Tzuba releases its top-tier reserve Metsuda (“fortress”) wines when conditions permit while its other wines are found under the Tel Tzuba label. The nearly 150 acres of vineyards include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay but also some more exotic (for Israel) varietals such as Sangiovese, Grenache and Mourvedre. Thankfully Tzuba wines are now being imported into the U.S. so keep an eye out for them. A fine example is their Tzuba Metsuda 2008 ($35) a big, Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc with marked spiciness and cocoa accenting the blackberry, dark currant, raspberry and plum flavors. Very enjoyable now but it will get even better during the next several years as its fruit and herbal notes further integrate.
Spirits-wise, we thought we’d review the flagship whisky of the little Knockdhu Distillery of Scotland’s Speyside region (close to Huntly, in Aberdeenshire). The name comes from the nearby Black Hill (“Knock Dhu” in Gaelic).
The whisky has only recently become more widely available in the U.S. Note that, since 1993, the whisky of Knockdhu has been bottled as “AnCnoc” (pronounced a-nock) – so as to prevent confusion with the whisky of the Knockando Distillery 30 miles to the west (Knockando’s whisky, which is a far more established single malt brand, is bottled under its own name). “AnCnoc” means “The Hill,” so arguably its close enough. In the U.K., it is usually simply called “knock” for short. It really makes no difference what name they wish to use – the whisky is delicious!
Founded in 1893, Knockdhu began life as a farm distillery. Since then, the distillery has undergone substantial modernization, though very little change has been made to the actual distillation of the whisky. Indeed, the distillation itself is all still done manually with valves and thermometers – no computerization here.
Following the heavy snow of 2010, two of its three on-site warehouses had to be rebuilt. Fortunately when the roofs collapsed, only 18 casks of maturing whisky were lost. The new warehouses have been constructed in the traditional style by local craftsmen, using the reclaimed stone from the old warehouses.
Since 1988, the distillery has been owned and operated by Inver House Distillers Limited, which itself is a subsidiary of Thai Beverages, one of the largest alcoholic-beverage companies in Southeast Asia (roughly a $4 billion operation). As part of its marketing strategy, Inver House has been reinvesting back into its various distilleries (they also own Old Pulteney, Speyburn, Balblair and Balmenach), revamping and relaunching its single malts. Considerable effort has gone into positioning and establishing AnCnoc in the pantheon of essential Speyside single malts. Not sure if they’ve succeeded in terms of market share, but in terms of quality, they definitely merit greater attention.
Here then is their flagship whisky:
AnCnoc, 12-year-old, Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky (40 percent abv; $34): this lovely, soft, light-to-medium bodied whisky opens with aromas of subtle phenol notes and traces of oak, a grassy almost herbaceous malt backdrop with notes of dried fruit, citrus and baked apples, all cut by a distinct bite of pepper, adding depth and complexity. On the palate, the citrus notes swim forward but in a more candied form, accompanied by lovely malted barley, honey, pear and a touch of mocha, some sultanas, and hints of peach. The finish adds vanilla to the fruit, but remains a tad clipped and drying – whetting the appetite for more. L’Chaim!