A review of the Dalton Canaan Red 2009 and the Ardbeg 10 year old Single Malt Scotch Whisky.
By Joshua E. London and Louis Marmon
Washington Jewish Week March 28, 2011
As Passover recedes slowly into the distance – along with the lingering cardboard taste of matzah – it’s time to kick back and relax. The guests are gone and the bread has returned. A calming libation is in order. Here are two suggestions:
The Dalton Canaan Red 2009 ($13) is wonderful choice, and a great introduction to this outstanding winery. A blend of primarily cabernet sauvignon, merlot and petit sirah it has some shiraz and mouverdre added in varying mounts each year. This latest rendition maintains Dalton’s stylistic consistency as a medium-bodied, easy-drinking wine with no hard edges but still plenty of flavor. Red berry and cherry aromas open into mildly spicy plum, dark berry and strawberry flavors with a hint of vanilla and clove at the end. Available at KosherMart (Rockville), Shalom Kosher (Silver Spring), Potomac Wines & Spirits (Georgetown), and at various online retailers.
Convinced that the upper Galilee could produce world-class wines, Englishman Alex Haruni established the Dalton Winery in 1995 as the region’s first major wine-making endeavor. From their initial vintage, Dalton’s reputation has steadily grown and their wines are highly prized in Israel and abroad. The grapes are grown in volcanic soil more than 2,000 feet above sea level that is subjected to wide temperature variations. The result is intensely flavorful wines that reflect both the local environment and the skills of the winemaking team. Dalton has recently expanded its vineyards and established a new flagship wine, Matatia, named in honor of co-proprietor Mat Haruni.
To reintroduce oneself to the pleasures of chametz, and ever so slightly anesthetizing the mind from the cares of the world, you can’t go wrong with a rich, heavy, complex and powerful single-malt Scotch whisky like the Ardbeg 10-year-old ($60), from the Scottish Island of Islay (pronounced Eye-luh, Gaelic for island), the southernmost island of the Inner Hebrides.
The most popular characteristic feature of Islay malt whiskies, like Ardbeg, is the pronounced presence of peat smoke. Until one has smelled peat, or smelled and tasted the effects of peat smoke in whisky production, however, it is a hard descriptor to wrap one’s head around.
Peat is a Celtic term for compact, decayed vegetation, decomposed over thousands of years by water, and partially carbonized by chemical change. Found in the cool, wet uplands and bogs that cover vast amounts of Scotland and Ireland, the vegetation at the heart of peat includes moss, heather, sedges and rushes. Over time, the vegetation decomposes, gets waterlogged, sinks to the bottom, piles up, compresses and carbonizes. Once it becomes a super thick, rich mud, it can be usefully harvested. When dried, peat is a satisfactory, if pungent, fuel source, and the traditional fuel for the kilns in which malt and barley will later be fermented and distilled into whisky. Think of peat as an earthy, smelly, poor-man’s coal.
The smoke generated by peat is robustly aromatic and tarry, transferring and imbuing these compounds (phenols) to the whisky itself, as determined by how heavily peat is used in the kilning of the malt. It is this peat smoke, or peat reak as it is commonly termed, which helps divide whisky drinkers into those who hate and those who love smoky whisky – there seems no middle ground among enthusiasts. But reading about peat is no substitute for experience. Taste an Islay malt whisky, like Ardbeg, and it’ll all make sense.
Ardbeg is distinctly smoky. Indeed, the Ardbeg 10-year-old 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.
It 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. The mouth-feel is full, pleasant, mouth watering and dry. The finish is long and smoky, with sweet, malted cereal notes. Not for all tastes, but a brilliant powerhouse of a whisky. As of last year, Ardbeg 10 is certified kosher by the Orthodox Union (O.U.), available at Potomac Wines & Spirits (Georgetown) and other liquor stores throughout the Washington metropolitan area. L’Chaim!