Reviews of Domaine du Castel “C” Chardonnay 2012 and several Glen Grant Single Malt Scotch Whiskies.
By Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon
Washington Jewish Week June 11, 2014
Led by the owners of two of the region’s most renowned vineyards, France’s Burgundy region has applied to become a recognized UNESCO World Heritage Site. This honor is conferred upon locations that have “outstanding universal value from the historical, aesthetic, ethnological or anthropological point of view.” Burgundians believe their specific vineyards are the epitome of “the quest for a relationship between wine and the natural environment where it is produced” and therefore qualified to be designated as a location that UNESCO considers “our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations.”
A principal aspect of the Burgundy’s application to UNESCO is its long history of winemaking which dates to the Middles Ages. Beginning in 910, monks classified, subdivided and named their vineyards depending upon the quality and character of the grapes and resulting wines. This is the ultimate manifestation of “terroir,” or the expression of the local growing conditions upon wine.
Whether Burgundy merits UNESCO “World Heritage” status, or not, isn’t actually all that important to most wine drinkers, for whom the import of Burgundy has much more to do with its global influence on wine styles, than with its own wines.
While contemplating such issues, we choose to appreciate Burgundy’s influence by enjoying a bottle from Israel’s Judean Hills, a region whose winemaking history predates the efforts of the French monks. The delightful, clearly Burgundy influenced, Domaine du Castel “C” Chardonnay 2012 shows both the effects of the growing conditions and the considerable skills of owner Eli-Gilbert Ben-Zaken and his team, including his son Eytan who was trained in Burgundy. Bright and ideally balanced with a buttery aroma, it has rich flavors of apricots, peach, apples and lemon along with well-integrated, toasty oak and a notable minerality that all comes together seamlessly and flows smoothly into the lingering and refreshing finish.
Spirits-wise, we thought we’d revisit the whiskies of the Glen Grant Distillery, the single malt Scotch whisky brand and distillery owned by the Italian drinks company Gruppo Campari.
Built in 1840 by brothers John and James Grant, the Glen Grant distillery is the oldest distillery in the village of Rothes, right in the heart of Scotland’s Speyside. John’s 25-year-old nephew, James “The Major” Grant, inherited the company in 1872 and further developed the distillery and the business.
One of Major John Grant’s contributions to Glen Grant and to the village of Rothes was the creation of a vast Victorian garden of local and exotic plants, collected during his travels around the world. The garden is one of the highlights of the distillery tour. Major John Grant passed away in 1931 and stewardship of the business passed to his grandson Major Douglas Mackessack.
In the course of business, Mackessack developed a deep friendship with Italian businessman and whisky distributor, Armando Giovinetti. Thanks to Giovinetti, Glen Grant became the most popular brand of Scotch whisky in Italy by 1961, and has held that title ever since. So while the vast majority of the Glen Grant’s production has been going to various Chivas Brothers Ltd.’s blends (now about 50 percent goes towards blends), like the Chivas Regal, much of the rest of it has been going to Italy – hitting the U.S. market higgledy piggledy over the years, mostly as very young single malt or through independent bottlers.
The Italian drinks giant Gruppo Campari eventually purchased Glen Grant in December 2005, and has since revitalized the distillery and the brand, releasing various official expressions in various markets, including here in the U.S. Here are four different expressions to seek out and enjoy:
Glen Grant, The Major’s Reserve, Single Malt Scotch Whisky (40 percent abv; $30): Considered “entry level” or “introductory” single malt Scotch, it is exceedingly pleasant and easy to drink – a good warm weather whisky too. A light, gentle and slightly sweet whisky with a mildly fruity nose, with hazelnut and cream, and light floral and notes, followed by flavors of green apple, pear, perhaps a touch of honeydew melon, vanilla, toffee, orange marmalade and some slightly young spirity, malty notes. Nothing overly complex, but oh so inviting. Yum.
Glen Grant 10-year-old, Single Malt Scotch Whisky (43 percent abv; $45): This light and fairly delicate whisky is floral, bright, mouthwatering and graceful, exhibiting aromas and flavors of honeyed vanilla and lively fruit notes, along with a hint of marshmallow, lemon and freshly mowed grass. The finish is soft, pleasant, dry, and almondy. Easy to see why this agreeable, clean, uncomplicated whisky is one of the world’s more popular, if lighter, single malt whiskies.
Glen Grant 16-year-old, Single Malt Scotch Whisky (43 percent abv; $80): This fruity yet dry, medium-bodied beauty offers aromas and flavors of pear, peach and lime, toasted barley, Creme brulee, and vanilla, with hints of marshmallow, and with black pepper on the finish. This is a charming, delightful and easy-drinking whisky (which would likely be even better if made available at cask strength).
Glen Grant, Five Decades, Single Malt Scotch Whisky (46 percent abv; $150): Dennis Malcolm, the Glen Grant Distillery manager, designed this whisky to celebrate his five decades working at Glen Grant (he was actually born there in 1946, but didn’t begin working there until he turned 15 in 1961); he did so by vatting or blending casks from each of his five decades (1960s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and 2000s). Though distinctly pale and limpid looking, this whisky has substantial depth and complexity and is packed with yummy, whisky characteristics of rich, buttery oak, honeydew melon, vanilla and cream, cane sugar, hazelnut, green apple, fruit blossom, white pear, honey, citrus, caramelized orange peel, apricot, raisin, with a bit of cinnamon like heat and even some fresh malted barley. A drop of water diminishes the nose, but increases the sweetness and richness – and it not really needed. With time, the aromas and flavors evolve and develop even further – astounding. A delicious, absorbing, vibrant, and oh so lovely whisky. L’Chaim!