A review of the Recanati Petite Sirah-Zinfandel Reserve 2009 and the Boulard Grand Solage VSOP, XO de Boulard and the Boulard Millesime 1985 Calvados.
By Joshua E. London and Louis Marmon
Washington Jewish Week June 22, 2011
The Recanati Petite Sirah-Zinfandel Reserve 2009 ($20) is a terrific kosher summer wine that is perfect with grilled and spicy foods. Made with 90 percent old-vine Petit Sirah sourced from the lower Galilee, it has an appealing earthy, brambly aroma accented with red berries, mint and dark plums. Full-bodied with complex blackberry and other slightly spicy, dark fruit flavors, it also shows coffee and toasted nuts in the bright finish.
Located in the Hefer Valley, the Recanati Winery is Israel’s sixth largest with an annual output of 950,000 bottles. An extremely successful financier and banker, Lenny Recanati is also a passionate wine collector who established his eponymous winery in 2000. His family moved from Italy to Israel in the early 1900s, and Recanati attributes his early interest in wine to the vineyard in the garden of his parents’ Haifa home.
Recanati’s goal is to make wines that reflect the character of the Israeli terroir rather than imitate the wine of other countries. The current winemaking team of Gil Shatzberg (formally from Amphorae and Carmel wineries) and Ido Lewinsohn create wines from cabernet sauvignon, merlot, shiraz, zinfandel, cabernet franc, carignan, viognier, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc under the Yasmin, Recanati, Reserve and Special Reserve labels.
Spirits-wise, for an elegant and enjoyable change of pace, consider a fine premium Calvados like the Boulard Grand Solage VSOP ($50) at the young end, or even, moving up the price and age scale, the Boulard Calvados XO de Boulard ($110), or if price is no object, the Boulard Millesime 1985 ($280).
Calvados is basically apple brandy, or distilled hard apple cider, made in the Normandy region of northwest France. Think of it as the working Frenchman’s cognac – though these days prices are keeping pace with that more luxury-branded grape-based libation. The people of the region commonly joke that there is no “art” to making calvados; rather it is enough to have had a father, grandfather, great-grandfather, etc., who filled the barrels and managed the orchards. Calvados has a strong personality, and despite climbing prices, at its core, calvados remains a rustic drink.
Calvados is generally blended from dozens of different apple varieties and is aged in oak barrels at least two years and often much longer. Calvados is more often than not sweet or semisweet with aromas and flavors of apples and other fruits and spices. A young calvados can be harsh and feisty, like a young whiskey, but, like whiskey, mellows and matures with barrel aging.
Boulard Calvados is among the super-premium end of the quality spectrum. Boulard calvados comes from the famed Pays d’Auge district of Normandy, considered the finest-quality region because of its tradition of quality apples, refinement and double distillation in alembic pot stills. The Boulard Grand Solage VSOP, blended from four- and 10-year-old oak-aged calvados, is an unctuous, heady yet balanced, bittersweet, apply number with hints of almonds, vanilla, allspice and ginger wrapped in a slightly woody box.
The Boulard Calvados XO de Boulard, blended from eight- to 40-year-old oak-aged calvados, is full-bodied, rich, velvety smooth, sweet spirit with aromas and flavors of apples, almost-ripe pears, toasted nuts, quince, raisins, nutmeg, allspice, caramel, star anise, and citrus fruits with a lovely toasty, oily finish. While the pricey Calvados Boulard Millesime 1985 (the year of distillation, not harvest), is a wonderfully complex, warming off-dry spirit, with notes of wood, apple tart, buttery baked apple, coffee, treacle, licorice, spices, and fresh and toasted nuts, followed by a hint of smoke.
Note that there are some who consider all calvados to be kosher, while others only consider certain brands to be kosher, and some require formal kosher certification. Boulard is officially considered kosher without certification by the Kashruth Authority of the London Beth Din (KLBD), by the Grand Rabbinat du Bas Rhin Beth Din de Strasbourg and by the Consistoire de Paris. As always, those concerned should consult their local or personal kosher food authority.
A.J. Liebling, the longtime New Yorker journalist and famous fresser (read “gourmand”), declared in his 1962 food memoir, Between Meals, that “Calvados … is the best alcohol in the world.” To Liebling, calvados, “the veritable elixir of Eden,” was much better in every respect to cognac, which he considered “precocious and superficial” by comparison, even though “millions of Frenchmen are obtuse enough to prefer cognac.” In his 1958 book Normandy Revisited, Liebling opined that calvados “has a more agreeable bouquet, a warmer touch to the heart, and more outgoing personality than cognac.”
The list and price of available kosher cognacs makes Liebling hard to argue with on this. Suffice it to say that if a glass of cognac is supposed to conjure up images of a visit with French aristocracy, a glass of calvados reminds one that schmoozing with the hired help is likely to be more diverting. L’Chaim!