Cork It



A review of the Five Stones Shiraz 2010 and the SMWS # 23.72 Bruichladdich.


By Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon


Washington Jewish Week  October 24, 2012


Please note: The SMWSA Event discussed below has been rescheduled to November 28, 2012. Please check for more information.


Five StonesOne of the most beloved rituals in the world of wine snobbery is the extraction of the cork.

Cork comes from the bark of the cork oak tree, or Quercus Suber that grows in Spain and Portugal. The use of cork as a closure for wine bottles began in ancient times (in Egypt and some parts of Asia, and then also in Greece and Rome), but it was very far from the closure of choice.

The success of cork as a closure depends upon its tightly fitting into an opening with a relatively uniform diameter. So it was not until glass bottles were being made with more or less uniform openings, in the 17th century, that cork truly became the closure of choice.

Today, natural cork seals nearly 80 percent of the world’s wine with the rest closed either with synthetic “cork” or by screw-top. The use of the non-cork enclosures has gained tremendous ground during the last 30 years, mostly in response to concerns over “cork failure.” Being a natural product, cork occasionally fails to fully protect wines against oxidation even when all other storage conditions are ideal, and, even worse, cork is prone to occasional contamination from airborne fungi resulting in “cork taint” – causing the wines to have a “wet cardboard” aroma.

Recent advances in cork processing have significantly reduced taint risk and have rehabilitated its reputation. Some winemakers have migrated to the use of non-cork materials.

Numerous studies have demonstrated, what common sense suggests, that nonnatural enclosures generally outperform cork in protecting wines from oxidation, thereby undercutting somewhat the snob appeal of cork.

Not surprisingly it has been the non-European wineries that have embraced alternative closures, especially in New Zealand, Australia and South America. Beckett’s Flat, a family-owned winery located in the idyllic Margaret River region, produces kosher wines under the Five Stones label and all of their nonsparkling wines have been bottled under screw-tops for years. Their maritime climate is conducive to growing cabernet sauvignon, Chardonnay, shiraz, semillon and sauvignon blanc. Established in 1997 by Belizar “Bill” and Noni Ilic, the winery makes its products on-site from grapes grown on its estate vineyards first planted in 1992. Bill and Noni are hands-on owners, involved in all aspects of the winemaking.

The enjoyable Five Stones Shiraz 2010 is a spicy plum, raspberry and red cherry flavored wine with floral and blackberry aromas along with a very pleasant finish and no signs of cardboard. An ideal choice to pair with grilled foods, pasta dishes and stews.

Spirits-wise, since there is a terrific Scotch whisky tasting in D.C. coming up on Oct. 30, we thought we would give it a plug – and, of course, revisit the single cask, single malt selections from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society of America (SMWSA) – one of the greatest independent bottlers of single malt Scotch whisky and the host of the upcoming tasting.

The 19th annual “Single Malt & Scotch Whisky Extravaganza” will be held on Tuesday, Oct. 30 at the JW Marriott Hotel from 7 p.m-9 p.m; business casual, jackets preferred; no denim or athletic attire. The cost is $135.00 for each SMWSA member and $150.00 for nonmembers.

Yes, the price is hefty, but oh, so worth it! Consider that single malt Scotch whisky will usually run you $10-$25 per shot in Washington-area restaurants and bars, and most of the better bottles start at around $45 but easily run double or triple that. So the price tag is actually remarkably good value for the money, all things considered.

If you decide to join us there, call the SMWSA at 800-990-1991 – and mention that you read about it here (actually, you can simply mention either of us by name). You are likely to get, ah, shall we say, mildly stewed at the event, so please ride Metro or otherwise make arrangements for safe rides home.

The society’s whiskies are more like liquid history, than regular whisky. Each cask yields but a few hundred bottles, and once the cask has been emptied, that’s it. You may never taste another whisky like it ever again. Some of these unique whiskies will be available at the Oct. 30 tasting.

Of course, one needs to first join the society to have the privilege of purchasing one of their bottlings. For those of us with the whisky bug – this is a very easy, though not inexpensive decision. Check out the details at (should you decide to join tell them Josh London, member #5956 sent you).

Since the SMWSA is more about flavors and character than brands and distilleries, they bottle their whiskies without explicit regard for the whisky’s parent distillery or single malt brand.

Consequently, the whisky bottles are labeled with a simple numbering system and fanciful flavor-name. Our SMWSA bottling this week is Cask No. 23.72 called “A big, eye-watering slap.” The number 23 is their numeric code for the Bruichladdich Distillery from the island of Islay, and the second number is the number relevant to the current cask – so this whisky is from the 72nd cask of Bruichladdich that the society released.

SMWSA 23.72 (66.4 percent abv; 9 years old; only 90 bottles allocated to the U.S.; $90): this beguiling gem of a whisky begins with aromas of sweet yet intense alcohol, very subtle smoke, freshly ground spices (coriander, anise, dried lavender, and nutmeg) and malted barley. With water the peat smoke opens more generously, along with additional complex notes of sage-heavy breakfast sausage, and sweet and spicy cinnamon. These elements come through on the fairly heavy, oily, almost meaty palate, along with additional flavors of caramel apples, dried fruits, burnt citrus peel, vanilla and a sort of vague mint sensation, that follows through on the enjoyable, slightly rougher and smokier finish. We tried it both with and without water, and on balance preferred it neat. Try it both ways. L’Chaim!

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