Crime In A Bottle


Reviews of the Recanati Shiraz 2011 and 2 Speyburn Single Malt Scotch Whiskies.


By Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon


Washington Jewish Week  March 12, 2014


Recanati WineNot long ago, the wine world was rocked by crime. Not anything, we hasten to add, as silly as red wine with fish (especially since that actually works in many cases). Rather we are referring to several high profile cases that illustrate that when something of value is created, like a great bottle of wine, there are some unscrupulous folks that see an opportunity for larceny.


A few months ago, Rudy Kurniawan became the first person convicted of fraud based upon selling fake collectable wines and is now facing decades in jail. A collector with a reputation for an impeccably accurate palate, Kurniawan set a record in 2006 when an auction of some of the wines from his cellar raised $24.7 million. A 2008 auction of more from his cellar was put on hold when questions arose about some of the bottles Kurniawan was offering, specifically Burgundy produced by Laurent Ponsot that, it turned out, the winemaker never actually made. An FBI raid of Kurniawan’s home in 2012 revealed numerous bottles, corks and labels that provided the physical evidence to convict him of creating fake collectable wines.


Earlier this year over 300 gendarmes conducted raids in several locations within France to bust a well-organized ring of wine thieves that were targeting expensive Bordeaux. Nearly every other week since last June the thieves stole wines from Chateaux and warehouses apparently filling requests for specific wines which were subsequently sold to collectors, restaurants and wine dealers around the world.


And last October a father and son team were arrested for making and selling fake bottles of one of the world’s most expensive wines,  Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. They apparently sold at least 400 bottles generating a profit of $2.8 million.

Add those to the incident in the 1980s of bottles reportedly from Thomas Jefferson’s cellar being sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars that subsequently were demonstrated to be counterfeit. The result is a growing suspicion of pervasive wine fraud and further proof that just because something is expensive, it doesn’t mean that it is good, or even real. If nothing else, these episodes of fraud and black-market sales of high-end wines are a reminder that price alone is no indication of quality, or authenticity.

There are great values in much less expensive wines that not only taste good but are also less likely to be fakes. Consider the Recanati Shiraz 2011 from their middle-tier Diamond label. This sells for less than $20 but has body, flavor and structure well above this price. Spicy and smoky, but not overwhelmingly so, it has red cherry, blackberry and blueberry flavors with good balance and finish, making it a fine choice to pair with grilled foods.

Spirits-wise, sticking with great values, we thought we’d revisit the whiskies of the Speyburn Distillery from Scotland’s famed Speyside region. More of a sub-region within the Scottish Highlands, Speyside, in Morayshire, is geographically fairly small. Yet most working distilleries in Scotland are located there (84 at last count), including worldwide bestsellers like The Glenlivet, Glenfiddich, Glen Grant, and The Macallan.

Just outside of Rothes, in the heart of Moray, is the Speyburn Distillery. This is one of five distilleries in Moray – the others are Glen Grant, Glen Spey, the mothballed Caperdonich and the Glenrothes.

Speyburn is a lovely distillery, designed by the great Charles Doig (1855-1918), the then pre-eminent Scottish architect of Scotch whisky distilleries.

Here are two of its four whiskies for your consideration:

Speyburn 10 year old, Single Highland Malt, Scotch Whisky (43 percent abv; $25): This lovely, light, limpid gold-colored whisky, with very subtle amber highlights, offers floral, grassy, fruity, vanilla, caramel, citrus and slightly nutty aromatic notes, with a whiff of cereal grain and possibly even smoke. On the palate, this light-to-medium-bodied whisky is sweet and gentle, with pleasing, at times elegant, notes of citrus fruits, green apples, herbs, and nuts, ending in a most pleasing, lengthy and interesting malted barley dominant finish. Very good malt indeed.

Speyburn Braden Orach, Single Highland Malt, Scotch Whisky (40 percent abv; $20): Gaelic for “Golden Salmon”, which are common to the nearby River Spey, Bradan Orach is a pale, golden-colored whisky, matured exclusively in ex-bourbon casks, exhibiting malty and fruity aromatic notes – the first whiff of which was a tad sour and off-putting, but after nearly a minute in the glass opened up really nicely with additional notes of citrus fruit, honey, vanilla and cream. The cream and citrus continue to develop very pleasantly in the glass. Initially much weaker on the palate, but gentle and warming, opening with just a little passing time to reveal more of that creamy vanilla, and fruity, cereal-grain-centered core, with hints of spice and oak. Nicely balanced and, again, with a pleasing, lengthy finish.

Both of these Speyburn whiskies are good and well worth the wonderfully affordable price. L’Chaim!

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