A review of the Hagafen Sauvignon Blanc 2009 and the Laiphroaig Triple Wood Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky.
By Joshua E. London and Louis Marmon
Washington Jewish Week November 9, 2011
While the quality and diversity of kosher wines have dramatically increased over the past several years, they can still be difficult to find, unless you know where to look.
Several local stores such as Schneider’s of Capitol Hill (300 Massachusetts Ave, N.E.), Potomac Wines & Spirits(3100 M Street N.W.) The Wine Harvest (two locations, thewineharvest.com), The Bottle Shop (350 Fortune Terrace), Kosher Mart (4860 Boiling Brook Parkway), and Shalom Kosher (2307 University Blvd.) are attentive to those wanting kosher certified wine and can often be induced to place special orders for wines not on their shelves.
But retail is not the only way to procure quality kosher wines. Some U.S.-made kosher wines can be purchased directly from the winery. These include the highly regarded Hagafen and Covenant wines from California’s Napa Valley and the 100 percent organic Four Gates wines from California’s Santa Cruz Mountain region.
Another option is to join a kosher winery’s “wine club.” Besides getting regular shipments from the winery, membership provides access to wines not readily available to the general public. Many wineries offer different levels of membership at variable price points and a wine club subscription is also a terrific gift.
At a recent sukkah stopover, the hostess served a selection from their wine club allocation, the Hagafen Sauvignon Blanc 2009 ($18), a clean, crisp, easy drinking, tropical fruit-infused delight with a lemon- and orange-infused finish. It was an opportunity to enjoy something different – may they maintain their membership (and sukkah invitations) for many more years.
Sometimes, thankfully, special-order or harder to find items are successful enough that they earn a wider release. Spirits-wise, this is exactly what happened with the newly released Laphroaig Triple Wood Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky ($60).
The name “Triple Wood” is a shorthand reference to the maturation process employed for this expression. The Balvenie “Double Wood” is a fine and recognizable example of the genre, though there have been other multiple-wood treatments from other brands that proved less successful, and so less enduring.
The Laphroaig Triple Wood (Laphroaig is pronounced “La-froyg”) began life in travel retail, usually Duty Free shops. Such niche markets have been great for the industry, because travel retail customers are a self-selecting bunch with money and the inclination to spend it – plus you can reach folks around the globe through just a couple of regional airport hubs. The post-9/11 no liquid on domestic flights rules have cut into this a little, but mostly the market remains strong.
It is the success of the Laphroaig Triple Wood expression, and the keen intelligence and consumer appreciation of Beam Global, Laphroaig’s parent company, that has led it to launch 13,500 bottles of Laphroaig Triple Wood (48 percent ABV; 96 proof) here in the U.S.
All we can say is a big “yasher koach!” (the Hebrew phrase literally means “May your strength be firm,” a catch-all benediction for a job well done in religious service – no apologies, tongue-firmly-in-cheek, for the possible irreverence of using it here, for we are, after all, discussing spirits).
As far as three wood maturation goes, Triple Wood starts off just the same as the Laphroaig Quarter Cask which we love (!) and will review another time. It’s aged for 6-and-a-half years in first fill bourbon barrels from Maker’s Mark (another Beam Global brand), before a 6-8 month secondary maturation in 18th-19th century smuggler style quarter-sized casks, made using Maker’s Mark barrel staves.
These quarter casks are roughly 17 gallons smaller than the standard American Oak barrels, so as much as 30 percent more of the spirit can come into direct contact with the wood. Effectively increasing some of the effects of maturation, this produces more than half of the flavor and style characteristics of the whisky. If we stopped right here, we would have the awesome Laphroaig Quarter Cask.
There is one final stage, however, for the Triple Wood: the use of sherry casks from Harvey’s (producers of Harvey’s Bristol Cream sherry), another Beam Global brand. Instead of being bottled as Laphroaig Quarter Cask, the whisky is divided into two parts, with one half being matured in first-fill Oloroso sherry casks for one year, and the other half being matured in refill sherry casks for two years.
A “refill” cask is industry shorthand for any cask which has been used for maturing whisky more than once already. Refill casks are much less chemically active than first or second fill casks, because the previous whisky has leached away many of it beneficial properties during maturation. This last phase, the use of the third “wood” regimen of maturation, makes for a fantastic expression of Laphroaig.
As John Campbell, Laphroaig distillery manager, put it at the product launch: “Laphroaig Triple Wood is one of the most complex expressions we have ever bottled, and we are delighted to begin offering it to our U.S. consumers. Triple Wood will satisfy palates with unique notes that are fresh, yet remain true to the Laphroaig heritage and standards of Scotch whisky.”
We heartily agree. Here then is the Laphroaig Triple Wood Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky. Imagine the usual big, feisty, peaty monster that is Laphroaig, with the traditional intense charcoal smoke, iodine and seaweed assault, but with a refreshing, balanced interplay of rich blackcurrant, passion fruit and berry fruity notes, along with toffee, ripe barley, dates, walnuts, almonds, vanilla, almond, and exotic spices.
It begins on a lovely savory note, with the fruitier notes following on, dancing lovingly on the tongue with the peat and smoke and pleasant mustiness, all of which carries through in the long, oaky finish, rounded out by oily spice and dried fruit notes. In a sense, the old beast has been tamed and refined, with some of those lovely medicinal notes (trust us when we say that in this case this is a very positive descriptor) changed somewhat by an unusual, even provocative, residual sweetness. Possibly not for all tastes, but this is a super whisky. L’chaim!