Reviews of the Golan Heights Winery’s Gilgal Brut and Talisker 10 year old Single Malt Scotch Whisky.
By Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon
Washington Jewish Week October 1, 2014
Breaking the Yom Kippur fast is a nominally festive occasion customarily celebrated with family and friends. And while the meal occurs at the end of a long day, the foods are usually some variation of a milchik (dairy) or pareve (neutral) breakfast or brunch. While there are often loads of desserts and other sweets, such as honey or jams—serving as both reminder and ardent wish of life’s sweetness and the promise of the New Year—at least one (and often many) of the dishes will contain eggs, recalling the cycle of life.
So on the table may be a relative’s treasured lokshen kugel (egg noodle pudding), some quiche and perhaps a frittata (basically a crustless quiche), or a strata made with bread, eggs and cheese. In such dishes, the eggs serve as a vehicle for other flavors as well as provide a creamy richness. With such diverse, flavorful fare, choosing a wine can be a challenge. One approach is to focus just on the eggs to simplify the process.
Sparkling wines, especially dry ones, are an ideal match to egg dishes. For those who doubt, scramble some and pour yourself a glass of dry bubbly, and note the way the wine’s acidity and bubbles compliment the richness and flavors of the eggs.
Champagne and other sparkling wines also add to the festiveness of the occasion. This year we will be opening the Golan Heights Winery’s Gilgal Brut ($15), a kosher sparkling blend of 50 percent Pinot Noir and 50 percent Chardonnay. Apple and citrus aromas and flavors are accented with spice and toasty oak within a well-balanced frame showing crisp acidity and good length. A fun and flavorful way to break the fast and to raise a toast to friends and family for a happy and healthy new year.
Spirits-wise, eggy or breakfast-type foods don’t exactly scream for anything in particular — or rather if it does, your problems are far weightier than the matter of which particular spirit to consider. But this is not breakfast as such, merely breakfast-like foods with which to break one’s fast. Further, bagels, lox, herrings and the like, are all common anytime Jewish foods. So really some kind of booze is not wholly inappropriate, right?
OK, so this seems a little thin? Well, think of this as simply one of the occupational hazards of trying to intellectually justify—in a public, written forum—alcoholic consumption that, frankly, needs no justification. We’re talking late evening, were talking oily fish, and the breaking of bread with one’s friends and family—of course, a little alcoholic libation is in order. Indeed, we were thinking of one of the quintessential classic single malt Scotch whiskies: Talisker.
Not only is the mighty Talisker one of our (admittedly many) personal perennial favorites, it is also one of the “Classic Malts of Scotland” — the marketing campaign introduced in 1987 (here in the U.S. in 1988) by the United Distillers and Vintners Company (UDV), now owned by international drinks giant Diageo. These “Classic Malts” are a selection of six single-malt Scotch whiskies that were, and often still are, handsomely displayed together in bars and liquor stores. They are sometimes still seen presented on a trophy-style, polished-wood display rack with brass handles and nameplates. The six “classic” single malts are: Dalwhinnie 15 from the Highland region; Talisker 10 from the “Isle of Skye” region; Cragganmore 12 from the Speyside region; Oban 14 from the “West Highland” region; Lagavulin 16 from the Islay region; and Glenkinchie 12 from the Lowland region.
Despite the fact that the Isle of Skye is simply an island, not a region, and that “West Highland” was not previously ever a separate region, and the collection has nothing to represent the Campbeltown region (since UDV didn’t own any Campbeltown distilleries), the campaign was a huge success. Indeed the “Classic Malts” marketing clearly helped foster greater interest in single malts in the United States, and likely contributed to much of the most unfortunate snob appeal. While not all of these whiskies are equally exceptional, they are all very drinkable and two — Talisker 10 and Lagavulin 16 — are among Scotland’s greatest contributions to the world of whisky.
Talisker in particular has always held a certain place of honor. For one, it is the only distillery on the Isle of Skye (which is why it can hardly be said to be a “region”). For another, it was also the favorite whisky of Robert Louis Stevenson, author of such classic works as Treasure Island and the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Stevenson even enshrined this in his poem “The Scotsman’s Return From Abroad” when he wrote “The king o’ drinks, as I conceive it, Talisker, Islay, or Glenlivet.” (At this time Glenlivet was the popular name for a part of Speyside, so this reference was likely to the region, like Islay, rather than to the distillery of the same name.)
Founded in 1830 and built in 1831 on the Isle of Skye, the largest and most northerly island in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland, the Talisker Distillery was devastated by fire in 1960 and completely rebuilt in 1962. The name Talisker is derived from Scots Gaelic “talamh sgeir” or “talaisgeir” meaning “land of the cliff/sloping rock” — a reference, presumably, to rocky cliffs near the distillery on the edge of Loch Harport in Carbost. The name also points to the Norse roots of the Isle of Skye, the Norse “T-hallr skjaer” means “loping rock/land of stones.” Skye’s history is replete with Norse invasions, struggles between the various Scottish monarchs and the various local Lairds, and regular clan battles as the MacLeods, MacDonalds and Mackinnons routinely chafed at each other’s holdings. The MacLeod clan, of mixed Norse and Gaelic descent, is dominant today. Talisker whisky, for at least the last 80 years, has also been a major component of the Johnnie Walker family of blends (also owned by Diageo).
Talisker 10 year old Single Malt Scotch Whisky (45.8 percent abv; $50-$65, so shop around): This is an energetic, vigorous, thunderous whisky, with billows of peat smoke, brine, iodine, mothballs and sweet citrus fruits on the nose, followed by oak-softened, though still edgy, black pepper, rich dried fruits, malted barley, toffee, another waft of peat smoke, and traces of licorice and honey, all of which powers through towards the balanced, warming, mildly smoky, slightly spicy and absorbingly unvanquished finish. Bold, vibrant, unique and complex with a little undertone of sweetness — this may very well be the essence of Scotland in a bottle. L’Chaim!