For This Year’s Seder, Pacific Northwest Offers Fine Wines
A review of Pacifica Evan’s Collection Pinot Noir 2010 and Meritage 2010 along with reviews of two Tomintoul Single Malt Scotches.
By Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon
Washington Jewish Week March 22, 2012
Our next stop in the search for wines for this year’s seder is the Pacific Northwest. Relative newcomers to winemaking, both Washington state and Oregon have evolved rapidly to become world-class sources of distinctive white and red wines. Both states are divided by the Cascade Mountain range which separates the wet coastal region from a drier interior area. Known for bright pinot noir, floral riesling and fragrant pinot gris, Oregon’s wineries are mostly located in the valleys of the west side. Washington creates some profoundly delicious cabernet sauvignon, syrah and merlots from grapes grown in the more arid east.
In 2006 the proprietors of New Zealand’s Spencer Hill Estate, Phillip and Sheryl Jones, purchased 95 acres on Washington State’s Underwood Mountain and established the Pacifica Winery and its Pacifica Evan’s Collection label of wines. Producers of the kosher kiwi Goose Bay wines under arrangement with the Herzog family’s Royal Wine Corporation in Bayonne, N.J., the Jones partnered once again with Royal to establish the Northwest’s first dedicated kosher facility. Located across the Columbia River that separates the two states, Pacifica is ideally located to source grapes from both Washington and Oregon. Their first releases include a Washington State “Meritage” Cabernet Sauvignon-based blend and a Pinot Noir created from two Oregon vineyards.
Pinot noir is a notoriously problematic grape that is plagued with issues such as poor ripening, infections, extreme sensitivity to weather conditions and difficult fermentation. In Oregon, 2010 was a cooler than usual year and 2011 was so bad that the winery is not releasing a pinot noir from the vintage. Despite these issues their inaugural nonmevushal Pacifica Evan’s Collection Oregon Pinot Noir 2010 ($25) is delightful and this bodes well for the future of this winery. It opens with ripe cherry and oak scents which lead into flavors of black and red cherries, raspberry and plum with some mild smokiness along with mineral and herbal notes. Nicely balanced with good acidity and firm tannins it gets better in the glass, so you should consider decanting this before serving to smooth out the edges. The Pacifica Evan’s Collection Washington Meritage 2010 ($30) is a rich, dry, smooth and easy drinking blend of cabernet, merlot, malbec and petit verdot grapes, with aromas and flavors of dark fruits, berries, with a whisper of toasted coffee bean.
Spirits-wise, we thought we’d stay in the Speyside region of Scotland and spend time with a relatively youthful producer – the Tomintoul Distillery built in 1964. The distillery is situated in the “Strath” or valley between the Glenlivet Forest and the hills of Cromdale, east of the Avon River – the veritable heart of the Speyside region. Despite the beautiful, lush environs and pure spring water source, the site was not really suited for whisky production until modern transport options made distribution commercially viable. Hence the mid-1960s late start.
The distillery was named for the nearby Tomintoul village (population 300 or so).
The distillery, like nearly all distilleries of the region, was built to produce whisky for blending purposes, and although single malt releases from Tomintoul have been available since 1973, they remained relatively hard to come by until the 1990s. Even still, little was done until 2000 when Angus Dundee Ltd took over and revitalized the place and essentially (re)created the brand. At last word, less than 4 percent of the 3 million liters of whisky produced there annually is destined for single malt release -most still goes to blended whiskies. The distillery’s motto is “The Gentle Dram” and, mostly, this fits the whisky.
Angus Dundee Ltd is a London-based independent bottler and whisky blender. It has been around for over 50 years and exports globally. Its focus is primarily blends, though it has invested heavily in single malts, buying both Tomintoul and also the Glencadam Distillery in the Highlands. Angus Dundee also produces the great, if hard to find, “Mackillop’s Choice” label of independent bottlings, and the seemingly even harder to find “Montgomerie’s” label.
The man behind the whisky is Robert Fleming, whose family has been making whisky in the Speyside-Glenlivet region for four generations. He oversees all aspects of production, from still room to maturation and bottling. Tomintoul uses both American and European oak and offers a full range of whiskies, from a no-age statement heavily peated malt to a 33-year-old sherry-cask limited edition.
One other note of distinction: the whiskies are imported to the U.S. by Medek Wine & Spirits, a division of the Royal Wine Corporation (“Medek” is “Kedem” spelled backwards, a nod and wink to Royal’s original company name and the label of its hugely successful grape juice and Kiddush wine brand). Because of Tominotul’s connection to Royal, it was persuaded in July 2010 to obtain OU kosher certification for several of its single malts (10-, 14- and 16-year-old expressions).
Here then are two Tomintoul single malt whiskies to enjoy before and after Passover:
Tomintoul 10-year-old single malt Scotch whisky (40 percent abv; $35) is an excellent, easy-drinking, delicate, aperitif style whisky with a light, floral, malty, toffee nose, with additional notes on the palate of vanilla fudge, apples and lemon, toasted nuts, honey and malt on the finish.
Tomintoul 12-year-old Oloroso Sherry Finish Single malt Scotch whisky (40 percent abv; $60) is basically its 10-year-old whisky that has undergone an additional 18 months in ex-Oloroso Sherry casks. This additional European oak finish has added a more profound, fruitcake note to the bouquet, helping to deepen and enrich the whiskies’ otherwise slightly grassy, malty, toffee aroma, and fill out its body. This more muscular, slightly silkier whisky also has a comparatively spicy and chewy oak note to it, in addition to notes of wild berry, soft honey, malt, toffee, dried fruits, and a slight whisper of smoke. A rich, creamy and delicious 12-year-old whisky. L’Chaim!