Israel’s Upper Galilee: A Fine Winegrowing Region
A review of the Adir Kerem Ben Zimra Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 and the Scotch Malt Whisky Society Cask 4.153, 11-year-old Highland Park.
By Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon
Washington Jewish Week February 6, 2013
The Upper Galilee’s lush landscape, meandering streams and magnificent mountain views make it one of Israel’s most attractive winegrowing regions. Noted Israeli wine maven Adam Montefiore has rightly called it, “the Israeli Tuscany or Provence.” This combination of natural beauty and quality wine has made the Upper Galilee a premier wine tourism destination.
The visitors’ center at the award-wining Adir Winery is an ideal location for enjoying the region’s vistas and excellent wines. The winery was established 10 years ago by the Rosenberg and Ashkenazi families, but its first vines were planted decades earlier. The Rosenberg family immigrated to Israel from Poland in the late 1940s, while the Ashkenazi family immigrated to Israel in the early 1950s from Turkey. Moving to the Upper Galilee, they helped settle Moshav Kerem Ben Zimra (founded in 1949). The Rosenbergs began planting grapes on the slopes of the Galilee hills in the late 1980s; meanwhile the Ashkenazi family raised goats in the area and began producing cheese and milk. They combined their efforts in 2003 and founded the Adir Winery and Dairy. The complex houses both winery and dairy, combined at the glitzy visitors’ center.
Winemaker Avi Rosenberg was the driving force behind the winery. Rosenberg’s work is aided by wine consultant Dr. Arkady Papikian, one of Israel’s busiest wine consultants and the head winemaker (and partner) at the highly regarded Amphorae winery (one of Israel’s best known nonkosher wineries). Adir cultivates Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Petit Sirah and Chardonnay grape varietals.
Their flagship wine “Plato” is a Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz-based blend. Adir also produces Port-style dessert wines, and both single varietal wines and a high-end red blend “A” under their Kerem Ben-Zimra label.
The Adir Kerem Ben Zimra Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 is a stylishly big wine with dark fruit, red cherry and herbal aromas that move easily into lush flavors of currants, cassis and raspberries with some graphite, oak and mild spiciness leading into the pleasing finish. Still young, it will be more approachable in three to five years after the multiple flavors and medium tannins have had time to meld together, and should remain enjoyably drinkable for many years more.
Spirits-wise, this last week saw the grand-opening here in D.C. of the latest “Society Spot” of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society of America (SMWSA.com) – the American branch of one of the greatest independent bottlers of single malt Scotch whisky.
Founded in Edinburgh Scotland in 1983, the Scotch Malt Whisky Society is now an international membership organization that bottles and sells single-cask, single-malt whisky, free of dilution, coloring, and chill-filtration. The society purchases individual casks of whisky from more than 129 malt whisky distilleries in Scotland, and now throughout the world, simply bottles them, and then retails directly to its members. The society also runs three private members’ rooms in the U.K. (in Leith, Edinburgh, and London), and through partnership with Hotel du Vin and Malmaison, Society whiskies can be found in another 17 hotel and bistro spots across the U.K.
The American branch of the society also does tasting events around the country, but until now, the 6,000 U.S. members only had access to sample Society whiskies through these periodic tasting events. So all purchases were either based on these tastings or taken on faith via the slightly tongue-in-cheek tasting notes put together from the U.K. Society’s “Tasting Panel,” who both select the casks and develop the colorful notes in the catalog. With prices starting at $85 per bottle, this was no small decision for some folks. Though, in truth, the SMWS‘ whiskies are some of the very best single-cask, single-malt selections available anywhere, so even though the chosen whisky might not be exactly what was expected, it was invariably brilliant whisky anyway.
Now, however, the SMWSA has three new “Society Spot” locations where Society whiskies can be sampled by both members and non-members. The three locations are: The El Gaucho Seattle in Seattle, Wash., the Drumbar atop the Raffaello Hotel in Chicago, Ill., and, the best of the bunch, the Jack Rose Dining Saloon in Washington, D.C. (2007 18th Street, N.W.).
This last location, our local, is a match made in heaven. The Jack Rose Dining Saloon is already the greatest whisky bar in the United States, with well over 1,500 different whiskies on hand. Now, Jack Rose will be greatly enhanced by having around 70 SMWS whiskies – available to all. What better way to try SMWS whiskies, either for the first time, or to help members figure out which whiskies to buy.
Of course, one needs to first join the society to have the privilege of actually purchasing one of their bottling, as opposed to simply tasting them at a “Society Spot.” For those of us with the whisky bug, however, this is obviously an easy, though not inexpensive decision. Check out the details at www.smwsa.com (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 SMWS bottling this week is Cask 4.153, “Kerosene delight.” The number 4 is their numeric code for the Highland Park Distillery from the Island of Orkney (north of the Scottish mainland), and the second number is the number relevant to the current cask – so this whisky is from the 153rd cask of Highland Park whisky that the society purchased. In this instance, 4.153 is an 11-year-old single-cask, single-malt Scotch whisky.
This time around, we thought we’d first provide the Society’s “tasting panel” tasting note, and then our own impressions.
The Tasting Panel: “Plenty to keep you occupied – smoked bacon, Golden Crunch Creams, Fry’s chocolate cream, ylang ylang, cherry liqueur, coal scuttles, Eton Mess, glossy magazines, and clean wood smoke. On the palate this multifariousness had become solventy – petrol, lighter fluid, kerosene – but was thick and mouth-coating with ginger beer and lime pickle. Water drew forth pink grapefruit, orange, peardrops, Swarfega, coal tar soap, tinned fruit salad, faraway creosote and haggis spices. It had softened but still with a hint of petrol to taste, Lily of the Valley talcum powder and smoke (as if from a really large drawing room fire). From Orkney’s premier distillery.”
Here’s our review:
SMWS Cask 4.153 (11-year-old Highland Park; 58.6 percent abv; $100; 150 bottles available here in the U.S.): Starts fiery and rich, but once diluted shines forth glorious and beautiful. Offers aromas and flavors of citrus, tart green apples, marshmallow, almonds veering towards marzipan, and earthy and floral notes, all balanced by typical Highland Park mild peat, smoldering fire on the beach smoke, and ground-roasted coffee, and some vague savory, meaty core. Though young and hot, the dilution really transforms this into a gentle, elegant, slightly woody whisky, with a partially sweet, smoky, faintly citrusy, medium-long finish. Complex and feisty, but delightful and absorbing. L’Chaim!