It’s The Terroir, Stupid

 

 

A review of the Goose Bay Pinot Gris 2011 along with some Father’s Day Whisky suggestions.

 

By Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon

 

Washington Jewish Week  June 13, 2013

 

dewarsOne of the more fascinating aspects of wine is the influence of “terroir,” a French term that encompasses the various geographic and climatic influences upon a wine’s aromas, flavors and structure. Identical grapes grown in dissimilar locations will have distinctly different characteristics. Distances as small as a few meters between rows of vines can produce profound changes in the quality of the resulting wines.
 

Burgundy is one of the better known illustrations of the influence of terroir. Over several centuries the local monks painstakingly classified and subdivided the region based upon the quality of the wines produced by grapes grown in specific locations. In contrast with Bordeaux where the classifications are based upon the producing Chateaux, the wines from Burgundy are labeled according to the vineyard and there may be more than one producer creating wines from that site. There are 400 types of Burgundian soil and the stratification into Grand Cru, Premier Cru and Village are entirely dependent upon geography.
 

So it is not surprising that identical grapes grown miles or continents apart would taste unalike. Consider Pinot Grigio, a white wine that is popularly known as Italian but is actually produced in a number of other countries including Argentina, the US, Germany, Chile and South Africa. In France’s Alsace region it is called Pinot Gris where it is one of the four “Noble” grapes that can be made into their Grand Cru wines. Each of these Pinot Grigio iterations have their own distinctive flavor profiles due in large part to their terroir.
 

A very enjoyable and distinctively different kosher Pinot Grigio is produced in New Zealand’s Marlborough region by Philip and Sheryl Jones at their Spencer Hill Winery, the only location in that country that makes kosher wines. Their medium-bodied Goose Bay Pinot Gris 2011 is another one of their superior cool-climate white wines with lovely apple, pear and vanilla aromas that expand and flow into layers of tropical fruits, honeysuckle and vanilla. The citrus acidity keeps everything in balance and mingles with some spice and nuttiness in the finish. A great summer wine with cheese, lighter fish dishes, quiche and salads.
 

Spirits-wise, with the secular/Hallmark-card holiday of “Father’s Day” right around the corner, we thought we’d turn to potential whisky gifts for Father’s Day.
 

OK, so maybe this seems like a particularly phoned-in, groan-worthy platform from which to blather on about whiskies. Do keep in mind, however, that whisky as a subject is not exactly Shakespeare, so a little perspective is in order.
 

What’s more, as one of us has only very recently become a father (34 days ago as of this somnambulant writing), the “Father’s Day” motif is both topical, and fresh on our minds. So, buck-up, because the hooch recommendations follow.
 

Starting with blends—since the overwhelming majority of Scotch whisky drinkers drink blended whiskies, rather than single malts—we heartily recommend:
 

Dewar’s 18 Year Double Aged Blended Scotch Whisky (40% abv; $80): the “double” reference is to Dewar’s process of further oak cask ageing the final blend of selected malt and other grain whiskies so that the various flavors and components of the cuvee “marry” together cohesively prior to bottling. In this case, the marriage is fantastic. The nose is dry, grassy, a little herbal and nutty with subtle hints of peat smoke and some ever so slightly prickly spice (cloves?)—takes time to open, but is worth the wait. With flavors of rich cereal grain, very light peat, almost creamy malted barley, vanilla, honey, toffee, caramel and something a touch citrusy, the finish is a bit oaky with some lovely drying, spice. Complex, well balanced and well worth your time!
 

Another great, though very expensive blended whisky option: Johnnie Walker Blue Label (40% abv; $200): this exceptionally smooth, refined whisky with subtle yet definite aromas of malt and something vaguely fruity, with a little sweet vanilla and toffee, and with lighter notes of smoke and oak. Deliciously balanced, with lovely depth, heft and some complexity, the taste follows through on the aromas, with additional notes of citrus fruits, ripe figs, malt, a little peaty tang, a pleasant shot of smoke with just a little astringency, suggestive of bittersweet chocolate, with an absorbing, nicely rounded, contemplatively long, malty, slightly sweet and slightly smoky finish. A big, elegant, beautiful whisky. Too expensive for regular drinking, frankly, but a lovely (if slightly showy) gift for someone special.
 

We’ve occasionally been criticized for not covering Canadian whiskies, though this is simply because we don’t like thin, bland, uninteresting whisky—but now we’ve found one we genuinely like. So consider this for an interesting Canadian whisky option:
 

Caribou Crossing, Single Barrel, Canadian Whisky (40% abv; $50): This rich, light yet almost velvety smooth whisky offers nice balance between mild sweet and mild rye spice, with additional notes of vanilla, toffee, caramel, oak, and orange fruit. The finish is light and clean, with more orange and vanilla and little whisper of rye. Fine whisky of any sort, and exceptional for Canadian whisky.
 

For an American whiskey, there are so many great offerings and so little space, that we thought we’d opt for a nicely inexpensive option that we have come to consider a nice standby (largely, perhaps, because one of us finds it is always on offer—post Shabbos services—at our local shul): Jim Beam’s Devil’s Cut 90 Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (45 percent abv; $24): this lovely, deep golden yellow, complex, balanced, velvety whiskey delivers clean and intense aromas and flavors of vanilla, coconut, brown sugar, malty cereals, toasted tannic oak, burnt orange rind, honey, butterscotch, caramel, cinnamon, nutmeg and some lovely, creamy buttery notes which balances the sweetness. The finish provides an additional light fiery bite amidst a mellow glow. With a drop of water, the creaminess is kicked up a notch.
 

For single malt Scotch whisky, the sky is obviously the limit, and so the simplest way to find our recommendations is to just keep reading our little articles. That said, two quick recommendations should suffice for now. One for those who like it smoky and peaty, and one for those who don’t:
 

Glenmorangie 18 year old Single Malt Scotch Whisky (43% ; $90 – $135 – so shop around):  This lovely, gentle, supple, and rich whisky offers wonderfully balanced aromas and flavors of tropical fruits, grapefruit, mixed berries, caramel, vanilla, crème brûlée, honey, a little lychee, citrus zest and lovely oak notes. The finish is wonderful too. An all around winner!
 

Laphroaig 18 year old Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky (48%; $90 – $140 – so shop around): An awesome, simply brilliant whisky!  Laphroaig’s signature flavor profile—an untamed yet complex beast of smoke, peat and iodine thrashing at its cage—is here domesticated, mellowed and even refined, with wonderful, big and complex aromas and flavors of peat smoke, charcoal, tar, iodine, honey, creamy vanilla, toffee, sweet malt, grain-bread toast, citrus, fruit compote, dark chocolate, orange marmalade, subtle brine, anise, ginger, and citrus. Time in the glass unleashes even greater depth and subtlety. A most rewarding, delicious, rich, flavorful, creamy and absorbing whisky! Not to be missed. L’Chaim!

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