Jefferson’s Triumph

Review of the Molon Lave Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 and Kilchoman 100% Islay, 3rd Edition Single Malt Whisky.


By Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon


Washington Jewish Week  Fall 2015


kilchomanSomewhere Thomas Jefferson is smiling. Our third President was an unabashed oenophile, asserting that “wine from long habit has become an indispensable for my health,” and while at Monticello consumed an average of 400 bottles of French, Spanish, German, Portuguese and Italian wine annually.  He spent a great deal of time and effort trying to make his home state of Virginia into a world class winemaking region. Unfortunately Jefferson could never produce a decent wine from the vineyards planted near his estate.


The biggest problem with Virginia vineyards was phylloxera, a sap-sucking aphid-like bug that destroys vines. The European vines that Jefferson planted in Virginia were especially susceptible. So for many decades the Virginia wine industry languished, briefly recovering before Prohibition effectively shut down the entire domestic industry.


In the 1960s a growing recognition of the region’s potential lead to a renewed interest in making wine in the Old Dominion State. The subsequent years have seen an explosion in vineyard acreage, the birth of new wineries, steadily improving quality and rising sales. Virginia wineries sold a record-setting 6.3 million bottles last year and the state now boasts over 250 wineries including such stars as Barboursville, RdV, Delaplane, Philip Carter, Keswick, and Paradise Springs that produce many highly rated, award-winning and much sought-after bottlings.


The only winery currently making kosher wine in Virginia is the family-owned Molon Lave Vineyards. Established by Louizos Papadopoulos in 2009 whose Greek heritage embodies the same passion about wine expressed by Thomas Jefferson. The winery devotes 25 percent of its production to kosher wines because some of the owner’s Jewish friends “jokingly said we should make some kosher wine, and that’s how it started.” The full-bodied, kosher Molon Lave Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 is a pleasing effort with dark cherry, raspberry and cassis and chocolate flavors with a silky finish. A nice way to experience the results of Jefferson’s dream fulfilled.


Spirits-wise, our attention has once again been drawn to Scotland, to the Kilchoman Distillery (pronounced kill-HO-man). As fans of Scotch whisky are doubtless aware, Kilchoman is a fairly new, tiny, farm-style distillery on the western side of the Inner Hebrides island of Islay, Scotland. The distillery, named for the nearby small settlement of Kilchoman (it is Gaelic for “St Comman’s church”), was founded only in 2005. Kilchoman was the first new distillery to be built on Islay in 124 years, and essentially overnight became a critical success, attracting a massive following among us whisky geeks and aficionados (a euphemism for drinkers with expensive tastes).


Now celebrating its first 10 years, Kilchoman has been sponsoring a series of “Official 10 year Anniversary Party” tastings around the world to mark the occasion. The local celebratory tasting took place October 25 at the DC’s own Jack Rose Dining Saloon.


It was a one-time chance to taste through the first 10 years of Kilchoman Distillery bottlings, with the largest selection available in any one place.  It was also the first and only opportunity to taste some of the only 90 bottles of the special 10th Anniversary bottling being released to the US market.


Kilchoman’s annual output is now up to about 120,000 liters of alcohol. To put this in perspective, all eight distilleries on Islay have a combined annual output of more than 17 million liters of alcohol (recall that the island has only around 3,500 inhabitants — so we are talking a tremendous amount of booze). Everything about the distillery is compact and fairly tiny by industry norms, so its capacity remains hugely limited and more or less fixed until the owners try to expand (which would require not only a lot more money, equipment and manpower, but also more physical space). Here is one of our favorite Kilchoman whiskies that is now in the ‘rare’ category but will be available to taste at the event:


Kilchoman 100% Islay, 3rd Edition (50 percent abv; $90 upon release): This release is a vatting of four and five-year-old first-fill bourbon barrels; only 10,000 bottles available worldwide. This absorbing and rewarding whisky opens with delicate smoke, fruit (citrus, apples and pears), vanilla cream, and floral notes on the nose, with the fruits leading the charge on the palate, supported by some brief spicy elements, all of which quickly cedes ground to beautiful yet still delicate peat smoke, initiating a delightful up-tempo waltz in the mouth between the various elements, with each having a chance to go toe-to-toe with the peat, without overcrowding, missing a beat or falling flat. The lengthy finish is of lovely slightly softer lingering peat. Dazzling, complex, and delicious whisky. L’Chaim!

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