A review of the Covenant Lavan and the Glenmorangie Nectar D’Or.
By Joshua E. London and Louis Marmon
Washington Jewish Week May 25, 2011
The Covenant Lavan 2008 ($38) has many of the same characteristics as other California chardonnays, but they are presented with a degree of restraint more often associated with white Burgundies.
From grapes grown at the legendary Bacigalupi vineyard, in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley, the Lavan (which means “white” in Hebrew) is a full-bodied, silky-smooth, elegant effort with lovely peach, pear and toasty aromas that meld into layers of melon, lemon, fig and honeysuckle. The well-balanced, lengthy finish displays hints of minerals, nuts and a bit of licorice. It is easily one of the world’s best kosher chardonnays, and so an excellent choice for year-round enjoyment, as well as a warm-weather kiddush.
The Covenant Winery is a creation of wine-journalist Jeff Morgan and Leslie Rudd, the current chair of Dean and DeLuca gourmet shops (as well as his own winery). Their objective was to create world-class kosher wines, with an initial focus on cabernet sauvignon. With grapes sourced from the well-regarded Larkmead Vineyard, they have reached their goal. The Covenant cabernets have received critical acclaim since 2005 as some of the best (and most expensive) kosher wines. Their current offerings include their flagship Covenant Cabernet, their second label Red C, a luxury cuvee or blend from Rudd’s Mount Veeder vineyards called Solomon, and their Lavan Chardonnay.
For a digestif, one can’t go too far wrong with a nice, healthy dram of Glenmorangie Nectar D’Or ($90). The price is hefty, but if consumed slowly and lovingly, well worth the expense – and if several drams are consumed, the expense is quickly forgiven, even if not fully forgotten. The whisky offers sweet, creamy, rich, ripe aromas and flavors of honey, vanilla, tropical fruits, pineapple, strawberries and peach, with some herbaceous and baked-goods notes, yet all the while sweet and lovely with just a subtle hint of smoky oak wood. The whisky has a heavy, warming mouth-feel, tempered by sweetness with a long finish featuring notes of orange peel, dried apples and coffee.
It is made by transferring the familiar 10-year-old Glenmorangie “Original” out of the used bourbon casks in which it matures, and putting it into used wine casks for an additional two years to finish its maturation. Thus, the 12-year-old Nectar D’Or is the dressed up and greatly improved version of the old Glenmorangie Sauternes Cask Finish, which was always interesting, but never so satisfying.
When luxury goods conglomerate Moet Hennessey Luis Vuitton (LVMH) bought Glenmorangie in 2004, it brought the entire product line into its “luxury” lineup both by dressing up the packaging (redesigning the bottle and the label) and, more important, by improving the quality of the whisky.
The used wine casks employed to finish the maturation of this whisky, hail from the famed Chateau d’Yquem, a Premier Cru Superieur wine from the Sauternes, Gironde region in the southern part of the Bordeaux vineyards known as Graves. LVMH also owns Chateau d’Yquem, so sourcing the casks was easy. This wine is the most famous super premium nonkosher French dessert wine there is. A wine whose quality and price tag are fit for royalty and the sorts of folks who get federal bailouts because their companies are “too big to fail.”
The use of the nonkosher wine casks is an obvious red flag for the kashrut industry. Perhaps on another occasion we will write about this issue in greater depth. For now, suffice it to note that while most widely accepted American-based national kashrut authorities, include our local agencies, all feel that the explicit use of barrels that were previously used to produce nonkosher wines renders the whisky problematic and not-recommended for kosher consumers, there are widely respected authorities who differ and permit its consumption.
The esteemed Kashruth Authority of the London Beth Din (KLBD), for example, allows all single-malt Scotch whiskies, even those which explicitly advertize the use of wine casks in their production. The KLBD, publicly states that it bases this decision on lenient rulings by major poskim (or Jewish legal decisors), such as Minchas Yitzchok and, more significantly, Igros Moshe (rulings of the late Rabbi Moshe Feinstein).
Still, the London Beth Din notes that the product of this additional maturation process is something different from non-finished whiskies and so may not be covered “by all the aforementioned heterim [Jewish law leniencies]” and that “accordingly some may wish to avoid products so labeled.” It makes clear, however, that, “the London Beth Din continues to allow all types of Scotch Whisky, based on Teshuvos Igros Moshe (again, Feinstein’s rulings.)
We agree with the London Beth Din, and not just because one of us is named London. L’Chaim!