Making the Desert Bloom – With Vineyards



A review of the Kadesh Barnea Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, the Johnnie Walker Blue Label and the Penderyn Single Malt Welsh Whisky.


By Joshua E. London and Louis Marmon


Washington Jewish Week  September 7, 2011


Penderyn Single MaltIt seems almost poetic that the barren region where Moses brought forth water from a rock would eventually become a winery. Also known as the place where Miriam is buried, Kadesh Barnea in the western Negev is the site of a unique boutique winery. While it seems counterintuitive to grow grapes in the desert, the hot days and cool nights actually provide the type of wide temperature variations that result in flavorful and well-balanced wines.


The Kadesh Barnea Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($35) is an ideal example of the desert climate influence. Opening with cassis, plums and vanilla, this smooth, medium-bodied, poised beauty shows layers of blueberry, cherry and chocolate flavors with hints of tobacco and spice leading into its fruity finish.


Nira and Alon Zadok first planted grapes on their moshav in 1995, eventually establishing the Kadesh Barnea Winery in 2000. They currently produce 50,000 bottles per year of kosher, estate-grown and non-mevushal (non-boiled)?wines. Their Kadesh Barnea series includes cabernet sauvignon, merlot, a cabernet franc rosé and “Negev,” a blend of cabernet sauvignon, Shiraz and cabernet franc. Under their “Midbar” label they produce a “White Desert” blend of sauvignon blanc, Mourvedre and chardonnay while their “Red Desert” is made of cabernet sauvignon, Petit Verdot and merlot.


Spirits-wise, we thought we’d offer a note of gratitude. One of us this week encountered two unrelated yet most welcome and appreciated surprises: a friendly blind taste test-l’chaim with a friend and neighbor and an unsolicited, mysteriously gifted bottle of relatively obscure whisky. OK, so neither is as miraculous as blooming vineyards in the Israeli desert, but then one’s expectations are suitably lower in chutz l’aretz (outside Israel), and our gratitude is no less ebullient for it.


The blind taste test proceeded as follows: While paying a shiva call, a next-door neighbor casually offered a friendly “l’chaim” as a blind taste test, which was, of course, accepted immediately. Thirty minutes later, after leaving the shiva house, seated at this neighbor’s dining room table-turned-taste-test lab, he presented a shot glass full of a pale gold, lightly coppered liquid.


A quick sniff confirmed that it was whisky, not aged tequila or some other spirit. A deeper nosing, the preferred term of the cognoscenti to dignify the simple act of smelling, suggested a smooth, refined Scotch whisky – 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, yet without any sense of searing alcoholic fumes.


A quick taste confirmed this to be deliciously balanced Scotch whisky, with lovely depth, heft and some complexity. The taste followed through on the aromas, adding flavor 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.


There was only a slight hesitation in offering “Johnnie Walker Blue Label” ($200) as the identity of the mystery drink. Bingo! The bottle of Blue Label was brought forward for inspection, and a follow-up celebratory drink was quickly decided upon. This high-end blended Scotch whisky made for a lovely, most welcome, and greatly appreciated nightcap. Thank you, Paul.


Later in the week, a lone, unopened bottle of Penderyn Single Malt Welsh Whisky ($75) was left at the front door. The bottle had no accompanying note, message or symbol suggesting the reason for the gift or the identity of the generous benefactor who gifted it, and nor was there any such follow-up note, email or voice mail. Adding to the mystery is that Penderyn isn’t exactly a common whisky.


For one thing, Penderyn is the first and only commercial whisky made in Wales, since the early 19th century. The Welsh Whisky Company Ltd only began producing Penderyn in September 2000, and the distillery, one of the smallest legal distilleries in the world, stands in the Brecon Beacons National Park. Besides being Welsh, Penderyn is also unique in that it is produced and processed using a single copper pot still, from fermented malt from the S.A. Brain & Company, Ltd. brewery in Cardiff, and volume is obviously small. The first expression appeared in March 2004, aged in used bourbon barrels and then finished in Madeira casks. The whisky is available locally, but is hardly widely distributed.


The Penderyn has no age statement, but is obviously only three or four years old. Aged in bourbon barrels and finished off in Madeira casks, the whisky is an interesting, unusual, and very pleasant young offering. Penderyn offers aromas and flavors of oak, creamy vanilla and toffee, yeast, and rye, with delicate notes of peach, melon, strawberry, blueberry, black raspberry and coconut. There is some distinct mild nuttiness too, maybe like almonds. The finish is short, spicy and a little hot. The whisky could do with a few more years of maturation, but is most agreeable. A lovely surprise indeed. L’chaim.



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