A review of the Domaine du Castel Grand Vin 2007 and a summer martini recipe.
By Joshua E. London and Louis Marmon
Washington Jewish Week May 11, 2011
One of the world’s best kosher wines is Domaine du Castel Grand Vin 2007 ($59) – an elegant blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. It’s full-bodied with gorgeous blueberry, cedar and chocolate aromas leading into layers of beautifully integrated dark plums, blackberries, currants and anise, with hints of olives and oranges in the satisfyingly lengthy finish.
Eli ben Zaken became interested in winemaking while tasting numerous wines for his Jerusalem-based Italian restaurant, Mamma Mia. Named for a nearby Crusader fortress, the multiple-award-winning Domaine du Castel Winery is located at the site of a former chicken ranch at Moshav Ramat Raziel situated in the Judean Hills.
Their initial release of 600 bottles in 1992 received unexpectedly superior reviews from the international press and their subsequent vintages have continued to attain critical acclaim. They are considered one of Israel’s elite wineries and also among the best in the world for Bordeaux-style blends. Currently, Eli (along with his sons, Eytan and Ariel) produce nearly 100,000 bottles of three European-styled wines; the 100 percent Chardonnay “C” du Castel, and two Bordeaux-style blends; the flagship Castel Grand Vin and their less costly (but still excellent) second bottling, Petit Castel. All of Domaine du Castel’s wines are certified kosher and are non-mevushal (not boiled).
As the spring warms to summer, some sipping victuals are needed to help ease the mind and induce some calm. For this we turn to the Earl Grey MarTEAni. This twist on a classic cocktail makes for a pleasant diversion. For starters, it takes time and patience to prepare. The drink is the creation of New York mixologist Audrey Saunders, the mad scientist of cocktails behind the Pegu Club in Manhattan’s West Village. It is a pretty simple formula: a spirit base, some acidity (fresh lemon juice), some sweetener (“simple syrup,” which is just bartender-speak for a 1-to-1 ratio syrup made by dissolving sugar in water), and an egg white for texture and added depth. As in all such things, however, the genius is in the details. The spirit that serves as the base here is Tanqueray Gin that has been specially infused with Earl Grey tea.
Infusing spirits is a wonderfully easy way to experiment with flavors. Any number of herbs and spices, even vegetables, can be called into service here. When testing these infusion ideas, stick to high-proof bottlings; the alcohol will work to boost the flavors. Most people prefer to work with vodka, because of vodka’s high alcohol content, clarity and nearly zero taste profile. It is virtually like painting on a clean, white surface. Gin is a bit trickier, but only a bit. Tanqueray gin, at 47.3 percent alcohol by volume, is a good and not too expensive bottle to play with, as is Beefeater(47 percent), Bombay Sapphire (47 percent), or even Van Gogh (47 percent). Or you can go wild, spend quite a bit more, and tinker with something already sublime like Old Raj Gin (55 percent). The only limits here are self-imposed.
In the Earl Grey MarTEAni, Ms. Saunders’ genius was in recognizing that the distinct bergamot flavors of Earl Grey would somehow blend well with the botanicals in “London Dry”-style gin. The lemon juice helps to bind and tame the flavors, while adding a supportive zing, the simple syrup helps balance out the acidity while complementing the tea, and the egg white elevates the whole into something rich and silky.
Here then is the Earl Grey MarTEAni (adapted from Audrey Saunders’ recipe):
First, you must infuse your gin, which is simple, but time-consuming. Add 1/4 cup of loose Earl Grey tea leaves to a 1 liter bottle of Tanqueray gin, screw the cap back in place and shake the bottle like you mean business. Let this steep for 2 hours or so, then gradually strain out the tea leaves, but don’t press them, otherwise you’ll extract bitter tannins as well as excess gin.
Then put 1 1/2 ounces of your Earl Grey Gin Infusion, 3/4 of an ounce (about 4 tablespoons) of fresh lemon juice with 1 ounce of simple syrup, and 1 egg white into a cocktail shaker filled at least 2/3 full of hard, cracked ice. Shake the hell out of it for about 15 seconds or so, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a twist of lemon. We don’t bother with this last step, but it should be noted that the original recipe calls for the pre-chilled cocktail glass to be rimmed with lemon zest infused sugar (finely grate the zest of 1 whole lemon and mix with 1/2 cup of granulated sugar). L’Chaim!