Review of Domaine du Castel’s Rosé du Castel 2013 and Knob Creek Small Batch 9 Year Old Straight Bourbon Whiskey.
By Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon
Washington Jewish Week May 28, 2015
Israeli wineries have been expanding at a terrific pace. Much of this is, obviously domestically driven—but a not insignificant part of this is driven by expectations of export to foreign and, especially, so called “emerging markets.” This expansion may be seen in numbers, land now under grape cultivation, and even the diversity of grape varietals being grown. Not only are more Israelis drinking wine, and better wine, more foreign markets are opening – slowly — to Israeli wine as well. Leftwing BDS threats notwithstanding.
One significant limiting factor, however, is the lack of coordination and marketing cooperation amongst producers. Israel ought to develop a wine consortium that could marshal resources on behalf of the industry to actively promote Israeli wine as a brand around the world.
There have, of course, been some fitful efforts now and again, the most notable of which is the US-based and focused Israeli Wine Producers Association (iwpa.com) developed by the Royal Wine Corp on behalf of the Israeli wines in its portfolio of imported wine…but mostly, such coordinated efforts seem beyond reach. So mostly, the most receptive markets for Israeli wine remain diaspora Jews generally, and diaspora kosher consumers most especially.
As we continue to wait for the Israeli wine industry to band together for the greater marketing good of promoting brand Israel in wine, we do so over a delightful bottle of Domaine du Castel’s Rosé du Castel 2013 ($40). A blend of Merlot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc, this lovely rosé opens with strawberry and floral aromas leading into grapefruit, cherry, raspberry and strawberry flavors with tart citrus acidity for balance and a pleasing mineral infused finish.
Spirits-wise, we were all geared up to dip back into some of the great American small-craft distillery whiskies on the market now, when an idea floated into view. Nearly all the small-craft stuff is young, sometimes fire-water young, owing to the fact that the distilleries haven’t been a round but so long and need to move product to develop a brand, an appreciative audience, and, most importantly, to raise revenue to stay afloat while they age spirit for a more mature product down the road. This is all well and good, and to be expected…yet the big players have nearly all begun to push out young, often non-age-statement, product too — some of this is very good, or at least worthwhile, and some of it isn’t.
The disturbing part, though, is that we — the consumers — are losing out on mid-age whiskies. Not that long ago, there were dozens and dozens of American whiskies in the 8 to 12 year “sweet spot” range. Obviously, not everybody considered this the “sweet spot” for bourbon but we did, and apparently most distilleries did too as this was the range consistently on offer. Between 9 and 12 years of ageing seemed the right range for the new charred oak to have a significant impact on the whiskey without overpowering.
Don’t get us wrong, there are some really fabulous older expressions of American whiskey routinely available, and we enjoy many, perhaps even most, of them…but increasingly this is the norm, not the exception – marking guff aside.
Indeed, increasingly these days brands are releasing wither really young and super old product, and increasingly less in-between; the non-age-statement releases seem to be the most popular for producers (not necessarily for we consumers). Others seem to be gearing up for the switch. Eagle Rare 10 year old and Elijah Craig 12 year old have both, for example, recently changed their labeling so that the age statement is now on the back, in small print. Ho hum.
As we contemplate this unwelcome development, we do so over a healthy measure of the following “sweet spot” aged whiskey:
Knob Creek Small Batch 9 Year Old Straight Bourbon Whiskey (50 percent abv; $30): Named after a little creek that runs just south of the distillery, and past what is claimed to be Abraham Lincoln’s childhood home, the whiskey was introduced a couple of decades ago to showcase aged Beam whiskey. Chunky, firm, earthy, sweet and brilliant, Knob Creek exhibits floral aromas with a touch of charred oak, a hint of spicy rye, honey, roasted nuts, vanilla, and an odd, yet not unpleasant, touch of mustiness. These are followed on the palate with sweet, creamy flavors of vanilla pound cake, maple sugar, and (slightly burnt) caramel, hot cinnamon candy, white pepper, walnuts, and something like apricot chutney. Rich and complex, with a slightly jarring yet absorbing hot and heavy finish. L’chaim!