A review of the Herzog Special Reserve Merlot 2006 and the Jameson 12 year old, the Bushmill’s Original and the Kilbeggan Irish Whiskies.
By Joshua E. London and Louis Marmon
Washington Jewish Week August 24, 2011
Merlot is no longer the unwanted stepchild of the wine world. The previous lack of respect did not stem from anything inherent to the varietal. Rather, it was an offshoot of overplanting in response to increasing demand, resulting in a multitude of characterless wines. Thankfully, the grape has been rescued by conscientious winemakers who have resisted over-commercialization, and instead carefully crafted some delicious merlots.
A delightful kosher example, still available from the winery that can also occasionally be found on retailer’s shelves, is the Herzog Special Reserve Alexander Valley Merlot 2006 ($36). A full-bodied, intoxicatingly lush merlot, it begins with blackberry and plum aromas that flow gently into dark fruit flavors highlighted with mocha, cherry and oak. The finish is long, balanced and smooth.
The Herzog family has been making wine for over a century, first in Europe and then after the war in New York City where in 1958, they founded the Royal Wine Company. In 1985 they began to make wine at various locations in California eventually opening their own winemaking facility in Oxnard, Calif., in 2005. The Herzog Wine Cellars boasts state-of-the-art facilities, a modern tasting room and gift shop, as well as one of the nation’s finest kosher restaurants.
Spirits-wise, we thought we’d head to Ireland, for a change, and taste some different yet wonderful Irish blended whiskeys: Jameson 12-year-oId Special Reserve Irish Whiskey ($40), Bushmills Original Irish Whiskey ($25) and Kilbeggan Irish Whiskey ($20).
Irish whiskey, unlike Scotch whisky or American whiskey (the difference in spelling is traditional but basically meaningless), has fewer rules and regulations determining what can be sold under its moniker.
The industry used to be able to use all sorts of flavor enhancers as well, until the Irish government recently, with the support of Irish whiskey manufacturers and the direct involvement of the London Beth Din, passed legislation that prohibits all flavor enhancers – some of which were not kosher – in any Irish whiskey manufactured after mid-2009. So while many Irish whiskies are kosher, the community standard in most of Europe, for example, is to only consume Irish whiskey manufactured before mid-2009 provided it is on a reliable kashrut agency’s approval list. This is a good list, to be sure, but not everything is on it.
Traditionally, Irish whiskey was distilled three times and never used peat, but all of this changed in the late 1980s and early 1990s when the Cooley Distillery came to life. The underlying vision, from the start, was to breathe new life into Irish whiskey, which largely consisted of throwing away the traditional Irish whiskey “rules,” creating new brands and styles and reviving old labels.
One other significant feature of Irish whiskey is that, unlike Scotland which has more than 90 distilleries producing various whiskies, Ireland has only four, and all the Irish whiskey currently available today is produced at just three distilleries: Cooley, Midleton and Bushmills. In 2007, Cooley expanded its production by recommencing production at the 250-year-old Locke’s Distillery, situated on the River Brosna in Kilbeggan, County Westmeath, Ireland.
Jameson 12-Year-Old Special Reserve Irish Whiskey is a triple-distilled whiskey from the Midleton Distillery. Even though it is the product of one distillery, it is not considered a “single-malt” whiskey because they it uses both malted barley and unmalted or “green” barley. This smooth, sherry-cask-influenced whiskey is enjoyable and easy drinking. It helps shed light on why Jameson is one of the world’s best-selling Irish whiskies. With notes of oak, caramel, vanilla, banana nut cake and honey, cut cleanly with peppery spice, and with notes of toffee parading through, the whiskey starts soft and supple, ending dry, with nice depth, body and a medium finish. This is solid Irish tipple! (Considered acceptable without kosher certification by both the CRC and the KLBD.)
Bushmills Original Irish Whiskey is the classic, traditional-styled Irish blended whiskey – meaning that this golden amber-colored hooch is fairly cheap, a tad rough around the edges, uncomplicated, and fairly light but deliciously easy to drink. With notes of clay, vanilla, cereal, cream, toffee, fresh biscuits and something like instant hot chocolate, grain husk and cocoa aromas finishing crisply with a little citrus, cream and pepper. Another solid, everyday emollient (considered kosher without certification by the KLBD).
Finally, we come to the Kilbeggan Irish Whiskey, the flagship blend of Cooley, and presumably soon to be the flagship of new/old Kilbeggan Distillery. Despite being both cheap and light, this is a wonderfully put together, mostly balanced, young whiskey with enticing aromas and flavors of pear, citrus, caramel, honeycomb, vanilla, dried papaya, soft oak and something faintly minty. All on a soft, supple dry-yet-fruity medium body, with some spice and toasted grain and just a little too much alcoholic heat. Tasty, and well worth a spin around the block. (Considered kosher without certification by the KLBD.) L’chaim.