Reviews of the Flam Classico 2010, Casa Vieja Tequilas, Tio Pepe Fino Sherry and Dupuy XO Cognac.
By Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon
Washington Jewish Week April 12, 2012
One of the major advantages of being a relatively new winemaking region is the lack of rules and regulations that govern viticulture and vinification compared with the Old World wine-producing regions.
In France, for example, most of the best winegrowing areas are beset by myriad governmental regulations which mandate specific grape varietals are grown in precisely delineated locations, and prohibit certain agricultural practices, and in some instances even prohibit blending different grapes. Not so for “New World” wine producers.
Among “New World” producers, experimentation, creativity and risk are the bywords of their craft. This is especially true in Israel.
Despite a winemaking tradition that reaches back several thousand years, Israel’s true modern, quality winemaking experience began in the 1980s. So although the ancient winemaking tradition is intact, the specific technologies and understandings of the craft employed by the ancients have been cross-checked by modern methods and science, and anything out of date has been left behind. Further, microregulations that beset French appellations do not exist in Israel, and every winery, regardless of size, is free to try different approaches. The results, thankfully, are wines shaped more by consumer preferences than government bureaucracy.
The family-owned Flam Winery is an example of both individuality and high quality. Located in the Judean Hills close to Beit Shemesh, Flam has embraced a distinctively Mediterranean feel heavily influenced by Italian (specifically Tuscan) winemaking. Since its first releases in 1998, Flam has garnered both critical and popular acclaim and has recently become certified kosher. Winemaker Golan Flam previously worked in Italy and Australia and the patriarch, Israel Flam, was the senior winemaker at Carmel. They produce wines of great elegance under several different labels including Reserve, Superiore and Classico.
Classico is a term utilized in the Italian Tuscany region to identify the original four villages that were the officially authorized producers of Chianti wine. Like the Italian Chianti, which is a combination of several varietals, the Flam Classico is also a blend. But rather than based upon the traditional Chianti grape sangiovese, Flam’s rule-breaking Classico is a Bordeaux-like blend and is styled for early enjoyment rather than aging. Their nonmevushal Flam Classico 2010 ($28) contains 50 percent merlot with 42 percent cabernet sauvignon, 5 percent cabernet franc and 3 percent petit verdot. Medium-bodied, nicely balanced and very smooth with alluring fruit aromas of blackberries and dark cherries, it displays slightly spicy berry, dark plum and cherry flavors with noticeable minerality and a touch of black olives, oak and mint in the pleasant finish.
Spirits-wise, kosher-for-Passover options, though they can be of very good quality these days, are still rather small in number and varieties. This is unavoidable and should not be lamented as such – after all, during Passover we are enjoined not only to refrain from consuming chametz but from owning chametz, and even from seeing chametz in our domains. So grain alcohol, such as all forms of whiskey, are simply off-limits.
Last year we recommended two different kosher-for-Passover tequilas, and both are still on the market and available at Potomac Wines & Spirits in Georgetown and at various online retailers. These were the nonaged Casa Vieja Blanco ($40) and the aged Casa Vieja Anejo ($45). The blanco offers clean, moderate agave character, with aromatic hints of citrus, chamomile, peppermint, and pepper, with typical, intense agave dry-yet-fruity flavors with notes of grilled papaya and pineapple, floral honey, and green peppercorn, and additional whispers of white pepper and star anise on the short finish. The anejo offers aromas of orange zest, smoke and sweet caramel, with a dry medium-bodied, balanced palate featuring classic roasted agave flavors, with additional notes of salt, spice, pepper and a touch of honey on the finish – a dry, reserved style with a true agave character and a refined appeal.
We also previously recommended the kosher-for-Passover certified Tio Pepe Fino Sherry ($24; be certain to check it is the kosher version as the nonkosher version is very widely available and the kosher version is a much more limited, more expensive run).
This is really just another wine, not a spirit, but it is a fortified wine – meaning spirit is added to it to at a certain point in its development. This extra alcohol gives it something of a kick, and is somewhat of an acquired taste. Tio Pepe Fino Sherry is bone-dry fortified wine, offering a pleasing mix of flavors including almonds, walnuts, fruits, fresh olive oil, salty crackers and Granny Smith apples. Tio Pepe has a lovely long and smooth finish that is dry, refreshing, a little tangy, and a tad herbaceous. It is an excellent aperitif and seriously whets the appetite; regionally it is most commonly enjoyed with the meal itself. Not for all tastes, but an excellent and pleasurable wine, it should be drunk young and well chilled – ideally within a few hours of opening – but it’ll keep in the fridge for about a week without too much deterioration.
There are also a variety of kosher-for-Passover brandies and cognacs available at different price and quality categories along the spectrum. Many of these are very good, and worth trying. One good and interesting example is the Dupuy XO Cognac ($85). This smooth and aromatic cognac spent over a dozen years maturing in Limousin French oak casks and showcases generous notes of vanilla and cinnamon, with a good and balanced mid-palate with dried fruits and additional notes of walnuts, dates and almonds, all leading up to an enjoyable and involved if slightly clipped finish. L’Chaim!