New Year – New Winery
Reviews of the Montefiore White 2012 and Drambuie Scotch Whisky Liqueur.
By Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon
Washington Jewish Week September 18, 2014
It’s that time of year again. This period is traditionally a time of reflection in which we are encouraged to contemplate our decisions and, more importantly, our mistakes—to learn from our actions and misdeeds, and the impact these have had on our lives and on the lives of those with whom we interact. Hopefully, a little self-knowledge and wisdom has come from these experiences. With additional effort and focus we can hopefully transform and improve ourselves as we recommit to doing it all, at least a little bit, better. We are, of course, talking about booze—choosing the most appropriate drink for the moment.
What? You were expecting something different? Sure, the Yamim Noraim (“Days of Awe”) or “High Holy Days”—as you prefer—augur changes of a more substantive, and sober, personal, reflective, introspective, even metaphysical, level. But our column is called “L’Chaim” not “Torah Thoughts,” got it? No disgruntled letters—please.
It seems appropriate to approach the new year ahead with a fresh, revitalized attitude towards our wine choices. There is a wide and wonderful world of wines being created by highly skilled, innovative and dedicated individuals, so we ought to explore it instead of always drinking the same old thing.
Winemaking is an expensive, time consuming and frequently frustrating enterprise. We feel that new high-risk ventures that are able to create enjoyable wines deserve our support. An example is Kerem Montefiore, is a small boutique wine producer, established in 2010 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the founding of Mishkenot Sha’ananim by Sir Moses Montefiore, the Italian born Jewish-English philanthropist. This was the first neighborhood built outside the Old City Walls of Jerusalem, it became the cornerstone of the modern city (the original land was later divided into two established in 2010 neighborhoods, Mishkenot Sha’ananim and Yemin Moshe). This new venture, Kerem Montefiore (“Montefiore’s Vineyard”), was founded by Arnon Geva, and two of Montefiore’s descendants, sister and brother, Rachel and David Montefiore.
Rachel and David are two of the three children of our friend Adam Montefiore, one of the great representatives of the Israeli wine industry, and a true mentsch. After making aliyah from England in 1989 with his wife and three children, Adam transitioned from the UK wine industry to Israel with a gig at Carmel, Israel’s largest wine company. From there Adam transitioned to the Golan Heights Winery, eventually becoming export and marketing manager. In 2002 he returned to Carmel, where he now serves as Director of Wine Development. Adam has substantially helped spearhead the advance of Israeli wines worldwide.
A charming raconteur, Adam is also a prolific writer with a weekly wine column in the Jerusalem Post in which he writes beautifully and passionately about all Israeli wines—not just Carmel. Not for nothing did the late Israeli wine critic Daniel Rogov refer to Montefiore as “the nicest person in the Israeli wine trade.” Note: due to travel schedules, this is being written in advance, but by the time this hits print one of us will have had the great pleasure of Adam’s company once again, this time back in Israel. We’ll hopefully revisit this another time.
Co-founder and CEO Arnon Geva, the initiator and driving force of this new wine venture, brings extensive experience to Kerem Montefiore as one of the founders of Domaine du Castel and then as International Business Director for Carmel and Yatir (Carmel’s “boutique” operation).
Co-founder Rachel Montefiore is head of sales and marketing for the fledging wine venture. She transitioned from athlete (a top Israeli squash player, winning a gold medal at the 2005 Maccabiah Games), into a wine-related career, mostly on the retail side.
Her brother and winery co-founder, David Montefiore, is less engaged in the day-to-day of the winery, but is no slacker either—he was one of Israel’s top bartenders, gained overseas winery experience in Australia and Spain, studied wine at London’s prestigious Wine & Spirit Education Trust, and is the director of Wine Culture for Israel’s Tabor Winery. Their winemaker is Sam Soroka who is responsible for the recent remarkable improvement in quality at the Mony Winery.
The grapes are sourced from the Judean Hills and the wines are being made under Sam’s supervision at Mony, until a separate winery is funded and built for Montefiore. Currently the founders are appropriately focusing on crafting distinctive wines. They released their first wines last year, including the Montefiore White 2012 ($20), a unoaked blend of 70 percent Colombard and 30 percent Chardonnay that is well suited for the warm early fall weather. Sam Soroka has been a strong advocate for Colombard, a varietal which is commonly relegated to a supporting role. Here the Colombard’s bright citrus acidity offers orange, lemon and pineapple notes within a medium frame contributed by the Chardonnay. Accented with minerals, balanced and fruity this first effort from Montefiore is delightful and speaks well for the future.
Spirits-wise, we thought we’d break with tradition a bit and go in for something on the sweetish side: Drambuie Scotch Whisky Liqueur. An essential component to several famous cocktails, like the Rusty Nail, Drambuie is excellent on its own too. Made from malt whisky infused with honey, herbs and spices, the name “Drambuie” derives from the Scottish Gaelic phrase “an dram buidheach,” which means “the drink that satisfies.”
Drambuie is over 100 years old. The MacKinnon family registered the trademark in 1893, and in 1909 moved production from the Isle of Skye, off Scotland’s west coast, to Edinburgh. Since 2010 it has been produced under contract for the same MacKinnon family (though they have put it up for sale—estimated value is widely reported by the trade press to be £100 million) at the Morrison Bowmore Distillers facility at Springburn Bond, Glasgow. The company maintains a fanciful backstory that the liqueur originally dates back to July 1746. As there company website puts it: “Prince Charles Edward Stuart (known also as Bonnie Prince Charlie) was on the run, after defeat at the Battle of Culloden had ended his hopes of restoring the Stuarts to the throne of Great Britain…[he was] bravely aided by many Highland Clans. Among them was Clan MacKinnon whose chief, John MacKinnon, helped the Prince escape from Skye. In thanks for his bravery the Prince gave John MacKinnon the secret recipe to his personal liqueur, a gift that the Clan were to treasure down the generations. An extraordinary elixir that would, many years later, become known to the world as Drambuie.” This is just silly, but the Scots do seem to enjoy spouting this sort of guff. No matter, Drambuie is a fine liqueur! Without further ado:
Drambuie Scotch Whisky Liqueur (40 percent abv; $20-35; so shop around; certified kosher by the KLBD): Opens with an intriguing sweet yet herbal, slightly medicinal nose, with notes of honey, black pepper, dried hay, dried flowers, orange peel, dried figs and dried apricots, anise, nutmeg, thyme and, of course, Scotch whisky. The sweetness carries through on the palate, along with vibrant notes of orange, honey, vanilla, muted dried fruits, and a balancing mélange of herbs, and, of course, all riding a wave of Scotch whisky. The finish is herbal and sweet as the whisky fades away in the background. This is an outstanding, absorbing, really lovely, complex, delicious, sweet and warming Scotch liqueur. Drink neat, on the rocks, or in a cocktail—it’s all good. L’Chaim!