A review of the Tzora Misty Hills 2007, the WhistlePig Straight Rye Whiskey and the Pig’s Nose Blended Scotch Whisky.
By Joshua E. London and Louis Marmon
Washington Jewish Week September 28, 2011
At this time of year, our thoughts inevitably return to the fundamentals of living a meaningful Jewish life. As this is a booze column, we therefore turn our wine thinking for the High Holidays toward eretz Yisrael.
An outstanding on-the-ground guide to the growing Israeli wine scene is Oded Shoham, the CEO of the “Israel Wine Experience,” a company that provides Israeli winery tours, wine tastings, food pairings and lectures that can be geared for any level of interest. The Israeli-born, U.S.-raised Shoham was a co-founder of Tzora Vineyards Winery and has worked in various capacities within the Israeli wine industry since making aliyah.
Established in 1992, the entirely kosher Tzora Winery is located on a kibbutz in the Judean Hills not far from Bet Shemesh. Recently privatized, its wines are made from grapes entirely grown on their own property, a mixture of contours, terrain and temperature variations that provide distinctive character and balance to their Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Gewurztraminer and Chardonnay. Besides a modern tasting room and reception area, there is also a petting zoo on the property – a family-friendly winery.
Tzora’s flagship wine is the full-bodied Tzora Misty Hills 2007 ($50), a blend of 70 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 30 Syrah. A delightfully rich and remarkably elegant effort, it opens with dark plum and berry aromas accented with spice and oak. Blackberry, raspberry and currant flavors meld together along with spice and chocolate that last during the satisfying finish. A fine way to toast the New Year!
Of course, Jewish identity in America is multifaceted and diverse and not everyone is looking toward Israel when thinking of their holiday libations. Spirits-wise, this is just as well.
There are some interesting brandies and liqueurs produced there, but the easier to find options, like the Sabra Chocolate-Orange Liqueur, leave something to be desired. Indeed, once the nostalgia is cleared from the eyes, Sabra tastes very much like, to borrow the pitch-perfect description of Mireille Silcoff in the weekend edition of the Canadian National Post, “like chocolate-covered tire tracks spiked with crushed Halls lozenges.”
So instead we thought this an opportunity to review two otherwise inconveniently named spirits and hope readers will forgive us a little for continuing to not take this too seriously. Think of it this way: while American Jews do not often agree on ideological and religious matters, we can all agree, at least, that our tradition has never thought well of eating pig. Here then, we present WhistlePig Straight Rye Whiskey ($70) and Pig’s Nose Blended Scotch Whisky ($35) for your consideration.
WhistlePig is actually a Canadian import that is bottled on a former dairy farm in Shoreham, Vt. Aged 10 years, WhistlePig is 100 proof (50 percent alcohol by volume) and 100 percent rye whiskey. It is currently the sole product of the WhistlePig Farm Distillery, which was founded in 2010 by Raj Peter Bhakta (who may be remembered, apparently as a former contestant on the TV show The Apprentice), and operates under the guidance of Dave Pickerels, who spent 14 years as the master distiller at Maker’s Mark.
Despite sporting a cartoonish image of a pig all gussied up in top hat and bow tie, the term Whistle-Pig is actually another name for a groundhog, and is said to be a reference to the sound a groundhog makes when it is feeling threatened. Bhakta chose the name based on an absurd encounter he had with an old Frenchman with long flowing gray hair while hiking just outside of Vaile. Apropos of nothing, this old French guy came to a screeching halt on his bike, turned to Bhakta and hissed with a heavy French accent, “Could it be a whistle pig? You know, a whistle pig?” followed by some mimicry of the sound. Bhakta had no idea what any of this was about, but liked the ring of “WhistlePig.”
WhistlePig Straight Rye Whiskey offers interesting, lively spice notes of mint, clove, allspice, nutmeg, and cinnamon, with dried orange peel, vanilla, toffee, hot chili peppers, caramel, and butterscotch, with a long, dry spicy finish. This is a rich, full and delicious rye whiskey.
Leaving rye for Scotch while sticking with porcine names, Pig’s Nose is a sensational blended Scotch whisky.
It is the flagship brand of Alex Nicol’s Spencerfield Spirit Company, the other anchor in the portfolio is called Sheep Dip Blended Malt Whisky. When Nicol left Whyte & Mackay to start his own venture, he took the Pig’s Nose and Sheep Dip brands with him as part of his severance.
The name “Pig’s Nose” is explained on the bottle: “In Gloucestershire ’tis said that our Scotch is ‘as soft and smooth as a Pig’s Nose.’ ” We’ve no idea exactly what that means, but this five-year-old blend of Lowland, Speyside and Islay single malts and grain whiskies is certainly smooth.
It is also wonderfully drinkable – big, rich, and malty with seductive notes of caramel, vanilla, unripe apple and pear, cereal grains (oat and malted barley), golden raisins, dried apple, candied orange peel, orange marmalade, brown sugar, baked honey, a touch of cinnamon, Shiraz-wine-like-black pepper, an acidic touch reminiscent of cider vinegar, and with a slight but pungent whiff of coal smoke. The finish is moderately long and drying, and improves with a splash of water. This is an excellent, if slightly harder-to-find, blended Scotch whisky. L’chaim.