On The Importance Of Vintage
A review of the Recanati Petite Sirah/Zinfandel Reserve 2010 and several Springbank Single Malt Scotch Whiskies.
By Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon
Washington Jewish Week January 2, 2013
Vintage is the most important number on a wine label. Each growing season brings its own differences in vineyard temperatures and rainfall, which significantly affect the quality and character of the grapes.
The winemaker’s role is to create the best possible wine every year in a specific style despite these annual variations.
A winery’s reputation is built on its success in adjusting to these vicissitudes. The Recanati Petite Sirah/Zinfandel Reserve 2010 is a fine example, and another reason why this award-winning winery is considered among Israel’s best. This vintage contains slightly less zinfandel (5 percent vs 10 percent in the 2009) and is aged eight months in French and American oak. The result is a dark purple, full-bodied, nearly jammy charmer that opens with blackberry and raspberry aromas. The dark fruit continues throughout this very smooth, well-constructed delicious delight along with blueberry, dried fig, chocolate, and toasty oak flavors accented with white pepper, earth and spice that lead into the long finish. Stylistically similar to the 2009 but with a bit more focus, the 2010 is a perfect brisket wine that will also pair well with other winter dishes, grilled meats and stews.
Located in the Hefer Valley, the Recanati Winery is Israel’s sixth largest with an annual output of 950,000 bottles. Owned by the extremely successful financier and banker, Lenny Recanati, the winery’s current winemaking team of Gil Shatzberg (formally from Amphorae and Carmel wineries) and Ido Lewinsohn create wines from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz, Zinfandel, Cabernet Franc, Carignan, Viognier, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc under the Yasmin, Recanati, Reserve and Special Reserve labels.
Spirits-wise, we thought we’d once again consider the Springbank Distillery in Campbeltown – the oldest independent family-owned distillery in Scotland.
In Victorian times, Campbeltown was an ideal setting for whisky production, with an abundant water supply, and local reserves of coal, peat and barley. It was also then widely regarded as the whisky capital of the world based on the sheer number of distilleries operating there. It had as many as 32 licensed distilleries as early as 1759, though none of those have survived. By the beginning of the 20th century, as Scotch historian R.J.S. McDowell memorably phrased it, “Campbeltown malts were known as the Hector of the West, the deepest voice of the choir.” Alas, it all went belly up in the Great Depression of the 1930s. Today there are only three distilleries there – Springbank, Glengyle, and Glen Scotia. Springbank and Glengyle are both owned by J & A Mitchell and Co. Ltd., an old family firm.
The Mitchell family migrated from the Scottish lowlands to the Campbeltown area in the 1660s, where they excelled as farmers, weavers, rebels, and illicit whisky makers. By the end of the 18th century, Archibald Mitchell, the paterfamilias, had already made a name for himself as an (illicit) producer of quality whisky on the family farm, a reputation continued by his children when they founded and licensed a legitimate distillery in 1828.
It was the Reid family, Archibald’s machetunim (Yiddish for his children’s in-laws) who actually entered Springbank into the world of reputable whisky commerce. Financial troubles hit that family and they sold it to John and William Mitchell, two of Archibald’s sons, in 1837. “J & W Mitchell” eventually became “J & A Mitchell,” as one of the grandchildren got in on the action. Today the J & A Mitchell & Co. Ltd. family firm is owned by Mr. Hedley Wright, great-great-great grandson of Archibald Mitchell.
Springbank is also distinguished as the only distillery in all of Scotland to carry out the entire production process on-site at the distillery, from the malting of the barley to bottling of their whisky, every drop of which is also matured on-site. That is, Springbank is one of only two distilleries in all of Scotland to malt all the barley required for distilling, and does so using the traditional floor malting – this requires that the barley be hand-turned at regular intervals over the kilning process. There are only a handful of distilleries in Scotland that still keep this tradition alive at all, much less for all of its malting requirements.
All of which allows Springbank greater control over its quality than most other distilleries in Scotland.
Remarkably, Springbank is also the only distillery to have never used chill-filtration, a nearly universal process used to clarify spirit and prevent its getting cloudy when introduced to water or ice – but one that strips some of the flavor and character out of the spirit. Springbank does not add any artificial colorings to any of its single malts.
Springbank also claims to produce “the most handmade whisky in Scotland,” with every step of production still employing traditional methods, which entails “human involvement,” to use the distillery’s phrase, from start to finish and every stage in-between.
As if all this wasn’t already sufficient to make Springbank unique, it is also the only distillery to use its stills in three different configurations to produce three distinctly different single malts: Springbank, Longrow and Hazelburn. Springbank’s “Springbank” brand whisky production process is distinct as well, using a sort of partial triple distillation that rather improbably results in a concentrated, complex spirit, but as we are already far into the whisky-geek world, we’ll save that for another time.
Here then, for your consideration are three brilliant examples of the Springbank Distillery’s varied whiskies:
Hazelburn 12-year-old, Triple Distilled, Campbeltown Single Malt Scotch Whisky (46 percent; $80): This enjoyable peat-less whisky starts with an intriguing, rich and aromatic bouquet of dried fruits, toffee, malt, marzipan, citrus, and even cocoa. These carry over to the silky to chewy, creamy palate along with some lovely, tingly on the tongue dry spices, and with more soothing elements of semisweet malted barley, almonds, a little more cocoa (bordering on milk chocolate), and mild woody characteristics. The finish is long, subtly peppery and a touch bitter with a smidgen of anise, fennel and possibly chocolate. Delicious!
Longrow Red, Cabernet Sauvignon Cask, 11-year-old, Peated Campbeltown Single Malt Scotch Whisky (52.1 percent; $90): This unusual yet successful whisky matured for seven years in ex-Bourbon casks, then an additional four years in ex-cabernet sauvignon wine barrels (from Australia’s Angove winery “Long Row” label Cab), and offers aromas of fruit salad (strawberries, cherries, raspberries and citrus) against a medium but distinct peat smoke and brine background, with hints of new leather and something vaguely like gasoline and olive oil, but not in a bad way at all. This distinct nose is followed with a seriously oily body and nicely sympathetic flavors of fruit compote with spice, rich peat smoke, light brine and faint black licorice, ending in a long finish of rich peat and red fruits (currants?). An unusual and wonderful whisky!
Springbank 10-year-old, Campbeltown Single Malt Scotch Whisky (46 percent; $55): This robust and rewarding whisky holds a decent balance between oaky, slightly fruity, malty, nutty flavors with some distinct peat smoke, a little spice, and with a dollop of vanilla and toffee sweetness, and all this with a lovely and distinct briny, sea-air tang on the nose and finish (with maybe a hint of sulfur too). This is an enticing, promising, graceful whisky (which would clearly be even better at cask strength). One to savor, but all too easy to quaff.
This is a distillery whose whiskies are varied enough and consistently good that we intend to revisit them again, and again. L’Chaim!