Science, Inspiration Play Roles In Winemaking



Review of Bravdo Karmei Yosef Shiraz 2009 and a look at 2 Bourbon’s without an age statement, Basel Hayden and Old Grand Dad.


By Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon


Washington Jewish Week  April 25, 2012


Old Grand Dad BourbonMaking wine is a marriage of nature and technology. The interaction of yeast and grapes has been investigated for centuries with the results implemented in the vineyards and wineries. But winemaking is not an exact science, and great wines are not a result of formulas or recipes. Inspiration also has its role, especially when based upon a sound scientific foundation.

For Hebrew University oenology professors Ben Ami Bravdo and Oded Shoseyov, the opportunity to apply their scientific knowledge began in 1999 when they decided to establish a winery at Moshav Karmei Yosef in the Judean Hills. The Bravdo Winery released its first 2,800 bottles in 2001, though the land that the winery was established on has a grape growing history that spans thousands of years. The winery currently produces 40,000 bottles annually of cabernet sauvignon, shiraz, merlot, chardonnay and a red blend called “coupage.” Considered among the finest of Israel’s boutique wineries, Bravdo wines have has been kosher since 2007.

The professors share the winemaking responsibilities and the results have been consistently inspired including their excellent Bravdo Karmei Yosef Shiraz 2009 ($ 30), an intensely earthly and dark fruit flavored effort. It begins with blackberries and dark plums along with typical shiraz spiciness that moves boldly into currants, mocha and cedar accented black cherries and a well-balanced, long slightly herbal and finish.

Spirits-wise, we thought we’d turn our attention to a new trend in bourbon whiskey – the rise of bourbons with no age statement on the label. Beam, Inc., for example, recently had a new non-age statement label approved for its Basil Hayden Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey which has been bottled as an 8-year-old whiskey since it first hit the market about 20 years ago. It hasn’t actually changed yet in the market to non-aged, but we guess it is just a matter of time now.
W. L. Weller Special Reserve Bourbon, to cite another example, recently lost its age statement too (it was a seven-year-old bourbon). Devoted bourbon drinkers will recall that this has happened to other bourbons as well in the last few years: “Old Weller Antique” used to be a 7 year old, “Evan Williams 1783” used to be a 10 year old, “Evan Williams” black label used to be a 7 year old, etc.

In the varied but small world of bourbon aficionados, debates run wild as to whether these changes mark the “death” of the age statement and again as to whether or not this “death” is good or bad for the world of bourbon whiskey. We think it still too early to formulate any opinion, but we thought it worthy of comment.

First of all, keep in mind that an “age statement” on a label of spirit produced or imported into the United States is a declaration that the stated age refers to the youngest constituent whiskey in the bottle. Age statements are regulated by the Alcohol Tax and Trade Bureau, a branch of the U.S. Treasury. So if the producer blended one barrel of 4-year-old bourbon with 400 barrels of 8-year-old bourbon and 450 barrels of 12-year-old bourbon, any age statement placed on the label of the final product must reflect the 4-year-old whiskey in the mix. They do not have to make any age statement, but if they do it must be of the youngest constituent whiskey. Older whiskey may be added to their heart’s content, but nothing younger than the stated age on the label is permitted in the bottle.

An additional regulation in American whiskey is that age statements are required for any products that are less than 4 years old. So if the bottle lacks an age statement, then consumers can be certain that, by law, that whiskey is at least 4 years old.

This is label specific. Any information not on the label is not regulated. If the age claim is not on the label but only in the other marketing material, it may not be a bold-faced lie, but then it may be true.
Age statements are nonessential, and are no guarantee of quality or drinkability, but they are familiar and whiskey drinkers tend to be very traditional about these things. Age statements also help in product differentiation – especially for folks who tend to like older bourbons and make exploratory choices based on this preference. Sure, there may be different label names for each category, but one has to be familiar with the specific product line to know the difference. Without a regulated age statement, consumers have to take the product differentiation on faith.

On the other hand, producers are in this for the long haul and they are committed to maintaining a consistent taste profile for their brands. They are not looking to cheat anyone or trick them into buying cheap or inferior whiskey. They want happy, repeat customers after all. By ditching age statements, producers have more flexibility in delivering quality products without having to be constrained by self-made, but government regulated, boundaries.

As you ponder all this, consider sampling both of these enjoyable bourbon whiskies:

Old Grand-Dad 100 Proof Bonded Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (50 percent abv; $19): there are several expressions available, but this is our favorite – an old-fashioned brusque and tough, spicy and dry whiskey that commands respect, often inspires a comparatively outre “whiskey face” during consumption, yet offers a sumptuous, buttery feel on the palate with a lovely balance of wood, grain and yeast, that manages to be both sweet and spicy, with additional aromas and flavors of rye, cinnamon, tangy fruit, ginger and allspice.

Basil Hayden’s 8 Year Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (40 percent abv; $40): Basil Hayden’s is part of Jim Beam’s “Small Batch Collection,” along with Baker’s, Booker’s, and Knob Creek. Basil Hayden’s has the most rye in its mash bill (grain formula), it’s the lowest proof at 80, and the lightest bodied. It is also well-crafted and delicious, with aromas of vanilla, caramelized sugar, cinnamon, dried fruit, a trace of something like mint, and pistachio, with additional flavors of honey, spicy cinnamon, brown sugar/maple syrup, anise, and orange peel, with a slightly clipped but enjoyable finish. Not overly complex, but very easy drinking.

Note that Basil Hayden is basically just the tried-and-true Old Grand-Dad Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey that has been aged eight years and then diluted to 80° proof/40% abv, but that extra age and that change in proof make for a totally different product. L’Chaim!

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