Scotch and Talmud, The Perfect Combo



A review of the BR Cohn Trestle Glen Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 and the Suntory Yamazaki Single Malt 12 year old Whisky.


By Joshua E. London and Louis Marmon


Washington Jewish Week  October 19, 2011


suntory yamazakiThere is an intimate association between wine and music, as Robert Fripp, rock guitarist, memorably suggested:  “Music is the wine that fills the cup of silence.” So it is not surprising that some in the music business have also become winemakers. A tad more surprising, perhaps, is that occasionally their wines are even kosher.


Bruce Cohn grew up on a California dairy farm but eschewed agriculture to become the manager of the Doobie Brothers. The demands of running a successful rock band led Cohn to purchase a Sonoma farm in 1974 both as a refuge and place to raise his family. After a few years of selling his grapes to other winemakers, Cohn established his own label, B.R. Cohn Winery, in 1984.


His wines have received numerous accolades and after 25 years of a Jewish name on the label, he decided to produce a kosher wine. As Daniel, Cohn’s son and senior vice president of sales at the winery, put it: “We’re a Jewish family and a Jewish winery. We wanted that [kosher] symbol on the front of the label.”


The grapes were grown on the Trestle Glen Estate, an organically farmed sub-vineyard of Cohn’s property, then trucked 420 miles south to the Herzog Wine Cellars and made into a non-mevushal (non-boiled), kosher wine under O.U. supervision. The medium-bodied B.R. Cohn Trestle Glen Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 ($28) is an excellent example of a well-balanced Sonoma Cabernet with dark cherry, cedar and berry aromas and flavors accented with plum, tobacco, spice and chocolate. A delightful first foray into kosher wines, and we can only hope that this will not be Cohn’s last.


Speaking of the Doobie Brothers – frankly not something likely to be repeated by us ever again, so enjoy it while it lasts, or not – an odd lyric in one of their biggest hits, “China Grove,” is strangely appropriate: “And though it’s a part of the Lone Star State/People don’t seem to care/They just keep on lookin’ to the East” followed by instrumental music which one either hates or loves, we guess. The song’s title suggests that the “East” mentioned here is China, but the song points vacuously to “an oriental view” and specifically mentions “samurai swords” – so who knows what, if any, specificity is intended in the imagery.


Indeed, whatever particular idea Doobie vocalist Tom Johnston had in mind, the notion of an odd, independent group unaccountably looking to the “East” helps highlight – with more than a little poetic license – a curious observation that was brought to our attention very recently regarding whisky. To wit, avid Scotch whisky drinkers seem to go gaga over Japanese whisky.


Allow us to elaborate. One of us regularly participates in a weekly Shabbat whisky drinking and Talmud study group called “Potomac Scotch and Learn” or PSAL. The name nicely emphasizes both the group’s location and priorities.


Sometimes the group is barely a minyan (a quorum of 10 men), and sometimes more than 30 participate, typically the size is somewhere in between. Though it has at least one and sometimes two Orthodox rabbis who participate, PSAL is an independent group, unencumbered by any synagogue rules. It is great fun.


Yet even though Scotch is one of the explicit components of PSAL’s raison d’être, whenever a bottle of Japanese single malt is brought to a session, it is routinely demolished faster than any Scotch on offer. To end the suspense, if any, the whisky in question is Suntory’s Yamazaki Single Malt 12-Year-Old Whisky ($50).


While this might seem specific to PSAL, it is actually a much larger phenomenon.


For several years now, Japanese whiskies have beaten out their Scotch competitors at various whisky and spirits competitions held around the globe, winning various awards and accolades. This might seem like sacrilege to ardent Scotch drinkers, but keep in mind that the Japanese whisky industry was explicitly established in the 1920s to try and create the nearest thing to Scotch in Japan (though only whisky made in Scotland can legally be called “Scotch”). Indeed, Yamazaki, like its domestic competitors, is malt whisky fashioned in the style of Scotch, rather than Irish or American whiskey. They have only just begun to try and create an authentic Japanese style of whisky.


Also keep in mind that Japanese whisky is a fraction of total U.S. sales of whisky. The Yamazaki distillery, for example, shipped just 1,500 cases overseas in 2003, the year its 12-year-old single malt won the gold medal at the UK based International Spirits Challenge. As the awards and good reviews piled up, Yamazaki’s annual overseas shipments grew to 20,000 cases by 2009. Total whiskey sales in the United States in 2009, by contrast, amounted to 46.5 million cases, according to the U.S. Distilled Spirits Council. Japanese whisky domination is not exactly on the horizon.


For PSAL, the preference for Yamazaki is likely as much to do with its relative novelty, as anything else.


Regardless, it is a solid whisky choice.


Here then, is the Suntory’s Yamazaki Single Malt 12-Year-Old Whisky: Aged in casks of three different kinds of oak – American, Spanish and Japanese, this rich, medium-bodied, whisky offers aromas of dried fruit, peach blossom, pear, coconut, anise, spice and clover honey, with delicate, lingering, mellow flavors of citrus fruit, peach, fig, toffee, toast, honey, and a little cracked pepper, all with a medium, drying finish of caramel, fading tropical fruits and rum. A very satisfying whisky. L’chaim.




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