A review of the Ramon Cordova Rioja 2009 and the 1995 Knappogue Castle Single Malt Irish Whiskey.
By Joshua E. London and Louis Marmon
Washington Jewish Week May 18, 2011
It’s no surprise that high-quality kosher wines are being made around the world.
While those from Israel and the U.S. are the best known, equally fine kosher wines are produced in countries as diverse as France, Italy, New Zealand, Australia, Chile and South Africa. A great value is the Ramon Cordova Rioja 2009 ($16) that is made from 100 percent old-vine Tempranillo grapes grown around the Spanish town of Haro, La Rioja. It is a delightful dry, medium-bodied effort that opens with scents of red berries, cedar and vanilla which flow into spicy blackberries, dark plums and a nice finish. It is an ideal accompaniment to full-flavored foods like brisket, roasted lamb and spicy, Asian inspired dishes.
Tempranillo is Spain’s signature grape and is the most important varietal in Rioja and Ribera del Duero. While sometimes blended with Garnacha and Mazuelo, Tempranillo is also excellent as a solo act where is exhibits graceful red and dark fruit flavors and a characteristic medium acidity that makes it very food friendly. The Ramon Cordova Riojas (including Crianza and Reserve bottlings) are created under the auspices of the Royal Wine Company at Rioja’s Bodega Ramon Bilbao under rabbinic supervision. Available online and at various local retailers like Potomac Wines & Spirits in Georgetown, Shalom Kosher Market in Wheaton and Kosher Mart in Rockville.
Spirits-wise, our thoughts took us to Ireland. The 1995 Knappogue Castle Single Malt Irish Whiskey (distilled in 1995 and bottled in 2007, making it about 12 years old) made a star appearance at a recent synagogue kiddush, the post-service food and drink reception. Irish whiskey, unlike Scotch whisky or American whiskey (the difference in spelling is traditional but basically meaningless), has fewer rules and regulations determining what can be sold under its moniker.
To be called Irish whiskey, the spirit simply needs to have been distilled and aged in wood casks (i.e., barrels) for at least three years on the island of Ireland. Ingredient-wise, it must be distilled from a fermented mash of cereal grains (i.e., beer) that must include malt (i.e., malted barley), and it has to be distilled at less than 94.8 percent alcohol by volume (above which it basically becomes flavorless rocket-fuel), and that’s about it.
Traditionally, Irish whiskey was distilled three times and never used peat, but there are now exceptions to these non-official traditions. As a general rule of thumb, Irish whiskey is usually lighter than Scotch and Bourbon.
One other significant feature of Irish whiskey is that, unlike Scotland, which has more than 90 distilleries producing different whiskies, Ireland has only four distilleries which produce all the different brands. The Knappogue Castle whiskey, for example, is simply a brand and does not have a permanent distillery base. Its pedigree isn’t terribly old either.
During the 1960s, American Irish whiskey lover Mark Edwin Andrews purchased and restored the 15th century Knappogue Castle in County Clare, Ireland. Andrews also began picking up casks of Irish whiskey. In 1987, he decided to bottle selected casks of whiskey distilled in 1951 at the old, and long defunct, D.E. Williams Distillery (also known as the B. Daly Distillery) in Tullamore, County Offaly. This became the 1951 Knappogue Castle Irish Whiskey, named for his castle estate, and is the oldest and rarest commercially available Irish whiskey, and currently costs per bottle, roughly, more money than we can shake a stick at, plus the stick.
In 1998 Andrews’ son, Mark III, decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and advance the product by launching a serious spirits company called Great Spirits Company LLC, and now called Castle Brands Inc. The company launched a signature whiskey brand: Knappogue Castle Irish Single Malt Whiskey. The company and brand is now under the helm of his son, Mark Andrews IV. The 1995 “vintage,” the last of the product line to be sold under vintage statements instead of age statements, was triple distilled in 1995 at the Old Bushmill Distillery in Bushmills, County Antrim, Northern Ireland. Knappogue was aged in used bourbon casks, and bottled in 2007.
This pale golden-colored 1995 Knappogue Castle Single Malt Irish Whiskey ($45) offers aromas and flavors of banana skins and barley, with hints of vanilla and oak. The overall effect is mellow, refreshing and balanced, with underlying citrus fruit sweetness and just a touch of bitterness in the finish to remind you that it means business. If you are looking to shake things up a bit in the drinks category, or otherwise try something new at your synagogue’s kiddush, this is an excellent and tasty choice. L’Chaim!