A review of the Herzog Late Harvest Orange Muscat 2011 and a look at the Martini.
By Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon
Washington Jewish Week November 14, 2012
We are often asked how and why kosher wine in the United States began as sweet, syrupy drek. The simplest answer is that the Jewish immigrants who settled in the northeastern United States way back when discovered that the only locally available grapes suitable for wine production were American varietals like the Concord grape. The only way to make the wine both palatable and easy to produce, however, was to add a huge amount of sugar to the grape juice – it aided fermentation and improved the taste of the product.
The Concord grape originated in (surprise) Concord, Mass., in 1849. Ephraim Wales Bull evaluated over 22,000 seedlings and the original vine trellis is still there, just to the east of Bull’s cottage – the vine still growing there now is purportedly a shoot from the old root. In 1869 Dr. Thomas Welch created the first Concord grape juice, which helped make this prolific varietal remarkably popular. The Concord’s success led to such classics as grape jelly, PB&J and thick, sweet sacramental kosher wine.
There is, thankfully, no religious requirement that kosher wines be sweet. Nonetheless, there are actually some excellent kosher sweet wines currently produced that are perfect as a complement to dessert or as a lower-calorie finish to a meal. The principal differences between dessert-style table wines and Concord grape sacramental wines are that the table wines are made from quality wine grapes and so typically contain enough acidity to balance their natural sugar content. Or to put it another way, sweet dessert wines can be fantastic, while at best Concord wines aren’t too noxious and cloying. A fine example of quality kosher sweet dessert wine is the Herzog Late Harvest Orange Muscat 2011 that has aromas and flavors of mandarin orange, grapefruit and apricot accented with ginger, honey and raisins.
Spirits-wise, we thought we’d follow the Bond market, as it were. One of us recently saw the latest installment in one of the hottest and oldest series in cinema: James Bond.
Although the recent “reboot” of the series has done its best to merely hint at aspects of what made the old series cool yet silly, the phrase “shaken, not stirred” remains one of the most overly familiar yet pleasantly evocative phrases associated with the James Bond-film franchise. It is tied only with the equally cliched yet similarly nostalgic “Bond, James Bond.” Either phrase instantly calls to mind a mighty oeuvre of films, if not an entire genre of cinema.
One of the most emblematic, seemingly timeless images associated with the series is the martini. Sure, the actors got old, the plots got ridiculous, the gadgets got goofy, the sex got tame, but the martini remains timeless, suave and cool.
The martini substantially predates Bond, but surely owes its general popularity these days more to the films than to whoever actually came up with the drink. Like so many of the best classic cocktails, the exact origins of the martini are obscure and hotly debated. Of course what ultimately continues to sustain interest in the martini is the drink itself, not its pedigree. A simple yet sublime concoction of gin and dry vermouth, perhaps with some bitters and either a lemon twist or green olives. But not everyone is into so traditional a formula.
As everyone knows, for example, Bond preferred a vodka martini. Shaken, not stirred. At least, that’s what he drinks in the films.
The real Bond, that is to say, the original fictional Bond as written by Ian Fleming, drank all sorts of things – gin, vodka, bourbon, etc. Although his drink of choice was a martini, his most personal version was an unusual concoction of his own devising. He eventually named it “Vesper,” after Bond-girl Vesper Lynd. Fleming has Bond describe the drink in the very first Bond novel, Casino Royale:
” ‘A dry martini,’ he said. ‘One. In a deep champagne goblet.’
” ‘Oui, Monsieur.’
” ‘Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon’s [gin], one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?’
” ‘Certainly Monsieur.’ The barman seemed pleased with the idea.
” ‘Gosh, that’s certainly a drink,’ said Leiter [Bond’s CIA contact].
“Bond laughed. ‘When I’m … er … concentrating,’ he explained, ‘I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold, and very well-made.’ ”
Keep in mind that connoisseurs have very definite ideas about every aspect of every nuance of their martinis. Like whether it should be shaken or stirred, served with bitters or without, garnished with a twist of lemon, a couple of olives or nothing at all – not to mention the more fundamental question of gin versus vodka, and to what ratio it should be mixed with vermouth. Those who drink martinis regularly tend to have very definite ideas about all these things. In matters of taste, however, the only opinion that counts is your own – or maybe, whoever is paying for the drinks.
Here then, are a few recipes to get you started. With each of these, the ice should be as finger-numbingly cold as possible, as should your martini glass and cocktail shaker or mixing glass. The primary difference between stirring and shaking is that shaking introduces small shards of ice into the drink and will make it briefly cloudy, while stirring allows for better control of the dilution. Whether shaking or mixing, fill the shaker at least two-thirds full with hard, cracked ice, and vigorously shake or stir until beads of condensation form on the outside of the mixing glass, then strain into the pre-chilled cocktail glasses.
The Martini: Stir 2 ½ ounces of dry gin (any decent quality gin will do, such as Bombay, Tanqueray, Miller’s, etc., depending on your taste) or vodka (the smoother the better) and a ½ ounce of dry vermouth, then strain and serve. Garnish with a twist of lemon zest or anywhere from one to three green olives.
The Classic Martini: Stir 1 ½ ounces dry gin, ½ an ounce of sweet vermouth, and 1 dash of orange bitters, then strain and serve. Garnish with a twist of lemon zest.
The Luis Bunuel Martini: Spanish surrealist film director Luis Bunuel practically lived off these: Fill shaker or mixing glass with ice and pour in a few drops of Noilly Prat brand dry vermouth (Bunuel was explicit about his vermouth – this brand is not available kosher, but other kosher vermouth is available both dry and sweet) along with half a demitasse or bar spoon of Angostura Bitters; Shake or stir, and then drain, so that the only vermouth and bitters remaining are what coat the inside of the shaker and the ice. Add the gin, shake or stir, then strain and serve. Garnish with a couple of green olives. L’chaim!