Smokey, Peaty Whisky Fans – We Feel Your Pain



A review of the Carmel Kayoumi Vineyard Shiraz 2007 and 2008 along with a review of the Kilchoman 2006 Single Malt Whisky.


By Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon


Washington Jewish Week  – May 31, 2012


Baron Edmond James de Rothschild is credited with establishing the modern Israeli winemaking industry in the late 19th century. As an ardent Zionist and owner of France’s Chateau Lafite, Rothschild readily offered his assistance to the new immigrants of the First Aliyah who wanted to cultivate vines and set up a winery. He began by planting grapes outside of Jaffa and soon after at another site in Zichron Yaakov, south of Haifa. In 1882, Baron Edmond founded the Carmel Mizrachi Winery (now just “Carmel Winery“) which has grown to become Israel’s biggest wine-making company with nearly 3,500 acres of vines and an annual production of over 15 million bottles.

Carmel is currently owned by the Vine-Growers Union and the Jewish Agency for Israel. Their Zichron Yaakov facility on the southern slope of the Carmel Mountain is the country’s largest winery, while their Rishon Le Zion winery located south of Tel Aviv houses their main headquarters as well as their primary blending and bottling plant. Carmel also owns Kayoumi Winery in the Upper Galilee and Yatir Winery situated in the Negev. Chief winemaker Lior Lascer began working at Carmel in 2003 after training in Burgundy, Bordeaux and Australia including a stint with the renowned international wine consultant Michel Rolland.

Carmel releases a wide range of wines under the Carmel, Single Vineyard, Appellation, Carmel Ridge, Private Collection and Select labels. One of our favorite wines for the summer is shiraz and the Carmel Kayoumi Vineyard Shiraz 2008 ($35) is a full-bodied beauty that will work well with richly flavored grilled meat or chicken dishes. Grown in the foothills of Mount Meron in the Upper Galilee, it was aged in small French oak barrels for 15 months and contains 2 percent viognier which contributes to its aromatics and complex dark berry, toasty oak, pepper and coffee flavors. It is from a shmitta (agricultural sabbatical year in Israel) and will be difficult to find in the U.S. However, the Carmel Kayoumi Vineyard Shiraz 2007 ($30) is more readily available. Also French oak aged, it shows deep blackberry and pepper flavors accented with chocolate and a pleasant earthiness with a balanced finish. Neither vintage is your typical big Australian shiraz but displays a degree of elegance found more in the Northern Rhone. Both will get even better with a few more years of bottle age.

Spirits-wise, we’ve lately received static, er, reader feedback, that we are neglecting fans of smoky, peaty whisky. We hear your cries, and feel your pain … or rather, we would feel your pain if we weren’t already anesthetized to it by drinking some fantastic, heady Kilchoman single malt Scotch whisky.

The Kilchoman Distillery, pronounced Kilhoman, is a fairly new, tiny, farm-style distillery on the western side of the Inner Hebrides island of Islay, Scotland. The distillery, which was founded in 2005, is named for the nearby small settlement of Kilchoman. Kilchoman was the first new distillery to be built on Islay in 124 years.

Kilchoman was established at Rockside Farm near Machair Bay, when farmer Mark French teamed up with entrepreneur Anthony Wills to establish a modern re-creation of the farmhouse distilleries from which the entire industry began and Islay had a great many such farm distilleries during the 19th century. Construction began in 2002 and finished in 2005 when the stills were fired up. Rockside Farm had grown barley for many years, so it made sense to use this barley for the distillery. The entire process from malting to bottling takes place on site, they even built a small traditional malting floor with smoky peat fire underneath the floor to malt the barley – making this one of only six distilleries in Scotland that still uses floor malting for a percentage of their malted barley. In this way the distillery gets about 20 percent of the malted barley needed for total production with the other 80 percent coming from the Port Ellen commercial malting house on Islay.

As Mark French’s name is no longer easy to spot on the Kilchoman website (if it’s still there at all), one suspects that the partnership isn’t as strong as when it started. Kilchoman has a 50-year lease on the portion of the Rockside Farm they are using, so hopefully relations will smooth out before this proves too problematic. In the meantime, Kilchoman has released several expressions – first as young, feisty spirit, and then as young, heady whisky (it legally needs at least three years of maturation in oak in Scotland to be called Scotch whisky).

Kilchoman has only just began to really make its presence known in the United States.

Here then is the Kilchoman 2006, five-year-old, single malt Scotch whisky (46 percent; $75): with only five years maturation (80 percent aged in first fill bourbon American oak casks from the Buffalo Trace Distillery and 20 percent in refill, or previously used for Scotch, bourbon American oak casks), this whisky is limpid pale yellow in color, but a mighty, deep and demanding whisky. This absorbing, complex, delicious whisky offers aromas of pears and apples overlaid with various different types of smoke, allowing the fruit to swim in and out of focus, and take on a brandied, Calvados-like character, along with citrus, olive oil, sage, French vanilla, ginger, butter, beech wood, and hints of iodine, followed up with flavors of sea brine, smoke and ash, peat, vanilla, toffee, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, citrus fruits, butterscotch and some sweet, nutty barley notes that dart in and out of the cavalcade of senses, finishing cleanly with notes of peat, malted barley, anchovy paste, smoke, ash, and cream. This is a dazzling and remarkable smoky, peaty Islay Scotch whisky. L’Chaim!

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