A review of Tierra Salvaje Carmenere 2010 and the Glenfiddich Snow Phoenix.
By Joshua E. London and Louis Marmon
Washington Jewish Week August 17, 2011
Carmenere is Chile’s signature red wine varietal. Brought to South America from France’s Bordeaux region (where it was used primarily as a blending grape), Carmenere was first planted near Santiago in the 1800s where it was believed to be a clone of merlot. For many years the two varietals were harvested together which gave Chilean “merlot” a significantly different taste than merlots grown elsewhere. It took until the 1990s for the Chileans to recognize Camernere as a separate varietal and to appreciate its unique flavors. Rather than limiting it as a blending component, Chilean winemakers have embraced Carmenere, featuring it in some remarkably enjoyable and distinctive wines.
The Tierra Salvaje Winery is located in Chile’s Lontue Valley, 150 miles north of Santiago. It crafts several, well made, reasonably-priced kosher wines including chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, sauvignon blanc, rosé, merlot and Shiraz. Its full-bodied Tierra Salvaje Carmenere 2010 ($8) has slightly jammy blackberry, raspberry and dark cherry flavors that rest upon a background of earthiness and spice and seamlessly persist in the lingering, smooth finish. It is another example of a great kosher wine value imported by Welner Family Wines, and is a perfect accompaniment to grilled steaks, burgers or chicken.
Spirits-wise, the recent inclement weather calls to mind an unusual, limited-release, single-malt Scotch whisky called Snow Phoenix ($90), a one-time 2010 bottling of cask strength, non-chill-filtered whiskies from the Glenfiddich Distillery. The whiskies in the Glenfiddich Snow Phoenix run between 13 to 30 years old, from a variety of different cask types (ex-European cask, ex-American cask, and casks previously used to mature whisky or “refill” casks) and cask finishes (ex-wine, ex-bourbon, and refill). Each of these “limited release” blends of excess stock remains, by definition, a single malt Scotch whisky provided the Scotch whisky in the bottle comes 100 percent from the same (“single”) distillery. So long as every drop of whisky was produced by a single distillery, it is single malt regardless of whether it was poured out of a single cask of whisky or was blended from 40,000 different casks.
Whisky producers periodically release these sorts of limited edition bottlings. Sometimes this is done as part of a producer’s regular marketing program to stay fresh in the market, and sometimes this is done to make the most of existing stocks. Since producers have to guesstimate demand years in advance (who knows, after all, if demand for a particular blended whisky or 12 year old single malt will remain constant by the time planned stocks are ready for release), they routinely have whisky in excess of immediate requirements. This excess whisky stock is routinely bought by other producers in the blended whisky market, and less routinely by independent single malt bottlers, Increasingly, these days, such stock is put to good use by producers, like a Glenfiddich, who have spent years creating and cultivating the single malt market.
Yet Glenfiddich actually tends not to release these one-off whiskies all that often. This is, presumably, because William Grant & Sons, the Scottish family company that has owned the Glenfiddich distillery since William Grant founded it in 1886, are especially successful at planning for the future. This is partly why Glenfiddich remains the third-best-selling single malt Scotch in the United States according to the industry’s Impact Databank figures. For years Glenfiddich was No.1, until The Glenlivet and The Macallan, respectively, gained some market ground. With sales like that, it’s no wonder excess supply is more the result of environmental accidents than inadequate planning.
The name Snow Phoenix was inspired by an unfortunate bout of freakish cold, snowy weather. In January 2010, after weeks of heavy snowfall and record breaking low temps in Scotland, roofs of three huge warehouses at the Glenfiddich distillery in Speyside collapsed under four feet of snow. Similar problems beset Chivas Regal, where 21 warehouse roofs similarly gave way, also Cragganmore, The Macallan, and others.
One of us was traveling the Scottish highlands and touring distilleries at exactly this time, with wife and father-in-law in tow, and remembers well the ice and snow and the near total inability of the Scots to cope. Although the landscape took on a winter wonderland quality, many a myth of the hearty Scottish Highlander was dashed that month, although admittedly it was right after Hogmanay (the Scottish New Year’s celebration).
After the collapse, Glenfiddich Malt Master Brian Kinsman assessed the damage and decided what to do with the whisky the hundreds of whisky casks that survived the collapse, but were left exposed to the elements. Kinsman selected only those casks that would proudly represent the brand. The name Snow Phoenixstems from a photo of one warehouse roof collapse that captures the light shining through the hole in the roof, recreated on the presentation tin box the whisky comes in. That shining light was thought to resemble a phoenix. At least, the marketing story sounds plausible enough.
All that matters, of course, is the whisky inside the fancy schmancy package. The Glenfiddich Snow Phoenix Single Malt Scotch whisky ($90) is an interesting gentle, sweet, nicely textured whisky, exhibiting inviting aromas and flavors of stewed pear, fruit salad cocktail, apple crumble, cooked oats, syrup, raisins, lemon (both sweet and tart), with a mouth-watering, warming, medium-length finish. This is one of those drams where one taste leads to another, and another, and, happily, another. Nice. L’chaim.