Reviews of the Elvi Wines Brut Cava and the first three offerings from the Jewish Whisky Company under their private “Single Cask Nation” label.
By Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon
Washington Jewish Week January 30, 2013
Cava is Spain’s best known sparkling wine. It is produced primarily in the Catalonia region, which borders France along the Mediterranean coast.
The name “Cava,” which is Catalan for cave or cellar, comes from the cellars of the Codorníu Winery that winery owner Josep Raventos i Fatjo, created to age and produce wines, and from which he produced the first commercially available Spanish sparkling wines in 1872. Invariably less expensive than Champagne, Cava is just as versatile and food-friendly, making it a terrific choice to match both budgets and menus. Thankfully, there are several kosher Cavas on the market.
Cava is produced using the “methode champenoise,” the same process used in France’s Champagne region to naturally create the carbon dioxide in the bottle. The three indigenous varietals most often used to create Cava are xarello, macabeo and parellada. First the grapes are fermented separately as nonsparkling “base” wines which are then blended to create a consistent “house style.” This is no easy task.
On a recent visit to Spain one of us joined a number of other wine journalists in a Cava-blending exercise. The results were less than impressive, despite the cumulative years of tasting experience in the room. However, one of the participants came reasonably close to creating a decent blend and received a nifty certificate to prove it. Fortunately, the professionals generally do know what they are doing.
The Elvi Cava Brut ($20), for example, is a nonvintage, mevushal offering from one of the world’s great kosher wineries, and they most certainly know how to blend wine. Aged for 12 months before disgorging, this Spanish sparkler shows bright citrus aromas and flavors that ride on a light frame of tight bubbles and notes of apples and yeast, along with a mild spiciness in the pleasantly long finish. This food-friendly, moderately priced sparkler is also a great choice for celebrations.
One event worth celebrating, switching now to the world of spirits, is the first-ever whisky releases of the Single Cask Nation, the society and private label of the Jewish Whisky Company. The celebration is double. Not only are their first whiskies finally released, but they are also excellent!
The Jewish Whisky Company, based out of Connecticut, is the commercial brainchild of Joshua Hatton, Jason Johnstone-Yellin and Seth Klaskin. The company is set up as a private membership society “faithfully dedicated,” to use their own words, “to selecting and bottling the world’s finest and rarest single casks of whisky (and other spirits), under its private label, for exclusive sale to the members of Single Cask Nation.” We are both members.
The “Jewish” component is twofold: the founders are Jewish, and the company, while not under kashrut supervision or certification, “strives to show sensitivity to the needs of folks who observe kashrut laws.” That is, they will make a point of selecting some “casks that are kosher by nature,” in that there has been no wine-cask usage in those whiskies, and for the other casks they choose that did involve used wine barrels in their maturation, they make a point of detailing the wine-cask aspect on the label and in the whisky descriptions so that folks can make an educated selection. Each bottling is separate and self-contained thereby preventing one bottling from, in their words, “contaminating the kosher-styled expressions.” Of course, for those of us who rely on those poskim (Jewish legal decisors) who are not concerned with the potential wine cask usage issue, this is nice, but no big deal.
What is a big deal, however, is that the Jewish Whisky Company explicitly recognizes, and makes a virtue of adhering to, the Passover restrictions against Jewish ownership of chametz during the holiday. Thus, as they put it, they will be selling their chametz before Passover, “so there will be a brief period each spring when our whiskies will not be available for sale (eight days, usually occurring in the March to April time frame).” They add that, “folks concerned with this matter” can contact them and they “will be happy to provide documentation of the contract upon request.” In our book, at least, this helps elevate the Jewish Whisky Company from merely Jew-ish, to more properly Jewish.
There are currently just three whiskies available, and each of these are well worth the cost of joining the Single Cask Nation (check out their website for details at http://singlecasknation.com) Membership includes one full-size “welcome bottle,” and then, of course, membership entitles you to buy more.
Single Cask Nation, Kilchoman 4 year old, Bourbon Cask (58.4 percent abv; $95): This pale, limpid yellow-colored Islay whisky first strikes, in traditional peat-monster fashion, like an overfull ashtray crossed with a nearly dissipated coal-burning barbecue, with a touch of smoked kipper. An awesome melange of smoke, peat, iodine and brine, with the usual floral, earthy-stable and burnt-oak elements one expects from this distillery, though the brine seems a tad more pronounced than usual. The oily palate follows accordingly, thankfully. With maybe a little white pepper heat from the alcohol and perhaps a smidgen of banana, berries, chocolate and butterscotch, all with a thin veneer of dust. Water clears the dust a bit and zaps the heat, but we much preferred it straight (so if you add water, do so very sparingly). The finish is long, warming (more like black pepper on the finish), smoky, peaty and herbaceous. An amazing whisky that wallops well above its four years of age, and makes up in complexity whatever it might have lost in slight youthful imbalance.
Single Cask Nation, Arran 12 year old, Pinot Noir Cask (54.8 percent abv; $110): this bright-honey-to-bronze-colored whisky spent eight years in first fill ex-bourbon casks and then a further four years in first fill ex-pinot noir casks resulting in an intriguing symphony of aromas and flavors. The nose starts a bit muted, offering fruity cake aromas, with additional notes of berries, currants, orange marmalade, sweet malt and marshmallow. A smidgen of water helps open these considerably. The palate follows brilliantly with additional notes of walnut-heavy baklava, raisin, and fig, evolving into a lovely maple syrup mid-palate that further bleeds into a long, clean baking spice interlude, adding warmth and character, but not heat (go gentle on the water). These sweet elements do not overwhelm, even as they coat the palate, cream-like, due in part to the tingling savory sensation of muted brine, and sea salt and ground black pepper dances in the distance and come into cleaner focus during the long, absorbing finish.
Single Cask Nation, Benriach 17 year old, Peated, Bourbon cask (53.2 percent abv; $145): This lovely, complex, whisky offers aromas and flavors of clean peat, smoke, fruit, earthy barley malt and spice, with concomitant bold flavors that build nicely on each other, in waves. This is remarkably well-balanced and pleasingly complex without being too showy. The finish offers more smoke, peat and black pepper, with more of that earthy malted barley and some French vanilla. This is definitely a whisky geek’s whisky, but one that others will certainly enjoy (if you are willing to share). L’Chaim!