Special Sauvignon Blanc

Review of Joseph Mellot Sancerre La Gravelière 2012 and a revisit to the Jim Beam legend.


By Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon


Washington Jewish Week  July 2015


Mellot SancerreSauvignon Blanc is decidedly malleable. Ranging in style from bone dry to dessert sweet, its bright fruit flavors and balanced acidity make it suitable as a single varietal wine. But it is also an excellent blending partner. Sauvignon Blanc has a distinctive flavor profile and yet it is a grape that is remarkably influenced by its growing conditions.

Sauvignon Blanc’s profile ranges from grassy and herbaceous, when grown in warmer climates, to gooseberry, melon, citrus and tropical fruits when the vineyards are in cooler locations.

Considering that this grape varietal originated in France, it is not surprising that the Sauvignon Blancs produced in France’s Loire Valley are especially distinctive. The region’s limestone soil and very cool climate result in very fresh, almost airy wines characterized by high acidity, herbaceous fruit flavors, and a notable minerality.

An excellent kosher example is the Joseph Mellot Sancerre La Gravelière 2012 ($34) opens with opulent floral and grapefruit aromas that lead into vibrantly rich flavors including tart green apple, peach, and passion fruit with a lively, long citrus infused finish featuring hints of grassy herbs and stone.

Spirits-wise, we feel obliged to note the passing David Beam, aged 74.  The last distiller at the Jim Beam Distillery to carry the family name (though not the last member of the extended family to distiller there), Daniel David Beam was born on January 23, 1941 at his family’s home, the master distiller’s house, on the family distillery grounds in Clermont, Kentucky. The son of Edna and Carl “Shucks” Beam, David and his older brother Baker succeeded their father at the distillery. It runs on a 24-hour schedule: Baker had the 12 hour day shift, David the 12 hour night. He retired in 1996, after 38 years on the job.

His passing seems as good an excuse as any to revisit the Jim Beam legend. Now owned by Beam Suntory, Inc., a Deerfield, Illinois based distilled spirits company and subsidiary of Suntory Holdings of Osaka, Japan, the Jim Beam brand is one of the all-time great bourbon whiskey producers.

In fact, the Beam name is legendary in bourbon, and not just because of its brand. The Beam family has dominated the world of Bourbon whiskey, mostly as distillers and whiskey craftsmen rather than as businessmen or distillery owners, throughout its history.

Johannes “Jacob” Beam (1770-1834) of Pennsylvania (the family name Boehm was changed to Beam soon after emigrating from Germany) started the Beam Bourbon story in 1795. He had moved to the wilderness that was to become Kentucky in the late 1780s, and by 1795 was said to have begun selling his own whiskey. Jacob brought one of his 12 children into the family business: David Beam (1802-1854). Two of David’s 11 children, Joseph B. Beam (1825-1912) and David M. Beam (1833-1913), also went into the whiskey trade, as did many of their progeny. Two of David M. Beam’s sons, Colonel James Beauregard “Jim” Beam (1864-1947) and William Parker “Park” Beam (1868-1949), went into the trade and, post-prohibition, it was they who established the modern Beam dynasty.

Then Col. Jim Beam – that is, the “Jim Beam” – had one son who entered the trade: T. Jeremiah “Jere” (pronounced “Jerry”), and then one of his daughters, Margaret, married Frederick Booker Noe, and their son, Fredrick Booker Noe II (1929-2004), entered the trade. He, in turn, was succeeded by his son, Frederick Booker Noe III, who still produces whiskey at the Jim Beam Distillery (which is actually two distilleries in Kentucky, one in Clermont and the other in Boston).

All of which is a long-way round to saying that the Beam family has been making Bourbon whiskey from the beginning. Here we consider the easiest to find expression:

Jim Beam White Label Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is a medium bodied, young whiskey, probably around 4 years old. A bit dry and orange-fruit-like on the nose with maybe a hint of vanilla and caramel, the whiskey has a slightly syrupy mouth-feel, with lovely notes of buttered toast, hints of brown sugar, subtle cinnamon and whispers of vanilla. The Jim Beam wild yeast strain gives this whiskey an odd, though enjoyable, sour funky or gamey sort of finish. White Label is straightforward and uncomplicated yet versatile, as enjoyable straight as it is as a mixer. Delivers well above its weight! L’Chaim!

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