Stay-Cation Wine Travels



A review of the Chateau Thenac Fleur du Perigold 2010 and the Balblair 2000 Single Malt Whisky.


By Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon


Washington Jewish Week  –  June 13, 2012


Chateau Thenac Fleur du PerigoldThink of wine as a portal through which to satisfy the itch for a summer vacation, but without paying the expensive airfare, trekking through awful airports or dealing with increasingly tedious and inane airport security. Through wine, one can travel far and wide, communing with the world’s varied wine regions, all from the comfort of home.

Just as each country has a distinctive cuisine, so does each wine region have a unique and characteristic approach to winemaking – at least insofar as they contend with local soil and climactic conditions. So, for example, a Cabernet Sauvignon wine from California is likely to taste recognizably different from a cab produced in, say, Israel or Italy or South Africa. Different soils and climates produce different flavors in the grapes. Those regions with a long history of vine cultivation also tend to have a long tradition of wine production. In many cases, especially in Europe, these traditions are codified not only in widely accepted practice, but generally in legislative fiat. Hence, many of the world’s wine-producing regions have a certain taste profile. The sheer weight of these wine traditions has also, in many instances, determined what grape varieties will be cultivated in any particular region.

With a little a sense of adventure, some decent glasses, good company and a desire to avoid the lazy indifference of “I’ll just have a glass of the white,” one can explore multiple continents in one sitting.

Begin by browsing the aisles of your favorite wine store to find reasonably priced bottles produced from unfamiliar locations such as Rhone, Alsace, Abruzzo, Paarl and Douro. Within such varied regions you may find not only their version of Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, and Merlot but also such lesser known varietals like Touriga Nacional, Montepulciano or Pinotage. You will likely also encounter wines known more for their place of production than for their grape varietals, such as Burgundy or Bordeaux.

We wine geeks like to highlight this difference as that between Old World wine producers and New World wine producers. In this vein, the “Old” world has a long tradition and history that rigidly maintains cultivation and production rules that helps determine regional tastes, while the “New” are free to experiment as they wish, using only science and market forces as their guide. Though grounded in a certain reality, this stark dichotomy is now as much about marketing regional hyperbole as anything else. Still, the “name of place” versus “name of grape” practice is still the norm that instantly distinguishes most European wines from everywhere else. Regardless, soil and weather conditions conspire to ensure a certain identifiable diversity of results across the globe, even when the very best practices are employed.

So an investment of less than the cost of a couple of movie tickets can open new vistas of enjoyment. Like any new venture there is a risk that the wine may be unappealing, but then again you may also hate the movie, and at least with wine comes the promise of a little alcohol to lighten the mood. The important thing is not to be discouraged by unappealing bottles during your “stay-cation” wine travels, and to continue to try different wines and broaden your level of experience. Eventually you will find many appealing wines that will provide an entry point for deeper exploration, and you won’t have had to schlep any farther than your local wine shop.

Located in southwestern France in the Bergerac region, Chateau Thenac is an interesting example of what one may find through such non-travel wine tourism. The estate was built on the ruins of an early 12th-century Benedictine Priory, though the oldest surviving parts of the existing property were built in the 16th century.

The property was purchased in 2001 by Russian Jewish oligarch Eugene Shvidler. As a billionaire with global interests, it is perhaps surprising that Shvidler has taken such a keen interest in Thenac, but he has poured lots of money into the vineyard, expensively employed local craftsman and materials to painstakingly rebuild the chateau, expanded the vineyard from around 44 acres to 500 acres, and now grows nine different grape varieties for both red and white wines. Shvidler is determined to make wines in Chateau Thenac that will rival those produced in the more famous Bordeaux region (roughly 60 miles to the west).

Appropriately considered a rising star among French producers, Chateau Thenac produces a number of first-rate white and red wines including a kosher, mevushal version of their Fleur du Perigord 2010 ($21). Intensely aromatic with red cherries and blackberries, it is a lovely, lush and flavorful wine with black fruit, vanilla, oak and chocolate notes with some earthiness in the long, somewhat spicy finish.

Spirits-wise, virtual tourism has its virtues as well, but not to the same degree – largely because the agricultural ties are less significant to the final product. Fruit-based spirits have better agricultural and regional claims than grain-based spirits, and such fine examples as Calvados and Cognac both insist very strenuously upon such claims – but the farther you get from farm-to-bottle sized operations, the farther you get from the wine world’s notions of regional taste, much less terroir. Put another way, great wine is grown in the vineyard; great spirits are made in the distillery.

On the other hand, it is certainly cheaper to drink through the Kentucky Bourbon trail or the Whisky regions of Scotland at home than it is to hop on a plane. Whether or not one finds the regional differences as rewarding to contemplate from afar, is subjective anyway, so don’t let us deter you from pursuing the life of the Great Indoorsman!
We pondered all this while quaffing some Balblair 2000 Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky (43 percent abv; $55): With lush, robust aromas and flavors of peach, pineapple and green apple, with honeyed vanilla, coconut, puff pastry, dried apricots and lively ginger, finishing with notes of fudge, and dark chocolate. Full bodied, complex and easy-drinking. L’Chaim!

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