Stick With “Stickies” But Don’t Be A Snob



A review of S’Forno Puglia Moscato and the Famous Grouse Blended Scotch Whisky.


By Joshua E. London and Louis Marmon


Washington Jewish Week  November 16, 2011



Famous GrouseFor more than 30 years now, kosher wine cognoscenti have fought a pitched battle against the identification of “kosher wine” with sweet Kiddush-style wines, demanding greater attention from wine critics, insisting upon enlightened attitudes by liquor store owners, and generally taking issue with kosher consumer tastes. This is understandable, up to a point. But much has changed in the kosher wine world. Unfashionable though it may be, we remain unabashed fans of sweet wine – or “stickies” to employ the Australian term for sweet wines (just seems more appropriate).


Sure, we have a certain nostalgic attachment to the sacramental purple stuff in the square bottle, but real dessert wines – the kind to be enjoyed slowly rather than gulped as quickly as possible in a vain attempt to bypass the taste-buds – are not made from grapes so vile that sugar must be added to render them palatable.


Don’t get us wrong, nostalgia has its place, and in socio-religious rituals perhaps a particularly valued place – but we’d still rather drink something that actually tastes nice. Thus our favorite stickies are those whose sweetness is created naturally by letting the grapes develop high sugar content and by stopping the fermentation before all the natural grape sugars are converted into alcohol, to allow a noticeable sweetness to persist.


Stickies can be made from nearly any grape, although most of the better ones are white, and they can be either still or sparkling, or lightly frizzante (as the Italians nicely put it). Stickies are a perfect way to complement most desserts and if served solo are considerably less caloric.


Created from grapes grown in Italy’s Puglia region which spans the heel of that country’s “boot,” the kosher S’forno Puglia Moscato ($10) is imported by the Royal Wine Company. Pleasantly effervescent with aromas of flowers, apricots and pears, it dances lightly with notable but not overbearing sweetness that is well-balanced with citrus acidity. The lingering finish is accented with green apples that lead to a desire for another sip. Serve this value-priced, non-mevushal delight with cheesecake, fruit-based dishes or fresh melon slices.


Spirits-wise, we thought we would try to address a question we are often asked. What whisky should a whisky novice try first? We’ll answer that question with a question: What, pray tell, is a “whisky novice”? Drink one whisky and, presto change-o, one is a novice no more. Simple. Repeat often and one can claim “expert” status, or what have you. There is no secret-handshake or silly initiation ritual. It is a shame that folks can sometimes be made to feel intimidated by more seasoned whisky drinkers.


Even worse, the phrase “whisky novice” is sometimes used as a down-one’s-nose reference to those uninitiated into whisky snobbery. What utter piffle.


Would you send a friend who knew little about theater to the nearest high-school production because you thought he or she would not appreciate a top-class performance? We feel very strongly that the whisky “novice” is no different, because a great whisky is a great whisky.


It is true enough that some folks do not appreciate smoky, peaty whiskies while others swear their allegiance to the ranks of the peat-freaks – but this has nothing to do with being a novice. Tastes are subjective.


More important, subjective valuations can change over time. Children generally prefer sweet to savory, but over time our tastes usually change and our desired range of flavors broadens, as do our likes and dislikes in general. Whisky is no different.


Tasted it once and didn’t like it – fine, try another … but don’t presume that you will never like it. At some point down the road, try it again, you just might surprise yourself.


Years ago, one of us gave a bottle of a particularly peaty Scotch whisky to a friend who had only ever enjoyed blends. Try it we said, and if you don’t like it, no worries, don’t drink it – only, please, give it a fair chance. Three weeks later, this friend was already on a second bottle of the stuff.


On the other hand, we have a friend who has been buying high-end single malts and bourbons for years but can’t stand any hint of smoke in his whisky. He enjoys smoked salmon, smoked herring, smoked whitefish salad, BBQ and even the occasional cigar, but will permit no trace of smoke in his whisky. He obviously knows his own tastes better than we do, and there the matter ends unless or until he wishes otherwise. He’s no “novice.”


It is also perfectly true that one’s appreciation for a particular thing can be increased by comparative knowledge. We may love chicken soup, for example, but after sampling enough chicken soup it becomes clear that not all soups are equal.


So drink early and often – though obviously in moderation. The important point, of course, is to keep an open mind and maintain, always, personal honesty – tell your friends what you like, but don’t kid yourself about what you do or do not like. Particularly when you are paying for it.


Here then, is one of our favorite cheap, blended Scotch whiskies: The Famous Grouse Blended Scotch Whisky ($20). It is easy to understand why the Famous Grouse continues to be Scotland’s best-selling blended Scotch and one of the top sellers globally. This is a lovely whisky, delicate and floral on the nose with just a slight hint of smoke and honey. Punches above its weight, as it were, delivering a rich and full array of flavors, despite being relatively light-bodied, including cream, toffee, apple, vanilla, mocha, spices, and something vaguely citrusy, along with a hint of grain in the medium-long finish. Delicious straight, on the rocks, with soda, or however you wish. L’chaim!


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