Summer Indulgences

 

 

A review of the Domaine du Castel Rosé 2011 and a look at the Mint Julep.

 

By Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon

 

Washington Jewish Week  May 10, 2012

 

Makers Mark BourbonThere are few better summer indulgences than a glass of chilled rosé. Not the horrific, semi-sweet “white” blush wines from California that remains surprisingly popular. The rosés worth drinking are “dry,” without significant residual sugar, and display bright fruit flavors balanced with crisp acidity. They are usually created by either allowing the pressed juice to have only minimal contact with the skins or by a method known as “saignee” (bleeding), which removes lightly colored juice from vats to concentrate the remaining future wine.
 

Nearly every red grape has been made into a rosé. Regardless of the methodology, the goal is to create a wine that maintains elements of the varietal’s character in a lighter more refreshing fashion.
 

Long considered one of Israel’s finest wineries, Domaine du Castel is located at the site of a former chicken ranch at Moshav Ramat Raziel in the Judean Hills. The winery produces nearly 100,000 bottles annually of kosher, nonmevushal, Bordeaux-styled blends and chardonnay. In 2009, it released a terrific merlot based rosé that was only available in Israel. Its 2011 is supposed to be more widely available and is certainly worth the search. Created from merlot, cabernet franc and malbec, the Domaine du Castel Rosé 2011 is redolent with ripe strawberries and passion fruit aromas that flow seamlessly into citrus, peach and red berry flavors. Perfectly balanced with a long finish this is yet another excellent effort by the Zaken family. Enjoy it on the deck with grilled tuna steaks or summer salad.
 

Spirits-wise, sticking with the sticky summer drinking theme, one of the greatest hot-weather cocktails of all time has to be the Southern-style mint julep.
 

In search of this nectar, one of us trekked down to “maven of mixology,” Jim Hewes, the famed barman at the Round Robin Bar of the historic Willard InterContinental Hotel – the place where this delectable cocktail was first introduced to D.C.
 

Little more than a concoction of whiskey, mint, ice, sugar and water, this mix becomes an enchanting, seductive ambrosia when mixed right: The tang of the mint perfectly balances out the sweetness of the bourbon, and the drink maintains a cool, iced, sweet and refreshing zing from start to finish.
 

Here is not only one of the best bartenders behind the stick in the nation’s capital, but he is also very knowledgeable in cocktail lore. Over an enchanting and perfectly made Southern-style mint julep, Hewes helped flesh out some of the background of the drink “in the tradition of the tired and curious science of alcohology,” as journalist H.L. Mencken once put it.
 

The mint julep is most associated these days with the Churchill Downs racetrack on Kentucky Derby day, despite the fact that every credible report of these festivities points to virtually undrinkable, pre-mixed potations that do little more than induce gambling, drunkenness and, perhaps, a mean hangover. This is a shame, if not a crime, and is probably going a long way toward slowly snuffing out this classic cocktail.
 

The julep itself is thought to date back to some ancient unrecorded point in time as a reference to potable sweetened or flavored water. “Julep” is derived from the Arabic “julab,” which comes from the Persian term “gulab” – “gul” meaning rose and “ab” meaning water. There are also 15th-century references to juleps in the poetry of John Milton and the diaries of Samuel Pepys.
 

Although pinpointing the origin of the American mint julep is highly contentious, it seems likely that it originated in Virginia rather than Kentucky. In any event, there is reason to speculate that although the drink might have originally been made with rum or cheap brandy, it probably gained its initial early prominence being made with rye whiskey.
 

At the time, rye was the most widely available distilled spirit, and the mixture is a relatively pleasant one. Indeed, around this period the mint julep took on popularity akin to the modern era’s Coca-Cola. Interestingly, posterity still demands rye for a Maryland-style mint julep, although no one ever seems to drink this variety anymore.
 

Before long, however, the drink became a favorite of the well-heeled of the South. Given that ice was hard to come by until the mid-19th century, the mint julep was essentially an aristocratic drink. By the 1830s it was often made with cognac or some other quality brandy by those who could afford the added extravagance.
 

The first clear recipe we have dates back to 1839 and calls for “equal portions of peach and common brandy,” and comes from Capt. Frederick Marryat, an Englishman chronicling his travels through the United States. A few years after this publication, however, Marryat found his way to the original Willard Hotel, where he was to receive an education in the mint julep from Sen. Henry Clay of Kentucky.
 

The Virginia-born Clay had represented Kentucky for close to 50 years already, and loved nothing more than to educate Northerners on the finer sensibilities of the South. As the thought of the rum or brandy mint julep was obviously too much for Clay, he set about demonstrating to Marryat the errors of his ways.
 

It is fortunate for us that Clay did this, because his lecture and demonstration for Marryat, replete with silver bar paraphernalia, helped spread the familiarity and popularity of the bourbon mint julep. The recipe Clay left for posterity is the closest thing to an “official” Southern-style mint julep recipe that exists today, and with minor adjustment, is the official house drink of the Round Robin Bar of the Willard InterContinental Hotel. Here is Hewes’ recipe:
 

Place eight to 10 red-stemmed mint leaves, one teaspoon of granulated sugar and an ounce of bourbon (we prefer Maker’s Mark for this) in the bottom of a collins glass or a julep glass or a tall bar glass, and lightly muddle this using the heel of a butter knife until it forms a tea. Fill the glass halfway with finely crushed or cracked ice, and then vigorously stir using the business end of the butter knife to cut through the mix and ensure that the taste will be uniform throughout. Add another heaping of the ice, keeping it tightly packed almost like a snow cone. Pour in equal measures of bourbon and sparkling branch water (like San Pellegrino). Garnish with a fresh sprig of mint to which the stem has been bruised (to release a bit more of that mint flavor), add a twist of lemon peel, and then dust the top with granulated sugar. Serve with two short stirrer straws so that you have to put your nose right into the bouquet to sip it. L’Chaim!
 
 

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