Taste When You Can
Review of Hagafen Estate Syrah 2012 and Hudson Four Grain Bourbon by Tuthilltown Spirits Distillery
By Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon
One of the big pleasures of booze tourism is to be found in the tasting room. A recent article by Lettie Teague of The Wall Street Journal, one of many wine columns we read and enjoy regularly, reminds us of some of the behind-the-scenes activity that goes into making a winery’s tasting room a successful and enjoyable experience. Obviously, good wine is a solid start—though even only merely “pleasant” wine may be uplifted into a fun and enjoyable experience if everything else is done right.
Ms. Teague described her experiences learning the inner workings of the tasting room at Chateau Ste. Michelle, the oldest winery in Washington State which receives over a quarter million visitors each year. She points out that via its guided tours and tastings the winery creates a memorable experience and future “ambassadors for the brand”, which will eventually translate into sales. The takeaway here is, of course, that spending time and resources to make the overall winery visit “experience” a wholly positive one is a generally very good thing. This is true of distilleries and breweries too. Most, though not all, booze producers have embraced this.
On top of the “educational” aspect of such tours, the chance to drink their product in situ with knowledgeable, enthusiastic and helpful staff is always a fun and worthwhile use of our time. At a great many wineries one gets the opportunity to sip and swirl the wines with the winemaker directly, or at least with members of the production crew, rather than simply trained hospitality staff (though if trained well enough, this is no waste of time). Indeed, this is why there is not a wine critic around who would not, and does not, highly recommend visiting winery tasting rooms. Just be sure, obviously, to designate a driver or arrange transportation.
The kosher wine world is no different, though there are far fewer visitor experiences to be had.
In Israel, for example, of the roughly 300-350 wineries operating today (the number seems to change every 6 months or so as folks close or open shop), only about 90 are kosher certified, out of which around 60 or so actually export their wines; not all of these even have tasting rooms yet, but many do, and some of these are really great experiences. There are a few more kosher tasting opportunities in Europe, one in South Africa, one in Australia, and, well, you get the picture. So many of the kosher wines being produced around the globe are produced as a limited run at an otherwise non-kosher winery, or are produced using rented facilities, so there isn’t really any proper “winery” location to visit and taste the wines. Domestically, the number of kosher wineries and tasting room experiences can be counted on one hand, but each has their own reputed charms (neither of us has yet had the opportunity to visit the Covenant Winery in its new urban winery setting in Berkeley, CA).
One domestic kosher winery visit and tasting room experience that we very heartily recommend is Hagafen Cellars in the Napa Valley. While there try the Hagafen Estate Syrah 2012 ($32) which expresses both dark fruit and earthy aromas that lead on the palate to flavors of dark cherry, strawberry, mocha and spice with hints of pepper and cedar. A terrific cooler weather wine.
Spirits-wise, our thoughts turn to the Tuthilltown Spirits Distillery in Gardiner, NY.
Opened in 2005, Tuthilltown Spirits not only helped launch New York’s craft-whiskey craze, but it is was also the state’s first whiskey distillery since Prohibition.
The distillery founders, Ralph Erenzo and Brian Lee, began operations in one of the granaries of the historic Tuthilltown Gristmill, a 220 year old registered landmark that still in use to produce flour for matzo for several Hasidic communities in Brooklyn (the mill was part of Erenzo’s 2001 land purchase). They started very small, but found early success and quickly hit the ground running. The distillery has earned national recognition: “Best US Artisan Distiller of the 2010” by the American Distilling Institute and “Craft Whiskey Distillery of the Year” in 2011 by Whiskey Magazine. Sporting a homey feel, the operation is actually quite slick and professional, and includes a visitors’ center, a large tasting room, and sizable gift shop selling their whiskeys, spirits, apparel and assorted cool tchotchkes (such as small barrels you can use to age your own booze).
Here is one of their whiskey’s for your consideration:
Hudson Four Grain Bourbon (46 percent abv; around $45 for a 375ml bottle): made from a mash of mostly corn, with rye, wheat, and malted barley, this solid, double pot-distilled, less than 4 year old whiskey begins with a slightly alcoholic nose of rye bread and basil, followed by sweet caramel, crème brulee, sweet cereal, some oak, and some floral notes. Despite the slight alcoholic prickle on the nose, the palate is soft and, er, bourbony, with the spicy and other grain elements (sweet corn, caramel, vanilla, rye spice, clove, and honey) rolling evenly and harmoniously in along the way, towards a lengthy, satisfying finish. Yummy. L’Chaim