Tasting Some Incredible Scotch



Review of the Galil Mountain Viognier 2009 and several Balvinie Single Malt Scotches.


By Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon


Washington Jewish Week  April 19, 2012


Tun 1401The arrival of spring means it is time to kick back on the deck with a chilled glass of white wine. For many, chardonnay is their white wine of choice. But there are many other wine options for warm weather enjoyment. One of our favorites is Viognier, a very aromatic varietal with prominent fruit flavors and floral aromas.

For many years Viognier was a popular grape, especially in France’s northern Rhone Valley where it was blended with syrah or bottled alone. It is a difficult grape to cultivate and that is what likely led to viognier almost becoming extinct in the mid 1960s. Fortunately there has been a revival of interest in viognier not only in France but also in the U.S., South America, Australia and Israel.

The Galil Mountain Winery is a project established jointly by the Golan Heights Winery and Kibbutz Yiron in Israel’s Upper Galilee. This mountainous area has been a grape-growing region for thousands of years. Founded in 2000, Galil Mountain Winery currently produces 13 different blends and single varietals including Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Barbera. The delightful Galil Mountain Viognier 2009 ($14) has peach and floral aromas with tangerine, nectarine and apricot flavors on a medium-bodied frame with a very pleasant finish. It practically sings springtime and is a wonderful match with barbecue or spicy foods.

Spirits-wise, now that chametz is back it is time to roll up our collective sleeves and make up for some lost time – in moderation of course. We thought we’d start with a revisit to The Balvenie single malt Scotch whisky (thebalvenie.com). Earlier this month, before Pesach, we were fortunate enough to get invited to a special Balvenie tasting here in the D.C. area at the Longview Gallery (1234 Ninth Street N.W.). Only one of us was able to attend, and so lamentably had to drink for both of us … alas.

Following the fun press-portion, was a fantastic tasting for Balvenie fans centered on their nationwide roadshow tour, “The Balvenie Rare Craft Experience.” The Balvenie hails itself as “the most handcrafted Single Malt Scotch Whisky,” so to celebrate this fact, and highlight craftsmanship generally, Balvenie’s brand ambassadors, Andrew Weir and Nicholas Pollachi, are touring the country in a handmade Morgan car, meeting with craftsmen to learn about their crafts. They have encountered everything from handmade jewelry in Hot Springs, Ark., to metal art in Seattle, Wash., to metalsmithing in Livonia, N.Y., to cool-looking functional bicycles handcrafted of bamboo right here in D.C. (threepennybikes.com) – and plenty of other crafts, as well. Many of these crafts were on display in the art gallery including the cool bicycle, and their handmade Morgan car.

Just to gild the marketing lily, the Balvenie created a “malting floor” exhibit where guests could touch and smell malt and shovel the grains to their heart’s content. They also produced a side tasting room for one of the older expressions of Balvenie whisky. This room was fitted with mock “ye olde” warehouse doors to replicate the entrance to their beloved “Warehouse No. 24” (which is simply the oldest surviving part of the distillery, seized upon by the marketing folks; now also the name of their online club for fans – which, if nothing else, puts one on the mailing list for tasting events like this).

The mood throughout was cool and convivial, and the drams flowed freely. A great event in every respect. Which brings us back to the most important part of the whole thing — the whisky!

The available range that evening included some favorite standbys and, for the earlier press session, an incredible though hard to find limited edition. We’ve previously reviewed the Balvenie Peated Cask ($130) which is good and intriguing, especially for us peat freaks, and the 14-year-old Balvenie “Caribbean Cask” ($60) which is excellent. So here then are some great Balvenie whiskies to sample as soon as possible to wash away all thoughts of Pesach’s restrictive diet.

Balvenie 12-year-old Doublewood Single Malt Whisky (40 percent ABV; $45): this dependable old favorite is sweet and nutty, with aromas and flavors of honey, malt, gentle spice notes, vanilla, toffee, bananas, candied peanuts, walnuts, a whisper of peat in the background, ending in a lovely dry, spicy, warming finish.

The Balvenie Single Barrel, 15 years old (47.8 percent ABV; $75): Per the name, this whisky is a single cask, single malt – meaning that the distillery essentially just empties the barrel into (around 350) bottles without first vatting the cask with other similarly aged casks to create more of a uniform product (“single malt” simply means it came from a single distillery). This is much closer than we normally get from official distillery bottling to our preferred whisky presentation of single cask, cask strength, non chill-filtered, caramel-coloring free. (The more natural and un-finessed the whisky, the more unique, individual and particular will be the whisky.) This particular example is an enjoyable ex-bourbon cask-aged expression with delicate honeyed malt sweetness and a melange of dried fruits on the nose, followed by bold and arresting flavors of malt, ripe fruit, honey, vanilla, maple syrup, citrus fruits (oranges, mandarins, nectarines), lemon rind, dried apricot, pralines, a hint of something more tropical (like pineapple), coconut, pepper, some slight clove, and subtle notes of star anise. Not overly deep or complex, but solid and delicious.

Balvenie PortWood, 21 years old (40 percent ABV; $190): note that in duty-free stores, this whisky is 47.6 percent ABV and is non chill-filtered): this is an exceptional whisky in oh so many ways, revealing some serious depth and concentration. With elegant and indulgent aromas of white peach, sultanas, candied fruit, marzipan, cocoa and a whisper of smoke, the whisky presents an enjoyably complex and silky medley of flavors including vanilla, Tupelo honey, oily malted barley, mouth-drying nuttiness, buttered scones, raisins, poached pear, caramel apple, red fruits, anise, cinnamon, cocoa, and a distinct yet pleasant wine-cellar mustiness in the background, with a slightly bitter, agreeably graceful finish. This is a marvelously indulgent and rewarding postprandial dram.

Balvenie Tun 1401 “Batch #3” (50.3 percent ABV; $250): this limited-edition whisky, available for the first time in the U.S. starting last October (our shores missed Batches #1 and #2), is a special vatting of various-aged whiskies from Balvenie’s Warehouse No. 24 which were married together in the warehouse in a large vat (aka a “tun”) before bottling. The whisky is rich and sweet on the nose, with notes of tropical fruit, marzipan, vanilla, honey, some spice and a hint of dried coconut, charred oak, and with additional notes on the palate of spice, vanilla, black currant, orange peel, nectarine, honey, custard, pistachios, walnuts and almonds, apple sauce, and a touch of cocoa and star anise. The finish is long, sweetish and spicy. A bit too expensive, but impressive and delicious! L’Chaim!



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