The “Book” on European Vintages

 

A review of Appalina Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 and several Glen Garioch whiskies.

 

By Joshua E. London and Louis Marmon

 

Washington Jewish Week   January 4, 2012

 

Glen Garioch ScotchThe rules governing European wine production are almost Talmudic in their complexity. The regulations concern all aspects of wine-making including the technigues permitted, the amount of land that can be used to grow grapes, the specific varietals allowed in each region and what words and information can appearr on the labels. Integral to this system is the belief that the place of origin imparts distinguishing characteristics upon the vines.

 

In the early 1900’s the French legally mandated what could be produced within several precisely delineated regions. Over the ensuing decades a hierarchy developed with the more stringently regulated “appellation d’origine contrôlée” or AOCs at the top, followed by the “vin de pays” (country wines) then the “vin de table.” Some of the AOCs are vast and diverse while others are smaller and homogeneous with the ones in Burgundy and Bordeaux having almost mythic reputations. AOC wines are usually more expensive but the designation itself does not necessarily denote quality.

 

Better values are often found among the so-called “lesser” tiers. Vin de pays is stratified into regions, departments and zones with the largest, Vin de Pays d’Oc , based on the Languedoc-Roussillon. This region has seen a recent dramatic improvement in quality and is the source of many of the country’s best quality-to-price values. A mevushal kosher example is the very smooth Appalina Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 ($11). As Cabernets go, the Appalina 2008 is on the lighter side, offering red fruit, mint and blackberry flavors. With only a hint of tannins, this is a Cabernet that Merlot lovers will enjoy.

 

On the spirits-side, after reviewing successive smoky, peaty whiskies over the last few columns, we’ve gotten requests for reviews of something less smoky, less assertive as well as something new or at least less familiar. Ask, and ye shall receive.

 

A lovely little gem of a Scottish Highland malt whisky can be found from the Glen Garioch brand of single-malt Scotch whiskies. Situated in the historic Valley of the Garioch (pronounced ‘Geery’ in the Doric dialect of Scots spoken in the northeast of Scotland), in the historic town of Oldmeldrum, approximately 20 minutes northwest of Aberdeen, the Glen Garioch Distillery was established in 1797.

 

It remains one of the very few urban distilleries in the country. Glen Garioch is also, perhaps, the only distillery in Scotland that now bottles everything in its lineup at a minimum of 48 percent alcohol by volume (the industry standard is otherwise 40-43 percent,) and all are non-chill-filtered.

 

Brothers John and Alexander Manson, who established Glen Garioch, chose the location based on the ready supply of clear, quality water from the Percock Hills and the abundant barley of the Valley of the Garioch, known then as “The Granary of Aberdeenshire.”

 

Indeed, for many years the distillery malted its own barley and used local sources of peat. The whisky was characterized by a distinct heathery smokiness. As late as 1989, in the first edition of Michael Jackson’s “Malt Whisky Companion” (this is the late beer and whisky expert Jackson, not the late pop-star), he referred to Glen Garioch as “the assertive peat-smoky style of highland malt that has become all too rare.” Soon after that, Glen Garioch discontinued both its own in-house maltings and the use of peat.

 

The distillery was family owned for its first 90 years before being sold off, and then it changed hands several times until 1970 when it was acquired by Stanley P. Morrison, Ltd. (now Morrison Bowmore Distillers Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Japanese drinks company Suntory).

 

The distillery first released Glen Garioch single malt only in 1972; before that all of its production went to blends. That same year a new underground spring was discovered, giving Glan Garioch a new and more abundant supply of water to boost production. Morrison invested back in the distillery several times, expanding production capacity and updating and refurbishing equipment. Due to shifting priorities, the distillery was mothballed in 1995, and was not pushed back into production until 1997. The distillery and its brand of whisky were given a much welcomed revamp in 2009, with a major re-launch in the U.S. in 2010.

 

Here are the current releases of this charming, underrated and woefully less familiar range of the non chill-filtered single-malt Scotch whiskies of Glen Garioch:

 

Glen Garioch, 1797 Founder’s Reserve ($45) this non-age statement release is lovely, young, light and fruity yet impressively mouth-filling; with aromas and flavors of pears, green apples, lemons and apricots, vanilla, honey, buttery shortbread, toffee and fudge, with fresh and vibrant barley notes and something like white chocolate and perhaps ginger, with mocha-like notes in the drying finish. This is an enjoyable, easy drinking yet still interesting dram. [Note that, to us, adding water makes this charmer fall apart.]

 

Glen Garioch 12-year-old ($65) is a marriage of whisky aged in ex-Bourbon American oak (like the Founder’s Reserve) and ex-Sherry European oak, resulting in aromas and mouth filling flavors of butter, fudge, vanilla, caramel, brown sugar, honey, cantaloupe, over-ripe banana, baked pear, malted barley, some warm and drying oak spice, and all with just a touch of smoke that seems to drift in and out brilliantly. Another charming and engaging whisky with enough complexity to keep things interesting.

 

Glen Garioch 1994 Vintage ($110; non-chill-filtered and bottled at 53.9 percent ABV) was matured in used American oak casks for 17 years before being bottled in 2011, and is a limited release example of the previously peated style of Glen Garioch.

 

This beauty of a whisky exhibits remarkably youthful aromas of sweet vanilla, heather-honey, buttery fresh biscuits, custard, and ginger, all with just a whisper of smoke. The whisky is oily, lightly smoky yet still sweet on the palate, with notes of vanilla, butterscotch, caramel, bitter-apple, hard pear, hard peach, under-ripe banana, vibrant lemon citrus and with a sprinkling of ginger. The finish is long, dry yet fruity, spicy and floral, with a mild peat smoke. It takes water well, but really doesn’t need much if any. This is an intriguing, subtle and elegant whisky that’ll reward a little time and contemplation. L’chaim!

 

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