The Kosher Wine Exception
A review of the Martins Malbec 2010 and Laphroaig Cairdeas Origin 2012 Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky.
By Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon
Washington Jewish Week December 19, 2012
Week after week, we write about some of the many worthwhile kosher wines being produced all over the world. For many months we made a point of indicating where the wines we reviewed could be purchased locally, but as some of our regular readers have occasionally pointed out to us, we have done so a lot less frequently of late. Partly this is because it can be difficult for us to stay on top of who carries what, and partly because of the reality that those in Maryland and Virginia have different access than Washingtonians.
Obviously we continue to support our local Greater Washington purveyors like Potomac Wines & Spirits in Georgetown, Schneider’s of Capitol Hill, KosherMart in Rockville, The Wine Harvest and The Bottle Shop in Potomac, and Shalom Kosher in Silver Spring. But if you don’t live close to any of these options or if you want something you’ve only seen online from retailers in New York or Chicago, then what is one supposed to do?
Simple enough, order it online or over the phone and have it shipped to your door. Consumers in D.C. or, with a little more fuss, Virginia, can do exactly that. The state of Maryland, however, has yet to get with the program. Maryland now allows for direct shipment from kosher wineries, but not from wine retailers.
In fact, according to the Maryland State Comptroller: “You may personally bring into Maryland from another state one quart of legally manufactured alcoholic beverage at any one time, not to exceed two quarts per month. Beyond that level, you cannot import, transport, or possess in Maryland alcoholic beverages upon which Maryland taxes have not been paid. Also, you may not have alcoholic beverages sent to you by out-of-state mail order suppliers or the Internet.” This effectively means that law-abiding kosher wine consumers in Maryland are constrained in their kosher wine choices. If a Maryland consumer buys a case of wine in D.C., or buys a case online from a retailer and has it shipped to his or her D.C. or Virginia office, the moment the wine is transported across the state line, they have technically committed a crime.
This smuggling is only a misdemeanor, to be sure, and one that lacks robust enforcement, but it is criminal conduct, nonetheless, and carries up to a $10,000 fine and potentially up to five years in prison. A recent call to the State Comptroller’s office also made clear that should any consumer wish to transport the wine anyway and simply remit taxes themselves to keep it all legal, they can certainly do so and, obviously, are encouraged to do so. But such an endeavor is far from routine or simple. Indeed, officials advise contacting the State Comptroller’s office in advance so they can help work through the legal issues and figure out a way to remit the taxes. Not exactly conducive to enriching your religious observance with premium kosher wines, much less stocking your kosher wine cellar or cleaning up on blowout sales.
This sorry anti-consumer situation is hopefully about to change. A new initiative by the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Greater Washington, working closely with Del. Sam Arora (D-Md.) seeks to legislate a kosher wine exception to the existing code that would permit direct shipments of kosher wine from out-of-state or online retailers. Should Arora’s bill pass, the hundreds of kosher wines available in the greater New York area and beyond will theoretically be available to Marylanders, too.
Consider, for example, a solid, inexpensive, good for bulk purchase option like the kosher Martins Malbec 2010 ($10).
Malbec has become one of the world’s most popular wines. Originally cultivated nearly everywhere in France, the grape achieved its present prominence via Argentina where it is considered the country’s signature red wine varietal. Malbec has been cultivated in Argentina since 1868, and thrives in several locations, especially the arid Mendoza region. Over the past several decades, substantial investments in technology and improved viticulture techniques have allowed Argentinean winemakers to develop stylistically distinct Malbecs that differ dramatically from their French predecessors. Argentinean Malbecs typically have softer tannins along with distinctively lush fruit flavors accented with a mild spiciness. Served slightly chilled, Malbec often pairs well with grilled foods, roasts and stews. The value-priced, kosher and mevushal Martins Malbec 2010 is a deeply dark purple offering that displays blackberry and plum aromas that persist into a flavor profile of dark fruit, spice and a hint of oak. It is a good introduction into Argentinean malbec that would work well with the typical winter foods as well as the lighter grilled fare served in the summer.
If for any reason our Maryland readership cannot yet find this in a store near them, soon enough (if the JCRC and Del. Arora can make it happen), they’ll be able to get it anyway.
Spirits-wise, we thought we’d cheer on these JCRC-fueled efforts to free the Maryland kosher wine consumer with the Laphroaig Cairdeas Origin 2012, a fairly limited edition single malt Scotch whisky (only 3,000 bottles for the U.S.).
Laphroaig (pronounced “La-froyg”) is one of those mighty single malt Scotch whisky brands that command the respect of whisky drinkers, and near fanatic devotion of its fans. Back in 1994, Laphroaig established the “Friends of Laphroaig” club (FOL), membership available with the purchase of any whisky (just open the little green pamphlet accompanying each bottle to find your unique number to go online and join). Membership in FOL grants a lifetime lease of 1 square foot of Laphroaig land on the island of Islay in Scotland. The annual rent is a dram of Laphroaig which can be obtained upon visiting the distillery.
For several years now, Laphroaig has also been releasing limited expressions at the annual week-long Feis Ile (Islay Festival) of its whisky under the Cairdeas moniker (pronounced “car-chas” meaning “friendship” in Gaelic), available at the Laphroaig Distillery shop. Finally, in 2011 Laphroaig began releasing Cairdeas to the general public. As a limited edition annual release, each year’s expression is not only different, but also subject to very limited availability.
The current expression is the Laphroaig Cairdeas Origin 2012, made from a vatting of 13- to 21-year-old Laphroaig whisky from the first Cairdeas bottling blended 50:50 with Laphroaig whisky aged for seven years in a quarter cask, and released in celebration of the 18th anniversary of the establishment of the Friends of Laphroaig club.
Laphroaig Cairdeas Origin 2012 Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky (non-chill filtered; 51.2 percent ABV; $75): This delicious whisky, like every expression we’ve ever come across from this distillery, is distinctly Laphroaig: an exuberant and uncompromising yet complex blast of medicinal iodine, oily peat smoke, and brine, all with a hint of sweetness and a wisp of clove. Yet this expression also offers unusual sweet citrus fruit and chocolate fudge notes, rendering the iodine and brine a bit muted. The palate is a tad sweeter than expected too, with much of the usual Laphroaig complex assertiveness, and with additional unexpected flavors of nutella-like chocolate, ginger, apples and sweet vanilla. Those wanting that typical beast-out-of-the-cage gusto that provides Laphroaig’s visceral appeal will not be wholly disappointed, though here the critter seems slightly more frolicsome than ferocious, and beckons additional unhesitant sampling. The long and comforting finish continues the sweetness, but with just enough of that traditional Laphroaig oomph to remind you that even a circus lion is still king of the jungle, and can rip the smile off of your face just as easily as it induced it. This is a splendid and beguiling riff on Laphroaig. L’Chaim!