The “New Wine” For Jews
Reviews of the Covenant Solomon Lot 70 Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 and several SMWS single cask Scotch whiskies.
By Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon
Washington Jewish Week November 20, 2012
While wine has a pivotal role in Jewish life, whisky and other spirits, especially single malt Scotch whisky, have become quite the rage in shuls all across the country. Rare is the kiddush these days that does not offer at least a cheap single malt. (There are, of course, synagogues that are completely dry – but such institutions are wholly foreign to us – we mean, come on, “dry”? Really, why bother?) Reflecting this trend is the newly formed “Jewish Whisky Company,” an independent bottler that offers single cask whiskies under its “Single Cask Nation” label (www.singlecasknation.com; the first of these whiskies will soon be released, and likely reviewed here).
So why whisky, why not wine? Well, why not? Not satisfying enough? Okay, so one likely explanation is that Jewish wine lovers, especially those who drink or used to drink high-end nonkosher wine, know what they are missing. That is, wine lovers familiar with the full range of kosher wine know full well that as good as kosher wine can be these days, the nonkosher market is so much more highly developed and offers so much more.
When it comes to whisky, by contrast, just about every variety is available and Jews can enjoy exactly as much as non-Jews (the only limits being those who worry about wine influence and, of course, Passover-related concerns). As Jeff Morgan, the kosher Covenant Winery’s extremely talented winemaker, has noted, “Scotch has become the new wine for many Jews,” since there is no reason to “drink second-rate kosher wine when they can drink first-rate scotch.” Ironic, really, since not only are there numerous high-quality kosher wines currently available across nearly all price points, but Jeff Morgan produces some of the world’s best kosher wines.
The Covenant Solomon Lot 70 Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 is limited in availability and certainly pricey but is a delicious example of the heights that a kosher wine can reach. Produced from vineyards that are owned by the award-winning Rudd Estate Winery, it is a multifaceted, complex effort with intensely rich black fruit and blueberry aromas and flavors of spicy plum, blackberry and cassis with accents of cherry, mocha, tobacco and truffles on a firm frame of tannins and an expanding, mouth-filling finish that seems to linger forever. It hasn’t even begun to reach its potential and should be cellared for at least seven to 10 years before opening.
Spirits-wise, since we were just discussing single malt Scotch whisky, we thought we’d mention that there is a terrific Scotch whisky tasting in D.C. coming up on Nov. 28. For those of you keeping tabs on us, and since we are determined to give this tasting a plug, we ought to mention that this is the same tasting we mentioned previously that was supposed to take place last month – but which was postponed due to Hurricane Sandy. Also, this gives us an excuse to revisit the single cask, single malt selections from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society of America (SMWSA.com) – one of the greatest independent bottlers of single malt Scotch whisky and the host of the upcoming tasting.
The 19th annual “Single Malt & Scotch Whisky Extravaganza” will be held on Nov. 28 at the JW Marriott Hotel from 7 p.m.-9 p.m.; business casual, jackets preferred; no denim or athletic attire. The cost is $135.00 for each SMWSA member and $150.00 for nonmembers.
The society’s whiskies are practically liquid history, rather than regular whisky. Each cask yields but a few hundred bottles, and once the cask has been emptied, that’s it. You may never taste another whisky like it ever again. Some of these unique whiskies will be available at the Nov. 28 tasting.
Since the SMWSA is more about flavors and character than brands and distilleries, they bottle their whiskies without explicit regard for the whisky’s parent distillery or single malt brand.
Consequently, the whisky bottles are labeled with a simple numbering system and fanciful flavor-name. Our first of three SMWSA bottlings this week is Cask No. 26.84 called “Moorland after rain.” The number 26 is its numeric code for the Clynelish Distillery from Brora, Sutherland in the northern Scottish Highlands, and the second number is the number relevant to the current cask – so this whisky is from the 84th cask of Clynelish that the society released.
SMWSA 26.84 or “Moorland after rain” (Clynelish Distillery; 49.1 percent abv; 21 years old; $145): this smooth, oily, sweet-leaning whisky offers herbal, citrus, old leather and slightly off green apple aromas, followed by lovely tastes of honey, mint, vanilla, wax, and citrus fruits. The finish is enjoyably long, slightly bitter and slightly woody, with hints of peat. Unusual, but most enjoyable (neat – don’t bother with any water in this one).
SMWSA 33.113 or “Sweet, peaceful dreams” (Ardbeg Distillery; 60.4 percent abv; 8 years old; $85): this fun, complex, character-full whisky begins with aromas of sweet ginger, mild smoke, brine, traces of iodine, sulfur and mild wafts of unripe banana followed by delicious notes of cookout char, pepper, spicy ginger and a little nutmeg, with a finish that commands attention and reminds you that this is a feisty, young Ardbeg. Good fun.
SMWSA 93.47 or “Seaweed, sushi and Arbroath smokies” (Glen Scotia Distillery; 59.7 percent abv; 9 years old; $90): we’ve no idea what “Arbroath smokies” with sushi and seaweed might taste like, but this is a very pleasant, slightly nutty whisky with aromas and flavors of almonds, black tea, juniper berries, apple, brine, puffs of concentrated but not over-strong, slightly sweet smoked fish, and lovely though slightly muted earthy notes. L’Chaim!