Our Top 10 kosher wines $30 and up for the past year along with a look at Diageo’s Orphan Barrel Whiskey Project.
By Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon
Washington Jewish Week September 4, 2014
During the Jewish month of Elul, the final month in the Jewish calendar, we are enjoined to reflect on where we stand and where we should be going in life. Thus it is also a perfect time to look back and select our top wines from the previous year. This week we will focus on wines costing $30 or more and that are worthy of the expense. That is, these wines are either to collect and cellar or, better yet, to share with family and special friends. Next week we will look at the top 10 value-priced wines we especially enjoyed this past year.
Here is our list:
The enchanting Castel Rosé du Castel 2013 ($34, from Israel’s Domaine du Castel winery) is a blend of Merlot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc that opens with strawberry and floral aromas leading into grapefruit, cherry, raspberry and strawberry flavors with tart citrus acidity for balance and a pleasing mineral infused finish.
Another from the same winery is the bright and ideally balanced Domaine du Castel “C” Chardonnay 2012 ($ 47) that boasts a buttery aroma along with rich flavors of apricots, peach, apples and lemon along with well-integrated, toasty oak and a notable minerality that all comes together seamlessly and flows smoothly into the lingering and refreshing finish.
The Psagot Edom 2011 ($36) is a full-bodied blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot that begins with dark fruit aromas which extend into flavors of dark currants, red berries, plums, vanilla oak and spicy chocolate along with some earthy and smoked meat notes and a satisfyingly long finish.
From France’s Bordeaux region is the elegant, full-bodied Chateau Rollan de By 2010 ($45) that opens with black currant, earth and cedar aromas with soft tannins providing a smooth background for the layers of plum, cassis, mint, coffee and spice that extend throughout the lengthy finish.
The exceptional Capcanes Flor del Flor de Primavera 2010 ($75) is bursting with floral and red berry aromas along with layers of blueberry, raspberry and plum flavors, along with coffee, oak, dark chocolate and spice.
While not for every palate (nor wallet), the extraordinary Chateau Guiraud Sauternes 2001 ($150) is creamy, honeyed and full-bodied, expressing aromas of butterscotch, apples and vanilla that mingle within lush layers of apricots, peaches, baking spices and orange citrus. The intense sweetness, concentrated flavors and ideal balance last throughout the extended finish, easily making this one of the world’s finest kosher dessert wines.
The Shiloh Shor Barbera 2009 ($30) is a lovely example of a varietal that is showing much promise in Israel. Fruit forward with good acidity for balance and the structure to work well with heavier dishes, it expresses coffee, currant and berry scents that lead into spicy red fruit touched with herbs and some vanilla and oak in the finish.
The Trestle Glen Estate Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 ($50) from Sonoma’s B. R. Cohn Winery is softer and more elegant than the bigger cabernets often created in Napa. It shows dark plum, cherry and raspberry flavors within a medium-bodied, slightly spicy and herbal frame along with cedar, chocolate and blackberries in the longish finish.
The Agua Dulce Winery Zinfandel 2010 ($30) from grapes grown in the Sierra Pelona Valley, in northern Los Angeles County, offers a powerful, explosive nose of fruit and spice, is medium to full-bodied, and is a complex, richly layered and well structured Zinfandel, with lovely dark fruit and spice notes, and a pleasing, lengthy finish.
The Flam Blanc 2012 ($30) is a blend of 55 percent Sauvignon Blanc and 45 percent Chardonnay from the Mata vineyard in the Judean hills that is wonderfully fresh and complex with apples, oranges and a pleasant grassiness on a lemon and spice frame.
Spirits-wise, we thought we’d take a look at a new product that dusts off an old, shop-worn marketing ploy for an ironic spin round the block—at least, we hope it’s ironic. The new product is called “The Orphan Barrel Whiskey Project”, the latest from Diageo, the world’s largest drinks company. As the press release put it, this project is “an endeavor to rescue long forgotten barrels of rare and delicious whiskey…we like to think the project is founded in dark, quiet corners of rickhouses around the world where artisanal whiskies were forgotten, just waiting to be discovered.”
The idea being that the “Orphan Barrel Whiskey Distilling Company,” the non-distillery front company Diageo created for this project, is some group of Indiana Jones like whiskey explorers seeking out long abandoned, or “orphaned”, whiskey hidden away in rickhouses (the American whiskey term for whiskey warehouses where barrels are laid to rest and mature).
The very notion that a well oiled, highly profitable corporate giant like Diageo has more than a teacup full of “orphaned” distilled spirit anywhere in its system is fairly risible, even when allowing for bureaucratic hiccups. For one thing, the company needs to pay duty (tax) on all of it, and woe-betide anyone who begrudges Uncle Sam his pound of flesh.
This is, rather, simply an old Scotch whisky marketing ploy brought to bourbon: dressing up old unallocated whiskey in new garb without the bother of developing a proper brand for each individual “limited” release. Diageo has so far released three aged Orphan Barrel bourbons with tongue in cheek, old-timey names (“Barterhouse”, “Blowhard”, and “Rhetoric”), and glitzy retro packaging. Some have been put out by this pose, but it seems clear to us that this is ironic, and somebody at Diageo is having a laugh with the branding—figuring that while us whiskey geek types might go nuts, enough whiskey consumers would be bowled over by the taste and quality of the actual whiskey inside the packaging. We think they are largely safe in assuming that this will yield profit, not loss. The whiskey is actually pretty good, though pricey.
Although these whiskies were bottled at Diageo’s George Dickel Distillery in Tennessee, and aged for a time at Diageo’s mothballed Stitzel-Weller Distillery, these “new” Orphan Barrel whiskies were actually distilled at the Bernheim Distillery (which Diageo used to own)—”Barterhouse” and “Rhetoric” were distilled at the old Bernheim Distillery (pre-1991) and “Old Blowhard” was distilled at the New Bernheim Distillery (the old Bernheim Distillery was torn down in 1991 to make way for the new distillery in 1992), and all with the classic Old Bernheim Distillery mash bill of 86 percent corn, 8 percent malted barley and 6 percent rye.
Seem confusing? Well, no matter, stay focused on the taste and quality. Without further ado:
Old Blowhard Kentucky Bourbon, aged 26 years (45.35 percent abv; $150) intense and fruity nose, with plenty of spice (nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, peppermint, and a touch of smoke, followed on the palate by flavors of toffee, maple syrup, caramel, vanilla, and spice, but all is overpowered by heavy oak. Water opens it up a bit, bringing out some fruit and even chocolate notes, but the wood punches back, and the finish is a touch brutish. Intriguing and contemplative, but not at that price.
Rhetoric Kentucky Bourbon, aged 20 years (45 percent abv; $85) offers a nose of spice, caramel, and leather, while the palate alternates between sweet and spicy with strong flashes dried fruit and oak, with apple, honey and caramel punching back against the oak. The finish has a bit of burn, but a satisfying, manly burn that turns slightly spicy and black peppery. Water helps mellow and tame the proceedings a bit. Edgy but tasty.
Barterhouse Kentucky Bourbon, aged 20 years (45.1 percent abv; $75), exhibits a lovely creamy, buttery, sweet nose with notes and flavors of brown sugar, honey, vanilla, custard, toasted marshmallow, fruit crumble, and distinct notes of dried apricot, a touch of cinnamon, and surprisingly little oakiness. The finish is soft and mellow. Pricey, soft and subtle, but delicious! L’Chaim!