Try Some Gruner

Reviews of Shirah Gruner Veltliner John Sebastiano Vineyard 2014 and Four Roses Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.


By Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon


Washington Jewish Week  June 6, 2015

four roses small batchNot all that long ago, perhaps a few decades, the wine world was remarkably dull by today’s standards. Wines were made in traditional locations under long established regulations and methodologies. Only a few grape varietals were permitted in the production of Bordeaux, a couple others were OK in a Burgundy, and different ones in a Barolo, and so on. The Old World wine folks and fans argue that centuries of experience led to this ideal match of grape varietal to terroir, allowing for the creation of the best possible wines from the local conditions.

There is obviously something to this, as many excellent and even legendary wines were produced under this system. On the other hand, however, since the late 1970s the world has begun to recognize, from a distinctly New World wine appreciation vantage point, that the old approach stifled innovation. It further maintained the old prejudice that only European wines were worthy of consumption by the hoity-toity amongst us, and that only Old World wine production was capable of creating truly “fine wines”

Thankfully the wine world has changed. Now numerous different grape varietals are being grown in nearly every locale that can sustain a vineyard.  Wine lovers can now explore the differences between Pinot Noirs grown in Burgundy to those from, say, Oregon, Sonoma, Israel, and New Zealand.  Likewise for Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and all the other red and white “noble” grape varietals—do you prefer white Burgundy with that meal, or maybe a CA Chard, or perhaps an Aussie, or Israeli, or NY Chardonnay?  This widened vision of wine also means that increasingly one need not travel the globe to taste the “local” wines of this or that place, such as the unpronounceable grape varietals of Georgia, Greece, Cyprus, or even Turkey.

Consider Gruner Veltliner, the primary Austrian white wine grape varietal that is also being grown with much success here in the United States.  Called “Gru-Vee” in some circles, it is often made in a light, early-drinking style, but it also has the potential to be produced as a lush, well-structured wine that will grow more complex with age. Gruner’s distinctive acidity, characteristic fruitiness and signature pepper accent make it a very summer-food friendly wine.

A delightful kosher example, the only one presently available anywhere that we know of, can be had from California’s Shirah Wine Company.  Definitely worth a try! Shirah Gruner Veltliner John Sebastiano Vineyard 2014 ($35) opens with melon and jasmine aromas, which lead into green apple, mango, peach, white pepper and herbal flavors, with a notable minerality and bright citrus acidity. Very tasty and most refreshing.

Spirits-wise, our attentions were drawn to the recent, and much welcomed, announced expansion of the Four Roses Distillery. It was only a matter of time before Kirin, the Japanese parent company, decided to pull the trigger on this. They are already running at full capacity round the clock to crank out a mere 4 million proof gallons a year just to satisfy projected demand. Now, according to a May 28th report from the always reliable Janet Patton of the Lexington Herald Leader, Four Roses has announced plans for a “$55 million expansion, including a new still and more warehouses to age its bourbon, which has seen double-digit sales increases in recent years.”

Built in 1910, the Four Roses Distillery stands just south of Lawrenceburg and was built in an unlikely Spanish-mission style suggesting locales south of the Rio Grande, or at least west of it. The distillery is on the National Register of Historic Places. Another unusual aspect of Four Roses is that none of the straight bourbon whiskies regularly produced there since the late 1950s were available for purchase in the United States as it was all shipped out overseas to Europe and Asia.

Then in 2002 Four Roses was sold to its primary Asian distributor, the Kirin Brewing Company of Japan. Kirin reintroduced the Four Roses Straight Bourbon Whiskey to the United States where it was being brilliantly made for all those decades. Further, Kirin unleashed the creative energies of master distiller Jim Rutledge (who will be celebrating his 50th anniversary there later this year), increased production, and greatly improved distribution. This new expansion will increase production and, crucially, warehousing. To toast this thoroughly good news, we do so with their classic small batch release:

Four Roses Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (45 percent abv; $30): a lovely, soft, delicate, sweet yet multilayered bourbon. With aromas of sweet vanilla, honey, citrus and a little spice (adding water introduces some floral notes too), and somewhat luscious yet nicely integrated flavors of burnt sugar, fruit, candied ginger, a little mint, rye grain, white pepper, nutmeg, fresh coconut, mild toffee and caramel, and with vanilla and spice reappearing on the light but pleasantly lengthy finish. Delicious! L’Chaim!

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