Review of the Kadma Syrah 2011 and Tomatin 18 Year Old, Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky.


By Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon


Washington Jewish Week  January 8, 2015


kadma syrahAmong the many programs established by the United Nations is the “Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.” The purpose of the catalog is to ensure the continued viability of specific folk practices and encourage dialog to reflect “cultural diversity.” This list (available at www.unesco.org/culture) is a fascinating collection of obscure and eclectic customs and traditions.

Among the 314 elements currently on the list are two wine related items; a method of pruning grapevines called “alberello pantesco” employed on a small Italian island off the coast of Sicily to produce sweet wines from the Zibbibo grape and a Georgian winemaking technique that utilizes large earthenware vessels called “kvevri”.

Records suggest that Georgia (the country, not the US state) has the oldest winemaking tradition in the world dating from at least 6000 BC. Traditionally the insides of the semi-egg-shaped kvevri are coated with beeswax. Winemakers traditionally filled the kvevri with crushed grapes and then partially buried them to maintain a constant temperature during fermentation.

There is evidence that suggests that ancient Israeli winemakers utilized a similar technique, which is one of the reasons that the Slutzkin family imported 21 of the huge, handmade jugs to use at their family-owned boutique kosher winery, Kadma, located in Kfar Uriah. Winemaker Lina Slutzkin emigrated from Georgia at age 8, eventually working as a software engineer at Intel for 20 years. When her family decided to make wine it seemed natural to include the enormous jugs that she saw during her early childhood in Tbilisi.

Opened in 2011, the family run Kadma Winery combines the ancient with the contemporary. Since the Israeli soil temperatures get too high to permit burial, the enormous clay jugs (they weight nearly a ton when filled), are kept upright on a narrow base in the winery. The initial fermentations occur in these “tuns” then, like modern wineries, the wines are transferred into wooden barrels for aging. Their award-winning Kadma Syrah 2011 displays the typical fruit and spice of the varietal, though it must be said that it is difficult at this stage to determine the influence, if any, of the Georgian fermentation vessels. Perhaps as the winery itself matures the effect of this Georgian technique will become more apparent in the wines. Both as an experiment and an affirmation of heritage, Kadma bears watching.

Before moving along to our spirit selection, we thought we’d take a moment to respond to a reader letter.

Clare Feinson of Washington, DC, thoughtfully wrote to “correct” our November 13, 2014 article “Remembering ‘the Baroness’”, to note that Chateau Mouton-Rothschild did not, despite our claim to the contrary, have a label designed by Picasso. Her source is pretty good: she visited the Chateau in 1973, and, in her words, “Picasso had just died weeks before, and I noticed that there was no label by him, so I asked about it. The worker launched into a long diatribe about how very upset the Baron was because Picasso had died before the Baron had a chance to ask him to design a label. Everyone thought it was very funny, and we should all have troubles like that!”

We were all set to consider ourselves duly corrected, but for the nagging sense that we’d actually seen the label before. Sure enough, the 1973 vintage (which may be viewed online here: http://www.chateau-mouton-rothschild.com/label-art/discover-the-artwork/pablo-picasso) features a label by Pablo Picasso. It is also noteworthy that the 1973 vintage was a milestone for the Chateau: it was the year the French government officially reclassified the wines of Chateau Mouton-Rothschild to “first growth” status, something Baron Philippe de Rothschild had been agitating for many years. In celebration of the Chateau’s official elevation in status, the label for the 1973, the Picasso label, was made larger than any other of the winery’s labels before or since. Alas, by all accounts the 1973 vintage was a lousy one for Bordeaux, and everyone seems to agree that any bottles of this still unconsumed would have turned to vinegar decades ago.

So does this mean we are right, and Clare Feinson is wrong? No. On the contrary, Feinson’s account has all the tell-tale signs of truth. Why would the worker showing her around the estate make up and embellish such a story in the very year the Picasso design was to be employed?

A little investigation reveals that, of course, Feinson’s account is correct. Upon the top of the 1973 label is found “En hommage a Picasso (1881 – 1973)” indicating that this is a posthumous impression. Had we been bigger devotees of Picasso’s work, or had we studied the label more closely, we would also have known that the work in question, ‘‘Bacchanale’’, dates (as the label gives precisely) to 22.12.1959 (from a watercolor and goache on paper), and was from the Musee de Mouton. It seems that Picasso had only recently died when his family discussed the possibility of Mouton-Rothschild using one of his paintings for their label, the image of dancing forms drunk on wine, swirling together, and already in the Rothschilds’ own collection, seemed most appropriate. The label was reproduced with the permission of Picasso’s daughter, Paloma.

What better way to start the New Year than with a little invigorating revisit and correction. Thank you Clare Feinson! We appreciate all comments from our readers, especially when it helps us get it right.

Of course, a little guiding spirit wouldn’t go amiss either. So this week we are reacquainting ourselves with the following:

Tomatin 18 Year Old, Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky (46 percent abv; $65; finished in Oloroso Sherry casks): This lush, bold, lovely whisky offers aromas of honey, malted barley, vanilla oak and spiced fruit, with sweet and full flavors of toffee apple, chocolate, nut, raison, prune, and sugared ginger. The finish is long and robust, with a touch of black pepper and dry, tannic oak. Solid, delicious whisky. L’Chaim!

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