Wine Bath

Reviews of  Neve Midbar 2011 and several Glenfarclas Single Highland Malt Scotch Whiskies.


By Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon


Washington Jewish Week  November 6, 2014


glenfarclasProfessional basketball star Amar’e Stoudemire, who proudly proclaims an ill-defined Jewish heritage of some sort—“I am a Hebrew through my mother” is how he put it in 2010, though his agent was quick to note “but he is not [Jewish]. He thinks there may be some Jewish blood on his mother’s side and he is researching it”—has added something called “vinotherapy” to his post-workout recovery program. Sounds like code for simply getting buzzed on wine, right? Well, not in this instance.

Vinotherapy involves immersing or soaking in either a dilution of red wine or wine making detritus—grape skins, leaves, branches, and vines. After each vinotherapy treatment Stoudemire told reporters that: “my legs felt rejuvenated. I felt great, so I’m going to continue to do that for sure.”According to the NY Daily News, the New York Knicks forward has been taking these 40 minute long vinotherapy treatments on his off days for the last 8 months or so.

Sure one can chalk this up to the silliness of the rich and famous, but there is arguably a bit of science to this luxury fad. OK, a just a little bit, but still…it merits our attention here.

Red wine contains compounds called polyphenols (of which the most famous is resveratrol) which have some purported health benefits. There is an entire literature related to the health benefits of wine and the so-called “French Paradox” (the 1980’s era catchphrase regarding the apparent anomalous epidemiological observation that the French suffer less heart disease than American despite enjoying a more rich, high-fat diet). For example, Dr. Edwin Frankel of UC Davis famously released a study in 1993 that claimed potent antioxidant properties for polyphenols in red wine, and such claims were later bolstered by published studies by Dr. Richard Sinclair of the Harvard Medical School. There have also been claims that the oils in red wine grape seeds can help prevent wrinkles in human skin.

On the strength of all this, Mathilde Cathiard-Thomas, the daughter of the co-owner of the Bordeaux wine property Chateaux Smith-Haut-Lafitte, founded Caudalie, the skin-care company whose products are based upon grape seed oils. Caudalie later expanded into vinotherapy by first opening a 30 room spa-hotel near their Bordeaux estate, and they now have 6 other spas in various locations including New York City, and remain leaders in the vinotherapy field.

All of that said, and with the clear acknowledgment that are some health benefits of moderate wine consumption, there is not in fact any actual proof that applying wine or wine making detritus directly to one’s skin helps with blood circulation or skin wrinkles. If Stoudemire has a productive NBA season, we may yet see vinotherapy become a more regular accoutrement in professional sports locker rooms.

Our own preferred way to relax after a hard week involves sips not dips.

For the upcoming cooler weather consider a kosher red blend from the Ramat Negev Winery (formerly known as Kadesh Barnea), the Neve Midbar 2011 ($24). An easy drinking blend of 50 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 35 percent Petit Verdot and 15 percent Merlot, it begins with dark fruit and floral aromas that proceed within a medium frame into plum, dark cherry and leather flavors that are nicely balanced. Certainly worth sipping while relaxing in a hot tub or by a cozy fireplace.

Spirits-wise, our thoughts drifted back, as they inevitably do, to Scotland. In these days of international drink conglomerates, distant and disconnected accountant-driven decision making, leadership by executive committees, and marketing by professionals who sit hundreds if not thousands of miles away from producers, family-owned and operated distilleries in Scotland are few and far between. One of the very best, however, is the pretty Glenfarclas Distillery in Ballindalloch, Speyside, just off the A95 road between Aberlour and Grantown-on-Spey. Excellent whisky, and a fine distillery tour for all you whisky tourists out there.

The name Glenfarclas is Scots Gaelic for ‘the valley of the green grassland.’ The distillery was founded in 1836 by Robert Hay, but was bought in 1865 by John Grant and his son George (every male since is either a George or John). From 1865 until 1870, the Grants leased the distillery to John Smith who later went on to establish nearby Cragganmore distillery. Since then, the Grant family (J&G Grant) have owned and operated Glenfarclas, producing some of the very best Scotch whisky in the region.

Glenfarclas has a large portfolio of malts and a wide range of high-end limited release expressions, all with elements of the “house style” which is big, complex, nutty, malty and comparatively sweet, with the clear influence of sherry cask maturation (‘sherried’ in whisky-geek lingo). Here are a bunch of the core Glenfarclas expressions to seek out and taste.

Glenfarclas 10 year old Single Highland Malt Scotch Whisky (40 percent abv; $50): this deep, lightly sherried whisky offers rich aromas and flavors of red plums, raisins, ginger, apples, nuts, vanilla and other spices, with just a background hint of smoke. This balanced, stimulating, light but rich dram has a few youthful edges, but tastes more mature than it is.

Glenfarclas 12 year old Single Highland Malt Scotch Whisky (43 percent abv; $55): a pleasing medium bodied, sherried malt with aromas and flavors honey, spice (allspice, cloves and cinnamon), dates, walnuts, toffee, caramel apple, orange zest, and a touch of smoke, with a lengthy, warming finish.

Glenfarclas 17 year old Single Highland Malt Scotch Whisky (43 percent abv; $100): A deliciously playful, rich, big, yet refined and complex, sherried whisky, with notes of butterscotch, custard, honey, ginger, malt, dates, raisins, a touch of char and a long-lasting, slightly drying finish with a hint of spice. Wow!

Glenfarclas 21 year old Single Highland Malt Scotch Whisky (43 percent abv; $140): this fabulously rich, intense, and complex whisky is simply delicious, with smooth and creamy notes of malt, sherried and tropical fruits, walnuts and spice (nutmeg, cinnamon and allspice), vanilla custard, toffee, a little honey, and some lovely smoke and oak. A little time and water opens the aromatics up immensely. A lovely, oh so satisfying experience.

Glenfarclas 25 year old Single Highland Malt Scotch Whisky (43 percent abv; $170): Amazing whisky. The usual Glenfarclas elements are all here in this stellar, pungent, absorbing, complex, nutty, tangy and even chocolatety whisky. Aromatically enticing, especially with a little time and a dash of water, while the palate is deceptively simple, though beautiful, it is the lengthy, mesmerizing finish where this whisky really struts its stuff. This is a smooth, balanced, fruity, sherried, and, well, simply excellent whisky.

Glenfarclas 105 Single Highland Malt Scotch Whisky (43 percent abv; $80). This is one of those sherried malts for which metaphorical seatbelts are required. This is big, rich and round, and without adding at least a dash of water is hot and warming, and with water becomes distinctly softer, sporting a longer, smoother finish. Velvety smooth with aromas and flavors of raisins, prunes, dates, baked goods, dessert wine type sweetness, something cocoa almost akin to Mexican mole sauce, with hints of what strike us as curry and even chili spices, ginger, honey and bran flakes. This is powerful, alluring, luscious and delicious. L’Chaim!

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