A review of the Tulip Just Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, the Tulip Just Merlot 2010 and the Glennfiddich Cask of Dreams Single Malt Scotch Whisky.
By Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon
Washington Jewish Week March 28, 2012
With the onset of spring it seems appropriate that our next Passover seder wine suggestions are from Israel’s Tulip Winery.
Established in 2003 by the Yitzhaki family, the winery rests on a hillside overlooking the Jezreel Valley in Kfar Tikva, a unique community that is home to 200 emotionally and developmentally disabled adults aged 20 to 74. This pastoral “Village of Hope” is recognized as one of the most innovative locations in Israel for adults with special needs. The village has a staff of 85, and 20 full-time volunteers from Israel and abroad, and their philosophy includes integrating the residents within the community at large, and providing creative and productive outlets for them – such as working at the local candle factory, craft workshops or the Tulip Winery.
Several of the Kfar Tikva residents are employed at the Tulip Winery, participating in different aspects of wine production and winery activity – from taking part in the harvest, helping to bottle and package wines, to staffing the winery’s visitor center. When Tulip first decided to go kosher, however, their community work with the residents of Kfar Tikvah raised some rabbinic concerns.
Nonreligious employees always pose a certain basic level of concern in any kosher winery. It’s nothing insurmountable if the desire to go kosher is strong enough, but it certainly requires training, policies and protocols and often newer winery technology to better control human contact with the grape juice and the wine. The additional “special needs” dimension required additional attention and sensitivity to developing the most appropriate and workable kashrut supervision arrangements and understandings. The OK U.S.-based kosher certification agency developed a workable approach – one which involved some shifting of employee roles, and, most dramatic, a separation of the winery’s visitor center from the winery itself, enabling the center to continue to stay open on Shabbos and to offer tastings.
One of Tulip’s most interesting projects is the “Do Not Label” initiative which “was created out of the belief that labels should be put on wine, not on an entire population.” They held an art contest among the Kfar Tikva residents and the winner, David Ashkenazi, designed a colorful label that now adorns their Bordeaux-style blend “Black Tulip.” Another resident designed the label for their port-style “Esperanza” whose Spanish name translates into “hope.”
Tulip produces nearly 100,000 bottles annually from vineyards scattered throughout Israel in several series including a single varietal “Reserve,” their “Just” series and their “Mostly” line of varietal blends. The delightfully aromatic Tulip Just Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 ($29) begins with currant, cocoa and raspberry aromas that extend into plum, vanilla, cassis and tobacco notes mixed nicely with oak and blackberries. The Tulip Just Merlot 2010 ($29) is softer and scented with spicy plum and cloves along with flavors of dark berries and cherries accented with cedar and blueberries.
Shifting from a winery with such a strong, positive, feel-good, community-conscience outlook to any old grain alcohol can be a tad de-spiriting, if you’ll forgive pun. So spirits-wise, we thought we’d turn for our final pre-Passover selection to the new limited edition Glenfiddich Cask of Dreams Single Malt Scotch Whisky (48.8 percent ABV; $115.99).
The “Cask of Dreams” expression is part of the Glenfiddich Distillery’s yearlong 125th Anniversary celebrations over here in the U.S. The Glenfiddich Distillery was actually founded in 1886 by William Grant, but the first spirit did not roll off the stills until Dec. 25, 1887 – 125 years ago. Since that moment, Glenfiddich has grown to become one of the world’s greatest selling single malt Scotch whiskies – and all the while the distillery has remained not just in Scottish hands, but in the same Scottish family’s hands: William Grant & Sons.
Why “Cask of Dreams”? Here’s the basic premise: Last year, in 2011, Glenfiddich shipped 11 brand new American white oak casks from the Ozarks to different major American cities and encouraged folks to sign the barrels with notes of their life-inspirations. Each “signing event” was obviously a whisky-tasting affair at which folks had fun, drank copious amounts of whisky, and presumably solidified – even if only a little bit – their loyalty to the mighty Glenfiddich brand.
These U.S.-fan-autographed casks were then shipped back to the distillery and filled with specially selected mature (14 to 16 years old) single malt whisky that had previously aged exclusively in used-bourbon casks. The whisky was further “finished” for three months in the new virgin white oak barrels in Warehouse Number 8 for an additional three months of close monitoring by Glenfiddich Malt Master Brian Kinsman. Only 3,500 bottles were produced from these 11 casks.
The primary maturation in used bourbon barrels brings certain qualities to the whisky – vanilla, for example, floral characteristic, and generally some degree of smoke from the charring. All oak barrels must be charred in the production of bourbon. Finishing this whisky in uncharred virgin oak in which the cask is more chemically volatile imparts flavor characteristics that tend to be more pungent – especially in the short term. This is why Kinsman sampled the whisky every few weeks, just to make certain this marketing wheeze didn’t result in over-oaked, resin and stewed-fruit driven, flat and uninspired whisky. It is very easy for such experiments to go horribly wrong – in which case the whisky would probably have been dumped into a blend where its negative qualities could be washed out by sheer volume. So even though three months seems a particularly short period of time for “finishing” a whisky – rest assured that it was cut short for good reason.
Part marketing schtick and part excellent wood management, this “Cask of Dreams” whisky is a delightful and dangerously easy drinking single malt. The whisky presents with aromas and flavors of fruit leather, dried fig, dried apricot, dried black cherry, overripe pear, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, black pepper, fruit cake, oodles of (sweet) vanilla, toffee, caramel, honey, baked apple, sweet malt, drying, spicy oak (and even some sweet cedar wood aromas), all with a rich, lingering, satisfying finish. Another delicious limited edition from Glenfiddich. More, please. L’Chaim!