Wine and Memories

Review of Four Gates Pinot Noir 2009 and Westland American Single Malt Whiskey.


By Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon


Washington Jewish Week  January 29, 2015


Westland WhiskeyOne of the lovely things about wine is the way drinking of a particularly pleasant one can stir an involuntary memory and evoke recollections of the past without conscious effort. Likewise, wine can sometimes cue a subconscious mental filtering and sifting of long ago accumulated trivial data, bringing the mental detritus to one’s immediate attention. For one of us, for example, a recently tasted wine called to mind the great film director Alfred Hitchcock (we are both ardent fans).

An avid wine drinker with a fabulous cellar, wine also figured prominently in many of Hitchcock’s films. In fact, nearly all of Hitchcock’s 50+ films contain at least a notable moment or two where the protagonists are drinking booze, usually wine.

He not only drank a lot of fine wine, he was not shy about sharing it and entertaining with it. Mel Brooks tells a great story of Hitchcock’s reaction to his 1977 film “High Anxiety,” Brooks’ relentless parody of Hitchcock’s cinematic conventions and oeuvre: “…he eventually saw a rough cut of High Anxiety. He enjoyed it. But he said nothing after it. He just left. I thought he wasn’t happy. The next day, about 11 o’clock in the morning, I get this enormous, beautiful case of Chateau Haut-Brion 1961. That was almost 20 years old [at the time]. I mean, it was priceless. And there were magnums, six of them, in a wooden case. Haut-Brion. I mean, oh my God.”

Hitchcock was also very fond of showing off his wine cellar at his Bel-Air mansion, and loved to entertain at his winemaking estate, named “Heart O’ The Mountain”, located in CA’s Santa Cruz mountains. The current owners of Hitchcock’s old wine estate actively produce well regarded Pinot Noir wines, available only directly from them.

Why did all of this come fluttering back to mind? While the Pinot Noir wines from the old Hitchcock estate are not kosher, there are highly regarded kosher Pinot Noir wines being produced from the same region. Consider, for example, the kosher non-mevushal Four Gates Pinot Noir 2009 (also only available directly from the winery: Beginning with aromas of blueberry, raspberry and dark cherry, the wine displays precise balance within a medium frame of cherry, black fruit and cola and subtle oak along with a pleasantly lengthy finish. Ok, so maybe this seemed a bit of a stretch to getting around to talking about this week’s recommend wine, but such is the nature of involuntary memory. OK?

Spirits-wise, we thought we’d begin to venture into considering some of the domestic craft-distilleries out there. First up is a lovely American single malt whiskey from Seattle’s Westland Distillery (founded in 2010). The Pacific Northwest is a long way from Scotland, but the quality and complexity Westland brings to the table is most impressive. Made from barley grown in Washington State, with a mash bill of five different roasted and kilned malts, Belgian brewer’s yeast, and aged in new American Oak casks, Westland Distillery means business. As Matt Hofmann, the master distiller explains: “We looked at it with a fresh point of view. We were looking at the different types of malts you can use—these specialty malts that nobody has really explored yet. It’s the same thing with the yeast. We use brewer’s yeast instead of distiller’s yeast for the flavor it offers…We want to take these things and push them in a new direction… We’re playing by the same rules as those in Scotland—it’s the same three ingredients—but there’s so much that’s untapped.”  Without further ado:

Westland American Single Malt Whiskey (46 percent abv; $79): Impressive with full and deep aromas and flavors of creamy vanilla custard, roasted nuts, walnuts, barley, toffee, a little coffee, raisins and caramel notes. This is hefty and delicious, with enough complexity and zing to lure even fervent Scotch whisky fans away, at least for a little while. L’Chaim!

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