The holidays are a great reason to pour some special wines with friends and family. And while we seldom need an excuse to enjoy some sparkling wine, and have frequently complained such wines are too often saved for “special occasions,” at this time of year, a bit of bubbly does seem appropriate.
Sparkling wines are very versatile and range in style from bone dry to very sweet, full to light in body and very fruity to more reserved. Their variability is determined by the grape varietals chosen, the method of production, and, of course, the skill and artistry of the winemaker. There is a sparkler to go with nearly every cuisine making it one of the world’s most food-friendly wines.
A delightfully refreshing, value-priced sparkling wine to consider this holiday season is Prosecco from Deccolio. Prosecco is made in northeastern Italy, specifically the Friuli, Venezia, Giulia and Veneto regions. Prosecco is rendered naturally bubbly via a secondary fermentation in bulk stainless steel tanks and bottling under pressure to preserve the wine’s bubbly quality. This charming Deccolio offering was made by Welner Wines, a family wine company founded by Shimshon Welner in 2002. Formerly an Israeli wine pioneer and co-founder of Israel’s Golan Height Winery, Welner, his wife Liora and their son Yahav together established Welner Wines to focus on high-quality, value-priced kosher wines from around the world including Chile, Israel, Spain, Italy, France, South Africa, Argentina and Australia.
The Deccolio Prosecco ($ 11), found at Whole Foods Markets, has floral, green apple and tangerine aromas that develop into honey, pear and lemon flavors in a medium-bodied, nicely effervescent frame with hints of mineral and spice in the finish.
Spirits-wise, we turn our thoughts back to bourbon to review some basic American whiskey laws, and contemplate an interesting recent revelation. In the whisky geek world, there is a tremendous hubbub at the moment about Templeton Rye and, secondarily, about Tito’s Handmade Vodka, both of which have been subject to recent class action lawsuits alleging shenanigans about their marketing and labeling practices that, so the lawsuits contend, are aimed at deceiving consumers about the true nature of their products. At some other less festive time we’ll maybe comment a little more on all of that, but suffice it now to instead focus for a moment on the U.S. federal regulatory code. Sure, federal regulations are boring and are liable to, well, drive one to drink … but when it is the regulations of the very palliative hooch to which one might turn, we think it worth a moment of our time.
The regulations are promulgated, interpreted and enforced by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), an agency of the United States Treasury. As most whisky geeks ought to know – as per the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations Title 27 on “Alcohol, Tobacco Products and Firearms,” in Chapter 1 on “ALCOHOL AND TOBACCO TAX AND TRADE BUREAU, DEPARTMENT OF THE TREASURY,” Subchapter A on “Alcohol”, Part 5 on the “labeling and advertising of distilled spirits,” Subpart C on “Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits”, subsection 22(b)(1)(i)—” ‘bourbon whisky’, ‘rye whisky’, ‘wheat whisky’, ‘malt whisky’, or ‘rye malt whisky’ [all spelled without the “e” in the federal code despite that the traditional American spelling is ‘whiskey’] is whisky produced … from a fermented mash of not less than 51 percent corn, rye, wheat, malted barley, or malted rye grain, respectively, and stored … in charred new oak containers; and also includes mixtures of such whiskies of the same type.”
There is no minimum age statement until you get a little further down in the regs. 27 CFR § 5.22(b)(1)(iii) “Whiskies … which have been stored in the type of oak containers prescribed, for a period of 2 years or more shall be further designated as ‘straight.’ ” So a “straight” whiskey guarantees a minimum age, but not a whiskey without that designation. Further, as per 27 CFR § 5.42(b)(3)(iii), bourbon that is bottled in bond must be at least four years old. If any bourbon is less than four years old, it must state the age on the label (27 CFR § 5.40).
To make this all a bit more interesting … or not (sorry non-whisky geeks, just skip to the end for your booze recommendation), in Section 5.23 on “Alteration of Class and Type,” one finds in (a)(2) that “there may be added to any class or type of distilled spirits, without changing the class or type thereof, (i) such harmless coloring, flavoring, or blending materials as are an essential component part of the particular class or type of distilled spirits” such additives as (ii) “caramel, straight malt or straight rye malt whiskies, fruit juices, sugar, infusion of oak chips when approved by the Director, or wine, which are not an essential component part of the particular distilled spirits to which added, but which are customarily employed therein in accordance with established trade usage,” provided these added “materials do not total more than 2 1/2 percent by volume of the finished product.”
Consumers, especially kosher consumers, take note. What this means is, if the whiskey claims to be a “straight” bourbon or rye or whatever, than by law it can’t have any of the “harmless coloring, flavoring, or blending materials” described in Title 27, Chapter 1, Subchapter A, Part 5, Subpart C, 5.23(a)(2). If it doesn’t claim to be “straight,” however, than it may contain all that other crap and it need not inform consumers on the label because the product “type” is not considered altered with the junk mixed in.
This would seem to suggest that non “straight” bourbon can have these “harmless” adulterations added, but no. The TTB’s “Beverage Alcohol Manual” – not an official regulation, but it is a guideline as to how the TTB interprets the official regulation – states that bourbon of any kind (not just straight) cannot contain coloring, flavoring or blenders, though it would be permitted in nonstraight rye, wheat and corn whiskeys. Why the exception? Well, according to the TTB: bourbon whisky does not customarily include usage of these “harmless” adulterants (straight or otherwise), so it would not be permitted.
So why did all this come up? Well, Templeton Rye, which as we noted is subject to a lawsuit about alleged deceptive marketing practices, has only very recently revealed in a public interview that its product, labeled as “small batch rye whiskey,” actually contains a “flavoring” ingredient pursuant to Section 5.23(a)(2). Oh, and that it is actually distilled for them in Lawrenceburg, Ind., by MGP Ingredients rather than by Templeton Rye Spirits, LLC in Templeton, Iowa. Also that the recipe is an MGP standard, not a proprietary mash bill just for their product, but the sourced “flavoring” component is “proprietary” and so is the only element differentiating its hooch from MGP’s standard recipe rye whiskey. Ugh, well, good luck with that lawsuit boys.
As we contemplate all this, we do so on and honest, no-frills, humble but reliable classic:
Old Grand-Dad 100 Proof Bonded Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (50 percent abv; $19): there are several expressions available, but this is our favorite – an old-fashioned brusque and tough, spicy and dry whiskey that commands respect, often inspires a comparatively outre “whiskey face” during consumption, yet offers a sumptuous, buttery feel on the palate with a lovely balance of wood, grain and yeast, that manages to be both sweet and spicy, with additional aromas and flavors of rye, cinnamon, tangy fruit, ginger and allspice. L’Chaim!