Israeli wines continue ancient tradition


Given the importance of wine in ancient times, it is not surprising that the writing on a clay jug fragment found in Jerusalem dating from the time of King Solomon is actually part of a wine label. University of Haifa Professor Gershon Galil believes the inscription indicated the vintage and appellation as well as quality of the wine contained within.

Modern labels, by contrast, are long on descriptors and feature nebulous terms such as “old vine” and “reserve” which more often confuse than clarify. The only time they feature a rating is when a favorable score is conferred by a wine publication or critic.

It seems appropriate to contemplate these archeological findings with a bottle of wine from the Psagot Winery, especially since Psagot founder Yaakov Berg found a Second Temple period wine press when building his dream house and planting his first vineyard. Established by Yaakov and his wife Na’ama in 2002, Psagot produces nearly 200,000 bottles annually of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, shiraz, and chardonnay.

The Psagot Edom 2011 is a full-bodied blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot that begins with dark fruit aromas which extend into flavors of dark currants, red berries, plums, vanilla oak and spicy chocolate along with some earthy and smoked meat notes and a satisfyingly long finish. It is a big wine that would pair well with substantial fare from the grill or roaster.
Spirits-wise, we thought we’d spend a little time with one of the latest “work in progress” releases from the Mitchell’s Glengyle distillery of Campbeltown, Scotland, one of only three distilleries in the area.

In Victorian times, Campbeltown was an ideal setting for whisky production, with an abundant water supply, and local reserves of coal, peat and barley. It was also then widely regarded as the whisky capital of the world, with as many as 32 licensed distilleries as early as 1759, though none of those have survived.

By the beginning of the 20th century, as Scotch historian R.J.S. McDowell memorably phrased it, “Campbeltown malts were known as the Hector of the West, the deepest voice of the choir.” Alas, it all went belly up in the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Today there are only three distilleries there — Springbank, Glengyle, and Glen Scotia. Springbank and Glengyle are both owned by J & A Mitchell and Co. Ltd., an old family firm.
The Mitchell family migrated from the Scottish lowlands to the Campbeltown area in the 1660s, where they excelled as farmers, weavers, rebels, and illicit whisky makers. By the end of the 18th century, Archibald Mitchell, the paterfamilias, had already made a name for himself as an (illicit) producer of quality whisky on the family farm.

It was the Reid family, Archibald’s machetunim (Yiddish for his children’s in-laws) who actually entered Springbank into the world of legal whisky commerce. Financial troubles hit that family and they sold it to John and William Mitchell, two of Archibald’s sons, in 1837. William left the partnership and joined his other brothers at the Reichlachan Distillery.
Today the J & A Mitchell & Co. Ltd. family firm is owned by Hedley Wright, great-great-great grandson of Archibald Mitchell.

Now William Mitchell didn’t stay with his other brothers at Reichlachan Distillery for too long before venturing out on his own and establishing the Glengyle distillery in 1872 (just down the street from Springbank). Initially successful, Glengyle closed in 1925.

Then in the late 1990s, the Scotch Whisky Association, the official trade association of the Scotch industry, made noises about possibly delisting Campbeltown as a distinct whisky region, since there were only two remaining distilleries in the town — Springbank and Glen Scotia.

Not content to lose the regional designation, Wright (Springbank’s owner) looked into his options. In 2000, he bought the Glengyle property and relaunched the distillery. It took about four years to fix everything. He named the relaunched distillery: “Mitchell’s Glengyle Distillery.” Production began in 2004.

Due to limited resources, Glengyle was initially operated by the Springbank crew, with the business side being run very much as an appendage of Springbank. As of last year, however, the distillery is being slowly weaned off by the company for proper independent operation and coherent production (rather than experimentation and variable output).

While various whiskies have been released, the flagship whisky will be the 12-year-old to be released in 2016. Everything else has been called a “work in progress.”

One final confusing note: the whiskies from Glengyle are bottled under the name Kilkerran, not Glengyle. The brand name “Glengyle” is already owned by Loch Lomond Distillers (they also own the Glen Scotia Distillery, the third functioning distillery in Campbeltown), though they use it for one of their middling blended Highland malt Scotch whiskies.

So why “Kilkerran”? As the Glengyle website puts it: “Mitchell’s Glengyle Ltd are very proud to be continuing and adding to the great Campbeltown distilling tradition and the choice of name reflects that. Kilkerran is derived from the Gaelic ‘Ceann Loch Cille Chiarain’ which is the name of the original settlement where Saint Kerran had his religious cell and where Campbeltown now stands.” At any rate, just two of these were released in 2013 (a bourbon cask and sherry cask expression; 10 different versions are expected in 2014), here is one we recently re-tasted:

Kilkerran “Work in Progress” 5th release, Sherry Wood (46 percent abv; $60): Offers rich, creamy aromas of stewed apple, raisins, brown sugar, overripe green grapes, figs, honey and chocolate. This is followed on the full, oily, sweet palate with flavors of fruit compote, soft toffee, an odd but not unwelcome touch of brine, some vibrant ginger, dates and perhaps a touch of charcoal, while the finish is dark, drying and lingering with cocoa powder, licorice, a dash of char, and something vaguely biscuit. Delicious. L’Chaim!

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