It is often said that wine makes itself, and that all that is really needed are grapes and the right conditions.
This is largely true. Left alone, grapes will indeed start to decompose, the skins will break and natural yeast will work its magic on the juice – all things being equal.
As Benjamin Franklin once wrote in a passage typically misquoted and mangled into an adage about beer: “Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards, and which incorporates itself with the grapes to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy!” Any such fermented grape beverage that is entirely devoid of human input isn’t likely to be very good.
Ever since winemaking transitioned from a naturally occurring phenomenon into a controlled, systematic process, industrious vintners have been mastering that process, and, armed with science, have been actively refining the methodologies and tools. Nearly every phase from vineyard management to consumer sales has been refined and professionalized. Where tradition once dominated, innovation leads. Winemakers tend these days to embrace new ideas and technologies, hindered only really by financial resources.
An interesting and somewhat innovative wine that we recently restated is the kosher Herzog, Variations Four, Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($26; mevushal), an unusual blend of Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from four California locations (we’ve previously reviewed “Variations Five” from the same series – it was a blend from five different regions, there is also a “Three”). The idea behind it is a celebration of the unique qualities of California Cabernet Sauvignon as found in the California grape-growing regions that the winemaker has come to love. Sourced from Paso Robles, Santa Ynez, Alexander Valley, and Napa Valley, this is a young, firm, full, and well-structured wine with tight, yet dusty, tannins and lovely aromas and flavors of red currant, cedar wood, cherry, plum, flowers and a dash of mild oak and spice on the finish. It is very enjoyable now, but it should get even better after additional age.
Spirits-wise, we recently tasted a very cool expensive limited edition single malt Scotch whisky from the fabulous Cragganmore distillery.
Owned by Diageo and featured as one of the original six “classic malts,” the distillery makes for a lovely booze-tourist visit. Built in 1869 near the Strathspey railway line and said to be one of the first to be designed to take advantage of this, the distillery is situated at Ballindalloch on the road from Aberlour to Grantown and is known for providing one of Diageo’s great whiskies: typically complex, fruity, floral, and with a whisper of dry smoke. Due to steady demand, it does not get released all too often in a limited edition format, and rarely these days by independent bottlers.
This new, limited edition is a real treat—albeit an extremely expensive one.
By way of comparison, we offer as well a review of the far more affordable regular expression.
Cragganmore 12-Year-Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky (40 percent abv; $60): A complex floral, fruity nose with additional aromatic notes of toffee, honey, nuts, a bit of pear and a touch of angelica.
The whisky on the palate proves elegant and malty, with flavors broadly in tune with the nose, developing further into almonds, walnuts and chestnuts, light caramel, some berry and tropical fruits, lots of honey, and with a hint of peat smoke and white pepper on the ever-so-satisfying finish. A lovely, sweetish, elegant whisky.
Cragganmore 25-Year-Old Limited Edition Single Malt Scotch Whisky Natural Cask Strength (51.4 percent abv; $500): Distilled in 1988 and aged in refilled European and American oak casks, this is a wonderfully balanced, complex, enchanting and rather elegant whisky. It offers aromas and flavors of spicy oak, toffee, apple, ripe melon, ground nuts, mint, caramel, honey, vanilla, cream, juicy malted barley and marmalade, with a silky, caramel and spicy oak finish. Expensive, but superb. L’Chaim!