Somewhere, Thomas Jefferson is smiling. Our third president was an unabashed oenophile, asserting that “wine from long habit has become an indispensable for my health,” and while at Monticello he consumed an average of 400 bottles of French, Spanish, German, Portuguese and Italian wine annually. He spent a great deal of time and effort trying to make his home state of Virginia into a world-class winemaking region. Unfortunately, Jefferson could never produce a decent wine from the vineyards planted near his estate.
The biggest problem with Virginia vineyards was phylloxera, a sap-sucking aphid-like bug that destroys vines. The European vines that Jefferson planted in Virginia were especially susceptible. For many decades the Virginia wine industry languished, briefly recovering before Prohibition effectively shut down the entire domestic industry.
In the 1960s, a growing recognition of the region’s potential lead to a renewed interest in making wine in the Old Dominion. The subsequent years have seen an explosion in vineyard acreage, the birth of new wineries, steadily improving quality and rising sales.
Virginia wineries sold a record-setting 6.3 million bottles last year and the state now boasts more than 250 wineries including such stars as Barboursville, RdV, Delaplane, Philip Carter, Keswick, and Paradise Springs that produce many highly rated, award-winning and much sought-after bottlings.
The only winery currently making kosher wine in Virginia is the family-owned Molon Lave Vineyards. Established in 2009 by Louizos Papadopoulos, whose Greek heritage embodies the same passion about wine expressed by Thomas Jefferson. The winery devotes 25 percent of its production to kosher wines.
The full-bodied, kosher Molon Lave Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 is a pleasing effort with dark cherry, raspberry and cassis and chocolate flavors with a silky finish.
Spirits-wise, sticking to domestic hooch for the moment, our thoughts turn to the Tuthilltown Spirits Distillery in Gardiner, N.Y.
Opened in 2005, Tuthilltown Spirits not only helped launch New York’s craft-whiskey craze, but it is was also the state’s first whiskey distillery since Prohibition.
The distillery founders, Ralph Erenzo and Brian Lee, began operations in one of the granaries of the historic Tuthilltown Gristmill, a 220-year-old registered landmark that still in use to produce flour for matzah for several chasidic communities in Brooklyn (the mill was part of Erenzo’s 2001 land purchase). They started very small, but found early success and quickly hit the ground running. The distillery has earned national recognition: “Best U.S. Artisan Distiller of the 2010” by the American Distilling Institute and “Craft Whiskey Distillery of the Year” in 2011 by Whiskey Magazine.
Sporting a homey feel, the operation is actually quite slick and professional, and includes a visitors’ center, a large tasting room, and sizable gift shop selling their whiskeys, spirits, apparel and assorted cool tchotchkes (such as small barrels you can use to age your own booze).
Here is one of their whiskeys for your consideration: Hudson Four Grain Bourbon (46 percent abv; around $45 for a 375ml bottle). Made from a mash of mostly corn, with rye, wheat and malted barley, this solid, double pot-distilled, less than 4-year old-whiskey begins with a slightly alcoholic nose of rye bread and basil, followed by sweet caramel, crème brulee, sweet cereal, some oak and some floral notes.
Despite the slight alcoholic prickle on the nose, the palate is soft and bourbony, with the spicy and other grain elements (sweet corn, caramel, vanilla, rye spice, clove, and honey) rolling evenly and harmoniously in along the way, toward a lengthy, satisfying finish. Yummy. L’Chaim!