Sniffing out the best Scotch


Making wine commercially is an expensive proposition, doing so with Kashrus certification is even more so. This is part of the reason that there are such a limited number of fully kosher wineries outside of Israel. Likewise, this is partly why the majority of the world’s wine regions are under-represented in the kosher wine world. True, there are plenty of non-kosher wineries that periodically produce a “kosher run” or even a “kosher edition” of their regular wines, but this is often a very limited production.

Nearly all such efforts have been done under contract for this or that kosher wine negociant, importer, distributor, marketer or what have you. So, for example, more than a few French châteaux have come to release kosher cuvées, including some well-regarded classified estates, like Léoville-Poyferré , Gruaud-Larose,  Giscours, and Pontet-Canet, among others. The kosher versions of Château de Valandraud, a Bordeaux “garagiste”  wine that has reached cult status, commands a price upwards of hundreds of dollars. One can similarly find kosher version or editions of some Grand Cru Burgundy and some famous Champagnes too. By and large, these are all worthwhile efforts—though the pricing for the kosher market is often terrible.

There is much less by way of kosher “versions” or “editions” for a great many of the other great wine producing regions, including domestically here in America. One exception is BR Cohn who occasionally releases a very good kosher version of their Glen Estate Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, but there are few others. It would be wonderful, for example, if some of California’s notable Zinfandel producers—like Ridge, Biale, Rosenblum, Carol Shelton, Turley, Ravenswood, Bogle, Dry Creek, Seghesio, Rafanelli and Martinelli—could be induced to do a limited kosher run.

In the meantime, we will continue to enjoy what the market currently has to offer. This includes the Agua Dulce Zinfandel 2010 ($34). This is a bit of a hybrid of what we mean. Agua Dulce, located in Northern Los Angeles County, is hardly a well-known CA wine producer—far from it. The otherwise non-kosher winery doesn’t really even service the wider market, opting instead for a local niche, wine-club/direct-to-consumer model. Its production of three kosher wines, which we’ve written glowingly about before, is really just a one off by Ague Dulce’s talented  winemaker Craig Winchell, formerly of the legendary but sadly closed Gan Eden Winery in Sonoma. The Agua Dulce Zinfandel 2010 is a powerful, explosive nose of fruit and spice, this medium to full bodied Zin is complex, richly layered and well structured, with lovely dark fruit and spice notes, and a pleasing, lengthy finish.

Spirits-wise, we recently tried a new blended Scotch whisky called Barrelhound. According to the accompanying marketing literature from parent company Pernod-Ricard, Barrelhound “has arrived to pave a new path in the scotch category. This new breed bridges the bourbon and scotch worlds with an irreverent attitude and a sweeter, more accessible taste profile.

Barrelhound is selectively matured in American Oak ex-bourbon barrels, giving it a smoother and sweeter finish of vanilla and honey, with complex notes of oak and spice.” The marketing flyer goes on to spin a non-specific story to explain the dog-figure on the label: “While most Scotch whiskies have a master blender or a “nose”, we affectionately call ours the Barrelhound. The Barrelhound was known for sniffing out the best barrels and crafting the best blend of whisky.”

This is exactly the sort of marketing nonsense we tend to really hate.  So is it any good, and will it successfully woo some Bourbon drinkers away to Scotch?

Barrelhound Blended Scotch Whisky (40 percent abv; $29.99): It begins spicy and aromatic, with notes of muted black pepper, allspice, and some ginger playing off of honey and vanilla characteristics with some flowery and appley bits dancing around. This is followed on the palate by Bourbon-like and Speyside Scotch-like notes of malt, vanilla, clove, cocoa, honey, and toasted oak, with a short finish of more wood, and a little tupelo honey.

Bourbon has nothing to fear here, but this nonetheless delivers a decent enough drink for what it is. L’Chaim!

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