The beauty of going out on a wine-varietal limb


There are a great many different wine grape varietals being actively cultivated and made into wine around the globe, yet only a handful are widely recognized by most consumers. The unfortunate tendency among most wine consumers is to avoid the unknown and stick to familiar varietals like cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, pinot noir, sauvignon blanc or merlot and, for kosher consumers, the always popular moscato. Sure, some have ventured into malbec, shiraz, petite sirah, or maybe even the occasional riesling. Most, however, seem to prefer the comfort of convention and conformity, rarely trying anything different.

While perfectly understandable, and there are certainly times when sticking with what you like is the way to go, we urge folks to at least periodically expand their choices and reach beyond their comfort zones.

Consider, for example, the kosher Borgo Reale Maturo 2010 ($25) made from 55 percent primitivo and 45 percent negroamaro grapes. These are the principal winemaking grapes in the southern Italian region of Puglia. Negroamaro typically produces wines that are lighter in style and less age worthy, while primitivos are usually more tannic and fuller bodied with higher alcohol content, usually allowing them to cellar well. When blended together to achieve balance, these varietals can produce wine greater than the mere sum of its parts. The Borgo Reale Maturo 2010 expresses a floral and jammy plum bouquet followed by a complex interplay of ripe pomegranate, raspberry, fig and cherry flavors accented with clove, earth, vanilla and cedar lasting throughout the finish.

Spirits-wise, we thought we’d reflect upon the on-again, off-again debate about government control of alcohol distribution. We stand opposed.

In our local Montgomery County, for example, all wines, beers, and spirits — whether you are a consumer, wine shop, or restaurateur — have to be sourced via the constricted options allowed by the bureaucrats of the county’s Department of Liquor Control.

In their recent Washington Post op-ed (“Time to end Montgomery’s alcohol monopoly” April 25), Evan Glass, a Democratic candidate for the Montgomery County Council in the 5th District, and Jackie Greenbaum, a local restaurateur, argue persuasively that the county’s Depression-era control model is not only restricting consumer choice, but has led prospective restaurants and related businesses to look elsewhere to set up shop.

Their proposal for reform is straightforward: “open the distribution process to allow businesses to establish direct relationships with distributors.” The status quo is, they opine, simply unjust, or as they put it: “Montgomery County’s monopoly on alcohol distribution operates as a hidden tax on businesses and residents that hurts our quality of life and inhibits our growth.”

Establishment folk, obviously, disagree. The chief of Licensure, Regulation and Education for the Department of Liquor Control, Kathie Durbin, told Aaron Kraut of “The problem is, I think a lot of times we’re comparing ourselves to D.C. I don’t think there’s any market like the Washington, D.C., market. … You don’t want to deregulate so much that there are safety concerns.”

Exactly how allowing bars and restaurants to establish direct relationships with distributors would endanger the public is beyond us, but whatever. Since the Department of Liquor Control is projected to generate $20.7 million in revenue for the county’s $4.8 billion budget in fiscal 2014, nothing is likely to change anytime soon.

Besides, even this common-sense, business-community-minded reform proposed by Glass and Greenbaum wouldn’t do anything to address the restrictions on consumer choice for direct sales of distilled spirits–since they can still only be purchased from one of the 25 Montgomery County Department of Liquor Control retail stores. We stand opposed to this level of government control, too, though on the bright side county liquor store prices are typically very good, and when they put something on sale – wow, what a sale! We’d still prefer breaking the monopoly and allowing competition, but at least our local monopoly is better than most other liquor control regions.

As we ponder all this, we’ll continue to enjoy a dram of one of the great many single malt whiskies not yet available in Montgomery County. This one is from the English Whisky Company at the St. George’s Distillery in Roudham, Norfolk, England:

The English Whisky Company, St. George’s Peated Single Malt Whisky (46 percent ABV; $80): This assuredly young, oily, gutsy, slightly rustic yet still complex, whisky starts with distinct yet mild and restrained peat smoke, which clears to offer additionally appealing aromas of citrus fruit, pears, black pepper, a dollop of unrefined honey and sweet malt. This is followed by bracing flavors of citrus and slightly tropical fruits, mingling with sweet malted barley, mouth-drying almonds, raisons, a bit of vanilla and butterscotch, and all bouncing wistfully on a trampoline of muted iodine, and a little brine. The finish offers a touch more spice, with lots of ginger, and a bit of cardamom. This enjoyable whisky is well worth the effort to find. L’Chaim!

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