The desirable taste of the varietal


One of the more difficult aspects of winemaking is creating a blend. It requires the ability to predict how a very young wine will evolve, and then also the ability to choose which additional varietals to add to enhance the finished product.

Since the final result may not be ready to drink for years, a finely crafted and enjoyable blended wine is a true testimony to the winemaker’s skill and experience.

On top of this, for many winemakers, there are rules to follow. In many winemaking regions, regulations determine which varietals of grapes can be grown in protected or designated areas, as well as, in some instances, which varieties may be blended together. The grapes grown in France’s Bordeaux region are blended in various proportions depending on their quality and flavors to create some of the world’s most desirable – and expensive – wines.

In more liberal regions, however, winemakers are limited by only the quality of their source materials and their access to technology. In locations such as Australia, the U.S. and Israel, winemakers are free to choose to mix varietals each year without restrictions. Some decide to try to recreate some of the classic flavor profiles found in Europe while others allow their creativity free reign and develop remarkably unique, yet very enjoyable compositions.

The markedly floral Barkan Assemblage Tzafit 2010, for example, is principally comprised of two unusual grapes, marselan and caladoc, along with some of the better-known pinotage and carignan; the wine expresses a melange of dark fruit, savory spices, raspberry, anise and tobacco throughout a longish finish.

Marselan is a relatively new varietal, a cross between cabernet sauvignon and Grenache, while caladoc is derived from grenache and malbec. The resulting blend is an attention-grabbing display of vineyard and winery inventiveness that speaks well to the growing confidence of Israeli winemaking.

Spirits-wise, we thought we’d take a moment to consider one of the great single-malt Scotch whiskies from “The Glenlivet” Distillery – the “The” in the name is trademarked as many Scotch distilleries had for years appended “Glenlivet” to their names in an attempt to boost sales. One of our most faithful and detail-oriented readers asked us the other day about a recently acquired bottle of The Glenlivet 15 years old purchased for $40, asking if he did well in the transaction. Indeed, he did.

The Glenlivet bills itself as “the single malt that started it all,” because distillery founder George Smith was the first licensed distiller under the Excise Act of 1823. The law was the brainchild of the Duke of Gordon, and within a decade it succeeded in taming the Scottish Highlands by putting whisky smugglers and illicit stills out of business, while making legal distillation profitable.

George Smith, one of the duke’s tenants, was the first distiller to take the plunge and go legit (the family had been illegally producing spirit there since 1774).

Smith’s whisky, though illicit, was highly regarded for its quality. Even King George IV requested it on a state visit to Scotland in 1822.

The Glenlivet Distillery has been in almost constant production since its founding, and is, today, the biggest-selling malt whisky in the United States, and the second biggest globally. The Glenlivet house style is characterized by what is generally identified as a pineapple-like fruit note, which remains highly sought after by blenders. With older expressions, this fruitiness fades a little, but is offset by greater richness, subtlety and complexity, and extra wood maturation tends to bring deeper flavors of fruitcake, chocolate, dried fruits and lovely spice notes.

While their excellent and elegant 12-year-old expression is the flagship of the brand, its ubiquity in bars and restaurants has earned it little favor among Scotch snobs. Even those who eschew so “common” a dram, however, have mostly tended to recognize, even if begrudgingly, the quality of much of the rest of The Glenlivet lineup. Here are two excellent expressions to seek out and enjoy:

The Glenlivet 15 year old, French Oak Reserve, Single-Malt Scotch Whisky (40 percent abv; $60). The French Oak in the title is a reference to new Limousin oak casks, usually reserved for French wines, which have been employed here as a sort of selective finishing. A certain percentage of mature Glenlivet whisky is given additional maturation in the new French oak casks, and is then blended into regular mature Glenlivet whisky to create a new final single-malt whisky product (15 years denotes the youngest constituent whisky in the makeup). The end result here is fantastic! An intense and sweet aroma with hints of citrus and tropical fruits, cedar wood, honey and vanilla, followed by a balanced, complex, rich and mellow flavor tapestry of fruits, almonds, vanilla and spices, with a long creamy yet slightly drying finish. A lovely dram. L’Chaim!

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