The yin and yang of wine bottles


There are various ways for wine producers to distinguish their wines for consumers. Interesting and unusual varietals and blends can attract attention. Likewise, an attractive or unusual label or marketing campaign can make it stand out. Another great option is to change the size of the bottle.

The current industry standard is the 750 mL bottle. Larger sizes are also produced beginning with the double-sized (1.5 liter) “magnum” to much larger containers that are interestingly named after various biblical personages. There is the three-liter “Jeroboam” (or Yerov’am, first King of the northern Israelite kingdom of Israel), a 4.5-liter “Rehoboam” (or Rechav’am, Solomon’s son who became king of the southern kingdom of Judah), six-liter Methuselah (or Metushelach, grandfather of Noach, known as the oldest man in the Bible), and the nine-liter Salmanazar (or Shalman’ezer, the Assyrian king who conquered Shomron and exiled the “Ten Lost Tribes”). The Salmanazar is also called a “Mordechai” (after one of the central characters in the Megillah of Esther). Other names include Nebuchadnezzar (15 L), Solomon (20 L) and the Goliath (27 L), which is surpassed by the king of Salem Melchizedek (30 L).

Until 1979, the U.S. utilized a nonmetric system for volume measurement, and wine and liquor bottles were usually one-fifth of a gallon. These “fifths” contained 757 mL so the shift to the European standard 750 mL for wine didn’t mean much of a change in
serving portions.

Wine ages slower in larger bottles, making magnums attractive for those who plan to hold a wine for extended cellaring. Unlike other large Costco-like purchases, however, buying a larger bottle is rarely a bargain since they are usually priced at double the standard size. But they are impressive to bring out while entertaining a large group. Larger bottle sizes are most assuredly atypical, even more so in kosher wine production, but there is a definite market for them.

At the other end of the spectrum, though, is the small bottle. Take for example, the Terra Vega Cabernet Sauvignon Bin 944 2012, a nicely drinking, dark fruit and spice kosher wine from Chile. Besides being closed with a screw top (a subject for another time), this is available in a half-bottle size. The smaller volume means it can be enjoyed without concern for possible leftovers. It is also less expensive, making it even more attractive for those wanting to try something new. Similarly, the smaller bottle lends itself to those who want a red when their dining companion wants white. Indeed, we’d love to see more wine producers offer their wines in this half-bottle format.

Spirits-wise, our attentions were ensnared by the charms of a limited edition release of Tullamore Dew, a blended whiskey from Ireland.

The origins of Tullamore Irish whiskey can be traced back to 1829 when the Tullamore Distillery was founded by Michael Molloy in Tullamore, County Offaly, Ireland. It enjoyed a solid reputation and did very well.

In the 1880s, Daniel Edmond Williams became general manager. He had a genius for whiskey and began a series of improvements to the distillery: electricity, telephone service, new construction for warehousing and a bottling facility, and he created the Tullamore Dew brand, which quickly became the distillery’s signature brand. By 1886 the company was a massive distilling operation, employing 100 people and producing 270,000 gallons of pure, triple-distilled, pot-still whiskey.

The B. Daly Distillery (Tullamore) was very successful basically from its founding, until the 20th century, where it fared no better than any other in Ireland when the Irish War of Independence (1919-1921, though violence continued in Northern Ireland) ruined the domestic market, just as U.S. Prohibition (1919-1933) removed a major export market. The Irish whiskey industry suffered even more due to the Irish Civil War (1922-1923) and the loss of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth markets (including Canada, Australia, New Zealand and parts of the Caribbean and Far East). The global economic downturn, of course, didn’t help either, and then World War II more or less pushed Irish whiskey into economic oblivion. The B. Daly Distillery survived, but hardly prospered.

In 1947, Desmond E. Williams, grandson of Daniel, created the Irish Mist Irish Whiskey Liqueur, which proved highly successful, and then released “Tullamore Dew Blended Whiskey” — Ireland’s first blended whiskey brand, in hopes of capitalizing on the success of Scotch blended whisky. Despite the popularity of these new products, the business faltered and ceased distilling in 1954, closed entirely in 1959, stopped selling diminishing stocks of whiskey in 1963 and sold the brand in 1965. This was a common fate in Irish whiskey. Today there are now seven distilleries in operation, though only four have been operating long enough to have products sufficiently aged for current sale on the market. Only one of these four was in operation before 1975.

Thus, all Irish whiskeys currently available are produced at one of four distilleries. There are a lot of different styles and a lot of floating whiskey brands (which are made to order by one of these four distilleries) that are owned and marketed by others. This includes Tullamore Dew which, as of 2010, is owned by the Scottish family company William Grant & Sons (of Glenfiddich and Balvenie fame).

Before William Grant & Sons bought it, the floating “Tullamore Dew” brand had become the second most popular Irish whiskey in the world (behind Jameson’s), and remains the fastest growing Irish whiskey brand globally — despite not being properly tended to or invested in by its previous owners, the C&C Group plc.

William Grant & Sons have, thankfully, been investing heavily in the brand (including a $50 million visitors center) and focusing a fair amount of energy on the U.S. market (they’ve rebranded “Tullamore Dew” as “Tullamore D.E.W.”). They have also begun building a new distillery to be located in the town of Tullamore, County Offaly, in Ireland’s midlands. That is, they plan to make the Tullamore Dew brand once again a proper distillery-identified Irish whiskey back in the place of its creation. Leave it to the Scots to bring a little more authenticity back to Ireland. Kudos to William Grant & Sons!

We’ve previously reviewed one of its whiskies:

Tullamore D.E.W. Irish Whiskey (40 percent abv; $24): this well-made, light, medium-sweet, slightly hot finishing, subtle blend offers fruit (apples and pears) and citrus notes (lemons and oranges), vanilla, honey, a little oak, light floral aromas, with characteristic Irish whiskey oiliness and a final, gently drying, kiss of sweet chocolate and fruit (peaches?) on the fairly hot finish. Light and uncomplicated, but very enjoyable and (oh so) easy to drink.

The naming of this new limited-edition release comes from the brand’s history. On May 10, 1785, a hot-air balloon crashed in the town of Tullamore causing over 100 homes to burn down. Despite being largely destroyed by the tragedy of the crash and town-wide inferno, the community drew together and phoenix-like, rebuilt the town again. The town still holds an annual Phoenix Festival and its coat of arms depicts a phoenix rising from ashes. Since William Grant & Sons are bringing the Tullamore Distillery back to life in the town of Tullamore, the firm figured the phoenix metaphor worked on this level, too. Sure, this is a bit of unnecessary marketing shtick — but marketing folks live for such ideas and besides this is delicious whiskey, so who cares?

Tullamore Dew “Phoenix” Limited Edition Irish Whiskey (55 percent abv; $75): This lovely and complex, triple-distilled, blend of grain, malt and pot-still whiskies is nonchill filtered, and the pot-still component was finished for two years in used Oloroso Sherry wine casks prior to blending. It opens with a slightly, very pleasantly tingly alcoholic intensity. A touch of water helps reveal the smooth, balanced, creamy layers of caramel, cinnamon, ginger, vanilla and honey notes, along with some distinct but subtle floral elements, all nicely buttressed by oaky, slightly bitter, tannic notes. Rich, engaging, distinctive, and a solid pleasure to drink. L’Chaim!

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