Wine for the holidays, Part 2

Josh London tastes cask samples in the Bruichladdich warehouse.
Josh London tastes cask samples in the Bruichladdich warehouse.

There is something very stressful yet comforting about planning the typical Thanksgiving meal. On the one hand, the menu is pretty much standard fare with turkey, stuffing, fall vegetables, something cranberry and plenty of dessert. On the other hand, the stress involved can be stultifying, leaving one’s head abuzz with questions: Which recipe or style of preparation to use? When to start cooking the bird so that it won’t dry out? What to do about seating arrangements? Another potential source of stress is choosing a wine to match all the divergent flavors, especially this year when Chanukah’s many oil-based foods are factored in.

This paradox of comfort and stress, combined with the joy and sometimes also dread of family gatherings is enough to drive one to drink. So here we continue our wine and spirits recommendations to better ensure that whatever you drink — in moderation of course! — will at least be well suited to the food and the occasion.

For most complex, multicourse meals we recommend a transition through several different wines throughout the evening. The first or opening wine should be light, not too sweet and also bright enough to awaken the palate.

Our preference is to begin with a bubbly that can be served as your guests arrive such as the Borgo Reale Prosecco Brut. A fruity sparkler that will appeal to even those who eschew Champagne; it shows citrus and apple aromas that persist awhile along with nuts, lemon and yeasty flavors. It is an ideal way to begin the holiday meal.

Spirits-wise, we return to our Islay Scotch whisky exploration with the Bruichladdich Distillery. One of us recently had the chance to visit Bruichladdich, tour the distillery, chat with the folks who produce it, wander through the warehouse sampling whiskies direct from the cask, visit one of the local farms that supplies a portion of the barley, and taste through the current and coming lineup — all with uncharacteristically fabulous, sunny and clear warm weather. Those looking for vacation ideas — we very highly recommend a visit to Islay and a long-ish stop at the Bruichladdich Distillery (have a designated driver, please). On the edge of the town of Port Charlotte on the shores of Loch Indaal, stands the Bruichladdich Distillery. The name is typically pronounced “Brook-Laddie” and derives from the Scot’s Gaelic for “raised beach,” which is as good a description as any of the land upon where the distillery was established in 1881. Something of a cult-favorite for whisky geeks (though this is practically true of all eight Islay whisky distilleries — each in different ways), the distillery was closed in 1994, sold in 2000, and then revived and thoroughly revitalized in 2001. Although the distillery was recently sold again to the French spirits company Remy Cointreau, nearly all of the folks who brought it back to life are still there and firmly running the show.

Asked what the impact of the Remy Cointreau acquisition has been, distillery manager Allan Logan, who has been with them since 2001, said: “At the start of the discussion [of selling to them] we made clear who we were, our philosophy of production and what matters to us. They indicated that this [package] is what they wanted from us. They like us for what we are doing, how we are doing it, who we are, and what we stand for.” Not only has nothing been changed or imposed on them by Remy, but Allan made clear that the new and more secure foundation that Remy provides has made things even better: “Now we have financial backing to do so much more.”

Along these lines, the often dizzyingly busy lineup of whisky expressions is being overhauled — though how and when this trickles through to the U.S. was uncertain at this time of writing. So the Bruichladdich lineup will remain confusingly busy for the near term, until the various new expressions have been fully rolled out and made their way through the generally byzantine distribution network in the U.S.

Here are a few whiskies to seek out and find:

Bruichladdich 10 Year Old (46 percent abv; $60) is a smooth, delicious assemblage of both American and European oak-aged whiskies offering aromas and flavors of creamy vanilla, honey, lemon and lemon zest, apricot, tangerine, overripe cantaloupe melon, malt, banana muffin, fresh bread and candied ginger, with a light but distinct brine. The finish is long and lingering. A delicious, unpretentious, easy drinking yet complex dram.

Bruichladdich Rocks (46 percent abv; $50): Vatted together from a number of variously aged whiskies and then additionally matured in used French wine casks, this lightly peated whisky is wonderfully heavy on the cereal and fruity elements — with notes of sweet malted barley, vanilla, blackberry jam, strawberry, raspberry and apple. Not overly complex, yet a richly rewarding, even delightful experience that is smooth, sweet and grainy. Called “rocks” because it supposedly is great “on the rocks,” we much preferred it neat, at room temperature. Though it is admittedly nice with ice, too.

Bruichladdich Black Art, 3rd Edition (48.7 abv; $180): Another winning concoction from master distillery Jim McEwan. Marketing backstory/gimmick of esoteric imagery aside, this 22-year-old whisky was distilled back under the old regime before the distillery was revitalized and then subjected to all sorts of cask treatment experimentation, the vatting together of which creates these periodic “black art” releases. The 3rd edition (the 4th is already available overseas) is a stunning powerhouse of a distinctly odd whisky. It is both nutty and sweet, with some tropical fruit and heavy fruit cake notes (sultanas, raisins, currants, dates, cherries and the like) all with vanilla bean darting in and out of focus along with some distinct yet slightly burnt match aromas, with a pleasing finish of chocolate-covered raisins, spicy wood and some enjoyable, prickly heat. Slightly odd melange of aromas and flavors, yet it somehow all works wonderfully, and packs an oomph too. L’Chaim!

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