Wines from strange places


Many of the world’s finest wines, counter intuitive though it might seem, are actually created from grapes that grow in surprisingly meager conditions. Conditions that would cause other crops to suffer—like nutrient-poor soil, sparse water and daily temperature fluctuations—can stimulate the vines to concentrate whatever the land and microclimate has to offer on making the grapes more flavorful for wine. Proper viticultural practices, like careful pruning, trellising, keeping away pests, and the like, are obviously crucial components, but nature’s bounty remains the most fundamentally important element. So, all things being equal, winemakers tend to prefer vineyards in locations that will greatly, though beneficially, stress the vines.

The result is that wines are being made from local grapes in some highly unlikely locations globally, and in nearly every state domestically here in the US. Not surprisingly, perhaps, Alaska is one exception. This might be changing soon. Mike Mosesian, the proprietor of Bell’s Nursery in Anchorage, is already known for his annual production of nearly 100 tons of greenhouse tomatoes as well as some table grapes. In an effort to “prove a point,” however, he began growing wine grapes and now has about 30 gallons of the first vintage resting in his basement.

This is a long way away from widely available Alaskan table wine, and probably light-years away from a kosher version, but it’s a start. In the interim, those who wish to experience wines grown at environmental limits should instead look toward the kosher Yatir Winery whose grapes are grown at the edge of Israel’s Negev desert. A fine example is their delightful Yatir Viognier 2010 ($30), with perfumed floral and stone fruit aromas that expand into apricot, apple, honey and guava with bright citrus for balance and a lengthy mineral infused finish.

Spirits-wise, we thought we’d consider the brand new Haig Club Single Grain Scotch Whisky introduced by Diageo and endorsed by sports celebrity David Beckham and the American Idol tv-show creator Simon Fuller. Single grain whisky, in Scotch terms, just means whisky distilled at a single distillery from a blend of malted barley and other grains, like wheat or corn.

Let us begin by stating that we expected to not only hate this whisky, but actively to loath it and everything it represents. It is, after all, an expensive, celebrity endorsed, glitzy “cool” packaging job, with super sleek “lifestyle” marketing, crafted for the “casual” drinker who doesn’t yet really like Scotch whisky but loves to live large and flash it about; seemingly the sort of crass and soulless commercial venture that gives Scotch whisky a bad name, drives up prices, and crowds the market. Yet we genuinely liked it, packaging too.

For starters, it is not a trumped up, limited release single malt or high-end, luxury blend that threatens well established brand reputations, trashes consumer loyalty, or directly pushes single malt prices further up. It is, rather, a single grain Scotch whisky—in this case, from the Cameronbridge distillery in Fife, the oldest grain whisky distillery, and actually also the largest whisky distillery in Scotland (annual production capacity of about 120 million liters of alcohol). Diageo has admirably gambled on a single grain whisky, and it is actually very good whisky too. Without further ado:

Haig Club Single Grain Scotch Whisky (40 percent abv; $70): Inside this expensive aftershave looking, blue bottle is a jolly enjoyable, youngish grain whisky (90 percent wheat and 10 percent malted barley; aged in a mix of first fill, refill and rejuvenated bourbon barrels for 6-7 years). It exhibits pleasing aromas and flavors of biscuit, cereal, butterscotch, apple crumble, citrus, toffee, honey a touch of vanilla and oak, a dollop of something herbaceous and earthy, some fresh banana notes, and a whisper of ginger; wonderful almost creamy body. This is great with ice (brings out some tropical fruit notes), and very cocktail friendly. Overall, a very nice and tasty whisky. L’Chaim!

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