Drink Magazine

Making Kosher Wine – In Italy

By Lmarmon


Reviews of the Borgo Reale Chianti Vespertino 2009 and several Glen Grant Single Malt Scotch Whiskies.


By Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon


Washington Jewish Week  November 28, 2012


Glen GrantThere have been Jews in Italy since Judah Maccabee sent ambassadors to the Roman Senate in 161 BCE. Conditions have varied during the subsequent centuries depending upon the dispensation of various pontiffs and secular rulers. The ravages of World War II severely diminished Italian Jewish life but there still remains evidence of its vibrant culture including the magnificent Moorish-styled Great Synagogue of Florence and a smaller one in Siena.

Like Jews everywhere, the Jews of Italy were influenced by the local conditions, customs and agricultural products. So it is interesting to speculate what types of grapes Italian Jews utilized to create their kosher wines. There are over 350 “official” Italian grape varietals and more than 500 others that have been used to make wine. Nearly every region has “its own” specific wine grape although many are grown in various locations throughout the country.

Therefore it is possible that the Jews of Tuscany drank a kosher Sangiovese wine, the primary grape varietal used to make Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. We have previously recommended the Terra di Seta Chianti Classico 2008, and have recently tried another kosher Chianti that is a fine accompaniment to grilled foods, roasts and, of course, any northern Italian influenced cuisine. The Borgo Reale Chianti Vespertino 2009 is a less rustic version of the 2007 with red fruit aromas. Medium-bodied with well integrated tannins and acidity that allows it to hold up to bolder foods, it displays black cherry, cranberry, earth and chocolate that evolve nicely in the glass over the course of a meal.

Spirits-wise, sticking very loosely with Italy, we thought we’d revisit Glen Grant, the single malt Scotch whisky brand wholly owned by the Italian drinks company Gruppo Campari.

Built in 1840 by brothers John and James Grant, the Glen Grant distillery is the oldest distillery in the village of Rothes, right in the heart of Scotland’s Speyside. John’s 25-year-old nephew, James “The Major” Grant, inherited the company in 1872 and further developed the distillery and the business.

Legends abound about the major as an eccentric, business innovator, general bon vivant, and world traveler. He was the first in the Highlands to own a car, for example, and he was the first to introduce electric light into a Scottish distillery. He also, in 1892, acquired an orphan boy in Africa who would henceforth serve as something between a ward and a servant.

One of Major John Grant’s other contributions to Glen Grant and to the village of Rothes was the creation of a vast Victorian garden of local and exotic plants, collected during his travels around the world. The garden remains today and is one of the highlights of the distillery tour. The major also built, in 1898, the Glen Grant No.2 distillery across the street. It only operated for a few years before being shuttered, eventually reopening in the 1960s as the Caperdonich Distillery. Major John Grant passed away in 1931 and stewardship of the business passed to his grandson Major Douglas Mackessack.

All of which brings us back to Italy. In the course of business, Mackessack developed a deep friendship with Italian businessman and whisky distributor, Armando Giovinetti. Thanks to Giovinetti, Glen Grant became the most popular brand of Scotch whisky in Italy by 1961, and has held that title ever since. So while the vast majority of the Glen Grant’s production has been going to various Chivas Brothers Ltd.’s blends (now about 50 percent goes towards blends), like the Chivas Regal, much of the rest of it has been going to Italy – hitting the U.S. market higgledy piggledy over the years, mostly as very young single malt or through independent bottlers. The Italian drinks giant Gruppo Campari eventually purchased Glen Grant in December 2005, and has since revitalized the distillery and the brand, releasing various official expressions in various markets, including here in the U.S. Here are three different expressions to seek out and enjoy:

Glen Grant 10-year-old (43 percent abv; $45): Much lighter and more delicate than most Speyside whiskies, this is floral, bright, mouthwatering and graceful, exhibiting aromas and flavors of honeyed vanilla and lively fruit notes, along with a hint of marshmallow, lemon and freshly mowed grass. The finish is soft, pleasant, dry, and almondy. Easy to see why this agreeable, clean, uncomplicated whisky is one of the world’s more popular, if lighter, single malt whiskies.

Glen Grant 16-year-old (43 percent abv; $80): This fruity yet dry, medium-bodied beauty offers aromas and flavors of pear, peach and lime, toasted barley, creme brulee, and vanilla, with hints of marshmallow, and with black pepper on the finish. This is a charming, delightful and easy drinking whisky (which would likely be even better if made available at cask strength).

Glen Grant 19 Year Old “Connoisseur’s Club Bottling” (Cask# 30040; bottled exclusively for D&M Wines and Liquors in Calif.; DandM.com; 46 percent abv; $96.99): this medium-bodied single cask single malt is delicate and complex, with aromas and flavors of toasted and untoasted nuts, berries, raisins, whispers of citrus rind, light brine, vanilla and spicy oak, ending in a long, dry, crisp, finish. Though exclusive to D&M, they’ll ship to D.C. (If you can’t get this one for whatever, explore other Glen Grant independently bottled expressions – we’ve yet to find one that wasn’t worthy of our attention.) L’Chaim!

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