Drink Magazine

Sticking To Scotland – For A Change

By Lmarmon

A review of the Lan Zur Sauvignon Blanc 2010 and Balblair Vintage Single Malt Scotch Whisky.

By Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon

Washington Jewish Week  May 24, 2012

The history of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc begins in the 16th century when Spanish explorers established colonies along the southwestern edge of the continent. Up until the mid-20th century the predominant varietals were those more associated with France rather than Spain including Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. However the quality of the wines lagged behind other countries until the mid 1980s when favorable political and economic conditions lead to a revitalization of the region’s wine industry. Chilean wines are now considered among the world’s best values for both price and quality. Chile is currently the fourth leading exporter of wines to the U.S.

Associated with their increasing popularity was an increased scrutiny. There was a distinctiveness noted in some Chilean Merlots and Sauvignon Blancs that could not be easily explained by differences in climate and viticulture. Upon closer examination, many Chilean Merlot vines were demonstrated to actually be Carmenere and what were thought to be Sauvignon Blancs were actually a cross between Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon called Sauvignon Vert. Subsequently, Chilean winemakers began to import the authentic varietals and most, if not all, of the current Chilean wines are from these new plantings.

A refreshing, value-priced kosher offering is the Lan Zur Sauvignon Blanc 2010 ($8) that originates from Chile’s Lontue Valley. It has green apple, peach and pineapple aromas and flavors that are well balanced with citrus acidity.

Spirits-wise, we thought we’d stick with Scotland – as shocking as this doubtless seems to our loyal readers. In particular we thought we’d focus on the single malt whiskies of the Balblair Distillery.

Seemingly plucked from the Victorian age and dropped, Wizard-of-Oz like, onto the scenery, the 1895-built Balblair Distillery is a small complex of red sandstone buildings right at the edge of the village of Edderton.

A couple of years ago, one of us was fortunate enough to visit the distillery and clock in several hours with John MacDonald, distillery manager since 2006.

At that time, the distillery had no visitors’ center, though they welcomed all visitors with a little advance notice; a visitors’ center and gift shop have since been added.

Balblair was always,” according to MacDonald, “recognized by people [in the trade] – certainly at my level of industry; sort of mid-management, you know, production – everyone knew it was a very high quality whisky.” Even today it remains in high demand for blending, with only around 15 percent earmarked to be sold as Balblair single malt, “but that figure keeps creeping up,” MacDonald noted. Balblair is an important component to such blends as Hankey Bannister, Bell’s, Whyte and Mackay, and Ballantines.

The distillery is owned and operated by Inver House Distillers Limited, which itself is a subsidiary of Thai Beverages, one of the largest alcoholic-beverage companies in Southeast Asia (roughly a $4 billion dollar operation). As part of it market-strategy, Inver House has been reinvesting back into its various distilleries (they also own Old Pulteney, Speyburn, Knockdhu and Balmenach), revamping and relaunching its single malts.

For Balblair, Inver House decided in 2007 to totally re-conceive the brand as a “premium whisky” – marketing speak for more expensive. “I came at a very exciting time,” MacDonald noted, “I joined the team just as we were relaunching Balblair and re-investigating the whisky.” The decision was made to release Balblair by its vintage, the year in which the whisky was distilled, instead of by age. So rather than simply vat together a wide variety of casks to achieve some “standard age 10-year-old, 16-year-old … we really looked at it again. We wanted to deliver to the consumer the absolute creme-de-la-creme of Balblair. So one of the first jobs I was tasked with was to investigate the stocks in the warehouses and try and identify what was the best of the best.”

Having had the opportunity to taste many expressions of Balblair, both here and in the United Kingdom, we think the basic character, or maybe house style, of the Balblair whisky is an unpeated, fruity, complex and spicy, almost racy, malt with some real heft and body. The core notes are dried apricot, preserved Meyer lemon, orange, green apple, leather, clove, ginger vanilla, honey, and a slight nuttiness. Every drop of Balblair’s whisky is filled and matured entirely on site in its traditional warehouses. L’Chaim!

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