Celebrations | A toast to archaeological findings and fine Israeli wine

Given the importance of wine in ancient times, it is not surprising that the writing on a clay jug fragment found in Jerusalem dating from the time of King Solomon is actually part of a wine label. University of Haifa professor Gershon Galil believes the inscription indicated the vintage and appellation as well as the quality of the wine contained within.

Modern labels, by contrast, are long on descriptors and feature nebulous terms such as “old vine” and “reserve,” which more often confuse than clarify. The only time they feature a rating is when a favorable score is conferred by a wine publication or critic.

It seems appropriate to contemplate these archeological findings with a bottle of wine from the Psagot Winery, especially since Psagot founder Yaakov Berg found a Second Temple-period wine press when building his dream house and planting his first vineyard. The winery is located is located on the peaks of the Benjamin region mountains, east of the city of Ramallah, overlooking the Wadi Kelt basin, the Jericho Valley, the Dead Sea and the Edomite Mountains.

Established by Yaakov and his wife Na’ama in 2003, Psagot produces nearly 200,000 bottles annually of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, shiraz and chardonnay.

The Psagot Edom 2011 is a full-bodied blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot that begins with dark-fruit aromas and extends into flavors of dark currants, red berries, plums, vanilla oak and spicy chocolate — along with some earthy and smoked-meat notes and a satisfyingly long finish. It is a big wine that would pair well with substantial fare from the grill or roaster.

Spirits-wise, we thought we’d spend a little time with one of the latest ‘work-in-progress’ releases from the Mitchell’s Glengyle distillery of Campbeltown, Scotland, one of only three distilleries in the area.

In Victorian times, Campbeltown was an ideal setting for whisky production, with an abundant water supply and local reserves of coal, peat and barley. It was widely regarded as the whisky capital of the world. It had as many as 32 licensed distilleries as early as 1759, though none of those have survived.

Today there are only three distilleries: Springbank, Glengyle and Glen Scotia. Springbank and Glengyle are both owned by J & A Mitchell and Co. Ltd., an old family firm.

The Mitchell family migrated from the Scottish lowlands to the Campbeltown area in the 1660s, where they excelled as farmers, weavers and illicit whisky makers. By the end of the 18th century, Archibald Mitchell, the patriarch, had made a name for himself as a producer of quality whisky on the family farm, a reputation continued by his children. Before the close of the 19th century, various Mitchells opened five Campbeltown distilleries.

It was the Reid family, Archibald’s machetonim (Yiddish for his children’s in-laws) that entered Springbank into the world of reputable/legal whisky commerce. But financial troubles hit that family and they sold it to John and William Mitchell, two of Archibald’s sons, in 1837.

Following a fight with his brother John, William Mitchell left the partnership and joined his other brothers at the Reichlachan Distillery. With his departure, one of the grandchildren got in on the action, and the parent company name changed from “J & W Mitchell” to “J & A Mitchell.” Today the J & A Mitchell & Co. Ltd. family firm is owned by the great-great-great grandson of Archibald Mitchell.

William Mitchell eventually ventured out on his own and established the Glengyle distillery in 1872. It closed in 1925.

In the late 1990s, the Scotch Whisky Association, the official trade association of the industry, made noises about possibly delisting Campbeltown as a distinct whisky region, since there were only two remaining distilleries in the town — Springbank and Glen Scotia. Not content to lose the regional designation, Hedley Wright (Springbank’s owner) looked into his options and opened Mitchell’s Glengyle Distillery. Production began in 2004. The flagship whisky will be released in 2016; everything else has been called a “work in progress.” (A confusing note: the whiskies from Glengyle are bottled under the name Kilkerran.)

We recently re-tasted the 2013 Kilkerran “Work in Progress” 5th release, Sherry Wood. It offers rich, creamy aromas of stewed apple, raisins, overripe green grapes, figs, honey, and chocolate(!), among many other flavors. Delicious.

Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon write a weekly syndicated wine and spirits column. For more reviews see www.grapelines.com.