FrontRunners: From the Robb Cellar

  • The Editors

Tradition permeates the history of Laphroaig as thoroughly as peat smoke does the distillery’s whiskies. This sense of tradition, from the beginning, has taken the form of a certain stubbornness—as was the case in 1745, when the McCabe brothers’ loyalty to James II during the Second Jacobite Rebellion forced them to change their name to Johnston and flee to Islay. There, they acquired a plot known as Laphroaig and set about raising cattle only to realize that the grain used to feed them (in the form of whisky) was far more remunerative than the sale of the ruminants themselves. By 1815, the Johnstons had earned a reputation for high-quality spirits with a uniquely peaty character that derived from their water source. The distillery’s most recent introduction harks back to the 19th-century techniques that made Laphroaig famous. The Laphroaig Quarter Cask Single Islay Malt is aged first in a standard American oak barrel and then transferred to a smaller cask, such as the Johnstons might have used, which allows 60 percent more contact with the wood. The golden whisky has a dense body and a nose redolent of Islay smoke. The palate is an alluring medley of sweet smoke, exotic wood, honey, and damp sage. ($58) www.laphroaig.com

While some hotly pursued wines from Napa Valley hail from recently established wineries whose output may be driven by the latest fashions, others bear the standard of traditions that have defined the region for well over 100 years. The Novak family has owned Spottswoode Estate since 1972, but the property has played a key role in the valley since George Schonewald first planted vines there in 1882. Stewards not only of Spottswoode’s history, but of its natural resources as well, the Novak family (now headed by Mary Weber Novak and her daughters, Beth Novak Milliken and Lindy Novak) introduced their first Cabernet Sauvignon in 1982. The Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 embodies the valley’s long-standing tradition for making powerful yet refined Bordeaux-style wines. Blackberry, cherry, and plum fruit fold into a silky-textured, full-bodied wine that teases the senses with sweet rosemary, cinnamon, and vanilla. ($110) www.spottswoode.com

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