Suburban

Suburban

The Suburban is a pre-Prohibition libation that was first served in the old Waldorf Astoria Hotel, now the site of the Empire State Building in Manhattan. A favorite cocktail writer, David Wondrich expounded on it recently and what caught my attention was his description: “This dark, rich and masculine pre-Prohibition classic…” How could I go wrong?

According to Wondrich, the cocktail is named, not for the hordes of commuters taking trains from Penn Station, but instead the drink was named for a horse race, the Suburban Handicap that was run every June at Sheepshead Bay. Today the race is run at Belmont and I’m sure they serve a few of these very manly cocktails at post time.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present the Suburban:

1 oz.      Ruby Port (I use Offley)

½ oz.    Aged Rum (I use Zacapa Solera 23)

1-½ oz. Rye Whiskey (I use Bulleit)

Garnish with a lemon peel

Combine and stir all ingredients with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with the lemon peel.

Cheers!

Ants in the Pants

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I’m not sure if I like cocktails so much because of the way they taste, the way they make me feel, or simply because of their pithy names… This Prohibition favorite seems to address all three quite nicely. At first, I thought the mix of Grand Marnier and Sweet Vermouth was going to be too much sweetness, but surprisingly, the dash (albeit, a long dash…) of Lemon Juice makes for a well-balanced libation.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present Ants in the Pants:

1 oz.      Gin (London Dry)

½ oz.    Sweet Vermouth (Martini & Rossi is fine)

½ oz.     Grand Marnier

1 Dash Lemon Juice (I used a long dash)

Garnish with a lemon peel

Combine and shake all ingredients with crushed ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with the lemon peel.

Cheers!

The Botanist

In the immortal words of Ron Burgundy… I love Scotch! And, because I am a person who believes in equality and fairness, I also find myself loving other spirits too… like Gin.

Imagine how happy I was to find that one of my favorite Scotch whisky distillers now produces a Gin called The Botanist! Yep… you heard me correctly. Bruichladdich, the “Progressive Hebridean Distiller” has crafted a spectacular Gin.

You can learn a lot about why Bruichladdich is one of my favorite whisky distillers at their web site: http://www.bruichladdich.com/

Briefly, Bruichladdich is on the isle of Islay, which produces some of the most unique whisky in the world. I find that you either love the distinguishing peat flavor and briny iodine found in most Islay malt, or you simply don’t. Bruichladdich whisky has the definite soul of an Islay malt, but there is a purity and concentration that I find in no other whisky from the island.

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According to the marketing materials, The Botanist is a small-batch, artisanal Islay Gin, crafted from nine classic gin aromatics, and then augmented by the addition of twenty-two native Islay botanicals. The aroma and flavor profile are wildly complex, but not over-the-top – truly a very pretty Gin. The materials also speak to the distillation process – apparently an agonizing seventeen hour affair in a still that their head distiller Jim McEwan affectionately calls “Ugly Betty.” Betty prefers long, low pressure runs, which allows for a very long steeping with the botanicals that clearly accounts for the depth of complexity. It also must have a lot to do with the smoothness of the spirit. On the palate the Gin is remarkably rich and mellow with almost no bite or excessive heat. This is truly a sipping Gin that I found needed nothing, not even ice as an accompaniment. A light splash of spring water did loosen the nose a bit, but the palate is fine without it.

I can only hope that Bruichladdich continues with their Islay Gin, it will make me a very happy man!

Cheers!

Old Potrero

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I have long been a fan of Anchor Steam Beer… I think for a few decades I actually could boast having annually collected a bottle of their Christmas Ale – Always delicious with all the correct reminders of Christmas. Like most breweries, Anchor has a distilling operation, oddly enough called Anchor Distilling. I have long enjoyed their Junipero Gin and recently came across their Old Potrero Whiskey, specifically the 18th Century Style Whiskey. I must say that I am very impressed.

Anchor makes three versions of their Whiskey: Old Potrero Straight Rye, Old Potrero Hotaling’s Single Malt Whiskey and the 18th Century Style.

According to the sales literature, the 18th Century Style Whiskey is Anchor’s attempt at recreating “the original whiskey of America.” The spirit was distilled in a small copper pot still at Anchor’s distillery on Potrero Hill (hence the name) from a 100% rye malt mash. The spirit is then gently aged in a mix of old and new oak barrels that have been lightly toasted over oak chip fires as opposed to heavily charred barrels a la Bourbon. The result is a lightly-colored, delicately sweet whiskey that retains much of the malt-quality of the mash. I found this an ideal sipping whiskey that opened nicely with the addition of a splash of spring water.

Anchor’s promotional materials speak to the “authenticity” of this colonial whiskey. The use of 100% malted rye, a small copper pot still and lightly toasted oak aging all add up to a very authentic experience. I actually think the whiskey is probably smoother than what our ancestors were drinking, but that’s just a hunch…

Based on the quality of the 18th Century Style, I will be searching out the other varieties. I sense, though that the limited, small batch production may make them hard to find in the main stream.

Cheers!

Wakeman’s Air

My friends know how much I love history. My friends also know how much I love a good cocktail. When I can put the two together it’s a match made in heaven.

One of my favorite magazines is Imbibe, a publication dedicated to “Liquid Culture.” In addition to spirits, beer, coffee, and wine, the editors/writers/contributors always manage to find the latest hot trend in “liquid,” or what I especially love, the most obscure spirit that has some strange historical significance.

This month it is Becherovka. I won’t repeat the article, but instead offer the Cliff Notes summary. Bercherovka is a liqueur from Bohemia, or what is now called the Czech Republic, made from a blend of botanicals macerated in alcohol, sweetened and lightened with the curative waters from the city where it’s made – Karlovy Vary. The full name is Becher’s Original Karlsbader English Bitter, shortened, mercifully to Becherovka. I urge you to read the full article!

Becherovka

What attracted me most, in addition to the weird obscurity of the spirit, is the wintry character of the cocktail recipes Imbibe presented. The one which caught my attention the most is Wakeman’s Air, the product of Rick Paulger at Michael Symon’s Roast in Detroit. I rolled one and was immediately smitten.

The cocktail is warm and inviting with a seductive mix of spicy complexity supplied by the Becherovka. Perfect for a wintry evening!

Ladies and gentlemen, I present Wakeman’s Air:

1 ½ oz. Rye Whisky (I used Bulleit)

¾ oz.     Sweet Vermouth (I used Carpano Antico)

½ oz.     Becherovka

2 Dashes Angostura Bitters

Garnish with a flamed orange peel

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice. The original recipe calls for the mixture to be stirred with ice, I prefer to shake with crushed ice, then strain into a cocktail glass. To garnish, cut a quarter-sized disk from the peel of an orange, avoiding the pith. Carefully holding a lit match in one hand above and just to the side of the glass, quickly squeeze the orange disk so the oils from the peel spray through the flame and into the drink. Discard the peel.

Cheers!

2011 Domaine Le Garrigon Côtes du Rhone

I have consistently said that “box wines” have their place. I have also consistently said that some “box wines” are far better than others. This last statement was never truer with a great little “box wine” I just found – the Domaine Le Garrigon Côtes du Rhone, marketed by Wineberry, which, according to their web site is “a premium importer and wholesaler of fine wines with offices in the United States, France and China.”

Domaine Le Garrigon is an entirely organic wine maker in Tulette, a quaint, ancient town situated at the southernmost part of the Départment of the Drôme. The town of Tulette is delimited to the north and the south by an area known as the “Enclave of the Popes”, which is part of the Départment of the Vaucluse. This is where Grenache, Syrah and Carignan thrive, producing eminently quaffable, sun-drenched wines.

The winery itself was founded in 1919 by the grandfather of current owner, Daniel Couston. Along with his sister, Marie-Francoise, the winery has developed a range of fruity, terrior-driven wines that are classic Rhône valley charmers. The property spreads over approximately 200 acres from Tulette to Visan and sits upon calcareous clay and calcareous silt subsoil, with plenty of the stony, pebbly topsoil that is the hallmark of the Rhône. They produce AOC Côtes du Rhône as well as Côtes du Rhône Villages wines. Since 1997 the winery has been using entirely organic practices throughout the vineyard and production facility. No chemicals, enzymes or other non-natural products are used on the property.

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The first thing that caught my eye was the packaging. The wine is sold in a wooden wine box, evoking the image of a miniaturized wine case box. Within the wooden box is a vacuum-sealed 3 liter bladder with a spigot for dispensing. Like most box wines, as you dispense the wine the bladder deflates behind the remaining wine to limit oxygenation and spoilage. I had the box on our counter for about nine days and the wine was as fresh on day nine as it was on day one.

The wine itself is a blend of 60% Grenache, 10% Syrah, 30% Carignan grapes, grown on vines with between 15 and 45 years of age. The soil is worked mechanically to avoid the use of weed killers and chemicals. Upon maturation, the grapes are harvested quickly and taken through a “traditional” wine making process. The grapes are de-stemmed and crushed and placed in cement tanks for three weeks where the must is pumped over daily. Fermentation is natural using only wild yeasts. When the fermentation is complete and the wine matures, after about 10 months, pneumatic presses move the wine to the wine box bladders. The wines do not see any time in oak, which only enhances the terrior.

At approximately $40 per box before any discount, you are basically buying a $10 CDR in an easy to use dispenser for every day pleasure. Factor in that the wine is an easy-drinking wine with nice Rhône character and I think you have a hit!

My tasting note:

Soft, fruity nose with cherry, red currant and lavender hints. Medium-bodied with moderate acidity and supple tannin – good balance. Cherry fruit palate with violets, tar and dried fruit notes. Moderate length – simple and smooth – highly quaffable. Drinking well now – not for aging. Very good value!

Cheers!

2010 Pierre Amadieu Grande Réserve Côtes du Rhone

I was quite pleased with the 2009 vintage in the Rhone, and frankly in most of Europe… The wines were universally lush, mouth-filling beauties with smooth, well-integrated tannins. Drink now, or in some cases, lay down for a little while to invoke more subtle flavors and aromas.

The 2010 vintage provides a great example of just how variable factors in grape growing and wine making can change the profile of wines, especially those from Europe. In the Rhone, the wines are denser, darker, more closed with much more structure, almost angular, seemingly edgier. My experience thus far is that with many of the wines, there is enough fruit in the core to allow for considerable aging. This bodes well for folks like me who like to buy several bottles, if not a case to stow away for more timely consumption.

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I tasted a range of 2009 Pierre Amadieu wines at a trade tasting and was smitten with the Grande Réserve. The wine was massive with an incredibly rich palate and enough stuffing to allow it to evolve with sometime in the bottle. I was excited about the price point, about $18 per bottle before the discount so I asked one of my favorite wine shops to order me a case. Bad news initially… the 2009 may not be available… Fortunately for me, a case of the 2009 was found and brought in… or so I thought.

In the process of taking the wine from will call, the box broke open and two bottles crashed to the floor, breaking… Upon closer examination, it was revealed that the wine was actually the 2010, despite the box being labeled 2009. Decision time… do I take the 2010 pro-rated for breakage, or, roll the dice and hope that an actual case of 2009 would materialize. I opted for the former – take the 2010 and see how it fairs.

The 2010 vintage is very consistent with the overall vintage profile – more structure, denser mid-palate although closed with edgier acidity. Much better aging potential than the 2009. Overall, while I fell in love with the 2009, the 2010 is an erstwhile companion who will likely age more gracefully and evolve more beautifully with time.

My tasting note:

Earthy nose – minerally with cherry, tobacco and garrigue hints. Medium-bodied with moderate acidity and firm, dry tannin – Good balance. Bright cherry fruit on the palate with tart red berry and dried herb notes. Moderate length with a tight, well-structured finish and cedar and allspice on the aftertaste. Needs time – should improve with another 5 to 7 years in bottle. Good value.

Cheers!

Baron Philippe de Rothschild

Baron Philippe de Rothschild was many things – a member of the Rothschild banking dynasty, a race car driver, playwright, poet and most of all – one of the world’s most famous wine makers. The owner of Mouton Rothschild, the only château to successfully challenge the famous Bordeaux Classification of 1855 and see their ranking move from 2nd growth to 1st growth in 1973, Baron Philippe was tireless in his pursuit of the things he loved. As a winemaker, Baron Philippe was savvy and knew the value of diversification. Like most château, he maintained a number of labels at various price points to ensure that his wines penetrated the market effectively. He also, like others in his family diversified overseas – co-founding Almaviva (with Concha y Toro) in Chile and Opus One (with Robert Mondavi) in Napa Valley. Baron Philippe was truly a renaissance man, a polymath who thankfully devoted much of his considerable wealth, passion and skill to wine making.

The 2011 vintage in Bordeaux is largely being billed as “challenging.” After stunning success in 2009 and 2010, the 2011 vintage is a bit of a correction to the market. Many wine makers were able to navigate the tricky vintage and produce some very nice wine. Because the vintage lacks the hype and universal quality of the two prior vintages, wine drinkers are likely to find some real bargains. One will need to choose wisely, because there will also likely be a fair number of misses as well.

One exercise I complete in almost every vintage is to buy a wine that I call my “bellwether” wine – Mouton Cadet. Mouton Cadet, a member of the Baron Philippe empire of wine, is the avowed value wine of the portfolio and is made in sufficient quantity and at a generally high-enough quality level to provide insight into overall quality of a particular vintage. I have done this every year since the 1985 vintage – 28 years and the Mouton Cadet has been dead on target with overall vintage reports every single year. So what does this mean for 2011 – The Mouton Cadet is showing quite nicely with enough structure to make its presence known, but fruitiness that belies its European origins. It reminded me actually of several previous Mouton Cadet, especially the 1985 vintage, which taught me my first lesson about a wine’s “dumb phase.” The 2011 has that same “drink me now” character… of course I will ensure that a few bottles get lost, for the sake of science and discovery…

While I was buying the Mouton Cadet, I noticed a new Chilean-Baron Philippe de Rothschild joint-venture – Anderra, so I thought I would give it a try. I am pleasantly surprised. While a little on the simple side, the Anderra possesses enough individuality to make it interesting.

Both the Mouton Cadet and the Anderra carry an average retail price of $11.99 per bottle in the Boston area, which, after discount is quite attractive for an everyday, quaffing wine.

My tasting note:

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2011 Mouton Cadet, Bordeaux

Minerally nose with black cherry, currants, tobacco leaf and cedar hints. Medium-bodied with moderate acidity and firm, but supple tannins – Good balance. Dark fruit core with roasted game, wet stone and chocolate notes – Nicely structured. Moderate length – smooth finish – very approachable. Drinking well now – not for aging. Great value!

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2012 Anderra, Carmenere, Valle Central, Chile

Ripe, jammy nose with blackberry, briar patch and eucalyptus hints – seductive aromas. Medium-bodied with moderate acidity and firm tannins – Good balance. Dark fruit core with raspberry, red berry and vanilla notes. Moderate length – smooth with dried fruit on the finish. Drinking well now – not for aging. Great value!

Cheers!

2009 Delaforce Touriga Nacional, Douro, Portugal

Most people probably know that Portugal’s most famous wine, Port is from the city of Oporto on the Atlantic outlet of the Douro River. Vintage Port is a supremely luxurious dessert wine with prodigious aging potential, made from several different indigenous varietals found along the Douro River valley. Principle among those varietals is Touriga Nacional, an inky-black grape with a thick skin and intense fruity flavors.

Not known by many wine consumers is that despite the renown of Vintage Port, more than half of the red wine produced in Oporto is in fact dry table wine, of which the best is made from Touriga Nacional. The growing trend is for well-known Port houses to expand their export operations to include their own dry table wines, sourced from the same Douro vineyards that furnish the fruit for their famous sweet Ports.

Delaforce has a long history in the Douro region. From their web site (http://www.delaforce.com/):

“Members of the Delaforce family, of Huguenot origin, can trace their history back over 400 years. Their involvement in the port business dates from 1834 when John Fleurriet Delaforce came to Oporto to set up the new firm of Martinez Gassiot on behalf of its partners. In 1868 his son George Henry Delaforce founded his own firm, the House of Delaforce. In the years that followed, Delaforce rapidly became established as one of the leading port wine companies developing its sales in Germany, France, England, Ireland, Russia and the Scandinavian countries, as well as in Portugal itself. Between 1894 and 1906 the company was distinguished with a warrant as supplier of port wine to the Portuguese Royal Household.”

Current ownership of the Delaforce brand, Real Companhia Velha, also known as Royal Oporto, has over 250 years of history and uninterrupted activity in the Port Wine Trade. RCV is a major vineyard owner in the Douro valley with approximately 550 hectares (1,400 acres). Delaforce, to capitalize on the growing trend of promoting the dry wines of the region along with their traditional Port offerings, is promoting two of RCV’s premium vineyards – Aciprestes and Cidrô. The two vineyards have been selected to provide the grapes for Delaforce’s new brand of dry Douro table wines, called The Delaforce Collection.

At a recent trade tasting I had the pleasure of tasting through this new brand of wines and was suitably impressed. The group of wines consists of one Alvarinho-based dry white wine and four Douro red wines. Each of the wines was selected for their individuality and unique style. Of the five wines, my favorite was the 2009 Delaforce Touriga Nacional. The wine is 100% Touriga Nacional sourced from both the Aciprestes and Cidrô vineyards. Production is limited to 36,000 bottles to ensure a high level of quality, which clearly comes though on the palate, while enabling the wine to sell at moderate prices.

At an average, pre-discount price of $20 per bottle, the wine is a respectable value with some moderate aging potential.

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My tasting note:

Lush, jammy nose with black cherry, vanilla and eucalyptus hints. Full-bodied with moderate acidity and supple, yet firm tannin – well balanced. Port-like with a deep dark core of fruit – cacao and tobacco leaf notes. Long finish – seductive with cedar and cherry on the aftertaste. Delicious. Drinking well now and should improve with 5 to 7 years in bottle. Strong value.

Cheers!

Turning Japanese II – The Geisha

So, after working diligently on a Japanese-themed Bloody Mary, I thought, how about a non-brunch companion…

Instinctively I stayed with Sake as the base spirit. After having tasted through several Sake, I decided the Ty-Ku Black Label Sake was the best choice. Only 15% alcohol, but with a nice, slightly sweet up tick and a perfect rice wine character, the Black Label proved to be the most seductive mixing partner. Thinking about a nice bittersweet element, I decided to utilize Japanese Plum Wine as a nice foil. Ginger is ever-present in Japanese cuisine, so I went to Canton Liqueur as a spicy, sweet accompaniment. To give the cocktail a romantic and even more exotic flair, I chose Rose Water as a nice flavoring element.

Geisha

Ladies and gentlemen, I present another Paul Malagrifa original – The Geisha:

2 oz. Ty-Ku Black Label Sake

1 oz. Canton Ginger Liqueur

1 oz. Japanese Plum Wine

1 tsp. Minced Ginger

2 dashes Rose Water

Combine the ingredients in a shaker with crushed ice. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a Luxardo Maraschino cherry.

Enjoy!

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