The Classic Cocktail

Back in the early 19th century, when the cocktail was in its infancy, the driving spirits were either Cognac or Rum. Whiskey was certainly produced in the colonies, primarily rye, but the tipple used most often in cocktails was Cognac. Rum was firmly ensconced in the punch bowl of your local tavern and ventured forth as a cocktail only occasionally.

Paying homage to those early days, the Classic Cocktail is a refreshing Cognac-based drink that emphasizes the key element of a cocktail – balance. Sweet must play against bitter to create a harmonious balance on the palate. The use of Maraschino liqueur softens the bite from the Cognac.

Light, but spiritous, the Classic Cocktail is perfect on a warm summer night!

The Classic Cocktail…

3oz. Cognac

1/2oz. Maraschino Liqueur

1/2oz. Grand Marnier

1/2oz. Lemon Juice

1/2oz. Cold Water

Shake with crushed ice and strain into a coupe. Garnish with a lemon peel, or a Luxardo cherry.


Mackinlay’s “Journey” Scotch Malt Whisky

Last week I posted about the Shackleton Scotch Malt Whisky, produced as the third iteration in celebration of the 1907 Antarctic Voyage by Ernest Shackleton.

Always the inquisitive one, I went on a search for any of the previous bottles and after scouring the Internet, I found a bottle of the second iteration… the “Journey.”

The Journey is another vatted malt, blended more closely to the actual recipe for the 1907 Whisky. Like the original blend, according to some sources, the Journey is impactful – full-bodied but smooth with layers of complex flavors – vanilla, allspice, char and lemongrass. A very long finish leaves a smile on one’s face.

The only problem? The Journey is all but gone and unlike the most recent Shackleton bottling, it is not cheap.

I found my bottle at The Whisky Exchange, which can legally ship to MA…

Certainly worthy of consideration if you enjoy rare malts…


Shackleton Blended Malt Whisky

I’m one of those guys… I firmly believe that blended whisky is perfectly fine and in many cases, is superior (cue Chivas Royal Salute) to some single malts. I especially enjoy vatted malts, which are blends of malt whisky without the addition of grain alcohol. Johnny Walker Green Label and Sheep Dip are two prominent vatted malts, as is the ubiquitous Monkey Shoulder, which is referred to as a “triple-Spey,” being a blend of three Speyside malts.

The Shackleton is a blend of over 20 malts without any grain alcohol, making it a vatted malt. This is the third iteration of the whisky, which pays homage to Ernest Shackleton, the famous polar explorer and adventurer. The whisky is presumably a recreation of the original whisky that Shackleton brought with him on the 1907 voyage of the Nimrod, of which three cases were found frozen in the ice beneath Shackleton’s abandoned base camp in 2007.

The whisky is extraordinarily delicate and complex with hints of honey, vanilla, dried fruit, and wild flowers. On the palate, the dram is smooth with a creamy character. Well-balanced with a kiss of peat, the finish is soft and a bit demure.

The real surprise is the price, retailing for $34.99 in the Boston market. This may supplant Monkey Shoulder for my go-to value in vatted malt.

Availability is good, but it won’t last forever at that price.


Negroni Week… It’s a “Thing…”

All this week I have been posting Negroni cocktails in support of Negroni Week, a celebration of the classic cocktail dreamed up by Imbibe Magazine and Campari.

In Imbibe Magazine’s own words:

Welcome to Negroni Week, presented by Imbibe Magazine and Campari. Imbibe launched Negroni Week in 2013 as a celebration of one of the world’s great cocktails and an effort to raise money for charities around the world. From 2013 to 2017, Negroni Week grew from about 120 participating venues to over 7,700 venues around the world, and to date, they have collectively raised nearly $1.5 million for charitable causes.

For one week every June, bar and restaurants mix classic Negronis and Negroni variations for a great cause. To participate, each venue signs up at, chooses from our list of official charity partners, and makes an immediate donation to that charity. Then they can return during and after Negroni Week to make additional donations to their chosen charity. After Negroni Week is complete, we tally up how much was raised collectively by all of our participating bars, restaurants and partners.

So there you have it… Negroni Week is officially a “thing…”

In the spirit of building on this wonderful idea, I decided to ask my Musings supporters to like and comment on the Negroni, and Negroni-variant cocktails appearing in my social media feeds this week – Instagram, Facebook and Fitocracy. If you like my post, I will donate a $1 to ALS Research… a (meaningful) comment yields a $5 donation… Plain and simple… Thus far things look good for a healthy donation… And this evening I decided to offer something a bit more radical.

I was a bit tired of each of my variations looking too much like the original Negroni, so I decided – what if we could make a Negroni devoid of it’s usual crimson hue? Is this possible?

Technically, the answer is no. There is no Campari that is anything but Ferrari red… and Campari is presumably one of the required ingredients of the cocktail. What to do? Bend the rules.

Campari is in the family of Italian spirits called Amari, or “bitters.” So what if we were able to find a white/translucent bitters? Something with a taste profile not unlike Campari, but having no color. Enter Luxardo’s Bitters Bianco, a non-colored bitters with flavors not unlike Campari.

The next ingredient that we need to “clarify?” Sweet Vermouth. Traditionally, sweet vermouth is red. However, several producers make a white version that is sweet. Cinzano most notably makes a Vermouth Bianco that has a depth of sweetness and flavor not unlike traditional red sweet vermouth.

So there you have it – the ingredients to enable the creation of what I am calling a The White Count, or an Albino Negroni…

1 oz. London Dry Gin

1 oz. Luxardo Bitters Bianco

1 oz. Cinzano Vermouth Bianco

Shake the ingredients with crushed ice, strain into a cocktail glass and garnish by floating a thinly sliced orange.


St. John Commandaría


As a Knight Templar, this featured wine has special meaning…

Commandaría is believed to be the oldest “named” wine in production today, dating back to 800 B.C. The wine, which is a sweet dessert wine, is made on the island of Cyprus. The wine was originally served by the Greeks as a festival wine, recorded by the poet Hesiod, along with the wine-making process. Commandaría is made from the Xynisteri and Mavro grapes. The grapes, which are often very ripe at harvest, are then further concentrated by sun-drying. While often a fortified wine, through its production method using ripened, sun-dried grapes, the wine often reaches high alcohol levels, around 15%, even before fortification.

The name Commandaría derives from the region where the wine is made. The area, at the foothills of the Troödos mountains, was once home to several Templar military bases, or Commanderies. After the arrest of the Templars in 1307 by King Philip the Fair, the region was subsumed by the Hospitallers, who produced and exported the wine in large quantities.

The wine achieved its greatest notoriety when King Richard the Lionhearted served the wine at his wedding to Berengaria of Navarre on May 12, 1191 in the chapel at Limassol on Cyprus. At the ceremony the king was credited with exclaiming that the wine was “the wine of kings and the king of wines.”

Today, the wine is legally allowed to be made in (14) neighboring villages: Agios Georgios, Agios Konstantinos, Agios Mamas, Agios Pavlos, Apsiou, Gerasa, Doros, Zoopigi, Kalo Chorio, Kapilio, Laneia, Louvaras, Monagri and Silikou. The designated area has assumed the name of the Commandaría Region and is located on the south facing slopes of the Troödos Mountains at an altitude of 1,500 to 2,700 feet. The region is within the larger Limassol District. Only grapes from vineyards with vines that are at least four years old are allowed. All vines are pruned in the goblet method and supplemental irrigation is prohibited. The grape harvest may only commence after the Vine Products Commission of Cyprus has given the green light, which is based on the average sugar content of the grapes.

Spes Mea in Deo Est

The Monte Cassino Cocktail

In the beginning of 1944, the allies were being kept from capturing Rome by German army elements holding the Rapido-Gari, Liri, and Garigliano valleys. Monte Cassino, a Benedictine Abbey founded in 529AD dominated the landscape and was believed to be serving as a German lookout post. The allies dropped thousands of pounds of ordinance on the abbey in an attempt to neutralize its use. The bombing proved fruitless and actually allowed German paratroopers to set up an almost impregnable defensive position in the rubble of the monastery.

For four months the allies assaulted Monte Cassino in an attempt to remove the German blockade. Finally, on May 18, 1944, Monte Cassino fell and the flag of Poland was raised above the ruins – Poland providing the unit that finally lodged the Germans from their positions.

In tribute to the many lives that were lost in the capturing of this iconic landmark, thus enabling the allies to finally take Rome from the Nazis, I present the Monte Cassino cocktail*:

1oz. Rye Whiskey

1oz. Benedictine

1oz. Yellow Chartreuse

1oz. Lemon Juice

3/4oz. Cold Water

Shake the ingredients with crushed ice, strain and serve with a lemon twist


*(from “365 Days of Cocktails…”)

The Spencer Cocktail

Despite the snowfall today (April 6th), it is time to jump start Spring with a refreshing and fruity cocktail that just oozes sunshine!

The Spencer Cocktail is originally from Harry Craddock’s The Savoy Cocktail Book, which is one of the definitive cocktail collections from the 1930’s.

The cocktail is well-balanced with a charmingly fruity personality, perfect to welcome Spring.

I present the Spencer Cocktail…

2oz. London Dry Gin

1oz. Apricot Liqueur

1/4oz. Orange Juice

Dash of bitters (Orange was my preference)

Shake with crushed ice and strain into a coupe. Garnish with a cherry.


2015 Santa Ema Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva, Maipo Valley, Chile

Chilean Cabernet is so often forgettable. Not terrible, but not memorable either. Every so often the stars align and a Chilean producer comes up with a serious, memorable wine. This wine is truly wonderful. Solid structure, ample fruit and a melange of beautiful flavors on the finish. Moderate aging potential. The best thing? You get all this for a nudge over $10 per bottle… very solid value!


2016 Tellus Vinea Bordeaux AOC


Based on preliminary reports, as well as some actual taste experience, it appears that Bordeaux is poised to release two, back-to-back exceptional vintages – 2015 and 2016. The last time this happened was 2009 and 2010.

As the 2015 wines begin to roll in, it is clear these wines are magnificent – showing characteristics of both the 2009 and 2010 vintages, Bordeaux’s best vintages of late. The wines possess the structured elegance of the 2010 wines combined with the lushness and approachability of the 2009 wines.

At this point, there have not been many 2016 wines in the retail stream to taste, largely because most château have only just wrapped up their initial future offerings. There are, however, some château that are releasing wines and what is coming to market provides evidence of the superior nature of the vintage.

It has generally been the case that as Bordeaux prices have climbed, more attention is paid to second labels, or lesser châteaux in search of greater value. This approach is especially important when faced with back-to-back exceptional vintages.

Such is the case with the 2016 Tellus Vinea Bordeaux. Tellus Vinea is a subsidiary wine made by the same team behind Château Belregard Figeac, a legitimate Grand Cru Saint-Emilion wine. The Pueyo Family has owned Belregard Figeac since 1853. With over 150 years of continuous ownership, the impact of seasons of experience with their vineyard parcels shows in the exceptional quality of their wines. This extensive knowledge of the vineyards in Saint-Emilion has allowed the Pueyo family to find great sources of grapes for their AOC Bordeaux wine Tellus Vinea. The original vineyards supplying Tellus Vinea bordered Lalande-de-Pomerol and the wine distinguished itself as a high-value “baby-Pomerol,” despite the broad Bordeaux AOC. However, after the 2011 vintage, these vineyards were no longer viable and the Pueyos needed a new source of grapes. Beginning with the 2014 vintage, the Tellus Vinea is being sourced from vineyards located on less sandy, more argilo-calcaire soils in Juillac, much further south and east from Lalande-de-Pomerol. The new vineyard source is managed organically, and all harvesting is manual. The varietal distribution on the parcel is approximately 60% Merlot and 40% Cabernet Franc and the presence of calcareous soil imbues the wine with firmer structure than pre-2014 wines.

The 2016 Tellus Vinea is a wonderful wine. Well-balanced with fresh, vibrant fruit on the nose and firm tannin on the palate, the wine exhibits great structure with a presence of smoothness and elegance. Woven amid the fruit are earthy, herbaceous notes with strong cedar on the aftertaste. The finish is somewhat short, attributable to the wine’s youth. The wine is drinking very well now and should improve over the next 5 to 7 years. At an average per bottle cost of $17 pre-discount, the wine is an insane value. Gordons in Waltham, MA had a Daily Flash offer at the beginning of March of $14 per bottle net, which further improves the value proposition.


2015 Château Haut Ségottes Saint-Émilion Grand Cru


The 2015 vintage in Bordeaux is very highly-regarded, and as wines from the vintage enter the market, many are met with bated breath in anticipation of their arrival. Château Haut Ségottes is such a wine.

Château Haut Ségottes is a classic Saint-Émilion producer that has been owned by the same family since 1860. The current proprietor, Mme. Danielle Meunier, “vigneronne extraordinaire”, is the fourth generation of her family to oversee this twenty-two-acre estate.

From the importer’s website (Neal Rosenthal):

Meunier’s great-grandfather purchased the estate around 1860 and had earned gold medals for his wine as early as 1912 at the Concours Agricole in Paris. In 1959, the estate began to bottle its wine in earnest. In 1972 Madame Meunier took the reins of production and we can proudly stake our claim as one of her first and most loyal clients: we have been purchasing her wines since the 1977 vintage.

The twenty-two-acres of Château Haut Segottes are all planted within the St. Emilion Grand Cru appellation. The vineyards are planted 60% to Merlot, 35% to Cabernet Franc, and 5% to Cabernet Sauvignon. The position of the vineyards within the appellation is outstanding. Parcels are found within the “lieu-dits” of Fortin (across from Château La Dominique and approximately 1,000 feet from Château Cheval Blanc); Chauvin; and the highly regarded “Plateau de Corbin”. Château Haut Ségottes bottles between 30,000 to 40,000 bottles per year.


Château Haut-Ségottes is a very traditional Saint-Émilion wine. Harvesting of the grapes is entirely manual. Fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks and the young wine is aged in oak for approximately 18 months. New cooperage is limited to 20%. The wine is not filtered before bottling.


Although the vineyards are planted to 60% Merlot, the ultimate blend that is bottled as Château Haut-Ségottes is actually a majority of Cabernet Franc – almost 65%. The dominance of Cabernet Franc gives the wine considerable structure and makes it exceptionally age worthy. Approximately 10,000 bottles per year are imported into the USA.

The 2015 wine is quite the little powerhouse. On the nose the wine exhibits bright cherry aromas with hints of cedar and dried herbs. Full-bodied with firm tannin and moderate acidity, well-balanced. Dark fruit core on the palate, tight with a hint of greenness, likely due to the higher percentage of Cabernet Franc in the blend. Long finish, somewhat closed, but showing a touch of spice on the aftertaste. Built for moderate aging, the wine should improve for the next 15 years, or more. The wine is a strong value, with an average retail of around $41.00 per bottle, pre-discount.