Napa – Bordeaux Shootout VIII


What is now becoming a regular event at Musings on the Vine is the Napa-Bordeaux Shootout.

This past weekend, on October 13, 2018, installment number eight took place, with France just edging out Napa for bragging rights to yet another win.


The results of the tasting were thus:

NapaBordeauxVIIIResults (2)

Well, as you can see, this was a close contest. Despite Napa having wines scoring in second and third place, France managed to garner more overall points.
So, after eight installments, the results stack up as follows:
France’s lead is a strong 6 – 2 in overall wins. Point-wise, the French have 282 points to Napa’s 238 points, a widening margin.

A few observations are in order…

  • In prior meetings, it was clear that Napa was sometimes hampered by wines that did not age as well as their French counterparts. At this installment, to “level the playing field,” wines were staggered in age, with the French wines being on average a decade older than their American competitors. It appears to have helped the Americans by keeping the scoring close.
  • None of the wines had scored over 90 points when they were first reviewed upon release. Also, none of the wines are considered “trophy” wines. Despite their lack of “star power,” the flight showed that you don’t always need to be a star to shine.
  • I was again pleased with the 1989 vintage. The Olivier showed considerable aging potential despite being 29 years old. Another surprise? The 1988 Gloria… tons of aging potential left in this wine, a true testament to the quality of St. Julien Bordeaux.


Where does it go from here? Well if history repeats itself, I imagine a ninth match-up in the not too distant future…

Should be fun, as usual!


I can count on one hand the number of Scotch-based cocktails worth mixing. Scotch does not “play well with others,” which is okay by me.

Among those Scotch-based libations that are worthy, Penicillin is a refreshing drink that smoothes out the rough edges and wets one’s whistle quite admirably.

This version is a subtle variation. Usually made with honey-ginger syrup as the sweetener, I substituted Canton (Ginger Liqueur) instead. It achieved the same goal of providing a gingery sweetness against the lemon Juice, and brought a few percentage points of alcohol to the party.

I bring you Penicillin:

2oz. Blended Scotch (I used Chivas)

3/4oz. Lemon Juice

3/4oz. Honey-Ginger Syrup (I used Canton)

1/4oz. Islay Malt

Shake everything but the Islay with crushed ice. Strain into a cocktail glass or coupe and float the Islay on top of the cocktail. Garnish with dried ginger.


Brasserie Jo… Bon jour, mon ami…

I have fortunately, or unfortunately, been at many a great restaurant’s final meal… Colorado Public Library, Fantasia’s, Walter’s, the Pillar House, Maison Robert and Cafe Budapest… great institutes of gastronomy that left an indelible stain on my tablecloth of fine dining.

This weekend was the final hurrah of Brasserie Jo, the 20+ year-old French Bistro at the Colonnade Hotel in Boston’s Back Bay. A long time fixture for theatre-goers and revelers, Brasserie Jo has been witness to much of Boston’s culinary history.

Distinctive for their embrace of the real Parisian experience, for the better part of a decade, Brasserie Jo satisfied Francophile taste in style.

While bittersweet, this “last supper” was replete with all the trappings that made Brasserie Jo a celebration of life.

One should take away a lesson… all good things come to an end, but the remembrance of those special moments are what preserve a life well-lived…

Merci pour tous ces merveilleux souvenirs!

Napoleon’s Revenge

Last week I posted a fun libation called The Star Cocktail. Based on Calvados, the apple flavor made a perfect introduction to Fall.

I admit, I was quite taken with the Calvados as a base spirit and I had to experiment. I poked around the liquor cabinet looking for erstwhile partners… at first I thought Ginger Liqueur, but relented because of the candied sweetness. I then entertained all manner of Amari, but their fullness and bitterness shattered the delicacy of the Calvados. And then I stumbled upon a few comely dance partners… Mandarine Napoleon Liqueur, and Martini and Rossi’s new Ambrato Vermouth. The requisite combination yielded a wonderfully balanced cocktail with charming apple, orange peel and lemon notes. Lighter than The Star, and very apropos for Fall.

I present Napoleon’s Revenge:

1-1/2 oz. Calvados

1 oz. Mandarine Napoleon

1 oz. Martini & Rossi Ambrato Riserva Vermouth Bianca

Shake with crushed ice and strain into a coupe. Garnish with an orange and lemon twist. I had to use a Luxardo cherry…


The Star Cocktail

English born Harry Craddock was one of the most important bartenders in the history of the cocktail. He was trained in America until prohibition sent him packing to the London and the Savoy Hotel. There he proceeded to write one the most important cocktail tomes, The Savoy Cocktail Book. Written in 1930 and containing well over 750 recipes, the book is a classic, still in print today.

Within the covers of The Savoy, are numerous, delicious libations, such as The Star Cocktail. Simple and yet a wonderful aperitif, with subtle apple overtones and a crisp, refreshing palate. Perfect for a Fall evening.

The Star Cocktail:

2 oz Calvados

2 oz Sweet Vermouth

2 dashes Bitters (Bittermen’s Boston)

Shake with ice, strain and garnish with an olive.


A Martini with a dot…

According to Difford’s Guide, 365 Days of Cocktails, today is International Dot Day. As the story goes, in 2009, a teacher named Terry Shay introduced her class to Peter H. Reynold’s curious story The Dot. In it, a teacher starts a young girl on a journey of self-discovery by asking her to place a dot on a piece of paper. The exercise offers the girl encouragement in her own abilities and launches Vashti on life’s adventure.

In commemoration, what better libation than the Classic Martini, adorned with its own “dot,” a splash of Absinthe.

The juxtaposition of Dry Vermouth to Anise causes a raised eyebrow… and a little bit more…


Panama Presidente Cocktail

Fridays in the Summer seem to beg for Rum… especially when the temperature and humidity are high.

There are too many variations of “El Presidente” cocktails to even begin to classify any as “classic.” The one common thread between them all is Rum.

Otherwise, the variations are limitless.

I focused in on a recipe that caught my eye because of the juxtaposition of Cointreau and Dry Vermouth. It struck me that this variation would be more balanced than many of the other options.

The recipe specifically called for Grander Rum, an 8-year-old, Bourbon cask-aged spirit. Not having any Grander, I chose a Special Reserve Appleton from Jamaica.

Overall, the cocktail is quite refreshing and very well balanced. The Cointreau lends a lovely orange blossom flavor to the drink, and the Dolin Dry Vermouth keeps the sweetness in check. Quite a happy camper am I…

My friends, I present the Panama Presidente Cocktail:

2oz. Rum (8 year-old, cask aged)

3/4oz. Cointreau

3/4oz. Dry Vermouth

1/4oz. Pure Cane Syrup

Shake ingredients with ice and strain into a coup glass. Garnish with either an orange or lemon peel.


12 Year-Old Ledaig (Tobermory Distillery)

This single malt is produced on the Isle of Mull by Tobermory. It is a 12 year-old Whisky that is heavily peated and aged in wine barrels previously used for the aging of Hermitage wine (Northern Rhone Valley – France).

The character, as you would expect is all peat, but there are undercurrents of sea air and iodine that clearly underscore the influence of island nativity. On the palate, soft elements of berry fruit with vanilla and spice combine with a subtle sweetness that makes the malt quite charming. The malt is cask strength, but is neither hot, nor rough.

Unfortunately, given the nature of these bottles, availability is limited. I found mine at Julio’s in Westborough, MA.

The Bird of Paradise

Google “Bird of Paradise” cocktail and you will be presented with several iterations, each claiming “classic” status. Interestingly, the base spirits range from Gin to Tequila to Rum, with mixers running the gamut from lemon to lime to orange juice. Confusing at best.

After considerable research, the version that catches my fancy is actually the least common recipe. Based on equal parts Aperol and Rum, with a mix of pineapple and lime juice, this version is decidedly tropical, but with a crisp, refreshing edge that leaves the palate crying for more.

Perfect on a warm Summer’s day, this Bird of Paradise will entice your taste buds with suggestions of tropical fruits and exotic destinations.

The Bird of Paradise Cocktail:

1.5oz Aperol

1.5oz Rum (I used Goslings Black Seal)

1.5oz Pineapple Juice

.75oz Lime Juice

Shake the ingredients with crushed ice and strain into a coup. Garnish with a lemon slice.


The Martinez Cocktail

The lore of cocktails is rich and filled with many contradictions. The challenge is that with any lore, there is a fine line between verifiable truth and entertaining story. Cocktail lore is no different.

For many, the Martinez Cocktail is the precursor to the ubiquitous Martini. Seems plausible, given the name and ingredient list, and yet there is a camp (including yours truly) that holds fast to the Hoffman House as the parent of the Martini.

After crafting a few versions of the Martinez, I am actually able to see the evolution of the Martini from this classic tipple.

Both have Gin as their primary spirit. The Martinez leverages Sweet Vermouth, whereas the Martini employs the bracing character of Dry Vermouth. The Martinez also adds a third ingredient- Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur. This nutty, fruity spirit brings a hint of almond skin and hazelnut to the game. In comparison, the two cocktails couldn’t be more different and yet, they share a common bond.

My favorite version of the Martinez Cocktail is thus:

2oz. Old Tom Gin (I prefer Haymans)

2oz. Sweet Vermouth (I used Martini and Rossi Reserva Speciale Ambrato)

1/2oz. Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur

2 dashes Angostura Bitters

Shake with crushed ice and strain into a coup glass. Garnish with either and orange or lemon slice.