Sunday, December 27, 2009

Wine Tasting in Paso Robles - December 2009


Vina Robles - highlights were the 2007 Petite Sirahs - most notably the Penman Springs Vineyard and Jardine (which also uses Penman Springs fruit) bottlings. Penman Springs owners Carl and Beth McCasland are good friends of Jennifer and Don and make a damn fine Petite Sirah of their own. The Penman Springs bottle was particularly dark and rich. Purchased bottles of both.

Robert Hall - met Sunny in the tasting room - had a great dry sense of humor. And he enjoyed forcing us to blind taste and guess the varietals. Did not do too well but nailed the Cabernet Franc. Decent wines but nothing spectacular. Picked up a bottle of the Cabernet Franc.

Tablas Creek - tasted through a lot of wine. The 2007 Cotes du Tablas blanc was good, the 2007 Espirit du Beaucastel blanc was fantastic with a great nose of flowers and tropical fruit. The 2006 Syrah was very good as was the 2006 Espirit du Beaucastel rouge. The 2007 Espirit du Beaucastel rouge was phenomenal. More fruity and full flavored than the leaner 2006 it had lots of dark fruits and a nice delicate earthy. mineral note. Also notable was the 2007 Tannat, a dark and brooding wine tasting with nice boysenberry flavors. Picked up bottles of the Espirit du Beaucastel rouge 2006 and 2007 as well as the 2006 Syrah and 2007 Tannat.

Denner - Also had quite a bit of wine here. Favorite was the 2007 Syrah, which exhibited lots of rich, extracted cassis, blackberry fruits along with nice minerality and well integrated french oak. The Grenache was excellent as well. I don't typically like grenache much on its own, but this wine really jumped from the glass with flowers and jammy cherry and raspberry fruit notes. I'm never a huge fan of the Ditch Digger with its strong mineral and roasted game elements, but it is clearly a well made wine. Also the 2007 Dirt Worshipper, which I've enjoyed in prior vintages, was nice but did not inspire. Purchased bottles of the 2007 Syrah and Grenache.

Zin Alley - Tasted a 2007 zinfandel which was plummy and a bit odd on the nose, a 2007 Nerelli "Generation 4" (Syrah/Zin blend) which was very good with some rich dark syrah fruit to balance the jammy zin fruit, a 2007 Zin Port which was good but a bit simple and a 2007 Nerelli "After Hours" late harvest boytritized dessert wine made from Chardonnay,Pinot Blanc and Gewurztraminer, which was very good with the Gewurztraminer tropical fruit and spice showing through.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Favorites of 2009 - A Year in Review

So after my first year of blogging my brains out, I thought I'd take a few minutes to look back at what 2009 had to offer in the world of potables.

What follows is a list of my favorite "discoveries" of 2009, in no particular order:

1) Amer Picon/Torani Amer - A fantastic spirit which tastes of bitter amaro liqueur and orange zest. Both the homemade version and the commercially available one from Torani are a real treat and make a nice addition to cocktails such as the Brooklyn and the Picon Punch.

2) Laird's Apple Bond/The Jack Rose - Quite possibly the coup of the year for me. Laird's Apple Bond just begs to be mixed in cocktails which seem to unleash the concentrated apple flavors. The Jack Rose cocktail was an epiphany, and highlighted the importance of using a good grenadine (i.e. homemade or Ferrara).

3) Schweppes Indian Tonic (Holland) - I've always enjoyed domestic Schweppes, but when Rob and I did our tonic water tasting, no tonic really hit me in all the right places more than Schweppes Indian tonic with its complex bitter character.

4) Plymouth Sloe Gin - A relatively new product on the market, Plymouth is an authentic English sloe gin which has a delicious tart flavor of cherries/plums and warm, lingering finish. A great winter warmer on its own, it was also excellent in the Wibble cocktail.

5) El Dorado 15 year old rum - OK, my official rum tasting post is still in-work, but after my neighbor Beky received a bottle of this from a customer and gave me a taste, I had to go out and buy a bottle of this complex Guyanese rum right away. Tastes of smoky burnt sugar, toffee and raisins with subtle woodsy notes. I have yet to find another rum of this staggering complexity and quality and may soon give up the search.

6) Cherry Heering/Blood and Sand - The Blood and Sand is the first, and possibly only cocktail, which makes successful use of scotch whisky as an ingredient, due in large part to the presence of the delicious cherry liqueur, Cherry Heering. With flavors of cherry, chocolate and spices, I'm looking forward to some more experimentation with Heering in the new year.

7) Root Liqueur - A neat new product from Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction! Thanks to Mike for first seeing it in a magazine and recommending it for trials. Great flavors of birch bark and spice, this liqueur is interesting on its own, and really sings in a Forbidden Root cocktail.

8) Sangrita - An excellent and refreshing tomatoey, citrusy, spicy drink that I've grown really accustomed to having alongside my favorite blanco tequilas. Thanks to David Rosengarten for introducing me to this in his cookbook Taste. Speaking of blancos, I'm looking forward to putting together a tasting of at least one sizable flight of more blanco tequilas in 2010.

9) Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth - A fantastic, flavorful vermouth with licorice and spice (e.g. cloves) flavors. Well balanced with a clean finish, this is simply the best vermouth out there. Create the ultimate Manhattan with Carpano Antica and Rittenhouse BIB Rye (which, incidentally, I do not care for at all neat, but in a Manhattan it is incredible)

10) Ardmore 15 years old & Ardmore Traditional Cask - My first experience with Ardmore single malt scotch whisky was these two bottlings, the 15 year old from Whisky Galore and the Traditional Cask from the distillery. Both were notable expressions of this uniquely heavily peated Highland malt. The 15 year old particularly, when sprinkled with a few drops of water, really demonstrates the trademark creaminess of this malt, which is a component of the Teacher's Highland Cream blend.

Finally, a few special wines really stood out this year. Below are my tasting notes, recalled from memory, on the special bottles I had in 2009.

11) 2006 Kosta Browne Pinot Noir Kanzler vineyard - the best of the 2006 Kosta Browne Pinots that I had, all of which were a lighter, earlier-drinking style than their brawnier 2005 counterparts. Intense floral, tart fruit and spice aromatics with a nice balance and long finish.

12) 1990 Lynch Bages Pauillac - Opened my (sigh) last bottle of this during the year which was originally purchased during my college years. A lesson on the ageability of fine Bordeaux - still fairly young, with firm tannins which are just starting to soften. Very drinkable at this age with lots of dark fruits (cassis, blackberry) and that classic lead pencil/graphite aroma along with some grilled meat. Excellent overall balance and a nice long finish. Definitely ranks among the best Bordeaux I've ever had. Still at least another decade ahead for this wine.

13) 1997 Joseph Phelps Insignia - A (very generous) gift from my friend Paul, this is quite possibly the single best California Cabernet I have ever had. Incredible concentration, it poured an inky purple. Loads of sweet black currant, cherry/berry fruit with well integrated vanillin oak flavors. Still quite young, I'll probably give my next bottle a few more years.

14) 2006 Diatom Chardonnay Huber - From Greg Brewer, winemaker at the fantastic Melville winery, Diatom chardonnays are produced from single vineyards and are fermented in stainless steel without a malolactic secondary fermentation (which gives most typical Chardonnays their "creaminess"). The freakishly high alcohol (in the high 16%!) goes largely unnoticed in this wine which oozes tart, crisp fruit such as white peach and granny smith apple along with floral and mineral elements. Striking for its pure, focused fruit flavors and its ability to provide layer upon layer of complex flavors without the typical overt use of oak.

Final Notes: I've had a great time tasting through what 2009 has to offer and look forward to a great 2010. A special thanks to all who've provided feedback and recommendations. I thrive on recommendations, so please keep those comments coming and feel free to offer up suggestions for future posts if anything comes to mind.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Plymouth Sloe Gin

The recent spate of of cold weather here in Southern California has left me searching for a nice "winter warmer". Sure there's the typical wintry standby, single malt scotch, but I was looking to broaden my horizons a bit. This led me to sloe gin.

Plymouth, maker of a fine "Plymouth Gin" which is the only of its kind, as opposed to "London Dry" recently launched its own version of sloe gin which one-ups the sweet, sticky anduninteresting sloe gins usually sitting on the shelf.

According to Plymouth's website:

The making of fruit gins is a long tradition in the British countryside and Plymouth gin keeps true to a unique 1883 recipe. Sloe berries are slowly and gently steeped in Plymouth Gin, soft pure Dartmoor water and a small amount of sugar for approximately 4 months. The sugar levels are kept low to allow the full flavour of the berries to shine and allow the dry acidity of the fruit to be an important part of the taste. The result is an entirely natural product with no added flavourings or colourings. Sloe Gin has long been enjoyed as a "winter warmer" in the countryside.

On its own, Sloe Gin is quite delicious. I took the following tasting notes:

Color: Burgundy with a brick-colored edge
Nose: Evokes cherries, tart plums, black tea, almonds
Taste: tart acidity with bright fruit flavors (cherry, plum skin) followed by a round sweetness and then a bit of alcoholic bite
Finish: Long, more black tea

While it's great on its own, I thought I'd peruse a few cocktail recipes and try a few that caught my eye (yes, even mostly icy concoctions which are far from the "winter warmer" archetype)

Plymouth's website lists a few interesting cocktails; the one that sparked my interest the most was the "Wibble", a recent creation:

The Wibble
1 oz. grapefruit juice (Ocean Spray white grapefruit)
1/2 oz. lemon juice
1 dash simple syrup
1 oz. Plymouth Sloe Gin
1 oz. Plymouth Gin (used Beefeater)

Shake ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass. Invented at the Player, London 1999 for Plymouth Gin's managing director by Dick Bradsell

Notes ****/***** Really nice cocktail, which gets better as you drink it. I love grapefruit and it works well in this. The gin is surprisingly in the background here relative to the sloe flavors, but it still asserts its presence. Also tried this without the simple syrup and it was still great, just used the slightest bit less lemon juice.

Cocktail DB had a staggering array of drinks using sloe gin. I really had to focus on culling down the list to a reasonable size. Here's what I ended up with:

Black Hawk
1.5 oz. rye whisky (WT 101)
1.5 oz. sloe gin
Stir with ice and strain. Serve in a cocktail glass with a cherry.

Notes: ***/***** This is a sort of Sloe-ey variant on a Manhattan. The Wild Turkey 101 Rye pretty much overwhelms the Sloe flavors which I was surprised to find.

1 oz sloe gin
1 oz gin
1/2 oz sweet vermouth (Martini & Rossi)
1 dash orange bitters (Regan's)

Stir in mixing glass with ice & strain. Serve in a cocktail glass with a cherry.

Notes: ***1/2/***** Nice play of sweet and bitter, but the sloe character is a little lost with the vermouth and bitters. Still, a complex and agreeable cocktail.

Diki Cocktail #2
2 oz sloe gin
1/4 oz applejack
1/4 oz grapefruit juice

Stir in mixing glass with ice & strain. Serve in a cocktail glass

Notes: ***/***** This is nice with the apple bond and grapefruit (I used closer to 1/2 oz. of each as 1/4 oz. seemed too inconsequential. A little on the sweet side for an "up" cocktail. Also tried 1.5/1/1 with even better results (at least ***1/2/*****).

Ninety Miles or Savoy Tango (same)
1 1/4 oz sloe gin
1 1/4 oz applejack

Shake in iced cocktail shaker & strain. Serve in a cocktail glass.

Notes: ***1/2/***** Surprisingly good given there's only two ingredients in this, but then again why should I be surprised when Laird's apple bond seems to marry so well in many cocktails. The apple flavors really come through nicely.

Rosy Deacon Cocktail
3/4 oz gin
3/4 oz sloe gin
1 oz grapefruit juice

Shake in iced cocktail shaker & strain. Serve in a cocktail glass.

Notes: ****/***** Whoever decided that grapefruit and Sloe gin is a good combination is a genius. This is surprisingly fruity, complex and way too easy to drink. Watch out, this one will sneak up on you...

Ruby Cocktail
1 3/4 oz sloe gin
1/2 oz sweet vermouth
1/4 oz cherry liqueur
1 dash orange bitters

Shake in iced cocktail shaker & strain. Serve in a cocktail glass

Notes **1/2/***** I like the flavor here but this is a dessert. Simply too sweet for a cocktail, as I might have expected looking at the ingredients. Needs some more "punch" for balance. Beautiful color though. I can see where it gets its name.

Final Notes: I've seen and heard about sloe gin for the longest time, but never really had any interest until this bottling from Plymouth arrived on the market. I really enjoy sloe gin on its own - it's tart, sweet and warming for those chilly winter nights. But it also works very well in cocktails and seems to be a natural partner with gin, grapefruit and apple brandy. My favorite of the cocktails was the Wibble, with the Rosy Deacon as runner up. Anything with 3 stars or more is definitely worth a try.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Thanksgiving Cranapple Punch

Here's a recipe for a mixed drink that I put together for Thanksgiving this year. I focused on a drink that would showcase some seasonal ingredients and provide some level of refreshment, allowing everyone to avoid getting too tipsy prior to a nice dinner with some good wines.

No fruit says Thanksgiving more than cranberries and I selected a 100% cranberry juice from L&A for this. It is super concentrated/unsweetened and is quite tangy and bitter - the true essence of the cranberry. It needed some dilution and sweetening to work in a punch.

As for the liquor in the punch, I don't need much arm-twisting to use Laird's bonded apple brandy. Superior to their Applejack due to the higher apple content (it is 100% apple brandy vs. Applejack which is grain spirits mixed with apple brandy), it works wonders in cocktails where the intense apple flavors really come through.

Finally some fresh squeezed orange juice and a slice as garnish add some dimension and further balance the tartness of the cranberry. I would have used blood oranges were they available, but they don't come into season until December-January. Instead I used CA navel oranges.

Cranapple Punch (single serving)
1.5 oz. Laird's Apple Bond
2 oz. L&A Cranberry Juice (concentrated, unsweetened)
2 oz. Water
1T Superfine sugar
1/4 oz. fresh squeezed orange juice

Dissolve sugar in water. Build ingredients in a double old fashioned glass over ice cubes. Stir. Garnish with an orange slice.

Cranapple Punch (group)
1 750 ml bottle Laird's Apple Bond
1 32 oz. bottle L&A Cranberry Juice (concentrated, unsweetened)
32 oz. Water
1 cup superfine sugar
4 oz. fresh squeezed orange juice

Dissolve sugar in water. Mix ingredients in a large (>>92 oz.) punch bowl. Stir. Garnish with orange slices (half rounds). Add ice block. Serve in individual glasses over ice. Serves 16.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Dark 'n Stormy

The Dark 'n Stormy - Bermuda's national drink - is a refreshingly different drink worth checking out. Made exclusively with dark rum and ginger beer (and garnished with a lime wheel only as an option), it is a simple highball which is easy to put together and enjoy.

Trademarked by the Gosling's brand, their website lists the following recipe for the drink:

Dark 'n Stormy®
2 oz Gosling's Black Seal Rum
Gosling's Stormy Ginger Beer
In a tall glass filled with ice add 2 oz Gosling's Black Seal Rum and top with Gosling's Stormy Ginger Beer. Garnish with lemon or lime wedge (optional).

The drink is indeed very good with Gosling's Black Seal rum as required by the trademark, which the company takes seriously. In fact, Gosling's has apparently been pursuing legal action against Zaya rum which ran an ad in Imbibe magazine recommending their 12 year old rum as the preferred ingredient for a top notch Dark n' Stormy.

While Black Seal rum is good, I have found that there is an even better rum for a Dark n' Stormy. And if using this rum causes the drink to be called something else, then so be it - I'm willing to pay that price. That rum, incidentally, is El Dorado 5 year old Demerara rum from Guyana. Not designed to be a sipping rum (unlike the fantastically complex, otherworldly El Dorado 15 year) it has a spirity, youthful nature which makes it perfect for mixing and it has much more flavor going on than Black Seal. Specifically, it has the classic Demerara burnt sugar, caramely, smoky notes that really play well with a topper of a good quality ginger beer.

This discovery came after trying the drink with a number of different rums that I had on hand for mixing. Coruba, a dark rum from Jamaica, was a little too dark and sweet and lent the drink too much of a molasses note. Mt. Gay Sugar Cane Rum (an excellent rum) was pretty good, but not quite as convincing a performer in the mixed drink as the El Dorado. Its lighter flavors just didn't stand out enough for my taste.

Another great thing about the El Dorado 5 year old rum is that its price is on par or even less than Gosling's Black Seal at around $17.

So how about the ginger beer? Barritt's, a Bermuda brand, was the mixer of choice (officially, that is) prior to Gosling's recent launch of their own Stormy Ginger Beer. It appears to remain the ginger beer that Dark n' Stormy connoisseurs prefer based on some limited web browsing. Another fairly well-known Bermuda brand is Regatta.

The Bermuda ginger beers tend to be fairly light in color, cloudy and to have a medium-strong ginger flavor, but without the lingering burn which characterizes the stronger Jamaican-style ginger beers.

Barritts is my clear favorite. Next to it, the Goslings is slightly harsh with a more musty flavor. Regatta is very good, but it is lighter in style, more like a ginger ale and for that reason does not perform as well as a mixer.

A non-Bermuda replacement that I have found works well is Bundaberg from Australia. It's lighter in ginger bite than Barritts but has a round, sweet flavor. And it is reasonably priced and readily available at your local Bevmo unlike all of the others, which can be difficult to find.

As far as a recipe goes, I tend to use approximately 2:1 ginger beer to rum. And regarding the optional lime garnish - I omit it altogether.

Give a Dark n' Stormy a try and let me know what you think. Feel free to experiment with the ingredients, but just remember that if you're not using Black Seal, you'll have to call it something else.