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.

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