Brancott highlights the diversity of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc

I recently participated in a digital tasting of New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs. With one exception, they were from Brancott Estate. The outlier was from Stoneleigh, which is a sister winery. Pinot Noir from New Zealand has been making a strong mark throughout the world over the last decade, with good reason, but it was with Sauvignon Blanc that New Zealand first made its mark internationally. This quintet showcases a variety of styles and choices made by growers and winemakers. The weather is warm and the time is right for keeping some Sauvignon Blanc standing by in the refrigerator. One of the five choices below should quench your thirst.

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Brancott Estate 2013 Flight Song Sauvignon Blanc ($15)

Grapefruit and gooseberry aromas leap from the nose here. Lemon zest, minerals and spice fill the palate, which is even-keeled and fresh. The finish shows off hints of yellow melon, white pepper and continuing citrus elements. This wine is also made to be 20 percent lower in calories.

Brancott Estate 2014 Estate Sauvignon Blanc ($14)

Year after year, this particular release stands as one of the great Sauvignon Blanc values in the world. It’s a wine of consistent style and quality. Citrus and tropical fruit aromas abound on the nose. The palate is generously laced with tons of gorgeous fruit flavors and tiny wisps of grass. Papaya, yellow melon and white pepper emerge on the lovely finish. It’s a middle-of-the-road Sauvignon Blanc in the way you want an entry level wine to be. It has good varietal character and lots of drinking pleasure. It’ll appeal to a wide array of taste buds. Stock up and drink this all summer.

Stoneleigh 2013 Latitude Sauvignon Blanc ($18)

The aromas here are slightly more reticent than on the other wines, but white flower and ruby grapefruit aromas are evident. The palate has tons of minerals and spice along with fruit flavors that fill a somewhat subservient role. Wet limestone, lemon ice and a touch of chamomile tea are all part of the substantial finish, which has memorable length and depth.

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Brancott Estate 2013 Letter Series Sauvignon Blanc ($26)

A bit of mesquite appears on the nose along with bright stone fruit. Peach, nectarine and apricot flavors all appear on the palate, along with hints of grapefruit. All of those characteristics carry through to the finish and are joined there by a refined core of minerals and elements of spice. The finish is long and impressive.

Brancott Estate 2010 Chosen Rows Sauvignon Blanc ($65)

Chosen Rows is a tiny production from a producer that makes, well, a lot of wine. This selection is limited to a grand total 3,500 bottles which are hand numbered. Gooseberry and grapefruit aromas are dominant on the nose of this Sauvignon Blanc. The palate is gently layered with tons of depth and complexity. The fruit flavors are joined by bits of savory green herbs. This wine has remarkable persistence, and a prodigious finish which goes on for an impressive length of time. Continued citrus fruits, bits of grass and white pepper are all in play as things come to a close. On its own, this Sauvignon Blanc is delicious and mouthwatering. When it’s paired with the right foods it’s simply stunning. Quite simply, Chosen Rows is one of the best Sauvignon Blancs in the world.

Sauvignon Blanc is one of the most adaptable grapes in the world. Some grapes only work in a limited range of styles; Sauvignon Blanc is more of a chameleon. This quintet showcases some of those styles through the lens of New Zealand Winemaking. Each and every one of these wines is delicious and fairly priced. Even Chosen Rows, at $65, is a fair value when you consider its quality and relative scarcity.

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Drink of the Week: The Parisian Cocktail

the Parisian Cocktail.A while ago, I picked up a half-size bottle of Mathilde brand cassis (black currant) liqueur. Often referred to with some pretension as “creme de cassis” in recipes, the distinction between creme de cassis and just plain cassis seems vague at best. Anyhow, though extremely sweet, my plain old cassis had a nice flavor and I decided it was time to give it a whirl in an appropriate cocktail setting.

Also known as the Paris Cocktail, the Parisian shows up in the 1930 The Savoy Cocktail Book and Dale DeGroff’s much more recent The Craft of the Cocktail. However, a 2009 Savoy Stomp blog post by Erik Ellestad traces the drink to a slightly earlier 1929 recipe published by Harry MacElhone. He’s the “Harry” of Paris’s famed Harry’s New York Bar, so I guess this drink might actually be consumed by actual Parisians.

French cocktailing bonafides or not, I did find the original recipe a bit overly sweet. So, partly by accident and partly inspired by the slight monkeying with the recipe Mr. Ellestad performed, I came up with a version I prefer. It’s a bit lighter and more refreshing — and still plenty sweet; almost a high end gin and juice, if you will, even if this version has more vermouth than gin.

The Parisian Cocktail

1 1/2 ounces dry vermouth (aka French vermouth)
3/4 ounce cassis
3/4 ounce gin
1 lemon peel (optional, but I think very desirable, garnish)

Combine your liquids in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Since cassis is so fruity, the cocktail gods seem to agree that this drink demands to be shaken. Do so vigorously. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and, I say, add a traditional twist of lemon to cut the sweetness just a bit.

As for your toast, toast Paris, of course. People who’ve been there say it’s amazing and the rest of us have the dreams of Paris we get from the movies and what not. That’s pretty okay, too.

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If you want to try the classic version of the Paris/Parisian Cocktail, just use equal parts of all three primary ingredients, i.e., one ounce each. You’ll find that it’s a fairly tasty drink but very, very, sweet. Definitely use the lemon twist garnish in tha case. (Dale DeGroff suggests using his signature flamed lemon peel, if you’re feeling brave.)

Since I only have one brand of cassis and dry vermouth on hand, I didn’t get to play around with different brands as much as I might have. However, I did find that this version of the Parisian works very nicely with either Bombay Dry Gin or the very inexpensive, but still quite decent, Gordon’s Gin. The latter variation especially reminded me of a classier, more drinkable version of the first alcoholic beverage I ever consumed.

Yes, if you were ever wondering what Manischewitz Concord Grape would taste like if it were actually good, the Parisian Cocktail is close as you’re likely to get. And Paris, Las Vegas is as close to Paris as I’m likely to get any time soon. C’est la vie.

  

Drink of the Week: The Bacardí Maestro Collins

The Bacardí Maestro Collins.It’s great to go out to a really good high-end bar and have drinks made with the bartender’s own personally crafted cumquat-and-cardamon bitters or her special thyme-parsley-and-Meyer-Lemon infused syrup. At the same time, there’s nothing like a super simple drink that you can easily make as home as well, and usually better, than your typical overworked bartender.

That definitely applies to this ridiculously simple and refreshing recapitulation of your basic Rum Collins, which differs from a Tom Collins only in changing the base spirit from gin. The only real difference in this version is the use of Bacardí Gran Reserva Maestro de Ron, a new super-premium expression from the creators of the USA’s most ubiquitous and time honored rum brand.

The super-premium rum scene has actually been one of the most exciting areas in contemporary boozing for some time. So, I was naturally very curious when the Bacardí people came knocking with a free bottle of product. It’s a worthy entry, definitely more flavorful, sweet, and smooth than your typical white rum. It’s very easy drinking and not too high priced, so I can imagine this going over very well on the current market. That’s particularly so as it seems to work very nicely in a number of cocktails. I enjoyed it in a daiquiri, a rum old fashioned, and, naturally, this.

 The Bacardí Maestro Collins

2 ounces Bacardí Gran Reserva Maestro de Ron (white rum)
1 ounce fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons superfine sugar
Seltzer or club soda “to fill”
Lemon wheel or twist (optional garnish)
Cocktail cherry (my suggested optional garnish)

Combine the rum, lemon juice and super-easily dissolving sugar in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Shake and double strain, using a food strainer to get rid of pulp as well as ice, into a collins or highball-sized glass stocked with fresh ice. Top off with the fizzy water of your choice, I liked adding a very thin lemon wheel and a cocktail cherry for a garnish. Toast anything you like, but try to keep it simple.

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The main trick to this drink is not to poo-poo the instruction to double strain/fine strain the drink. I’ve been a skeptic about this practice in the past. In this case, however, I’m here to tell you it can make all the difference. Straining out the lemon pulp also appears to strain out some of the harsher, more tart flavors. The result is a more mellow and finely balanced drink…and a very nifty booze beverage for what promises to be an extra hot summer.

  

2015 Father’s Day Gift Guide: Booze

Walk into any liquor store and you’ll see hundreds of options. You can zero in on your dad’s favorite drink when picking a gift, or you can get creative and choose something he wouldn’t buy for himself. And for more great suggestions, be sure to check out the other categories in our Father’s Day gift guide.

Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye

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The good folks at Crown Royal have introduced the brand’s first-ever blended rye whisky, so this is something delicious and unique that you can pick up for dad. As you would expect from Crown Royal, this whisky is very smooth. It’s crafted from 90% rye and tastes great either neat, on the rocks, or in traditional rye cocktails like a Manhattan or Old Fashioned. It also comes in that beautiful Crown Royal bottle that makes any bar look classy.

Patrón XO Cafe Incendio

This is an awesome gift for anyone who appreciates premium tequila or enjoys flavored liqueurs. This delicious new offering from Patrón is a spicy and sweet liqueur that is perfect as a sipping drink to savor and enjoy, or as a shot to get the party going. Patrón XO Cafe Incendio starts with Patrón Silver tequila and draws its flavor from the spicy Mexican arbol chile along with the sweet richness of Criollo chocolate. We recommend drinking it straight after chilling the bottle in the refrigerator. You can also use it for cocktails, and as a kicker, to spice up your coffee or hot cocoa in the winter months. You can keep a bottle in your fridge year-round as a permanent addition to your home bar.

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Drink of the Week: The Portly Blackberry

the Portly Blackberry.Let me tell you, folks, sometimes putting on this here cocktail blog is anything but a cocktail party. Sure, making outstanding drinks and occasionally getting free booze delivered by FedEx and UPS is the opposite of torture, but sometimes, well, it’s not the complete opposite.

That’s the feeling I experienced when I attempted to open a gorgeous free bottle of Alberta Rye Dark Batch. As I attempted to pull up the cork stopper, the plastic thingamajig on top broke off, leaving the bottle fully corked. When I actually went out and bought a fancy corkscrew (which I should have around anyway, though I’m no oenophile), all I managed was to push the cork inside the bottle. In fact, I’m still not sure how I’m going to store the remainder of this very good, and very interesting, whiskey.

What’s so interesting? As we learned from the first episode of “Mad Men,” the whiskey called “rye” was at one time more or less synonymous with Canadian whisky. In fact, Wikipedia tells us it’s still that way in Canada despite the fact that only a token amount of rye is in your typical Canadian whisky recipe. However, here in the U.S., rye whiskies by law have to have a much higher proportion of rye grains and the ryes that have been proliferating since the start of the ongoing cocktail renaissance would never be mistaken for Canadian Club, Crown Royal, or Seagram’s V.O. They often have a slightly peppery flavor and are a tad less sweet than bourbon, their close relative.

Alberta Rye Dark Batch is, therefore, of special interest as is passes U.S. rye muster but is manufactured by our friendly neighbors to the north and sold stateside with a little help from Beam Suntory. It is, however, no retread of your basic U.S. ryes because, like ordinary Canadian whiskys, it’s blended. In this case, however, a strong rye brew is combined with good old Old Grandad bourbon and 1% of sherry wine. Canadian whisky, often maligned by cocktailians but beloved by me, is just never going to be for fanatical purists.

Alberta Dark Batch might be using the American “whiskey” spelling on its bottle rather the traditional Canadian “whisky” spelling, but it’s not quite the same as U.S. bred ryes. It’s smoother and a bit sweeter. It’s not super complex — you won’t catch any rye bread notes — but it earns its super premium status with a flavorful depth and smoothness. It also very good in an Old Fashioned. (Also, if you buy yours and the top breaks off the way mine did, I’m pretty sure most retailers will let you exchange it for another bottle. Getting things for free has its drawbacks!)

The Portly Blackberry — I’ve shortened it’s name from the Alberta Rye Dark Batch Portly Blackberry — is a nice, sophisticated spin on many of the improved whiskey sour recipes that have been floating around for forever. (I usually won’t have any sour that doesn’t have egg white.) It builds on that 1% of sherry wine by taking up a convenient port in the cocktail storm and throws in some fresh berries for good measure.

The Portly Blackberry

2 ounces Alberta Rye Dark Batch Whisky
1 ounce port wine
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/4 ounce simple syrup
1 dash rhubarb bitters
1 large egg white (three tablespoons of packaged egg white)
4 blackberries

Combine the lemon juice, syrup, bitters, and two of your four blackberries into a cocktail shaker. Muddle the blackberries, liberating all the juice you can. Next, dry shake (i.e., shake without ice) to emulsify the egg white, which will be easier (and arguably safer) if you use one of the many prepared pasteurized egg white products on the market.

Next, add the rye whiskey, port wine, and plenty of ice. Shake vigorously for ten seconds or more. Then, double strain it into a chilled, and quite large, coupe or cocktail glass — ideally using a standard bar strainer and a food strainer — to get rid of both the ice and blueberry pulp. Finally, add the remaining two blackberries as garnishes. Toast the difficulties of life; without them, how would we appreciate it when things were easy?

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Speaking of life’s travails, I actually came down with a small bug of some sort as I was working on the Portly Blackberry. I decided to keep going with it, but I didn’t get to try the drink as many times as I normally like to. That means, I didn’t experiment with using a Brand X rye brand.

I can tell you, however, that while I usually allow a substitution of superfine sugar for simple syrup, in this case, I can’t endorse that. Often, drinks can taste slightly sweeter in a good way when you use straight sugar as opposed to the 50/50 combination of sugar and water. Not so with the Portly Blackberry; an already fairly tart drink became excessively so. On the other hand, if you want to boost the sweetness, doubling up on the simple syrup to an entire half ounce might work for you.

Also, though I had to drive across town to find one, it’s worth it to get yourself a bottle of rhubarb bitters. I actually forgot to use them on my first go round, and the drink was definitely much improved by that very small dash. If you’re lucky enough to live in an area where such things can be found, you’ll probably end up using Fee Brothers’s bitters like I did. However, if you’re a true DIYer with more time (and cooking skills) than yours truly, you can explore making your own.

Sometimes, one way or another, you gotta work a little for your high-end cocktails.

  

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