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Château de Brézé has a long and storied history, first being mentioned in texts in 1068, lauded by King René of Anjou in the 15th century and served at all the royal courts. In 1957, when the AOC of Saumur Champigny was established, the owner of Château de Brézé refused to be part of the appellation, saying that his estate's vineyards were the best and deserved an appellation all their own. And he was probably right. Unfortunately, the wines from those exceptional vineyards were terrible. Lucky for us, the winery sold in 2009 to Le Comte de Colbert, who recruited Arnaud Lambert from nearby Domaine de Saint Just to make the wine. He changed the vineyards over to organic farming and began producing truly stellar wines worthy of their source. The 2012 Château de Brézé Clos David is all estate-grown Chenin Blanc raised in stainless steel to preserve freshness. It has the slightly-oxidized note of a great White Burgundy and a lovely richness that allows it to pair with a variety of foods.

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Entries in spirits (5)

Monday
Jul272009

Building The Perfect Home Bar, Part 2

 

In the previous home bar article, I focused on different gins and the variety of drinks that can be created from them, plus a few different ingredients. I really believe that gin is the centerpiece of any home bar collection because it is so mixable and perfect for warm-weather concoctions. But it’s also important to have a few liqueurs and mixers on hand to spice up your drinks. Some of my favorites may be familiar, while others may be completely foreign, but I think all of them are essential to the perfect home bar. They are easy on the palate and most of them can be enjoyed simply by adding sparkling water or soda. If I’m not drinking a gin cocktail, then I’m sipping on a simple libation made from one of the following products.

Campari (1L $26.99) Campari is an Italian liqueur made by infusing a combination of alcohol and water with herbs, aromatic plants and fruits. Its trademark flavor leans towards the bitter and can be an acquired taste for many, but it can be sweetened with a bit of orange juice to make a refreshing, grapefruit-like libation. The classic drink made from Campari is the Americano, which is made by simply adding sparkling water. It was the original drink of 007 James Bond, and it is the perfect pre-dinner aperitivo. In an effort to appeal to a new generation, Campari hired Selma Hayek for some very sexy magazine ads and most recently has tapped Lady Gaga as their new cover girl. It also makes one of my favorite cocktails - the Negroni (in home bar article, part 1).

Cynar (1l $21.99) A darker, more bitter version of Campari made primarily from artichokes (Cynara scolymus is Latin for artichoke). It can be substituted for Campari in practically any drink to add a darker color and a more intense flavor. I like it with the Hansen’s Diet Tangerine-Lime soda that I buy at Trader Joe’s. If you need help digesting your food, a few sips after dinner can really do the trick.

Pimm’s No.1 Cup ($16.99) There are six different variations of Pimm’s Cup that I know of, and each is formulated with a different spirit. I think that No. 1 is the best because it is made with gin, of course! The gin is steeped with herbs, apples, oranges and spices to make a tea-colored liquid that does taste faintly of tea. At 25% alcohol it mixes well with ginger ale, lemonade, or lemon-lime soda to make the trademark Pimm’s Cup, one of two signature drinks served at Wimbledon every year (the other being Champagne).

Aperol ($23.99) Another Italian aperitivo comprised of herbs and fruit - in this case rhubarb, bitter orange, gentian and cinchona. Lighter and more fruit-forward, it is the perfect alternative for those who cannot handle Campari’s strong bitterness. It mixes with grapefruit juice to make a Pompelmo, or with Prosecco to make a Spritz. It is only 11% to Campari’s 22% alcohol, so you can have a little more before dinner.

Lillet Blanc ($14.99) This is an absolute must for any drinker. Lillet Blanc (there is a Rouge as well) is a French aperitif made from 85% wine and citrus liqueur made from oranges. It has been in production since the 1800s and, when poured over ice, makes an ideal companion to a book and a lawn chair. Besides drinking deliciously on its own, it is 25% of my favorite gin cocktail - The Corpse Reviver #2 (recipe in home bar article, part 1). Lillet is also a favorite of James Bond, who orders (and invents) the Kina Lillet Martini in 1953’s Casino Royale, which I believe substitutes Lillet for vermouth. Some restaurants, like San Francisco’s Dosa, have made an entire drink menu out of Lillet cocktails.

St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur ($31.99) This is a very unique French liqueur made from elderflower blossoms, a small amount of citrus and some natural cane sugar. It is pear-like and floral in taste and mixes extremely well with (you guessed it) gin to form an Elderflower Gimlet. Also, try it with sparkling wine. Most customers who have sampled it have come back to buy three or four more bottles.

Prunier Orange Liqueur ($24.99) Of all the unique and tasty spirits we have found, I am perhaps the most proud of this bottle. It is a million times better than Grand Marnier or Cointreau and it costs 10 bucks less! Made in France, the Prunier Liqueur d’Orange not only has all the flavor and texture of the fruit, but also the blossoms and peel. Think of Grand Marnier without all that sweetness that can quickly turn a perfectly happy stomach into a nauseous one. Your margaritas will taste fresher and brighter, your desserts richer. Add it with Lillet, Gin, lemon juice and Absinthe for the best drink ever, or sip it straight.

David Driscoll

Tuesday
Jun092009

I'm Going to Make You Like Grappa

 

In 1999, I decided that I was going to enjoy drinking Scotch whisky. I was entranced by the salty characters I watched every week during my film noir course and, as with many other college-aged, semi-adolescent boys, I was on a Charles Bukowski kick. The men in these stories were hard-boiled and decisive. They smoked a pack of cigarettes a day (something I also imitated, unfortunately) and lived life by their own rules. I definitely wanted in. The first bottle of Scotch was purchased for me by a friend at the local supermarket. It was called Blandy’s and it cost around $10. I filled two glasses with ice cubes and together we poured ourselves a few fingers. He drained his in a matter of minutes, while I struggled severely. This was harder than I had expected.

Certain preferences in life are the result of repetition and pure perseverance. Nobody truly enjoyed their first cigarette, they had to make themselves like it (in fact, that’s a piece of information used to help many smokers kick the habit). Other culinary delicacies, such as foie gras, escargot or even sushi, are not appreciated by the younger, inexperienced palate, but are savored by the more seasoned aficionado. I believe that with practice and increased exposure to the proper influences you can grow to like things.

Every serious meal I’ve ever had in Italy ended with a small glass of grappa and, because of the fond memories these events left me with, I associate grappa with happiness. But it wasn’t always so pleasant. The first glass of grappa I ever drank went down like fire and left my mouth tasting of gasoline and rubbing alcohol. My parents were hosting their German friends Lilo and Dieter for dinner and they had brought it along with them. “It helps with digestion,” they explained to me. It had better have some medicinal purpose, I thought, because it tastes like crap. More than any other distilled spirit, bad grappa can truly live up to its reputation as “firewater.” Even though it burned my throat and made my eyes water, I noticed how everyone else was truly enjoying their small glass around the dinner table. Years later, while traveling through Italy on my own, I was an older and more established drinker looking to experience everything the country could offer. Every trattoria has a locally made grappa on their shelf, whether it was in a fancy bottle or an unlabeled pitcher, and I sampled each one. I was determined to understand what made people want to drink it. Sometimes it came straight, and other times infused with a sweet liqueur. One time while dining with Lilo and Dieter in their apartment on Christmas Eve they mixed it with espresso and we drank it out of a four-spouted friendship pot. Grappa is versatile and can be enjoyed differently in its many incarnations. Slowly but surely the flavors became familiar and almost comforting.

If there’s one thing that tastes terrible it’s bad grappa, and it seems that most of what I’ve bought domestically in my lifetime has been bad. I say this because the commercial bottlings still make me pucker up and close my eyes, even after having developed a taste for the stuff. Part of the reason for this is the quality of the vinaccia - the pomace of grape skins used for distillation. Grappa is technically not brandy because it is not distilled from base wine, but rather the skins left over from pressing. Commercial distillers buy the left over musts from wineries all over Italy and it can take days before the loads are delivered and finally distilled. Quality grappa is made from vinaccia that is distilled immediately after pressing. Musts that are left to oxidize become less valuable because they lose their varietal character with passing time. Logically speaking, winemakers who also make grappa on-site are more likely to have distilled from fresher vinaccia and therefore have more flavorful grappa.

The difference between single-varietal grappa and blended commercial slop is like night and day. That $30 bottle you got at the supermarket probably burns like petrol, but a boutique grappa I recently tasted made solely from the Moscato grape smelled like flowers and fruit and went down smoothly. On September 1st, I will be replacing Susan Purnell as the spirits buyer for K&L (along with David Othenin-Girard in SoCal) and the first task on my list is to make you like grappa. In order to achieve this task I am trying to taste as much grappa as I can get my hands on and only buy the best products from producers who are serious about their craft. Two weeks ago I sampled the Marolo line-up and was very pleased. Located in Piedmont outside of Alba, they make outstanding distillates from Moscato, Sangiovese and Nebbiolo grapes - some are rich with barrel age and others clean and crisp. Some grappa purists drink only those straight off the still, while others appreciate the influence of new oak. I will leave it to you to decide which style you prefer.

Needless to say we will begin carrying these bottles immediately with some available in-store and others on a special order basis with fast delivery. I am confident that our general drinking public is going to fall head-over-heels for our quality grappa offerings, simply because they are rare and delicious. Why should you begin developing an affinity to grappa? That answer lies within you, of course. Maybe you’ve read about it in the paper, seen it in on an episode of the Sopranos, or watched a table full of Italians conclude their meal with style. Whatever your reason, I can guarantee you that whatever romantic notion you dream up, the grappas you find in our store will live up to your expectations (rather than singe your taste buds).

For more questions about grappa or other spirits, contact me at DavidDriscoll@klwines.com

-David Driscoll

 

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