So what is it about Port?


Port has a reputation for being higher in alcohol, noticeably sweeter, with more body and palate density than other still wines. Made for centuries in the rugged region of northwest Portugal’s Douro Valley, Port is a fortified wine that leans heavily on the sweeter spectrum. Fortification means it is a wine with the addition of a stronger, higher-in-alcohol neutral spirit, generally aged, and because it is rich and sweet, is often sipped out of special little dessert glasses.

Fans of rich cheese and decadent desserts appreciate Ports pairing versatility as it is a popular addition to chocolate cakes, sweet gooey chocolate sauces and even used as a reduction for savory dishes like steak (especially a blue cheese topped steak). Often Port is simmered until it becomes a thich syrupy sauce which is added to recipes or just drizzled it over a dish, much like a balsamic glaze. Port is a great flavorful alternative to brown sugar or maple syrup.

Today, various renditions of Port are made outside of Portugal in places like California and Australia to name two. However, real Port Wine can only be made in Portugal. Non-Portuguese Ports are typically made from raisined grapes and often lack the depth and remarkable acidity that comes with the original.

True Port is the unique blend of the Portuguese indigenous grapes like Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo), Tinta Barroca and Tinta Cão, and there are said to be at least 52 varieties! Each grape adds a unique flavor to the blend. For example, Touriga Nacional adds blueberry and vanilla notes, and Touriga Franca adds raspberry and cinnamon notes. Additionally, when picking up a bottle, authentic Portuguese Port has the designation of “Porto” on the bottle’s label.

While much of the Port we see in the supermarket is of average quality, there are fine Ports that are highly treasured for sipping and can cost several hundred dollars.

In broad terms, Port can be split into two distinct categories: Wood Aged or Bottle Aged. Wood-aged Ports are typically ready for early enjoyment, designed to be consumed while still relatively young. The bottle-aged beauties, like Vintage Port, are built to go the distance, often requiring another decade or two to reach full maturity.

As it’s already been mentioned, Port is a sweet wine with flavors of raspberry, blackberry, caramel, cinnamon and chocolate sauce. There are several different kinds of port, but the primary styles of Port include a red Port with more berry and chocolate flavors (and slightly less sweetness), and a tawny-colored Port with more caramel and nut flavors (and more sweetness).  Fine aged Vintage Port or 30+ year Tawny Port have an even wider array of subtle flavors including graphite, green peppercorn, hazelnut, almond, butterscotch and graham cracker.

When serving Port, try to keep the serving temperature just below room temperature, right around 60°F degrees (16 °C). Serving Port wine with a slight chill will lift the aromatics and focus the innate fruit and flavor components. Use a  Port wine glass which smaller than a regular wine glass or brandy snifter and it is designed to hold the standard serving size of approximately 3 ounces. Once opened Ports can last from a day (Vintage Port) to several weeks for Ruby Ports and several months for Tawny Ports.

Port wine pairs wonderfully with richly flavored cheeses (including blue cheese and washed-rind cheeses), chocolate and caramel desserts, salted and smoked nuts, and even sweet-smoky meats (barbecue anyone?)  A popular way to serve Ruby Port in the summer (with a meal) is on the rocks with a peel of lime!

Port also makes a fine holiday gift for a wine or liqueur dirnker it’s richer texture and flavor profile makes it a special gift, not to mention it curls up niely  with you in front of a roaring fire!

What is Ruby Port? 

When someone says any Port in a storm, thoughts immediately turn to a Ruby Port and a cozy fire. There are many different official categories of Port with Ruby being the most common.

Ruby Port gets its name for its distinct ruby color. These Ports are young, approachable wines with fresh, fruit-filled aromas and an equally nimble palate presence. These wines are wallet-friendly, entry-level Ports, made from a mix of both grapes and vintages, aged for a total of three years and are quite popular.

They are intended to be consumed young and enjoy a remarkable food-pairing versatility, especially with bleu cheese, milk chocolate, and berry-based desserts. Non-vintage Ruby Ports are actually sent to age for a few years in a wood vessel, then bottled for immediate drinking, resulting in juicy, fruity ports that are also great as aperitifs. Some good Ruby Port producers include: Cockburn, Croft, Graham’s Six Grapes, Nieport, Taylor Fladgate, and Warre’s.

Deeply-colored Ruby Port includes four main categories: Ruby, Vintage, Late-bottled Vintage (LBV), and Crusted, along with many price tags. And do make great holiday gift ideas.

Vintage Port is at the top of the range where price, aging potential and prestige are concerned. It’s made only from the best grapes of a single vintage, and only in years that have been “declared” vintage-worthy, which usually happens just a few times a decade. Beyond that, the wines are made similarly to other Ports, fortified with spirits to arrest fermentation and preserve residual sugar. Vintage Port sees only two years of aging at the winery before each producer decides on its own whether to declare a vintage. Because the wines are so young upon release, they are usually tucked away in cellars for many years until they mellow and mature into their potential.

“Late-Bottled Vintage” or “LBV” Ports aren’t bottled until up to four to six years from the vintage date. Late means that, unlike true vintage Port (aged two years before bottling and released to be aged much longer), producers release LBV four to six years after the vintage. This means they spend about twice as long in wood as Vintage Ports, and so they’re usually more accessible at an early age. Some producers cold-stabilize and filter their LBVs, which is supposed to eliminate the need to decant the wine, but that can strip away the flavors. If you’re looking for LBVs made more like Vintage Ports, look for the word “Traditional” on the label. LBVs were originally intended to offer an experience comparable to Vintage Port but at a much lower cost. Many deliver the goods, but some of them can be just shadows of the real thing.

LBV Ports are also differentiated by style and each producer leans toward a particular style, so if you are looking for something young and fruity, ready to drink, select Cockburn’s, Càlem, Ramos Pinto or Sandeman. If you want something more mature, wood-aged, and ready to drink now, look for: Churchill Graham, Dow’s, W & J Graham and Taylor Fladgate. If you want to give a commemorative gift, one that’s truly worth aging, look for the following brands: Ferreira, Fonseca, Smith Woodhouse or Warre’s.

Crusted Ports are not made from wines of a single year but, like Vintage Ports, are capable of maturing in bottle. Also like Vintage Ports, they are not filtered before bottling and will form a ‘crust’ (natural sediment) in the bottle as they age.

When you are cooking and your recipe calls for Port, reemember most recipes call for the more affordable Ruby Port. This style is red and will impart red berry and cinnamon-like flavors into your sauce. You do not need a Vintage, LBV or Crusted Port when cooking. Remember, a true Portuguese Ruby Port may cost $6–10 a bottle, but will last a long time. If you don’t want to use your bottle for cooking (we understand that!) You can, in a pinch, use two parts dry bold red wine, one part alcohol (brandy or vodka) and about one-quarter part sugar. It won’t be ideal, but it is better than just using red wine!

Once opened, a Ruby-style Port will stay fresh for about 2 weeks (a month if preserved properly in your fridge)

What is a Tawny Port? 

Tawny Ports are aged in casks rather than large tanks or bottles like their Ruby counterparts. They are sweet wines with oxidative nut and caramel flavors, great acidity, easy to drink, silkier and lighter (in both body and color) than Vintage Ports. Tawnies can sometimes offer a broader, subtler array of flavors than their fruity and powerful Vintage Port relations, but both are connoisseurs’ wines.

Tawnies, like all Ports, are made primarily from Touriga Nacional, Tinto Cão, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Roriz and Touriga Franca grapes, grown on the dramatically vertical slopes of the Douro River. They are produced, as all Ports are, by stopping fermentation with the addition of brandy. The only difference between Tawny Ports and Ruby Ports is in the longer aging in barrel—a Tawny may age for decades.  A Tawny that is aged in the hot, dry climate of the Douro Valley is more likely to have a burnt character, rather than the more fruit-driven style of the wines aged in the cooler, moist air of Oporto right by the ocean.

A Tawny Port is a blend of older vintage wines, displaying a rich amber color. Their distinguishing feature is oxidation. Tawnies are typically slightly sweeter,  paler and browner than traditional Ports. They have a mellow, nutty, slightly woody, dried-fruit character, derived from contact with air during long maturation in porous wooden casks. As a Tawny Port spends more time in oak, its color starts to fade from ruby red to more orangey-brick, to a deep amber/mahogany color at maturity. As the aging process continues, a Tawny’s taste will become even more nuttier and it develops deliciously rich flavors of caramelized figs, dates and prunes. The older the Tawny Port, the more wood character you’ll get, which is why Tawny Port (as opposed to Vintage) is the more intense differentiation—woody, sweet, with notes of lighter dried fruit.

These wines pair beautifully with aged cheddar cheese, caramel apples or apple pie, dried fruit, milk or dark chocolate, cheesecake, tiramisu, pumpkin or pecan pie.

There are two major types of Tawny: the first is a blend of several recent vintages with no specific statement of age – known as basic Tawny Port. The second consists of older-aged Tawnies, marked as 10, 20, 30 or 40 years.

Tawny Ports come in three different styles: Colheita, Crusted or Indicated Age.

A Colheita Port is considered a Tawny Port that is made from grapes that all share the same single vintage year, and may have spent 20 years or more in barrel before it was released.

A Crusted Port is an unfiltered tawny that develops visible sediment, “crust,” and needs decanting before serving.

Tawny Ports that are made from grape blends that are older in average age are referred to as Indicated Age Tawny Port. Aged Tawny Ports are released in 10-, 20-, 30- and 40-year-old versions (the age refers to the time spent in wood). The tricky thing about Tawnies is that you never know how old they really are. When applied to Tawny Ports, the terms “10-year-old” and “20-year-old” are not intended to denote exact age. These year designations are the average compilation of various vintages used in the Tawny Port blend, not the exact years the wine has been aged as a whole. That’s not to say that you can’t tell the difference between Tawnies that are labeled 10-year-old and those that are 40-year-old. Tawnies of different ages do have distinct characteristics. Some people prefer the younger, more fruity style of 10-year-olds, while others want less fruit and more complexity. During aging, there is an evaporation of alcohol and water, so that the older the Tawny, the more concentrated it is, and the intensity of flavor becomes greater. Most Tawny lovers  prefer the 20-year-old, believing it strikes the right balance between aged character and vitality.

The most drinkable of fortified wines, they’re packed with flavor, but are always soft, rich and seductive. For many Port lovers, the idea of drinking chilled, aged Tawny is good news, as chilling helps open the flavors. Try keeping it in the fridge door or put the bottle in an ice bucket for 20 minutes before pouring.

Another of the many pleasures associated with aged tawny is that the bottle, once open, doesn’t deteriorate for several weeks and can  stay fresh for as many as three months. Keep wines longer by storing your wine in a cool dark place and using a vacuum preserver to remove oxygen.

When buying Tawny Port look for the following producers: Cockburn’s 20 Years, Dow’s 10 Year, Graham’s 20 Year, Taylor Fladgate’s 10 Year, Warre’s Otima 10 Year.

.

Going Vintage

Historically, Vintage Ports are only declared every three out of ten years on average.  A Vintage Port is a Port that is made of from a blend of grapes—mainly Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Cão and Tinta Barocca—grown in selected vineyards of Portugal’s Douro Valley, usually which are all from the same vintage year. That means only the best grapes, from the best vineyards in the best years, come together to create a quality Vintage Port.

Vintage Port is designed to age a long, long time. A Vintage Ports typically spends about six months in oak and is then bottled, unfiltered, for further aging. This extended aging is typical and it can be for 20 years or more. There are some highly-prized Vintage Ports that are more than 100 years old! Of course, a direct result of long-term aging is that a layer of sediment forms in the bottle. This is why Vintage Ports require decanting and a bit of aeration prior to consumption.

Look at it this way, if Ruby Ports are the entry-level Port, then Vintage Ports represent the upper echelon both in style and cost. A classification that is common to mistake with the “Vintage Port” designation is the “Late Bottled Vintage” Port (LBV).  Vintage port is easy to figure out—if a vintage was great, the port is bottled and sold, the idea being it should be aged in the bottle by the consumer (it isn’t wood-aging, but  it theoretically allows the aromatic and flavorful complexity of the port to coalesce into a rich, sophisticated, delicious liquid).

In the past, young vintage Port was tough, tannic and not worth serving. It needed years —if not decades—to soften and mature. Today’s vintage Port is different. It’s rich and fruity, with tannins so finely married to the ripe texture that you can start drinking it after only about five years.

Since Vintage Port is a red wine, don’t be afraid to serve it in the same way as a California Zinfandel. Young, fruity Vintage Ports are delicious with a steak with pepper sauce, or with sausage, especially spicy sausage. For holiday celebrations, a simple platter of smoked meats paired with young Vintage Port is a perfect starter. A mature—20 years or older—Vintage Port is best with a blue cheese, like Stilton, and don’t forget to add the almonds, walnuts and chocolates! Very dark chocolate (70% cacao or higher) and rich cheeses show all the richness, body and complexity and flavor that defines mature Vintage Port, but tropical fruits and blueberries are surprisingly successful pairings as well.

You can drink Vintage Port while dining on the patio in the summer, sitting around a log fire or at a restaurant. Because of its potency, Vintage Port is best served in small glasses that are large enough to swirl the typical three-ounce pour, because Vintage Port is fine wine it will give as much pleasure from its aromas as its taste.

Store Vintage Ports on their sides, in a dark, cool environment just like any fine wine. Once opened, Port can last two or three days, sometimes longer if it’s stored in a cool place. Treat vintage Port like a red wine, and you’ll be fine. Remember, there are only six to eight glasses of Vintage Port in a bottle, so it shouldn’t take too long to finish it.

If you plan on gifting a bottle of Vintage Port, look for the following Producers:Cockburn, Churchill, Dow, Fonseca, Graham, Sandeman, Taylor Fladgate, and Warres.

A Christmas White Port: 

While some people scratch their heads in complete bewilderment when wine talk turns to White Port, we can say white port is not only a real thing but has been around for a very long time. Port fans barely recognize it as a drink. But if you allow white Port to stand on its own as a simple, enjoyable summer apéritif instead of measuring it against its complex, nuanced red cousin, you might be pleasantly surprised. Made in Portugal from indigenous white grapes, white Port is a fortified wine around 18 to 20 percent alcohol.

In Europe, White Port is considered one of the great summer refreshers, served just as it is in Portugal’s Douro Valley: poured into an ice-filled tumbler, topped off with cold tonic, bruised mint sprigs and a lemon slice—the subtle flavors of creamy nuts, lemon and orange peel and white pepper are certainly different and a treat for your tastebuds.

In fact, as the name implies, the only major difference is that White Port is derived from indigenous white grape varietals —Rabigato, Viosinho, Gouveio (a.k.a. Verdelho), Malvasia and the prolific Codega (the most widely planted white grape in the Douro) to name a few—and can be made in both the very dry to semi- sweet styles. White Port is fortified like all other styles of Porto, but vinified like a Tawny and aged for a year in huge oak tanks before further aging in “Pipes” (550 liter oak casks) prior to bottling. The wines range in color from that of a pale straw gold to a beautiful salmon and those aged for extended periods in wood that resemble the amber tones of ancient Tawnies.

White Port is typically fruitier on the palate and a bit fuller-bodied than other fortified white wines, and their styles are segregated by sweetness level; they can be either sweet or dry, or somewhere in between. Another point of differentiation is the length of aging time.

White Port or “Porto Branco” in Portuguese is an uncommon category of Port and is most often served as a chilled aperitif.

Leve Seco”, a light dry White Porto, has a lower alcohol content of 16.5%. Dry white Ports are fermented longer in tanks and usually in oak between 5 – 10 years and gains complexity like a Sherry or Tawny Port while losing its residual sugar as it ages. This Port has a hint of sweetness and a nutty finish. Often served as an aperitif, this particular Port has found favor as a “gin” replacement when served as a “Port and Tonic” on the rocks. This version also pairs well with almonds, hard cheese, stone fruits, pâté or sushi.

Medium Sweet White Porto ages in wood for at least three years and shows more color definition and body than Leve Seco. Drink chilled, straight up in a white wine glass, or pour equal parts white Port and tonic or soda water in a cocktail glass and garnish with lime.

Lágrima” is the sweetest White Porto. It is aged in oak for three to five years  and the wine is produced utilizing free run juice from a variety of white grapes. This sweet style is very different and the flavors range from honey nectar to caramel and hazelnut. It can also double as a dessert wine as it pairs well with a variety of cheeses.

Medium Sweet and Lágrima Ports also pair incredibly well with a light dessert such as sponge cake or a meringue shell filled with fresh fruit. Both styles of White Port are also ideal for sangria—macerate the fruit in white Port before mixing with a bottle of white wine, or simply substitute White Port for the wine.

Ramos Pinto, Niepoort and Sandeman make good dry versions for drinking. When cooking, and the recipe calls for white wine, add Churchill’s Dry it’s aged longer and is darker, nuttier and a good addition to soup. You can add any dry White Port to potato or seafood chowder or in place of white wine in any recipe to add depth and a nutty flavor. Use sweet white Port for desserts and sauces the flavors they add are amazing.

Unopened white Port will keep a few years, or opened and refrigerated up to a month.

It’s all rosey: Rosé Port: 

This style is one of the new wines from the demarcated region of the Douro, in northern Portugal—it was introduced by Croft in 2008. When it was first released the IVDP (Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto) initially classed the style as “light ruby”. As the name suggests, this highly aromatic style of Port has a distinctive pink hue and typically displays notes of cherry, raspberry, strawberry,  violets and caramel.

Like other Port wines, Rosé Port can be a blend of grape varieties. The most commonly used, however, are Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Tinta Barroca and Tinto Cão. These are vinified with minimal skin contact, creating the rosé color, and reducing the amount of tannin in the wine.

Rosé Port’s distinctive freshness and soft, pleasant flavor is enhanced further with the application of cold settling prior to cool fermentation. As with other Ports, the fermentation process is halted with the addition of high-proof grape brandy that kills the yeast cells. This also has the added effect of raising the alcohol strength to approximately 19 percent ABV. In a departure from older, more traditional Port styles, Rosé Port is not aged.

Served cold or with ice, it goes well with dried fruits, something sweet or a red fruit tart. It is a great appetizer accompaniment and is nearly irresistable with light fish dishes or salads. It is also an ideal partner to savor in various cocktails on hot summer days or cozy winter evenings.

Rosé Port should be stored with the bottle in a vertical position, in cool and dry place (ideal temperature 59º F).

Rosé are wines that should be consumed within two to four  months after opening the bottle,.These wines should, by their character, be served cold, at temperatures between 46° and 50° F, or with ice. Try this young and unique wine – a real temptation. It also makes a pretty gift!

Our Thanksgiving Wine List


We are so ready for our Thanksgiving meal!

Our menu is planned and wines are all pre-selected because we believe the wine should enhance food and food should enhance wine; creating a symbiotic relationship improving our holiday dining experience.

The key to a successful wine pairing at Thanksgiving is versatility. Why? Well, we don’t serve Thanksgiving Day dinner as individual courses each paired with a different wine, followed by the next course and wine (although it would be nice). Our table is already set with the lovely presentation of yummy side dishes and condiments when the turkey shows up in all its glory ready to be served. We pass the plate and load up on a little bit of everything—knowing that at the end of dinner belts will be too tight and we will be as stuffed as the turkey was. This is the time to serve your wines ‘family style, the same way you serve your meal — just open your selections and let your guests help themselves to their favorite.

To do this, we avoid the extremes and stay balanced—low to mid alcohol levels (11-13.5 percent), good acidity (not too ripe or too green), minimal to moderate complexity and no huge tannins — lower tannin levels are better suited to the vast array of flavors the wines are meant to complement. From appetizers, to white and dark turkey meat, mashed potatoes, yams, herb-filled stuffing, cranberry relish, pickled this and peppered that, all the way to pie — wine selection is largely a matter of personal preference.

Just remember, with Thanksgiving wines, think balance, balance, balance!

Here are some of my favorites for my Thanksgiving table

Gruet Non-Vintage (NV) Brut, Albuquerque, New Mexico. This wine is a terrific example of an American sparkling wine from New Mexico. It’s balanced, has great acidity and flavor, and the citrus/yeast elements complement each other nicely. The higher acidity in the wine lets it pair with heavier, starchier foods like potatoes and turkey with dressing. The lower alcohol doesn’t over-exert itself and mask the flavors of the food like a high-alcohol wine would do. A favorite reason for having this bottle on the table: the bubbles are a nice palate cleanser between eating the different food selections.

Girard Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, California  is one of my all-time favorites and a crisp white wine that is noted for its bright flavors – a prime candidate specifically for turkey and herb-filled stuffing. (Let’s face it, this one comes to dinners, parties and snacks a lot!)

Freemark Abbey Viognier, Napa Valley, California is a white wine with low levels of acidity and characterized by light floral flavors often surrounded by delicate touches of peaches and pears. A good choice for the non-Sauvignon Blanc drinkers at my table.

Riesling is  a white wine that may either be bone dry or fairly sweet, and it is excellent with any dishes that may have a bit of spice to them. The low alcohol and well-balanced acidity are evident in Hogue Cellars Terroir Dry Riesling (Yakima Valley, WA) — a great Thanksgiving wine exhibiting subliminal sweetness, nice flavors of petrol, tart apple and touches of steely minerality.

I also like to keep another white on hand: Gewürztraminer. Gewürztraminer be dry or sweet, depending on the style. Hogue Cellars Gewürztraminer (Columbia Valley, WA) has a zestiness that allows it to pair nicely with side dishes that may have a bit more kick to them, but also settles well with a variety of dessert options. This wine has an excellent balance of acidity with a slight minerality. Low alcohol, restrained and off-dry, it offers an abundance of great flavors: spiced apple, floral, and warm spices.

Robert Sinskey Vin Gris of Pinot Noir Los Carneros Rosé, California. We always need a “pink” and a Pinot Noir and this fits the bill. This is a wonderful Rosé. This wine offers zippy acidity and heady wild strawberry and white peach fruit aromas and matchinng flavors combined with rose petals and candied cherry on a long finish — a fabulous Thanksgiving wine!

Speaking of Pinot Noir, you know it’s a traditional favorite for Thanksgiving. It is easy going enough to complement just about any flavor you can throw at it.

We like to serve American wine at Thanksgiving, and Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir (Santa Barbara County, CA) is the perfect bottle. This wine shows how amazing California Pinot Noir can be — this wonderful vintage is a great value for a stunning California Pinot. It offers delicious floral aromas combined with a bright cherry palate filled with flavors of strawberries and raspberries joined by anise and clove that all mesh beautifully with every dish on the table — including the classic cranberry sauce.

For my dining companions who like their wines a little bolder and more fruit forward, I have Frog’s Leap Zinfandel, (Napa Valley, CA.) Made in the classic field blend style with significant portions of Petite Sirah and Carignan, the flavors are vibrant and perfectly balanced with bright, tart-cherry aromas and a hint of baking spices. This garnet colored red ups the intensity from a Pinot Noir, but still maintains a balancing effect on many traditional side dishes. This is always a great pick for those looking for a heartier wine with deeper flavors.

We have one person who only drinks Syrah at Thanksgiving and for him I have a Fess Parker Santa Barbara County Syrah, California. This another red wine that picks up the intensity and flavor, yet graciously handles the cornucopia of flavors in a traditional Thanksgiving meal. Aromas of blackberry, blueberry, smoke, dried tobacco and anise explode from the glass while flavors of black cherry, plum, dark chocolate, dried herbs, and smoked meat coat the palate. The peppery herbal notes accent a flavorful helping of stuffing as well as both the white and dark turkey meats.

It may seem a little played out, but Beaujolais Nouveau still remains a great Thanksgiving wine. Especially for our traditionalists at the table. Beaujolais Nouveau is a light, fruity, juicy and refreshing red wine that pairs well with turkey and all of the fixings. It’s an easily affordable wine and if you’re going to be enjoying wine all day long, this is something that won’t weigh down your palate.

Well, that’s what we’re serving, what are you planning to serve?

Ten Bottles for the Holidays


The holiday season is all about spending time with family and friends, basking in the warm glow of hearth and family. This is the time when you want to drink or give something that will make the occasion special. After all, any drinker can treat himself to a bottle of Makers’ 46 or Tanqueray 10 on payday, but a gift of spirits should something a friend might not think to try on his own.
In any decent spirits shop, there’s no shortage of bottles worth giving as a gift. If you decide to stick with the tried and true—the big brands—look for items like Crown Royal Monarch, a limited edition of the wildly popular Canadian whiskey; Johnnie Walker Platinum 18 Year Old Blended Scotch; and the remarkable Wild Turkey American Spirit—these are all exceptional “a step above” choices, but if you want to try something a little different, try one of the following ten gift suggestions.
• Angel’s Envy: Woodford Reserve makes one of the best bourbons around—when they announced a new American whiskey, we couldn’t wait to try it. This bourbon small-batch spirit is the a result of extra aging in port wine casks. The result is a finely-balanced liquor with the flavor of wine-soaked cherries. It’s just heavenly.
• Jim Beam Devil’s Cut: This bourbon from the Jim Beam distillery plays off the idea of the angel’s share—the portion of the bourbon that evaporates from the barrel as it ages—by offering you the darker alternative: the Devil’s Cut. When a bourbon is finished aging, some of the liquid remains trapped in the wood. Beam distillers figured out how to extracted that liquid and incorporate it back into the liquor, for a richer drink. The vanilla and wood flavors are more pronounced, while remaining exquisitely smooth. This is devilishly delicious.
• Brugal 1888: Brugal is the Dominican Republic’s biggest rum producer. A unique rum, it has the seriousness of a fine scotch. It’s aged twice, first in medium-toasted American white oak casks (previously used for bourbon) for a minimum of six years, followed by a second maturation lasting two to four more years in Sherry oak casks to bring out a level of oakiness similar to bourbons or single malts.Drink it neat to better taste the notes of chocolate, roasted coffee beans, hints of cinnamon and dried fruit.
Cognac is regarded as the finest of all the spirits distilled from grapes. It has an abundance of incomparable qualities: fruitiness, subtle bouquet, intensity, warmth and complexity. You could opt for one from one of the ‘big four’ Cognac houses (Rémy Martin, Hennessey, Martell and Courvoisier), or try a delicious alternative from Tesseron.
• Cognac Tesseron Lot No. 90 XO Selection Cognac is made 100% from Ugni blanc (aka Trebbiano). This honey-colored libation offers lively aromas of oak, pear and apple, which subtly change to delicate maple and banana as it aerates. The flavors are honeyed tropical fruit from first sip through the satiny-smooth sweet, medium-long finish. ($69.99, Bottle Shop, Spring Lake)
If Cognac isn’t your cup of brandy, you may want to try Calvados. More rustic by nature than Cognac or Armagnac, it’s distilled from cider rather than from wine, it can defy brandy expectations.
• Norois Calvados ‘Trois Pommes’ is a blend of bitter and bittersweet apple ciders and a good introduction to the intense and natural apple characteristics of the Calvados AOC Pays d’Auge. Apple aromas and flavors burst vividly from the glass, in jagged flashes that seem to penetrate deeply into the complex essence of an apple. Clarity, purity, tart citrus, cinnamon spice, earthiness, mintiness: are just some of the sensations you can experience this glass.
Sometimes you just want to introduce new flavors for after dinner sipping or a new favorite cocktail. Some of the current favorite flavors are the tasty Castries Peanut Rum Cream liqueur, a combo of rum and peanut butter cream; the cinnamon-y and creamy RumChata;  or Southern Comfort Gingerbread Spice. For something different consider the following:
• Kahlua Cinnamon Spice. If you’re making a White Russian, you’ll need Kahlua, the Mexican coffee liqueur. This new flavor takes Christmas cookies and crunches them into your White Russian, So yummy.
• Amarula Cream Liqueur is made from the yellow berry fruit of the marula tree. Marula trees are found mainly in the warm, frost-free regions of sub-equatorial Africa, and the vitamin-C-rich fruit belongs to the same family as the mango, sumac, cashew and pistachio. This cream liqueur is the result of the fruit being pulped, sweetened, fermented, aged in oak casks for two years, and blended with fresh cream. The caramel-like flavor is sweet but not cloying, and is enjoyable straight from a refrigerated bottle, on the rocks, in coffee or try it as a dessert.
• Mama Micha Orange Dream Cream Liqueur. Mama Micha is a new product on the market created by a New Jersey-based, mother-daughter team who decided to pursue their dream of making delicious desserts you can drink. Take a sip and you’ll notice it tastes surprisingly like an orange Creamsicle. There is no overpowering alcohol taste (although it does contain vodka) and the combination of orange and vanilla is perfect. If you love Dreamsicles, you will love this bit of dessert decadence!
• Mama Micha Dark Silk Chocolate Liqueur. This is a perfect blend of creamy texture and explosive chocolate flavor. It’s like taking a bite out of a silky smooth dark chocolate candy bar. Full-bodied and delicately sweet with a hint of bitterness, it can be enjoyed on the rocks, in cocktails, added to coffee or hot chocolate and is particularly satisfying over ice-cream.
• Chartreuse. Why are we including “old-fashioned” Chartreuse? Because this green liquid is the perfect gift for the vodka or gin drinker in your life. Made from 130 herbs, plants and flowers gathered in the French Alps by the Carthusian monks, the mixture is macerated with a neutral alcohol spirit and distilled before being aged in oak casks for about five years. Chartreuse is the only liqueur to give its name to a color (my favorite color, too!) Look for intensely floral and herbal aromas followed by cloves, fennel, citrus, thyme, rosemary, cinnamon, pine…each sip brings something new! Chartreuse is best served neat, but it’s quite delicious as a Chartreuse gimlet or served with chocolate creme brulée or mixed berries, whipped cream and chocolate syrup.
Happy Holiday drinking!

Twelve Days of Spirited Giving


When you think about it, the Christmas Carol, “The Twelve Days of Christmas” has a lot of items that don’t necessarily hold true today, like where do you put six maids a milking? Where do you put the cows? Six cows definitely won’t fit under my tree, and when you add in the dancing ladies and leaping lords, not to mention noisy drummers—it just doesn’t seem practical. Though the Canada geese in the brook that gurgles through my property could easily count for the six geese a-laying. I don’t know how much a -laying they do, but they manage to make a mess of the yard and raid the bird feeders. The per tree still bears fruit but we haven’t seen a partridge on the property in years.

So thinking about it, it seems maybe we should apply the twelve days to more up to date gift ideas, preferably alcoholic in nature. So here is a nice list of tasty affordable bottles that could make a nice case and celebrate the 12 days.

On the First day of Christmas my true love gave to me:
First Press Chardonnay from Delicato ($12.99)
Elegance is the word for this bright, refreshing Napa Valley Chardonnay. Classically structured with aromas of lemon, ripe pear and honeydew, crisp acidity complements the abundant flavors of yellow apple and citrus, tempered by the mellow notes of American oak.  Perfect as an accompaniment to poultry, seafood, salads, fruit and cheese.

On the Second day of Christmas my true love gave to me Two Vines Gewürztraminer
Typical Gewürztraminer aromas of orange zest and spice are joined by a lively citrus note and floral lift. Upfront fruit flavors of melons and lime give way to a pink grapefruit essence and finish with bright acidity, balancing the wine’s subtle sweetness. ($7.99)

On the Third day of Christmas my true love gave to me Three Saints Pinot Noir
From Dierberg Vineyard situated atop a sandy loam mesa above the South Bank of the Santa Maria River, Three Saints Pinot Noir begins with aromatics of crushed raspberries, black cherry, sassafras, and vanilla bean. A plush mouthfeel accompanies notes of wild strawberry, fresh cedar, and cherry cola. The long finish emphasizes the rich fruit character, with enough bright acid to leave one longing for yet another sip. ($16.99)

On the Fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me Four Vines Truant Zinfandel
A fantastic multi-appellation Zin Blend from the Purple Wine Company. This is not an over-ripe jammy style of Zinfandel. It is a blend of 77% Zinfandel, 13% Syrah, 5% Petite Sirah,  3% Barbera and 2% Sangiovese. On the nose the wine has layers of berry fruit and anise aromas with hints of spice. On the palate, blackberry and spicy plum fruit with a rich mouth feel trailing to a velvety toasted oak finish. Enjoy with your true love (or the friend who gave you this gift)! ($11.99)

On the Fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me Becketts Flat Five Stones Shiraz.
Five Stones Shiraz comes from Margaret River, Australia. This red has an attractive nose with floral and spicy notes. The palate displays ripe plum and red berry fruit with spicy undertones that lead to a long finish with supple tannins.  Produced without the use of animal products, it’s suitable for everyone, including vegans. This wine is also Kosher for Passover and Mevushal. ($16.99)

On the Sixth day of Christmas my true love gave to me Graham’s Six Grapes Port
This is one of Graham’s original Port marques. It is a big-hearted wine, sourced from the same vineyards  that contribute to Graham’s famed Vintage Ports in ‘declared’ years, and closely resembles Graham’s Vintage Port style: full-bodied, with rich opulent black fruit on the palate and fragrant brambly aromas. Think of it as the ‘everyday Port for the Vintage Port drinker.’ Six Grapes has a seductive, rich aroma of ripe plums, cherries and dark chocolate notes. On the palate it’s complex, with an excellent structure and a long, lingering finish that pairs particularly well with dark chocolate, but is also fantastic on its own as a luscious dessert in a glass. ($20.99)

On the Seventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me 7  Deadly Zins
This is a sinful blend indeed!  This blended red Zinfandel was devised to be so captivating that no one could refuse. Seven Old Vine Zinfandel vineyards were chosen for their superiority to create this unique wine. The winemakers quickly related the Seven Sins from their Catholic school upbringing to the seven Old Vine Zinfandels blended in their wine. 7 Deadly Zins possesses spicy, pepper, garrigue, black cherry, and earth characteristics in its medium-bodied, soft personality.  Drink it up! ($18.99)

On the 8th day of Christmas my true love gave to me Cellar No. 8 Merlot
Cellar No. 8 is a real place where real wine is made for real people – people who appreciate quality, and recognize a tremendous value when they see one. This Merlot is a tasty red, with an easy-going personality; exhibiting red currant flavors from start to finish. It starts with rich aromas of ripe red berry fruit and Bing cherry, along with notes of dried herbs, followed by flavors of red cherries, cola, cloves and spice dominating the palate, with just a hint of toasty oak thrown in. ($9.99)

On the 9th day of Christmas my true love gave to me Nein Lives Black Cat Riesling
Nein Lives is an off-dry Riesling from Germany’s famed Mosel Valley– the grapes are sourced from the Middle Mosel along the banks of the Mosel River in the town of Piesporter. Each vintage has three different label designs, a fun quirk matching the easy lightheartedness of the wine. Slightly sweet with elegant minerality. ($8.99)

On the 10th day of Christmas my true love gave to me Ten Sisters Sauvignon Blanc
Ten Sisters Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand has a delightfully fragrant and complex bouquet with underlying citrus aromas. The palate is crisp and lively, its elegant layers hinting of tropical fruit. The finish is long and well-balanced. The sauvignon blanc is given extended lees contact—longer than the majority of Marlborough sauvignon blancs—to create complexity, weight on the palate, and aging potential, and to bring out fruit flavors. ($12.99)

On the 11th day of Christmas my true love gave to me Row 11 Russian River Pinot Noir
California- A blend of three different vineyard sites- Sonoma, Santa Barbara, and Monterey. Crisp with good acidity and rich in cherry pie flavors. Cherry and wild blueberry notes mixed with cola, spice and heavy smoke flavors.Red cherries, lighter smoke and hints of bacon with all the finesse and elegance expected in Russian River Pinot Noirs. This wine is ready to drink now, or can be enjoyed for many more years.($36.99)

On the 12th day of Christmas my true love sent to me Ouzo 12
Ouzo, Greece’s most famous drink immediately transports the drinker to sunny Greece. Clear and silky, with a distinct licorice flavor, ouzo is distilled from the must or remnants of grapes pressed for wine. Made according to the original recipe dating back to the 1880s, Ouzo 12 is produced using a unique blend of aromatic seeds, fruits, herbs and spices like anise, mint, mastic, and coriander. Potent and fiery, it’s not a drink for the faint of heart.
The name comes from the fact that the customers of Kaloyiannis Distillery, who appreciated a fine ouzo, insisted on being served from “Barrel No. 12.” Double-distilled, Ouzo 12 goes through 16 successive pot stills before it can be poured in your glass. Despite the strong flavor, ouzo compliments many different types of food. Next time you enjoy a glass, remember the customary toast is stin uyeia sou (steen ee-YEE-ah soo) – to your health! ($36.99)

This makes for a simple way to give a fun and interesting “by-the-numbers” gift.

All of these bottles were purchased at the above prices at Circus Wines on Route 35 North in Middletown, NJ.

Stocking up for the Holidays


The holiday season is rushing toward us faster than Santa’s sleigh and before you can say “Ho Ho Ho” it will be that time of year – the time for giving, the time for family, and of course, the time for parties! If you are one who spends most of the holiday season careening between family get-togethers, friends’ parties and other festivities, chances are you know it’s the time of year  to make sure you have a fully stocked bar and wine cellar.

If you’re hosting a holiday dinner party you will likely be having wine with dinner choosing something low in alcohol to start is a good idea. Sparkling Moscato with a slice of orange, or fresh Bellinis (typically peach juice or peach puree with Prosecco) will “set the mood just right for a special occasion, but not overpower the palate with alcohol before a lovely meal.

Cocktail parties call for a bit more in your bar and you’ll need to stock up. There are no rules when it comes to stocking a bar, and stocking up doesn’t have to break the bank.  Follow your preferences and those of your most frequent guests, then stock your bar with the basics, and you should be able to handle any occasion.

What to stock

Vodka
When it comes to Vodka, you can afford to go by price. Lower-priced vodkas don’t impart bad harsh flavors the way other cheaper liquors might.  Good bets for 750 milliliter bottles are Absolut ($25) and Sobieski ($14) if you prefer a 1.75 bottle try Svedka ($20) It’s a great deal.

Gin
There’s no need to spend a lot on tasty gin, since this liquor is usually combined with other ingredients, like tonic. Just don’t go so cheap that you wind up sipping one with an artificial-juniper flavor. Here, go for Gordon’s ($10), Hendricks ($36) or Bulldog ($24.)

Bourbon
When it comes to bourbon it’s better to spend a little more. Less expensive bourbons tend to give you the burn without the flavor. Two good choices are Woodford Reserve and Knob Creek, both $35 for 750 milliliters. Willett in the pot still bottle sells for around $43 and is really fantastic. If you have a real bourbon afficianado, try Booker’s Bourbon; $60 for 750 milliliters.

Rum
Rum is another spirit where you shouldn’t pinch pennies. Rum should bring a rich sugarcane flavor to drinks, however, a low-end rum can totally miss on those rich sugar and molasses flavors leaving you to wonder what happened. Good choices include Mount Gay Eclipse ($38), Kirk & Sweeney 12-year ($30) for 750 milliliters, or Brugal Extra Viejo ($29).

Tequila
Many cocktail lovers steer clear of this spirit in winter. But true tequila lovers know you need 100 percent blue agave tequila, nothing else will do, because many cheap tequilas contain corn syrup, coloring and grain alcohol, which are code words for “hangover.”  Here, look for Patrón Silver ($35), Karma Añejo ($36) or  Cazadores Reposado ($46.)

Whiskey and Scotch
This is one area you definitely cannot afford to scrimp. Since most party-goers seem to prefer to drink whiskey on the rocks, straight or with a “wee drop of water”, it’s worth the expense. A favorite is Glenmorangie Single Malt ($40), Bunnahabhain ($50), Pig’s Nose (a blended Scotch at $29) and—for Irish Whiskey lovers—Concannon Irish Whiskey $22  for 750 milliliters.

Don’t forget the Mixers like Club Soda and Tonic! Going budget on these only offers minimal savings as many store brands tend to go flat more quickly, and cheaper tonics can have an overpowering artificial taste. so opt for your favorite here.

When it comes to fruit juices, home-squeezed juices make all the difference. (Buy 25 lemons, 25 limes, and 15 oranges for every 50 guests.) If that’s not possible go with your favorite brand that you like to drink.

Because it is the holiday season, splurge and dress up your basic cocktail with plenty of fun, festive garnishes. Some of the more popular ones are olives, cocktail onions, lemons, limes, and Maraschino cherries, so try to keep them handy. You may want to add a few new and different bright, thin-skinned fruits like kumquats, key limes, Meyer lemons, tangerines, blood oranges, star fruit, pineapple and apple. For more savory flavorings, stock up on mint, basil, celery, cucumber and jalapeño. Seasonal berries, like raspberries and cranberries or currants, are perfect for floating in a glass of champagne or another bubbly cocktail. Pomegranate seeds and fresh mint make for pretty, aromatic garnishes, while edible gold and silver are perfect for adding a holiday sparkle,

Party Drinks
If you’re hosting a holiday open house or any other large gathering, think about serving a seasonal drink in a large format. Not only does serving a punch, mulled wine, or a batch of eggnog make getting a drink easy for any guest, it also enables you to make something more elaborate ahead of time (instead of mixing and re-mixing the same cocktail all evening). Here’s a helpful hint: freeze a large block of ice (using filtered water in a Tupperware container), to put in your punch so that it doesn’t get watered down too fast. Our personal favorites are Planters Punch and Homemade Eggnog, but you may want to try a tradional Mulled Wine or a warm Cider libation. Other drinks that are often in high demand are winter wines (Think Cabernet, Petite Sirah, Merlot and Shiraz).

For Mulled Wine, start with a rich red wine, Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot work best and it doesn’t neet to be expensive (just good) Here, we recommend Crosby Cabernet Sauvignon (California at $8.99) and add orange, brandy—or try Gran Gala Orange Liqueuer ($22) instead of orange and brandy— with cloves, honey, cinnamon & ginger and you have one delicious drink to warm everyone.

Of course, traditional home made Eggnog calls for Eggs, milk, cream, bourbon, sugar, brandy, fresh nutmeg and cinnamon. In our world, grating fresh whole nutmeg and Four Roses Straight Bourbon Whiskey ($21) are de rigueur, making this one special.

With Cider, opt for local favorites like Laird’s Straight Apple Brandy ($25) and Delicious Orchards Apple Cider blended with honey, cinnamon, orange juice, spices and lemon. You’ll feel so “revolutionary”.

For New Year’s Eve, it’s easy. Just add a touch of sparkle to everything with Champagne, even your favorite cocktails. Use edible gold and silver flakes for a sparkly finish to any drink. You can never have too much fun — or be too creative — when creating festive cocktails during the holidays.

All of the prices quoted are from Circus Wines,  Route 35 North,  Middletown, NJ  and Spirits Unlimited, Newman Springs Road, Red Bank, NJ.

Pure Indulgence: The Chocolate Shop wine


If you are a chocolate lover and a red wine drinker, you’ve probably found bliss pairing bittersweet chocolate with an in-your-face California zinfandel. Let’s face it, chocolate and red wine has been the most reliable pairing in history. But sometimes, you want something a little different, so what do you do?
Reach for the ultimate in chocolate and wine pairing: Chocolate Shop!

Chocolate Shop is a red wine from Walla Walla, Washington that has been blended with natural dark chocolate to create what the winemaker calls “the ultimate Chocolate Lover’s Wine.”

The label on the Chocolate Shop, which is made by Precept Wine of Seattle, says it’s a red wine blended with natural dark chocolate flavors and has an alcohol level of 12.5 percent. Accordng to the label, the wine takes the chocolate and red wine pairing to the next level, “marrying chocolate flavor with red wine to create a sumptuous drink. We start with a proprietary red blend of the finest vinifera varietals, add a touch of oak and a kiss of sweetness to create the perfect fruit-driven foil for the rich dark chocolate which unfolds in silken layers across the palate.”

Sounds scrumptious, doesn’t it?

With chocolate-flavored wine becoming one of the hottest growth areas in alcoholic beverages in New Jersey, this wine definitely needed to be investigated further. There is no information on the label about the grapes, but it is a safe bet that it’s made from a traditional blend of Washington state grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Franc.

Deep, ruby red in color, it looks like a red wine. Inviting aromas of black cherry and dark chocolate waft from the glass, it makes you want to take a sip.
The first sip is deceiving, it tastes like a simple fruity black cherry flavored wine. But then light red berry wine flavor becomes a smooth, lively palate that artfully mixing an earthiness, hints of herbs and cocoa powder that leads to a dark-chocolate extract flavor for a velvety chocolate finish.

Athough the chocolate finish was reminiscent of Hershey’s syrup, nuances of sweet red wine berries lingered. If you’re fond of chocolate-covered raspberry or chocolate covered blueberries, you are sure to be a fan of this wine’s lush chocolate flavor wrapped in fruity flavors and a smooth silky finish. The most surprising thing about this wine, it isn’t overly sweet, dry wine drinkers will be pleasantly surprised by this little gem.

As for pairing the wine, the obvious choice would be to pair it with dark chocolate, at least 70 percent cacao, the higher the better. Raspberry, blueberry, blackberry, dark cherry or even orange based dishes or desserts would lend themselves well to pairing with the Chocolate Shop. Sweet glazed ham, molé or a steak in Merlot sauce would also make good companions for this bottle.

The chocolate shop also lends itself to a variety of cocktails, cooking or simply mixed with sparkling water and an orange twist. Yummy! It’s best served at room temperature or slightly chilled.

The label has it right: “Chocolate Shop provides you with an indulgent wine experience like no other.”

Gin goes to the dogs—Bulldog Gin, that is.


Once the weather warms up you start seeing white everywhere and as the patios at eating and drinking establishments fill with thirsty customers, the drinks run clear.

Gin tends to be the one spirit that spikes during hot weather. It’s no wonder – the light- bodied spirit flavored with juniper berries and other botanicals pairs amazingly well with citrus and plays the starring role in many a crisp and refreshing cocktail: The Martini, the Tom Collins and the Negroni, plus countless others.

The common ingredient, gin, comes in a variety of styles – from London Dry Gin to Old Tom Gin, which is lightly sweetened and rarely available since its popularity tanked in the 19th century. Gin s a spirit that has been around for a long time, in the 11th century, monks were using juniper berries to flavor distilled spirits. But gin in the recognizable form of today wasn’t produced until the 17th century in England and was named for either the French or Dutch words for juniper (it depends on who you ask).

However, gin didn’t really come into its own until some mad, thirsty British soldier stationed in the tropics paired it with tonic in the 1700s to mask the bitter flavor of the tonic water they drank to ward off malaria. The bitter quinine in tonic water and the herbal, almost green notes of the gin are the perfect blend of flavors.

Brightened by a little lime, gin can be the start of a perfect drink to sip in the sun, waiting for your burger at a barbecue or picnic, sitting on that beach chair or enjoying happy hour. It’s been said that this drink does its part to  ward off scurvy and deadly mosquito-borne illnesses while tasting   like liquid summer in a tall glass.

While the juniper spirit has always been a bestseller—even through prohibition, when it was produced in bathtubs across the country—the rebirth of the cocktail has spawned literally hundreds of different gins on the market, running the gamut fromclaiming deep cultural heritage and tradition to the irreverent. Some gins are distilled in the traditional manner – starting as grain alcohol and going through a second distillation with the juniper berries and botanicals used as flavoring. Cheaper “compound gins” don’t go through this second distillation and are just flavored with botanical essences.

Basically there are three types: Traditional, Old World and Modern—each refers to a different style of Gin.

Traditional Gins include Beefeater, Bombay Sapphire, Tanqueray and Plymouth. These spirits are infused with a range of botanicals, and usually include: orris root, citrus peels, angelica and, of course, juniper berries, which provide the primary flavor.

Old-World Gins are based on the centuries-old malty Dutch genever. Genever on its own is hard to find these days but it is the base of many of the recipes now associated with dry British gin.

Modern Gins must, by law,  incorporate juniper, but many distillers today are using a host of exotic ingredients to accent the juniper berry. The Scottish Hendrick’s is perhaps the most famous, with its blend of cucumber and rose, while the French Citadelle uses 19 different botanicals, including nutmeg, cumin and cardamom. Beefeater 24’s recipe features both Chinese and Japanese green teas. But one of the most intriguing gins on the market today, is Bulldog.

Bulldog Gin
Gin is a perennial summer favorite and Bulldog gin is more exotic and smoother than many currently on the market.

Bulldog Gin is quadruple distilled in London and flavored with the usual juniper berries and traditional botanicals, but the list continues with: Dragon eye, lotus, poppy, coriander, almond, licorice, cassia, lemon, angelica, and a slew of herbs and spices. It is amazingly smooth and balanced, and the assorted flavors work in combination to deliver an herbal tone that shines through tonic and lime for beauteous a drink.

Anshuman Vohra, CEO and founder of Bulldog,  says the attention of mixologists is key to any gin’s success: “The creative cocktail movement allows people to be introduced to gin’s versatility and experience it as an alternative to other spirits. In fact, our suggested spring/summer cocktails feature a bevy of ways to spice up the gin & tonic using ingredients such as lemon curd, licorice or lavender—each represents a different botanical infused in Bulldog Gin—which helps expand the consumer’s palate for drinking gin.”

John Castiglione who represents Bulldog in New Jersey says that “Bulldog is a classier, smoother gin that mixes into more than martinis.”

He recommends a perrennial summer favorite: London Lemonade. An incredibly simple and delicious drink to make for summer lounging. Simply take 2 oz. Bulldog Gin and  4 oz. Fresh Lemonade and combine the two ingredients in a cocktail glass with ice. Garnish with a lemon wedge and sit back to sip and enjoy.

If you are in the mood for something a little more classic, he says you can’t go more classic than a Bulldog Gimlet. For this drink you will need to blend 1-1/2 oz. Bulldog Gin with 1 oz. Lime Juice and a  1/2 oz. Simple Syrup. Shake all ingredients with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass filled with ice and enjoy.

Bulldog gin also knows how to turn a phrase, with delicious drinks sporting names like Plumdog Millionaire, Kir Monarcy or Rhubarb Tuesday, to name a few, you’re certain to enjoy a evening party or picnic with Bulldog and friends.

In the pink – Easter Rosé


This year, Rosés are hot and for this season of youth and renewal pink wines and sparklers set a mood of festiveness and joy. They also clear the palate and prepare it for the sensory experience to come.

Although most Rosés are dry, most folks shy away from  these pink or “blush” wines because they associate it with the sweeter incarnations of  white zinfandel.  There are variations of Rosé wines that have only a hint of sweetness to some that are very dry. To make certain your Rosé is dry, choose one with at least 12 percent alcohol.

Rosé wines are a great alternative to the various white and red wines and most often white and red wine drinkers can agree that  they have the light crispness of a white with the complex body of a red, without the tannins…and they are pretty.

Gruet Brut Sparkling Rosé, New Mexico, USA.
This brilliantly-hued pink is both fun and serious. It is creamy with a hint of strawberries in the aroma, but with the structure, acidity and a crisp finish that can stand up to most foods, especially Easter ham.

Banfi Rosa Regale Brachetto, Piedmont , Italy.
This is a unique vivacious and festive red sparkling wine that is delightfully sweet and subtle with the lush flavors of ripe raspberry and juicy strawberry.  Aromatic with a hint of rose petals and raspberries, it has a fruity character and gentle acidity that  extends across all  occasions and food pairings, from savory to sweet. On its own Rosa Regale is an elegant aperitif, it tempers the heat of spicy Asian and Latino fare, and  is an ideal foil to the piquant richness of goat cheese, especially in a spring mix salad with almonds and cranberries. Easter quiches, glazed hams, beets, vichyssoise, dark chocolate, pair enchantingly with Rosa Regale.

Etude Rosé of Pinot Noir, USA
This salmon pink Rosé  offers vibrant aromas of fresh raspberries, strawberries, red cherries and sweet blood oranges. Flavors of strawberry rhubarb and cherry persist on the palate and combine with a pleasing note of minerality. The perfectly-balanced acidity makes this wine a wonderful complement to many foods.

Mayne Sansac Rosé Bordeaux, France.
As with most Rosés from Bordeaux, this wine has has a central core of Merlot (80%), which contributes a rich fruitiness to the wine. Providing structure, the 20% Cabernet Sauvignon  exchanges its formidable tannin for a lovely fruitiness with a fine savory edge. This Rose makes a perfect alternative to red throughout the year, and when paired with the right food it absolutely comew alive. If you love the classic pairing of lamb and red Bordeaux, this  rose would be ideal for pairing for any lightened-up lamb dish or sautéed mushrooms.  This is a power Rosé.

Crios de Susana Balbo Rosé of Malbec, Argentina 2010.
This wine is a beautiful, deep, vibrant rosé color with a surprising amount of body. It exudes beautiful aromas of fresh, ripe wild strawberries with hints of spice. The fresh jammy flavors of strawberries and young cherries come rushing over your tongue, accompanied by spice notes and a clean, dry finish. This is the perfect chicken wine and a charming companion to mildly spicy Asian cuisine or  light snacks and cheeses.

Jaboulet Parallele 45 Rosé .
This fresh, dry French Rosé has plenty of power and balanced lip-smacking fruit characteristics. This is a charming blend of 50% Grenache, 40% Cinsault and 10% Syrah full of floral and crushed red cherry aromas. It’s full-bodied, ripe, mineral-driven fruit on the palate, with tangy undertones and a note of white pepper.  The wine has acidity and tannins that are ripe but firm; this is no wimpy Rosé. The wine has an easygoing, uncomplicated nature that makes it pair well with a variety of dishes salads, quiche, grilled vegetables, fish, chicken, and Asian cuisine.

Guigal Côtes du Rhône Rosé,  Rhône Valley, France.
A consistent and elegant Rosé that is balanced and fresh with an expressive nose of redcurrants, raspberries and citrus. This is a complex, perfumed wine that is dry yet flavorful  with spicy red fruits, white pepper and blood orange. It has a firm memorable finish it easily pairs with  Easter ham, roast chicken or vegetarian.

Don’t be afraid to drink pink this Easter, the Easter bunny will love you for it.

The Twelve Reds of Christmas


Or, a dozen of the 2010 Top Wines

Every year the Wine Spectator publishes their “Top 100” wines and folks go rushing to find these wines to try only to discover the vintage listed in the Spectator is long gone and the price listed is nowhere near the price on the store shelf. It’s a conundrum.

These poor wine drinkers sometimes think retailers are holding back or marking them up because of the great rating. In reality, the rating has created a larger demand for a finite supply of wine. What little remains of the highly rated vintage, becomes pricier and the new vintage can command the new higher price too.

Another issue the readers often complain about is that the price listed in the magazine isn’t the same as what they find on store shelves. If it doesn’t accurately reflect your region it’s because the price listed is an average of the price of the wine worldwide.

Many think that only high priced wines appear on the list. Not true. This year, five of the wines are over $100 and there is only one over $500  (Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape Hommage à Jacques Perrin Grande Cuvée 2007). But 69 of the 2010 Top 100 are under $50 and of those, 45 are in the $10 – $28 range.

Happily, many of my favorites are listed. Since anyone can love an expensive wine, I decided to select some favorite reds from the list that are definitely affordable and always consistent from vintage to vintage. Not only do they taste great, they make great gift ideas. These reds definitely look sexy in a glass.

Here are a few particularly good buys offering consistency, so you don’t need to worry if you find the “correct vintag” on the shelf.

The Basic: Pinot Noir
Pinot Noir lovers will find Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 2008 fragrant with ripe raspberry and holiday spice. At 94  points, this ruby-hued pinot noir is ranked  6th  and it’s bursting with Russian River Valley character. It’s firmly structured, silky and hosts a plethora of Bing cherry and blackberry flavors spiked with hints of Darjeeling tea and cardamom. There is a subtle earthiness and balanced acidity that punctuates a lengthy finish. (About $45)

At nearly half the price of Paul Hobbs, and ranking 75th, A to Z Wineworks Pinot Noir Oregon 2008 is a deeply colored ruby with aromas of minerals, red and black cherries, and spice. Rated 90 points, this  wine shows rich, red cherry and blue berried fruits, dark spice and dusty tannins. (About $22)

Sideways Anyone?
Merlot may have gotten a bad rap in that “Sideways” movie, but many still name this varietal as their favorite. We offer two from the great Northwest that you should definitely consider for holiday drinking. The first is number 43, Columbia Crest Merlot from Horse Heaven Hills H3 2007. This 91-point Merlot blend ( 92% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 3% Cabernet Franc) entices the nose with aromas of blueberry, cassis, hints of tobacco and spice aromas. The silky and sweet mid-palate has a slightly dusty, earthy component compounded by rich berry notes cumulating in a long and delicious finish. (About $15)

Following closely behind at number 46 and 92 points, is the Waterbrook Merlot Columbia Valley Reserve 2007. Here you will find aromas of brandied black cherries, mint, tar and charcoal on the nose. Smoky and dusty notes are followed by black walnut with a hint of molasses and lingering oak on the finish. (About $22)

Que Syrah, Shiraz
Bigger, bolder and more intense, this next wine is California Syrah at it’s best. Ranked 17th, the 95-point Tensley Syrah Santa Barbara County Colson Canyon Vineyard 2008 has bright raspberry nuances. We love the pepper, smoke, coffee, chocolate, and  sweet vanilla flavors that bring us to the fabulous finish. This is a BIG, balanced, approachable Syrah that will age gracefully over the next 8 to 10 years. (About $38)

At around $15, number 92 is De Martino Syrah Choapa Valley Legado Reserva 2007. This South American gem offers up fresh aromas of red fruit with hints of chocolate and a rich, velvety mouth-feel. The velvety texture is balanced  with hints of pepper and  persistent mineral notes. This 90-pointer makes for a great food wine accompanying everything from burgers and pizza to steak and lasagna.

When in Doubt, Go with a Red Blend
Whenever you’re in doubt about your gift recipient’s favorite varietal, go with a blend. Blends are great, there is usually at least one grape your “giftee” will love. My first find is a Portuguese wine ranked in 9th place: CARM Douro Reserva 2007.  CARM stands for Casa Agrícola Roboredo Madeira. A blend of a few indigenous grapes (50% Touriga Nacional, 25% Tinta Roriz, and 25% Touriga Franca), this is an elegant and powerful red, with intense aromas and flavors of red berry, smoke, raspberry and spice leading to a rich finish of crushed red fruits an fig. It seems very Burgundian in style with its structured well-integrated tannins. This 94-point wine should cellar well through 2017. (About $25)

Number 77 is a 90-point red from Australia: Peter Lehmann’s Clancy’s Barossa 2007. This red begins with Shiraz blended  to it is 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, and 2% Cabernet Franc. This robust full-bodied wine shows delicious velvet fruits of dark plum and berry. Licorice, smoke and herb flavors follow through to the lingering finish. It reminds me of a black forest chocolate cake. It is a soft, approachable and enjoyable wine. (About $16)

Our third red blend is ranked 63 and is d’Arenberg The Stump Jump Red South Australia 2008. The name ‘Stump Jump’ refers to the Stump Jump plough, a South Australian invention with the ability to ride over stumps and gnarled roots. Like the plough, this light and fragrant 90-point Grenache, Shiraz, and Mourvèdre blend just jumps with flavor. There are ripe juicy fresh red berries, mulberry, fresh plum mixed with dark cherry, rhubarb, and a hint of pomegranate. Then there is the subtle layer of spice—cardamon, star anise, and cinnamon—adding complexity and interest. There are refined tannins and a nice lingering finish. This wine retails for about $11 yet we’ve seen this as low as $7.99. It’s definitely a great buy!

The Foodies: Italian Wines
Italian wine lovers will love number 25. The  96-point Ruffino Toscana Modus 2007 from the Chianti hills blends Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon to the Sangiovese base. This is a solidly structured wine with typical cherry and red berry aromas. Complex and smooth, the wine is enriched by delicate notes of mint and small black berry fruits from the Merlot; the austerity, herbaceousness and elegance comes from the addition of Cabernet Sauvignon. Delicious with meals it makes an excellent gift. (About $35)

One of my all-time favorites and consistently rated above 90 points every year, is number 65: Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi Chianti Rufina Castello di Nipozzano Riserva 2007. This clean and racy mouthful shows the bright fruit flavors of sweet blueberry, cherry, and hints of  violet and lilac, all supported by a firm minerality. This is a full-bodied wine with fine tannins and vanilla in the lingering finish. (About $24).

A Go-to Wine
Number 44 is a great go-to wine, Bodegas LAN Rioja Crianza 2006 from the heart of Spain. This bright, zesty Tempranillo is a brilliant cherry red sporting  scents of crushed rose petals and frisky cherry tomato. The tannins are light, with a gravelly feel. This is a versatile red perfect for drinking by the glass or pairing with practically anything. This wine is consistently rated around 90 points  and makes and excellent hostess gift. (About  $12)

The twelve reds for Christmas, all perfect for gift giving and drinking. Happy Holidays!

Single Malt Scotch Tasting & Food Pairing with David Blackmore


Glenmorangie Distillery
Glenmorangie Distillery

On Monday, December 6, 2010 Branches Catering will be serving up a Single Malt Scotch and Food Pairing with David Blackmore. The single malts will be from Glenmorangie. The name Glenmorangie  is believed to come from the Gaelic gleann mor na sith meaning “vale of tranquillity” . It is pronounced  glen-MOR- n-jee, with the stress on the ‘mor’ and rhyming with orangey.

Glenmorangie Distillery was founded in 1843 in Tain, Ross-shire  in the Scottish Highlands. Here, you will find the tallest malt whisky stills in Scotland (just an inch and three-quarters shy of 17 feet.) Glenmorangie’s esteemed single malts are matured in oak casks, and the distillation process is undertaken and perfected by a staff of 16, known as  “16 Men of Tain”.  The 16 Men of Tain are based on the popular Scottish legend that 16  Men of Tain took part in an epic battle that left only one man of  Tain standing. Of course, this happened after they perfected the distillation process. Today, The 16 Men of Tain religiously follow the tradition to make Glenmorangie Single Malt.

The key ingredient to Glenmorangie’s malt whisky is the water—the water comes from the Tarlogie Springs, which rise about a mile above the distillery.  These waters once fell as rain on the Hill of Tain, then filtered down through lime and sandstone rocks, gathering minerals on the way, before rising again at Tarlogie. It can take up to a hundred years for the falling rain to emerge as spring water. So precious is this source of water that Glenmorangie has acquired the entire catchment area of the spring, or some 650 acres.

Glenmorangie’s US Master Brand Ambassador, David Blackmore will be on hand to explain all about the distillery and lead an exciting tasting of award-winning single malts. David likes to tell his love of single malt scotch started on the day when he first walked through the doors of The Scotch Malt Whisky Society in Edinburgh. He was smitten and joined the club that very day. Within a month he was working for The Scotch Malt Whisky Society, becoming a member of the prestigious “Tasting Panel” responsible for selecting new casks for bottling. In 2004, he moved to London to become Assistant Manager and Whisky Tutor at the The Scotch Malt Whisky Society’s London club room. During this time he chaired the SMWS tasting panel and had several “tasting notes” published.

In order to prepare for his role as the US Glenmorangie Brand Ambassador in New York City, he spent time working alongside the fabled 16 Men of Tain at the Glenmorangie distillery, Stuart Thomson at the Ardbeg Distillery and Graham Coull at Glen Moray. Since 2005, he has been sharing his knowledge on the delights of single malt scotch.

David will be on hand to dissuade the Scotch tasters of the notion that Scotch is too strong in both flavor and alcohol content to be consumed with a meal—even in Scotland there isn’t much of a tradition of drinking Scotch with dinner. Traditionally single malt Scotch is a delight usually served after dinner — and usually paired with a cigar—as pairing Scotch with food seems a bit of a challenge.

Challenge or not, Scotch can make excellent paring with meals. Here’s a helpful hint, serve your single malt neat, with the lightest splash of spring water. Toning down the alcohol this way allows the Scotch’s aromatic complexities to shine through and makes it easier to achieve a food and Scotch balance. Some things to take into consideration are the background nuances of the Scotch. Creamy, mature cheeses and rich cream dishes are rich enough to balance the alcohol.  Smoky flavors in the Scotch add another dimension to the richness and flavor of  salmon. Red meats, especially the gamy ones, or dishes like Lamb Chops with Coffee-Chocolate Sauce make great partners with Scotch. So does chocolate. The dark, rich espresso and chocolate flavors will match with similar flavors in the Scotch. For dessert you could continue the chocolate-coffee-Scotch theme or try a rich dessert such as Crème Brûlée.

The menu for the evening takes the above suggestions into account and will be starting with a selection of Scottish and English Cheese from an excellent local cheese shop, ‘Cheese on Main’ in Ocean Grove. Owner Susan Morris has searched and selected some choice cheeses that are guaranteed to pair beautifully with the evening’s Scotch tasting.

The first Scotch to be tasted on December 6th will be Glenmorangie The Original (10 Year Old). This is the velvety textured Scotch that most associate with Glenmorangie. The Original has delicate, honeyed overtones and a burst of citrus that softens into vanilla and almond flavors. There is just a touch of smokiness in the background to remind you of warm winter nights in front of the fire.

Branches’ chef will be pairing The Original with Crab Rangoon with Tamarind-Ginger Chutney. These delicious crispy dumplings filled with scallions & crab meat and the complex, tart citrusy chutney are designed to complement the Scotch. Scallops wrapped with bacon add a richness and a complimentary smoky quality while samplers of lobster and cream cappuccino will be rich enough to balance the alcohol and satify the diners.

The second single malt of the evening will bee Glenmorangie The Lasanta (Sherry Cask Finish). Glenmorangie Lasanta is an elegant and full-bodied single malt whisky that has been  matured in Spanish Oloroso Sherry casks after a minimum of 10 years in ex-bourbon casks.  This Scotch is  luscious, mouth-filling, with deep, enticing, sweet aromas of spiced orange and chocolate-covered hazelnuts. Any chocolate lover will instantly see why this single malt is a sure-fire favorite. It has the full, sweet flavors typical of Spanish sherry: oranges, sultanas, toffee, and walnuts. The satisfyingly long spiced orange and chocolate nut finish should pair beautifully with the menu’s offering of  Chicken Mole’ where the savory combination of chocolate and peanuts in mixed with fresh chilies and spices make for an enlightened pairing..

Once we’ve tried the Sherry cask can a Port cask be far behind? With Glenmorangie the  next scotch is a velvety-textured single malt transferred from the original ex-bourbon cask and then extra matured or “finished” in port pipes, shipped from the  wine estates of Portugal.

Glenmorangie The Quinta Ruban (Port Cask Finish)  is a voluptuously smooth complex balance of sweet and dry flavors. Oven-roasted Brussels Sprouts tossed with Garbanzo Beans, lemon and grated Parmesan will be the first pairing for this intriguing single malt’s balance of smooth velvet and crisp, cooling textures. The velvety Quinta Ruban offers a swathe of rich, dark chocolate nuttiness and sugar-coated crystallized orange segments countered by crisp mint chocolate. The chiffon-like texture and lingering chocolate notes should balance nicely with the second pairing, Entrecote of Beef rubbed with smoked paprika, served with creamy peppercorn sauce.

For Dessert, Branches will be pairing Glenmorangie The Nectar D’Or (Sauternes Cask Finish) with Crème Brûlée flame-torched in the room. The Sauternes wine barriques infuse the Scotch with the signature honey, citrus and spice aroma of the Sauternes dessert wine that lingers in the wooden casks. The Scotch takes on the pale, lemony, gold transparency and honeyed taste that inspired the name, Nectar D’Or.  This is a favorite sophisticated complex whisky and a perfect pairing for this sensuous custard.

With each whisky  exquisitely paired with a different course this should be a  delicious and luxurious Single Malt Scotch Whisky dinner experience. Signed bottles will be available at  the end of dinner for purchase.

On an interesting side note, Glenmorangie Single Malt Scotch Whisky has become the first major single malt scotch brand to attain OU certification. Glenmorangie Original was kosher-certified by the Orthodox Union (OU), as has Glenmorangie Astar. Glenmorangie’s sister distillery, Ardbeg has also received OU Kosher certification for Ardbeg 10 yr old as well.

This pairing will take place at  7:00 PM Monday, December 6, 2010 at  Branches Catering, 123 Monmouth Road, West Long Branch, NJ 07764. The cost is $45 per person plus tax.   For more information or reservations, please call: 732.542.7790

MENU (stations)
A selection of Scottish and English Cheese from
‘Cheese on Main’ in Ocean Grove
~
Glenmorangie The Original (10 Yr)
Crab Rangoon with Tamarind-Ginger Chutney
Scallops wrapped with bacon
Samplers of Lobster Bisque ‘Cappuccino’
~
Glenmorangie The Lasanta (Sherry Cask Finish)
Chicken Mole’
~
Glenmorangie The Quinta Ruban (Port Cask Finish)
Entrecote of Beef rubbed with smoked paprika, served with creamy peppercorn sauce
Oven-roasted Brussels Sprouts tossed with Garbanzo Beans, lemon and grated Parmesan

DESSERT
Glenmorangie The Nectar D’Or (Sauternes Cask Finish)
Crème Brulee flame-torched in the room