Monday, October 27, 2008

The Manic Absinthe Trend Continues

I'm still wondering how much is enough in the Absinthe trend. Passed by this sign the other night on First Avenue near 6th. A new restaurant named after the herbal green elixir. There's already one called L'Absinthe on the Upper East Side.

I was at an event the other week of the Tasting Panel Double Gold Winners from the San Francisco International Wine Competition. There was an absinthe among the winners, and, of course, people there told me to forget all about the other absinthes I've tasted until then: This was the real deal. This particular scenario has happened to me several times before. Folks were all hopped up on the Lucid brand when it came out. Then St. George arrived and people said, "Lucid? Feh! St. George is your man!" Then a prominent bar owner told me the St. George was "crap," and I should be drinking the Kübler. Or the Pernod Absinthe. The newest green goddess is always the fair-haired girl.

Me? Well, I think I lean toward the Kubler and Pernod. But I'll have to wait until the effect of whiplash, created by new Absinthes zooming through the revolving door, wear off before I make a considered decision.

Old Enough to Take Care of Themselves

Teeny tiny bottles are coming through the mail lately. About the dimensions of a travel-size bottle of mouthwash. And they're not even full!

Single malt scotches are getting older, and pricier. In the past couple months, I've had the opportunity to sample Glenlivet XXV, the revered distiller's new 25-year-old scotch, and Highland Park's new 40-year-old tipple. Together they're 65: retirement age. Hey, I could retire on this stuff.

The Glenlivet XXV was officially launched on a boat ride around New York Harbor last August. The idea was to see all four of Olafur Eliasson's waterfall sculptures, but a stormy evening prevented the gathered company from seeing even one. But no one was complaining, what with cigars and four different Glenlivet scotches hand. The distiller's idea was to have the invitees work their way up to the big boy, first offering glasses of the 18-year-old, the 21-year-old and the Nadurra. All very nice, and accompanied with napkins featuring tasting notes, to make sure we didn't have to think too much.

The XXV is drawn from hand-selected vintage (in this case 1980) finished in first-fill Sherry casks for at least two years. It's being packaged an almost ridiculously opulent wooden box and goes for a cool $350 for 750 ml.

If there was a boat ride or private plane or pool party for the Highland Park, I didn't manage to get there. The Orkney Islands single malt also opted for Sherry casks to finish its new scotch. But its casks were previously filled. They also go for a fancy wooden box. And the price is—wait for it—$2,000. (Understand the miniature bottles now?)

Needless to say, both of these single malts are excellent. If they weren't, the prices would be a positive scandal requiring police intervention. But the Highland Park is out-and-out superlative, while the Glenlivet makes me suspicious, as it I've just been played.

The Glenlivet XXV is a smooth customer. The nose is rich. Caramel, toffee, pear, chocolate-covered orange rind, heather and other sweet notes. In the mouth, it's silky, with smoke, tobacco, chocolate, caramel. It's liquid candy, basically, so seductive you could cruise through the 750 ml without pausing. It's like suddenly getting a kiss from a gorgeous woman completely out of your league; it's great and you're amazed at your luck, but wait, where's my wallet? I would welcome a little more conflict. But it's hard to deny that it's amazingly tasty stuff. And sure to be popular.

The Highland Park, meanwhile, doesn't worry my conscience. It challenges. It asks something of you and rewards you for your work. The nose is spicy, with iodine, pipe tobacco, intense peatiness, wild herbs and flowers and sea brine, as well as subtle fruit notes. On the palate, I found cinnamon, thyme, sage, toast, vegetal strains, with a spicy finish and edge to spare. Such stuff! And what a finish. Now, to find that two grand I left somewhere around here.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Orange You Glad?

You can't walk from the door to a bar stool these days without tripping over a new premium liquor. I'd say the percentage of these new offering that succeed with customers are pretty narrow. (A recent chat with the former buyer at Astor Wine & Spirits was illuminating. According to her, most new brands make an initial big splash and thereafter gather dust on the shelf. St. Germain and Canton are the huge exceptions. They've succeeded because, according to her, "There's nothing else like them.")

William Grant & Sons, the giant booze purveyor from the Highlands, just came out with Solerno, a blood orange liqueur made and bottled in Silicy. The packaging—a bulbous red-orange bottle with a punt the shape of a orange squeezer—fairly screams marketing. So I was mildly surprised to find the stuff rather superior when I first sipped it at Death & Co. It's not sweet or syrupy; it's not chasing after the Cosmo crowd. There's no obnoxious coloring to make it look like we think it should. It's a serious spirit. And it mixing wonderfully. As Grant spokesperson Charlotte Voisey points out, it's not really that appealing sipping straight over rocks. But put it in a cocktail with gin or tequila or Aperol and it makes friends nicely.

Solerno sent along some suggested drink recipes (mainly devised by Voisey) and they're real smile-makers. My favorite was the Solerno Smash, which goes a little something like this:

2 oz. Solerno
1/2 oz. Gin
2 dashes Angostura
1/2 oz. lemon juice
6 mint leaves

Shake well. Strain over crushed ice. Garnish with mint sprig.

Of course, that recipe only does you good if you can find Solerno. As I report in the below piece for Time Out New York, there are only 2,400 bottles floating around the U.S.—and they're all in New York. And I got one, baby! Sometimes it's good to live in this impossible city.

Blood simple

When we learned that a blood-orange liqueur was to be introduced to New York City, our first thought was, Great, another gimmick (our second: Perfect for Halloween!). About the former we were happily mistaken. Solerno, created by Scottish spirits behemoth William Grant & Sons, is an elegant liqueur made from the bittersweet Sanguinello oranges of Sicily—with nary a spot of creepy red food dye. The potent (40 percent alcohol), only slightly sweet liquor is the marriage of three small-batch distillates: one made from the meat of the oranges, one from the skins and one from local lemons. The result is a piquant, zesty, yet understated citrus potion. In these days of hyperactive alcoholic invention, when it seems that every plant, herb, fruit and vegetable on God’s green earth has been soaked in booze and sent through a still, we were particularly surprised to discover that Solerno is the first of its kind on the mass market. Grant’s spokesperson, Charlotte Voisey, explains that the rampant success of the elderflower liqueur St. Germain has ratcheted up competition in this once-sleepy category. And like St. Germain, Solerno is more of a collaborator than a solo artist. “I don’t know if I’d sip it alone at home,” advises Voisey. “It’s a mixing tool, a component in drinks.” Barkeeps around town apparently agree. Only a month old, it’s already featured in cocktails at Bar Milano, Bobo, Clover Club, the Gramercy Park Hotel, PDT and Vento. Bars and restaurants are getting most of the mere 2,400 bottles that have been allotted to New York. The rest of the country will have to wait. If that’s not frightful, we don’t know what is. $39.99 for a 750 ml bottle at Astor Wines & Spirits (399 Lafayette St at 4th St, 212-674-7500)
— Robert Simonson

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Baby Steps

Thought I would point out my first-ever contribution to Decanter, the fine wine magazine hailing from the UK. Yes, it's for, and yes its a total of about 150 words, but one has to start somewhere. And I'd rather contributer 150 words to a reputable publication than 10,000 to a rag.

Antinori: vast new plant in Puglia

Robert Simonson

Marchese Piero Antinori is building a US$16m wine-processing facility in southern Puglia.

Covering 13,000 square metres the Masseria Maime plant is so imposing that it has been dubbed 'Brindisi Airport'.

The plant will handle 75% of the total production of Antinori's Puglian venture Tormaresca. Construction is expected to be completed by the end of 2008.

It will take some of the burden off the much smaller Bocca di Lupo, Tormaresca's facility in northern Puglia.

'We really believe in this region and we thought that that to exploit its potential we needed a state-of-the-art facility,' said Antinori.

Tormaresca, started by Antinori in 1998, produces some six wines. It concentrates on local varietals such as Negroamaro, Primitivo and Aglianico, as well as Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.

The estate consists of two properties, Bocca di Lupo, a 100ha estate in the Castel del Monte DOC, and Masseria Maime, 500ha in the Salento DOC.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Still on Cherry Heering

I tend to focus on a product when it comes through the mail, so I'm still harping on that old Cherry Heering.

The most famous Cherry Heering cocktail is the Singapore Sling. As I mentioned earlier, I never have pineapple juice about the house (though I had every other needed ingredient: gin, lime juice, Cointreau, grenadine, Benedictine, Angostura), so I had to look elsewhere for it.

Last Wednesday night, as I returned wearily to Brooklyn, I stopped in the Clover Club for a nightcap. "Can you make me a Singapore Sling?" I said, stepping up to the bar. "Yup," said the bartender without a moment's hesitation. This pleased me, and renewed my confidence in the bar staff at the Clover Club. A bartender I had never met before was dead certain he could make me what is, let's face it, an infrequently requested drink.

As I opened the cocktail menu, I noticed a bottle of Cherry Heering on the back bar with a pour spout stuck in it. Wow, I thought. You don't see that every day. Weird. I mean, are they pouring out the stuff all the time? Then all my assumptions flew out the window as I saw they have changed the menu recently, and the Singapore Sling was a new listed attraction, under a new category called "Tiki Drinks." No wonder my bartender was so confident.

So, he fixed me one. And it was OK. Not particularly memorable. And they served it in a clay Tiki mug. Why does no one adhere to Jerry Berry dictum that Tiki drink should be served in clear glasses so as to show off their often lovely coloring? Damn, I thought. I'm not crazy about this drink.

I didn't give up. A few days later I bought some pineapple and pureed it in my blender. It didn't become juice; it was much thicker than that. So I added some water. It became thinner, but was still not juice per se. But I liked the taste and the consistency, so I let it be. I assembled all the ingredients. I employed Martin Miller's gin, and my own homemade grenadine.

And the result was friggin' fantastic! A gorgeous color, a splendid density—not to thick, not to thin—and super flavorful. I gave one to the Wife and it knocked her off her feet. I love Clover Club, but I have to say—I made a better Singapore Sling than they did.

Anyway, it was a relief: I do like the drink.

UPDATE: I tried another recipe, from the B.A.R. manual, asking for less pineapple juice and no Grenadine, and topped with soda water. It was good, too, but I liked it less. I think the deletion of the Grenadine and the addition of soda diluted the flavor a bit. Purist, however, might term this more austere version as more authentic. The Singapore Sling seems to be one of those cocktails whose true recipe is hotly debated. These arguments can be very interesting. They also make me tired.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A Good Wine for Halloween

I spotted a little bottle of wine called "Envelope" in Smith & Vine, the Brooklyn wine store. It was 70% Chardonnay. Yawn. But 30% Gewurztraminer! Hmm. It was the work of Channing Daughters, the dependable Long Island stars. Hey. The back text said they were inspired by the winemakers of Friuli, Italy. Whoa!

Channing Daughters? Friuli? Weird grape combo? It was pushing all my buttons. Price? $42! Yikes! For a Long Island Chard? Better check this out with the staff.

"Is this worth $42?" I asked. The staff kind of swooned. "That is the best U.S. wine in the store in my opinion," said one. Then the owner, Patrick, came in. "I think that is the first truly great wine to come out of Long Island," he declaimed. OK, OK. I bought it.

So, what is this weird little wine? Well, like the label says, it's a Long Island Friuli wine. The Channing Daughters took their hard-harvested Chard and Gewurz and fremented them on their skins in an open top fermenter. It was then aged in seven French and Slovenian oak barrels for 13 months. They made only 158 cases.

One of the things I love about skin-fermented white wines is the color. These wines can achieve absolutely beautiful, and sometimes deeply strange, colors. Envelope (hate that name, by the way; "pushing the envelope" is such a tired expression) is a rich apricot color. Almost pumpkin really, if I must invoke J. Crew-like color designations.

The pumpkin doesn't stop there, though. I am not messing with you: there is pumpkin on the nose, and there is pumpkin on the palette. I'm not trying to turn you off. It's there and it's cool. There is also squash, spice and stewed apricots on the nose. Basically a wonderful autumn scent. The smell of retired fields.

The mouth-feel is medium-full, viscous, with light tannins. There is apricot again, pumpkin as I said, meaty nut flavors, celery, scallion, and—believe it or not—roasted pumpkin seeds.

Which all leads me to say that this is the perfect wine, and color and taste, for Halloween. It really is.

Is it the best wine Long Island has produced? No, I don't think do. I've had less showy wines from Shinn and Lieb that were better overall. But it's audacious. It shows great talent. And it might age fantastically.

At $42, will I buy another bottle. Yes. One. For a Halloween party I'm invited to.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Giving the Gilroy Cocktail a Heering

A bottle of Cherry Heering came in the mail yesterday. These things happen around here. One day, you don't have a bottle of Cherry Heering. The next, a guy rings your doorbell and hands you one. It would have seemed curmudgeonly to have refused it.

I like saying "Cherry Heering." Maybe it's me, but it just sounds silly. It's Cherry Liqueur, but we don't say "Cherry Liqueur." We invoke the name of the Dane who invented it, Peter Heering, as if he came in assorted flavors: Apple Heering, Pineapple Heering, Cherry Heering. Just a weird quirk of language that's fixed itself in our lexicon over the years.

The Heering caught my wife's eye. She suddenly remembered that her parents used to drink Singapore Slings. This floored me. You have to know that her parents are SO not Singapore Sling-type people. It's as if somebody suddenly told you that George W. Bush reads Troloppe. I didn't have any pineapple juice on hand, so that was out. (Truth to tell, I never have any pineapple juice on hand. The canned stuff is awful, and I don't see the point of buying an entire pineapple and pureeing it just so I can make a handful of drink.) So she said, "Well, can you make something else with Cherry Heering?" I looked hopefully at my shelf of old cocktail manuals, recently reprinted by Mud Puddle Books, and said "I'm sure I could come up with something."

Of the Mud Puddle reprints (and I must here boast that I have them all!), I have found McElhone's 1927 work "Barflies and Cocktails" the most useful. The other, older manuals are interesting as historical works. But "Barflies," being closer to our time, has practical uses. The recipes are clearly and simply explained, and composed of ingredients and measurements one can easily decipher.

I paged through looking for a Cherry Heering recipe and came up with the Gilroy Cocktail. It goes like this:

1/3 Gin
1/3 Noilly Prat French Vermouth
1/6 Cherry Brandy
1/6 Kirschwasser

I combined the ingredients and shook, as instructed. It produced a rose-colored libation of distinctive taste and refreshing quality, quite unlike anything else I've had. A lost gem. I recommend you try it. The wife was pleased, too.

A bit of confusion: I looked up the Gilroy on the internet, and every recipe I could find varied from McElhone's by eliminating the Kirschwasser and added lemon juice and orange bitters. They also recommended more cherry brandy and less vermouth. In fact, the only place I can find McElhone's version is in the McElhone book! Geez. Can't there ever be friggin' agreement on any cocktail?

Anyway, I'm sticking with McElhone's rendition. I like it. I suppose the other one is good, too. But I like having a drink that gives both my Cherry Heering and my Kirschwasser some exercise. Lord knows they need it.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Harvest Time in Brooklyn

Soon after I met winemaker Abe Schoener last spring and heard he was going to make wine in Red Hook using New York State grapes, I interviewed Steve Mancini, the sommelier at Union Square Cafe. He told me he had been a volunteer worker for Abe the previous summer, helping him put together his California wines. I put two and two together and concluded that Schoener might be open to some volunteerism down in Red Hook. What better way to learn more about wine than to participate in a harvest? And since I don't live in California, what better chance would I have than Abe's Red Hook venture, taking place a mere five-minute bike ride from where I lived?

I dogged Schoener with e-mails and, sure enough, he was happy to accept any volunteers. He put me in touch with Mark Snyder, a partner in Angel's Share Wines, the Red Hook cooperative that is producing the wines and has hired Schoener and Robert Foley as consultants. I was put on the "Harvest List" and sent periodic e-mails whenever grapes arrived at the tiny winemaking plant at the corner of Dwight and Van Dyke Streets.

The first call came on Sept 29. Gewürztraminer from the North Fork of Long Island was on its way! As this news came exactly as Rosh Hashanah was arriving, and I did not think my Jewish wife would appreciate my ducking out to go sort grapes, I had to pass on this invitation. Beside, I was most interested in the Sauvignon Blanc shipment, which was due soon after. I have been impressed with what Abe has done with SB in California and wanted to be on hand for his first NY harvest.

On Oct. 4, another e-mail came. Abe was in town and the four tons of Sauvignon Blanc would arrive in Red Hook at 4 PM Oct. 6, with 9 tons of Chardonnay to follow soon after. All hands on deck!

I biked it down at exactly 4 PM and found no grapes, no people. A waitress at Rocky Sullivan's, which is across the street from the winery, directed me: "They're in there." Abe, Mark and some associates, including one Johanna, who works with Abe in California, and looks something like Ingrid Bergman, were sitting inside enjoying pizza and beer. Schoener was, as always, an unmistakable presence in his buzz-cut, large glasses and bright red shirt. The grapes were late, sitting in truck stuck in think, Long Island Expressway Sunday night traffic.

I was surprised by the small size of the winery. There were a few dozen barrels, four modest steel tanks, a small stemming machine, a press and a couple plastic tables which, when put together, were to be the sorting station. A very nice man named Chris seemed to be in charge of the volunteers.

The grapes arrived after 6 PM. The back door of a medium-sized white truck opened. There were dozens of small yellow pallets of small, green-gold grapes. Four tons didn't look like that much, but, as I soon found out, they made for a huge amount of fruit to go through. There were about a dozen volunteers by now, in addition to the Schoener and Angel's Share people. Suddenly, it was All Business. Grapes were dumped on the sorting table. Abe gave a short and sharp lecture about how to sort the grapes. Brown ones were infected with Botrytis and should be discarded. Blackish ones has some sort of mildew and also have to be sorted. If a cluster had too many of these, don't mess around: just toss the whole bunch. If a cluster had just a couple bad grapes, it was a keeper. The basic gist was: Be careful, but don't get bogged down in details.

We lined up on either side of the table and began sorting like demons. White plastic buckets by our feet were for throwaway grapes. Big gray buckets at the end were for kept grapes. When the gray buckets were filled, they were dumped into the destemmer. When the large white pallets under the destemmer got full they were pulled to settle elsewhere, and a new pallet was put in its place. It was a teeny-tiny assembly line.

Chris was an expert sorter. He astounded me with his speed and split-second decisions. When he wasn't sure about a cluster's quality, he took a big animal bit of it. If it tasted good, he through it in the gray bucket. He loudly, but kindly, prodded us to keep the grapes moving down the table and not to let the grapes accumulate too thickly at any part of the table.

Very quickly, I developed a hearty respect for vineyard laborers. My back ached. My neck ached. This was hard work. But I kept on, hour after hour (the grapes never stopped coming). At some point, a second wind kicked in and I forgot about my weariness. A couple times, I got to dump the grapes into the destemmer. That was fun. Abe directed me to stick my nose in the palette of destemmed grapes. "You smell that clean smell?" I did. "That tells you those are good grapes. We're sorting well."

The group was an interesting one. One guy said he worked at Craftbar. I recognized one of the staff members at Crush, the Manhattan wine store. Later, LeNell Smothers of LeNell's wine and liquor store showed up. The owner of The Good Fork restaurant dropped by with his family and promised to cook the group a dinner in a couple nights when the harvest was done.

I tried to learn what I could from Abe. I asked him about the difference between California and New York Sauvignon Blanc grapes, which he said was "night and day." The New York clusters were not as tight and the grapes smaller and less ripe. He would have to alter his vinifying accordingly. Most of the wine would not be exposed to the skins for long. The juice would then be aged in the stainless steel tanks. He had instructed the sorters to pick out what they deemed the most "beautiful" clusters and set them aside. These would become skin-fermented SB. (I kept a special eye out for these, and carefully watched a pallet where they were gathered, afraid it would be mistakenly dumped in with the rest of the grapes.) The next day he said he expected to get 40 cases out of the Sauvignon Blanc. Schoener had originally hoped to make wine with Tocai Friuliano grapes, but Millbrook, the Hudson Valley winery that grows that rare (in the U.S., anyway) varietal, would not make a deal to sell any grapes.

I spoke to one of Snyder's partner (whose name I've forgotten), who informed me that all the wine made there would go out under the Angel's Share label—something I did not realize. Schoener's and Foley's names will be on the label as winemakers, but the bottles will not technically be Schoener or Foley wines. (Foley will be working mainly with red grapes: Merlot and Cabernet Franc.)

There were sandwiches and chips and soda for sustenance. Around 9 PM, I allowed myself to take a break. By 10 PM, I had to clear out; tomorrow was a working day. There were still plenty of grapes to sort. I heard the next day that work continued until 3 AM. I was sad I didn't get to participate in any of the other stages of the winemaking, such as the pressing, and transfer to the tanks.

The next day, I got an e-mail that the Chardonnay would arrive around 4 PM. I had a few spare hours, so I rode down. By 6:30 PM, the grapes were still MIA, so I left without having assisted in that harvest. I was disappointed, but not necessarily heartbroken; I'm not sure I could have stared down nine tons of Chardonnay.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Report From NY Food and Wine Fest, Land on Bouncers and Wine-Glass Necklaces

OK, I admit it. I am, by now, a thoroughly disgruntled crankpuss journalist. But you would be, too, if you had dealt with the thoroughly disorganized, unhelpful, dismissive, press handlers that guard the gates to the first annual New York Wine & Food Festival, now taking place in Manhattan.

I first reached out to the festival because, well, it's a wine and food festival, right? And I write about wine. A lot. So I thought I'd take a look. They had a couple large-scale wine events on the roster I was interested in. I dutifully filled out the Media Application and sent it in by the due date of Sept. 3. Initially, I was assured there would be no problem getting in. I went through two press people who, over the course of weeks, couldn't seem to offer any help. I kept getting referred to different press agencies. There seem to be several involved.

Finally, I was directed to one Robin Insley. In response to my request to be included on the press list for the Oct. 10 event liltingly titled the "Beverage Media Trade Tasting Presented by ShopRite," I was brushed off with a declaration that the festival was not issuing general press passes that allow press to experience all the seminars, events. Well, who asked for one!? Frankly, most of the scheduled seminars struck me as so boring and old-hat, I had no intention of attending. I wanted to be put on the list for a tasting that was actually described as a "media trade tasting."

Oh, said Robin, and directed me to Rosalinda Secondini, an operative at Southern Wines & Spirits who has a beautiful name, but not terribly beautiful manners. Of three e-mail inquiries, not a one was returned.

Oh, well. I decided to show up at the tasting anyway. I've been to many tastings, and usually these things can be sorted out at the media table if you bring along your business card and doing a little bit of explaining.

No such luck. I arrived at the "Target Welcome Center" (what a fright of rampant sponsorship! Target logo lollipop, anyone?!). The vibe was odd. Volunteers were everywhere. Many were large, beefy men with close-cropped hair. I wondered if the Festival had raided the Teamsters ranks for help. Security was everywhere! Large men in dark suits and grim expressions, looking as though they were ready to toss any pretender to the curb at the least prompting. (Some of those watchers can be viewed above.)

I could not enter the Target garden. I had no admittance pass around my neck. I had no wristband. I went to the media credential desk. I was not on the list, as I expected. So I explained my situation and who I was and who I wrote for. The young woman was not moved. I asked, "But isn't the Shoprite tasting a media event?" She said yes, it was, but she couldn't give me a pass. She gave me the number of an associate of Robin Insley. I mean really: what were the chances of catching any of the press people in their offices? They were working the event, of course.

I decided to walk to Pier 54, where the tasting was. Perhaps I could find someone there not so verses in the School of "No." Every ten feet there was a bruiser in a volunteer t-shirt, asking me where my wristband was. Honestly. Why the Presidential-level security? Do the really expect to encounter violent, foodie gate-crashers?

A cordoned alley led to the pier. It was lined with volunteers. They appeared to be trained to look for wristbands and badges, and when they didn't see one, they questioned your existence. I ignored them, and walked on to the front. As you might guess, I had no luck getting in. The man I talked to suggested I call someone who could help me. Now, isn't that their job?

I watched as people passed through. Many were wearing ludicrous wine-glass necklaces, large goblets hanging around their neck. Geez, why not just give them mini-troughs from which to suck their wine?

Whatever. I won't be back. The Festival won't miss me, that's for sure. It's got sponsors galore, and the ridiculously priced seminars are mostly sold out. But next time, guys, if you don't want the media around, don't call an event a "media tasting."

Monday, October 6, 2008

I'm Not Saying This Is Genius...

I decided to make myself a Sloe Gin Fizz tonight, taking advantage of my lovely new bottle of Plymouth Sloe Gin. As I was setting up, however, I realized I was bereft of the lemons needed to make the lemon juice required in the cocktail. But I still wanted a Sloe Gin Fizz. (I get like this. Once my mind is fixed on a certain drink, it's hard for me to shift to another.)

I looked in the old fruit bowl and saw a few limes. Well, why not?, I thought. All that could happen is it would be terrible. So I made what I call a Sloe Lime Fizz, substituting lime for lemon in a Sloe Gin Fizz recipe I like:

1 oz. Gin
1 oz. Sloe Gin
3/4 oz fresh lime juice
1 oz. Simple Syrup

Shake with ice. Strain into highball filled with ice. Top with soda water.

I know this is a text book example of what bartenders derisively call Mr. Potato Head mixology; you take out one ingredient from a classic drink and substitute another. So it's not genius! And a person can easily make it at home. But it's tasty. Try it. It's a slightly tarter, brisker version of our old friend the Fizz.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Man Who Saved Verdejo

One of the best bargains in the wine world must be the Verdejos of Angel Rodriguez. A bottle goes for about $16. Not bad for wine made by a legend who almost single-handedly saved a grape varietal.

Verdejo is everywhere these days, but it almost passed into history in the 1970s, when no one cared much about Spanish wine, let alone white Spanish grape varietals. Everyone was planting Viura for base commercial reasons. Rodriguez refused to pull up his historic, ungrafted, pre-phylloxera Verdejo vines in Rueda, even though yields were low and there was no money to be made. In fact, he planted more acres. Now, many vintners have follow Rodriguez's example and Verdejo is ascendant; many have even taken clippings from his Martinsancho vineyard.

That's a lot of history and quality for $16. I found the 2007 Martinsancho Verdejo a wonderful, pure thing with an incredible honeyed, floral, vegetal nose you can get lost in. It's like standing in the middle of a lovely scented Spanish field of blossoms and crops and breathing in the air. The palate begins waxy, acidic and citrusy, then yields to pear and honeycomb and green apple. The racy acidity keeps you alive. I drank my entire bottle in one sitting. There was no reason to stop.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Liquor Labels as Art

A cocktail can be a work of art if executed correctly. A glass of wine can be a work of art if the winemaker has brought all the elements of viticulture and vinification to bear on his creation. But one of the most beautiful aspects of the Le Monde d'Alcohol, it must be acknowledged, lies it the packaging of the industry's various intoxicants. You may call it simple advertising. I call it a glorious backdrop that converts the mirrored, backlit wall behind every bar into a mosaic of graceful and exuberant illustration and graphics.

In this field of endeavor, I think the Italians take the top honors. You can say all you like about the simple, history-honoring austerity of British gin labels, the folksy 19th-century air of American Bourbon bottles or the filigreed Art Nouveau touches of some French containers. But the Italians, as ever, live and breath style. I brisk survey of the amaro and liqueur sections of your local liquor store will affirm this.

Averna's golden front shines like a newly burnished relic of Roman loot. Ramazzoti amaro has the bold, heavy vibrancy and riot of fonts of a poster advertising an opera at La Scala. Aperol's yellow lettering looks like it could have raced up the Via Veneto in the 1960s. it's square of lime green is beautifully framed by the ruby red of the liquor. Cynar, meanwhile, may possess the most splendi label in the booze world, an Art Deco wonder in which the "C" nearly swallowing the "-yner" against a blood-red, the profile of an artichoke at its center. The Cynar label should be in the MoMA collection.

The bottle at the bottom may be unfamiliar to you. It's a Puglian amaro I picked up during a recent trip to Italy. Padre Peppe has been made by Franciscan monks since 1832 and derives its flavor from green walnuts and various herbs. It clocks in at 42% alcohol, so the dark brown, syrupy stuff packs a punch. I imagine it being good with coffee or over ice cream.

Anyway, the deep green label is a beaut with its slanting letters and various fonts (I could eight). There are also versions using a red and a nut brown label.