Friday, July 22, 2011

Viva la Vinho Verde!

Summer is the time when most of us put down the bottles of wintry red wines and opt for something light, cool and refreshing. One wine that has recently gained immense popularity is Vinho Verde, or "green wine" - a name alluding to its youth, not color. While Vinho Verde can technically be red, white or rose, the most noted wines to emerge from the region have been lightly carbonated, food-friendly whites that are perfect for summer gatherings. Lower alcohol, crisp acidity and underlying minerality allow these wines to pair incredibly well not only with lighter food such as salad and seafood, but also with bold, spicy fare such as Mexican, Indian or Thai.

The Demarcated Region of Vinho Verde is located in northwestern Portugal, bordered by the Minho River in the North, mountainous areas in the East and South, and the Atlantic Ocean on the west. The mild climate, maritime winds and high yearly rain level provides the ideal growing conditions for a variety of indigenous grapes, such as Loureiro, Trajadura and Arinto, just to name a few. Don't be deterred by these relatively unknown varietals - they have been expertly crafted into delicious wines for centuries.

One brand that certainly stands out is Vera Vinho Verde.  In 2010, long-time friends Rui Abecassis and Bruce Scheider scoured the northern Portugal countryside with the intent of creating an exceptional Vinho Verde. Their search led them to select blocks of Casa do Valle's main estate vineyard, where the vines are between 10 and 15 years old and grow on granitic sandy loam at an average elevation of 300 meters. They were greatly impressed by the terroir and the quality of the grapes, so they enlisted Luis Duarte, one of Portugal's most respected producers, to create their ideal vision of Vinho Verde. Composed of 60% Arinto, 30% Azal and 10% Loureiro, Vera offers bright, refreshing notes of lemon, lime and grapefruit, with a strong mineral backbone.
Broadbent's Vinho Verde Estate

The reputable Broadbent Selections has also produced an excellent Vinho Verde which is shipped in refrigerated containers throughout the world to preserve the characteristic fizz of the wine. Composed of 50% Loureiro, 40% Trajadura and 10% Pederná (also known as Arinto), Broadbent Vinho Verde is light and refreshing with crisp notes of lime and tart apple.

Last but certainly not least, we recommend Adega de Monção’s "Fuzelo" Vinho Verde. Established in 1958, this winery has received numerous awards throughout the years and was named "Cooperative of the Year" in 2007 by noted Portuguese wine magazine Revista de Vinhos. "Fuzelo" is blended from Loureiro, Arinto, Trajadura, Avesso and Azal, and offers notes of ripe melon, grapefruit and peach, complemented by a subtle minerality.

So open a bottle of Vinho Verde at your next summer picnic or backyard barbeque, but don't forget to stock up – your guests will definitely want a second glass.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Montanya Distillers' Colorado Rum

Established in 2008 by longtime rum enthusiasts Karen and Brice Hoskin, Montanya Distillers produces high quality rum in Colorado's Rocky Mountains. Although most people associate rum with the Caribbean, throughout history the spirit has also been produced in the mountainous regions of Central America. The Hoskins have embraced this tradition and decided to honor the custom by naming their rum "Montanya". Although the word is usually spelled "Montaña", the Hoskins decided to Americanize the spelling mainly because they didn't want consumers to see their rum and think of Montana, the state north of Wyoming. Montanya Rum is a Colorado product through and through!

While the Rocky Mountains may seem like an odd place for rum production, it actually makes perfect sense. The main ingredient in rum is water - comprising 85% of the fermented wash and 60% of the final bottled product. Rum is distilled to about 140 proof and then has to be blended with water before it is bottled at 80 proof. Pure, natural water is very scarce in the Caribbean, but in Colorado the distillery is able to source crisp, clean snowmelt straight out of the pristine Boulder Creek.

Another benefit of Montanya's location is their altitude. The finest rums in the world are aged at altitude, including Ron Zacapa in the mountains of Guatemala. The temperature fluctuates from day to night, which forces more rum in and out of the barrel's oak pores. This results in a smoother, more flavorful spirit. Also, in warmer climates, rum fermentation attracts fruit flies and bats, but the Colorado Rockies doesn't have any of these pests due to their cooler temperatures and high elevation.

The freshness of the oak barrels also has an impact on the rum - Caribbean and Central American producers import their American Oak barrels from whiskey distilleries in the US. Montanya Distillers is closer to the source, so the barrels reach them fresh from the producer, who in this case, happens to be Stranahan's Distillery, another excellent Colorado-based company.

Both releases from Montanya Distillers are created from pure, high molasses content sugarcane that is American-grown and harvested by members of the Sugar Worker's Union. After distillation, both the Montanya Platino and Montanya Oro are aged in those fresh oak barrels from Stranhan's, imparting smooth, distinctive notes of vanilla, honey and spice. The Platino is then filtered using a coconut-husk charcoal plate filtering process which leaves the spirit clear and perfect for mixing.

Montanya Platino opens with soft, sweet aromas of vanilla and coconut which carry through to a full flavored, medium bodied palate. Complex notes of honey, coffee, baking spice and caramel are balanced by hints of spicy oak, with subtle flavors of toasted almond lingering through the finish.

The Montanya Oro retains its lively golden hue and is a rich, full bodied sipping rum with layered notes of toffee, honey, mocha, vanilla and espresso on both the nose and palate. A bold note of roasted coffee appears on the slightly smoky finish.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Martin Miller's Gin

Born of love, obsession and some degree of madness, Martin Miller's Gin is an exceptional spirit that embodies the history, romance and adventure of a modern classic. Determined to rescue cocktail menus from the sub-par gin and tonic, Martin Miller embarked on the journey of a lifetime - to create a traditional, yet seductive, high quality gin that's as "sharp as a Savile Row suit, yet as smooth and refined as a classic Bentley".

The Martin Miller's distillery is located in the heart of England's Black Country, home to the industrial revolution. Distillation takes place in a single, three stories high, balloon-bellied, Samovarish pot still - fondly referred to as Angela - which was created back in 1904 by John Dore & Sons, and is universally accepted as the "Rolls Royce" of spirit still production. The gin is distilled in small batches from high quality grain then steeped and macerated with a wide array of berries, herbs, roots and spices including coriander, liquorice, Florentine iris, cinnamon, cassia, nutmeg, angelica and orris root, orange and lemon peel, and of course, Juniper, which has been harvested from the hills of Tuscany, India or Macedonia. The dried peels of the citrus fruits are distilled separately from the more grounded, earthy botanicals, creating a more balanced gin with brighter citrus notes.

Once distillation is complete, the spirit must be blended with water to reach bottling strength. Martin Miller's insists on using the purest, softest water on earth and therefore transports the gin 1,500 miles to Iceland, where the glacial waters are up to ten times purer than most of the bottled waters on sale today. The spring lies in the town of Borganes, where the water rises from the depths of the Basalt mountains - the place where it has rested for almost 800 years. Martin Miller's blends this clean, unpolluted, ice cold water with their gin, which not only showcases the botanical flavors already present in the spirit, but adds a soft, almost sweet mouthfeel to the finished product.

Since 2003, Martin Miller's Gin has received consistent recognition by being awarded multiple gold medals by the International Spirits Challenge and numerous double gold medals by the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Wine Enthusiast has awarded Martin Miller's Gin 93 Points and has described it as "one of the most aromatic and least junipery gins, with aromas of cucumber, white pepper and lemon zest. On the tongue, look for a brief sweetness and floral taste, which rolls into invigorating, pleasingly bitter flavors of orange pith and pine." Martin Miller's Westbourne Gin, bottled at 45.2% ABV, has received 92 Points from Wine Enthusiast and was described as having "a soft feel and English-garden aroma reminiscent of cucumber and fresh-cut flowers. On the tongue, look for cucumber and juniper, and a sweet and slightly floral finish."

Martin Miller - the man behind the brand.

Martin Miller's can be enjoyed neat or in a variety of classic and contemporary cocktails. Martin Miller himself recommends a classic Gin & Tonic, using a Spanish-style large-stemmed balloon glass to hold in the bubbles - much like a champagne flute does for champagne. He then adds a long twist of lime peel and is careful not to include any pulp from the lime as this again reduces the effervescence. He then pours the tonic down a mixing spoon, allowing the tonic to find its own way around the ice, the gin and the lime. Don't be tempted to use the spoon to mix the ingredients - stirring and mixing take the life out.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Myths and Realities of Absinthe

In order to continue our installments of Absinthe education for DrinkUpNY, this week, we bring you some of the popular myths surrounding our favorite beverage and provide you with the truth surrounding those myths.  So, without further ado, here are some of the most popular myths:

MYTH 1: Absinthe that you can buy in the U.S. isn't "the real deal".
This is one of the most popular misinformation campaigns out there today, propagated by several specific disreputable brands.  Yes, U.S. absinthes are REAL.  They contain the same species of wormwood and more-or-less resemble pre-ban absinthes in style and flavor (there is a wide variety of flavors, even within the traditional absinthe segment, though they all share the same common characteristics). Scientific analysis of pre-ban absinthe has shown that Belle Epoque brands contained only a small trace of thujone, the compound blamed for absinthe's alleged harmful effects. Still, there are no legal guidelines as to what may be called "absinthe", so buyer discretion is advised; be well-informed.  There are some brands out there that are no more absinthe than tequila is rum.  As much as possible, refer to the Wormwood Society's Review Section to do further brand research before you buy.

MYTH 2: Absinthe is a drug.
It won't make you "trip", hallucinate, cut your ear off, or do anything else you wouldn't ordinarily do when intoxicated with liquor. The terrifying hallucinations reported to be suffered by early, hospitalized absinthe abusers were most likely due to the withdrawal symptoms of acute alcoholism: alcoholic hallucinosis, or, the DTs. There are no psychedelic or psychotropic ingredients in authentic absinthe.

A Night with Absinthe, by Leif Rogers

MYTH 3: Thujone is a hallucinogen or is related to THC.
Thujone, the primary volatile oil in wormwood, is present in only in trace amounts in absinthe due to its resistance to distillation, and is subtle in its effects at these levels. The current "100mg thujone" and "extra strong" hype on many sites is a "legal high" marketing gimmick aimed at the gullible. The role of thujone in the so-called "secondary effect" is greatly exaggerated, as is the effect itself.  Read through the articles in our Absinthe Science section for more information. The similarity in effect to THC was an un-tested conjecture from the mid-1970s and was proven incorrect by later studies. Thujone is NOT a hallucinogen or a psychedelic and has no reasonable recreational potential.

MYTH 4: You can make real, traditional absinthe at home.
Not any easier than you can make real whisky or gin at home. Authentic absinthe must be distilled, just as whisky, gin, etc., and in most countries, including the US, home-distilling is illegal. Soaking wormwood and other herbs in vodka or grain neutral spirits will not make absinthe or anything like it. Absinthe must be distilled.

MYTH 5: Flaming absinthe is an authentic absinthe tradition.
Not in France, the Czech Republic or anywhere else prior to the late 1990's. There are a number of time-honored classic drinks which are flamed, but absinthe isn't one of them. Burnt sugar does no more than introduce a charred marshmallow taste, obscuring the delicate balance of botanicals. This preparation was invented as another marketing gimmick to sell low-quality product to club-goers.

MYTH 6: Authentic absinthe is horribly bitter.
The primary flavor of absinthe is anise - what most people call the "black licorice" flavor - but well-made absinthes have an herbal complexity that makes them taste like more than just licorice candy. People who have had bad experiences with extremely bitter, unpalatable beverages (many times in Prague or other Eastern European cities), were not drinking authentic absinthe. They had unfortunately fallen into a tourist trap.

MYTH 7:  Pastis is "absinthe without the wormwood".
Pernod Anis, Henri Bardouin and Herbsaint are substantially different from absinthe and are pre-sweetened; they are absinthe substitutes. They'll generally work in cocktails calling for absinthe, but as drinks on their own they're not very similar to it. You can't make absinthe by simply adding wormwood or wormwood extract to these products. It will taste vile.

Contributed by Brian Robinson, Review Editor, Wormwood Society

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal

The agave nursery in San Luis del Rio
In 1970, Ron Cooper, renowned artist and founder of Del Maguey, embarked on a road trip to discover the full Pan-American Highway. He stopped in the Oaxaca region of Southwest Mexico, and immersed himself in the history and traditions of the Zapotec and Miztec people who inhabit the area. Their fascinating culture greatly influenced Cooper's artwork, and he incorporated many of their ancient folklore into his creations. In 1990, he returned to Oaxaca to research a new project he was working on - creating a series of 50 hand-blown glass bottles to depict the infinite forms of intoxication and ecstasy of the Aztec god Ometotchli. Each one of these bottles was to be filled with mezcal, a traditional spirit distilled from the region's sacred agave plant. He continued traveling through the remote villages of the region, and discovered that each village in Oaxaca produces mezcal traditionally, but each one has a distinctive flavor profile. This is due to the varying topography of the land, which produces endless microclimates and numerous species of agave that greatly influence the characteristics of the finished mezcal. Determined to share these unique spirits with the world, Cooper created an importing company based from his home in Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico, as well as a cooperative of the best mezcal producers of Oaxaca.

Mezcal is such an important part of Zapotec culture that every member of the village contributes to its production. Each person plants their own agave plants in their small gardens and diligently cares for the plant until it is about two years old. The plant is then uprooted and transferred to the hills, where it matures for another four to ten years until it is ready to be harvested. After the agave is harvested, the hearts, or "piñas" are placed over hot rocks in an eight foot pit and covered with moist fiber from the plant, followed by woven palm-fiber mats and a layer of earth. They bake this way for three to five days, absorbing flavors from the earth and wood smoke and oils on the rocks. Each producer leaves the roasted hearts buried for different lengths of time - the producer of Del Maguey Tobala leaves them buried for a month! 
The mill at Chichicapa
The piñas are then removed and covered by palm mats in the shade for a week where they begin to ferment naturally with airborne microbes, then placed on the ground inside a ring of stone. In the center is a vertical post connecting an axle to a huge vertical, circular millstone. This stone wheel is pulled around the circle by a horse to crush the maguey. The only exception is Del Maguey Minero, where the maguey is ground in a stone trough by men wielding oak bats.

The crushed maguey is then placed in wooden vats that hold about three hundred gallons, and village water is added. The mash is covered with palm-fiber mats and ferments naturally with its own yeasts and microbes for four to thirty days. The mash is then transferred to a seventy-five gallon copper still (introduced by the Spanish settlers), or a thirty gallon ceramic still, which was introduced by Chinese visitors to the area (long before the Spanish conquest era). A copper "sombrero" is placed on the top and the mix is slowly heated by wood fire for twenty four hours, which allows it to vaporize and condense without "burning" the flavor. The fiber is cleared out of the still and the alcohol from the first distillation is placed back into the still and the distillation process is repeated. The resulting mezcal is unlike any spirit you have experienced before. Every Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal is created in extremely small quantities following these traditional production methods which were developed in the 16th century, allowing the mezcals to be certified organic by COMERCAM - The Mexican Regulatory Council For The Quality Of Mezcal.

The still at Santa Catarina Minas
Aside from working directly with the producers of their fine mezcal, Del Maguey also work with two villages of weavers. Every bottle of Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal is encased in its own unique handwoven palm fiber basket. The women of Oaxaca has been weaving these baskets for thousands of years and each of their designs are of Zapotec or Mixtec origin. It takes one woman half a day to weave each cover for a bottle of Del Maguey Mezcal, and the result is a true expression of their culture, art and dedication.

Del Maguey currently has eight releases from the villages of Chichicapa, San Luis Del Rio, Santa Catarina Minas and Santo Domingo Albarradas. They are currently working on a few new projects, although they are highly allocated. Created by the same distiller who produces Tobala, the Espadín Especial is an exceptional mezcal created from the Espadín agave. It is currently only available on-premise, but we hope to see it imported to the United States in the near future. Del Maguey is experimenting with barrel-aged products as well, which will be released in limited quantities when they have earned the distillers approval!

Santo Domingo Albarradas
Whether you prefer your mezcal neat, on the rocks, or in cocktails, raise your glass and proclaim "Stigibeau!" (pronounced stee-gee-bay-oo), the Zapotec toast to the life and health of each other and the earth.

Stigibeau from DrinkUpNY!