We will be tasting a little wine and a few spirits:
Contour Pinot Noir ($15.99) Califonia From the producer: "Contour is a pure and genuine expression of California Pinot Noir, without the use of additional varietals. The cool climate of California’s coastline aids in the growth of superb Pinot Noir, and Contour is a representation of its outstanding growing regions. We select the best fruit from the finest appellations throughout California, providing tremendous depth, balance and quality. The wine is fresh and exuberant in the mouth, with sumptuous notes of strawberry jam, ripe black cherry, cranberry and warm gingerbread."
From me: Good value for money and very drinkable, this Pinot is a blend of grapes sourced from three different appellations in California. Here terroir isn't the focus, but rather the grape itself. Great on its own or paired with vegetable dishes, salmon, light meats, and poultry.
Mad River Mad Apple Brandy ($46.99) Vermont From the producer: "Mad Apple is a European-style dry apple brandy distilled from 100% Vermont apples. This aromatic brandy has fresh apple notes on the nose with oak spice and vanilla on the palate, followed by a crisp apple finish. Enjoy on its own or in classic brandy cocktails like the Jack Rose or the Sidecar."
From me: This is made in a similar style to the brandy from northern France called Calvados. It's light in body and color, but has a beautiful apple nose and a strong palate. Great for cocktails.
Garnish Island Gin ($25.99) West Cork, Ireland From the producer: "A deliciously elegant gin that perfectly captures the unique, exotic character of Garnish Island in Bantry Bay. Carefully chosen botanicals that capture the essence of the island are infused to release their essential oils and then slowly distilled in small batches in our pot still.
Bright floral aromas of iris, rose and warming hibiscus marry beautifully with hints of rosemary and thyme. Enjoy the soft lingering glow on the finish with notes of citrus, cacao and just a hint of spice."
From me: This is a botanical Gin that has some "oomph." If you like a strong flavor, ow if you like a gin to last through all four seasons, this is it. Local botanicals and a woman distiller.
West Cork Distillers Glengarriff Bog Oak Cask Whiskey ($39.99) West Cork, Ireland From the producer: "West Cork Distillers’ Glengarriff Collection of Irish whiskeys are single malts aged for 4 years in sherry casks before being finished in barrels that have been charred using natural fuel sources obtained from the iconic Glengarriff Forest in Southern Ireland. Each barrel is prepared using a proprietary charring device that was hand-built by West Cork Distillers with the guidance of a local fifth-generation blacksmith. Each of these special release whiskeys delivers a unique flavor profile that embodies the innovative spirit of West Cork Distillers.
Bog Oak Charred Cask: Aroma - Spice, dried leather with a sweet dried fruit undertone Taste - Intense spice, malt and cracked pepper Finish - Spice, nutmeg and long lasting malt"
From me: This will be the most unusual Irish Whiskey you'll taste. There's an earthy depth to the flavor that I find really compelling, and there's more smoke than you might be used to from Ireland. I would call this the wine drinker's/Scotch lover's/cigar smoker's Irish Whiskey.
Amaro dell'Etna ($34.99/ 1.0L) Sicily, Italy From the producer: "Our Amaro dell’Etna has its roots on the slopes of Mount Etna in Sicily where more than twenty-six herbs and aromatic plants grow. Its special recipe embodies the volcanic nature of Sicilian soil and even after over one hundred years still conveys an authentic and traditional taste.
From its origins in 1901 to the present day our digestif has been enjoyed by lovers of good liqueurs and has been appreciated for its delicious spiced taste. Its authentic character is the result of the careful selection of unique ingredients based on a particular mixture of herbs and aromatic plants.
Our Amaro dell’Etna contains no preservatives or artificial coloring agents. It has a genuinely intense flavor thanks to the infusion of herbs and natural aromas and the addition of only sugar.
It excels as an after-dinner digestif or can be served as an aperitif with ice, soda and a slice of orange."
From me: I found this Amaro on Instagram, and was dismayed to find that it wasn't distributed in the U.S.. As luck would have it, at the end of a product tasting with a rep, she showed me this as an afterthought, and I just about lost my mind. I had been drinking Averna Amaro in my Midnight Manhattans, and I'd started to taste other brands here and there as my palate for bitter digestivos has developed. This, though, is in its own realm. It is slightly less viscous and slightly more bitter (particularly on the finish) than Averna, but it blends really well with Bourbon or Rye. It stands out for me because I would almost rather drink this on its own than in a cocktail. The flavor profile is complex, but it's very smooth and quite refreshing. I cannot recommend this highly enough.
1. Taste with as clean a palate as possible. Try to avoid smoking or chewing gum just beforehand. If you have just eaten, drink some water to clear the flavors of the meal.
2. Keep an open mind. Try new things! We all get into ruts when it comes to our palates, but the fun of a tasting is that you don't have to commit to the whole bottle. If you don't like what you've tasted, you can spit it out.
3. Spit or swallow--it's up to you! Just make sure you use the spittoon!
4. See, swirl, smell, sip, savor. Give attention to all aspects of the wine. Here are a couple of links that explain the process:
5. Have fun! Wine tasting has an air of elitism around it, but unnecessarily so. Your palate is your own-it's as individual as you are-and the most important part of appreciating good alcohol is knowing what you like and why you like it. You don't have to use fancy words or spend a lot of money on a bottle. As the kids say, you do you!