Monthly Archives: February 2012

Leap Into Limari

29 February 2012

There’s a lot more to Chile, it turns out, than Maipo and Colchagua, two of Chile’s most famous wine valleys. I recently ended up with a bottle of 2008 Tabali Reserva Especial Syrah from the Limarí Valley, a region I’d never heard of and certainly couldn’t place on a map. I couldn’t place Maipo or Colchagua on a map either, for that matter, so I knew it was time to reach for my trusty World Atlas of Wine.

In such a long, thin country, I assumed that latitude determines the climate of a particular vineyard. Most growers held this opinion until quite recently, and indeed, the wine regions are organized from north to south. But according to the Atlas, the terroir varies “much more from west to east, according to a site’s geology and proximity to the cooling influences of the Pacific and the Andes.”

The cold Humboldt Current running up the coast and the snowy Andes Mountains allow high-quality vineyards at latitudes much closer to the tropics than in most other countries. The days get quite hot, but crisply cool evenings keep things under control. The Atlas notes that Chile’s wide day-night temperature variation “is almost certainly a factor in the clarity of the fruit flavors.”

Until oenologists realized the potential of Chile’s other regions, most vineyards were planted around Santiago in areas like the Maipo and Colchagua Valleys. Unfortunately, this is “the wrong place,” according to The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia. It argues that the Secano region harbors the most potential in Chile, but even today this “forgotten” region remains relatively inaccessible and underutilized.


Simple, Fresh, And Bloody

25 February 2012

Eating seasonally has come back into fashion, and there’s no reason we can’t drink seasonally as well. Certain cocktails are simply impossible to make at certain times of the year, making them taste all the sweeter when we can.

Right now, we’ve reached the peak season of blood oranges, also known as moros. These wonderful winter citrus fruits have some orange-colored cells as well as many deeply red cells, and their juice has a surprisingly bright magenta tinge. The peel may or may not also have a blush of red (don’t shy away from blood oranges with no hint of “blood” on their exterior).

Fresh-squeezed blood orange juice makes for a marvelous cocktail mixer, with a beautiful magenta color and a tart flavor that can substitute well for a number of other more common citrus fruits. Blood orange mimosas look gorgeous and taste great — add three parts Prosecco (my favorite), Cava or Champagne to a champagne flute, top with one part fresh-squeezed blood orange juice, and you’ve got a deep-pink (but deliciously dry and adult) drink sure to delight your brunch guests.

If, for some reason, you prefer to drink only in the evening, consider instead one of these simple, fresh and bloody recipes:


–1 part fresh-squeezed blood orange juice

–1 part tequila (I used gold, but silver could also be tasty)

–1/2 part triple sec

To get the proportions right, squeeze the blood orange first. Whatever amount of juice you recover from the blood orange can be your standard “part”. Usually one blood orange provides enough juice for about one cocktail.

Combine all the ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a martini or margarita glass. Garnish with a twist if you like.

This light cocktail tastes tart, but the sweetness from the triple sec balanced it enough for my palate. The telltale flavor of the tequila still came through, and there was just a touch of bite from the blood orange.


–1 part fresh-squeezed blood orange juice

–1 part Cognac

–1/4 to 1/3 part crème de cassis, to taste

Combine all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with a twist if you like. Easy!

I liked this cocktail even a little better, though its color wasn’t quite as brilliant as the margarita’s. Again, it tasted sweet and tart, but the Cognac added an intriguing woodsy note, a little bite and a satisfying caramel finish. The crème de cassis, a French blackcurrant liqueur, adds additional sweetness and roundness to the drink.



Some Lenten Meditations

22 February 2012

With Mardi Gras fading into fatty, beaded memory, it’s time to take stock and think about a little self-sacrifice. This blog isn’t exactly known for its abstemiousness, so it may seem odd to come to Odd Bacchus for ideas about how to mark Lent. But even I try to respect the Lenten tradition of giving something up.

I have nothing but respect for those who give up sugar or Facebook or even alcohol, but most of us lack the self-control to achieve such a lofty goal. If you, like me, are not a paragon of self-restraint, set your sights just a little lower, and consider sacrificing one of the following instead:

Sour Mix: Many restaurants, bars and home bartenders use this fluorescent green concoction to make sugary sweet margaritas. Instead of this chemical brew of high-fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors and food coloring, try some fresh-squeezed limes and a dash of simple syrup instead. (Simple syrup is available in liquor stores, or make your own by  simmering one part water and one part sugar together.)

“Maraschino” Cherries: Speaking of food coloring… Give up the unnaturally bright red “maraschino” cherries you find atop sundaes. Instead, buy some true Maraschino cherries (also known as Marasca cherries), which are available on Amazon and in well-stocked liquor stores. Your Manhattan will thank you.

Old Vermouth: All too many of us home bartenders (myself included) have ancient bottles of crappy vermouth. Give them up! Pour them down the drain and recycle the bottles. A good vermouth can make a world of difference in your cocktail. Carpano Antica, a red vermouth, has lately taken the bartending world by storm, and it makes a mean Manhattan. Also watch out for Vya, which makes both red (sweet) and white (extra dry) vermouths. If you worry you won’t be able to use all of that relatively expensive vermouth before it spoils, you can always drink it straight.

Cheap Booze: Just because a wine or liquor is inexpensive doesn’t mean that it’s a good value. All too often, that $7 bottle of wine tastes like it should have cost about $3. Life is too short for that kind of nonsense. Give it up! In large amounts, alcohol is unhealthy, which means it should be both delicious and just a little expensive. Better to drink less of something really satisfying than glass after glass of plonk. Not all inexpensive wines are bad, of course — I’ve written about a number of decent wines that cost less than $15 (or even $10), but the good values in that price range usually require avoiding famous brands.

Your Go-To Drink: It’s easy to become a creature of habit and stick with what we know, buying the same brands of wine and ordering the same cocktails over and over again. Give it up! Try something new. Tell your (trusted) bartender or wine store clerk what you usually order, and ask for an interesting alternative to try. Who knows? Next year, you might have a new go-to drink to give up for Lent.

Cognac Tears

18 February 2012

Taste is quite literally our most visceral sense, and tastes, like smells, can elicit surprisingly intense emotional reactions. I was reintroduced to the connection between tongue and emotions on my recent trip to Cognac, when I found myself startled by my own tears, standing before some equally startled French people.

During the grand tasting in the Museum of the Art of Cognac, I found my way to the Hine table, where I had the pleasure of meeting Cellar Master Eric Forget. He introduced me to their fresh, fruity and subtly spicy VSOP and their richer, more floral Rare VSOP, both of which were quite tasty.

Then we got to the Hine “Homage” Early Landed Fine Champagne Cognac, a blend of top-quality Cognacs from 1984, 1986 and 1987. For the Homage, Hine returned to a seldom-practiced centuries-old tradition of aging the Cognac in English caves, instead of in France. (English merchants used to purchase barrels of freshly distilled Cognac to age themselves.) Because of the different climate and cellar conditions, Early Landed Cognacs develop different flavor notes.

In this case, the heady floral aroma had me at first sniff. In my notebook, I wrote “so rich and smooth, but not heavy — absolutely delicious — yes!” That last word was a bit scribbled, because I had to quickly wipe the tears from my eyes so that my hosts didn’t see them. The exquisite flavor and the connection with tradition stirred something deep inside.

I recovered over a taste of the elegant Hine XO, but I completely lost control of myself when I sampled the gorgeous Hine Triomphe, a blend of Grande Champagne Cognacs averaging around 50 years old. So beautiful was this Cognac, with velvety caramel and tobacco flavors, the emotions welled up within me yet again, even more strongly. There was simply no hiding it. Monsieur Forget, seeing my reaction, quietly remarked, “It’s not a Cognac. It’s just a pleasure.”


My First First Growths

15 February 2012

It may seem odd, at first glance, to see me discussing my tasting of Château Latour, Château Margaux, Château Cheval Blanc and Château Ausone on Odd Bacchus. After all, what are four of the world’s most famous and celebrated wines doing on a blog devoted to drinking the unusual? Well, I don’t know about you, but drinking wines that sell between $750 and $1,500 per bottle is certainly an unusual experience for me.

While visiting Bordeaux, I took advantage of Max, a wine bar filled with temperature-controlled cases of everything from basic Médoc to Premiers Grands Crus Classés. I put money on a card, inserted it into the case, and splash — I’m $40 poorer and 25 milliliters of Château Latour richer.

Château Latour is one of the four crus selected by the Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce as a Premier Cru (First Growth) in the landmark 1855 Classification, organized for that year’s Universal Exposition in Paris, where the best Bordeaux wines were showcased. As such, Latour, along with the other First Growths, became a benchmark of quality, and it remains so today.

Alone in the wine bar except for the staff and an Australian couple, I tasted my first First Growth sip beneath glimmering wine glasses cascading down from the ceiling. The brick-purple 2004 Château Latour ($975) smelled of jam and earth and metal, and the fruit was deep and rich. The finesse of the wine caused me to note, in a moment of unchecked romanticism, that the wine “doesn’t let it all hang out — it shows just enough to be thoroughly ravishing.” Oy — purple indeed.

My notes about the 2004 Château Margaux took a more sensible tone. Which is surprising, considering that The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia calls this the “greatest” wine in the world, a distinction it’s apparently had for some time. According to The Oxford Companion to Wine, Thomas Jefferson cited Château Margaux as a vineyard of “first quality” in 1787. It better be, for $750 a bottle.

I did love the Margaux’s chocolate-raspberry nose, and its elegant, restrained palate. It didn’t seem especially big, but the fruit was unquestionably lush and supple. Cocoa made an appearance again in the long finish. I enjoyed it, but it was a tough, tannic wine, needing more age to open up.

The vineyards around St-Émilion, a historic village in the Bordeaux region to the east of the city, were not classified until 1958, and then only two achieved Premier Grand Cru Classé status. I had the chance to try them both.


Romantic Drinks For Valentine’s Day

11 February 2012

A few marketing companies have discovered that Odd Bacchus attracts literally dozens of readers, and in the past couple of weeks I’ve been inundated with e-mails recommending Valentine’s Day cocktails or wines to feature on my blog.

Some of the recommendations are sound, but some are simply ridiculous. Who is going to make “Gypsy Rose Tea Punch,” which requires two bottles of blood orange liqueur, among other ingredients, and why would they make it on Valentine’s Day? How many people are they expecting to come over on this most romantic of holidays?

With these sorts of recommendations floating around the blogosphere, I felt compelled to make a list of my own. Here are some of my favorite romantic (and sensible) cocktails and wines, covering a range of tastes and budgets:

1. KIR ROYALE: This classic French aperitif gets my #1 vote because it’s simple, elegant, delicious and inexpensive. And pink! Pour some dry sparkling wine into a champagne flute (a good Prosecco works well, or a Crémant), and add about a teaspoon of Crème de Cassis, a blackcurrant liqueur. Chambord can work in a pinch, but Crème de Cassis is better. Gently stir to incorporate, or simply present as-is for that layered look. Serve the rest of the sparkling wine with dinner.


Hidden Gems Of Cognac

8 February 2012

I’ve written a bit about the big guns of Cognac — Hennessy, Rémy Martin and Courvoisier — but I would be remiss in my duties as Odd Bacchus if I didn’t devote at least one post to some of the lesser-known, small-production Cognacs. I can’t think of one brand I tasted that I didn’t enjoy, so it’s worth taking a risk on an unknown name if you see a good deal.

And why take a risk at all? Cognac simply tastes delicious, with complex flavors and often a touch of sweetness. If you like Bourbon, you’ll like Cognac. It’s not heavy, as many people I’ve spoken with fear. VS and VSOP Cognacs tend to feel very fresh, and even the older XOs usually have plenty of vivacious life.

At a grand tasting event in the Museum of the Arts of Cognac, I sampled no fewer than 25 different Cognacs, and although I enjoyed some more than others, there wasn’t a single one that tasted in the least bit unpleasant. Some, like Baron Otard and Prince Hubert de Polignac, have not yet made it to store shelves in the U.S., which is a great misfortune. I’ll therefore confine myself to Cognacs you have a fighting chance of finding:

PAUL GIRAUD (I wrote briefly about the charming Mr. Giraud in this post. All his vineyards are in the Grande Champagne region, the most prestigious part of Cognac.)

  • VSOP: Aged a minimum of eight years, this Cognac smelled of caramel and marzipan, and exhibited an elegantly restrained power.
  • XO: Mr. Giraud, referencing the theme of the Cognac Summit, shared his opinion that “this is the one for the ladies — it’s sweet and smooth.” Indeed it was, with concentrated aromas and rich but lively flavors. It paired beautifully with chocolate.
  • Tres Rare: This 40-year-old Cognac had a luxurious nose, and it really took me on a journey, developing and changing on my palate with a very long finish. Delicious.

FRANCOIS VOYER (The cellarmaster may be young, but he makes some pretty darn impressive Cognacs.)

  • VS: Surprisingly complex for a VS, and very spicy.
  • VSOP: It started slow and smooth, before building to a big finish.
  • XO: An enticing dark amber color. The nose was redolent of caramel, dried fruit and cake. Sweetness gave way to a long, spicy finish.
  • Hors d’Age: Served from a beautiful crystal decanter, this old Cognac smelled like caramel luxury. It had such elegance on the tongue, with deep caramel flavors supplemented by some herbal and spicy notes, and impressive, righteous power. Wow.

LOUIS ROYER (In addition to the Cognacs described below, watch for the “Distilleries Collection,” a range made exclusively from one region, i.e. Bon Bois, Fins Bois, Petit Champagne, etc. The distillery for each Cognac is located in the region as well, for maximum terroir effect.)

  • VSOP: Zippy and very spicy, made mostly with fruit from the Fins Bois region.
  • XO: A deep amber, this minimum 15- to 30-year-old Cognac starts very smooth and velvety and builds to a big, spicy finish.


Voluptuous Tropical Suburbs

4 February 2012

The great red wines of Bordeaux arguably set the standard for reds around the world, making it easy to forget that the area produces some excellent whites as well. I’ve written before about the value-priced whites of Entre-Deux-Mers, but on my recent visit to France, I was introduced to a rather more exciting appellation: Pessac-Léognan. Essentially, the suburbs of Bordeaux.

This appellation came into existence just 25 years ago, carved out from the much larger (and less distinguished) Graves. The name may be a little hard to pronounce (peh-sahk lay-oh-nyahn), but it’s worth remembering. Some of Bordeaux’s best wines — red or white — come from this appellation. It used to produce more wine, but suburban sprawl has claimed no fewer than 214 wine châteaux in Graves and Pessac-Léognan in the last century, according to The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia. Even the region’s most famous château, Haut-Brion, is now completely surrounded by housing and commercial developments.

Pessac-Léognan devotes only about 650 acres to the cultivation of white grapes, according to The Oxford Companion to Wine, but if what I tasted is any indication, the whites it produces are well worth seeking out. I sampled two Pessac-Léognan wines during my trip:

2005 Château Malartic-Lagravière “Le Sillage de Malartic”: This family-owned property comprises just 50 acres surrounding its château. Sotheby’s notes that it’s hard to believe this wine is 100% Sauvignon Blanc, and I must agree. On the nose were voluptuously ripe peaches, and tropical fruit worked its way into the palate. Some stone kept things grounded, as did a rather woody finish. A joy to drink. The 2009 pre-arrival is about $70 at K&L.

Château La Tour-Martillac: I’m afraid I have no idea what vintage I drank. My photo of the label offers no clue. But I can say that I loved this wine’s rich, green aroma and the rather exotic flavors. There was something mysterious in there — almost an incense quality. The wine had some spiciness, but it was still subtle and juicy. It tasted delicious with an appetizer of foie gras and local lamprey eel (right) at Le Pressoir d’Argent. About $40 at K&L.

Whites from Pessac-Léognan may cost a little more, but these luscious food-friendly wines are worth the hunt and expense.

The Big Guns Of Cognac

1 February 2012

Breakfast Time

Over the course of the Cognac Summit, we visited three of the largest Cognac houses; houses no doubt familiar to most Americans: Rémy Martin, Courvoisier and Hennessy. These three are so well-branded in the U.S., many of us think of them only as their name. It’s simply Hennessy, not the Cognac called Hennessy.

These three brands can be found just about everywhere, but should you be looking for their VS, VSOP, XO or something else entirely? (You can read an explanation of these age categories in this post. They’re imprecise, because, as our Rémy Martin ambassadrice confided, “A Cognac is like a coquette — she never gives her age exactly.”)

We had the fortune to taste a range of Cognacs from each of these three houses (the prices are from Binny’s Beverage Depot unless otherwise noted):

Rémy Martin VS: We sampled this with ice, so the aromas were harder to detect (room-temperature Cognac has a bigger bouquet). But I certainly enjoyed its fresh, smooth flavor profile. About $28.

Rémy Martin VSOP: This one came from a bottle straight from the freezer, so again, I didn’t get much of an aroma. But I loved the texture at this temperature — it tasted surprisingly smooth for a VSOP, with caramel and cake flavors and a spicy finish. About $35. An excellent value.

Rémy Martin XO: I noted aromas of pear, orange and fig. Rich at first, this Cognac tasted a little sharp on the palate as well. About $140.

Courvoisier VS: The fruit for this Cognac, the most popular Courvoisier in the U.S., comes mostly from the Fin Bois region (this post explains the different regions of Cognac). Fresh and spicy, with some vanilla and caramel flavors. Fun to drink. About $26 – a very good value.