Monthly Archives: June 2012

Toast Independence Day With A Bang

30 June 2012

If I were to be perfectly honest, I would recommend cracking open a refreshing bottle of dry rosé with your July 4th barbeque. This is very likely what I’ll be drinking, but frankly, dry rosé seems too effete, too continental, for celebrating America’s Independence Day. We didn’t gain our independence by playing nice with the Brits, negotiating at endless length, relying on the hope of their essential good nature.

No longer able to bear, among other indignities, taxation without representation, our ancestors risked their lives and the well-being of their families so that we could live as a free people. They took up arms and kicked those colonial bastards out of the country by force, because force is the only language tyrants comprehend.

No, as delightful as dry rosé may be, it does not rise to the task of commemorating the wisdom, bravery and strength of our foremothers and forefathers. Independence Day calls for something unabashedly powerful and unashamedly American. Something with a bang. Something like Artillery Punch.

The first time I had Artillery Punch was at a friend’s holiday party. I remember consuming only about two glasses of the punch (along with, admittedly, a fistful of rum balls), before we all decided it would be a great idea to strip off our Christmas sweaters and take some topless group photos. It’s that kind of punch.

A number of recipes published in books and on the Internet purport to be Artillery Punch. Some, like this one, incorporate tea and cherries into the mix. This one goes further by adding pineapple as well, which to my mind dilutes the 18th-century revolutionary je ne sais quoi. Both recipes also make use of gin, an altogether too British spirit for this occasion.

I prefer to relate the simplest (and strongest) recipe I found, the dangerously delicious concoction described in David Wondrich’s Punch. Mr. Wondrich found this recipe in an 1885 copy of the Augusta Chronicle, which describes how Artillery Punch was created by a certain A.H. Luce in honor of Savannah’s Republican Blues visiting Macon’s Chatham Artillery sometime in the 1850s.

The original recipe calls for a horse bucket “of ordinary size” to be filled with crushed ice, whiskey, rum, bourbon, sugar and lemon, and then topped off with Champagne. Should you have a horse bucket of ordinary size at your disposal, I have no doubt it would be the hit of your barbeque, but failing that, an ordinary large punch bowl will do:

David Wondrich’s Artillery Punch (as adapted by Odd Bacchus):

12 lemons

2 cups raw sugar (the larger crystals of raw sugar are useful, but white sugar will also work)

1 bottle Cognac (Mr. Wondrich recommends VSOP, but the budget-conscious should opt for VS)

1 bottle Jamaican-style rum

1 bottle bourbon

3 bottles brut Champagne (or sparkling wine, for heaven’s sake)

1 bag of ice

Using a vegetable peeler, zest the twelve lemons, making the peels broad and long and as free of the white pith as possible. In a mixing bowl, muddle firmly with the sugar to extract the peels’ essential oils. Let the mixture stand in a warm place for 30 minutes to an hour.

Meanwhile, juice the 12 lemons. You’ll need about a pint of juice, so it’s wise to have a few extra lemons on hand. (Note that store-bought lemon juice will not be a good substitute.)

Add the lemon juice to the sugar/peel mixture and dissolve the sugar. Once the sugar is completely dissolved, pour the mixture through a strainer into another bowl in order to remove the peels. Using a funnel, empty the contents of the bowl into a clean wine bottle (or other 750-milliliter bottle) and top up with water. Cork, and refrigerate.

The above steps can all be done in advance of the party, and the sugar/lemon mixture will keep in the refrigerator for a few hours or even overnight.

Just before you want to serve the punch, fill a large punch bowl halfway with crushed ice (bash the bag of ice on the floor a few times to get smaller pieces, or hit it with a mallet). Add the bottle of sugar/lemon mixture and the bottles of Cognac, rum and bourbon. Top off with the three bottles of Champagne. As noted above, it need not be real French Champagne, but it should be a quality dry sparkling wine of some sort — don’t skimp too much here. A fine Cava could work, for example.

This thoroughly delicious punch goes down with surprising ease, so be sure to warn your guests of its strength. It’s enough to knock the socks off even the most self-confident of tyrants.

A Wine Region On The Cusp: Part 2

27 June 2012

As I mentioned at the end of the previous post, I still hadn’t quite put all the pieces together. How was it that Arizona, of all places, was coming up with these numerous high-quality wines?

In the professional and lively tasting room of Page Springs Cellars, an assistant winemaker named Matt pointed out the obvious: “We have ample water from the creek outside, and there’s an aquifer below.” He continued describing the terroir, how the rocky hillsides were well-drained with poor soil (the soil shouldn’t be too fertile — you want the vines to struggle a bit). The weather was hot during the day, of course, but at night, the high-elevation vineyards stayed nice and cool. Indeed, I had cozied up to my fireplace the evening before.

In short, the Page Springs terroir is pretty darn great. Most of the fruit, however, still seems to come from Arizona’s southeast, which is at a similar elevation.

Matt thought Malvasia might become one of Arizona’s signature varieties, and my tasting at Page Springs Cellars certainly supported that theory. I sampled that along with a number of other excellent wines, mostly Rhône varietals and blends, the quality of which no longer came as a surprise. If you only have time to visit one winery while in the Sedona area, this should be it.

Here’s a rundown of my tasting. Again, all the fruit from these wines comes from southeastern Arizona, not the Page Springs area, unless otherwise noted:

2010 Bonita Springs Malvasia: Like all the other wines I sampled at Page Springs Cellars, this one came with an eye-catching black and white label. The nose had big fruit and a touch of flowers, and juicy acids balanced subtle flavors of peach and pineapple. $28

2010 La Serrana: Try this blend of 50% Viognier from the Arizona Stronghold vineyard and 50% Rousanne from the Colibri vineyard as soon as you can. According to the Page Springs Cellars website, “A portion of the [Colibri] vineyard was burned to the ground. Thirty-foot high flames cooked the vineyard on three sides and damaged many other vines.” The wine had a nutty, almost buttery aroma, and it certainly tasted rich and creamy. But it was fruity as well, and ample acids kept the wine light on its feet. $30


A Wine Region On The Cusp: Part 1

23 June 2012

When I tell people about the quality of many Arizona wines, most respond by saying something like, “They make wine in Arizona?” Before I visited, I had my doubts as well. Surely it’s too hot and too dry to make serious wine, I thought. The overblown wines I tasted at Tlaquepaque confirmed some of my fears, but a visit to Page Springs restored my confidence in the potential of Arizona to make delicious wine.

My first stop began inauspiciously. I asked to taste the entire range of wines on the menu at Oak Creek Vineyards (except the white zin), and requested a spit bucket. “We don’t have spit buckets,” the friendly but rather taken-aback employee replied. Spitting at the bar was actually expressly forbidden by the health department, because cheeses and charcuterie are served there. After wrapping my head around the idea of a tasting room without spit buckets (you can’t walk to this tasting room, after all), I managed to negotiate a spit-friendly place at a different table.

The wines I tasted were all good, and some were excellent. Priced between $20 and $30, these wines aren’t inexpensive, but if you can find them, they’re worth it. Not only will you get a tasty bottle, you’ll be investing in an up-and-coming wine region I feel is destined for greatness. Many of the wineries are less than 10 years old, but they are already producing impressive stuff.

Here’s what I discovered at Oak Creek. All of these wines, unless otherwise noted, are made with fruit from Arizona’s southeast, not Page Springs:

2010 Oak Creek Fumé Blanc: An almost limey aroma, with a little intriguing funk. Bracing, limey acids, and some stone on the finish. Very refreshing. $24

2010 Oak Creek Viognier: I loved this one. It had peaches and pineapples on the nose, but it wasn’t a perfume bomb. I tasted lily of the valley and litchi, followed by some light acids. In spite of how it sounds, this well-made wine was definitely dry. I’m a sucker for these aromatic dry whites, and I wouldn’t hesitate to buy it. $26

2010 Oak Creek Sunflower Chardonnay: This blend combines Chardonnay from the Page Springs estate with Roussane (a Rhône variety) grown in southeast Arizona. It may have been the power of suggestion, but I had to agree that this wine smelled like buttery roasted sunflower seeds. Or perhaps buttermilk? It felt creamy on the palate, but lemony acids kept things alive and balanced. $24


A Drop Of Britain In The Mediterranean

20 June 2012

Although Great Britain controlled the exquisite island of Menorca off and on for less than a century between 1708 and 1802, its influence can still be felt in the local cocktail culture. The traditional tipple isn’t sangria or sherry, but gin. In fact, Menorca is one of the few places in the world with its own gin D.O., Gin de Menorca, because of the unique local distillation process.

British soldiers stationed on this small island off the coast of Spain longed for a taste of home, and residents obliged, distilling gin mostly from local wine rather than grain, in the manner of Dutch genever. I’m not sure how many distillers were crafting gin 200 years ago, but now the production of Menorcan gin is now dominated by one company, Xoriguer (sho-ree-gair), owned by the Pons family, which traces its lineage back to the very first Menorcan distillers. Xoriguer still uses wood-fueled copper pot stills to craft its gin, much like the first gin makers on the island.

I had my first opportunity to taste Xoriguer gin when I visited Menorca in late April. In need of a little refreshment after touring some of the island’s mysterious megalithic sites, we climbed down to Cova d’en Xoroi, a bar and club inside a spectacular cliffside cave overlooking the Mediterranean. It felt a little too early to drink the gin straight, so I opted for a classic Pomada cocktail. Traditionally, a Pomada is a mix of Menorcan gin and lemonade over ice, but at Cova d’en Xoroi, the bartender substituted lemon Fanta. It still tasted great — cool, refreshing, aromatic and just a bit tart. Of course, the flavor wasn’t hurt by the stupendously scenic setting.


A Spectacle in Sedona

16 June 2012

At Tlaquepaque, an open-air mall in Sedona, I found a gourmet shop offering tastings of Arizona wines. I couldn’t resist, of course, and ordered four tastes. As I sat outside, sipping a rather odd white and three overheated, overly alcoholic fruit bombs, I noticed people looking at me. One fellow sitting on a bench kept turning my way to see what I was up to, and a whole family turned their heads when they passed.

I wondered what the heck was going on here. Do people not drink wine in Sedona? Or was it that I had a flight of four glasses in front of me? Or maybe I looked like an illegal immigrant?

Finally, one older gentleman wearing a sun visor stopped dead in his tracks, not 15 feet in front of me, and just stared. I looked back at him, confused, but he maintained a steady gaze. “Can I help you?” I asked.

“Oh no, you’re giving me all the help I need, drinking those wines!”


“What are you all drinking there? Merlot? I like Merlot. It’s easy on the throat.”

“Oh yeah, well, these are actually blends of some different varieties. They’re all Arizona wines.”

“Don’t you think it’s sacrilegious to mix wines together?”


“Isn’t it sacrilegious though? I think it’s sacrilegious. But sometimes I like to do it a little bit. Ha!”

“Well, it’s not sacrilegious if you like it. That’s what I say.”

“Ha! That’s right! That’s absolutely right. Well, that makes me feel a lot better! A lot better.”

I’m not sure my definition of “sacrilegious” would pass muster with the Inquisition, but I’m glad I could help. In Sedona, it seems, you can get away with being a little loosey-goosey. Unfortunately, the winemakers of the red-wine floozies I was tasting seemed to feel the same way.

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