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Fall Cognac Crawl – SF Version

September 30, 2017 - 10:09pm

When I first began my spirit studies in earnest, I knew nothing about Cognac, save for the ancient bottle of Hennessy in my stash, inherited from one friends’ move or another.

As time went on, and as I build my cocktail catalog, I learned about the diversity and deliciousness of the amber queen.

Enter the marketing genius of the Cognac people, who worked with teams in New York and San Francisco to create a pop up cocktail tour, featuring inspired drinks made with cognac.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But first, a little lesson in Cognac.  Cognac is brandy, distilled in the Cognac region of France.  The prime grape source is Ugni Blanc (Trebbiano in Italian), but a small amount of Colombard and a smattering of lesser grape may also be used.

The most important thing to understand about Cognac is the labeling system of classification as, while it does not denote quality, it gives you a clue as to how long it has been aged.

  • V.S. (Very Special) is a blend in which the youngest brandy has been stored for at least two years
  • V.S.O.P. (Very Superior Old Pale) or Reserve is also a blend, but the youngest brandy has be aged for at least four years in a cask.
  • XO (Extra Old) or Napoléon is a blend where the youngest brandy is aged for at least 6 years.  This is changing however, because in 2018, the XO needs to be aged at least 8 years.
  • Hors d’âge (Beyond Age) really is the same as XO, but it’s a great marketing ploy to showcase the highest quality product offering, and gives the appearance of rarity and luxury.

Here in San Francisco, our crawl included 5 well known craft cocktail bars, with 5 equally crafty cocktails – all different, all delicious, and all showcasing the flexibility of cognac brandy.

First up, we met at Blackbird, a hidden gem in the no man’s land between the . Mission and the Castro, on the upper reaches of Market Street.  At Blackbird, we started our journey with the Carried Away, a refreshing concoction made with Rye Bread-Infused Cognac V.S., Cocchi Torino, Bonal, a splash of Benedictine and a dash of Peychaud’s Bitters – with just a hint of Absinthe to add something interesting.

 

 

Next, we wandered down the street to Elixir, one of my favorite whiskey bars in San Francisco.  With over 500 bottles lining the walls, it’s hard to focus on the task at hand, but owner H. has plans for us.   walking out the back door, through the pass through bathroom to what seemed like a speakeasy that never went out of style, we arrived at the Elixir classroom.  Here, H., an avid Cognac fan and educator, led us on a guided tasted of three distinct cognacs.

Once we were clear on the foundation of our drink, the mixologists at Elixir treated us to the Elixir of Cognac, a frothy tropically inspired punch with XO Cognac, Crème de Cassis, pineapple gum syrup and lemon juice.  To add the creamy froth, a bit of egg white is added in and the whole thing is shaken over ice.  Yum

 

Our next stop was Dalva, where we snuck through the back door to another, semi secret speakeasy type bar.  Here, while it was dimly lit, it was cozy with a few small tables and a well stocked and beautiful bar. This stop gave us the most pure drink so far, somewhat of a Cognac Manhattan if you will – or a Corpse Reviver #1.

At Dalva, this was The Cure For What Ails You – and it certain did!  I could have had many of these, a straight cocktail made with Cognac, Bonal, Fernet, whiskey bitters and some amazing smoked pear bitters.

 

 

Our next to last stop, and the last stop on foot, Wildhawk, was bustling and teeming with happy hour revelers.  Here, we departed the savory land for the somewhat sweet Kind of Fancy, with Cognac, Rye, Port, Yellow Chartreuse (people still use this this stuff?), and mole bitters.  I admit, this wasn’t my favorite, but I can see how enjoyable it would be on a cool fall day, particularly if you warmed it up a bit.

 

Our final stop required an Uber to meander through the hills of Bernal Heights, where we ended our tour at Holy Water.  Our last cocktail of the #congaccocktails crawl was a Stinger Royale, a minty, chocolatey wonder with cognac, Cremè de Menthe, Cremè de Cacao, Absinth (you fickle fairy you) and bitters.  It was rich and certainly served as dessert.

Sadly, I couldn’t get a good picture of this one, so be creative with your imagery.

My personal favorites were the first three stops, but there is a cocktail on this tour for everyone – and you get the added bonus of discovering some of the best craft cocktail bars the city has to fofer.  The best part?  Its only $30.  Have you ever had 5 cocktails for $30 in San Francisco – outside of a shot of well rye in a dive bar in the Tenderloin?

The Cognac Crawl continue through October 15th, so be sure to get your cocktail on and join int he fun!  Visit Good Passports to book yours today.

In New York?  There is a Manhattan version as well!

Special thanks to Teuwen Communications for the media preview, and H. from Elixir for joining the fun and providing a great Cognac class.




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Cariñena of Aragon – A Queen of Spanish Wine

September 8, 2017 - 1:41pm

While most people know of Rioja, and Cava, fewer people know of the secret delights of DOP Cariñena.  Cariñena is not only just a town, it’s a varital grape, an appellation, and a region.  Located in Aragón (yes, that Aragón), it sits just about halfway between Madrid and Barcelona in Spain’s northeast tip. It’s one of the oldest DOPs in Spain, earning that distinction in 1932.

Of particular note, there is no other region that is named for it’s primary grape.  There is no Merlot, no Cabernet, and no Chardonnay region.  There isn’t even a Garnacha region, though much of Cariñena is planted with Grenache.  That is part of what makes Cariñena so special.  Another reason why wines from Cariñena are so district is the ancient vines – most averaging 40-100 years old.

2014 Corona D Aragon Special Selection – a blend of Garnacha and Cariñena, these 40 year old vines are planted between 500-700 meters.  The intensity of flavor from both the age and elevation is evident, and this rich red shows baking spice, prune, ripe blackberry, and campfire smoke.  Black cherries and dark raspberries peek through cinnamon sticks and a surprising acidity brightens the whole game.

For those of you looking for a great red wine at a fantastic price, pick up some Cariñena!  Most bottle are between $10-15, and are a fantastic value that will let you travel to Spain in your wine glass.  At once bold but bright, these wines are to be savored and go well with red meat, rich sauces, or a cool fall evening.

Enjoy!

Thank you Gregory White PR for this eye opening bottle of yum!

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Riesling Revolution – Exploring Germany’s keystone grape, one bottle at a time

August 29, 2017 - 5:53pm

It’s hard to believe that September is already here, particularly with temps breaking records all over the Bay Area.

What do you do when it’s 85 at 7am in a city that rarely reaches 80 in general?  You reach for some fun white wines!  One of my favorite white wines that often gets a bad rap is Riesling.  With the diversity of styles from bone dry to sticky sweet, and price points from $10 to $100, there is a Riesling for everyone.  As we approach the holiday season, think Riesling for Thanksgiving, brunch and all of your family get togethers.

From sweet to searingly dry, spicy and intriguing, Riesling is the perfect wine for any time, given it’s wide variety of styles, regions, and – sweetness.  If you’re not sure how to pick your Riesling, check out my previous post on the German Wine Classification system here.

 

Today, I have two great examples of affordable, fun, sassy, sexy German Riesling.

Today, I bring you the Weingut Heitlinger Schellenbrunnen 2014 Riesling, from Tiefenbacher, Schellenbrunnen.  This Troken (dry) white wine is just as luscious as they come, with ripe pear, a nutty note that hides the classic diesel / petrol notes, tropical flavors of quince and guava.  The rich toasty marshmallow envelops spicy ginger and tickles your taste buds.  With a budget friendly price tag of under $15, this is perfect for fruit salad or lighter dishes.

 

Stay tuned for more Wines of Germany to come!

 

Cheers!  Thanks to the Wines of Germany and RF Binder for sharing this delightful representation of the diversity of Riesling!

 

 

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The Americanization of Chardonnay

August 24, 2017 - 1:45am

Bit by bit, over the last 25 years, the great French houses have been quietly creeping in to the Americas.  From Canada, down to California, and on in to South America, prestigious and established french houses have added extensions in the new world.


One such house is Domaine Joseph Drouhin, with it’s addition of Domaine Drouhin in Oregon.  The home estate, in the heart of Chablis is responsible for primarily Premier and Grand Crus, planted with the classic Burgundian varietals of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Domain Drouhin is also planted to these varietals, but is focused on the Oregon darling of Pinot Noir and while paying homage to it’s French roots, is very much Oregon.

To see the unique approach to winemaking at both properties, I tasted two Chablis and one Oregon Chardonnay side by side.

 

The Joseph Drouhin Domaine in France was, like many great domaines of the region, assembled bit by bit, parcel by parcel.  Todya, there are over 73 hectares (182.5 acres) of vineyards in Côte de Nuits, Côte de Beaune, Côte Chalonnaise and Chablis. 

The 2011 Joseph Drouhin Saint Véran comes from a property just north of Beaujolais, and is the newest appellation in the Mâconnais region.  With the rich limestone soil, it is a perfect place for Chardonnay.  Rich marzipan is followed by lemon curd, pineapple and ripe necterine, with a hint of mandarin orange and Golden Delicious apples.  Delightfully unoaked, this is a Chardonnay for everyone that hates Chardonnay, as it is unoaked and is aged in stainless steel for a bright freshness.  $20

 

The 2015 Joseph Drouhin Mâcon-Villages is a steal at under $15, it is similar to the Saint Véran and yet not at all the same.  Stone fruit, rich apple, and pomelo jump out of the glass.  Asian pear mixes with honeysuckle in this crisp, mineral driven wine.  Another stainless steel fermentation is a great representation at fresh, vibrant Chardonnay.

 

Moving across the pond to Oregon, Domaine Druhin Oregon was an early adopter in the 1980s.  The 2011 Domaine Drouhin Arthur Chardonnay comes from the Dundee Hills region of the Willamette Valley, and is 100% Dijon clones.   Hand picked and whole cluster pressed, this departs from the Chablis in that it was partially fermented in French oak barrels.  The rest is finished in stainless steel to maintain the vibrancy of the fruit, and blended with the barrel fermented lots.  With a rich, more tropical slant to the flavor profile, this is more akin to Burgundy than Chablis, and the rounded mouthfeel offers ripe apples and pear, with an intense floral note.  So if you’re looking for a New World wine with an old world twist, splurge on this $35 bottle!   (purchased at the property).

Special thanks to Jospeh Drouhin and Creative Feed PR for providing the Joseph Drouhin samples and food for thought!

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Alsace Wines – Beyond the aromatic whites

July 27, 2017 - 3:00am

Alsace is probably most well known for the aromatic whites – Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Gewertztraminer.  It is also well known for their sparkling wine, Cremant d’Alsace, amde in the classic champenoise method.  But, Alsace also produces some lovely Pinot Noir’s will excellent QPR.

Tucked away in a corner of eastern France, Alsace has long been a disputed territory.  In the confluence of Germany, France, and Switzerland, the Alsatian culture is a fitting blend of these three.  Bouncing back in forth across the arbitrary borders that conflict cause, the Alsace region has maintained an independant mentality.

 

When the AOC was created in 1962, wines were not required to be bottled in the region and there were no Grand Crus.  That quickly changed in the mid 1970s, and in 1976 the AOC of Crémant d’Alsace was created, to showcase the sparkling wines of the region, which had been produced since the 1900s.  Using the Méthode Champenoise (Champagne style, secondary fermentation in the bottle), these bubblies are made from the local aromatic whites of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Auxerrois, as well as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  The rarest of Crémants is the rosé, make entirely of Pinot Noir.

 

Sitting down to dinner on this evening, we were treated to the Jean-Baptiste Adam Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé NV.  This $20 sparkling wine comes from a producer that has been making wine for 400 years; with a 14th generation winemaker at the helm, the estate recently went biodynamic.  Aged in foudres and on the lees for 9 months, it is bursting with strawberries and bright citrus it is a delightful summer sipoper.

 

Other Crémants to enjoy: Allimant-Laugner Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé NVthis popular producer offers another history lesson as the Allimant and Laugner families have been making wine since 1724.  Now run by 10th generation winemaker Hubert Laugner, this mineral drive rosé comes from vineyards on the granite slopes of the Vosages.  It is zesty and driven by blood orange and red fruit, and is a great option for weekend brunch!  $18

Lucien Albrecht Cremant d’Alsace Rose Brut – this budget busting $12 sparkler is a house staple.  Easy to drink, easy to find, grab it while you can!

 

Moving in to more undiscovered territory, we started to explore the Pinot Noirs of the region.  With 90% of the wines produced in this region being white, and 18% being Crémant, there is only a smattering of red wine available.  The vast majority of this red wine is Pinot Noir, used both for the illusive Crémant Rosé, as well as still wines.

 

2015 Rieflé Pinot Noir Bonheur Convivial – Another historical house, the grapes for this wine are grown on the limestone loess and were fermented on native yeast.  Aged in French oak for 10 months, the result is a low alcohol (13.5%) wine with floral notes wafting out of the glass, followed by bright cherry and dusty strawberry, Jolly Rancher notes and mouthwatering herbal notes.

2012 Hubert Meyer Pinot Noir Fut en Chen – Dark ruby with a muted nose, rustic and more ore savory notes are followed by black cherry, cranberry, and rhubarb flavors.

 

 


2012 Domaine Ostertag FronholzThe youngest house in my roundup, Domaine Osterag was founded in 1966.  Famous for the Muenchberg Grand Cru vineyard, but this Fronholz Pinot Noir comes from top top of the hill of Epfig.  Known for the minerality, the grapes are 100% destemmed and aged in neutral barrels for a year.  Grippy and full of limestone, the subtle cherry comes out after a bit of air.  Exuding earth and crushed minerals it’s another lower alcohol winner clocking in at 13.7%.  $45

Special thanks to Thierry Fritsch of the Vin’s d’Alsace, for his expressive humor and pure passion for Alsace, and to Teuwen Communications for the lovely event!

 

 




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Viura – the illusive white wine of Rioja

July 12, 2017 - 1:50pm

 

If you’ve like Spanish wine, you undoubtedly love Rioja.  The backbone of Rioja was build on Tempranillo, and is dominated by rich, red wines, but did you know that Riojo also has refreshing and lovely white wine?

While there actually is a Tempranillo Blanco grape, the shining star among the allowed white varietals in Rioja is Viura.  A mildly acid white grape, it is often used as a blending component, and was nearly wiped out by phylloxera.  When they replanted, much of it was replaced by Malvaia and Garnacha Blanca.  Viura is also one of the most im . portant grapes in Cava production, where it is known as Macabeo.

Viura is an excellent alternative to Chardonnay, and if you see the Lopez de Haro Blanco in your wine travels, be sure to check it out.

100% Virua, these grapes were hand harvested and spent a short 3-4 months in oak, keeping the vibrant and fresh flavor.  A low 12.5% ABV (Hallelujah!) this is a wonderful choice for brunch or lunch, wit tropical flavors, peach, fresh citrus, and a lush mouthfeel.  Yum!

 

Thanks to another great selection from Vintae and Lopez de Haro!

 

 

 

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