Valentine’s Day Gift Guide: Libations Edition
As many of you are well aware, Valentine’s Day is coming up in a few weeks. If you have a significant other to impress and he or she loves a good bottle of wine or spirit, this would be a good guide to have ideas, ranging from the celebratory bubbly (Champagne), fine bourbons, to gin and liqueurs that would fill up his or her bar at home.
This 80-proof bourbon is the lightest bodied bourbon whiskey in the family of Jim Beam small batch bourbons. This spicy bourbon with a hint of honey flavor and a nice touch of oak. It finishes smooth with little to no bite as an aftertaste. ($44.95 at Sherry-Lehmann)
Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon
I love the shape of Blanton’s bottle. I love the horseman on the cork. I like the antique look of the label. It all oozes of genteel 19th century America.
When poured into a glass the color is golden amber, almost like honey. Often referred to as deep and intensely satisfying, the nose combines hints of dried fruit, spices, vanilla and faint citrus. The palate, meanwhile, packs an American-style punch of creamy vanilla toffee, spicy pepper and caramelized sugar. It all comes together very nicely, if quite intense.
($49.95 at Sherry-Lehmann)
Hudson Baby Bourbon
This is the first legal pot-distilled whiskey to be produced in New York Hudson Valley since prohibition. It’s made with 100% New York Corn. This amber spirit smells nutty, peppery, hints of vanilla with some mint. It tastes sweet in the beginning with corn playing against a vibrant oak in well-balanced fashion. Midway through, the mouthfeel is smooth and soft. Approachable and easy drinking.
($44.99 at Astor Wines; 375 mL bottle only)
Jim Beam: Original and Black
Jim Beam Original (80 proof) color is pale amber, and you can tell it hasn’t had too many years in the barrel. Its nose is pleasant and soft, very floral and clean. It’s pretty thin in the glass, and is without the strong legs that some people pay close attention to. Tasting gives slight cinnamon and a sweet . This dankness, in the finish, turns into what I consider the signature Beam flavor: heady, sour funkiness. I think this taste is attributable to the Beam Family yeast, and it imparts a marked organic mustiness to the bourbon.
Jim Beam Black has all the quality that the regular Beam has, but it takes all those qualities and raises them to the next level. The smell when pouring out of a bottle of Black is one of strong sour mash, alcohol, and charred wood. It has a sour, woody taste when it first hits your tongue, then that mash flavor really pulls through. It gives a slight burn, but right after the burn is gone, there’s a sweet, boozy aftertaste that’s quite pleasing.
($29.99 (Original white label); $31.99 (Black) at Astor Wines)
Bottled at 100 proof (higher than the typical 80 that is the minimum required by U.S. Federal labeling requirements) and aged for nine years. The bourbon has a dark, golden-brown color. The flavor is fairly distinct due to its light sweetness. Smooth with great viscosity and a full-bodied flavor which is dominated by potent alcohols. While there is a bit of oak in the finish, the overall spirit is distracted by its fire. ($39.99 at Sherry-Lehmann)
Champagne & Sparkling Wines
Gran Cuvée 2004
Cuvée Rosé 2005
The Bellavista Franciacorta house makes one of the finest Proseccos I ever tried. They come very close to a fine bottle of Champagne and it justifies its cost of a bottle of their bubbly. Elegance, refinement and a super fine, creamy mouth feel are the hallmarks of that style. One is unlikely to mistake Bellavista for vintage French Champagne, but in terms of quality it compares favorably.
Piper-Heidseck Rosé Sauvage & NV Brut Champagnes
The NV (Non-Vintage) Brut Champagne is mostly composed of Pinot Noir and aged for a minimum of 2 years, giving it a wonderful well-rounded flavors that one would expect from a great bottle of Champagne. Toasty, medium-bodied with a touch of fruity acid. The Rosé Sauvage is vividly pink, fresh with a slight tartness from the red fruit. What’s great about this particular rosé is that it’s dry, so it easily can pair with food or drink by itself. (Brut NV: Originally $39.95 but on sale for $33.95 at Sherry-Lehmann)
Taittinger NV Brut La Francaise
This is a very elegant and delicate Champagne. A refined flavor palette of pear, green apple and stone fruits offset by warm, yeasty notes. (Originally $51.95 but on sale for $39.95 at Sherry-Lehmann)
Rémy Martin VSOP Cognac
Produced in the heart of the Cognac region, Remy only uses grapes grown from the Cognac Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne area for their VSOP offering. Flavors of apricots, figs, vanilla, caramel, nuts and some oak. A sweet, concentrated champagne smell to it with a mixture of floral scents. Beautiful to drink by itself, on the rocks or mixed in a cocktail. ($49.99 at Astor Wines)
This Dutch-style sweet gin (it’s technically called, genever) is an old recipe back from the 1820. It does not have the same characteristics of a London Dry Gin, as it is made of 50% malt and lacks the pine-y punch that one would expect from gin. It smells like a yeasty beer, beautifully sweet, soft and thick. Initially, the yeasty, malty sweet notes from the nose carry through perfectly and are harmonized with slightly bitter, earthy undertones from the botanicals, which includes hints of nutmeg and pine bark. ($32.99 at Astor Wines)
Imported from France with a 4x distilled wheat grain base and a blend of 19 botanicals from all over the world. The production of this gin is absolutely unique – with the 4th distillation done using equipment and methods no one else uses anymore. This is completely different from your usual gin. The juniper is not the first and defining characteristic but is present among the other eighteen botanicals. The complex interplay of the floral and spicy makes for multi-layered gin experience without being dominated by juniper.
($27.99 for 1 liter bottle at Astor Wines)
This gin is not what we would think of as a Dutch gin, such as the Bols Genever (seen above), but is more of a cross between that and a London dry. It is a spectacular gin for a variety of drinks and is exceptionally smooth and robust, due to its 17 botanicals. This is a great Martini gin and its complexity is ideal for many of the classic, clean, gin cocktails. ($23.99 at Astor Wines)
Alizé Gold Passion
Alizé was the first company to make a unique category in the alcoholic beverage field – exotic cordials. They use blends of Cognacs and vodkas in their liqueurs with different fruits. This “original” Alizé, is a blend of passion fruit juice and other exotic fruits blended with fine French cognac, introduced in 1986. Alizé Gold on its own has a quite pleasant flavor of passion fruit and orange, but it’s on the thick and viscous side, almost smoothie-like in consistency. This is at odds with the impressive fruitiness of the spirit, and makes it tough to drink on its own. I prefer it on the rocks but it certainly can be mixed to create cocktails.
($24.99 at Astor Wines)
Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur
This 56-proof French ginger liqueur comprised of eau-de-vie and VSOP and XO Grande Champagne Cognacs, which themselves are produced using fresh Tahitian vanilla beans, Provencal honey and Tunisian ginseng. The ginger comes from fresh, baby Vietnamese ginger and adds a wonderful flavor profile to this unique distilled spirit.
($31.99 at Astor Wines)
Originally made in Livorno, Italy and now made by Lucas Bols in Holland it uses seven infusions/macerations and six distillations of over 30 herbs and spices in it’s formula. Initially, sweet licorice and vanilla flavors that lingers for a few seconds and dissipates nicely. It was surprising with its sweet, refreshing, candy-like finish.
($19.99 at Astor Wines)
What makes Mathilde fruit liqueurs better than others is their vibrant, pure fruit freshness and aromas. They can be used in cocktails, combined in sparkling wine, or splashed over ice cream (that’s if you want your frozen treats with a little kick). The Peche is quite pungent, very smooth, and it’s perfect for pouring over ice cream or for drinking it chilled. The Poire, made from William Bon Chrétien Anjou pears, is exceptionally smooth and sweet. A truly delightful drink that anyone who enjoys pear will adore. The Cassis was rich, almost exuding a tar like (but not burnt) spine; bold and sublime.
($14.99 each at Astor Wines)
This litchi liqueur is blended with vodka and aged French Cognac, infused with guava and white peach. It’s fruity, mellow and great to make a litchi martini with.
($24.99 at Grand Wine Cellar)
Midori Melon Liqueur
This liqueur that is distinct in two aspects: color and flavor. The color of Midori is unlike any other liqueur to date. It is a beautiful emerald green that is often used in cocktails for that exact characteristic. Produced by Suntory in Kyoto, Japan, this now indispensable brand is made from a base of neutral spirits with a proprietary infusion of natural flavorings; the most readily identifiable being honeydew melon. ($22.99 at Astor Wines)
Remy Martin Cointreau
This 80-proof, triple sec liqueur can be used as an apéritif or digestif, so you might expect the taste over ice to be sweet and pleasant. Up front, it’s a little harsh for a liqueur. There is a bit of a burn, and the bitter orange flavor is pretty intense. It does provide a decent, sweet finish and aftertaste, but this is one it’s much preferred to be in a mixed drink or shooter. ($36.99 for 1 liter at Astor Wines)
Sandeman Ruby Porto ($13.99 at Astor Wines) & 30-Year Tawny Porto ($79.99)
Ruby Porto: Brilliant red ruby in color, with clean aromas of red fruits, plums and strawberries. Sandeman Ruby Porto has full rich flavors and is very well balanced. Rich, round, balanced in the mouth, with overt flavors of fresh plums and red fruits. Traditionally matched with full flavored and creamy cheeses, Sandeman Ruby Porto combines well with chocolate desserts and fruit pies.
30-Year Tawny Porto: Very minerally, with sea salt and black pepper notes to the sweet plum, beef and dried berry flavors. Features raisin and vanilla on the crisp, balanced finish. Specially selected Portos are chosen for ageing in wooden casks. Gradual exposure to air, concentrates the flavors and matures the ruby colors to amber, creating this rare and delicious tawny. The ageing process intensifies the fruit creating the complex flavors characteristic of tawny.
Where to find the 30-Year Tawny Porto: BQE Wines & Liquors in Brooklyn, Chelsea Wine Vault in Chelsea Market (speak to David if you want him to order the 30-Year Old; he’ll hook you up), and Gotham Wines
Château d’Aussières AOC Corbières 2007
The Château d’Aussières is located near Narbonne, in the Corbières’ microclimate of Fontfroide and Boutenac. It achieved to AOC status in 1981 and was acquired by Domaine Barons de Rothschild since 1999. This wine is composed of 60% Syrah, 10% Grenache, and 30% Mourvèdre; giving a beautiful clear, garnet color. The scent is pronounced, very rich, and led by nutmeg, rose and violet flowers, sweet licorice, smoke, earth, with deep red fruit well integrated into the aromatic mix. The wine is very dry, with mid-level acidity and medium body. The palate gives a good lot of red fruit (cherry, strawberry, cranberry, pomegranate) with delicate hints of earth, sweet oak, chocolate, vanilla and baking spice. The finish is nicely balanced between tangy red fruit and smoky herb, with a dark chocolate aftertaste.
(Available at Sherry-Lehmann)
Cachaça is a Brazilian rum. Cabana Cachaca is a relatively new entry into the world of spirits, having been launched in 2006. Cabana is distilled, aged, and bottled in Brazil before being imported into the US. This cachaça was fruity and warm. Notes of banana and lime, along with honey. There was a bit of a grassy hint to it, which is typical of Brazil’s national spirit, but not as strong as I’ve seen in most other cachacas. The entry is a mildly harsh, with a bit of burn on the tongue. The spirit is dry, but fruity. Flavors of overripe banana and citrus mingle together nicely. There’s a subtle sweetness but nothing overpowering. Overall it’s quite pleasant.
($29.99 at Astor Wines)
Mount Gay Rums: Ecipse Dark and Silver Rums
Eclipse Dark Rum: It has a spicy taste with a nice burn. It’s a bit harsh to drink without any mixers, but it is a great rum as a base for many cocktails.
Eclipse Silver: This is a sophisticated white rum (80 proof), rich and woody, with lime and other citrus. The Silver shines in cocktails. Mojitos and simple mixed drinks were exceptional. ($19.99 for the Silver & $23.99 for the Eclipse Dark at Astor Wines)
Plantation Rum Grande Reserve Aged 5 Years
This 5 year old Barbados rum presents a medium golden amber color. A smooth and sweet entry leads to rich flambéed banana with a hint of vanilla, coconut and dried fruit flavors. Tones of banana, then fade to a spicy medium long finish. This relatively young rum shows unusually rich flavor and complexity, a result of expert blending. It is perfect for sipping neat or on the rocks. It also brings great tropical flavors to premium cocktails.
($17.99 for 750 mL at Astor Wines)
Charbay Vodka: Blood Orange & Green Tea
This vodka is produced in the Napa Valley, California area, run by thirteen generations of distillers under the helm of the Karakasevic Family. They make their flavored vodkas with organically grown fruit.
Blood Orange: There are many citrus vodkas on the market and most are subpar and very artificial tasting, Charbay’s Blood Orange is an exception. A beautiful citrus bouquet fills the nose with all of the the Californian sunshine. Warm and silky, the blood orange takes on a rosy note as it washes over the tongue in a pure, simple, yet robust flavor.
Green Tea: The creative brainchild of Miles Karakasevic, Charbay’s Green Tea Vodka is a spectacularly innovative show of artistic distilling. After many years of research and trials, Miles perfected the flavor of this vodka using four varieties of the best tea leaves from the Anhwei Province of China. Herbaceous scent become apparent immediately with hints of rosemary, sweet grasses and delicate teas. Earthy flavors greet your tongue with a clean, airy freshness that turns to a warm cinnamon-like heat that is pleasantly comfortable.
($33.99 at Astor Wines; or if you want to have a cocktail made with Charbay’s vodkas, head over to Employees Only in NYC.)
Crop Organic Vodka
Crop is made from American certified organic grain and is distilled and bottled in Minnesota. The organic corn used to produce Crop Vodka is grown in fertile, healthy soil free of artificial fertilizers, pesticides and chemicals. It’s very clean and smooth.
($22.99 at Astor Wines)
Purity Vodka is as close to essentially pure as our brains can comprehend. Purity Vodka is luxurious. Purity is an impressive vodka loaded with finesse, depth and elegance. It has an oily textured, medium-weight body and an enticing bouquet comprised of light flinty, fruity and lemony notes. It fills the mouth with a gentle warmth and the flavors of chocolate, malt and vanilla. The vodka never approaches hot or fiery on the palate. The lingering finish brings the added flavors of licorice and cocoa.
($39.99 at Astor Wines)
Their name Effen in Dutch means smooth; even; balanced, which describes their vodka pretty well. It is a wheat-based vodka that’s been distilled hundreds of times and been filtered five times to get its smooth taste. ($27.99 at Astor Wines)
Stolichnaya or commonly known as Stoli; taste, price and availability considered, Stolichnaya is one of the best everyday vodkas available. It is a gentle sipper and a wonderful cocktail base all in one. The red label is the flagship of the brand as a whole and is available almost anywhere. Stolichnaya has a typical vodka aroma – that of a touch of alcohol backed by notes of warm grain. The entry is bright and airy, leading to a silky palate that has a tolerable bite at first that melts into a warm vodka taste with a hint of citrus. Stolichnaya finishes quite smooth, with that vodka bite being almost non-existent and the taste fading relatively quickly.
Stolichnaya Ohranj (seen is the Limited Edition; as Hugh Heffner designing the first commemorative Ohranj Limited Edition bottle) is the authentic natural orange flavored Russian vodka. Produced from spirit distilled from rich Russian grain, this fine vodka is then married to the essence of fresh oranges to achieve the distinctive Stolichnaya Ohranj taste. Stolichnaya Ohranj’s aromatic flavor blossoms when served ice cold. Spledid neat, on the rocks, or with soda or tonic, Stolichnaya Ohranj adds a fresh twist to your favorite cocktails.
($22.99 (Ohranj); $24.99 (Original) at Astor Wines)
For all of my photos of this entire line-up in this editorial, please scroll through the slideshow below: