Venerated winemaker Klaus Reif first dreamed up this spirit in the ’90s and served it to family and friends, who loved flavour. But for 20 years the recipe sat on the shelf, and in the mind of Rief. After a few minor tweaks, Vinea was launched earlier this year. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and brandy (plus some secret ingredients), it’s silky smooth with a nice balance of acidity and sweetness. Whiffs of liquorice, fresh orange blossom and a touch of cotton candy sweetness and a pleasant, light bitterness at the swallow. Sip it on ice. Available at the winery and online.
Japan’s whiskies went from unknown to insanely coveted to unavailable seemingly overnight. Apparently this even caught Japanese distillers off guard. Stocks of aged whiskies literally evaporated, leaving producers with a void to fill; a hole that has been plugged largely by malt and grain whisky blends. This, however, is not a bad thing, as Japanese blends are more approachable - in both price and profile - than age-specific single malts. Suntory’s Toki is a good example. This is a complex, fruity dram, with herbal notes; Asian pear, green apple, sweet grain, mint, and vanilla nuances. Impeccably balanced, with toasted grain, ripe pear, subtle honey, and a gentle smoky note. Blended whiskies often get ignored. Don’t ignore this.
Nordés translates to the name of the wind that brings good weather. Turns out, it brings good gin, too. Using an Albariño wine base (kinda cool), this unique gin combines the usual flavour suspects (juniper, cardamon, etc.) with sage, laurel, eucalyptus, mint, glasswort, and lemon verbena. It’s very fresh, with herbal, menthol, red berry and pomegranate notes. Soft, clean, savoury, mildly spicy and quite complex. A bit off the beaten track, but that’s where gin seems to be going these days.
“Vermouth is super trendy now,” Rocío Osborne told me while on a recent trip to Spain. So much so, it turns out, that her family’s company — sherry vintners since 1772 — has crafted one of its own. With a base of Medium and PX sherries and locally sourced wormwood, dittany (look it up) and bitter orange peel, Osborne Vermouth treads a perfect balance between sweet/bitter/spicy/herbal notes. Try on the rocks with a thin orange slice, or use in your favourite cocktail. Hopefully you’ll see it in your market soon.
A relatively new Ontario craft gin that’s already garnered critical praise (and a slew of medals) since first hitting the shelf. Quite fragrant, with aromas suggesting mild juniper (not surprising), with some pine needle, lemon zest and herbal undertones. Very well-balanced, with all elements in check, it’s smooth and viscous on the palate, with flavours of subdued juniper, lemon zest, mineral and fresh herbs. Try in a dry martini with a rosemary sprig garnish.
I’ll admit to having a soft spot for the Martell range of cognacs. Founded in 1715, Martell is the oldest of the major cognac houses, but as with the rest of them, is trying to position its spirit in a more modern light, encouraging the use of cognac in mixed drinks. Martell’s latest expression — the VS Single Distillery — is, as the name implies, sourced from a single distilling source. Dark plum, dried apricot, vanilla, citrus, caramel, mild spice, and a whiff of leather. Rich and smooth in the mouth, with up front sweet plum and baking spice flavours trailing off to suggestions of vanilla and toffee. Crafted as a cocktail base, it’s quite enjoyable neat.
While packaging an XO cognac in a test tube slipped into a cigar tube might seem a tad gimmicky, it’s actually a pretty cool idea. The test tube can be reused to hold, well, whatever, and the aluminium tube makes for a great cigar storage/transport device. It also doesn’t hurt that it’s really good cognac to begin with. Rich, complex aromas of toffee, dried stone fruits, browned butter, black cherry, and pipe tobacco. Dark cherries and plums weave around toffee, vanilla, and fruitcake in the mouth. Long, supple, silky and luxurious, with a subtle elegance on the finish. Try with a maduro cigar?