Top 10 Spirits 2004
Tips on Spirit Sipping
By Chris Rubin
may be best enjoyed with food, but there are times that
call for just a real drink—from a shot to a good,
stiff cocktail. The following spirits and fortified wines
all represent high quality and good value, whether for you
or someone on your holiday list.
Wyborowa Single Estate, $32
With more than a hundred
new vodkas introduced over the last couple of years,
it’s tough to keep track of what’s on
the market. Having architect Frank Gehry design the
bottle, with its unique twists and curves, helps Wyborowa
practically leap off the shelf. And it just happens
to be a first-rate vodka, smooth and easy to drink,
produced exclusively from rye on a single estate.
Bombay Sapphire, $20
Visit Vinopolis in London
and you’ll be treated to a whole display on
this smooth stuff. It’s also fun to just gaze
at the sapphire-blue bottle etched with the ingredients
and their provenance, from Spanish lemon peel and
almonds to Italian juniper berries and iris root.
Take a sip and you’ll discover that this is
not your father’s gin. It’s delicate and
floral, and strikingly refreshing whether sipped neat,
with tonic or in a martini.
Highland Park 18 Year Old, $66
in the Orkney Islands, Highland Park is the most northerly
distillery in Scotland. The combination of the local
peat from Hobbister Moor and local water from Cattie
Maggie Spring results 18 years later in a whisky that’s
rich and potent, yet strikingly smooth.
E&J XO, $22
might not expect a quality brandy from Gallo, but
with XO they’ve proven their ability to deliver.
Wines made from Ugni Blanc and Colombard are distilled
in traditional copper alambic stills, then aged seven
years in both French Limousin and American oak barrels.
The resulting brandy hits all the right notes, at
an impressive price and all in a lovely package.
Vau Vintage 1999, $30
vintage ports require years of cellaring before they
can be enjoyed. But Sandeman, by careful blending
from its top vineyards, introduces a new style of
vintage port, one ready to be enjoyed on release,
without sacrificing the complexity one expects.
Corzo Silver, $45
Packaging isn’t everything, but you can’t
beat a great product inside a beautiful container, and
that’s the story with Corzo, a new line of super-premium
tequilas in what look like oversized perfume bottles.
Made from 100% blue agave, Corzo goes through three
distillations and brief aging in small white oak barrels
to create a crisp, clean and complex final product.
Nonino UE Decennale, $50
most grappas, even at the highest price levels, have
the aroma of jet fuel, these bottles are produced
from whole grape clusters, not just pomace (the leftovers
after the grapes have been pressed for wine), and
have fresh and fragrant aromas reflective of their
Maker’s Mark, $20
of the finest bottles from Kentucky, it’s also
impressively reasonably priced. Given its high quality,
it’s a steal. Potent but smooth, it’s
everything you look for in bourbon. Inexpensive enough
to use in mixed drinks, it’s also tasty enough
to savor on its own.
Laberdolive 1985, $130
other brandy, Armagnac is a bit more rustic, full
of fire and flavor. From Domaine de Jaurrey, Laberdolive
is an artisinal, hand-made product, with the expected
prune flavors of the region, and so much more, from
exotic spices to nuts. This one lingers on the tongue
and in the mind for hours after the last sip.
Vya Extra-Dry, $20
so it’s not technically a spirit, just a fortified
wine, but it’s an essential mate to vodka and
gin in real martinis, so it rates. The standard French
and Italian bottles are fairly dreadful. Leave it
to Andrew Quady, an American, to assemble a vermouth
so good it not only makes martinis taste better but
it actually tastes pretty fine on its own.
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