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Top 10 Spirits 2006

Top Selections for Your Home Bar

By Chris Rubin

Holidays are inherently celebratory, and what could be more festive and fun than a classic cocktail—except, perhaps, one with a modern twist? Top-quality spirits provide the power in these drinks, so consider the following exceptional bottles, whether you’re stocking your own bar or stuffing a friend’s stocking.


Idôl, $33

Wheat, potatoes and even sugar beets can serve as the source material for crafting vodka, but employing grapes instead appears to be the latest trend. Idôl relies on grapes from the old world—the treasured vineyards of Burgundy—where both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are fermented, distilled, and then brought down to proper proof with the addition of pure water from the Côte d’Or. The first ultra-premium vodka crafted by a wine connoisseur, Idôl manifests that unique lineage in the subtle, clean flavors found inside every bottle.


Leblon, $30

Brazil’s caipirinha may well be the next superstar cocktail to emerge from south of the border (way south, in this case!). And while sugar and limes can take credit for the libation’s sweet/sour balance, it’s cachaça, the sugar cane-based liquor, that provides the potent punch. Leblon, aged in casks that once held Cognac, tastes smoother than most—so smooth it can be sipped straight or used in place of rum and vodka in many other cocktails.


Frapin VIP XO, $159

Family-owned Frapin has nearly 500 acres of Grande Champagne vineyards, amassed over five centuries. So the venerable house has plenty of long-aged (average 25 to 30 years) Premier Cru brandies from the family reserves to bring to the blend that goes into this prestigious bottle. Subtle and delicate, VIP XO lingers on the palate long after the glass is empty.


Appleton Estate 21 Year Old Jamaica Rum, $89

Since 1749, Appleton has been perfecting the art of distilling rum in Jamaica, and all that expertise goes into the 21 Year Old. This is a major liquor, as each rum in the blend was produced from estate-grown sugar cane and spent at least 21 years in American oak barrels, which formerly housed Jack Daniels whiskey. And while two decades-plus is a long time for any spirit to slumber, the climate in Jamaica results in faster than usual aging, so this smooth-sipping rum has the appealing qualities of a liquor aged substantially longer.


1800 Colección, $1,800

Crafted from agaves grown in the highlands of Jalisco, Mexico–a region famous for its superb tequilas—1800 Colleción defines state-of-the-art, spare-no-expense tequila. Produced in tiny quantities following traditional artisanal methods, 1800 Colección undergoes double distillation in small copper pot stills before aging in small, deep-charred barrels of French Limousin oak. After slumbering for five years, 1800 Colleción gets a splash of even longer-aged reserve tequilas for added complexity.


Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve 20 Year, $99

This venerable house uses wheat rather than rye, and its bourbons show Cognac-like complexity with exceptionally long finishes. The 20 Year version goes into the bottle at more than 90 proof, yet is remarkably smooth, with a hint of sweetness derived from its premium ingredients.


South Gin, $30

All kinds of ingredients pop up in various gins with some bottles boasting 40 or more botanicals. But South Gin may well be the only bottle featuring Manuka berries and Kawakawa leaves, which are staples of Maori medicine from New Zealand. Faintly spicy with a light nose, South Gin weighs in at more than 96 proof, yet is gentle on the palate.


Boulard Calvados Grand Solage, $33

The apple-based brandy of Normandy can rival fine Cognacs and Armagnacs, and Boulard, a family business now spanning five generations, represents the finest. More than 120 varieties of apples contribute their unique flavors to Boulard’s Grand Solage, a gold-hued liquor with aromas of apples, various other fruits and a hint of vanilla from the oak casks in which it has been aged for three to five years.


Johnnie Walker Blue, $199

No age is declared in Johnnie Walker's ultimate blend, but many of the whiskies that go into this uniquely smooth product have been aged for 50 to 60 years. An elegant gift, every bottle of Blue is packed in a silk-lined box and bears its own unique serial number.


Los Danzantes Mezcal Reposado, $70

Forget the bottles with a worm! True mezcal is a hand-made, artisanal product following the centuries-old traditions of the region, and none is better than Los Danzantes. Aged in French oak barrels, this is a graceful mezcal, the fire tamed by a little age, with a long, graceful finish.

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(Updated 03/28/11 BH)

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