Aperitif Profile #1: Chinato and other Italian Liqueurs

It's easy to lump all wine-based aperitivos into the vermouth category, which is what most people tend to do, but to do so would be to sell so many amazing products short.  Before I start off on an explanation about what these two interesting looking bottles on the left are, I just want to make sure everyone knows what we're talking about here.  David OG and I are on a mission to build the best aperitif, liqueur, and digestive collection in the United States, but we need help drinking it - we can't buy it all on our own.  When I use any of the above terms, I'm speaking of beverages that are usually wine-based, with some spirit added to fortify it, and that are usually macerated in a special blend of herbs and spices.  That's basically what vermouth is, but depending on when and how you're supposed to drink them, there are different names and classifications.  Aperitivos are for before the meal and for awakening the appetite, whereas digestivos come after and help settle your stomach.  Not all aperitivos are wine based, so technically those would not classify as vermouth (i.e. Campari, Aperol, Pernod), but they are all still considered aperitivos. 

The two bottles pictured are fantastic new products that we just brought in from a small local importer called Farm Wines.  They specialize in organic and biodynamic wines from all over the world, so I was excited when our old pal Jeff Vierra told me he was beginning to import fortified wines as well.  We met for lunch so that I could try both bottles and we started with the Vergano Americano Aperitif $39.99. This is a red wine based aperitif that could function as a super-high quality Campari substitute.  The combination of bitter herbs is matched by the perfect balance of sweetness and the tannin from the wine is also present on the mouthfeel.  The Vergano is a grignolino wine base made by organic wine estate Cascina Tavijn.  They start by steeping a neutral spirit with spices and herbs and then later adding it to the wine to form the blend.  I can't wait to take it home tonight and use it in a Negroni in place of Campari.  After that, I'm pouring it on the rocks with some club soda.  Then I'm going to drain the rest of it straight from the bottle.  I love this stuff.  It isn't cheap, but the quality of the base wine is outstanding.  Like most cuisine, the quality of the base ingredients makes all the difference. 

The bottle on the right side is the Vergano "Luli" Moscato Chinato 500ml $46.99.  Chinato is a traditional digestivo made in Barolo that sees the local nebbiolo wine put to steep with the bark from the cinchona tree (which contains quinine like tonic water and malaria drugs).  It is then, like the Americano, fortified with a neutral spirit that has been macerating with spices like cinnamon and vanilla, as well as herbs like mint and flowers.  Chinato is never inexpensive because Barolo is never inexpensive, but the Veragno is made instead with Moscato d' Asti.  The result is an explosion of clove and orange peel with the classic sweet fruit of the muscat grape.  The bitter notes from the quinine also come through, resulting in another liqueur that is a balance of bitter and sweet.  For an after dinner sipper, I'm not sure it gets much better. 

This marks the end of my first aperitif profile.  In my quest to spread the word about the world's most underrated spirits, I will be doing this all month long.

--David Driscoll


The Aperifif Renaissance Is Coming

I find it somewhat bittersweet that so many people have images like the one on the left hanging on their living room wall, yet have little idea as to what the art is actually advertising.  Granted, Campari has become a pretty widespread and well-known commodity (thanks to modern twists on their printed press which substitutes the clown for a scantily-dressed Selma Hayek), but I never, and I mean never, see anyone order Campari on the rocks or Campari and soda when sitting at the bar.  No one is ordering Lillet, Carpano Antica, Dubonnet, Ricard, Pernod, or Aperol either.  These products are relics from a golden age of drinking and we know this because Cost Plus World Market sells 4x6 prints that people think make their apartment look more retro. 

Despite the fact that 90% of the planet doesn't know what these spirits are or even how to drink them, they are making a huge comeback and I couldn't be more excited.  While the foundation of the resurgence is seemingly founded in the classic cocktail scene, I think that the casual consumer is more likely to gravitate toward simple constructions involving the bare necessities of ice and soda water.  People need to learn why European culinary cultures have been draining glasses of aperitif spirits for more than a century - there is a reason.  Less filling than a beer and less powerful than a cocktail, a glass of pastis and water on the rocks is a pre-meal must for the entire south of France because it lubricates the nerves and stimulates the palate, waking up your appetite for some serious eating.  A Dolin Blanc on the rocks with a twist is the perfect way to start a warm summer evening, and a bit of Aperol can do wonders for a glass of sparkling wine. 

Starting this week I am going to start documenting some of these products and shedding a bit more light into some newer ones we will be purchasing.  I hope that my excitement and the quality of these bottles will convince some of you to give them a shot.  Get ready.

-David Driscoll


Community Effort! Everyone Pitches In

So I've been on a philosophical bender lately, really breaking down my ideas of careers, capitalism, and child rearing and cornering everyone I know to discuss these topics with me (my eccentric nature can come unleashed from time to time).  I've spared the blog however until now, but I'll make my additions to this medium short and sweet.  My time spent researching German literature in graduate school helped to shape what I thought was my job and duty upon joining K&L: learn everything about wine and spirits, and make that my #1 priority.  All my free time, all my reading, all my webpage bookmarks, specialize, find a niche and make myself an expert.  That's the PhD mindset, at least.  Lately, I've come to peace with my neurotic brain by changing my self-perception regarding this job, rather than changing the job itself.  Thanks to all the great relationships I have formed with many of you and the fantastic local businesses in the area, I see this position more as a community outreach where we all chip in and get what we want out of our situation.  Continuing on with that mindset, I'd like to thank Chris Matthews, who comes to the tastings and takes high quality shots to document the occasion.  If you need a professional to capture your next event, you may want to look him up.  Here's a link to his photos from our last Islay tasting at Martin's West.

-David Driscoll


Tidbits and Notes 5/21/10

Just a few quick notes for the weekend.

-I've been drying out a bit recently hence the lack of everyday posts.  Don't forget to let your body recover from time to time.  I came into this business thinking that if everyone around me drank everyday it must be OK.  For me, it isn't OK and it's good to listen to your own body when it's telling you to back off.  Some of the best palates to ever have tasted whisky are no longer with us and that fact isn't unrelated to their lifestyle.

-Amrut Indian single malts should be in next week!  This is a very big deal.  The Fusion was rated the 3rd best whisky in the world this year by the Whisky Bible and I can see why.  I just tasted it again yesterday and it was amazing.  I really like it.  Look for that and the rest of the line up to be in stock by next weekend.

-Don't forget the Old World Spirits tasting tonight.

-We've got 3 new Murray McDavid whiskies at great prices:

1997 Mortlach 12 Year Old Chateau d' Yquem Cask Murray McDavid Islay Single Malt Whisky 750ml $59.99- Yet another masterful manipulation of Speyside underdog Mortlach by Bruichladdich's Jim McEwan.  The last batch of Mortlach we had saw syrah casks on the finish and went down as one of the all time K&L greats (we still get calls every now and then from a desperate customer hoping to get one last bottle).  This time around the red fruits are replaced with honey and stonefruit, with white wine aromatics blending into the luscious richness from the Sauternes influence.  The malted barley comes out on the midpalate and the mouthfeel is nowhere near as viscous as you would expect.  The sweetness is almost imperceptable until the finish comes roaring in with loads of caramel, honey, and Yquem's amazing buttery texture.  A fantastic value that ranks among Murray McDavid's finest achievements.
1999 Bowmore 10 year old E. Guigal Cote Rotie Cask Murray McDavid Islay Single Malt Whisky 750ml (elsewhere $70) $49.99 - Before whisky legend Jim McEwan set off to lead the way at Bruichladdich, he was the master distiller at Bowmore for over twenty years - bringing the reputation of the distillery to the top of the single malt world.  Now that he's bottling casks independently with the Murray McDavid project, he finally got the chance to get his hands on some of his old creation and manipulate it to his liking.  Taking high quality syrah barrels from the magical appelation of Cote Rotie, Mr. McEwan seasons this solid 10 year Bowmore into something exception and unique.  The moderate peat and refreshing brininess of the Bowmore plays wonders against the spice, peppar, and dark berry fruit of the Cote Rotie barrels.  An intoxicating crimson hue is the first striking quality of this wonderful malt.  The plummy richness of the Cote Rotie is not lost in the salt air and spice of the Bowmore.  An exceptional example and a fabulous value.
1995 Macallan 14 Year Old, Petrus Cask Murray McDavid Single Malt Whisky 750ml $89.99 - What happens when you combine the most successful and beloved of all Speyside malts with the legendary wine of Bordeaux's Petrus and the mastery of Bruichladdich's Jim McEwan?  You get elegance, intruigue, and succulence in an amazing bottle of whisky.  The mellow and mild mannered sherry wood aged Macallan sees an amazing enhancement of red fruit highlights with a juicier mouthfeel without ever negating its finest attribute which has always been balance.  The most tradtional and conservative of Scotland's whiskies, this transformation was obviously done with kid gloves so as not to adulterate the flavor, but rather to make it better.  The sweetness is just a bit brighter and the supple textures are just a bit smoother.  Jim McEwan continues to show us that no one understands the relationship of barrels to whisky better than he does.


Take care,


-David Driscoll

Party @ Old World Spirits in Belmont Friday 5/21 - $10

Please come to Davorin Kuchan's distillery in Belmont at #3 and #4 121 Industrial Way in Belmont.  It's off of Industrial Rd. and is back in the parking lot with a bunch of other office spaces.  He's created a fantastic little tasting room and has all the booze ready for you.  For a mere $10 you can taste his entire line up: the Blade gin, the La Sorciere absinthes, the eau de vie and liqueurs, as well as his new brandy he is working on.  Maybe, if you are lucky, he will be in the middle of producing some of his wonderful gin and will let you taste it fresh off the still like I was lucky enough to do.  The event starts at 6 PM and there's a brewery right across from him that will be tasting beer as well.  It could turn into quite a time out.  See you there.

-David Driscoll