Old whisky, new mezcal, and other unexpected spirits

Photo: Kevin R. Kosar

A few months back, a friend came to town from Tennessee. His schedule was jammed as was mine, but I was eager to see him. He works in insurance and I inevitably learn a lot when he explains  the various fallouts of Obamacare and Trump’s subsequent war against it.

“I have something from George Dickel to bring you for review,” he added. That was that. Logistics be damned, we were going to meet.

He came by my office and pulled from his bag a small of gold from Tullahoma—George Dickel Reserve 17-Year Old Tennessee Whisky (43.5% ABV; 87 proof). There is a whole cockamamie story about how this whisky was a happy accident; some barrels got mis-inventoried or somesuch. I love the folks at Dickel but I am not sure I buy it. That, however, is neither here nor there. This is the longest aged Tennessee whiskey to be found, and you can sip it straight with ease. The deep copper liquor offers notes of corn, white pepper, caramel, apple, and toffee. Wow.

George Dickel 17-Year is not cheap. A half-sized bottle (375 ml) runs around $75. But for the American whiskey fan, or for friends enjoying a rare meet-up, it is more than worth it.

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Being a drinks writer has its perks. One never knows when a courier will arrive with an unexpected delivery. On occasion I have shrank back in horror when I opened a box to find dill pickle vodka or a similarly evil concoction. Typically, though, I receive good drinks.

So it was that I met the acquaintance of La Luna Mezcal, a new entrant to the American market. The bottle I received is numero 307 from Lot 7, and weighs in at a whopping 49.56% ABV (99.12 proof). Continue reading “Old whisky, new mezcal, and other unexpected spirits”

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Jenlain Beer from France

Editor’s note: We’re republishing this review from March 2003 because the old copy still gets so much reader traffic.

Long ago, I tried a French beer. It was a disappointment. I recall asking someone else to taste it. He too thought it was awful. Our attitude, perhaps unfairly, quickly became, “The French ought to stick to wine and cheese.”

The other night I decided to try Jenlain. In New York City, Jenlain is available it in corked champagne bottles for $4 to 5. The label boasted that it was finely crafted, used excellent materials, and so forth. I was hopeful. I poured it and it was deep copper colored with a fat head. It looked beautiful in a burgundy glass. I sipped it- my face bunched up. What the hell? The beer itself wasn’t spoiled or cooked. It just was thin and had a rank flavor that overwhelmed what few pleasant notes there were. Maybe my taster was off. I asked a friend with a near bottomless belly for beer to take a sip. One was enough. We dumped the bottle. (Rating *1/2)

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Jean Jacques Litaud Domaine des Vielles Pierres, 2012

WINE GLASSES Jean Jacques Litaud Domaine des Vielles Pierres, 2012 “vieilles vignes,” or “old vines” (Pouilly-Fuissé)
by B.D. Fischer

In John Guare’s great play Six Degrees of Separation Stockard Channing says that “everybody on this planet is separated by only six other people. … I find that A) tremendously comforting that we’re so close and B) like Chinese water torture that we’re so close. Because you have to find the right six people to make that connection.” She may as well have been talking about wine. It is a truism that the global quality of wine has never been higher than it is today but there is still so much. Even for knowledgeable drinker it can be almost impossible to know what to buy even when you know what you want.

Channing’s dictum is true even in the world’s most prestigious wine regions (to say nothing of grapes—there is no such thing as a good or bad varietal). Neither Bordeaux nor Sancerre nor Napa (especially Napa) nor Otago are enough to ensure that what you’re buying isn’t terrible. (OK, you are unlikely to be disappointed by any Châteauneuf-du-Pape or Barolo, but you’ll pay dearly for the privilege.) This is a particular problem when you’re looking at wines that do not exist at everyday price points.

Today’s wine, from Pouilly-Fuissé, falls into this category. Pouilly-Fuissé (pronounced “pwee feess”) is an appellation within the Mâconnais sub-region of Burgundy and produces only Chardonnay—no such thing as red Pouilly-Fuissé. Although it often plays second banana to the Côte de Beaune a bit farther north, this is mostly the result of a historical snafu: the growers of Pouilly-Fuissé never applied for Premier Cru designation because they were far enough south to be free of Nazi occupation and thus lacked bureaucratic urgency—only Premier Cru wines in occupied France were exempted from fiat seizure by the Germans. This may change in the next few years as the French authorities consider granting Premier Cru status to several producers in Pouilly-Fuissé and elsewhere in the Mâconnais, but even without them these wines remain among the world’s greatest expressions of Chardonnay.

The lesson, then, is that you need a good middleman. For most of us this is just our local wine shop (for me it’s Fine Wine Brokers, second only in my experience to Austin’s legendary but now defunct Vinosity). However, and I cannot emphasize this enough, going to buy wine is like going to the doctor—you must put aside your shame and drop your pants for it to do its work. You cannot be afraid to express what you want in the best language you have, or to expose how inadequate that language or the knowledge behind it are. If you don’t have a good local wine shop, most lifestyle grocery stores do tolerably well these days; Whole Foods is fine, Central Market is better.

There’s also the source for this 2012 Jean Jacques Litaud ($29), Jon Rimmerman, about whom there will surely be more to say at a later date. (Briefly, he is a bona fide genius, but you have to learn how to finesse his outrageous prose.) I drank the Litaud at 46 degrees and it showed honey in the glass, surprising for a wine that usually tends toward straw. Forty-six degrees is a little cold but the wine drank warmer—tremendous body for a wine so light in acid, and emotionally open. I attribute both of these to a near-tropical flavor profile—papaya cut with urgent grapefruit—snaked around a spine of stone and slate. No oak. At once powerful and delicate, this is as good as Chardonnay gets. (Rating: Excellent)

Jean Jacques Litaud is imported into the U.S.A. by Free Run, LLC.

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