This month, the Spirits Buying Guide’s primary focus is on liqueurs. While liqueurs are made the world over, no one would argue that the pinnacle achievements in the liqueur category hail from western and central Europe. European liqueur producers have long understood the methods of getting the most out of the base materials, especially fruit, herbs and botanicals. This roundup cites the sometimes stunningly luscious liqueurs of such famed liqueur masters as Lejay-Lagoute (France), Vedrenne (France), Chartreuse (France) and Luxardo (Italy), as well as two savory contemporary entries from Alizé and Remy Martin. What’s so enchanting about liqueurs is their versatility. The lighter fruit liqueurs make superb cocktail ingredients, while the heavier ones are suitable as companions for ice creams and cakes. Most are delicious served neat and slightly chilled, or even on the rocks.
Some exquisite Cognacs have come my way recently and I had to share my notes with you. A handful originate from the house of Daniel Bouju, whose specialty is Grande Champagne Cognacs. Not only are the Boujus among the district’s elite Cognacs, but they are priced at extraordinarily fair rates. The Bouju family is renowned for their fanaticism when it comes to quality and for leaving the Cognacs caramel-free. Also, Remy Martin has just released their new XO Excellence, which replaces the old Remy Martin XO Special. This edition contains 85 percent Grande Champagne eaux-de-vie and it shows in the silky texture and opulent flavor.
Finally, we take a look at several grappas from two respected distillers, Nonino and Bonollo Umberto. Grappa continues to impress me as one of the world’s best, if least understood, brandies. Served at cellar temperature (55-60Â°fahrenheit), an ounce and a half of dry, piquant, grape-must distillate can end a meal and begin an evening as well as any oak-aged grape brandy.
—F. Paul Pacult
CLASSIC (96-100)/Highest Recommendation
Lejay-Lagoute Crème de Griotte Liqueur (France, A. Hardy USA, Ltd., Rosemont, IL); 20% abv, $18. New brick, ruby-red color of a red Burgundy. The ambrosial nose explodes with ripe, sweet, viney cherry fruit; a drier cherry-stone aroma comes into play on the second pass. On palate, it caresses the taste buds in a medium-bodied robe and treats them to a splendidly balanced, fresh-picked cherry taste banquet; the midpalate features a juicy, ripe red-cherry taste that exhibits ideal fruit-acid balance. The finish is delicate, medium-long and luxurious. Simply the finest cherry crème de liqueur I’ve ever evaluated. Best Buy.
Lejay-Lagoute Le Double Cassis Crème de Cassis de Dijon (France, A. Hardy USA, Rosemont, IL); 20% abv, $22. Opaque, black/purple color that’s reminiscent of a young Bordeaux. The viney bouquet is vegetal and woodsy; the second and third nose passes introduce black pepper and brambles. The tart black-currant concentration at palate entry is unbelievable; the midpalate goes more fruity than acidic and the fullness of the whole experience is topped off by the long, luxurious aftertaste which highlights the black-currant fruit. A great addition to Champagne or still white wine. Best Buy.
Vedrenne Supercassis Crème de Cassis (Black currant) Cote d’Or (France, Victoire Imports Company, San Leandro, CA); 20% abv, $18. Jet black, opaque. Flows out of the bottle like lava. A vinous, leafy, vegetal bouquet frontally attacks the olfactory sense; further passes reveal black pepper. The palate entry is tart, but has remarkably vivid fruit; the midpalate shows more sweetness in the form of ripe black-currant fruit. The aftertaste is long, creamy and luscious. One of the best crème de cassis selections you can find. Best Buy.
SUPERB (90-95)/Highly Recommended
Chartreuse Yellow Liqueur (France, Frederick Wildman & Sons, New York, NY); 40% abv, $35. Sunshine-yellow color with vivid green highlights. A delicate nose on the first whiff; the middle passes offer lovely sweet grass, spice and the botanical richness that Chartreuse is famous for. On palate, the entry is engagingly sweet, even mellow, as the herbal opulence blankets the tongue; the midpalate taste ranges from spicy to moderately intense in a foresty, woodsy manner; it’s delicious, comforting, and regal in the mouth. The aftertaste is long, more sweet than spirity, more spicy than herbal. Gloriously lush.
Extase Liqueur d’Orange & Cognac XO (France, A. Hardy USA, Rosemont, IL); 40% abv, $59. Attractive, orange/bronze/honey color. The opening bouquet is very tart and reminiscent of tangerines; further nosings unearth the XO Cognac, but only as a distant scent; in the final pass, the Cognac element becomes more pronounced as it adds body and foundation to the citrusy tartness. On palate, there’s no mistaking the orange presence; the midpalate is tingly, sweet-tart, of medium viscosity and simply luscious. There’s an echo of steeliness in the finish, but nothing that I find seriously disagreeable. Suitable on the rocks or neat and chilled. Try it with dark chocolate.
Lejay-Lagoute Crème d’Abricot Liqueur (France, A. Hardy USA, Ltd., Rosemont, IL); 20% abv, $18. Luminous orange-bronze hue. The bouquet is laced with a succulent, ripe apricot perfume that underpins the stemmy, viney, stone-fruit surface aromas; on further passes the ripe, oozing apricot reaches a higher level of concentration. In the mouth, the sweet, textured fruit holds court on the tongue right from entry and doesn’t let up until aftertaste. The long finish highlights the fruit, though the acid is evident for balance. A terrific liqueur. Best Buy.