AUTUMN TEASES AND TREATS



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The flow of new Tequilas entering the U.S. marketplace has significantly slowed since the reported agave shortages that occurred in central Mexico from 1999 through 2001. Though some observers claim that industrywide mismanagement was the real culprit for the production slowdown, the fact remains that fully ripe agave plants were hard to come by for three years. (For the uninitiated, the agave is the lily plant—it's not a cactus, thank you—from which Tequila and other Mexican spirits are produced.)

The result of the slowdown? There's been a quiet retraction in the Mexican spirits industry. Just three years ago Tequila distilling was a vibrant trade that was driving with the throttle wide open. In the 1990s, every year meant double-digit growth. Boutique, "handmade" Tequilas in fancy handblown bottles were abundant. Distilleries were operating 24/7/365. Now, distilleries are closing. Retail prices have sky-rocketed. And, perhaps most painful of all, the cost of even a basic margarita is two times what it was when Bill Clinton still roamed the White House, searching for the last slice of triple pepperoni pizza.

So it was with a certain nostalgic glee that I greeted four new Tequilas—one from Los Azulejos, three from Milagro—when they recently arrived at the office. But, two questions lurk. One: Will Tequilas ever again be as reasonably priced as they were in the pre-2000 years? No. These prices, I'm afraid, are here to stay, so get used to it. Two: Will some of the brands that you no longer see on retailers' shelves reappear after the shortage has abated? It's unlikely, because once a brand is out of the marketplace a reintroduction is expensive and labor-intensive. Today's consumers simply move on to other pastures.

Thoughts on some of this month's other reviewed items: The Marie Brizard Anisette is utterly sensational and I advise you to buy it even if you don't care for anise/licorice tasting liqueurs. Try it. This one is an all-time classic. Cognac Marthe Sepia 30 Year Old Grande Champagne Cognac is one of those rare brandy treats that comes along once in a blue moon and I, in the strongest terms, urge you to track it down before word gets out. Last, I point out Montecristo 12-Year-Old Rum from Guatemala as a genuinely noteworthy spirit. Over the course of evaluating 4,000+ products every year, it's items like these that make the early morning hard work worthwhile.
Cheers, until next month.

—F. Paul Pacult

 

TEQUILA
Superb (90-95)/Highly Recommended
Los Azulejos Reposado 100% Agave Tequila (Mexico; DR International Group, Inc., The Woodlands, TX); 40% abv, $33. Pale yellow-straw color. Initial nosing passes are rife with dill and brine; aeration brings out deeper scents of salt, pickles, green vegetation and agave. Palate entry is properly tart, acidic and lean; midpalate features a strong, firmly structured texture and flavors of sweet oak, sautéed asparagus and vanilla. Finishes long, sweet and vegetal. A reposado whose sweet disposition is its finest asset.

Milagro Anejo Single Barrel 100% Agave Tequila (Mexico; Frank-Lin International Products, Ltd., San Jose, CA); 40% abv, $33. Golden yellow hue; some sediment. Yeasty, dusty and briny opening aroma; more time in the glass allows a peppery, almost gum-like, biscuity perfume to develop. Sweet palate entry shows roasted peppers, pineapple and asparagus tastes; midpalate showcases luscious flavors of chocolate, bitter orange and sugar cookies. Aftertaste is sweet, sugary and long.

Very Good (85-89)/Recommended
Milagro Silver 100% Agave Tequila (Mexico; Frank-Lin International Products, Ltd., San Jose, CA); 40% abv, $24. Clear as mineral water; some sediment. Opening bouquet is snappy fresh, ashy and smoky, kind of like smoldering embers; licorice, anise, dill and boiled asparagus emerge with air contact. On the palate, the taste is fresh, lovely, appropriately zesty, peppery and vegetal with just a hint of sugary sweetness at midpalate. Aftertaste is long, laced with pepper and refreshing.

Milagro Reposado 100% Agave Tequila (Mexico; Frank-Lin International Products, Ltd., San Jose, CA); 40% abv, $29. Straw color; black, cork-like sediment. Within two minutes after the pour, aromas of sweet oak, milk chocolate and brine appear; later sniffings unearth scents of sweet green pepper, buttered popcorn, creamery butter and dill-like agave. Palate entry is chocolate-sweet and tangy; midpalate highlights flavors of milk chocolate, candy bar, nougat, green vegetable and oak. Finishes almost like honey.

LIQUEURS
Classic (96-100)/Highest Recommendation

Marie Brizard Anisette Liqueur (France; Marie Brizard Wines & Spirits USA, Miami, FL); 25% abv, $24. Clear as rainwater. Initial sniffings reveal a heightened licorice fragrance that's more herbal than sweet or candied; time in the glass allows the earthy scent of anise to permeate. Palate entry is intensely herbal and only moderately sweet; at midpalate, the flavor presence is defined, poised, mildly herbal and succulently sweet while the texture is medium-bodied and neither cloying nor syrupy. Aftertaste is long, gentle, softly sweet and licorice-like. The anisette gold standard. Best Buy.

Superb (90-95)/Highly Recommended
Marie Brizard Raspberry de Bordeaux Liqueur (France; Marie Brizard Wines & Spirits USA, Miami, FL); 16% abv, $25. Near opaque color. Opening aroma is concentrated, jammy, juicy and tart; air contact releases more of the ripe fruit element and the intensity of the berry fruit almost pushes it into cassis territory. Palate entry is like drinking raspberry juice; at midpalate, the concentrated juiciness turns sweeter and ripe as the flavors become more vivid and fresh. Aftertaste is long, tart and juicy with lots of raspberry. Best Buy.

Marie Brizard Triple Sec Liqueur (France; Marie Brizard Wines & Spirits USA, Miami, FL); 39% abv, $25. Clear as spring water. Piquant, dry, almost burnt match (I mean this to be positive) initial nosing passes hint of dried orange peels; aeration brings out the zestiness of the Curaçao orange fruit. Palate entry is ultrasweet, orangy and luscious; midpalate highlights the ripe orange pulp taste that lies atop the velvety texture. Finishes with a deft touch of citrusy tartness to balance the fruity sweetness. Superb choice for your next margarita. Best Buy.

Acceptable (80-84)
Caravella Orangecello Liqueur (Italy; Barton Brands, Chicago, IL); 30% abv, $17. Opaque, faded orange soda pop color. Initial sniffings pick up a ripe, sweet orangy aroma that's pleasant and understated; aeration fails to take this bouquet to a higher stage of development. Palate entry is delightfully tart and orangy; at midpalate, the flavor turns bittersweet and one-dimensional. Ends medium-long, moderately tart.

Di Amore Raspberry Raspberry Liqueur (USA); 16.5% abv, $11. Nearly opaque, deep purple appearance. Opening bouquet is inviting in a "hey, let's pick our own berries" manner; the few extra minutes in the glass results in a sweet, raspberry-cherry fragrance that's acceptably tutti-frutti. Palate entry is sweet but not cloying; the volume turned up on the sugar-level at midpalate, presenting a liqueur that's too soda-popish and no longer "field fresh." Use it in punches.

COGNAC
Classic (96-100)/Highest Recommendation

Cognac Marthe Sepia 30 Year Old Grande Champagne Cognac (France; 1er Cru Collection, Fort Collins, CO); 44% abv, $125. Bronze-reddish orange color. A gentle, fruity bouquet of pears, peaches and tropical fruits, especially banana and pineapple, greets the olfactory sense; eight more minutes in the glass stimulates some oakiness that underpins the fruit. Palate entry is firm and bold; the flavor takes off at midpalate like a guided missile as light rancio, oak, blue cheese, candied walnuts and ripe grapes totally disarm the taste buds. Finish is lovely, sweet, slightly cocoa-like, oaky and refined.

Superb (90-95)/Highly Recommended
Cognac Marthe Aquarelle 18 Year Old Grande Champagne Cognac (France; 1er Cru Collection, Fort Collins, CO); 40% abv, $77. Lovely bright amber hue. The first two nosing passes offer ambrosial aromas of pear, peach and nectarine; deeper scents of wood resin, sugar, light honey and vanilla wafer evolve in the glass. Sweet and fruity at palate entry; the taste profile expands significantly at midpalate to include banana, white grapes, sugar cookie and oak. Concludes woody, resiny and drier than the midpalate. Well-integrated GC whose bearing is at once regal and racy.

Cognac Marthe Fauve 23 Year Old Grande Champagne Cognac (France; 1er Cru Collection, Fort Collins, CO); 40% abv, $95. Lovely copper hue. Inviting scents of hard candy, brown sugar, vanilla bean and chocolate cake frosting open the nosing phase; it takes on more of a honey-toffee character than hard candy with aeration. Palate entry is totally dry and slightly peppery; midpalate offers lush, fully textured and exotic flavors of peach cobbler, poached pear, tea leaves and dark caramel. Aftertaste is warming, fruity, mildly oaky and rounded. A singularly rich, lip-smacking GC.

Menuet Extra 25 Year Old Grande Champagne Cognac (France; 1er Cru Collection, Fort Collins, CO); 40% abv, $95. Topaz hue is stunningly beautiful. Initial sniffings offer zesty, spicy aromas, laced with black pepper and nutmeg; further time sees the addition of egg cream, light caramel and sweet oak aromas that complement the underlying spiciness. Bittersweet flavors of dark caramel, cocoa, pecan and vanilla extract provide a seamless flavor phase. Ends intensely bittersweet, molasses-like and nutty. Luscious and entirely satisfying.

Menuet Hors d'Age 50 Year Old Grande Champagne Cognac (France; 1er Cru Collection, Fort Collins, CO); 40% abv, $299. So tawny that it looks like a 40-year-old Aged Tawny Port. Opening bouquet emits echoes of once-ripe fruit, oak and cheese-like rancio; aeration assists this bouquet by adding touches of prunes and black plum. Palate entry offers flavors of bittersweet chocolate, orange pekoe tea and cocoa butter; midpalate comes on
strong with vivid tastes of toasted walnut, almond butter, bacon fat and brown sugar. Aftertaste is rich, almost syrupy. Terrific taste and aftertaste redeem the lights on-nobody home bouquet.

Very Good (85-89)/Recommended
Gautier XO Gold & Blue Cognac (France; Marie Brizard Wines & Spirits USA, Miami, FL); 40% abv, $69. Brilliant rust orange color. Decadent aromas of dark caramel, baked pear, and the beginnings of cheese-like rancio impress. Palate entry is richly flavored with tastes of brown sugar, oaky resin and vanilla; midpalate sports flavors of tobacco leaf, rancio and honey. Aftertaste is juicy and candy sweet. Rip-snortin' Cognac whose Armagnac-like nature is its finest virtue.

 

Acceptable (80-84)
Gautier VS Cognac (France; Marie Brizard Wines & Spirits USA, Miami, FL); 40% abv, $16. Harvest gold hue. Aroma at opening is delicate, feline and mildly spiced; air contact stimulates pear drop, orange rind and marzipan scents. At palate entry the taste is sweet, simple, immature and vigorous; by midpalate, easy, if superficial, flavors of ripe grapes, sharp new oak, and beeswax assert themselves. Aftertaste is moderately sharp and harmless.

Gautier VSOP Cognac (France; Marie Brizard Wines & Spirits USA, Miami, FL); 40% abv, $31. Autumnal amber color. Bouquet after the pour is meek; exposure to air does little to urge more aromatic expression to emerge. Palate entry displays some flavor impact, mostly in the forms of caramel and oak; midpalate stage displays mildly pleasing tastes of dried red fruit, oak and prunes. Finishes sweet, honeyed and almost syrupy.

Menuet XO Grande Champagne Cognac (France; 1er Cru Collection, Fort Collins, CO) 40% abv, $60. New copper-penny color. Emits early mildly woodsy scents of mushroom, earth, and candy; aeration adds marshmallow, hard candy, dark toffee and damp pavement. There's a slight corkiness to the initial taste, then at midpalate the flavor phase rights itself by offering honey-sweet, ripe fruit and black peppery tastes. Ends long, moderately sweet, honeyed and hot. What's with the mildly corked taste?

RUM
Superb (90-95)/Highly Recommended

Montecristo 12 Year Old Rum (Guatemala; Sidebar Spirits, Manhasset, NY); 40% abv, $30. Gorgeous medium amber hue. Aeration releases meager scents of sugar cane and apple; the bouquet is not that big a factor. Palate entry is rich, snappy, mildly hot and spirity; flavor explodes on the tongue in waves of light caramel, molasses, honey, charred oak, tobacco leaf and vanilla. Concludes textured, warming, fat and damn near chewy. One of the best rums I've tasted so far this year. A splendid cigar companion because the charred oak presence.

Very Good (85-89)/Recommended
Cruzan Vanilla Flavored Rum (USVI; Todhunter Imports, Ltd., West Palm Beach, FL); 27.5% abv, $12. Perfectly clear. Initial inhalations are confronted with aggressive vanilla perfume, then after eight minutes in the glass the aroma smoothes out into a fat, buttery aroma that's more like egg cream than vanilla extract. In the mouth, it's rich, thick and properly vanilla-like. Aftertaste is short, sweet and eggy. Best Buy.

Ron Cubaney 7 Year Old Gran Reserva Rum (Dominican Republic; Falcon Busto Corporation, Union City, NJ); 38% abv, $12. Pretty honey color. The nose after the pour offers juicy bits of light caramel and brown sugar. Palate entry is firm, off-dry and sugary sweet; midpalate displays considerable finesse as the brown sugar taste goes chocolaty and savory. Aftertaste shows some oakiness, vanilla and toffee. Best Buy.

Acceptable (80-84)
Ron Cubaney Banana Flavored Rum (Dominican Republic; Falcon Busto Corporation, Union City, NJ); 32% abv, $10. Clear as rainwater. The early banana scent reminds me more—I'm sorry to report—of shoe leather than actual fruit; aeration releases overripened banana, not fresh banana. A sweet banana candy taste greets the taste buds at palate entry; at midpalate, the banana flavor turns a bit creamier, almost like in banana cream pie. The finish is this rum's high point as the banana flavor becomes tasty without being cloying. A good mixer.

Voodoo Spiced Rum (USVI; Three-D Spirits, Inc., Petaluma, CA); 35% abv, $15. Pretty, light amber hue. I detect heavy doses of brown sugar and spice, especially cinnamon, in the first nosings; there's a subtle element of vanilla that peeks through the veil of spice in the final whiffs. Palate entry is mildly spicy; the vanilla component comes through nicely on the tongue. Finishes short and dull. Not in the league of Foursquare or Captain Morgan Original.

Vodka
Superb (90-95)/Highly Recommended

Grey Goose Le Citron Vodka (France; Sidney Frank Importing Co., Inc., New Rochelle, NY); 40% abv, $30. Crystal clear. Opening whiffs are snappy, citrusy lemon peel; aeration allows the piquancy to soften as the bouquet becomes ripe, moderately sweet and as sublime as lemon meringue pie. Palate entry is fresh, citrusy and intensely lemony; midpalate is lip-puckeringly zesty and cleansing. Finishes tart and long.

Hangar One Vodka (USA); 40% abv, $30. Clear as rainwater. Bouquet emits scents of intense grain, licorice, linseed oil and paraffin; a come-hither vodka bouquet that could only be achieved in small batch distilling. Palate entry is piquant, zesty and intensely spirity; by midpalate, sweet and kernel-like flavors of cocoa bean, corn mash and grape pomace make willing prisoners of my taste buds. Finish is medium-long, grainy sweet and slightly grapy. Comes off almost as a cross between grain vodka and grappa.

Very Good (85-89)/Recommended
Red Bull Vodka (USA) 40% abv, $15. Crystalline clear. First nosings find a clean, grainy, almost peppery bouque; aeration doesn't bring out any other aromatic qualities. A simple and brisk vodka at midpalate, with firm structure, slightly oily texture and sweet grainy, fresh-off-the-still flavor. Lingering, sweet aftertaste. A domestic unflavored vodka that echoes the classic Russian style.

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