Beefeater wins top Wine Star Awards nod

Beefeater Gin remains an icon in the world of gins, a reputation further enhanced by this week being named "Distiller of the Year" in the annual Wine Star Awards.

And, not that it needed another accolade to burnish its centuries-old reputation, but the Rhône Valley of southeastern France was named "2010 Wine Region of the Year."

According to the editors of The Wine Enthusiast Magazine, who made the selection, the Rhône Valley’s excellent vintages and quality work made it the first French region to be so honored in the history of the awards.

"When we considered its recent string of top vintages and growing environmental stewardship, it emerged as a clear favorite choice … ," said Joe Czerwinski, the magazine’s senior editor and tasting director, said of the Rhône award.

The valley, located along the Rhône River between Lyon and Avignon, is known for crafting one of the world’s most diverse collection. It has more than 6,000 vineyards and produces about 400 million bottles of wine every year, reaching out to approximately 150 countries, as per 2009 figures. Currently, the U.S. is the second largest export market for Rhône Valley wines.

The full list of Wine Star Awards:

Distiller of the Year

Beefeater Gin
Cooper Spirits (St-Germain)
Hangar One
Jack Daniel’s
Milagro Tequila

Wine Region of the Year

Rhône Valley (France)
Ribera Del Duero (Spain)
Russian River Valley (California)
Prosecco (Italy)
Willamette Valley (Oregon)

American Winery of the Year

Barefoot (Modesto, CA)
Hermann J. Weimer (Finger Lakes, NY)
J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines (San Jose, CA)
Pacific Rim (Columbia Valley, WA)
Shafer Vineyards (Napa Valley, CA)

Winemaker of the Year

Frederic Bonnaffous and Guillaume Pouthier, Dourthe (France)
Bob Cabral, Williams Selyem (California)
Genevieve Janssens, Robert Mondavi Winery (California)
Zelma Long, Vilafonte, (South Africa)
Phillipe Melka, Melka Wines (California)

European Winery of the Year

Gérard Bertrand (France)
Louis Latour (France)
Mastroberardino (Italy)
Sogrape (Portugal)
Viña Sastre (Spain)

New World Winery of the Year

Achaval-Ferrer (Argentina)
Bodega Catena Zapata (Argentina)
Craggy Range (New Zeland)
DGB (South Africa)
Viña San Pedro (Chile)

Importer of the Year

Aveníu Brands
Fine Estates From Spain
Kermit Lynch
Preiss Imports
TGIC Importers

Retailer of the Year

Bounty Hunter (Napa Valley)
Sherry-Lehmann (New York)
Stew Leonard’s (NY, NJ, CT)
Trader Joe’s (nationwide)
Vino Volo (airports nationwide)

Innovator of the Year

Hall Winery (California)
Alain Juppé (France)
Libera Terra (Sicily)
Murphy-Goode (California)
The New Zealand Wine Industry

Restaurateur of the Year

Tom Colicchio (New York)
Tyler Florence (California)
Danny Meyer (New York)
Michael Mina (California and nationwide)
Gordon Ramsay (worldwide)

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Absolut strikes again, with Wild Tea Vodka

Just when it appeared Absolut had run out of new flavors for its immense line of infused vodkas a new one hits the market.

The latest from the Swedish distiller is Absolut Wild Tea, infused with the flavors of tea, apples, citrus and elderflowers. It was formulated to work best as a cocktail ingredient.

The newcomer will be rolled out in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Miami in the next few weeks, then go nationwide. Suggested retail price will be $24.99 for the liter bottle or $19.99 for the 750 ml.

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Spirits industry: We're bouncing back

NEW YORK -- The distilled spirits industry is showing signs of recovery but policy makers need to refrain from increasing tax burdens because the economy is not out of the woods yet, Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. (DISCUS) CEO Peter Cressy said today at an annual industry briefing for media and analysts.

According to 2010 economic data released by DISCUS, supplier volumes rose 2% to 190 million cases and revenue rose 2.3% to $19.1 billion, but Cressy pointed out that growth rates remain below the robust pre-recession growth rates, and the important on-premise -- restaurants and bars --sector is still experiencing a fragile recovery.

Cressy also noted that in 2010 consumers began to return to their preference for high-end and super premium spirits products, with revenue in the super premium category growing 10.9%, but from a very soft 2009. In addition, he added, revenue-based market share for spirits overall versus beer and wine gained four-tenths of a point rising to 33.3% of the beverage alcohol market. However, beer lost seven-tenths of a point of market share falling below 50%, as consumers continued their decade-long migration from beer to cocktails.

"In 2010, the industry improved its performance over the previous year, but this recovery remains fragile, and we are not yet out of the woods," Cressy said. "Consumers did begin to trade back up to premium spirits products, but the hospitality industry is still far from its average pre-recession performance."

Cressy cited a number of factors that contributed to the industry’s return to growth, including legislators in every state declining to raise hospitality taxes in 2010; the trend toward home entertaining; and the companies’ wide portfolios including quality value brands that ensured consumer interest in spirits continued throughout the recession.

Further, he noted that nationwide state policy modernization over the last decade, including permitting spirits tastings -- like wine tastings -- and Sunday sales at package stores, contributed to the consumer premiumization trend, which in turn supported improved state revenue without raising taxes.

The 2010 elections also produced positive results for the hospitality industry, including: many more state policy makers elected on anti-tax platforms; the repeal of the sales tax on liquor in Massachusetts; successful wet/dry elections in 34 Texas localities and 12 other states; and the passage of Proposition 26 in California requiring a two-thirds vote in the legislature to pass fees.

“Tax and regulatory restraint on the part of policy makers are the keys to sustaining a stronger revival of the hospitality industry," Cressy pointed out. "However, this will continue to be a challenge for the industry in a very tough fiscal climate in the states.”

2010 Spirits category highlights

Vodka, which accounts for 31% of industry volume, was up 6.1% to 59 million 9-liter cases (the standard measure of industry volume), and in the important super premium category, volume was up nearly 18% and revenue was up approximately 14%.

Whiskey showed strong revenue growth, particularly in the super premium segment, which increased by 8.1% overall to over $1.1 billion. Within the super premium segment, Bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey revenue increased by over 17% to $161 million; single malt scotch grew nearly 18% to $140 million; and Irish grew 30% to $23 million. Super premium Brandy and Cognac were also up almost 10% to $315 million.

Exports exceed $1B once more

2010 preliminary U.S. distilled spirits export data showed a fourth consecutive year exceeding $1billion, and a rebound from the slight downturn in 2009. The Council predicted final results could break the $1.1 billion record set in 2008. American whiskeys now represent 71% of all U.S. spirits exports. The Council urged policy makers to aggressively pursue free trade and other market opening agreements around the globe in order to sustain continued spirits export growth.

Social responsibility push continues

Cressy also noted the spirits industry remains fully committed to social responsibility and highlighted the latest government data showing that underage drinking by 8th, 10th and 12th graders as well as the total number of drunk driving fatalities in the United States are at historic low levels.

"Working together as a society, we continue to make important progress on underage drinking and drunk driving,” said Cressy. "There is more work to do to further reduce these numbers, and our companies are fully committed to this important effort.”

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Chopin debuting rye in U.S. in March

This one really interests me. As a fan of Chopin Vodka, always No. 1 on my vodka list, and someone who enjoys a good rye whiskey, the announcement today that the Polish distiller is releasing its new "rye vodka" to U.S. markets in March is a bright spot in an otherwise bleak winter.

Chopin Rye is produced from golden rye grown naturally grown in the fertile Podlasie countryside in eastern Poland.

The distiller uses the same traditional copper stills and a centuries-old process it uses to make its iconic potato vodka.

"The choice of base ingredient, whether potato or rye or another grain, the age and quality of that ingredient, and the region in which it is grown -- all of these factors produce differences in taste and quality of the final product," said Tad Dorda, Chopin owner.

The 40% abv rye scored a 93 on the 100-point Beverage Tasting Institute scale. It will sell for a suggested retail price of $31 for the 750ml bottle.

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Celebri-quote: Sir Anthony Hopkins

The iconic British actor Sir Anthony Hopkins, 73, is starring in the new film "The Rite." In an interview with CNN, he commented on his drinking history.

"I drank anything I could back in the old days. Whatever I couldn't eat, whatever I couldn't chew, I drank.

"Tequila was my hooch. That nearly undid me, drove me nuts, so I stopped. ... I just drink tonic water now or iced tea."

(Go here for more Celebrity Quotes.)

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'Scotch in a can' angers the homefolk

If you want to tick off the Scottish whisky industry, put something on the market that in any way purports to be of their style and caliber.

The latest fit of rage is being occasioned by the introduction of a product from Latin America -- 12 ounces of whisky in a can, called "Scottish Spirits." It also is offered under the name "Sir Edwin's."

The Panamanian manufacturer is test marketing the products in the Caribbean and Africa, with an eye toward global distribution.

Scottish Spirits Ltd. cites the environmental friendliness of the cans, which a spokesman notes are "lightweight and portable and entirely recyclable."

The Scotch Whisky Association, which works on behalf of the industry in consumer and legal matters and has been known to file a lawsuit at the drop of a drink, says it will seek to ban the cans for breaching international labelling rules.

Scottish Spirits Ltd. has a broad line of beverages, among them an "alcohol-free whisky" named ArKay that was specifically developed for sale in Muslim countries where alcohol is not allowed but consumers may want the taste the Halal-approved drink can provide.

It also makes and distributes Baraima rum; Maxximo, Antigua Cruz and Hacienda tequilas, and Gorloska vodka. 

The company has been exporting its whiskies around the world since 1896. It has an office and distribution center in Glasgow, Scotland, and a distribution center in Panama. The company  bottles more than a million cases per year and forecasts reaching the 5 million case level by 2012.

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Glenmorangie: Something old is new again

Dr. Bill Lumsden's latest creation is based on an old recipe.

Lumsden, director of distilling and whisky creation for the Scottish distiller Glenmorangie, has just announced the launch of Finealta, the latest expression in the Private Edition line. Finealta -- actually pronounced fin-altah -- is the Scots Gaelic word for elegant.

It is a recreation of a Glenmorangie recipe dating to 1903, uncovered in the distillery archives. It is a recipe that was served in the early 1900s at the American Bar of The Savoy, London’s most prestigious hotel.

In its announcement, the company noted that "The era was substantially influenced by the La Belle Époque, a time when the rich and titled freely socialized with artists, writers and the great actors of the day; creating an atmosphere full of joie de vivre. The rich history of this expression inspired Lumsden to follow the 1903 recipe meticulously, which included marrying whiskies of different ages from different types of casks."

Finealta will be introduced to the U.S. at a private March event in New York City.

Go to Dowd's Tasting Notes form my take on the new product.

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New single malt from Arran

The name Machrie Moor isn't yet familiar to Scotch whisky consumers. Probably the name of its producer, Isle of Arran Distillers, isn't either, given its relative youth.

The distillery, opened in 1995, has just introduced its first peated Arran Single Malt under the brand name Machrie Moor. The first release is now in the pipeline to vendors in the U.S. and other key markets around the globe.

Machrie Moor, created by Master Distiller James MacTaggart, is packaged in a dark green bottle with an image of "Bran" in copper. Only 9,000 bottles will be available from the first edition of what is set to become a limited annual release.

The whisky is 46% alcohol by volume (92 proof), and will carry a suggested retail price of £39.99 or US$64.

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Godiva joins the vodka parade

As some cads used to say in the unenlightened days before gender equality became the norm, "Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker."

The reference, obviously, was to how to seduce a lady. Nowadays, we recommend better manners, but the old candy vs. liquor thing won't go away.

Rather than pit the two against each other, the drinks company Diageo has teamed up with Godiva Chocolates to launch a pair of flavored vodkas -- Godiva Chocolate Infused Vodka and Godiva Chocolate Raspberry Infused Vodka.

The cocoa-filled spirits are the first chocolate vodkas to carry the Godiva name. Each flavor is five-times distilled to smooth out any rough edges. Diageo suggests serving them chilled or on the rocks.

Suggested retail prices: $29.99 for the 750ml bottle. And, just in time for Valentine's Day.

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Texan the 'Master of the Manhattan'

Marcelo Nascimento
NEW YORK -- The results are in, and a Texas mixologist has won the mantle of "Master of the Manhattan" for 2011.

Marcelo Nascimento of Austin was selected in the competition held here this week, co-sponsored by the Woodford Reserve distillery and Esquire magazine. He was among 11 bartenders selected after regional competitions to vie for the title.

(See my earlier story here for details of the event.)

Here's the winning recipe:

2½ ounces Woodford Reserve
½ ounce Amaro Averna
½ ounce Clément Créole Shrubb
½ bar spoon of pink peppercorns
Garnish with skewered blood orange supremes and inflamed orange peel.

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Michael Collins reaches out to more in U.S.

Michael Collins, the whiskey made by the only independent distiller in Ireland, is re-booting its image and a New York importer is helping them do it.

Sidney Frank Importing Company of New Rochelle has teamed up with Cooley Distillery to launch the new look of Michael Collins whiskies in the U.S.

Michael Collins 10 Year Old Single Malt and Michael Collins Blended Irish Whiskey now are being rolled out in markets across the country. Each features the iconic silhouette of Collins, the renowned Irish patriot, on his bicycle, a familiar sight during the nation's struggle for independence from England.

Cooley is considered to be the only distillery in Ireland to double distill its whiskeys and use peated malted barley.

Michael Collins 10 Year Old Single Malt is available in the 750ml size with a suggested retail price of $39.99. Michael Collins Blended Irish Whiskey is available in 50ml, 750ml and liter sizes and has a suggested retail price of $26.99 to $28.99 for the 750ml.

The real Michael Collins
You can check out my review on the Dowd's Tasting Notes blog.

Curious about Michael Collins the man? There are numerous online sites about him, some that are on the order of a fan club, others (here and here) that are a bit more neutral.

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Presenting the 'Twisted Swan' cocktail

Natalie (left) and Mila in "the" scene.
Movies are an endless source of drinking inspiration.

Whether's it's the latest James Bond cocktail or the search for the perfect wine in Napa, even the slightest excuse will do.

So, I present the "Twisted Swan," a rather offbeat concoction from the folks at Maestro Dobel Tequila that they say was inspired by the girl-on-girl scene between Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis in the new psychological thriller/ballet film "Black Swan."

The ingredients:

Maestro Dobel Tequila
Raspberry liqueur
Amaretto liqueur

Crushed chocolate for rimming the glass.



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The Manhattan? Never off my radar

The classic Manhattan cocktail.
NEW YORK — Some writers and public relations people are heralding the “return” of the Manhattan cocktail. From my vantage point, it has never gone out of favor. For those unfamiliar with the muscular concoction, or have drifted away from it for one reason or another, I feel the same way about you as one old-time comedian commented about people who don’t drink at all.

“I pity them because when they get up in the morning that’s as good as they’re going to feel.”

That’s why I’m happy to pass along the information that Woodford Reserve and Esquire magazine are teaming up to to showcase what they say are “the nation’s ultimate well-crafted Manhattans” when they feature 11 “Masters of the Manhattan” on Monday (January 10) during The Manhattan Experience Finals.

The “masters” earned their way into the event by winning regional qualkifying competitions across the country.  The event, set for 6:30 p.m. at Top of The Standard in the Standard Hotel at 848 Washington Street in Manhattan, NY. Their creations will be reviewed by a panel of experts, including Woodford Reserve Master Distiller Chris Morris and spirit journalist Paul Pacult.

Esquire spirits writer David Wondrich developed the “Esquire Manhattan,” featuring Woodford Reserve bourbon. You may want to try it if you’re not attending the shake-off.

1½ ounces Woodford Reserve bourbon
1 ounce Martini & Rossi red vermouth
½ ounce Fernet Branca

Stir well with cracked ice. Strain into chilled cocktail glass and twist swatch of thin-cut orange peel over the top.

Note: For those who think an orange peel garnish is sacrilege when it comes to a Manhattan, feel free to use a maraschino cherry as shown in the illustration. No one will think the less of you.

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Psst: The word for 2011 is pisco

In  the spirits world, the word for 2011 may well be pisco.

How so? Well, the pisco industry public relations mill is grinding out breathless announcements about the South American spirit's astonishing jump in U.S. consumption. All things considered, the numbers are, indeed, impressive.

The Comision Nacional del Pisco of Peru (CONA PISCO), for example, reports that importation of pisco -- a distilled spirit made from grapes -- from Peru during just the first three fiscal quarters of 2010 rose a by 81.1%. The U.S. is the single largest imbiber of pisco outside of Peru, buying up 40.2% of the total export. CONA PISCO also says when all the numbers are in, pisco sales in the fourth quarter of 2010 alone should top the first three quarters.

Within the past three years, more than a dozen different brands of Peruvian pisco have become available in the U.S., largely funded by American investors. More are predicted to launch this year. That means zeroing in on a particular brand or set of brands to suit your personal taste will require a bit of a drinking odyssey if you're not already a pisco aficionado.

The current top-name brand is Campo de Encanto. It is produced in Peru's Ica Valley, home to the historic Port of Pisco. In November it surpassed 304 different piscos to receive the top gold medal and best-of-show honors at the CONA PISCO competition in Lima, Peru.

For a look at the historic aspects of pisco, and the world-famous Pisco Sour cocktail, go here for a report I filed back in July.

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