Vintus Presents 10th Anniversary Wine Tasting

Posted on | May 31, 2014   Bookmark and Share
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On April 28th, Vintus Wines held its 10th anniversary tasting in a ballroom at The Mandarin Oriental. Vintus was founded in April 2004, and features 25 estates. Attendees enjoyed tasting wines from all the producers celebrating the milestone, including Chateau Montelena, Champagne Ayala, Château La Fleur-Pétrus, Talmard and many others. Vintus Wines are available in New York through Martin Scott Wines.

Big Apple Gets a Taste of Cotes de Bordeaux

Posted on | May 31, 2014   Bookmark and Share
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In late April, Côtes de Bordeaux hosted a press and trade tasting and dinner at Bar Bordeaux in the Carlton Hotel. Created in 2007, the Union des Cotes de Bordeaux (UCB) brings together the terroirs of Blaye, Cadillac, Castillion and Francs under a single banner for brand visibility as the AOC Cotes de Bordeaux. Winemakers from the region presented a selection of 17 wines from the four terroirs.

The Legacy of Heublein

Posted on | May 31, 2014   Bookmark and Share
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As exciting as the recent bottled cocktail movement may be, we should resist calling the phenomenon “new.”

Jerry Thomas’s classic How To Mix Drinks, published in 1862, cites the utility of pre-mixed drinks for various outings, such as “fishing and other sporting parties.” His first recipe listed under the heading “Cocktail and Crusta” is Bottle Cocktail, using brandy, water, bitters, gum syrup and Curaçao. Thomas even refers to the flexibility of such portable potables, noting that whiskey or gin could be substituted for brandy.

It was another three decades before bottled cocktails took their first great leap to market, courtesy of Gilbert and Louis Heublein, who would go on to impact the wine and spirits industry in multiple ways. Their father created the Heublein Hotel in Hartford in 1859, and it became so famous that it was known affectionately as “Heubs,” and it served as a dining mecca for businessmen, visiting celebrities, actors, politicians and Trinity College intellectuals. It is almost certain that Samuel Longhorn Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, a Hartford resident from 1871-1891, held court there regularly.

The Heublein brothers, who were born in Germany but practically raised at the hotel, grew into the business in legendary fashion. With “Heubs” known for its “continental atmosphere” and selection of fine beers, wine and spirits, it was only natural that when Hartford’s prestigious First Company Governor’s Foot Guard was preparing its annual summer picnic and military display in 1892, the brothers were asked to supply gallon jugs of pre-mixed cocktails for the thirsty revelers. Gilbert and Louis chose the Martini and the Manhattan as the featured drinks.  

‘Whoops’ Becomes ‘Wow’

But…it rained. So the picnic was postponed and the cocktails were stored in the cellar of the hotel until the rescheduled date. Once again rain fell, so no picnic. After more than a month, the gallons of Manhattan and Martini cocktails were to be unceremoniously dumped out, but a curious bartender who tasted the “aged” drinks thought they were still quite good after the prolonged maceration. The Heublein brothers agreed and quickly saw the potential for commercial success with bottled cocktails.

They created their own facilities for blending, aging and bottling pre-mixed products that would be christened “Club Cocktails.” The name stems from the fact that these Heublein cocktails were served (perhaps first introduced) on the fine dining and club cars of the Pullman Palace, state-of-the-art luxury railroad cars. In a short time, the Club Cocktail business was so successful that it became the centerpiece of the Heublein wine and spirit business in those early years and for many years to come.

Comfort Cocktails

Geared toward the upscale gentleman, the innovation made serving cocktails easier than ever; Heublein did all the work, assuring a quality, carefully blended and aged drink. The era of the convenience food had arrived, and now so had convenience cocktails. The man who did not want to make a mistake when mixing a drink could just open a bottle—with confidence.

The Club Cocktail revolutionized the industry and spawned the RTD (Ready-To-Drink) category, albeit before the category was Ready-To-Be-Named. Granted, the genre has evolved in countless directions since the days of the Heublein brothers, and the Heublein brands ultimately churned through enough regime changes that the ultimate demise of Club Cocktail is hard to pinpoint. But in the product’s prime decades, the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, Club Cocktails were coast-to-coast stars. Heublein’s advertisements became celebrity-driven, boosting sales to an even higher level by “democratizing” the product so that it was no longer just for men.

Which brings us to the present day. Pre-mixed cocktails have the highest percentage of female drinkers of any beverage alcohol category, at around two-thirds. A far cry from their origin as a picnic crowdpleaser, a club car dandy and home entertainer’s comfort pour, RTDs remain a perfect example of Darwinism at its best, having survived by adapting to the ever-changing tastes of the consumer. An example of the Club Cocktail ‎legacy is the Smirnoff Grand Cosmopolitan, Pomegranate Martini and Mojito, available in 1.75L plastic bottles, a very contemporary rendition of Heublein’s original creation.

The flavors and names have changed, but the allure of convenience in cocktails remains powerful. And for all of today’s modern ready-to-enjoy drinks, we can thank Gilbert and Louis Heublein, who started the RTD ball rolling.

Lejay Crème de Cassis Hosts Grand Tea on Nomad Hotel Rooftop

Posted on | May 30, 2014   Bookmark and Share
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On April 13th, Lejay Crème de Cassis hosted a Grand Tea on The Nomad Hotel’s Rooftop, featuring Lejay cocktails and a traditional tea service. The brand teamed with female bartenders across New York and the U.S. Bartender’s Guild to put on the event.

Eastern Malt

Posted on | May 29, 2014   Bookmark and Share
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Some of the most celebrated, top-scoring and highly allocated whiskies in the world today hail not from Scotland, but Japan. Which is sort of amazing, considering most American consumers didn’t know Japan even produced whisky five years ago. “When I began selling Japanese whisky in the U.S., everyone assumed it was made from rice,” recalls Mike Miyamoto, Global Ambassador for Suntory Beam, which owns three of the country’s ten distilleries.

Relative to Scotland’s 500-year-old whisky tradition, Japan’s industry is in its infancy, beginning in 1923 when Shinjiro Torri, who owned a liquor importing company, saw an opportunity to create whisky for the Japanese palate. As “the Japanese didn’t drink whisky and there was no market for it,” reports Miyamoto, “it was a very bold move.”

Torri built his distillery, which later become the Suntory Company, in Yamazaki, a suburban area famous for its water quality. He appointed Masataka Taketsuru, who had studied distilling in Scotland, as his master distiller. (Taketsuru left 11 years later to found his own distillery, Nikka.)

Torri and Taketsuru based their style on Scottish pot-still distillation recipes, so Japanese whisky tastes more similar to Scotch than any other brown spirit. Even today, most Japanese distillers source their barley from Scotland. And yet there is something undeniably Japanese about them that can be hard to put a finger on at first.

Wood, Water & Earth

One key difference is the use of Mizunara oak, in addition to traditional American and Spanish barrels, which imparts distinctive notes of incense and sandalwood. “Japanese distilleries began using Mizunara when they were unable to get enough Spanish oak during the war,” says Gardner Dunn, Suntory Beam Brand Manager, East Coast. “But they continue to use it today because of the sweet spice flavors it imparts, along with a floral, waxy finish.” Whisky in Mizunara barrels matures slower and evaporates more quickly, which also results in a more concentrated—and costly—final product.

 Japanese terroir makes its imprint as well. “Scotland doesn’t have four distinct seasons, but we do,” says Miyamoto. “Look at the Scottish Highlands—it is windswept and barren. Our Hakushu distillery is surrounded by lush greenery, cherry blossoms and wild lilies—you can taste the notes of mint and flowers in the whisky.” Hakushu, located in the mountains outside Tokyo, is one of the highest distilleries in the world—its water source is fresh snow melt. “A lot of Scotch distilleries don’t believe in the influence of environment as much as the Japanese do,” says Dunn. “The water, the minerals, the surroundings where these whiskies are produced and aged give them tremendous complexity and depth.”

 Though Japanese whiskies are now taking off in the U.S., they are—as they have always been—crafted for the Japanese palate. “The Japanese find many single malt Scotches too strong in flavor, and too smoky,” explains Miyamoto. “Our whiskies are more approachable and delicate, with subtler flavors.”

The Japanese also don’t believe in drinking without food, Neyah White, Suntory Beam Brand Manager, West Coast, adds: “For this reason, Japanese whiskies are made to complement a wide range of foods; they have a lighter, more flexible taste profile. The Japanese have no patience for any flavors out of balance.”

The Art of The Blend

Distilleries in Japan take a meticulous, scientific approach to blending, and believe that it can take a dizzying number of different whiskies to achieve the perfect blend. “Blenders are always important, but nowhere are blenders as celebrated as in Japan,” says White. “They provide direction for the cooperage, the distillers, and set the priorities for 20 years into the future. Blenders have incredible resources and get massive respect.” The result of this rigor is huge consistency in taste profile from year to year, and layers upon layers of flavor.

“Leave it to the Japanese to take something invented in the West and make it better,” says Stephen Yorsz, co-creator of Leave Rochelle Out of It, a whisky bar on NYC’s Lower East Side with one of the best Japanese whisky line-ups anywhere. “There is a delicacy to Japanese whisky which you sometimes see in Highland Scotches. Today I see a lot of Scottish single malts which have become blatantly Americanized with excess wood and sweetness—I call this ‘Scotch bubblegum’—yet the Japanese malts are always incredibly pure and refined.”

Old Before Their Time

Interestingly, Japanese whisky seems to achieve complexity and balance years before many other whiskies. “Because the raw distillate is so pure, and the water sources so pristine, Japanese whisky can take on this ethereal quality very young,” says Kelly Levison, spirits manager at Domaine Select Wine Estates, which recently began importing Chichibu Japanese Whisky. “One reason some distilleries age for so long is to mask imperfections,” explains Levison. “The Japanese have a certain way of doing things that is very precise and flawless.”

Ichiro Akuto, the grandson of the founder of the famous Hanyu distillery, built the Chichibu distillery in 2007 northwest of Tokyo where the winters are cold and the summers hot and humid—a climate which also accelerates maturity. Only tiny quantities of Chichibu’s 3-year-old single malts (aged in bourbon and Mizunara barrels) are available in the U.S. and they sell out as soon as they arrive—at $250 a bottle. “One restaurant told me he wouldn’t pay this much for an 18-year-old single malt Scotch, but he would have no problem selling a 3-year-old Japanese whisky for the same price,” says Levison.

The Japanese only export about 10% of their production, and less than 10,000 cases make it to the U.S. each year. It is a brilliant marketing strategy: By only exporting their very best whiskies, the Japanese quickly established a reputation as an impeccably top-quality producer. The price points are high (the Yamazaki 12-, 18- and 25-year-olds are $65, $200 and $1,600 respectively, for example) but it hasn’t slowed sales. “At Rochelle’s we specialize in affordable whisky, and I do believe Japanese whisky really delivers for the price,” says Yorsz. “To have a really well-thought out, balanced, smooth, floral whisky for under $50 wholesale, or a 3-year-old whisky that drinks like a 12-year-old, is unique. Across the board, they are competitive at their price points. And when they run out of stock, they don’t jack up the prices.”
Japanese Invasion

Distilleries are innovating too, and a greater diversity of expressions is reaching American shores. Suntory’s Hakushu 12 Year Old is a peated whisky—one of the only made in Japan—and last year the distillery released the Hakushu Heavily Peated. Older expressions, like the Hakushu 18 and the Yamazaki 25 are hitting the market. Even the ultra-traditionalist, Nikka Distillery—famous for their dry, subtle style, compared with Suntory’s generally sweeter, rounder profiles—unveiled a non-age stated whisky called Coffey Grain ($70) distilled from corn and aged in ex-Bourbon casks. Imported by Anchor Distilling Co., Nikka only sends several thousand cases of their whiskies to the U.S.

 Refreshingly, the relatively sudden rise to fame is not the result of big marketing budgets. “They don’t subscribe to the marketing gimmicks that other brands go for—no bogus back story or talk about ‘hand bottling,’” says Yorsz, “and yet most serious whisky drinkers today know about Japanese whisky, and request them by name. Yamazaki is a huge call brand.” It doesn’t hurt that Suntory was named Distiller of the Year for the third time in a row at the International Spirits Challenge awards. At the 2012 World Whisky Awards, Yamazaki 25 Year Old was crowned World’s Best Single Malt and Nikka won for Blended Malt.

“There was so little Japanese whisky available here just a few years ago, it was impossible to do a survey” says Gardner. “But today it is a real category—not a novelty or an oddity.” Suntory’s recent $16 billion purchase of Beam Inc. will only help Japanese whisky gain a greater foothold in the U.S. market. “I recently overheard a bartender say that you can’t open a bar and pretend to be serious about whisky and not carry Japanese whisky,” says Gardner. “The category has arrived.”

Gallo Wine Sales-NJ Celebrates Addition of Allegrini to Portfolio

Posted on | May 29, 2014   Bookmark and Share
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On April 23rd, Gallo Wine Sales of New Jersey held a wine tasting kicking off the wines of Allegrini with retailers and restaurateurs at Fiorino Ristorante in Summit.

Winescan Wins Wild Goose Award

Posted on | May 29, 2014   Bookmark and Share
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On April 16th, the Irish American Bar Association of New York hosted the fourth Annual Thomas Jefferson Wine Geese Wine Tasting and “Wild Goose” Awards, held at the home of Irish Consul General Noel Kilkenny and his wife Hanora. Sheila Tendy was recognized for her WineScan app, which uses smartphone bar code scan technology to capture, store and share wine information.

Fedway Associates Holds Spring Tasting in Atlantic City

Posted on | May 29, 2014   Bookmark and Share
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On April 23rd, Fedway Associates held its annual Spring Tasting at The Borgata in Atlantic City. The event was attended by over 6,000 people and featured more than 1,000 different products with samples offered by the hundreds of wine and spirits suppliers in attendance. Fedway’s next tasting will be September 17th at The Venetian in Garfield, NJ.

Champagne Bollinger & Terlato Wines Launch 2002 R.D.

Posted on | May 29, 2014   Bookmark and Share
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On May 5th, Jérôme Philipon, President of Champagne Bollinger, visited New York to debut the 2002 Bollinger R.D. for the trade at NYC’s The Peacock. An abbreviation for “recently disgorged”, R.D. is a Grand Année that is allowed to mature for anywhere from 8 to 20 years or even more. The result is a wine with both freshness and maturity.

Diageo and Atlantic W&S Celebrate Cinco de Mayo with Don Julio

Posted on | May 29, 2014   Bookmark and Share
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Diageo and Atlantic Wine & Spirits recently celebrated Cinco de Mayo by conducting a full line Don Julio Tequila sales blitz.

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