The Most Jamaican of Rums

Popular consciousness of rum is so dominated by a few mass-produced, mass-market products that you’d almost think there’s no such thing as an artisanally-crafted fine sipping rum, but this would be a mistake.  For better or worse, sugar cane spirits are inextricably bound up with Europe’s colonial past, and the blending of cultures that resulted have given rum a striking array of styles, each with its own unique story and many that can go head-to-head with the world’s greatest brandies or whiskies.

In Britain, rum historically was strongly associated with the Royal Navy, which issued a daily ration to sailors that continued until 1970. In the age of sail, space was tight, and stewards could not risk ruining precious gunpowder with accidentally spilled rum.  The Navy therefore requisitioned rum that was 57% alcohol, a strength at which the spirit would still allow gunpowder to ignite after soaking.  This also served as a way of testing the alcoholic strength, as a successful ignition was a guarantee that the product was “up to proof” (hence the term).  That 57% benchmark carries forward to this day; In the UK “100 proof” or “Navy Strength” refers to a spirit that is 57% alcohol by volume.

Revived from dormancy under the guidance of renowned drinks historian Dave Wondrich, this blend of Jamaican pot still rums is the very definition of old school.  An equal blend of two styles of heavy pot still rum, its components are shipped in barrel to England to be blended and bottled in London.  No molasses or spirit caramel is added to Smith & Cross, so it has a deep amber color, lighter than some of the more familiar Jamaican rums.

Smith & Cross Traditional Jamaica Rum$30.00smithcross.skinny

The full-bodied Wedderburn rum (aged approx. 6 months) supplies some vivid floral elements and an earthy, molasses-y funk.  The lighter (but still quite chunky) Plummer rum is aged for 18 to 36 months and fills in the top end with subtle barrel spice and wonderful caramel apple, mango and vanilla.  Three years is about as long as you really want to age this style of rum lest the vivid, ripe tropical notes be overwhelmed by the wood.

Rum as we know it is an artifact of the sugar trade.  The Portuguese brought sugar cane to the New World from the Azores in the 16th century, and before long countries from Spain to Sweden were planting it to satisfy Europe’s insatiable sweet tooth.   Since rum was originally conceived as a way to use up the molasses that was left over from sugar refining, each colony developed unique styles based on the peculiarities of the home country.  The French had developed a domestic sugar industry based on sugar beets, so did not need cane sugar from Haiti, Guadeloupe and Martinique flooding the market, so these islands became known for a product distilled directly from fresh cane juice, called Rhum Agricole.  Austria had no tropical colonies, but its thirst for rum was such that they were forced to develop a substitute made from grain alcohol and added flavoring.  The British initially shipped cut sugar cane from the West Indies to New England to be refined.   But after the revolution they were forced to relocate production closer to the source, giving rise to unique styles in Trinidad, Guyana, Barbados, and, my personal favorite, Jamaica.   Jamaican rum is typically the fullest, most ester-laden rum in the Caribbean and is unique in relying on spontaneous fermentation rather than the ubiquitous cultured yeasts.   These have the full spectrum of sugarcane-derived aromas and express an inimitable sense of place.

To me, rum is most at home in cocktails.  During the tiki bar craze, bartenders created secret drink recipes based on fruit juices, various complex flavored syrups, and rum.  One of the major themes was drinks using more than one type of rum in the same drink.  When was the last time you saw a drink with more than one whiskey or more than one gin? Such is the diversity of rum that the iconic rum cocktail, the Mai Tai, uses both dark (usually Jamaica) and light (usually Trinidad) rums, plus a float of overproof rum.  Wonderful in egg nog or hot toddies, in planter’s punches or daiquiris, and marvelous on its own (or with a little water), Smith & Cross is a staple of my home bar, and deserves a place on yours.



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The Winter of Riesling

Happy New Year!

On Saturday, January 3rd, we had our first wine tasting of 2015 and we featured our Staff Favorites. The winner for the tasting was in my opinion the Darting Riesling from the Pfalz region of Germany.  The Pfalz is one of the warmest and driest regions in Germany and it is also sheltered by the Haardt Mountains, the northern continuation of the Vosges Mountains of Alsace; this mountain chain has darting1a rain shadow effect thus keeping it dry. The soils in the Pfalz region are primarily volcanic-based which adds a layer of complexity and gives the wines a really distinctive character.

Darting Dürkheimer Michelsberg Riesling Kabinett 2013 $19.99

fileNfGFn.jpg.highThis is a beautifully balanced Kabinett wine that has all the high acid components that you expect from a German Riesling. It has an intense bouquet of dried honey, stone fruits, acacia flowers, and a hint of chamomile. When tasting the wine it has hint of sweetness to it but it beautifully balanced by its high acidity and those stone fruits of peaches and nectarines that linger on the palate.

Weingut Darting owns land in some of the prime vineyards in the Pflaz, and the family has a history of growing grapes that goes back to 1780, but it was not until 1989 that they began to sell their wines under their own label.   Owner-winemaker Helmut Darting continues tdarting2o adhere to the winemaking philosophy he learned apprenticing at Müller-Catoir under the iconic (and now retired) Hans-Günter Schwarz, including long cool fermentations in stainless steel, and relying on the grapes’ natural yeasts. This delicious Riesling is from the town of Bad Dürkheim and comes from the respected vineyard of Michelsberg which also has some pockets of marl to give this Riesling some texture and weight.

Happy New Year!


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A Maverick in Every Sense: Mount Eden Wolff Vineyard Chardonnay

viewPerched atop the Santa Cruz Mountains with a pensive gaze over Silicon Valley is Mount Eden Vineyards.  In terms of California’s winemaking history it does not get much better than Mount Eden. Founded in 1945 by Martin Ray, the estate drew inspiration from French immigrants hailing from Burgundy. It was one of the first estates to translate the story and composition of California’s soil into a glass of wine. Long before the notion of “terroir’ became a buzzword, Mount Eden gave us a transparent window into the soul of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Proprietor and winemaker Jeffrey Patterson says it best:I’m a believer in dry farming, poor soil, high stress, and you’ve got to have a view.”

Mount Eden Wolff Vineyard Chardonnay 2012 $24.99

edenHazelnuts, twists of lemon peel, and quince entertain the nose.  A rush of concentrated notes of orchard and tropical fruits paired with lemon verbena shortbread intensely open on the palate. This initial concentration is guided and refreshed by a cutting acidity that provides great texture and layering for this wine. Further, a judicious use of oak complements the creamy notes of this wine without obstructing its transparency.

The Wolff vineyard was planted in 1976 and is the most mature site in the Edna valley.  Southern exposure, biodynamic farming, and steep slopes all play a major role in the vineyard’s success. Mount Eden’s wine is a pairing of two pioneering elements in California winemaking history: a maverick producer and a path-breaking site.



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Rasteau: Chateauneuf’s Little Bro!


This is the time of year where just having the heat on is simply not enough.  So instead of turning up the radiator, why not try some delicious Rasteau?   I came into work on Saturdayannick1y and my partner in crime Matt Beaton immediately got into my face and insisted that I try a bottle of Domaine La Soumade “Prestige” 2011 from Rasteau.  Rausteau is one of the best kept secrets in France.  From the Southern Rhône, just north of Avignon, Rasteau was previously one of the villages which made grapes for the general Côtes du Rhône appellation before being elevated in 2010.  Though small and virtually unknown, it offers Chateauneuf-du-Pape style and quality for half the price!

I have been fortunate enough to have rolled around the vineyards of Rasteau and I was heartily impressed by what was being offered in this quiet little town. One of the true standouts from Rasteau is Domaine la Soumade.

Located on small rolling hills, Rasteau looks out to the Dentelles de Montmirail and is a 20 minute drive from the legendary wine region of Chateauneuf du Pape.


The majority of the vineyards in Rasteau are south-facing, and the great diversity of soils, which consists mostly of sandy subsoil and marl with a mixture of granite and big pudding stones locally known as galets, and it is what gives the wines from Rasteau a very strong character. Prior to being recognized as a dry red wine appellation; Rasteau was known for its fortified Grenache very much in the same style that you might find in Banyuls.

Domaine La Soumade was founded by Andre Romero in 1979. In 1996 Andre’s son Frederick took full control of the wine making duties after obtaining his Diploma in viticulture and oenology. By 2002, a new winery was built with state of the art equipment but still using traditional methods. Within the same year they hired famed Bordeaux and Flying Winemaker Stephane Derencourt as their consultant.

Domaine La Soumade’s style since having Derencourt on board has changed to a softer style with more finesse.

The 2011 Cuvee Prestige consists of 70% Grenache; 20% Syrah; and 10% Mourvedre and 50% of the wine has been aged in larger neutral wooden foudres and the other 50% in concrete tanks. The last vintage I had from Soumade was the 2009 and I was amazed by the sheer power of the 2011 but still retaining so much elegance and purity. It is a textbook Grenache-dominated blend from the Rhone with its beautiful notes of jasmine, lavender, and distinct smoky note to it. This wine will immediately make you run over to the butcher and order something meaty!


Domaine de la Soumade Rasteau Prestige 2011 $32.99

“Opaque ruby. Showing more floral character than the Confiance, with scents of lavender, candied rose, black raspberry and cola. Supple and sweet on entry, then firmer in the mid-palate, offering vibrant dark berry and floral pastille flavors plus a hint of cracked pepper. Finishes sweet, gently tannic and broad, with resonating florality and excellent persistence.” Josh Raynolds, Vinous



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Montrose: The Well-Mannered Gentleman of Bordeaux

The 2010 Saint-Estèphe de Montrose is a refined, well-mannered gentleman of the northern Médoc.  It greets the nose with classic left-bank cedar, wet gravel and tobacco notes.   On the palate, this wine conveys a sense of fruit that is complete but balanced, framed by firm but elegant ripe skin tannins.   Time in the glass or the decanter reveals a deeply-layered wine with the potential to age 5-8 years or more. 

Le Saint-Estèphe de Montrose 2010 – $32.99solar-panels-10002401-1365642894


It is no secret to anyone that we’re big fans of Chateau Montrose.  Unapologetically big and dense, yet masterfully precise, these wines can age into something truly marvelous  This estate has had a reputation for the highest quality for centuries, well  before the official 1855 chateau classification.  It was once even owned by the Ségur family, at a time when they also owned Lafite and Latour, as well as the eponymous Calon-Ségur.  In its current form Montrose consists of 235 hectares of gentle slopes of gravel and black sand over marl and, unusually for Bordeaux, comprising a contiguous block of vineyards around the Chateau.  Montrose typically makes dense, cerebral wines that age magnificently.   The past few decades have brought innovations such as a program to make the winery 100% energy self-sufficient, as well as winemaking improvements aimed at further refinement and polish, while still staying true to the estate’s historic style.

The 2010 harvest yielded an unprecedented amount of excellent fruit, meaning that not only were the quality benchmarks for most classed estates remarkably high,  many of them produced some extremely worthwhile second and third wines.  In the case of our beloved Montrose, they took the opportunity to do something they’d never tried before.  The 2010 St-Estèphe de Montrose represents the first official release of a wine that had previously been reserved for the enjoyment of the chateau’s owners and staff.


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Utterly Seamless: Louis Jadot Beaune Aux Cras

“The utter seamless and detailed integration of their wines turned my respect into staunch loyalty.”

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Burgundy can constantly surprise you.  I’d been aware of Louis Jadot for years before I joined Le Du’s but it was the barrel tasting with winemaker Frédéric Barnier which turned my respect into staunch loyalty. Jadot is what’s called a négociant.  It means, by and large, they purchase grapes from independent growers, then make the wine under their own steam (though it must be said, despite the perception, Jadot’s production is over 60% estate fruit).  Time was, négociants ruled the roost in Burgundy, but the 20th century saw the rise of the small grower bottling from their own estates.  As a result, exemplary houses like Louis Jadot were marginalized.

But, to quote Eric Asimov from the New York Times, “The world of Burgundy has evolved remarkably in the last 30 years. The best of the big négociants, like Louis Jadot, are meticulous producers of top-quality wines and, in some cases, major landholders themselves.”

I was taken aback by the utter seamless and detailed integration of their wines.  Jadot has a house style which can only be describe as transparent, in the best possible way.  They communicate their particular terroir with focus and precision.  All of this was driven home when I spent a Saturday night drinking their latest release, the first vintage of the Premier Cru from Beaune, Aux Cras.  More and more, it is a rare thing to find Burgundy at this quality level for a reasonable price.  After tasting with Mr. Barnier, I have developed a deep personal connection with these wines.  They communicate so much which is great about the wines of Burgundy and I will forever be a patron of Louis Jadot.

Louis Jadot Beaune 1er Cru Aux Cras 2012 $59.00

4Greeting the palate with dense layers of ripe fruit, Jadot’s Aux Cras features a bounty of fresh red raspberries, cherry pie, and hints of stewed red fruit that move into more savory   notes of thyme and spice driven by a stony mineral edge in the mid palate.  “Sophisticated,” best describes the polished tannins that guide the well-defined layers of this wine to its finish.  The brilliance here is the deft pairing of plentiful fruit with crushed rock and savory earth— seamless throughout. This wine is showing well now, but it will also age for 5+ years.


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Put a little California in your New Year’s Eve!

Schramsberg is an American treasure.  It is, without question, our definitive sparkling wine.  It has been served at every White House for the last 50 years.  When President Nixon and the Chinese Premier clinked glasses for their “Toast to Peace”, it was Schramsberg in the glass.  Jacob Schram was one of the first to plant grapes on the mountainsides of Napa Valley.

















To quote no less a personage than Robert Louis Stevenson:

“In this wild spot, I did not feel the sacredness of ancient cultivation. It was still raw, it was no Marathon, and no Johannesburg; yet the stirring sunlight, and the growing vines, and the vats and bottles in the cavern, made a pleasant music for the mind. Here, also, earth’s cream was being skimmed and garnered: and the customers can taste, such as it is, the tang of the earth in this green valley. So local, so quintessential is a wine, that it seems the very birds in the verandah might communicate a flavor, and that romantic cellar influence the bottle next to be uncorked in Pimlico, and the smile of jolly Mr. Schram might mantle in the glass.”

I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Schramsberg.  It was one of the first great sparkling wines I had the good fortune to taste.  It was the Blanc de Noir, and it still lingers in my memory.

Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs 2010 $39.99

“Smoke and honey, roasted pear and dried pineapple, toasted brioche and fresh cinnamon.  The first flash of refined fruit is artfully contrasted by the unctuous extract in the mid-palate, effortlessly coating the mouth with an expression of the California sun.  This mix of restraint and hedonism is matched by pepper spice and tart citrus on the lingering finish.  Undoubtedly of Champagne quality but with a richness typical of California.”

The modern history of Schramsberg began in the sixties, with Jack and Jamie Davis.  It was they who re-purposed Jacob Schram’s winery, by then abandoned, towards the production of sparkling.

From noted wine critic Nathan Chroman:

“Some producers will earn a paragraph in the history of sparkling wines in California. The coming of the French will need a page. But it will merit a chapter to spell out what Jack and Jamie have done here.”

To my mind, one of the great virtues of Schramsberg is their local roots.  Many of the houses which produce California sparkling, made in the méthode traditionnelle, are outcroppings of Champagne.  While Schramsberg, like many of the best producers, employ grapes from cooler areas, California is not Champagne.  It is not always possible to directly export style and techniques from one region to another with completely successful results.  The current owner/winemaker, Hugh Davies, was born amongst the vineyards, raised beneath the California sun.  While Schramsberg has taken Champagne as its source of inspiration, it is undeniably and quintessentially American.


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