The Rum Diaries



“There is something fresh and crisp about the first hours of a Caribbean day, a happy anticipation that something is about to happen, maybe just up the street or around the next corner.” ― Hunter S. Thompson, The Rum Diary

Rum gets a bad reputation because of mass-marketed industrial rums notorious for bite, dryness, and hideous hangovers.  They are rarely palatable unless rendered invisible by sickly sweet sodas or sugary coconut mixers.  A great rum should drink more like a cognac; it is neither sweet nor cloying, but instead rich, deep in flavor and texture, heady, aromatic, and dry.  A sip of fine rhum will transport you to a leeward island surrounded by pristine blue water, mainsail hoisted; the Caribbean sun soaking your skin.

No, that wasn’t a misspelling! “Rhum” is rum – but it’s rum made from sugar cane juice rather than the less expensive, mass-produced molasses.  Unable to get industrial molasses, the French settlers in Martinique (and later, Guadeloupe) improvised and began to make rum like they made cognac back home.  They simply substituted sugar cane for grapes:  pressing the cane, letting it rest on the lees, then distilled with pot stills.  As French colonies, they work with VS/VSOP/AOC classifications (most often associated with cognac). These regulations ensure that “Rhum Agricole” remains the gold standard for quality rum worldwide.

Demerara rum, meanwhile, is made only in Guyana from the sugar cane grown along the Demerara River. This was the rum sent to the British Navy: a “rum ration” was given twice daily to British sailors and mixed with water and citrus – in order to prevent scurvy – and called “grog”.  Currently the only distillery on the tiny nation of Guyana is El Dorado. The aged rums from this distillery carry a deep, smoky flavor.

As for the Cola or bottled pina colada mixers..arrrgh. Nay, matey.  These rums should be mixed with fresh fruit juice, a good nectar, or simply on the rocks; with a twist of lime if you choose.

el dorado rum 5EL DORADO 5 YEAR DEMERARA “Navy” RHUM  (Guyana) - $20.00

 Distilled in both column and wooden stills before maturing for five years in bourbon oak casks, Demerara Distillers first started production in 1670.  An essential component to any “boat drink” or rum-based cocktail.  A butterscotch driven, spicy entry leads to an evolving palate of fruit, caramel and toasted coconut fading to a vanilla-tinted glow.




 …is characterized by a rich aroma of dark fruit and roasted nuts leading to a hearty body of fruit, nuts, smoky oak and vanilla followed by hints of spice in the warm, lingering finish. Réserve Spéciale is a blend of rhums aged up to ten years in French and American oak barrels in the distillery aging warehouse.

CAPOVILLACAPOVILLA “LIBERATION” RHUM AGRICOLE– (Ile de Marie-Galante, near Guadeloupe)  $137.00

Oak, pencil shaving & blood orange on the vibrant nose.  Hints of camphor that is very typical of rhum agricole. Much less “tropical” than expected.  Very fresh and surprisingly light. Medium long, clean finish.  An unusual rhum – more elegant and complex than most.  Certainly not for mixing!

I came to love rum because of my Uncle Greg, a sailor if ever one was. He has circumnavigated twice, sailed the Atlantic and Pacific, and for nearly fifteen years he and my Aunt have run a charter sail company at Caneel Bay, St. John, USVI. They were kind enough to share their recipe for Rum Punch with me, and I am happy to share it with you.   And if you find yourself in the USVI, go take a sail with them!

“Spitfire” Rum Punch 

“It’s similar to Plantation Punch, except we prefer it without bitters. Grenadine is for the color, mostly, but it does add a certain flavor that makes it cohesive. The lime juice cuts the sweetness.” 

2oz fresh squeezed orange juice

2oz pineapple juice

½oz fresh lime juice

2oz El Dorado 5 year Rum

Dash of grenadine

Freshly grated nutmeg

1oz Neisson Aged Reserve Rum

Mix all ingredients together in a pitcher or shaker.  Serve over ice.

Float 1oz of aged rum (Neisson) on top.  

Grate fresh nutmeg over each glass.

–Jen Ryan


refosk winesVinakoper Capris Refošk Rose 2012 $17.99

The true test of a rose is to taste it first at a cold temperature; then at room temperature to see if it retains its base flavors. Alas, many roses fail this exam; this Refosco rose does not! Light strawberry & cranberry jam on the nose give way to a rounded, almost creamy finish; it is just acidic enough to produce a “pop” on the palate but not as dry as a Provence rose.

Vinakoper Capris Refošk Red 2011 $17.99

Fresh fruit with gentle tannins, wonderfully incorporated into a harmonious and full bodied wine, with notes of sour cherry, blueberry, and Mediterranean spices.  The tangy acidity enlivens the palate.  Don’t be afraid to serve this with a slight chill!

slovenia mapSlovenia has grown into a fine wine country in recent years.  Just south of Austria and sharing a border with Italy, Slovenian wine marries the nerviness Austria with the boldness of Italy.   The king of all grapes in Slovenia is the red Refošk varietal, primarily grown in the Brda district where it develops into a full bodied red with a good amount of tannins.  It is prized amongst sommeliers for being extremely versatile for food pairing and offering tremendous value.

koper vineyard doorThe hills surrounding the Adriatic port city of Koper are covered with grape vines, a testament to the long tradition of wine making in the region. Some five hundred hectares of these vineyards belong to Vinakoper, a highly regarded local producer founded in 1947.

With the warm breezes that blow off the Adriatic and the fertile soil that nourishes the grapes, Vinakoper occupies one of the prime growing locations in the world. It offers a wide range of reds and whites suitable for almost any taste. The high quality wines it makes are known throughout Slovenia as some of the best available. As a result, most of Vinakoper’s wine is earmarked for domestic sale – only a small fraction of the production is available to the US for importation.

To purchase, call 212-924-6999, or click here.                       -Yannick Benjamin

Blotches, Blights, and Bad Bottles

Red Blotch Disease

Came across this interesting article from the viticulture experts at UC Davis. Obviously, plant leaves need to remain green in order to grow properly! This blight seems to be obtuse in nature and cannot be easily detected. It seems to have affected mostly California vines; one can only speculate as to the cause, but the hideous droughts surely should be looked at as a factor.

kirk-chokes-on-bad-wine1Wine “disasters” can easily qualify as :

Screw-caps and glass stoppers are more likely to ensure you have a good bottle of wine, but even they aren’t foolproof. Wine is affected by any number of factors that can contribute to it going bad before you open it.

Wine listDon’t ever be afraid to ask your somm or waiter to try the wine if you think its corked, or if it doesn’t meet your expectations.  So many people don’t speak up for fear of being embarrassed; but we say its your money and your palate. You deserve a wine that is of good quality that ultimately, brings you joy and pleasure. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve paid $10 or $10,000 for a bottle. If it’s not up to par, don’t hesitate to assert yourself. Don’t second guess your instincts.  99% of the time your instinct IS RIGHT. 

If you buy your wine from Le Du’s and you have gotten a “bad bottle”, put the cork back in and return it to the store as soon as possible — preferably within 24 hours. We will gladly exchange the bottle.  Its important for us to know what bottles are bad so that if others return the same wine, we can remove them from the shelves as well as inform the distributor/importer to the problem. The rough industry estimate is that one bottle out of every twelve (there are 12 bottles in a case) will be corked or in some way altered negatively.  We do our best to control the stability of the bottles in our store by keeping it at or below 65 degrees.  Personally, I don’t trust wine shops that keep their doors open or where the employees aren’t wearing long sleeves. That’s a sure sign that they don’t care a whole lot about quality.

Alright, that said we are waiting on our friend to bring us some lovely wines from the Canary Islands to try (more on those to come…), and my dear friend Jerome Legras (Legras & Haas Champagne!) is bringing me a very hard-to-find bottle of Marie Noelle Ledru champagne. Mme. Ledru is a micro-grower in Ambonnay and something of an eccentric legend.  Alas, she is retiring and her hand-turned and disgorged bottles will be no more. This will be one to savor.

I had the pleasure to drink three of Mme. Ledru’s champagnes for my birthday about two years back, and the somm at the restaurant I brought them to was so impressed that he waived the corkage fee.  Mme. Ledru’s retirement is a reminder that wine is perhaps the ultimate human creation: it comes from a place of love and care, and once the winemaker is gone, so is the essence of the product they poured their soul into. The tradition can be carried on, but never equaled. 




Wed Winesday Part Twos

Tobala Mezcal Vago…for the WIN. Superb sage aromas and a gentle smokiness. Mezcal is quickly gaining traction and popularity – likely because it appeals to anyone who drinks spirits. Those who love scotch whisky adore its savory character and smokiness; those who already drink tequila appreciate the diversity of mezcal.

We also tried a couple of Hungarian wines, dry style boytritis whites, a Blaufrankisch, a few cabs…jeez. we need some food.

Wine Wednesday…

ha grapeHey kids! Jen and Duncan here. Hope your summer is going as cool as ours is.

Should be a rather busy day around here as we get to try new stuff, including the latest Tobala from MEZCAL VAGO … man alive, is this stuff special.  JT said it was one of the “top five best spirits” he’d EVER tried. And he tries a LOT.  Also, a small-batch cider and a veritable slew of Austrian wines.

And take a look at this study published in today’s WASHINGTON POST…interesting statistics here. NYC is definitely a wine/booze city if you ask us; but the rest of the state seems to contradict this trend!


Bordeaux’s Secret Weapon

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CHATEAU HAUT-SELVE GRAVES 2012 (Sauvignon, Semillon, Sauvignon Gris)  $19.99

This is a bold wine that carries smooth, ripe acidity. There is a beautifully floral nose – magnolia, gardenia, lily balanced with citrus. On the palate, it never gets tart or grapefruit-driven, as you might expect from Sauvignon Blanc.  It’s smoothed out from the Sémillon, which imparts a supple, lush character. The oak isn’t overwhelming but instead brings body and length to the finish. It will pair magically with seafood, especially meatier fishes and crab, but also can be served as an aperitif.  This is a contemporary, complex interpretation of Bordeaux Blanc. 

Even if you adore Sauvignon Blanc, it’s probably safe to say you have probably never had a Bordeaux Blanc.  Perhaps it’s because they’re often overshadowed by the more hyped reds and Sauternes.  A white Bordeaux from a top quality producer is a fascinating expression of this noble terroir, a wine of depth and dimension, melding aromas like starfruit and pineapple with Sauvignon’s grassy and savory elements.  But there is an X-Factor in which is an important aspect of white Bordeaux’s identity:  Sémillon.

When fully ripe the fleshy, unctuous character and soft tropical aromas of dry Sémillon make it an ideal blending partner for the typically pungent Sauvignon.  It adds weight and class to bright fruit flavors of Sauvignon Blanc.  Fans of the classic Sauvignons of Sancerre and New Zealand will find a lot to like here, as will lovers of the sumptuous whites of Burgundy and the Rhône.