Rum is waiting for you!

If I were to describe an aged spirit made across a large geographical area featuring an eclectic and compelling array of styles whose versatility allows it to be served in cocktails or savored neat, you’d be forgiven for thinking I was speaking of whiskey.  At a time when the demand for whiskey is outrageous, when Cognac has become a global brand, when tequila and mezcal, formerly Rum’s partners in the basement of public opinion, has gained world-wide recognition, rum continues to languish.  The reason is fairly simple.  Rum has never had its Patron.  It has never had a brand which breaks the barrier of public perception and elevates the entire category.  Twenty years ago, you would have been hard pressed to find someone willing to pay good money for a Tequila.  Patron changed that.  Rum has never had its Patron.

Which is both a shame and a blessing.  A shame because it is without question a category which deserves elevation, but a blessing because the value to those of us in the know is astounding.  The common misconception of rum is that the cheap stuff (you know the names) represents all rum is or can be.  This couldn’t be farther from the truth.  Rum is produced all over the Caribbean and Central America in a dizzying array of styles and flavor profiles.  From the chewy sweetness of Guyana to the rich elegance of Barbados to the raw power of Jamaica to the ethereal complexity of French Martinique, rum comes in all shapes and colors.  It can be made from molasses or pure sugar cane.  It can be sweet as syrup or dry as Cognac.  It can be fresh and vibrant when young or come to possess stunning complexity with years in the barrel.  Coming full circle, the only spirits region with similar diversity would be Single Malt Scotch but I would argue Rum outpaces even Scotland for sense of place and variation of spirit.

The quality is there.  The value is there.  A profound universe of Rum already exists.  It is simply waiting for the barriers to fall and the world to notice.  To do my part, I’m suggesting 3 exceptional Rums, each representing a different style and region, any one of which will completely change your conception of what Rum can be.

Ministry of Rum Collection Saint Lucia Pot Still 5 Year $40.00

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Geeky Distilling Information-The molasses used at St Lucia Distillers was sourced from Guyana and contained 65% dissolved sugar, one of the highest sugar contents of any molasses found in the Caribbean. The high sugar content is attributed to the age of the Guyanese sugar mill. There are three stills at St Lucia Distillers Ltd. A continuous column still, the Vendome still and another smaller pot still.  The distillate is condensed at about 82% ABV.  After distillation, the distillate is collected in large tanks where several batches of distillate are blended. From these tanks, second-use American oak barrels are filled with fresh rum at about 70% ABV.

JT’s Take-Where to start on Ed Hamilton and the Ministry of Rum?  Ed is the English speaking world’s foremost authority on Rum.  Period.  End of Story.  He runs an AMAZING website called Ministry of Rum.  He travels around the world educating people about the wonders of rum.  He is also an importer.  This is a direct barrel selection from Ed Hamilton, the Minister of Rum, himself.  It totals around 123 cases.  It is one of the more profound molasses based rums you’re likely to come across.  As opposed to the rest of the Rums on this list, this Santa Lucia will be closer to the sweet, powerful flavor profile you’re likely to associate with rum.

Tasting Note“The aroma of this full-flavored, pot still rum explodes when the bottle is opened. Hints of pear, green apple and papaya in the initial taste give way to a spicy blend of cinnamon, tropical fruit and smoky oak. The finish is long, as you would expect in a 100% pot still rum, with baking spice tones on top of a slightly smoky foundation.”  Ed Hamilton, The Ministry of Rum

Neisson Aged Rum Reserve Speciale  $70.00

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Geeky Distilling Information– The Neisson distillery, built on Martinique’s northwest coast, benefits from some of the richest soil on the islands.  The family-owned distillery operates a single-colum, copper, continuous still and produces about 400,000 liters of rhum agricole annually.  All of the Neisson rhums are distilled, aged, and bottled only at the Martinique distillery.

JT’s Take-The important thing to know about Rhum Agricole, aka Rum from French Martinique, is these were historically made to take the place of Cognac.  Many who follow wine know about the Phylloxera outbreak in the late 19th century, which decimated the vineyards of Europe.  What many don’t think about is how that also destroyed the production capacity of Cognac.  Cognac being a brandy distilled from grapes, the French called on their colonies to make a distilled spirit which could serve as a substitute until the vineyards came back online.  French Martinique answered the call.  Made from pure sugar cane, rather than molasses, Neisson is one of the most elegant spirits I’ve ever come across.  Imagine the jubilance of Island rum with the ethereal beauty of Cognac and you’re close to the mark.  This is a world-class spirit, no question.

Tasting Note– “Neisson Rhum Agricole Reserva Speciale 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.”  5 Stars, Highest Recommendation, F. Paul Pacault’s Spirits Journal

Capovilla PMG Liberation Rhum  $137.00

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Geeky Distilling Information-It’s hard to explain why this is such an exceptional bottle without getting EXTREMELY geeky.  So we’ll just have to dive in.  This is the work of Vittorio Capovilla, one of the two best producers of Eau de Vie in the world, made from the stills of the Bielle distillery located on Marie-Galante, a small very rural island just off the coast of Guadaloupe.  So here’s the geeky part…the sugar cane (and this is all sugar cane, no molassess) is considered to be one of the greatest, rarest forms of sugar cane (Canne rouge B47.259) in existence.  The sugar cane is fermented for five days (unheard of in typical rum production) then distilled in alembic pot stills designed specifically for Mr. Capovilla before being aged for 10 years in First Fill Chateau D’Yquem barrels.

JT’s Take-In distilling circles, Capovilla is as close to a god as it gets.  Based out of Italy, he makes some of the purest, more arresting Eau de Vie on the planet.  He goes neck and neck with Reisetbauer, with Hans once saying to me the only Eau de Vie producer in his same class being Capovilla.  I can’t help but agree.  There is tremendous complexity here.  One of the hallmarks of Capovilla is his ability to capture the fresh essence of his base material then magnify it out into surprising variations.  Never heavy or ponderous, his Libreration hovers so far above the traditional conception of rum, it might as well be a different spirit.

Tasting Note“Fresh oak that speaks first while blood oranges, mocha and touches of tamarind come a little later and make it fresh.   There are also hints of camphor and fern that are very ‘rhum agricole’ as well as pineapple liqueur and touches of coconut. Beautiful freshness. Fruity and nervous, very different from most other young rhums.   It’s almost a fruit salad and it’s much less ‘tropical’ than expected. Absolutely no ‘coconut and banana’ effect, rather baskets of butter pears, apples, yellow plums and very ripe gooseberries.  Absolutely no thick and cloying aged rum. Medium long, clean, with touches of rose jelly, Turkish delights and even gewürztraminer. High-end apple juice. An unusual rum, more elegant and complex than many. Certainly not for mixing!” Serge Valentin

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Summer Madness for Chablis: Pascal Bouchard Chablis “Les Vielles Vignes” 2008

“The best-value appellations of all in 2008 are Chablis and Chablis Premier Cru, which can offer seriously wonderful wine”. Jancis Robinson, Purple Pages

Chablis is the ultimate summer wine but what about getting to drink Chablis from 2008 which is considered one of the best vintages and made from one of the most respected producers in this unique land of Kimmeridgean soil (which is composed of limestone, clay and fossilized oyster shells).

Pascal Bouchard is an independent family owned domaine that draws on the experience of 5 generations of dedicated winegrowers. Pascal Bouchard’s Estate covers 33 hectares within the 4 appellations of Chablis: Chablis Grand Cru, Chablis Premier Cru, Chablis and Petit Chablis. The main part of the vineyard has been planted by Pascal Bouchard during the early 80’s. Romain and Damien Bouchard both bothers have taken over the lead at this reputable estate and are continuing to make some of the top wines in Chablis.

I was fortunate to taste this wine with my co-worker Duncan McRoberts at our Saturday afternoon wine tasting and I was simply blown away by the layers of complexity and how well it had aged. I have to admit that after tasting the 2008 Bouchard I bought a couple of bottles for my summer consumption but I am also going to put some aside in my wine fridge for some additional aging. I urge you not to miss out on this delicious treat as we only have a few cases of it left and remember 2008 only happens once!!!!

Pascal Bouchard Chablis “Les Vielles Vignes” 2008 $29.99 

“Nutty, almond character that has a crisp texture and still lingering finish of green apple and lemon peel.  Taut and generous, this has a creamy richness, with an intense salty character and a hint of oyster shell”.

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“The happiest wine in the world”

When I’m helping someone choose a bottle of wine, one of the first questions I’m likely to ask is “what are you going to to be having it with?”  It’s easy to get so wrapped up in wine and food pairing that we sometimes forget about some styles of wine that are more than fulfilling, sometimes even at their best, on their own!  Summer’s sweltering heat makes the allure of a refreshing, casual, low-alcohol drink especially captivating, and my top choice for any-occasion (or no occasion!) refreshment is a delightful fizzy rosé from a tiny, sleepy corner of France called Bugey!

What’s Bugey?  Well, it’s not the Jura (though they are geologically similar), and it’s not Savoie (though they do share some grape varieties).  Historically speaking, this area was part of greater Burgundy (hence the proliferation of Burgundian grapes like Gamay), but today it is not a part of any of France’s major wine regions; this little district just west of Geneva is its own thing.

New cerdon frontRenardat-Fâche Cerdon du Bugey 2014 – $25.99

Fresh, lively,and expressive, this all-natural sparkling rosé is packed with funky summer blueberry and black raspberry,  lilacs, and powdery minerals.    This wine has just enough sweetness to round off the edges of the acidity and give dimension to the fruit.

Jean-Luc discovered this wine while dining at Alain Chapel in Mionnay, France and managed to talk an importer (the late, great Joe Dressner of Louis/Dressner Selections) into bringing it into the country.  The estate is run today by sixth-generation winemaker Elie Renardat-Fâche, who recently converted his family’s 12 hectares of vines to organic farming.  While most Cerdon du Bugey is almost entirely Gamay with only a token percentage of the finnicky, low-yielding Poulsard, the Renardat-Fâche family love the finesse and mouthwatering acidity it contributes to the blend, and use as much as 30% in the final wine.

cerdonPerhaps the wine for which this region is best known, the distinctive, fizzy rosé of Cerdon began as an afterthought.  It was originally produced by removing some of the juice from a vat of still-fermenting red wine and bottling it early to preserve some sweetness.  The effervescence was a natural consequence of bottling a still-fermenting wine.  Today’s Cerdon du Bugey belongs to the oldest style of sparkling wines, the Méthode Ancestrale.  Unlike more conventional sparkling wines, which go through a secondary fermentation (the one that creates the bubbles) after the primary fermentation is complete, méthode ancestrale wines are bottled while the primary fermentation is still going on, trapping the carbon dioxide in the the bottle, resulting in a softly sparkling wine that is often slightly sweet.  Just what you need to save your summer from industrially-produced beer!

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2013 in Sonoma: The Year of Chardonnay

Last September, I was fortunate enough to take a trip to Napa/Sonoma.  My first stop was a winery called Failla.  They are, without question, one of my favorite wineries, full stop.  Ehren Jordan, the owner and winemaker, is one of the most talented and genial people I’ve met in this industry.  He was the longtime winemaker at Turley.  At the same time, he was starting his own operation focusing on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast.  To be able to switch from the largess of Turley to the refined delicacy of Failla is nothing short of remarkable.  It would be like a musician who split their time between Heavy Metal and Symphonies.


2013 is another great year for California, specifically for Chardonnay.

“Chardonnay is one of the clear stars of the vintage. The wines are bright, focused and nuanced, with tons of energy and site-specific character. Quite honestly, that is a bit of a surprise for a warm, early vintage, but the wines speak for themselves. Readers will not want to miss the 2013 Sonoma Chardonnays, as they are simply magnificent.”  Antonio Galloni, Vinous Media

The debate has already begun over which, between 2012 and 2013, is the greater vintage.  My take is two-fold.  First, this is a great problem to have.  Second, my feeling is 2012 will ultimately be a better year for Napa, specifically Cabernet Sauvignon, while 2013 will go down as the year of Sonoma, specifically Chardonnay.

You’ll be hearing a lot from me about the 2013 Chardonnays as more and more are released but I am absolutely thrilled to begin the conversation with Failla.  These are some of the best Chardonnay being produced in California, full stop.

Failla Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2013 $38.00

92 points, Vinous Media

The 2013 Chardonnay (Sonoma Coast) is a terrific appellation-level bottling. Lemon oil, apricot pit, white pepper and chamomile are all very much alive in this beautifully expressive, pliant Chardonnay. The finish bristles with a real sense of energy. This is pure class all the way.

  • Antonio Galloni. Tasting date: January 2015


Failla Hudson Vineyard Chardonnay 2013 $50.00

93 points, Vinous Media

The 2013 Chardonnay Hudson Vineyard is one of the more subtle wines readers will taste from this historic site. Honey, chamomile, apricot pit, peach, spice and butter are laced together in a nuanced Chardonnay built on texture. According to Ehren Jordan, Hudson is a site that needs to be picked riper than some of the other vineyards he works with.

·                               Antonio Galloni. Tasting date: January 2015

Failla Haynes Vineyard Chardonnay 2013  $58.00

94 points, Vinous Media

Green pears, white flowers, mint and white peaches open up in the 2013 Chardonnay Haynes Vineyard, a dry-farmed site in Coombsville planted with head-trained, own-rooted vines. The style is bright, floral and precise. Expressive saline notes support the nuanced, impeccable finish. There is so much to admire here.

·                               Antonio Galloni. Tasting date: January 2015

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2013 at Schloss Gobelsburg: Regal Rieslings, Epic Grüners

Austria’s 2013 vintage will almost certainly go down in history books as the greatest in a generation. Like other important vintages such as 1986, 1997, and 2006, the 2013s are intense.  Unlike those other great wines, the 2013s owe their intensity not to the perfection of heroically ripe fruit, but to the profound and deeply layered mineral expression.  The 2006s certainly have personality, but the 2013s have soul.

schloss_kirche_300dpiOf course, while vintage conditions can establish the potential for greatness, it is up to the winemaker to realize them, and as always, virtually nobody put the gifts of 2013 to better use than Schloss Gobelsburg.  Many of you know this estate for the popular “Gobelsburger” Grüner Veltliner.  I consider this wine to be one of the best buys in the shop and a true testament to the quality, authenticity, and varietal expression that can be had at that price point.  But as excellent as this wine is, it’s only the tip of the iceberg that is one of Austria’s greatest, if not its greatest, wine estate.  If you love the Gobelsburger Grüner and are curious about the single terroir bottlings, now is the time to take the plunge!

SG-RI-Heiligenstein-2013 Riesling Heiligenstein   – $64.00 net

Ripe, spicy and exotic, with unbridled mineral intensity and a mouthwatering sense of fruit bordering on tropical, this is a sublime expression of what many consider Austria’s finest Riesling vineyard.

SG-RI-Gaisberg-2013 (1)Riesling Gaisberg  – $38.00 net

Gobelsburg’s terraces in the Kammerner Gaisberg comprise some of their oldest vines.  Pure, elegant stone fruit and a focused salinity characterize this lighthearted, welcoming dry Riesling.  Sunshine in a glass!

SG-GV-Lamm-20132Grüner Veltliner Lamm  – $64.00 net / $34.00 net (375mL) 

The 2013 Lamm flirts with tart red fruits along with the typical herbal savoriness, possibly the best Lamm I’ve ever tasted.  Powerfully mineral, yet graceful and precise, it’s a thing of beauty!

SG-GV-Renner-2013Grüner Veltliner Renner  – $39.00 net

From loess on eroded gneiss, downslope from the Heiligenstein comes this unapologetically rich and succulent Grüner Veltliner.  Creamy, smoky spice drenched with juicy citrus.  Round and full-bodied but with dazzling acidity.

Schloss Gobelsburg is one of the world’s oldest functioning wineries, dating back to the 12th century.  After changing hands among a few dozens of aristocratic families, the castle and its associated vineyards, some of Austria’s very finest, were acquired by the Cistercian monks of Zwettl Abbey.   By the 1990s, the monks’ advancing age and dwindling numbers due to the lack of young recruits for the monastic life led them to seek help from outside.  In 1992, they invited Willi Bründlmayer, at the time regarded as Austria’s pre-eminent winemaker, to take over the castle winery. Willi brought with him a young apprentice named Michael “Michi” Moosbrugger.  After a few years, Willi returned to his own winery full time and left Michi and his wife Eva in charge.  The monks agreed to let the Moosbrugger family have a 99 year lease on the property to run as a family estate, on the condition that they would continue to produce Messwein, a naturally-made additive-free wine suitable for sacramental purposes.

Michi hails from the remote, mountainous western state of Voralberg, an area about as different as can be from Austria’s wine country (over 80% Voralbergers voted to become part of Switzerland after WWI but were thwarted by the French and Italian-speaking Swiss).  His family owned a prosperous ski resort, but the adult Michi soon realized that only one of his siblings would be able to take over the family business and it wasn’t going to be him.  So he sought his fortune in the wine trade, first as a sommelier, then working at Bründlmayer’s iconic winery.  What struck me most about meeting and tasting with this serious, soft-spoken man is how acutely conscious he is of his place in history, both of how he relates to previous generations and the message he wants his work to carry into the future.  Context is everything.  fasskeller_300dpiThe wines are made with a minimum of technological intervention in the cellar, and although tradition is extremely important to Michi, the reasoning behind the low-tech approach looks to the future rather than the past.   He reasons that since industrial wines rely heavily on technology to insure their uniformity, the individuality of artisanal wines like his can best be safeguarded by keeping technological intervention to a minimum.  For example, facing the task of moving wine around the ancient winery, Michi affixed his giant Austrian oak casks (pictured) to dollies, enabling them to be rolled about the building as needed, rather than having the wine agitated by pumps and hoses.  An ingeniously simple idea that for some reason never occurred to anyone before! This historic estate couldn’t have wanted a better steward to lead it into the 21st century.


Duncan McRoberts

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Rolly Gassmann Gewurztraminer “Oberer Weingarten de Rorschwihr” 2009

Alsace is, outside of Champagne, France’s northernmost wine region.  Counterintuitively, it is also one of the sunniest.  The result is that typically cool-climate varieties, freed from the constant struggle to ripen, develop pure, clear, and vivid varietal identities.  And while Alsace is home to five noble grapes and produces examples of each that are regarded as some of the world’s very finest, it is Gewurztraminer that will always stand out to me as the region’s calling card.

“One of the most headily and distinctively aromatic varietals.  If all goes well, the result is deep-golden, full-bodied wines with a substantial spine and concentrated aromas of lychees and rose petals whose acidity level will preserve them while those aromas unfurl.”  Jancis Robinson

rolly1At Rolly Gassman, it always seems to be going well.  They consistently make one of the most compelling expressions of Gewurztraminer in the world.  With roots going back to 1621, Rolly Gassmann is widely known in France (especially in the Paris restaurant scene) but less so in the United States.  Understandable since they only export 20% of their production. They also tend to release their wines when they’re good and ready, leading to a wonderful and eccentric range of vintages available on the market.  We were thrilled to find one of their 2009 single vineyards recently released.  To quote Jancis yet again, “This year produced some of the most consistently healthy grapes ever in Alsace, translating into exemplary varietal character throughout the region.”


This is an ideal introduction for Gewurztraminer first-timers.  Or if you’re already in the know, buckle up and enjoy the ride.

Rolly Gassmann Gewurztraminer “Oberer Weingarten de Rorschwihr” 2009 – $47.99

rolly2A very dynamic nose, introducing itself with candied orange peel and clover honey, before slowly revealing layers of geranium leaf, custardy pear, rosewater, and mastic.  The palate accents a core of medium-toned melon and yellow plum with fleeting hints of wintergreen and licorice. Rich and just off-dry, with restrained alcohol (13.5%) and focused aromatics. Unusually ample acidity and an elegant mineral backbone pull together this potpourri of flavors and keep the textural energy going.  Classy.  Pairs beautifully with spicy Thai and Indian.



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Jancis Robinson’s favorite rosé

Chateau d’Esclans Rock Angel 2014 Côtes de Provence Rose  $37.99

rock angel“Very pale greyish pink. Smudgy, low key but intriguing nose. Mouth-filling and beautifully balanced. Lovely satin texture. Very obviously superior wine. Hugely appetizing. Sort of meat and two veg in here with great persistence. A complex mouthful.”

Jancis Robinson

I was reading Jancis Robinson MW’s weekly column on her website and she had a really good article on a blind tasting of some of the world’s best rosé new offerings. Her favorite? A new bottling from Chateau d’Esclans called Rock Angel which was introduced in the United States just a few months ago during the James Beard Award gala in Chicago.

You might be familiar with their entry level, Whispering Angel, but the entire Chateau D’Esclans project is compelling.  Located 15 miles from St Tropez, D’Esclans is the brainchild of Sasha Lichine, a longtime industry insider who purchased the estate about 20 years with the idea of creating some of the world’s best Rosés.



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