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Going Vertical: Kanonkop Pinotage From 1998 to 2009

What does a 1998 South African Pinotage taste like? Oddly enough, like a musty, saddle leather-driven Rioja—at least the bottling by Kanonkop.

This week, we tasted ten Kanonkop Pinotage bottlings spanning 11 years with winemaker Abrie Beeslaar. Kanonkop is a historic wine estate in the Stellenbosch region, run by the same family for four generations. They grow Pinotage (a cross of Pinot Noir and Cinsault developed in the 1920s), as well as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. But Pinotage and its attempt to overcome a negative stereotype in the eyes of the American consumer took precedent during the recent tasting led by Beeslaar. (That’s USQ’s Tom Smith tasting with Beeslaar above.) He noted that wine drinkers tend to judge the variety over the producer, when in fact, we should be judging the producer not the variety. And after tasting stellar examples, such as the 1998, the earthy and complex 2008 Cape Winemakers Guild Pinotage and the juicy, red berry-focused 2009 Pinotage, his words hit a homerun.

We could bog you down with copious notes on each wine, but overall, the wines showed a variety of red wine descriptors, from tints of deep cherry to aromas of smoked meats to flavors reminiscent of classic Burgundies. The 2008 Cape Winemakers Guild Pinotage, designed specifically for auction by winemakers invited to the guild, stood out with its 100 percent new oak aging, dark, earthy nose, and complex brown shoe leather and dark fruit notes on the palate. It seemed quite similar to the 1998, with its musty funk and still juicy fruit cocooned with strong earth and leather notes. One person even joked that it was like Chateau Musar, the infamously wine geek red wine blend from Lebanon. Yet even the young, but “will mature beautifully” 2009 had many fans, thanks to its powerful structure, red berry flavors, and balanced tannins. If we’re going to judge Pinotage, we’re going to rule in its favor, at least when we’re talking about Kanonkop. -Stephanie Cain

Get the 2009 Kanonkop Pinotage here.

Jay McInerney Talks The Juice with Wine Critic Ray Isle: Book Reading & Wine Tasting

USQ and Strand Bookstore host Jay McInerney as he reads from his latest non-fiction book, The Juice: Vinous Veritas, followed by a chat with Ray Isle, executive editor of Food & Wine, and wine tasting. The Juice features more than 50 articles of McInerney’s adventures in oenology, hilarious anecdotes, and invaluable wine advice. Sip, listen, and talk vino during our Q&A session and wine tasting, featuring bottlings highlighted in the book.  If you’re familiar with McInerney, you’ll know he’s currently a wine columnist for the Wall Street Journal and author of eight novels, including his heralded debut Bright Lights, Big City and previous wine publications, A Hedonist in the Cellar and Bacchus and Me. He describes Thomas Jefferson as “the founding wine geek,” writes that a Santa Rita Hills Chardonnay tastes like a “deconstructed margarita…wowsah,” and calls the Sonoma Pinot-craze “the bizzaro-world antithesis of planet Napa Cabernet.” Want more? We’ll see you on May 10!

Reservations are required to attend this event. Tickets are sold ONLY through Strand Bookstore. Cost: Buy The Juice book or a $25 ticket, which includes a $10 voucher toward purchases at USQ the night of the event. Buy tickets here.

The Rum Diaries: Ron Santa Teresa

Sometimes great rums get overshadowed by classic Scotch and trendy Mezcal. But the lineup at Ron Santa Teresa, a Venezuelan rum company that’s been around for more than 200 years, should have you thinking rum is the new IT spirit. From their perfect-for-bartending Claro (hello, daiquiri!) to the first solera-made rum, the 1796 Ron Antigua de Solera, the brand has established a high standard. Each Friday in April, we’ve poured the Claro, Gran Reserva, and Solera at the Barrel, both neat and in two signature cocktails, the Claro Daiquiri and the S’Lightly Balmy. If you were lucky enough to taste, go to town with these cocktails! If you haven’t, head to USQ this Friday for the last Barrel tasting!

Santa Terea’s Claro was specially designed for shaking and stirring. A blend of 3-year-old rums, the rum boast a pale golden color with fruity, wooden flavors on the palate. It works well in mojitos and, our favorite, the daiquiri. Wonder if Hemingway preferred Santa Teresa?

Claro Daiquiri
2 oz. Santa Teresa Claro
1 oz. fresh lime juice
2 ½ teaspoon brown sugar

Combine all ingredients and shake over ice. Strain into a glass of your choice. We like it up served up.

As much as we adore the claro for its cocktail properties, we can’t cheat on the Gran Reserva, Santa Teresa’s flagship bottling. Thank the 5-year aging in cask barrels for the amber-tinted gold hue and rich mouthfeel. Every now and then we do crave a Dark & Stormy (who doesn’t?), so this twist, S’Lightly Balmy, might take the place in the drink rotation.

S’Lightly Balmy
1 oz. Santa Teresa Gran Reserva
1 oz. cloudy apple juice
1 oz. ginger beer
splash of lime

Pour the rum over ice in a highball. Add apple juice and beer. Squeeze a splash of lime. Drink.

Check out all the bottlings here.

Dare I Say Sexy? 2009 Occhipinti Siccagno Nero d’Avola

I’m always a sucker for natural wines, so I find myself always looking to this certified organic producer from Sicily. Young female winemaker Arianna Occhipinti comes from quite the winemaking family. Her uncle is Guisto Occhipinti who owns Cos winery (also killer stuff). The thing that separates her wine from some of the other island producers is how fresh it is; it just reeks of elegance. The 2009 Nero d’Avola, 100 percent Nero d’Avola, is bright, tart and acidic, with dark cherry flavors. I love that I feel like I am tasting Sicily when I take each sip. A big handful of volcanic rich soil hits the mouth, but in a great way. Trust me, I wouldn’t make you drink dirt. Yet, the wine appears surprisingly soft and, dare I say…sexy? Maybe is because Arianna is not even 30 years old. The best is yet to come. Drink it, love it! We do! -Joseph Sangiovanni

Wooga, wooga, it’s the Great GoogaMooga, a self-described amusement park of food and drink. And it’s happening May 19 and 20, in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. So imagine this: sitting in the springtime sun, with bites from big name restaurants (Red Rooster Harlem, Blue Ribbon, Luke’s Lobster, Momofuku Milk Bar…), refreshing glass of wine (selections organized by our friends at Terroir + Summer of Riesling), ice-cold beer (Oktoberfest-inspired theme curated by Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery), and hedonism-focused friends. We think it’s a no-brainer. Who’s going with us?

Earth Day, Brought to You by Jars of VeeV

Every time I fly Virgin America (which is often, NYC > SFO), I end up with a VeeV cocktail. But that’s hardly the only time I sip the açai spirit. Heralded for its earth-friendly approach to all-things alcohol, VeeV is distilled from the Brazilian fruit, açai, known for its healthy properties. (Surfers say so, at least.) It makes a good substitute for vodka- or cachaca- based drinks, or just simply mixed with juice.

Given Earth Day, though, we have to spotlight VeeV’s green efforts. The company was the first alcohol brand to be certified carbon neutral. The distillery is powered completely by renewable wind energy. Their innovative distillation process uses 200 percent less energy than traditional pot still. On top of all that, VeeV donates $1 from the sale of every bottle to rainforest conservation efforts. Wow.

If we really need to further win you over with the spirit, though, mix it up in one of these signature cocktails. With the Greenmarket only steps away from USQ, you’ll be eating AND drinking local. Then you’ll be ordering it on your next flight too!

Herbal Advice 
Who doesn’t love a mason jar? Just what we thought. We’re giving you a bit of Herbal Advice with this cocktail: Go Green.

1 ¼ oz VeeV Açai
2 lemon wedges
½ oz simple syrup
2 oz club soda
fresh cucumber, sliced thinly
sprig of mint

Pack the mason jar with ice. Add all of the ingredients and seal the top. Shake and serve, tableside.

Brazilian 57 
Forget Skinny Girl Margaritas. This 125-calorie (not that we are counting, we drink wine and spirits for a living) champagne cocktail should be swapped for that boring mimosa at any Sunday brunch. Including April 22, Earth Day!

1 ¼ oz. VeeV Açai
½ oz fresh lemon juice
½ oz simple syrup
lemon twist, for garnish

Shake the first three ingredients well with ice and strain into a Champagne flute. Top with Champagne and garnish with a lemon twist.

We’ll be tasting VeeV and VeeV-based cocktails this Saturday at USQ during our Go Green Organic Tasting. Stop by. More details here.

Txomin Etxaniz 2010 Txakoli de Getaria

I’ve been on a whites kick lately, and there is no better white to welcome warm weather than this lightly effervescent Basque bottling. Txakoli is, traditionally, a slightly sparkling, dry Spanish white wine boasting a pale green color and served as an aperitif. A blend of two native grapes, Hondarrabi Zuri and Hondarrabi Beltza, this bottling is one of three produced by the Txueka Etxaniz family in Getaria, along the coast. (Getaria is actually hometown of fashion designer Cristobal Balenciaga. No wonder I love this wine so much!) Even though it’s light and crisp, with melon notes and a slight acidity, it’s far more complex in character than most enter-summer wines thanks to its mineral backbone and zesty finish. Perfect with seafood. Try salted anchovies. -Stephanie Cain

The 2010 Txomin Etxaniz Txakoli de Getaria is Stephanie’s staff pick this month. Check it out here.

USQite Charles Sasson wandered through Portugal recently, tasting at some of the top estates including Herdade do Esporao and Quinta dos Murcas. See the full album here.

USQite Charles Sasson wandered through Portugal recently, tasting at some of the top estates including Herdade do Esporao and Quinta dos Murcas. See the full album here.

Taken by Averna

When I saw the Salvatore Gives You His Word cocktail at Huckleberry Bar on Tuesday night, I immediately thought “shoes.” Hello, Ferragamo! But alas, no, the cocktail was named for the founder of Averna, Salvatore Averna, who developed the caramel-laced liqueur from Italy. And it has nothing to do with shoes, except you can wear really nice ones while sipping the amaro.

Made of all natural ingredients, Averna is produced from a secret recipe (what isn’t?) of herbs, roots, and citrus rinds, with the addition of natural caramel. Many people sip it neat or on the rocks as an aperitif, but Huckleberry Bar’s general manager Stephanie Schneider whipped up some snazzy cocktails with Averna’s history as her inspiration. It’s been around since 1868, so there’s a plethora of tradition. While she developed four concoctions in total, we’ve got the recipes for our top two—Salvatore Gives You His Word and Taken By Storm—below. Check out all four, including See You Amaro Morning and the Averna Negroni, at the Brooklyn haunt this month.

Salvatore Gives You His Word
1 oz. Averna
¾ oz. Old Overholt
¾ oz Maraschino
¾ oz. lemon juice

Combine all ingredients. Shake and strain into a coupe. No garnish.

Taken By Storm
1 ½ oz. Averna
½ oz. Gosling’s 151
½ oz. ginger juice
1 ½ oz. grapefruit juice

Combine all ingredients. Shake and strain into a rocks glass over fresh ice. Finish with a grapefruit twist.

Vintage Vodka?

Terroir is a common term for wine, but you don’t hear it so much for vodka. Well, EVER. That’s about to change with Karlsson’s Gold Batch 2008, a vintage vodka distilled from one specific type of potato. And you thought vodka had to be odorless and tasteless?

To catch you up to speed, Karlsson’s Gold is a collaborative project between master distiller Börje Karlsson, the guy who helped launch Absolut, and a group of Swedish potato farmers. Concocted as a blend of seven varieties of virgin potatoes from Cape Bjäre, Sweden, the vodka is distilled only once (as opposed to around seven times, like most commercial brands) to preserve the character of the potatoes.

Karlsson didn’t stop there, of course. He took it to the next level with his Batch series, debuting with the 2008 harvest. Made exclusively from the Gammel Svensk Rod (“Old Swedish Red”) new potatoes, the bottling has a distinctive sharp and complex, earthy and peppery flavor that sets it apart from blended vodkas. The label displays the name of the farmer, Bertil Gunnarsson, harvest property, and the bottle’s edition. Only 1,980 bottles exist. 

Swing by USQ every Saturday in April, from 6pm to 9pm, for sips of the Batch 2008 and Karlsson’s Gold Vodka. Both bottlings will be for sale. Find out more information here.