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Wine and Spirits Guide: Elixirs to Ease Winter’s Chill

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by Mark Thompson
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Re Midas Corvina

Between Verona and Venezia lies the Veneto region, once the heartland of the Venetian Republic, and today, one of Italy’s wealthiest regions - and the producer of more bottles of DOC wine than any other Italian area.

Made by Cantina di Soave, an Italian cooperative with more than two thousand wine growers and farmers on 6,000 hectares, Re Midas (as in "King," he who turned everything to gold - or in this case, ruby red...) is made with 100% Corvina grapes.

As brilliantly ruby as July’s birthstone, Re Midas Corvina has the pleasing perfume of violets and roses, with a palate nicely balanced between cherry and vanilla. (And who doesn’t love cherry-vanilla?)

A medium weight wine, light on the tongue, with a perfect price point, this is exactly the sort of wine that you want to drink in the afternoon. Maybe al fresco, if you find yourself in Miami Beach - or for brunch on the weekend, while reading the Sunday papers. There’s nothing heavy about Re Midas Corvina, nothing that will haunt your head for the rest of the day. Instead, you might find yourself remembering an afternoon on the Via Veneto, one summer in Roma. La dolce vita, indeed.

PRICE: $9.99 / 750 ml.
LINK: Corvina

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WINTER SPIRITS

Espolón Tequila: Blanco and Reposado

You’ve got to love a culture that celebrates the cock as a symbol of national pride. No, not the States. We’re talking Mexico - and the iconic Ramón the Rooster who helped lead the charge against Spanish tyranny, thereby paving the way for Mexican independence.

Two hundred years later, Espolón Tequila celebrates the Mexican revolution with their own revolutionized re-introduction to the United States market. What was once available only across the border (at what is widely recognized as the "Best Factory in Mexico" - which is saying something...) is now, at last, available in the States.

Award-winning Espolón Tequila’s 100% pure Blue Agave tequila is distilled in the highlands of Jalisco, Mexico by the renowned Master Distiller Cirilo Oropeza. Oropeza brings decades of expertise to his vocation and handcrafts Espolón Tequila into two distinct creations.

Winner of the 2008 Gold Medal in the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, Espolón Tequila Blanco is a diamond-clear elixir with a hint of caramel fudge upon first inhale. A full-bodied tequila, reminiscent of caramelized tropical fruits, grilled to succulent perfection, Espolón Tequila Blanco is what you want to order when ordering a shot.

As for the Espolón Tequila Reposado, which has been aged six months in oak barrels, this golden-rich tequila has similar caramel overtones, with notes of roasted vanilla and spiced fruits. Sip this one slowly - and enjoy its añejo-like wood spiciness.

Beautifully packaged in a sleek and stylish bottle with a redesigned decorative label (by Landor Associates) and a wooden stopper, Espolón Tequila works as well as a presentation gift as it does on the top shelf of your in-home bar.

Besides, that label with its skeleton astride a rooster is tequila surreal.

PRICE: $24.99
LINK: Espolón Tequila

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Wild Turkey

It was gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson’s favorite; and the Cowboy Junkies sang about it, and so did ZZ Top; and it was featured in True Blood, as well as Will & Grace, the Sopranos, and Seinfeld; and David Foster Wallace wrote about it, and so did Stephen King in It; and it was the call drink in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

It’s Wild Turkey, of course - and if Benjamin Franklin had had his way and the turkey was our national emblem instead of the eagle, Wild Turkey might be the official national drink. Also known as "Gobble, Gobble" and "the Dirty Bird," Wild Turkey is nearly as entwined in American culture as Coca-Cola - and who didn’t drink bourbon and coke at college?

It was in 1789 that the Reverend Elijah Craig distilled corn, rye, and barley malt to make bourbon - and more than two hundred years later, Wild Turkey has a reputation for being as richly-colored as it is smooth. Famous for its authentic caramel taste (which becomes more chocolate with the addition of water), Wild Turkey 101 has a fragrance like honeysuckle and peaches, befitting its Southern heritage in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky.

Distilled with very little water, Wild Turkey 101 retains its full-flavored complexity. As with Coca-Cola, Wild Turkey is an American classic, a true Kentucky bourbon, with a taste that’s readily identifiable and justly celebrated for its long and rich finish.

Wild Turkey 101 is a midwinter’s drink, perfect for sipping in the study while reading Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy. Picture it: a fire crackling, the dog at your feet - outside it’s cold and windy, but inside, deep inside, you’re warm. Who said winter was so difficult?

PRICE: approximately $20.00
LINK: Wild Turkey Bourbon

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Stolichnaya White Pomegranik Vodka

Consider this historical tidbit: in 1972, at the height of the Cold War, a deal was brokered in which Pepsi Cola would be imported into the U.S.S.R. - while Stolichnaya vodka would be exported to the States. In other words, score one for the States.

Stolichnaya has been Russia’s premier vodka since - well, there’s some debate about when the distillery was established. You see, back in 1894, Russia created a state monopoly on the production of vodka, establishing 350 state distilleries around the country.

In the meantime, in the States, we were gearing up for thirteen years of Prohibition, thereby sending distilleries into the backwoods of Appalachia.

No wonder Russian vodka rules.

Introduced in May of 2010, Stolichnaya White Pomegranik is Stoli’s eleventh flavor innovation - and conceivably the most esoteric. The white pomegranate was reputed to be one of the most exotic fruits in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, which was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Less tart than its red sister, the white pomegranate has fewer tannins - and when blended into Stolichnaya White Pomegranik, the result is an aroma that’s musky-sweet with notes of cherry and red berries. On the palate, the taste is bold, with a dry, herbal finish. Think of it as the best White Cosmopolitan you ever drank with a deep earthy depth.

Complex and sophisticated, Stoli White Pomegranik is as smooth as a Russian oligarch.

PRICE: $24 / 750 mL
LINK: Stolichnaya White Pomegranik Vodka

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Averna Amaro

We once knew an older gentleman who always ordered a post-prandial digestivo. He was a cultured man of Old World habits, who knew how to live (and eat) well - and a digestivo after dinner was one of his more favored habits. A digestivo eased the digestion of heavy meals, particularly in winter - but moreover, a digestivo was an excuse to linger longer at table - and converse.

Ever since Fratelli Averna’s Sicilian origins in 1868, Averna Amaro has been hailed for its digestive properties. Distilled from an ancient secret blend (from Benedictine monks - of course...) of all natural ingredients including flowers, herbs, dried fruits, citrus rinds, roots, spices, and licorice, Averna is then soaked in alcohol with a touch of caramel. The resultant Averna is full-bodied and complex, a richly-textured, bittersweet elixir that lingers on the palate.

Italians, and many other Europeans, are accustomed to ending a meal with Averna, which, to some, is as much a part of Italian cuisine as wine, pasta, and espresso. For Americans, less so - at least until the recent rise of resident mixologists in some of the country’s more esoteric watering holes. In 2008, Averna Amaro won a Gold Medal in San Francisco’s World Spirits competition - and a recent national cocktail competition concluded on the terrace of Hotel Capo Taormina, high above the Ionian Sea. Cocktail recipes abound - lemon juice and ginger ale is one of our favorites - but we can still hear our erudite friend eschewing every additive but ice. "Milk of the gods," he’d say, raising his digestivo in a toast. "To Averna Amaro," we say in response.

PRICE: $26.99
LINK: Averna Amaro

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A long-term New Yorker and a member of New York Travel Writers Association, Mark Thompson has also lived in San Francisco, Boston, Provincetown, D.C., Miami Beach and the south of France. The author of the novels WOLFCHILD and MY HAWAIIAN PENTHOUSE, he has a PhD in American Studies and is the recipient of fellowships at MacDowell, Yaddo, and Blue Mountain Center. His work has appeared in numerous publications.


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