There's nothing wrong with having a drink, though it can become a precarious balance as you get older. I've gone from loving beer in the teens to cocktails in the 20s, spirits in the 30s, wine in the 40s and centred on red wine, especially the pursuit of pinot noir from all over the world. And always great coffee--life's too short to drink bad beverages. I thought I might give a few recommendations here not only of wines but also wine and beverage events and a few other liquid goodies as well as other sources. It starts with pinot and ends with coffee.
New Zealand Pinots
US Pinots--California and Oregon
South African Pinots
Pinot Noir is a strange creature in the wine world, grown in cooler regions around the world and known as Burgundy in France but also grown in Australia, New Zealand, the US chiefly in California and Oregon, South Africa, Italy and Switzerland among others. "Pinot noir," Matt Kramer wrote in his book "New California Wine," "is a form of madness for both producer and drinker alike. Both persist because a great pinot noir brings you as close to God as any wine can."
It's probably the most difficult grape to grow and the most frustrating to turn into wine but the variations are intriguing and once you get into them, you're hooked for life. Luscious and lively, supple and silky, bursting with berry flavors, Pinot Noir is a sensual wine that invites drinkers to get personal for a lifetime. Pinot Noir is a bit like an unreliable lover - you suffer a lot of pain along the way, although the occasional highs make you persevere through the trouble. And you alwayse remember and try to match those special nights.
The best book on this is called "The Heartbreak Grape: A Journey in Search of the Perfect Pinot Noir" by Marq de Villiers, a great starting point and available from Amazon.com. The movie 'Sideways' was a comic version of the obsession some wine freaks have with the grape, but it's a parody. You'll also find an article I did on the Marlborough in New Zealand on this site at http://www.news.com.au/dailytelegraph/story/0,22049,24522597-5013411,00.html
The two best events to drown in pinot are Pinot Day at Cloudy Bay vineyards in June where I've been twice with 21 and 24 different wines from around the world in blind tastings and World of Pinot Noir in early March at the Cliffs Resort in Shell Beach California where old world and new world wines can be tasted overlooking the Pacific. At home in Sydney, I love the annual New Zealand in a Glass which happens in late February at the Westin Hotel.
As to my favourite drops, they are still developing, but ones I recommend are:
Marlboroough-- Terravin, Seresin, Clayridge, Fromm, Villa Maria, St Clair, Highfield Estate, Herzog, Wither Hills, Isabel Estate, Blind River, Allan Scott, Forrest Estate, Tohu, Huia,
Otago-- Amisfield, Akarua, Felton Road, Rippon, Chard Farm, Two Paddocks, Carrick, Peregrine, Mt Difficulty, Gibbston Valley, Pisa Range, Maude, Quartz Reef, Olssens, ValliRockburn and Wooing Tree.
Martinborough & Wairarapa-- Alana, Ata Rangi, Brancott, Craggy Range, Paliser, Tohu, Wild Rock, Martinborough Vineyards, Escarpment, Julicher, Dry River, Spy Valley, Te Kairanga, Schubert, Paliser
Nelson-- Neudorf, Te Mania, Waimea Estates,
Waipara and Canterbury-- Muddy Water, Giesen, Waipara Hills, Alan McCorkindale
Australian Pinot Noirs: They canrange from thin or powerhouse but there's always a discovery around the corner. The pockets of Mornington and Tassie are the best to me but Geelong and Gippsland are surprisingly good.
Geelong--Clyde Park, Farr, Lethbridge, Bannockburn, Scotchman's Hill, Provenance,
Mornington--Stonier, Dromana, Hurley, Paringa, Principia, Scorpo, Yabby Lake
Yarra--Stefani, Yering Station, Coldstream Hills, Giant Steps, Punt Road,
Macedon--Bindi, Rochford, Magnetic Hill
Gippsland--Bass Philip, Clair De Lune, Lyre Bird Hill
Tasmania--Home Hill, Stefano Lubiano, Providence, 42 degrees, Frogmore Creek, Hatherleigh, Springvale, Pirie Estate, Bay of Fires
US Pinot Noirs: I love the fruity powerful Oregon pinots but Sonoma, Carneros, Santa Barbara, Russian River and Napa pinots are also exceptional. The book "North American Pinot Noirs" is a great tome by John Haeger and a good place to start. Here are some of the ones that I've tasted and can recommend.
California--Fess Parker, Merry Edwards, Calera, Estancia, Williams Selyem, Marcassin, Kistler, Edna Valley, Domaine Carneros, Elke, McMurray Ranch, Hirsh, Clos Du Val, Etude, Hanzell, Joseph Swan, Kalin Cellars
Oregon-- A to Z, Ken Weright, Domaine Drouhin, Domaine Serene, Ponzi, Erah, Benton Lane, Prodigal, Tyee, Duck Pond, Christom, Rex Hill, Beaux Freres, Belle Vallee, Elk Cove, St Innocent, Bergstrom, Chehalem,
And finally South Africa: I had the pleasure of going to the Cape Town areas of Franschhoek and Stellenbosch and loved it. Exceptional wines are priced well below value and the scenery is incredible. Faves include Meerlust, Paul Cluver, Shannon Vineyards, Hamilton Russell, Bouchard Finlayson, Cabriere, and Vriesenhof
So you know where to go to find great wine, these are my dealers.
Annandale Cellars (www.annandalecellars.com.au)
119 Johnston Street, Annandale NSW, Australia, 2038
Though they have another store in Cremorne, Chris and Ty lord over a remarkable collection of great pinots from all parts of the globe at this compact store and are a fountain of information. It's become my local due to their friendly nature and encyclopedic yet humble knowledge.
Ultimo Wine Centre (www.ultimowinecentre.com.au)
99 Jones St, Ultimo
Jon Osbeiston spends a month a year in France overseeing the wines that UWC imports while Jason Hoy who is also a Francophile runs the store and some amazing tastings. You'll find exceptional US, NZ, Australian pintos and French Burgundys here as well as books, glassware and great surprises.
137-147 Bondi Road, Bondi NSW 2026
This is the main place I buy all my wine from and Tim Upton is my go-to guy (firstname.lastname@example.org). If I am at a winery tasting, I'll often duck out the door to see Kemenys' delivered price vs the winery. They also have an excellent range of cleanskins called Hidden Label of which their Martinborough, Geelong, Tasmania and Yarra Valley are exceptional bargains.
Camperdown Cellars (www.camperdowncellars.com.au)
21 Kingston Road Camperdown NSW 2050
Just around the corner from my place and an excellent location for pinots as well as other special drops. Fabulous and knowledgeable service. Their other two locations are:
140 Parramatta Road Camperdown NSW 2050
233 Victoria Street Darlinghurst NSW 2010
60 Darling Street Fine Wines
60 Darling street, Balmain NSW2041
A cave of bottles and boxes with both trash and treasures.
267-277 Norton St.
It's at the tail end of Norton Street where it meets the highway in Leichhardt and is unusual because it sorts its wines by state and country, not style. So if you know you're after a good NZ pinot, fine but if you're in doubt about the region, the staff is great. And so are the prices.
Now let's go the hard stuff!
It's made from the Blue Agave plant, which is a spiky succulent rather than a cactus, pollinated by bats, the juice of which can drive you batty. Mezcal is the spirit made from the Maguey plant and is generally inferior. Never buy a tequila with a worm in it--it's a gimmick and marketing ruse and never drink a tequila with a red plastic sombrero on the cap!
I only drink 100% Agave of which there are five categories. Blanco is umaged silver spirit; Joven is a young silver while Oro is a young gold or blended; Reposado is aged less than a year in oak; Anejo is aged a year to three in oak and Extra Anejo is a minimum of three years in oak.
Drinking fine tequila with salt and lime dulls the flavour and it should be drunk neat in a sprit glass like a cognac snifter keep the fruit and white grains for cheap stuff. In Mexico, they are often accompanies by a sangrita a sweet, sour and spicy drink typically made from orange juice, grenadine (or tomato juice) and hot chilies. You'll find my recipe for the Perfect Margarita in the recipes section for which you don't really need to use fab tequila. Best to use silver rather than gold.
My premium faves are Jose Cuervo La Familia which comes in a beautiful art box at about $100 US; Don Julio 1942 and Don Julio Extra Anejo or if not Don Julio Anejo; Sauza Tres Generaciones Anejo; Just about any Patron, Herradurra and Hornitos brand and Jose Cuervo 1800 Reposado for casual drinks.
There are over 900 brands from over 150 producers but the best place for info is http://www.tequila.net
The most famous variety of brandy is made in the region of France surrounding the town of the same name. Cognac is made from eaux-de-vie (literally, "waters of life") produced by doubly distilling the white wines produced in any of the growth areas. This drink was first created to use up the grape waste of wine making and was considered a drink for the poor. This was called Marc de Champagne which is a similar liquor but made in a different area and which I quite enjoy on occasion, but prefer cognac or armagnac.
Drinking cognac is similar to imbibing liquid leather with an aroma, smoothness and slap of the tongue that says giddy-up! First you savor the frangrance, heating the bowl shaped snifter in your hand to release it, then a small sip, rolling it over the tongue and then close you eyes and swallow the flame that rises like the sun in the gut and warms the soul. Interesting factoid: In the town where it is made there is the smell of spirit in the air everywhere that has evaporated from the barrels. It's called The Angels' Share.
The age of the cognac is calculated as that of the youngest eau-de-vie used in the blend. The blend is usually of different ages and (in the case of the larger and more commercial producers) from different local areas. This blending, or marriage, of different eaux-de-vie is important to obtain a complexity of flavours absent from an eau-de-vie from a single distillery or vineyard. Each cognac house has a master taster (maître de chai) who is responsible for creating this delicate blend of spirits, so that the cognac produced by a company today will taste almost exactly the same as a cognac produced by that same company 50 years ago, or in 50 years' time. In this respect it is similar to the process of blending whisky or non-vintage Champagne to achieve a consistent brand flavour.
There are three quality grades: VS meaning Very Special or three star where the youngest brandy was stored at least two years in a cask; VSOP or Very Special Old Pale stored at least four years; and XO or Extra Old stored at least six years but upwards of 20. Between VSOP and XO are names like Napoleon, Vieux and Extra, but the one that is beyond XO is Hors D'age which means Beyond Age.
Top of the range is Remy's Louis XIII with more than 1200 eauxs de vie, aged over 65 years in very old barrels. But just about any Remy will do for me other than VS. Hennessy's top brand is Richard made from over 100 eaux de vie aged up to 200 years and I'll take any Hennessy, even the VS which is a good daily drop. Courvoisier has its L'Esprit with over 200 eaux de vie of 200 years and Extra by Camus is their Hors d'age. Other great brands are Martell, Delamain Hine and Moyet.
As opposed to whisky--Scotch, Canadian, Rye--is an American distilled spirit made primarily from corn and named for the county in Kentucky it originated in. It must be at least 51% corn, distilled to no more than 80% alcohol, aged in new charred oak barrels and must state its aging more than two years and it's a Straight Bourbon and at least 40% alcohol on bottling.
My fave brands are Woodford Reserve Single Barrel, Makers Mark, Booker's, Knob Creek, Four Roses, Old Charter and Wild Turkey but be aware that Jack Daniels is a Tennessee sour mash whiskey like George Dickel and not a true Bourbon.
Bourbon is best drunk straight, not chilled but can be cut with water or served with ice. It can be used in cocktails but it's a waste. Best site for info is http://www.straightbourbon.com
No, it's not alcoholic though there are coffee liquers. There are two types of beans--arabica which is best and robusta which is blahh generally used for instant. It's my favourite beverage to start the day, usually a quad latte with Splenda and preferred Kona coffee from Hawai'i. In summer it's iced in thick frozen Italian 16 oz glasses.
Roasted coffee beans last about two weeks in dark airtight conditions, about two days in a grinder and two minutes ground. Do not refrigerate and freexing doesn't do a lot of good. I use a Kitchen Aid Espresso Machine and Kitchen Aid Grinder with a fine grind, usually French roast or medium roast depending on the beans.
At home I use Allpress Carmelo beans and when I bring them back from Hawai'i, my Kona faves are Mountain Thunder, Greenwell, Kona Joe's, Kona Blue Sky, Holualoa Plantation and Sugai. Use only 100% Kona beans, not blends (or 'Kona Style' or 'Kona Roast' which are often 10%) and never buy it ground. You'll find my story on Kona coffee at http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/travel/world/a-coffee-addicts-dream-escape/story-e6frezli-1111114772148 The Kona Coffee Festival is a great event in November.
Alcohol and coffee are diuretics so my primary rehydrators are Pepsi Max, Perrier with lime, Ocean Spray Cranberry Lite, Tropical Iced Tea and Barqs Diet Root Beer.