Are You a Seasonal Drinker?

Until April, you’ll find me burrowed under blankets with my winter tonic in hand. That could mean a Big Sexy Red – preferably at least 14 percent alcohol – but more often I reach for a more bracing drink: bourbon, rye, a nice sipping rum, brandy or grappa. Something distilled, please.

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Scientists say I’m not alone, but they don’t agree on the reason we change drinks with the seasons. Some claim seasonal drinking is triggered by changes in temperature and precipitation, others believe it’s a social curiosity.

Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report an early-winter pattern of over-indulging during the holiday season, then a pause when we make our New Year’s resolutions to cut back on the booze. They even have a name for it: the “January effect.” (The spirits industry probably doesn’t mind; they earn more than 25 percent of their profits between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.)

Another study found people with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) sometimes drink more in winter as treatment for their sunshine deficiency, resulting in an alcohol-induced depression. One more possibility: there could be a genetic link between drinking and seasonality.

But you can’t broad-brush these findings. For instance, college students’ breath alcohol levels are reportedly higher in spring and winter – so why do they drink less in the fall, when you’d expect they would be kicking up their heels?

Apparently, location matters, too, but results still are puzzling. A study funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation found that Swiss men drink more and cause more alcohol-related accidents on summer weekdays, but not on weekends. In Australia, drinkers cut back on beer in winter and drink more red and fortified wines. In fact, their red wine sales spike more than 33 percent between July and September when it’s winter in the southern hemisphere. I would expect a small increase in red-wine sales, but 33 percent?

If your “January effect” is about spirits, this also is flu season, and fans of the hard stuff know that one of the most soothing remedies is a simple hot toddy. Just steep two tea bags in a cup and a half of boiling water (about 5 minutes), then add lemon and honey. Pour two ounces of bourbon in a mug and pour the tea over it. You’ll feel better, just a little, in an hour.

Wine Lingo:  Solera system (used in producing the rums reviewed, below) = a fractional blending process that involves stacking casks of wine or spirits with the youngest at the top. Periodically, some of the newest wine is poured into the row of casks below it, while some of the wine from that cask is transferred to the next row down, and so on. Only wine from the oldest/bottom batch is bottled, and fresh wine replenishes the wine in the top batch so every bottle is a blend of old and new. The solera system traditionally is used in producing sherry and Madeira, but often with other wines and spirits as well.

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Vino ‘View:  If I didn’t tell you that Papa’s Pilar (86 proof; Dark $39.99, Blonde $29.99) was rum, you’d think you were sipping quality brandy. Sourced from various locations across the Caribbean and Central America, these rums are solera-blended and aged in sherry and Port casks. The dark version is full and smooth, tasting of plums, pecans, unsweetened chocolate and allspice, with a bit of dry sherry on the finish. The blonde is a tropical surprise; grapefruit competes with orange peel, cantaloupe mixes with lemon bar, and it’s another super-smooth number. I wouldn’t mix these rums even with a splash of water; the alcohol level isn’t so high that you’d need to dilute them. Add an ice cube and relish the refined taste.

[Papa’s Pilar Rums were sent to BigSexyReds for review.]

Cheers!

Mary

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My Top 10 Wines & Spirits in 2017

As you might guess, I enjoy an adult beverage (or two) pretty much every day. That adds up to a lot of different wines and spirits. Selecting 10 favorites was a challenge – but holy Zinfandel, was the research fun!

These bottles range in price from super-affordable to impress-the-boss splurge, but none are ridiculously pricey. Any would make superb holiday gifts.

In no particular order, these are my 2017 picks:

 

 

  • When I served Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva (40 proof, $38) to a few friends, none of them knew they were sipping rum – they thought it tasted like brandy or a honey-infused bourbon. That’s not too far-fetched, since this Venezuelan beauty is aged for up to 12 years in bourbon barrels. Long aging bestows elegance on a fine rum; this one carries notes of fennel, caramel, oak and corn. I wouldn’t mix Diplomatico – savor it neat or cool it with one ice cube.
  • If you haven’t tried reds from northern Italy, the 2016 Colterenzio St. Magdalener, DOC Alto Adige (12.5 percent alcohol, $14) is a good introduction. Its vegetable tone is delicious, tinged with parsley and, as it rests, tea and black cherries. It’s a bit stony, and the ashy aroma continues into the taste with milk chocolate and smoke in the finish. If you don’t like tannins, you’ll love this wine, but keep it for a year or two before you crack the bottle.
  • I drank my 2014 Yarden Malbec (14.5 percent alcohol, $32.99) while I munched on olives, cheese and pepperoni – a typical lazy supper for moi – and it held up beautifully. This Israeli wine, produced in the Golan Heights in Galilee, is a real Big Sexy Red – plums and smoke aroma, followed by bacon, blackberries and a bit of dark raisin tastes. It reminded me of Trader Joe’s dark chocolate covered shortbread stars, but with heat.
  • Whenever I see Zweigelt, I buy it because it’s not that common in the U.S., but I had never tried a Zweigelt rosé. Earlier this year, a friend gave me a bottle of 2015 Josef & Philipp Bründlmayer Grafenegg Rosé vom Zweigelt (12 percent alcohol, $50) and I’m on a mission to find more. Although Zweigelt is a relatively obscure grape in the U.S. it’s actually the most-planted red in Austria. The soft salmon-colored wine is a high-acid gem – “almost fizzy,” my friend said – but creamy and earthy at the same time.

 

 

 

  •  Pinot Noir isn’t always a big-bold red, but the 2013 Gloria Ferrer Pinot Noir       Carneros (13.5 percent alcohol, $27) is almost chewy, and dark like a California tan. I got an aroma of dark grapes, blackberries and a bit of turkey sausage (and I mean that in a good way). Add black pepper, raspberries, plums, bell peppers and pomegranate on the palate – a well-ordered structure with smoke and mocha on the finish.
  • I discovered Hanson of Sonoma Small Batch Cucumber Flavored Vodka (80 proof, $26) on a trip to Sonoma last spring and when I returned in November, I brought home two bottles. Don’t let the “flavored” deter you; these certified organic artisan distillers infuse their grape-based vodkas with real produce, and you won’t be drinking a cucumber salad – that taste is barely a kiss. It’s only distributed on the West Coast, but I found it online at MissionLiquor.com. Shipping cost for one bottle is exorbitant, but if you buy three or more it gets reasonable.
  •  One of the hottest wine regions these days is Eastern Europe, and 2015 Patricius Tokaj Dry Furmint (12 percent alcohol, $15) is a great example of the quality wines produced there. Tokaj in Hungary is the world’s first designated wine appellation, and Furmint, one of its most abundant white grapes, is used for making both sweet and dry wines. This one is as dry as wine gets – zesty, fresh, with strong minerality and stone fruit flavors, along with a touch of pineapple and banana.

 

 

 

  • I haven’t tasted every rye in the world, but Russell’s Reserve 6 Year Old Small Batch Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey (90 proof, $49.99) is the best I’ve tried. Developed by Wild Turkey’s master distiller Jimmy Russell, it’s one smooth drink. The tastes are a delicious blend of toffee, rye, pecan and cinnamon – and don’t you dare mix it; this is a fine sipping rye. Just make sure it’s labeled “6 Year Old,” because the regular Russell’s Reserve Rye is 104 proof and not nearly as refined-tasting.
  • Casal Thaulero’s 2009 Thalé Montepulciano D’Abruzzo (14 percent alcohol, $40) is that special-occasion bottle you set aside – but just for a short while, because it’s at its peak now. After aromas of red fruit and vanilla, expect a big, bold mouthfeel and tastes of maple, pumpkin spice and dry leaves – perfect for fall and winter drinking.
  • It’s probably not fair for me to include this bottle because a friend bought it in Italy, but Limoncello is my favorite digestivo and always makes a great gift. It’s traditionally made with Sorrento lemons in southern Italy, but I’ve come across some terrific limoncello produced here in the U.S., too. Get recommendations from your liquor merchant; the best limoncello is sweet enough that you know you’re drinking liqueur, but not cloying; and tart but not bitter. Like any fine liquor, it should be smooth and balanced. You can find quality limoncello for less than $40.

Bonus picks – Three choice drinks didn’t make the list: Ferrari Grappa Segnana Solera, omitted only because it’s not distributed in the U.S. (but worth ordering online if you can find it); OYO Bourbon Whiskey, Michelone Reserve, distributed only in eight states but also available online; and Maker’s 46, a great option when you want a not-ordinary bourbon to sip by the fire. All three are in my cabinet…So many bottles, so little time!

Next up – uncommon, last-minute wine gifts for any wine lover – or treat yourself!

Cheers,

Mary