4 fine spirits to cheer you on in 2020

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Yep, it’s freakin’ cold out there. So this is a good time of year to enjoy fine spirits – straight up, on the rocks or in cocktails, either before or with meals, or as after-dinner nips to round out your dining experience. If you haven’t tried spirits in a while, the options listed below give a good place to start experimenting. We tried all of these recently when we received samples. Very nice ways to bring a little warmth and joy to our dark winter nights.

Maker's Mark Bourbon
Maker’s Mark Bourbon

Maker’s Mark Bourbon. This small-batch bourbon whiskey is produced in Loretto, Kentucky by Beam Suntory. 90 US proof, it’s sold in squarish bottles sealed with red wax. Instead of rye, this bourbon is made with red winter wheat along with corn and malted barley. You get to try it when you take a tour of the distillery or when you take the American Whiskey Trail and/or the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Check out the Maker’s Mark website for info on Maker’s Mark 46, Maker’s Mark Wood Finishing Series 2019 Limited Release, and other expressions you might like. SRP ~$30. And by the way, Maker’s Mark is partners with Chicago’s own Cubs team.

Gentleman Jack Tennessee whiskey
Gentleman Jack Tennessee whiskey

Gentleman Jack. This Tennessee whiskey is double mellowed for superior smoothness. Its exceptional balanced oak flavor is highlighted with notes of caramel and vanilla, all inspired by the founder of Jack Daniel’s. Visit the website for some beautiful images, more about the distillery and the other expressions like Old No. 7 or Single Barrel Select. There are recipes and even a video with their Master Distiller showing how to taste whiskey and what you can expect from Gentleman Jack. SRP ~$28.

Speyburn 10 Years Old
Speyburn 10 Years Old

Speyburn 10 Years Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky. This single malt offers a classic Speyside experience with its medium-bodied, delicate and fruity character with a long, smooth finish. With its excellent characteristics and its reasonable price point, Speyburn makes a great hostess gift for friends, family or co-workers. Speyburn 10 Years Old exhibits the distillery character and house style – the soft spirit marries with the gentle oak influence to create a perfectly balanced and approachable dram. At ten years old, the quality of this Speyburn is still identifiable before the wood takes front stage. SRP ~$30.

Caorunn Scottish Gin
Caorunn Scottish Gin

Caorunn Scottish Gin. Handcrafted in the Scottish Highlands by Gin Master Simon Buley, is a specialized gin that’s infused with five locally foraged Celtic botanicals along with six traditional ones in the world’s only working Copper Berry Chamber. Rowan Berry, Dandelion, Coul Blush Apple, Bog Myrtle and Scottish Heather are harvested within walking distance of the distillery and come together to create a wildly Scottish spirit in a modern London Dry Gin style. The result is dry and crisp with an aromatic, fruity taste, a floral touch and a long dry finish. Mix with a premium tonic and garnish with red apple slices for a perfect (and festive) drink or mix up any number of traditional or creative cocktails. SRP ~$35,

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Mandrarossa wines shine at Two Restaurant in Chicago

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Mandrarossa wines at Two Restaurant
Mandrarossa wines at Two Restaurant

Sicily is in the business recently of making Americans become increasingly aware of the changes and improvements in Italian winemaking, especially in Sicily since establishing SiciliaDOC, their oversight consortium for quality. This past December Alberto Antonini, long-time consulting winemaker for Sicily’s Mandrarossa Winery, hosted a small group of trade and press at an intimate wine tasting and luncheon at Two Restaurant to showcase some of its excellent wines.

Alberto is among the most influential consultants from Italy with over 20 years’ experience working with some of world’s top wineries. Since Mandrarossa’s inception in 1999, Alberto has worked closely with the winery’s head winemaker and agronomist to identify the top estates within Menfi’s micro terroirs to produce Mandrarossa’s premium line of estate-bottled wines, all imported by Palm Bay.

Mandrarossa Nero D'Avola
Mandrarossa Nero D’Avola
Mandrarossa 100% Grillo
Mandrarossa 100% Grillo

Alberto shared two new expressions from Mandrarossa that represent the deepest level of research and selection to date, “Terre del Sommaco,” a 100% Nero d’Avola grown on limestone soils over 1000 feet asl, and “Bertolino Soprano,” a 100% Grillo grown on limestone soils nearly 500 feet asl. Designated “vini di contrada” or “single territory wines,” these limited production offerings have been crafted to show the purest expression of their respective grape varieties and territories. Additionally, Alberto shared a selection of current releases from Mandrarossa, including expressions of indigenous and international varieties alongside a carefully designed menu.

The wines were paired beautifully with hand-picked courses selected by owner Yamandu Perez and the two chefs at Two Restaurant, a unique eatery situated in West Town at 1132 w. Grand. Its rustic decor and communal tables make for a casual but chic environment in which to enjoy the unique creations that combine American tastes with the many other influences Perez was exposed to during his career –  born in Santiago, Chile; raised in Cuba, France, Uruguay, and Alaska. Having Perez join in the luncheon together with the warmth and friendliness of Alberto and his team made for a very enjoyable experience.

Sun-drenched cleanup after Mandrarossa lunch at Two Restaurant
Sun-drenched cleanup after Mandrarossa lunch at Two Restaurant

If you’ve never been to Two Restaurant, you may want to put it on your to-do list to sample the creations of its two chefs, Executive chef Tom Van Lente and chef de cuisine Kevin Cuddihee. And if you’ve never tasted these lovely wines, you won’t go wrong by giving some of them a try.

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5+ wines to help you wind your way through winter

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Winter is a depressing season for many. But looked at another way, it’s a time full of joy and promise. In the beauty of the magical sky and clouds. The stark beauty of the naked branches braving the wind, sparkling with ice or outlined with pristine snow. And of course, the joys of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s celebrations. Even if the gray skies get you down sometimes, light some candles, get out your good china, and grace your table with one of the many marvelous wines made to the highest standards, crafted with decades and even centuries of winemaking experience. And who says champagne and bubblies are only for the holidays? Here are a few ideas.

Palmer & co. Brut Reserve
Palmer & co. Brut Reserve
Palmer Brut Reserve and IGT Modus Toscana, both from Palm Bay Importers
Palmer Brut Reserve and IGT Modus Toscana, both from Constellation Brands

Champagne Palmer & Co Brut Reserve NV. This, the vineyard’s flagship expression, is a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, including many doses of reserve wines. Four years aging on the lees in a maze of deep, chalky cellars 60 feet below ground gives the wine its refinement and aromatic complexity. Enjoy aromas of citrus, pear, and apricot with notes of hazelnut and buttery brioche. A perfect balance of succulent and substantial depth with a delightful freshness that will help make all your occasions sparkle like it’s the holidays. SRP ~$60.

Ruffino 2016 Modus IGT Toscana. This delicious red blend is from the notable wine-making brand, where they consider the Modus – which in Latin means “method” or “the way” – a contemporary way of expressing Tuscany with this blend of three of the most respected grapes in the world of wine. As a result, you’ll enjoy refined texture and red fruit aromas from the Sangiovese and smoothness and delicate notes of berries and mint from the Merlot, along with structure and elegance from the Cabernet. And it all comes together in a gorgeous, rich, deep color. This is a total winner for us fans of big reds! SRP ~$26.

Chateau Lassegue label
Chateau Lassegue label

Lassègue Saint-Émilion Grand Cru 2011. A classic red beauty. Renowned vigneron Pierre Seillan and his son Nicolas harvest fruit (Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon) from their south by southwest-facing hillside vineyards to produce Lassègue, which has become known for its simple elegance, striking balance and rich complexity. The 2011 is an austere, full vintage, with notes of ripe blackberries and aromas of leather, baking spices and graphite. This polished wine features a velvety softness with silky tannins that move in crescendo towards a pressingly long finish. A classic expression of Saint-Émilion, Lassègue offers both brightness and sophistication to grace your table any time of year. SRP ~$65.

Charles Heiseick brut reserveCharles Heidsieck Brut Reserve. Excellent champagne – a sophisticated blend that incorporates up to 40% Chardonnay and Pinot Noir reserve wines and sports a lively perlage with an elegant and refined palate. The texture, say the winemaker notes, is like “a crisp layer of nougatine on a velvety cream pastry, filled with plump red plums and ripe cherries.” Lush with finishing notes of praline and vanilla. Fabulous! SRP ~$50-60.

Trentodoc Altemasi Brut Millesimato 2013. A beautiful 100% Chardonnay bubbly with a persistent foam of fine bubbles that ‘s made using the traditional Metodo Classico from grapes grown in the Trentino region of Italy. Complex, highly refined nose with luscious fruity notes of citrus and peach. Dry, pleasantly crisp on the palate with a good, well-balanced structure. A nice aperitif and/or an excellent accompaniment to seafood pasta dishes, salmon and lighter white fish. SRP ~$42.

Kosher wines

Yatir Kosher wines for all year long
Yatir Kosher wines for all year long

Yatir is a well-recognized maker of red and white Kosher wines that are just what the doctor ordered for Kosher celebrations. Kosher wines used to be thought of as bad quality, but modern versions that use traditional winemaking techniques have proven that idea a long-gone myth, according to Adam Montefiore, an expert on Israeli wine and Kosher wine, who wrote on the WineFolly blog on the subject of Kosher wine quality and the difference between Mevushal or non-Mevushal (eligible or not to be poured by non-observant Jews and others). It’s a good article for learning what Kosher wine is and isn’t, and exactly what is different about the process. Meanwhile, Yatir makes wines with many traditional grape varieties you’ll recognize. Read their concise descriptions to help you choose one or more from their portfolio: Yatir Syrah, Yatir Amasa Red Blend, Yatir Cabernet Sauvignon, Yatir Forest Red Blend, Yatir Viognier. Watch the little videos with some of the wines, too. Very upbeat music and brief fun discussions with the winemakers! SRPs range from ~$25 to ~$70.

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