Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Rum, Hammond, and Beer in St. Kitts and Nevis

My whole family just returned from celebrating Christmas and vacationing at the wonderful Caribbean islands of St. Kitts and Nevis. Besides the normal sun, sand, snorkling, and snoring that generally accompanies a beach vacation; this trip included plenty of local beer, rum, and hammond: local moonshine.

When arriving in St. Kitts you immediately notice the supremacy of Carib beer advertising as its displayed everywhere - bars, billboards, and boats.  Even though the parent company is located in Trinidad, there's a local Carib Brewery that produces its namesake beer as well as almost anything else drunk on the island - including Ting (grapefruit juice beverage) and Shandy (low alcohol, sweet beverages).  Once you tire of the the sweet malty flavors of Carib, most bars also carry Skol and Stag - two European styled lagers with slightly more hops - but headaches galore.  Most interesting, during a beach bar crawl on Frigate Bay, the friendly bartender Aleric at ChinChillas, brought out two surprise local beers: a Guinness and Mackesons. Apparently Carib Brewery partners with the parents of these brands (Carlsberg for Stol) and brews these favorites on the island. The Mackeson Cream Stout became a regular night time ritual and I learned to drink Guinness in the local custom - on the rocks. Best of all, there was price parity between the stouts and the lagers.

>Beer's all good, but of course when in the islands, Rum is the word and I immediately headed to the Duty Free store to at the Marriott to stock up for the week. They offer samples of the various rums locally distilled at Brinley Gold Shipwreck Rum. The distillery offers a wide portfolio from spiced, coconut, mango, vanilla, and even coffee - which may have been my favorite. Their spiced rum was not over the top (mostly vanilla and nutmeg) and was a nice sipping rum for Christmas. However, I was seeking a solid reserved rum to fortify weakly made coladas and rum punches and none of Havana Club Havana Club Añejo 7 Años - my mind was set - not only because of its Cuban origins but also its a sweet honey and nutty flavor. I carried a water bottle filled with the HC all week, great for sipping on the beach or fortifying cocktails. One of these cocktails was a Ting and Sting - the grapefruit beverage above and Cane Spirit Rothschild (CSR) - a white rum produced from sugar cane syrup. Quite refreshing - although CSR comes with a burn - don't bother drinking neat. Although still billed as the Spirit of St Kitts, CSR has been distilled by Demerara Distillers Limited in Guyana and then bottled at a plant in Basseterre since the death of CRS's founder Baron Edmund Rothschild.  Another rum distilled by DDL and bottled in St. Kitts is Belmont Estate, a medium bodied rum - nothing special - but at $8 a decent souvenir.

Now being a fan of all things distilled - and those undercover of darkness - I asked around about real locally made rum and learned about hammond. This is the St. Kitts version of moonshine and most is now made in the more secluded island of Nevis. Fortunately we planned a Blue Water Safaris catamaran excursion to the island where I learned that several bars utilize the hammond in their rum punches. At our first stop, I asked for several rum punches and a hammond and with a smile the bartender pulled out a container containing a clear liquid and poured a couple fingers.  This one had a hot sugary aroma, but the flavor profile was rather smooth - trending more to a cachaca then traditional rum.  The punch was also made with hammond and with the addition of a nutmeg sprinkle was a more interesting twist of the standard fruity flavor. I then pressed my luck and asked if there were any darker versions of hammond and after a few whistles and shouts a water bottle appeared with a medium roasted looking rum. The aroma was incomprehensible - part peat, part hay, part tobacco - with a more pronounced wild nutty flavor that lasts forever. The most bizarre spirit I have ever tasted - but so intriguing. This hammond was distilled from molassis that has been fermented with with yucca and aged with green nuts. Guiness on the rocks is a nice chaser to this one.

Finally, no trip to St. Kitts is complete without a stop at the famous Rum Tree - between Sprat Net and the entrance to Caribelle Batik. Now that's a Christmas Tree. Cheers and pair with any steel drum or reggae music.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Wine Chateau brings back memories with the Ruffino Chianti Classico Riserva Ducale Oro Gold 2008

When our friends at the Wine Chateau forwarded a care package, one of the wines brought back memories of my first ventures into wine though the Ruffino brand. A neighborhood Italian restaurant served the Ruffino Il Ducale and over time we graduated to the top of the chain - the Ruffino Chianti Classico Riserva Ducale Oro Gold ($30). The winery has operated in Tuscany since 1877, when the cousins Ilario and Leopoldo Ruffino starting sourcing local fruit to produce wine. Over time the winery survived succession and war and in 1947 winery produces it first Chianti Classico Riserva Ducale Oro Gold. In this package I received the 2008 vintage, one year removed from the 50th anniversary bottling. The Sangiovese grapes are harvested  from the Ruffino estates of Gretole, Santedame, and Montemasso, within the Chianti Classico sub region. The wine also includes a small percentage of Cabernet and Merlot and was aged two years in oak and then another six months in bottle. The result is a big wine with luscious dark black fruit, some leather and dirt, and a polished finish - smooth with  balanced tannins. A very good wine at a very reasonable price. Cheers

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Graffigna Centenario Elevation Red Blend Reserve 2012

During the past few weeks I have been learning about Argentinean wine through Protocol Wine Studio's titter chat #winestudio. This week they had planned their Grand Tasting of the wines discussed in previous weeks, and wouldn't you know that that day, I received a prize from Argovino a reviewer of Argentinean wine. Apparently my email was selected from their newsletter subscribers and I was sent the Graffigna Centenario Elevation Red Blend Reserve 2012 ($10). Forget about the price tag for a moment. The Graffigna family immigrated from Italy and settled in San Juan, Argentina - establishing the winery in 1870. This makes them the oldest winery in the Pedernal Valley and the second oldest in all of Argentina. San Juan is located in the steppes of the Andes Mountains - a desert climate - dry, with 310 days of annual sunshine. Wind sweeps off the mountains that help to prevent mildew rot and disease. The Graffigna estates are located anywhere from 700-1,500 meters above sea level on steep slopes that are nourished from an underground water supply. Graffigna Centenario Elevation Red Blend Reserve 2012 is an equal blend of Bonarda (Douce noir/Charbono), Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Syrah, and Tannat. The wine is fruit forward, made to be drunk now, even though there are some subtle tannins to balance the fruit. The flavor is a jammy blackberry plum combo followed by nice acidity. This is a very drinkable wine and for ten bucks - what's not to like. Pair with The Gipsy Kings. Cheers.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Wine Chateau Uncorks Life with the 2011 Château des Jacques Moulin-à Vent

Our friends at the Wine Chateau sent us another care package this Fall and I immediately saw fit to open the 2011 Château des Jacques Moulin-à Vent ($23). The wine is part of the Louis Jardot portfolio and is made from Gamay grown in the prestigious Moulin-à-Vent appellation in Beaujolais. Nothing wrong with the seasonal Beaujolais Nouveau, but this is a more Burgundian wine - having spent ten months in oak (30% in new oak) - and is age-able for those with patience. Not here. This is a juicy wine, full of black cherry, plenty of texture, with a slight mocha chocolate finish.  Well done, indeed. Check back soon when we open the Ruffino Classico Riserva and Castello Banfi Belnero. Cheers.