Decatur Wine and Spirits The Vintage Voice

Volume 2, Issue 2 — February, 2007


In This Issue
Editor's Note


Kindred Spirits: Brandy, Cognac, Armagnac, and Calvados

Totalmente a Mano: It’s Not Just About Prestige

Featured Products


Drink Recipe: Brandy Sidecar

Drink Recipe: The Valentine

Upcoming Events
Feb 11: Three Sisters Vineyards Wine & Chocolate Lovers Celebration

Feb 14: Valentine's Day

Feb 15: Atlanta Wine Club gallery tour at Vinings Gallery

Feb 20–Mar 27: Introduction to Wine Part 1 at the Atlanta Wine School

Feb 24: Oakhurst Wine Crawl

Feb 25: "Wines and Cheeses" at the Atlanta Wine School

Mar 1: "What to Drink with What You Eat: Seafood" at the Atlanta Wine School

Featured Product
Asombroso La Rosa
La RosaThe La Rosa is the latest addition to the AsomBroso premium tequila line. Produced from 100% Blue Agave, it is aged in vintage Bordeaux oak casks to enhance the flavor and color. As a result, the La Rosa Reposado tequila acquires a sophisticated nuance and taste without losing it's tequila heritage. Our price... Just $41.49.

To learn more about AsomBroso and their tequilas, please visit

Brandy Nuts and Bolts
All dark colored brandy is aged in wood for a number of years and most brandy is 80 to 100 proof even if made from fruit other than grapes.

For every 100 bottles of cognacs sold there are only 6 bottles of French armagnac sold from one of the region’s 8 producers.

An XO calvados often has flavors of baked apples. Really old calvados develops a flavor profile called rancio, which includes not just the baked apple but even custard and walnut hints as well.

Wine Club Selections
Zins7 Deadly Zins
“Oh Lord, forgive me my zin.” Seven of Lodi's best growers allegedly gave their souls along with the first fruits of their oldest vine vineyards to this fanciful blend by Michael David vineyards. Soft and supple, this peppery wine with hints of clove eventually turns into a sinful marriage of blackberries and cherries. The finish is clean with hints of vanilla, cocoa, and mild tannins. At just $19.99, it is sure to become one of your favorite wines.

Winery: Michael David
Vintage: 2005
Varietal: Zinfandel
Appellation: Lodi
Price: $19.99
Rating: Not Yet Rated

Altos De La Hoya Monastrell 2005

A Robert Parker “fabulous value” wine selection, this Monastrell is a blend of 92% Monastrell and 8% Garnacha grapes from Jumilla, Spain. Records show that the Monastrell grape was used in that region as early as the 15th century. Fat and lush, this wine has deep, sweet blackcurrant and blackberry flavors with no rough edges. It “finishes dense, fresh and long, with a repeating blackberry note. This has the concentration and sappy texture of a much more expensive wine,” according to Parker, who gives it a 90 point rating.

Country: Spain
Region: Jumilla
Appellation Jumilla
Varieties: 92% Monastrell, 8% Grenache
Price: $11.99
Rating: 90 points Robert Parker

Shingleback Shiraz
The wine is from the Davey family estate vineyard in the McLaren Vale Wine Region of South Australia, where the wines are made in the rich, ripe, fruit-forward style typical of the McLaren Vale. The 2003, award-winning Shingleback Shiraz is a full-bodied, supple wine with a core of ultra-ripe berry and spice. It received an 88 point rating from Wine Entusiast and has attracted the praise of numerous other wine lovers worldwide.

Country: Australia
Region: McLaren Vale
Appellation: McLaren Vale
Price: $19.99
Variety: Shiraz
Rating: 88 points Wine Enthusiast

Club Cigar
Ashton Cabinet #10
The Ashton brand was developed in the 1990’s by Robert Levin and Carlos Fuente. The Ashton Cabinet is a meaty cigar with more body and flavor than its white label original Ashton Classic counterpart. The Cabinet Series takes advantage of longer aged tobaccos and leaves from different primings to bring out a unique aroma. The Cabinet Series was the first super premium line extension Ashton and probably will not be the last.

Size: 7.5 x 52
Shape: Churchill
Tobacco: Dominican Republic
Wrapper: Connecticut shade grown
Rating: 87 points Cigar Aficionado
Price: $22.99


Editor’s Note
We have good news to report. The Greg Norman Chardonnay finally is back in stock just in time for Valentine’s Day at $2 less per bottle, or $12.99. As a result, Beth Tedrow, we finally also have the entire collection of your wine... So, please stop by to collect your reward. We apologize for the delay. But it took “The Shark” longer than expected to navigate the treacherous waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

roseWhile Valentine’s day typically invokes images of flowers, champagne and fine wine such as the Shark’s Chardonnay, this month’s feature product will tempt you to try something a little different. A tequila aged in French oaken barrels that were previously used to age vintage Bordeaux wine.

Along those lines, our wine consultant and spirit enthusiast Robert Thomas further explores the realm of the so-called “Super Wines,” otherwise known as brandy and cognac. These rather strong wines can be quite pleasant, Robert opines, if treated and chosen with the correct reverence.

Finally, we explore the age-old question of what makes a hand-rolled cigar more expensive. Is it just labor or a more complex combination of factors?

Once again, we want to thank you for subscribing to the Vintage Voice and you will find the usual monthly coupon at the end of the newsletter.

Kindred Spirits: Brandy, Cognac, Armagnac, and Calvados
Brandy has been described as wine taken to the next level. Less sweet than schnapps or wine but much more robust, a great brandy can serve as a unique after-dinner drink to enjoy alone or with a cigar.

Brandy is made all over the world from Armenia to South America, Germany and France. And while French cognac is the most famous worldwide, there are many other tempting alternatives to explore for those venturing into this world of "super wines" for the first time.

fruitGoing Ape for Fruity Flavors
Most brandies are made from grapes. However, some brandies are made from a wide range of other fruits.

Germany, France, and the United States are known for un-aged fruit brandies in flavors such as kirsch (cherry), framboise (raspberry), poire (pear), pomme (apple), and prunelle (blue plum). These brandies are made from whole fruit, resulting in a robust fruit aroma.

These “eau de vies," or waters of life, are un-aged and still fiery. But they make for pleasant additions to coffee. When combined with cream and sugar, the fruit flavor is preserved and the brandy is more approachable.

When Brandy Grows Up
Once aged, the brandy loses a bit of its fire and the “eau de vies” designation is dropped in favor of a regional name such as Cognac. All cognac comes from the Cognac region of southwestern France, and is made from white grapes (ugni blanc, colombard, and folle blanche) aged in oak.

The cognac is graded on an age system, starting with the youngest VS (very special) to "Imperial" grades of the oldest XOs (extra olds).

Cognac Aging Scale

All Cognac is graded on an aging scale from youngest to oldest. The designations are:

VS: Very Special – legally must be at least 2 and 1/2 years old, but most are 5-7 years old.

VSOP: Very Special Old Pale – legally must be 4 and 1/2 years, but most are aged for 5-13 years.

XO: Extra Old – legally must be 6 years old, but most are aged between 7 to 40 years.

If you like a young, fruity, fiery cognac, or are planning to mix the cognac then choose a VS. If you like something mellow, most people gravitate toward a VSOP. The XOs, while very smooth and nice, are by far the most expensive with a starting cost of about $100 a bottle and going up into the thousands!

Regional Considerations
In addition to age, the other key factor is the region. Grapes from Grande Champagne and Petit Champagne are widely considered the best.

In the U.S., the most common and reliable brands of cognac include the houses of Remy Martin, Hennesey, Martell and Courvoisier. More difficult to find—but well worth the search—are the independent, small houses of France such as Maison Prunier.

But cognac is not the only brandy produced in France.

Like cognac, armagnac is a French grape brandy. But unlike cognac, armagnac is distilled only once rather than twice and is aged in black oak barrels rather than white oak.

Armagnac also tends to be less frequently blended, giving it an earthier, heartier style than the smoother lighter style of cognac.

The last great aged brandy of France is calvados from Normandy. This is apple country, and this brandy is made from apples rather than grapes.

According to legend, the Vikings drank calvados as long as 1000 years ago. It is distilled twice like cognac, yielding a smooth sipping brandy.

Combined, these brandies will always ensure France a place in the pantheon of great brandies. But in the end, all brandies are kindred spirits… robust distillations full of character.

Totalmente a Mano: It’s Not Just About Prestige
Many seasoned smokers often count on visual cues such as color to determine the quality of a cigar. But there are a number of subtler factors that account for quality in picking a cigar.

While premium cigars, or cigars filled with long-leaf tobacco, account for the majority of cigars exported to the U.S., there are distinctions that go beyond the grade of tobacco. Among those distinctions are whether the cigar was hand-rolled or machine-rolled, along with the skill of the cigar maker.

selectionNo Substitute For Experience
Most cigars in the “premium” category will be aged longer than typical cigars. But it is the cigar maker who selects the type of leaves that go into the filler and binder.

As a result, a more skilled roller will use their instincts to combine different parts of the tobacco plant in the filler to create a more complex flavor and aroma. Their skill in picking the tobacco is especially significant in that a truly premium cigar might be made using leaves from 20 plants, marrying flavors from different types of leaves in search of harmony. The different leaves blending together account for the more complex flavor.

And while the most expensive cigars are made from a single year's outstanding crop, there is another reason for the premium price on hand-rolled cigars.

Don’t Fray On Me
The primary reason good cigars cost more is because they're aged longer. A quality wrapper will be aged over 7 years before the cigar is even rolled. Afterwards, the rolled cigar typically is put in a cedar room an aged for an extra 90 days or more.

But this aged tobacco requires special handling, such as a the care provided by an expert roller. Therefore, a hand-rolled cigar is also likely to be aged for a longer period than a machine-rolled cigar.

Picking The Best
Cigars in this category generally are made by all the major brands as “reserve” cigars. They can be distinguished from their lesser counterparts by the label, which will designate the cigar as being “Totalmente a Mano,” or completely made by hand.

Among those are the Aurtro Fuente “Ashtons” and Romeo and Julieta “Toros.” The rolling of these upper-end cigars is often supervised by a family member and is judged for quality prior to release.

But as with most things, you will be charged for the extra service. After all, this is one field where man still beats machine.

Recipe: Classic Brandy Sidecar
SidecarThe Sidecar was invented at a bar in Paris during World War I. It was made in honor of an American soldier who was fond of arriving at the bar driven in a motorcycle sidecar. Any brandy and tripel sec will make a good sidecar, but the traditional version is made with cognac and Contreau.

1/2 oz Lemon Juice
1 oz Cointreau or other Tripel Sec, or Grand Marnier
1 oz Cognac, Armagnac, or other Brandy

Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass (preferably sugar-rimmed). Garnish with a strip or twist of lemon rind.

Recipe: The Valentine
ValentineNot just any old valentine; this is the valentine. This four-liquor drink might take some shopping to prepare for, but you'll find it to be the bartender's equivalent of a box of truffels.

1/2 oz vodka
1/3 oz Chambord or other raspberry liqueur
1/3 oz Godiva or other chocolate liqueur
1/3 oz Kahlua or other coffee liqueur

Combine ingredients in a highball or cocktail galss, stir, and serve.

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