Archive for August 13, 2013

Mixers and Other Non-Alcoholic Options

Along with the premium food, boutique wine and micro-distilling movements has been the development of a premium soft drink and mixer category.  What a joy! Finally high quality mixers to go with the newly available super premium spirits.

It is comforting to know that when going out with friends, there doesn’t have to be a compromise on flavor, especially when going the evening alcohol free and the “mixer” or sparkling fruit drink suddenly becomes the focal point.  With drink-driving limits constantly dropping and that seemingly constant battle of the bulge that puts empty high calorie drinks in the crosshairs, a night on the town can seem like an exercise in temptation with no upside.

Now, consumers can find everything from organic, all natural beverages, with a variation of sweet to low sugar and no sugar options.  Best, the variety of options and flavors abound.

Tonic Water

Today, there are plenty of tonic waters on the market fitting a variety of price points, calorie counts and natural or not so natural ingredient lists.  The real beauty of tonic water is that it is flavorful alone.  And better still, whether you are at a social function or a business one, no one really needs to know whether you are “drinking” or not.

The new “slimline” or diet versions that can range from 0 calories to up to 23 calories for 200 ml mean that you can get all the flavor without unneeded calories at a range of price points.

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On the premium end of the range, the Fentimans Light Tonic Water is big on bold, botanical flavors and light on the calories.  Made with sugar and a combination of Quinine, Lemongrass, kaffir lime leave and Juniper berries there are just 23 calories per 200 ml or 7 ounces.  Together with gin, this makes a sublime gin and tonic.  On its own, it is delicious and refreshing.


Q Tonic Water is also a premium tonic water.  It is made with quinine sourced from the Peruvian Andes and sweetened with organic agave.   The sweetness perceives less on the palate than with other tonic waters on the market.  This tonic water’s flavor had a heavier focus on quinine and had a creamy effervescence.  There are 25 calories per 5 oz serving.

A Cucumber Mixer

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Qcumber, not to be confused with the company who produces Q Drinks Company’s Tonic Water listed above, is a cucumber flavored sparkling drink, made from all natural ingredients.  Sucrose is the sweetener here.  All in, there are about 67 calories in every 250 ml portion.  If you like cucumber, this drink is for you.  It captures the essence of cucumber and is great alone or as a mixer.  As there are no preservatives here, Qcumber needs to be consumed within 3 days of opening.

Non-Alcoholic Fruit Press Drinks

If you are in the mood for a fruit cocktail drink minus the alcohol,  Cawston Press makes some amazing sparkling fruit drinks.  Their drinks are not from concentrate, but are made uniquely from pressed fruit.  Cawston doesn’t use artificial sweeteners or preservatives.

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The Apple Rhubarb tastes so fresh, both sweet and tart, it is about 32 calories per 100ml.

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The Cawston Press Sparkling Ginger Beer perceives a touch sweeter on the palate than the Apple Rhubarb and has 34 calories per 100 ml.  Simply made with pressed apple juice, lemon juice, ginger and chili extracts, this is a great take on a classic.


Some Cool Snacks to Munch On…

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When you are having friends over for drinks, it is always good to have some good crunchy snacks to serve.  The selection in recent years has increased significantly, and now it can be a bit of a dilemma deciding what to buy.

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At a recent beverage I show, I was pleasantly surprised when I sampled these crisps/potato chips.  As a fan of all types of crisps, tasting the Salty Dog Flame Grilled Steak crisps was a revelation.  Smoky, savory and unique in flavor, I couldn’t stop eating them.  These aren’t your run of the mill bbq or chili flavored chips.  The Flame Grilled Steak crisps have the tanginess of Worcester sauce and are very addicting!

Guiltless Gourmet Chili Lime Tortilla Chips (no pic, sorry) are spicy with a touch of lime tang.  The best part, these chips are baked and significantly lower in calories, therefore, healthier than other comparable chips.   These are my go-to snacks, not just when I am dieting, but whenever I want a crunchy corn based treat.

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Popchips come in a variety of flavors, but even the plain sea salt ones are delicious.  Calorie-wise, Popchips are great lower-cal crunchy treat.

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Posh Hot Chilli Pork Crackling are pork rinds with a bit of a punch.  I have had spicier pork rinds before, but these were spicy without being over the top and the texture was a bit more substantial than other pork rinds on the market.

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ProperCorn Sour Cream & Chive is a delicious alternative to crisps.  Savory, chive popcorn, a delicious, unique twist on popcorn. ProperCorn also has range of other flavors worth trying out.

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Roberto & Giuseppe’s Pastinos Sicilian Lemon & Cracked Black Pepper are made with 100% real Italian pasta.  This is a really unique, lemony crunchy treat that has comparable calories per serving to crisps, but is less greasy, unless comparing to popped or baked chips, of course.

Exploring Terroir…


The term “terroir” for many is confusing. What does the word terroir mean, after all?  Well, terroir could really be used to describe the growing environment for almost any agricultural product; potatoes, wheat and lately tea comes to mind, besides the obvious connection many make to wine grape production.  The word terroir derives from the French word terre or earth, but that only tells part of the story.

Terroir is a word that has been co-opted into the wine lexicon to convey how factors such as soil, climate, and geography combined with the grape’s genetics create a unique wine, especially marked with flavors and aromas that are distinct as a result of a combination of these factors.   “Terroir Wines” are often so distinct, with such a sense of place and character, that its origins can often be discerned even when tasting blind.

In fact, many of the most famous wine regions such as Burgundy, Bordeaux and Champagne are based on this idea of terroir.  These designated areas have vineyard areas that reflect similar soil types, geographical factors and common varietals, leading to an expected flavor and aroma profile.


Terroir producers and their estates often have certain attributes.  First, they happen to have great vineyards that exist in a microclimate(s) that encourages the growth of concentrated, healthy fruit.  The soil often has good drainage and is mineral rich.   These growers respect their vineyards and soil, understanding that without great fruit, there can be no great wine.

In general,  terroir producers use the minimum of pesticides and herbicides in the vineyard, if any at all.  Taking weather condition factors into account, terroir producers avoid anything but the most natural of methods in the vineyard to prevent disease and louse infestation, believing that the least intervention in the vineyards produces wines that reflect the environment from which it comes.  Likewise, in the cellar, these producers do the minimal to alter the wines; all the gimmicks to enhance and enrich is avoided.

To understand terroir wines, it may be best to look at wines that are “anti” terroir, or wines that lack a sense of place.  These wines are easy to find.  To sum it up, these are wines that could be made in a number of countries around the world and to borrow a phrase from Max von Kunow of Weingut von Hövel don’t “show their face in the glass.”  Rather, these wines can display an “international” style that while often technically correct, could almost be termed generic as their exact origins are often impossible to discern.

You may have guessed already which wines dominate the wine landscape.  Yes, the truth is these generic, albeit, often technically correct wines have flooded the market.  But this doesn’t mean we should give up on finding wines that show true typicity of terroir, it simply means it takes more work…and drinking, to find these terroir gems.

After going to many tastings recently, I compiled a short list of terroir wines, focusing on small, family owned estates; some known, some almost unknown.  One of these estates, Jurtschitsch Winery, is an Austrian producer that particularly excels at producing top Grϋner Veltliner and Riesling; varietals that somehow seem to mirror the soil particularly well .


Located in Langenlois, in the Kamptal, Jurtschitsch produces wines that scream terroir.  In fact, their motto as espoused by winemaker Stephanie Hasselbach seems to be in making wines that express “terroir(s) without compromise.”  The estate has been organic since 2009 and when possible uses natural yeasts for fermentation.


Their Grϋner Veltliners and Rieslings showed amazing minerality with each vineyard expressing a different soil type; the Loiserberg with mica schist, Dechant with loess, the Schenkenbichl site expressing gföhl gneiss, Käferberg with amphilbolite and the Lamm vineyard which has a loam-lime rich soil.


I tasted the 2012 Loiserberg Riesling, 2012 Zӧbing Heiligenstein Riesling and the 2012 Loiserberg Grϋner Veltliner and found intense minerality in every wine.  The Loiserberg Erste Lage Riesling fermented with its own native yeast, has intense concentration of citrus and stone fruit flavors, racy acidity, finishing long.

2012 Zӧbing Heiligenstein Riesling is especially unique given the special soil of quartz that is found in this vineyard.  The vineyard, Heiligenstein or Holy Stone, is known for producing especially mineral driven, rich Rieslings that are often fermented dry, but retain plenty of fruit concentration.  Of course the estate produces other interesting wines, not to mention to compelling reds.

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Although “New World” wines often get a bad rap for lacking typicity of terroir, Lawson’s Dry Hills located in Marlborough, New Zealand has been able to produce wines with complexity and a “sense of place.” Of special interest has been the 2012 Reserve Lawson’s Dry Hills Sauvignon Blanc, which was grown on a combination of alluvial, stoney topsoil and limestone-clay soil.

This wine is very aromatic with tropical and citrus notes and a very long, minerally finish.   Lawson departs nicely from the often under-ripe, over-cropped vegetal flavors that are sometimes associated with New World Sauvignon Blancs. The rest of their line-up is also very interesting.

Champagne regions is renowned for producing wines that reflect its very specific growing conditions and soil composition.  The Côte des Bar is known for its almost full-bodied roundness and complexity, the Côte des Blancs is more delicate and elegant, with a chalky soil that is particularly suited to Chardonnay.  The Montagne des Reims is suited best Pinot Noir and produces powerful, rich wines.  In the Marne Valley, Pinot Meunier dominates and produces flowery, fruity wines.

It could be argued that it is independent Grower-Champagnes Producers who are able to best demonstrate the different terroirs of Champagne best.


Benoit Tarlant, winemaker at Tarlant

When thinking of terroir and Champagne, Tarlant Champagne comes to mind.  The Tarlant family has been involved in grape growing since 1687 and by 1780 started planting their own vineyards.  The estate consists of 4 hectares on 4 different crus, breaking down to 55 parcels located in the villages of Oeuilly, Boursault, St. Agnan and Celles-lès-Condé.

The soils consists of Chalk, Sparnacien (Clay-limestone), Sand, limestone and small pebbles.  The estate uses organic and biodynamic concepts in the vineyard and boasts vines that are on average 31 years old.  Most of Tarlant’s Champagnes are between 0 to 6 grams per liter dosage and have spent 5 years on the lees with none going through malolactic fermentation.


Tarlant’s labels are information packed

Tarlant’s  ”Terroir Revelations” include La Vigne D’Or  (100% Pinot Meunier) from 50 year old vines and grown on sparnacian soil and La Vigne D’Antan made from 100% Chardonnay and grown on sand.   La Vigne D’Antan is one of the only wines in Champagne to be made from ungrafted vines.


These terroir driven wines are truly special, however, the whole Tarlant line-up is exceptional, and as the estate is a pioneer of non-dosé wines it is definitely worth trying the Zero Rose (85% Chardonnay and 15% Pinot Noir) the fruit grown on limestone, sand, chalk and sparnacian soils  and the Brut Nature (33% Chardonnay, 33% Pinot Noir, 33% Pinot Meunier) from sparnacian, limestone, sand and chalk.


Champagne Alexandre Le Brun, Vallee de la Marne, is a 3 hectare estate that sources its grapes from parcels in eight different villages.  One of its vineyard’s holds Grand Cru status and the estate only uses natural yeasts.

The Blanc de Meunier is extra brut, 100% Pinot Meunier has 4 grams of dosage and very pretty, floral and wild strawberries notes.

The Blanc de Blancs is made up of the 2007 vintage also extra brut made from 100% chardonnay with 6 grams of dosage and comes from Choilly.

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Karam Winery, one of a few wineries located in Southern Lebanon, located in the Jezzine area on the tip of the southern part of the country.  Wine grapes have been grown in Jezzine for a few thousands of years, long before the Romans came to Lebanon.  Karam’s vineyards have altitudes up to 1300 meters (4300 ft) and have a number of different soil types, from gravely to deeper, black soils. imbibe 077

Two wines, in particular, worth checking out from this estate are the Corpus Christi and the St. JohnCorpus Christi is made from a blend of Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and has spent a year in the barrel.   Ripe flavors of black fruits; black plum, black berry and cherry fruit, velvety mouth feel with soft tannins on the palate.  The St. John is a blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Touriga.   This blend offers some unique flavors, combined with the black plum, licorice, a touch of cedar and leather flavors.


Dirk van der Niepoort

I recently tasted through the Niepoort Port line-up and was reminded again, how terroir plays a big role in the making of top ports.  I was able to taste through the line-up with winemaker-owner Dirk van der Niepoort, the fifth generation of this family owned estate.  Dirk’s motto is to respect the terroirs of the Douro and is increasingly using more organic concepts in the vineyard.


One of the most exceptional ports at the tasting was the 2009 Late Bottled Vintage, a super concentrated, very ripe, tannic port that just started shedding some of its baby fat.  It was loaded with jammy black fruit flavors and a touch of chocolate.  The 2005 Coheita was full of dried fruit, nutty and spice flavors with some hints of chocolate.

The 2001 Colheita exudes more of that spicy, dried prune aroma as is expected with ports that have started developing.   The 2011 Bioma Vinha Velha Vintage Port (cask sample), a single vineyard vintage port, rich, deep purple in color, not only are there jammy black fruit flavors, but an interesting floral, lavender and light cedar flavor that makes this port compelling even in extreme youth. 144

It goes without saying that the 1970 Vintage Port was spectacular.  1970 was an amazing year for port; very refined, dried prunes, hint of chocolate, spice and pepper.

Give terroir wines a try!