20071230

Help at the 11th hour



If you need a last-second inspiration for your New Year's Toast or a bit of verse appropriate to the moment, just go to my "Toasts & Crumbs" blog and scroll down. I think you'll find something you like.

HAPPY NEW YEAR 2008!

20071229

Letters: I need my Gala Rouge

Bill:

I live in NY City and am having a hard, hard time finding Gala Rouge. Went on their website for info. re. retailers, but that section does not work either.

I tried sending them e-mail, but they are asking me to fill in information about me that has nothing to do with my search for the wine. Too nooozzy!

I am ready to buy a case. Are they ready 2 sell w/out extracting my s/s # from me...?

-- A. Nonymous, New York, NY

Dear A:

Try one of these online vendors:

• Jericho Wines
• Grand Wine Cellar
• Black Tie Wine & Spirits

P.S. For those unfamiliar with this particular wine, here's a link to a story I wrote on it last year.

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20071226

My 10 best beverage moments of 2007

In no particular order, here is a big chunk of my 2007 in review:

(1.) Best Drinking and Driving: Put down the protest signs. Some fellow writers and I did the drinking and the charter-bus driver did all the driving -- through Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia as we traversed the major portion of the American Whiskey Trail.

In addition to visiting such iconic distilleries as Jack Daniel's, Jim Beam, Labrot & Graham, Maker's Mark, Wild Turkey and George Dickel, we hit some historic sites and got to meet a wide range of people in all those states. True Americana.

(2.) Best Ad Campaign: The bust-a-gut-laughing set of TV commercials for the Irish whiskey known as The Knot. (See the whole batch of them here.) They feature a bantam rooster sort of guy in a pub who takes no nonsense about whiskey.

(3.) Best New-to-Me Whiskey: I had already completed, or so I thought, an article on American ryes for the UK magazine Whisky when I received this hard-to-find gem as a birthday present. It completely changed my mind on which ryes were the best. Black Maple Hill Rye is tough enough to find in the 18-year-old version, but the 23-year-old takes special investigatory powers.

An initial burst of brown sugar, heat and spice quickly transforms into a mellow, oaky smoothness. Despite the richness there is an ethereal lightness one seldom experiences in hot ryes. Fruit notes such as apple and pear dance around the edges, but the palate responds again and again to the varied spices. Utterly splendid, and worth every moment you spend tracking it down.

(4.) Best Appelation Visit: After participating in a wine competition judging in Napa, CA, I drove to nearby Lodi to experience a region in transition from wine grape producing to winemaking, sort of what Napa was like 20 years ago. The region is dotted with third- and fourth-generation farm families who have been moving from mostly supplying major winemakers to developing their own wines and brands.

They’re working hard at making the Lodi brand known outside the Pacific Coast and trying to develop tourism and ancillary businesses along with it, just as Napa did in its early days

(5.) Best New Cocktails Tried: This was a very interesting category to narrow down. In the course of my business I try a lot of different drinks in the course of the year. Some are very complex, some very simple. I like simple better. In two establishments -- T-Bar at Charlie's Restaurant in Lake Placid, NY, and the Reluctant Panther in Manchester, VT -- I coincidentally ran into signature drinks created for each place by Las Vegas-based mixology guru Tony Abou-Ganim then used by the on-premises bartenders to spin off their own versions.

At T-Bar, I enjoyed both the Gondolettes' Blackberry Caiprosca, a simple drink with a complexity of flavors from muddled fresh lime and berries with citrus vodka. Bartender Laura Keaney's recipe switched it to a raspberry recipe to take advantage of the availability of plump local berries.

At the Reluctant Panther, the signature drink takes on the name of the establishment. It's a mixture of Belvedere vodka, freshly-made lemon sour, chambord, champagne and blackberries marinated in Grand Marnier. Bar manager John Cohen created a spinoff using Stoli Blueberry vodka, freshly-made lemon sour, Blue Curacao, Sprite and fresh berries marinated in Grand Marnier.

(6.) Best New-to-Me Beer: Toña, hands down. This Nicaraguan beer is a lager brewed by Compania Cervecera de Nicaragua (CCN), made with German yeast and malt, North American hops and Nicaraguan deep-well water. The chief brewer is Rudiger Adelmann, who formerly worked for Steinecker GmbH, a German company that designs and produces brewing and filter technologies for the beverage production industry.

When I served up Toña at a beer blind-judging session, among the comments were: "It's much smoother than the Budweiser, and with a bolder flavor. ... I'd drink this beer all night ... It's very rich and creamy. ... Plenty of taste but doesn't overdo the carbonation so it goes down easy. ... This is easy to evaluate: It's an excellent beer!"

(7.) Best News Story Comment: When I reported that an illegal cache of Jack Daniel's whiskey products, including some old and rare ones, had been seized in Tennessee and probably would be destroyed by the authorities, one of my readers e-mailed this perspective:

"When the authorities in Tennessee recover stolen art do they burn it?"

(8.) Best Host's Revenge: I've often wanted to find a way to get even with guests who reply to "What would you like to drink?" with the non-committal -- and unhelpful -- response "Anything" or "Whatever." A Singapore company called Out of The Box came up with soft drinks called "Anything," a carbonated drink, and "Whatever," a tea-based non-carbonated product. So, when someone makes the appropriate inappropriate reply, you can hand them a can of what matches their response. But that's only one level of revenge.

The second twist is that the flavors inside the cans remain a mystery. They could be cola with lemon, apple, root beer, lemon, peach, jasmine, apple, white grape and chrysanthemum , but there is no indication on the exteriors of the cans which flavor is inside. Gotcha.

(9.) Best New Old Beer: Most brewers strive to come up with something new. Sam Calagione, owner of the Dogfish Head Craft Brewery group in Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, is using a 9,000-year-old recipe for his latest offering, Chateau Jiahu. He explained it this way: "Preserved pottery jars found in the Neolithic villiage of Jiahu, in Henan province in northern China, has revealed that a mixed fermented beverage of rice, honey and fruit was being produced that long ago, right around the same time that barley beer and grape wine were beinginning to be made in the Middle East."

So, in 2005, molecular archeologist Dr. Patrick McGovern of the University of Pennsylvania asked Dogfish Head to re-create their second ancient beverage and Chateau Jiahu was born, and went to market in '07. It's an 8% beer.

(10.) Best New Old Distillery: No contest here. While some distillers were pumping millions of dollars into new or expanded facilities, the historic-minded folks at Mount Vernon, VA., rebuilt George Washington's original distillery, based on his diary accounts of the operation that burned down nearly 200 years ago.

Washington's rye whiskey has been recreated there, and the new structure is being used as a tourist attraction several miles from the mansion. I was privileged to be part of the invited group attending the official opening of the facility, and sampled some of the young rye.

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20071224

Nollaig shona duit!

That's in the old Irish tongue. Put in plain English, Happy Christmas!

If you're looking for toasts and salutations for the holidays that will make friends and family smile or laugh out loud, check my "Toasts & Crumbs" blog, the sub-title of which is "When Words Fail You, Try These."

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20071222

Raising a lot more glasses to cognac

PHOTO BY WILLIAM M. DOWD

Cognac may not come immediately to mind when one thinks of the rapidly growing niches of alcoholic beverages. It should.

A little background. Cognac is a brandy, a grape-based product -- an "eaux-de-vie'' fermented like wine then twice distilled. By French law, supported by the World Trade Organization, the spirit can originate only in the town of Cognac and six surrounding viticultural areas.

There is more than one kind of cognac due to the variety of soils in the region. The grapes used are from several white wine varieties, principally the Ugni Blanc, known elsewhere as the Trebbiano grape. Cognacs must be aged in wood at least two years. Most producers use Limousin oak. Martell, for example, prefers the more aromatic Troncais oak.

According to the 2007 edition of "The U.S. Distilled Spirits Market: Impact Databank Review and Forecast" the market looks like this for cognac:

• It has posted 13 consecutive annual U.S. consumption gains.

• The U.S. remains its largest market despite its popularity in Asia with 4 million cases consumed annually.

• A demographic shift is holding steady in which younger Americans are consuming cognac as a main drink or main ingredient in a cocktail rather than merely as an after-dinner digestif.

• Cognac accounts for one-third of all brandy consumed by Americans.

Hennessy, Remy Martin, Courvoisier and Martell combined for 94% percent of the U.S. market last year, according to the report. While three-quarters of cognac volume in the U.S. is standard-priced VS (very superior) brands, much of the recent sales growth has been with VSOP (very superior old pale) and more upscale cognac, such as Napoleon and XO (extra old), according to Impact Databank.

Go here and type "cognac" into the search box to see my tasting notes on a couple of cognacs.
Jacques Menier (seen above), Asia Pacific sales director, presenting the new Martell Creation Grand Extra at an invitation-only dinner I attended earlier this year in Las Vegas. Go here to read my report on the event.

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20071220

Italians crack the pinot noir code

The creation of hybrid lines of grapes goes on around the globe. But what happens if researchers digging ever deeper into the science of grapes finally crack the genetic code of the famously fickle pinot noir grape and begin tinkering?

That day is here. Researchers at Italy's Istituto Agrario San Michele all’Adige this week announced they have mapped the pinot noir genome and may some day be able to breed disease-resistant grapes without losing taste.

Riccardo Velasco, head of genetics at the institute, told the journal PLoS ONE, "Discovering these 2 million molecular markers is a tremendous tool which will help in the breeding not only of pinot noir but every cultivated grape variety.”

Velasco said the genome had been mapped in draft form before, but he and his team are the first to catalog the myriad single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs, found scattered among its 30,000 genes. SNPs are single-letter changes in the genetic code. And, he said, the team also has identified a large number of genes related to disease resistance, 289 of which contain SNPs.

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20071213

Hilton's new product is golden

First it was '60s movie sex siren Mamie Van Doren coming out of retirement to bare it all for a new line of wines bearing her image. Now, as if to show that the younger generation can take a marketing hint, celebutart Paris Hilton is showing up in the nude to push her new canned wine brand.

In a sense, she's not strictly nude. She is covered in gold paint, as you can see.

The wine in a can, called Rich Prosecco, comes in original, passion fruit and strawberry flavors. It will make its European debut this week, and be introduced to the U.S. soon after the first of the year.

This follows Hilton's other products, including perfume, shoes, jewelery and handbags as well as the occasional film or pop album.

While she and her people may know a thing or two about marketing her, they're not terribly original about how they do it. English actress Shirley Eaton beat them to the gold gimmick as an ill-fated James Bond girl back in '64.

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EU wine reform may be derailed

The world of European wines probably won't be turned upside-down as some had feared after the European Parliament this week voted to dilute a planned reform of the European Union wine sector.

Even though the Parliament's role is only as a consultancy, it usually sets the tone for EU actions. EU agriculture ministers are scheduled to meet next week to create a final compromise on wine industry reform in an attempt to reverse falling sales and remove trade-distorting measures.

Among the most controversial points that were eliminated was a proposed blanket ban on adding sugar to wines. That practice is common in cooler countries such as Germany, Austria, Luxembourg and the Czech Republic, to boost alcohol content in mass-market wines.

In addition, the Parliament, meeting in Strasbourg, France (its headquarters is seen above), also called for:

• Subsidies for distillation to be maintained.

• Aid to producers of lower-quality wines who decide to stop production to be disbursed within three years instead of five.

• Subsidies to be maintained for wine enrichment with pure "must" grape juice, something practiced in southern countries as opposed to the northern nations' sugaring of wine.

• Rejection of a proposal to fully liberalize by 2014 planting rights for vintners producing quality wines on areas previously not used as vineyards.

Mariann Fischer Boel, the EU farm commissioner, said she would not agree to a complete watering down of her proposals to boost sales by producing more quality wines and to reduce "wine lakes" that cost hundreds of millions of euros to get rid of.

Background: The European Union (EU) is a union of 27 independent nations based on the European Communities and founded to enhance political, economic and social co-operation. It formerly was called the European Community or the European Economic Community. The European Parliament is directly elected every five years by EU citizens to represent their interests. The present parliament has 785 members from all 27 EU countries.

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20071205

Prohibition repeal anniversary, or not?

Today is the 74th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition. Or is it truly the day that hideous experiment in social control ended?

Beer historian Bob Skilnik has some strong thoughts on the topic, which he has posted online as he does from time to time in debunking other myths. Even though he specializes in beer, Prohibition affected wine as well, so let's look at how he begins:

"December 5, 1933 notes a 'first' in constitutional history. It was on this day, 74 years ago, that American voters, through state referendums, added the 21st Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. It was the first time in our history that a constitutional amendment was passed, not simply by the will of legislators, but instead through popular mandate, i.e., the power of the U.S. citizenry. For some of us, December 5, 1933 might even be remembered as the end of National Prohibition. Unfortunately, there are too many writers and trade organizations who should know this, but have chosen, instead to revise U.S. history for their own purposes, and if I might, usually for self-promoting ones.

"You might recall my rants back in April when organizations like the Brewers Association, the A&E network, Anheuser-Busch, with its pimping of 'The American Brew' an hour-long movie commissioned by the St. Louis brewery, and beer geek sites like Beeradvocate proclaimed April 7 as the day that Prohibition was 'repealed today in 1933.' The Jacksonville Business Journal went so far as to proclaim that 'The 21st amendment to the U.S. Constitution went into effect April 7, 1933 …' -- an amazing feat since the states hadn’t even gotten around to setting up constitutional referendums and state conventions to vote for delegates who would set the constitutional change into effect.

"They weren’t alone in repeating this historical inaccuracy, but the list of offenders would probably be longer than this entire blog entry. So once again, let me beat this dead horse of a canard one more time. The passages below are from my book 'Beer: A History of Brewing in Chicago,' and gives the perspective of events leading up to December 5, 1933 from a Windy City perspective. But throughout the story, the thread leading up to the end of Prohibition can be found."

You can find his full essay here.

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20071204

Washington wine grape harvest a record

Washington state's wine grape crop hit a record 127,150 tons this year, a 5.5% increase in the harvest of cabernet, merlot, riesling and other varietals.

That puts the state's output at No. 2 in the nation, well behind California's 3.2 million tons.

Vicky Scharlau, executive director of the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers, said: "Mother Nature smiled on Washington state once again this year and provided an ideal climate for grapes. She provided us with a fast start, a slow middle and a long finish to produce a vintage to remember."

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20071203

Wine from pure tea? India says yes

Did you hear the one about the Indian company that brewed wine out of pure tea?

Now you have.

Experiments conducted at the Tea Research Association's Jorhat, Assam, facility have resulted in a new product that will be put on the market in about six months.

Mridul Hazarika, director of the TRA’s Tocklai centre in Jorhat, claims, “We brewed wine out of pure tea. Of course, we have used some other requisite ingredients to whet the fermentation.”

“The uniqueness of our product is that unlike the Japanese tea-based wine we don’t mingle red wine with the beverage," Hazarika told Commodity Online.com. "The Japanese tea based wine producers mix the red wine in specific proportion to make the drink. But our base would be pure tea with some added flavors to exude the exotic aromas of Darjeeling and Assam teas.”

The TRA earlier created tea tablets, ready-to-drink tea and tea biscuits.

Pradeep Ghosh, a TRA senior consultant, explained: “The tablet is basically a fine form of quality brew carrying the flavor of popular varieties like Darjeeling and Assam. Consumers can chew it or can dissolve it in a cup of hot or cold water and then relish it as a drink.”

No one at the TRA explained precisely how its new product differs from other "wine teas" made and consumed in Asia and Oceania. For example, here is one recipe I picked up from the ABC Tasmania television station which featured it on a broadcast several years ago after it was submitted by a viewer.

TEA WINE

4 pints cold tea
2 pounds granulated sugar
½ pound raisins
2 lemons

Cut the raisins and slice the lemons thinly, and put them in a large bowl or jug. Add the sugar, then pour on the cold tea. Stir till the sugar has dissolved, then cover the bowl or jug and leave it for a month. After this time you will find a scum on top, remove this carefully, then strain off the liquid and bottle.

Serving suggestion: Tea wine can be drunk at once, but is best when kept a few months. Keep it in a cool dark place, and don’t push the corks in too hard at first.

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20071201

Full-disclosure labels in the works

Most wine labels tell you (a.) what grapes were used in creating the product, and (b.) whether it containes sulfites.

Beyond that, other than the usual terroir references, there's not a lot of detail. Bonny Doon Vineyard is changing that.

The Santa Cruz, CA, winemaker is working up a list of ingredients to be placed on the back labels of some of its wines as of 2008. It is believed that will be the first major American brand to do so.

The lists will include the wine components, such as grapes and the preservative sulfur dioxide, as well as products used during winemaking, such as yeast.

"(Owner) Randall (Grahm) feels that it's important to openly share with consumers any additions made to the wine, and by extension to make other winemakers responsible for [acknowledging] their own additions and interventions," explained Alison Davies, marketing associate at Bonny Doon. "We hope for a number of results: by stating all the ingredients, this could lead the industry in the direction of full disclosure and encourage winemakers to be more hands-off and less interventionist."

Grahm's first wines with the new labels wil be the 2007 Ca' del Solo Vineyard Albariño and Muscat, both from the Monterey County AVA. They'll be released in March.

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20071130

Tasting ... Farnum Hill ciders

Earlier this year I convened a four-person panel to sample a selection of ciders from a New Hampshire maker who uses old European apple strains and methods. The results seem particularly timely in this season of celebrating traditions.

20071129

Aussie winemaker becoming upbeat

One of Australia's largest winemakers says the nation's beleaguered wine industry is showing signs of recovery despite hideous weather conditions.

David Clarke, CEO of McGuigan Simeon Wines Ltd., told The Age newspaper, "The industry is returning to balance. As a result, the overhang of wine stocks is clearing and we are seeing improvement in margins at McGuigan Simeon."

The industry has estimated a 2008 vintage of between 800,000 and 1.3 million tons. Export sales of branded wine increased by 20% per cent in the first quarter at the highest margin the group has achieved "in some time," Clarke noted.

"Additionally, we are capturing higher margins in Australia, although there is still very aggressive pricing from some winemakers, particularly at lower price points."

McGuigan, Australia's No. 3 winemaker, previously had forecast fiscal 2008 to be a challenging year for the group.

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20071128

Champagne sharing made easy

'Tis the season for pouring champagne. But sometimes it's difficult to get it just right, particularly if you're unsure just how frothy the particular bubbly you bought will be.

Something called the Fair Share Fountain will equally distribute one bottle of champagne into six glasses and entertain while it's doing it.

The set of six handblown Pyrex glasses (purchasing details here) has a graduated stem size from tallest, into which you pour the champagne, to smallest. All but the smallest has a flared lip that allows the poured wine to trickle into the next-smallest glass, thus creating equal distribution.

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20071121

The best of the sakes

Three entries took the top category trophies and 10 gold medals were awarded by judges in the inaugural International Sake Challenge, held in Tokyo. Two of the golds went to rice wine products from the Kamotsuru Sake Brewering Co.

The trophy winners:

• Daiginjo Trophy: Nanbu Bijin Daiginjo sake from the Nanbu Bijin Co.
•  Junmai Daiginjo Trophy: Garyubai Junmai Daiginjo sake from the Sanwa Shuzou Co.
•  Junmai Ginjo Trophy: Isojiman Junmai Ginjo from the Isojiman Premium Sake Brewery Co.

The gold medalists:

Daiginjo Category
• Kamotsuru Soukaku, Kamotsuru Sake Brewering Co.
• Kamotsuru Tenrin, Kamotsuru Sake Brewering Co.
• Kozuki, Daishinshu Breweries Inc.
• Nanbu Bijin Daiginjo, Nanbu Bijin Co.

Junmai Daiginjo Category
• Garyubai Junmai Daiginjo, Sanwa Shuzou Co.
• Shichiken Kinunoaji Junmaidaiginjo, Yamanashi Meijo Co.
• Taiheizan Tenko, Kodama Jozo Co.

Junmai Ginjo Category
• Hamachidori Junmaiginjou Ginginga, Hamachidori Co.
• Isojiman Junmai Ginjo, Isojiman Premium Sake Brewery Co.
• Yuki No Bosha Junmaiginjo, Saiya Shuzouten Co.

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20071118

Drought puts Aussie growers in dire straits

While much of the U.S. wine grape-growing areas are reporting moderate (California) to spectacular (New York's Finger Lakes) crops this year, much of Europe and Australia are quite the opposite.

Record bad weather across much of Europe either ruined crops or caused them to ripen early and with decreased tonnage.

Now, Australian growers hit by lengthy drought conditions are sounding the alarm with a harvest expected to fall well below average. Industry experts are saying that may cause some growers to go out of business.

Past vintages have averaged about 1.9 million tons, but because of the drought the 2008 vintage was unlikely to reach 1.3 million tons, according to Mark McKenzie, executive director of the Wine Grape Growers Council of Australia.

McKenzie told reporters the drought could force as many as 1,000 of Australia's 7,500 wine grape growers to exit the industry. Many are awaiting the election result before deciding their future, he said

"We have no reason to believe that (1,000) is not the figure," McKenzie said. "I'm not surprised that we haven't seen a lot of people necessarily avail themselves of an exit package yet, and one of the major reasons is because they are waiting to see what the incoming federal government's attitude might be to entering the water market.

"If some of these growers are to exit, a major part of their financial plan is going to be what they can expect to get in terms of retiring their water rights, and secondly, what the taxation treatment of that might be. People will see what, if anything, they can get in terms of revenue, where they stand in a financial sense at the end of vintage ... because quite clearly, people are sailing close to the breeze."

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20071116

Cheers to Walt Disney World Resorts

It was a Disney world when the editors of Cheers, the beverage industry magazine, released its 2008 Cheers Awards for Beverage Excellence.

The awards are widely considered the adult beverage industry's highest honor for beverage program operators in chain and multi-concept restaurant companies.

They are divided into 12 categories, two of which were won by Walt Disney World Resorts. Each award is given based on the innovation and creativity of an establishment's beverage program and its impact on the sales and profitability of the establishment. Additional consideration is given to the level of operator support of the program, such as a high level of staff training or unique marketing efforts.

The winners:

Best Overall Chain Beverage Program: Walt Disney World Resorts
• Best Signature Drink: Walt Disney World Resorts
• Best Chain Hotel Beverage Program: Hilton Hotels
• Best Chain Wine Program: Carrabba's
• Best Chain Beer Program: Buffalo Wild Wings
• Best Chain Spirits Program: Bennigan's
• Best Beverage Merchandising Program: Hard Rock Cafe
• Best Beverage Menu: Outback Steakhouse
• Best Drink Program: Ruth's Chris Steakhouse
• Best Adult Non-Alcohol Drink Program: ESPN Zone
• Best Responsible Alcohol Service Training Program: Applebee's
• Best Multi-Concept Beverage Program: Back Bay Restaurant Group

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20071114

Constellation snaps up Fortune Brands' wines

Constellation Brands, headquartered in Fairport, NY, has purchased Fortune Brands Inc.'s wine business.

Constellation, the world's biggest winemaker, announced it is paying $885 million for the U.S. wine business of Fortune which owns the Clos du Bois, Wild Horse and Geyser Peak brands, five California wineries and more than 1,500 acres of vineyards in the state's Napa, Sonoma and Los Carneros grape-growing regions.

The deal increases Constellation's percent of the market by one point to 20%. It has about 5% of the highly-fragmented global wine market.

Constellation owns more than 300 brands run from jug wines to high-end California reds such as Ravenswood and Estancia, beer imports such as Corona and St. Pauli Girl and liquors such as Fleischmann's vodka, Skol gin and Black Velvet Canadian whiskey.

It has been on a buying spree in recent years, acquiring Australian vintner BRL Hardy Ltd. in 2003 for $1.1 billion in cash and stock in a deal that made it the world's largest wine business. It then bought Robert Mondavi Corp. for $1.3 billion. Last year, it bought Canada's Vincor International Inc. for nearly $1.1 billion.

"This portfolio is an excellent fit and furthers our strategy of exceeding consumer expectations and expanding our presence in the growing high-end segments of the wine market," said Chief Executive Rob Sands.

"One of the advantages we have is because we have critical-mass volume, we have some economies of scale and also the breadth of distribution that helps us gets more brands to more markets," said company spokesman Mike Martin. "That helps ensure that many of our brands are available just about anywhere a consumer would want to go, whether it's a grocery store, a liquor store or a wine specialty store."

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20071110

Pride of New York an excellent adventure

PHOTOS BY APRIL L. DOWD

COLONIE, NY -- The annual Pride of New York Harvest Fest at The Desmond, the Williamsburg-style resort/convention complex just outside the state capital of Albany, is a great opportunity to try a wide array of wines and foodstuffs produced all across New York State.

Each year, my friend and wine judging colleague Fred LeBrun and I offer "Bill & Fred's Excellent Adventure," our one-hour workshop on hosting and enjoying your own wine events. Our adventure is our wine-centric traveling here and abroad.

Here are some images from today's workshop:

FRED LeBRUN (LEFT) AND BILL DOWD CHECK THE WINES TO BE TRIED DURING THEIR ANNUAL WINE APPRECIATION WORKSHOP CALLED "BILL & FRED'S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE."




MEANWHILE, DESMOND STAFFERS DOLE OUT THE WINES TO BE DISCUSSED WITH THE CROWD.













ART HUNT (CENTER), OWNER AND WINEMAKER OF HUNT COUNTRY VINEYARDS IN THE FINGER LAKES, JOINED BILL AND FRED TO ADD COMMENTARY FROM A FIRSTHAND POINT OF VIEW.


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One fuehrer for the road

The resemblance is uncanny in some photos, but the intent was purely unintentional.

The pub sign in a soon-to-open UK watering hole in a place called Rock Ferry, Wirral, is supposed to be an homage to poet John Masefield, according to the pub chain JD Wetherspoon.

Unfortunately, the image of Masefield (right) looks a lot like one A. Hitler, late of Berlin, Germany. A lot of customers and neighbors have begun calling the pub The Adolf. They are asking the chain management to change the sign before the pub opens for business.

Says manager Seanie Walsh, 55: ''We must admit he does look a bit like Hitler on the sign, but that didn't occur to us until after we put it up. We've got lots of pictures of John Masefield inside from different stages of his life and we hope people come down and learn more about him while having a drink.''

Masefield, who died in 1967, is perhaps best known for his poem "Sea Fever," which begins: "I must go down to the seas again ... ."

At least this faux pas wasn't on purpose, unlike one in India in which a restaurateur decided to post a swastika over the store and call it Hitler's Cross. As the headline on my blog entry said about that one, "Perhaps the Hitler Youth menu was over the top."

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20071109

Banfi, Emiliana expanding U.S. offerings

PHOTOS BY WILLIAM M. DOWD


James W. Mariani is fond of analogies.

He likens his family's Banfi wines to writing, the basics available to anyone but the finest expressions of both created only through imagination and meticulous efforts.

He also likens the differences in those expressions to the differences in dance styles, comparing the impact of one bold wine to Gene Kelly's muscular style and the nuances of another to Fred Astaire's etheral moves.

If that sounds like a charming fellow who gives much thought to his craft and products, it is. Mariani, a New York-educated (Colgate and Cornell) Long Islander who is co-CEO of Castello Banfi with cousin Cristina Mariani-May, spends much of his time traveling from market to market to proselytize for their wines.

In the industry, of course, not a lot of proselytizing is necessary. Castello Banfi has been named "International Winery of the Year" an unprecedented four times at VinItaly's International Enological Concourse, which also named it "Italy's Best Wine Estate" 11 times since 1994.

I spoke with Mariani before a wine luncheon for the trade at Tuscan's Grill in Clifton Park last week.

"I'm as proud of our certifications as I am of our wines," Mariani said, displaying certificates attesting to Castelo Banfi's completion of rigorous international examinations in the areas of sustainable agriculture, environmental responsibility and, unique among wineries, social accountability.

The Mariani family can accurately use the word "unique" in a number of instances.

After living in Italy during his teen years, John Mariani Sr., born in Torrington, Conn., founded the company in New York in 1919 as a wine importer, just before Prohibition hit. He and his partners were able to maintain some income during those years by bottling and selling a 20-proof "laxative."

He named the company after an aunt, Teodolinda Banfi. She was the hospitality manager to the cardinal archbishop of Milan, Ambrogio Ratti, and, to the consternation of many clergy, maintained that position when he was elected Pope Piux XI, the "between the wars pope" who served from 1922 to 1939.

"She was the first woman given Vatican City citizenship," Mariani said, "and in 1938 was the first woman to be buried in the Vatican. She dealt with all the Pope's banquets, special events, and hosting dignitaries. My grandfather took his inspiration about food and wine and hospitality from what he learned from her while he was living in Italy."

When Mariani's sons, Harry and John, took over the company, they became the importer of Riunite Lambrusco, the top import to the U.S. market for a remarkable 26 years, thanks in great measure to a taste for Italian wines developed among GIs during World War II. But, they wanted to upgrade the quality of wine they thought would sell even better. Unable to interest Italian winemakers, they bought land in Tuscany, broke ground for their first plantings in 1978, and in 1984 dedicated the Castelo Banfi Estate.

Extensive research into various types of grapes and a planned reduction of the many clones to a core of three helped the company's development. It now is run by John and Cristina, although their fathers serve on the firm's advisory board.

The business has expanded to include Castello Banfi the castle, as well as at Castelo Banfi the brand. The castle, located on a hilltop in Montalcino, Tuscany, is used as an upscale hotel with restaurants and a glass museum, and the winery is nearby. The company's world headquarters, however, are located in a 60-room manor located on a 127-acre estate and vineyard in Old Brookville, Long island.

Castello Banfi's signature wines include the likes of single-vineyard reserve Poggio all'Oro and cru Poggio alle Mura Brunellos, three proprietary cuvees -- ExcelsuS, SummuS and Cum Laude, and single vineyard varietals Tevernelle Cabernet Sauvignon, Colvecchio Syrah and San Angelo Pinot Grigio. I particularly enjoy their Banfi Chianti Classico Riserva, a sangiovese-based, elegant oak-matured wine.

However, several wines new to the American market are quickly winning me over. Mariani is banking on both wines from Banfi and from the Mariani family's partnership with the Guilisasti family -- who have been involved with Concha y Toro -- in the Emiliana winery in Chile. Emiliana, like Banfi a very eco-conscious company, has been marketing wines to the U.S. under the Walnut Crest brand name but is expanding its line.

Although I enjoyed virtually everything tried at the lunch, I was particularly taken by one wine from each winery.

2001 Brunello de Montalcino DOCG: Any wine that can hold its ground with steak forno is a big, bold wine. This 100% sangiovese is such a beast. It is aged at least two years in wood, primarly French oak but also Slavonian oak, then further matured in the bottle for an additional 8-12 months before release. Deep garnet color, soft and velvety mouthfeel yet intense and alive with spice, stone fruit notes and a hint of licorice that melded with the spices, tomatoes and cheese in the bold steak dish.

2005 Emiliano Coyam: I am normally skeptical about any blend of more than four grapes. It takes a wonderful palate and a deft hand to make such a marriage work. Winemaker Alvaro Espinoza has both as shown by this blend of 45% syrah, 27% cabernet sauvignon, 14% merlot, 11% carmenere and 3% petit verdot. Both French and American oak is used to mature the wines ("coyam" means oak in the language of Chile's indigenous Mapuches people), The finished product looks syrupy with its bold color, but flows cleanly and wraps the tongue in a pleasant coverlet of fruit flavor, the wood nuances subtle. Coyam has been selling for three years in Europe and South America but is new to the U.S. market this year, at a suggested retail price of $30.

Go here for a full rundown on the Banfi and Emiliano wines samples at the luncheon.

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20071108

Newman's Own -- wine

What's missing from this shopping list?

Pasta, steak sauces, salad dressing, lemonade, salsa, lettuce mixes, spinach, carrots, pretzels, cookies, popcorn, candies, olive oil and vinegar, dried fruit, fair trade coffee and pet food.

If you guessed wine, you'd be in agreement with film star and entrepreneur Paul Newman whose Newman's Own line of food and drink items has donated more than $200 million to charity since its inception in 1982.

The Westport, CT-based company is adding wine to its product list with a December bottling of a California chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon in a partnership with the Rebel Wine Co. Rebel itself is a collaboration between Trinchero Family Estates, whose brands include Sutter Home, and Three Thieves, a company that buys grapes and finished wine to sell under its name.

"Wine was the only thing missing at dinner time. Now the meal is complete," Newman said in a statement issued by his company on Tuesday.

The wines will have a suggested retail price of $16.

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20071106

EU wine definition may not be too restrictive

Fears among some European fruit wine producers that the European Commission would side with those who wanted only grape wines to be called true wine can breathe a bit easier.

An EC diplomat has been telling journalists that ""The Commission will probably allow berries and apples to be included" in the definition.

And, Michael Mann, spokesman for European Union Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel (above), has been hinting that a deal could be made by year's end. Mann said at a news briefing, "We will do everthing we can to come to a compromise which is acceptable to everyone and is pragmatic. We are involved in a political negotiation so of course we listen to opinions from important wine-making countries."

Under Boel, the EC is attempting to make widespread changes in the EU's wine policy. Large cash incentives to dig up vines to help reduce Europe's "wine lake" surplus has been an ongoing device.

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A rosé by any name is contentious

Excerpted from Drinks International:

Arguments between winemakers over a new rosé wine brand in Provence have forced France's national fraud office to intervene.

Provence’s largest AOC union, Côtes de Provence, has accused local firm PGA Domaines of “stealing” the region’s name for its new Rosé de Provence wine. Rules prevent wine brands in France from using any part of an existing AOC name. The feud is the latest example of a power struggle between France’s wine appellations and a new wave of brands, as the sector battles to regain ground in foreign markets.

Quarrelling over the new PGA Domaines brand became so bad that French fraud police, more accustomed to handling high-level corruption cases, were called in to investigate the dispute earlier this year.

They have since sided with PGA Domaines, but lawyers for Côtes de Provence remain on standby to sue the group if France’s national appellation body, INAO, refuses to accept the Rosé de Provence brand.

James de Roany, head of PGA Domaines, told Drinks International: “If unfortunately INAO was not to agree on our brand, we will not stop using it.”

Surging rosé wine sales in the key UK market have heightened competitive tension in Provence, where 80 per cent of wine produced is rosé, according to union figures. De Roany said he would have no problem with other regional wineries printing "rosé de Provence" on their labels to simplify their offering for foreign consumers.

“We believe that Provence rosé wines are far too weak in export markets and that they are not profiting enough from the boom in this category of wines. Provence producers claim that they are the world leading rosé producers but this is not true if they only export 10% of their production.”

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20071103

EU subsidy cut plan assailed

The 270-nation European Union has been on an ambitious pace in recent times to change the face of the alcoholic spirits industry.

The latest flap is over an EU proposal to ban crystal sugar from European wines and end subsidies for concentrated grape juices, both of which are currently used to raise alcoholic content in wines unable dued to various agricultural conditions to rise to the needed level on their own.

The EU wine industry has been plagued by increasing competition from the U.S., Australia and South America along with its own overproduction causing lower retail prices. EU economists say sugar and subsidized juice, widely used particularly in northern Europe where cooler temperatures don't create as much sugar in the grapes, spur overproduction.

EU Farm Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel says that if EU policies continue unchecked, excess wine production would reach 15% of output by 2010. Currently, the EU spends $700 million of its $1.9 billion wine budget to get rid of unwanted wine.

Not unexpectedly, opposition is strong in areas that would be most affected.

Friedlinde Gurr-Hirsch, state minister for Baden-Wuerttemberg in Germany, told Business Week magazine, "This is an important issue for us. ... Let me be honest: This is a very difficult area. Everyone has to share both the pain and the gain."

Luxembourg Farm Minister Fernand Boden, whose country has a healthy sugar-induced wine industry, has rejected the plan, telling the magazine, "We do not understand that the Commission relentlessly comes back to this when there is a clear majority of member states that have repeatedly spoken against this."

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20071027

Oregon relaxes wine naming rules

How would you like to be the first on your block to serve a genuine Oregon Pinot Grigio?

Impossible, you say? Oregon law requires that particular wine to be called a Pinot Gris, not Pinot Grigio.

Not anymore. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission has introduced something new to the state's burgeoning wine industry: reasonability.

Oregon had long had the nation's tightest strictures on what it could and could not name its wines. That has changed, bigtime.

Winemakers now will be allowed to name a wine in any of 11 styles if it contains at least 75% of the specific grape, such as Sangiovese, Zinfandel and Syrah, the same standard as in all other states. Oregion previously had required 90%.

Considering that Oregon growers have 65 different grape varieties, continuing to require 90% presence in 54 styles -- including Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris -- isn't a huge move, but it is a start.

For a look at Oregon's wine trails, just click here.

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20071026

Moselle Rieslings growing more popular in U.S.

The quality of American Rieslings, led by wineries in New York's Finger Lakes region, has been rising exponentially in recent years. Nevertheless, German winemakers in the Moselle River region (as seen here) report exports of their famoius Rieslings rose 21% in the year ending in July, fueled by rising demand from U.S. consumers.

About 43% of the region's wine output was sold outside Germany, with more than half going to the U.S. where sales rose 29% in the year through July. The bulk of the remaining exports go to Norway and the Netherlands.

"Americans prefer more and more expensive, high-quality Riesling,'' said Adolf Schmitt, Moselle Wine Growers Association president, at a press conference in Mertesdorf, Germany.

The Moselle region, in the southwestern part of the country, is one of 19 German wine regions.

Schmitt also said the quality of the 2007 vintage will be "superb.'' The grapes ripened about 130 days instead of the average 100 days due to favorable weather conditions in the Moselle area that differed from widespread negative weather in many parts of Europe.

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Wine sales up nearly 6% in Canada

Canada remains a "beer town," according to the latest statistical report on purchase of alcoholic beverages, but wine is the fastest-growing category.

Canadians bought 2.2 billion liters of beer, worth $8.4 billion, last year. They also purchased 378.7 million liters of wine, worth $4.6 billion, and 202.6 million liters of spirits, worth $4.3 billion, according to Statistics Canada.

While sales of beer and spirits in liquor stores were up 2.9% by volume from 2004-05, wine sales, including those by wineries themselves, were up 5.9%. Overall, sales of wine, beer and spirits hit the $17.3 billion mark.

A few other findings:

• Red wines accounted for 60% of wine sales. Three-quarters of reds and half of all whites were imports.

• Quebec consumers bought 35% of all wine, and 42% of the reds, sold in the nation.

• White wines outsold reds in Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

• Imported beer grew in popularity last year from 9.9% to 11.1%.

• Whiskies, including scotch and bourbon, accounted for nearly 30% of all spirits sales.

• Nearly 70% of spirits sold were Canadian products, although imported spirits rose 6.4%.

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20071021

'World's best' Riesling picked

If it's a 2006 Weingut Juliusspital Iphofer Julius-Echterberg Riesling Beernauslese, it's got to be good.

The German wine was named "World's Best Riesling" at the 8th annual Canberra International Riesling Challenge on Friday night. A record 482 entries from six countries made up the field.

The wine comes from the Franconian region, east of Frankfurt. Challenge Chairman Ken Helm described it this way:

“It's smooth and extremely elegant with a pleasant flavor that hangs around. You can still taste it five minutes later. It is in the middle range of sweetness and is very well-balanced in acid and flavor."

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20071019

Veritas competition doubles up on 44

Judges in this year's Veritas wine competition, the longest-running such event in South Africa for native wines, handed out 44 double gold medals to a field of mroe than 1,900 entries.

According to Veritas, wines are tasted blind by panels that consist of seven experts judging 10 wines at a time. The wines then are discussed and scores are awarded according to the international 20-point scale, with discussion and consensus.

A double-gold medal is awarded through a consensus decision by the panel if the wine scores 17 or more out of 20. Gold is awarded when a wine notches-up 17 points, a silver sticker will go on a bottle of wine if the wine scored 16 points, while bronze medals go to wines that scored 15 points

The double-gold winners:

• Anura Merlot Reserve 2004
• Klein Babylons Toren Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot 2004
• Badsberg Red Muscadel 2006
• Bellingham Sauvignon Blanc 2007
• Bellingham The Maverick Sauvignon Blanc 2005
• Boland Merlot Winemakers Selection 2005
• Bon Courage Hillside White Colombar/Chardonnay 2007
• Bon Courage Pinotage 2006
• Boplaas Tawny Port N/V
• Boplaas Vintage Port 2005
• Boschendal Reserve Collection Sauvignon Blanc 2007
• Buitenverwachting Cabernet Sauvignon 2003
• De Grendel Koetshuis Sauvignon Blanc 2007
• De Grendel Shiraz 2006
• Zonnebloem Ltd Edition Sauvignon Blanc 2007
• Fleur du Cap Unfiltered Merlot 2004
• Fort Simon Chenin Blanc 2006
• Glen Carlou Gravel Quarry Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
• Groote Post Shiraz 2004
• Hartenberg Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
• Dombeya Boulder Road Shiraz 2005
• The Auction Crossing Syrah/Viognier 2005
• Jordan Blanc Fumé 2006
• Kleine Zalze Cellar Selection Chenin Blanc Bush Vine (O/D) 2006
• Longridge Pinotage 2004
• Meerendal Chenin Blanc Natural Sweet 2006
• Monis Rooi Muskadel 2000
• Nederburg Edelkeur Private Bin Chenin Blanc NLH 2005
• Nederburg Private Bin R163 Cabernet Sauvignon 2004
• Lord Neethling Weisser Riesling NLH 2006
• Neil Ellis Pinotage 2006
• Nuy Wit Muskadel 2003
• Nuy Wit Muskadel 1998
• Alexanderfontein Sauvignon Blanc 2007
• Saronsberg Full Circle Shiraz 2005
• Saronsberg Shiraz 2005
• Seidelberg Roland's Reserve Merlot 2005
• Simonsig Redhill Pinotage 2005
• Spier Private Collection Chardonnay 2006
• Sejana Merlot 2005
• Sumaridge Chardonnay 2006
• Montagu Jeripiko Muscadel 2005
• Uitvlucht Montagu Rooi Muskadel 2005
• Wamakersvallei La Cave Pinotage 2006

Go here for the full competition results.

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20071018

60,000 bottles gone in Irish warehouse blaze

Story from the Western Mail newspaper, photo from the BBC:

Around 60,000 bottles of fine wine have been destroyed in a blaze which gutted a massive warehouse.

The sound of corks popping on vintages worth up to £350 each (US$716) could be clearly heard as firefighters fought in vain to save the merchant’s premises in Mullingar, County Westmeath, in the Irish Republic.

Paddy Keogh, owner of Wines Direct, said his warehouse was destroyed by the inferno as he prepared for his busiest time of the year.

“It’s like farming –- there’s a harvest season, and Christmas is our harvest season,” he said.

Thousands of wooden cases to protect the wines during shipping added to the intensity of the blaze, which took more than two hours to bring under control. No one was injured.

Mr Keogh said he could hear the sound of corks popping off his stock as he frantically tried to rescue computer records so he could continue in business.

“We were lucky we managed to rescue our computer equipment and our records that were on software,” he said. “We had good procedures in place that if something like this happened we could do that.”

Fortunately, about 90% of the business’s stock is kept in bond in Dublin and Mr Keogh assured his staff that they would not be losing their jobs over the fire.

“We’ve located a new warehouse overnight, we’re trying to get our phones re-directed, we’re trying to get our computer re-established and we’ll have stock down here tomorrow.”

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20071016

A new wine from an old bombshell

Joan Lucille Olander earned her first public acclaim at age 15 when she was named Miss Palm Springs.

She'll get her latest on Tuesday, Oct. 23, at the Fountaingrove Golf & Athletic Club in Santa Rosa, CA. That's when she'll launch her first, limited edition of collectible Mamietage wine bottles.

The younger generation(s) may not recognize Ms. Olander, but those of a certain age certainly will if you say the name "Mamie Van Doren." She was one of the Hollywood "Blonde Bombshells" of the 1950s and '60s along with Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield, although definitely the least of the group. Now, at age 77 and the lone survivor of the group, she's getting into the celebrity wine game along with the likes of Lorraine Bracco, Fess Parker, Francis Ford Coppola and Oliva Newton-John.

The wine labels on 1.5 liter bottles feature three images of Mamie. Two of the images are of Mamie today, and the third image is of Mamie at age 21. The labels feature nude poses of Mamie covered up by a top, clear peeloff label with strategically-placed stars. Peel the label away, and there she is.

The wine, a Bordeaux blend from Sonoma County's Armida Winery, is called Mamietage and is a limited production of 2,000 bottles of each image, individually numbered. The blend utilizes Cabernet sauvignon, petite verdot, syrah and malbec.

Van Doren, who has been married five times, was known for her sexual image rather than her acting chops during her Hollywood days. One of the memorable quotes attributed to her was this: ""I don't wear panties anymore. This startles the Hollywood wolves so much they don't know what to pull at, so they leave me alone."

She dated Howard Hughes and a string of actors and had roles of varying size in such motion pictures as "His Kind of Woman" (1951), "Yankee Pasha" (1954), "Untamed Youth" (1957), "Sex Kittens Go to College" and "Vice Squad"(1960), "Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women" (1966) and other forgettable epics, winding up with only four bit-part appearances in the past 40 years, including 2002's "Slackers."



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20071015

Maryland winery gets in the spirit

When it comes to alcoholic beverages, Maryland is best known for beer.

True, a chunk of Kentucky's bourbon is shipped to facilities in Maryland for bottling, but beer and a bit of winemaking covers what is produced in the Free State. Until now.

Fiore Winery in Pylesville, Harford County, plans to make grappa and limoncello as well as a spirits-fortified wine.

After two decades of making a name for himself producing wine, owner Michael Fiore told the Baltimore Sun he sees a distillery as a way to expose Maryland wine aficionados to uncommon types of beverages.

"I want to do some new things to bring a little bit of Italy to Maryland," said Fiore, 63.

Fiore told the Sun he is employing a $12,000 copper still for small-scale testing before purchasing a larger system that would cost about $100,000, he said. He makes about 40,000 gallons, or 200,000 bottles, of wine per year, using grapes that he grows in his 13.5-acre vineyard.

Fiore said he plans to distill grappa, the brandy made from wine byproducts; limoncello, a lemon liqueur made from grappa and organic lemon peels, and port wine, a mix of wine and grappa. The grappa and port will cost about $30 a bottle, the limoncello slightly more.

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