Wine & Spirits

Choice vintages and rousing ingredients to make spirits bright.

By Shaun Tolson
Stag’s Leap Taste of the Estates Gift Set

The Stag’s Leap Taste of the Estates Gift Set includes a bottle of 2018 FAY Cabernet Sauvignon and a bottle of 2018 S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon. The FAY vineyard represents the first planting of cabernet sauvignon in the Stags Leap District; and the 2018 vintage produced from those grapes delivers prominent blackberry and blueberry notes balanced by refined tannins. The winery’s first vineyard, S.L.V., produced the red wine that won the Judgment of Paris in 1976. Fast forward 42 years and the 2018 vintage continues that legacy, delivering wholesome notes of dark fruit, soft tannins, and a pleasingly long finish. $365;

Vérité Le Désir Bordeaux

Vérité Le Désir is one of three Bordeaux-style blends crafted by Vérité in 2018, a hallmark vintage for many California wines. Structured around cabernet franc—with the restrained addition of merlot and malbec—Le Désir shines for showcasing the characteristic flavors and aromas of its primary grape: ripe raspberry, cranberry, and red currant represent the fruitiness of cabernet franc, while savory notes of sage, mint, and cinnamon provide complexity. A bold finish and bright acidity render it a playful wine to drink in its youth; however, those characteristics also suggest that the wine has excellent cellaring potential. $410;

Rabbit Hole Founder’s Collection Raceking

Not all sipping bourbons are created equal, and the proof exists with a single taste of the cask-strength Rabbit Hole Founder’s Collection Raceking. The spirit is structured around a mashbill of five distinct grains (including a chocolate wheat from Germany and a chocolate barley from the UK), so the taste is layered and complex. Fewer than 1,400 bottles will be released. $295;

The Last Drop 50 Year Old Signature Blended Scotch

The golden amber hue of The Last Drop 50 Year Old Signature Blended Scotch doesn’t suggest a half-century of cask maturation. Rather, the nose and palate convey this whisky’s aged richness. Sherry and bourbon casks create a nuanced flavor profile, while the whisky’s syrupy viscosity and its relative potency (48.7 percent ABV) suggest that the various casks used to construct this blend rested in an ideal environment. Sweet spices and some floral notes belie the liquid’s age when it’s nosed, while warm, nutty flavors paired with creamy toffee notes on the palate showcase the whisky’s maturity. Only 500 bottles exist. $4,250;

2018 J.O. Sullivan Founder’s Reserve Merlot

Merlot sometimes gets a bad rap for lacking depth and complexity. The 2018 J.O. Sullivan Founder’s Reserve Merlot rebukes those notions, as it is structured around a robust backbone of bluish fruit layered with herbaceous undertones. The result adheres to the varietal’s old-world finesse; yet, given its Californian roots, the wine tastes fresh and offers bright acidity—two characteristics that reflect the Rutherford vineyard’s warm climate. $250;

If you think you know pinot noir, the 2019 Landmark Vineyard Hop Kiln Estate Reserve will surprise you. The wine’s subtle, earthy smokiness and zinfandel-like spice provide unexpected depth and complexity; however, it still finishes long and clean with prominent fruit character on the back end. This is a full-bodied pinot noir, one that has the structure to stand up to bold food pairings, specifically those that feature hearty, flavorful dishes. $85;

Lost Lantern American Vatted Malt Edition No. 1

Some whiskey enthusiasts bristle at blended spirits, but tasting Lost Lantern American Vatted Malt Edition No. 1 wins over even ardent skeptics. The 12-barrel blend of single malts from six American distilleries melds aromas of mesquite smoke and fresh malted cereal grains with tastes that include hints of peat smoke, oak spice, vanilla, and caramel. At 105 proof (52.5 percent ABV), the whiskey delivers plenty of substance. $120;

High Goal Gin

On the nose, High Goal Gin delivers strong notes of citrus with a juniper base—characteristics not uncommon for many aromatic, craft gins—however, it’s on the palate that this artisan, small-batch American gin truly stands out. Through its full-bodied, viscous mouthfeel, High Goal delivers prominent flavors of mint, coriander, cardamom, and Meyer lemon, all tightly bound by a honey-laden sweetness. Although suited for classic and craft cocktails, this is one of those rare gins that needs only a glass of ice (and maybe a lemon twist). $50;

Clase Azul Gold luxury tequila

Some blended spirits can be greater than the sum of their parts, as is the case with Clase Azul Gold. The joven tequila is a marriage of the brand’s plata (blanco), French oak–matured reposado, and an 8-year-old extra anejo (aged in American whiskey barrels and finished in sherry casks). On the nose, this soft amber–colored tequila bursts with bright agave and green apple aromas, though hints of richer fruits such as fresh figs and raisins are also present. On the palate, all of those sweet oaky flavors mingle with fresh ginger and dark chocolate. $300;

Taylor Fladgate 1896 Single Harvest Tawny Port

Almost inky black in appearance, Taylor Fladgate 1896 Single Harvest Tawny Port boldly reflects its age. Unlike some bottles of strikingly old whiskey—which are valued most as unopened trophy pieces—the 1,700 hand-blown crystal decanters that house this 125-year-old fortified wine should be unsealed and their contents poured and enjoyed to discover a wine bursting with complex aromas—think black coffee, licorice, cedarwood, fennel, and dried rose petals—and unmistakable flavors of butterscotch, orange peel, stewed fruits, and tannic, bitter coffee notes. $5,500;