Arts & Entertainment

Dowd On Drinks: A Tour Of Craft Tastes

The alcoholic beverage field is a multi-billion-dollar playground where financial giants vie for control and international market share and entrepreneurs keep working in cellars, garages and the occasional squeaky-clean laboratory to come up with new products.

In the course of a year, I sample literally hundreds of wines and spirits, many of them part of the flood of new items. Most of the time I find the samples OK. Rarely is one really bad. Just as rarely I find one that is superb. This is one of the latter: G’Vine Gin de France.

Jean Sebastien Robicquet and Bruno de Reilhac, who are the proprietors, lead oenologists and master distillers of G’Vine, wanted to make something that bridges the gap between botanical gins and flavored vodkas. They hit on a gin recipe utilizing the rare green grape flower that blossoms only briefly in mid-June in the Cognac region of France before maturing into grape berries. The recipe also includes ginger root, licorice, green cardamom, cassia bark, coriander, juniper berries and lime.

G’Vine ($36 retail) is first an eye-catcher. The rather squat-shaped bottle has a green cap, neck label and a coating on the top portion of the bottle that casts a green glow over the gin that says "grapes." The taste says even more.

One of the key ingredients in this handcrafted, limited edition 80-proof gin — made in a copper still — is the rare and subtle green grape flower. Not that the plant is exclusively French — a lot of them are grown in Oregon, for example — but I’m not aware of any other distiller using them in a gin recipe.

Nosing the gin is like wandering through a fragrant herb garden. Notes of thyme, dill, coriander and rose petals quickly conjure up expectations.

G’Vine comes through in the first taste, all those aromas blended with elements of spice, grass and additional florals. The taste is long, smooth and lingers pleasantly.

In a modest martini — shaken over fresh ice with a touch of Noilly Pratt dry vermouth, then garnished with a tomolive — G’Vine stands up to the water and the vermouth in all aspects of fragrance and taste.

 (Note: For those unfamiliar with the tomolive, it is an olive only in appearance. It actually is a tiny pickled tomato that explodes with spice and brine when bitten into, and a complete treat when the martini is sipped over it before swallowing.)

Here are briefer looks at a few other fairly new items reaching the market:

–Depaz Blue Cane Rhum Agricole: This singular rhum (the French spelling of "rum") has been made on the island of Martinique in the French West Indies since 1651 from the first press of select blue cane since 1651. It’s a limited issue made only when the cane is harvested each spring. Rum comes in many guises — made from cane (agricole) or from molasses (industriel or traditionnel); dark or light; pure or with additives; aged or new-make. But it is only the higher-end styles that offer the true range of nuances that are possible.

Depaz ($35 retail) is an exquisite, light amber 90-proof expression. Its opening aroma offers up grassy and floral notes, followed by the warmth of a traditional high-end rum, this one smacking of banana, honey and vegetal notes. I mixed a cocktail with the rhum, a bit of Depaz label cane syrup — distilled water is the only "additive" to the syrup — fresh lime juice and a lot of cracked ice in the shaker. Excellent stuff, just enough of the extras to release all the potential of the rhum itself.

–Golden Kaan Shiraz 2004: This wine comes from the Western Cape of South Africa, a good spot for the grape that makes up a large part of the country’s national wine grape crop. After malolactic fermentation, it is in American oak barrels. This five-year-old label is beginning to create an international buzz, most recently being voted onto the list of top five international red wine brands in Germany.

I tried it with the sort of food the winemaker suggests — bold red meats and creamy cheeses, in this instance an herb-crusted sirloin steak grilled over charcoal and accompanied by a garden salad dressed with creamy bleu cheese and extra chunks of the bold, ripe cheese. He was right. From the fruity, bold nose through to the ripe tannins that soften the edges of the shiraz and make it a very drinkable wine, this is a bargain red (about $10) I’d be glad to have again.

–Baojing 168 Vodka: In something so idealistic, at least in theory, as the "People’s Republic," it might seem frivolous to filter a vodka through diamonds. But modern China is trying to compete on the world market in every way, and delicious excess might as well be one of them. This grain-based import ($38 retail) differs from others of its ultra-premium ilk in that, say its distillers, it is created in a small-batch fashion and undergoes "unique filtration through 168 carats of diamonds."

I’m not sure if that is a whole bunch of little diamonds, or even diamond dust, or one gigantic fat rock. I do know the number 168 is regarded in Chinese custom as "being on the road to infinite prosperity." And, I know Baojing has a clean, crisp, ever so slightly aromatic of vegetal notes.

There’s a hint of lemon about the middle notes, and a clean, slow finish.

(William M. Dowd covers the adult beverage world at