Tag Archives: Post Wines

A Chinese booze that nobody knows

William Isler pours samples of baijiu

Have you ever tasted baijiu (prounced bye-jyo)? Nevermind. Have you ever heard of it? Probably not. Neither had I, until recently.

It’s a Chinese spirit –the world’s best-selling alcohol by volume, outselling whiskey and vodka combined – that some non-Chinese may find challenging. A white spirit with a savory funkiness, it stands apart from other spirits, and to say that it’s an acquired taste is an understatement. Some might liken it to firewater. Indeed, some brands exceed 100 proof, but not all. Others refer to it as the stinky tofu of the liquor world. This is closer to the truth.

Nevertheless, I celebrated the Chinese New Year at my favorite restaurant, The Orient, in Bethpage, NY, with this traditional Chinese tipple, after sampling several baijiu recently at Post Wines in Syosset, NY, guided by Bill Isler, director for North America of Ming River, a new brand that arrived stateside just months ago. 

Baijiu, which translates to “white alcohol” in Mandarin Chinese, Isler told me, is usually made from sorghum, a common animal feed, but can also be made from other grains. Its ingredients and style vary by distillery and region, but generally are divided into four flavor classifications: strong aroma (full bodied, spicy, fruity), light aroma (light, floral, slightly sweet), sauce aroma (umami, mushroom, earth) and rice aroma (light, clean, honeyed). 

Isler and his partners hope to create new spirits category in the U.S. To be sure, other baijiu are sold in the U.S., mostly in Chinatowns. One, Vinn, is made in Oregon using brown rice from California.

Isler’s product, Ming River, is a strong aroma baijiu, though the label identifies it as Sichuan style. It’s made by a distillery that’s been producing baijiu since 1573. Made from red sorghum and fermented the traditional way – in clay pots with locally harvested yeasts that are buried for two weeks in pit – the result is a 90-proof spirit. 

My tasting with Isler began with Oregon’s VInn Baijiu, whose nose reminded me of sake. It’s of the rice-aroma classification, so no surprise. Its floral and at 40% ABV it goes down easily with a bit of a nutty finish

My second taste was a baijiu classified as a light aroma, Kinmen Kaoliang, from Taiwan.  At 116 proof it’s got a kick that made me wince upon my first sip. It’s a bit like a grappa and somewhat reminiscent of Rhum Agricole from Martinique. It has a grassy, herbal character.

Next up was Isler’s brand, Ming River, classified as a strong aroma baijiu.  It offers up bright, fresh tropical fruit notes along with some licorice-like star anise and a sweet funkiness. My guess, it’s been designed to appeal to western palates.

The final baijiu in the flight was Kweichow Moutai Prince, from China’s largest distillery, categorized as a sauce-aroma baijiu. It’s 106 proof and has big-time funky notes of stinky cheese and mushrooms. It finishes surprisingly sweet.

Isler’s Ming River brand is an outgrowth of a successful bar, called Capital Spirits, that he and ex-pat partners started in Beijing that was dedicated to single shots of baiojiu,. Isler, for one, who majored in Asian studies at Columbia University before spending decades in China, calls himself a serial entrepreneur.

Ming River Baijiu, made at the state-owned Luzhou Laojiao, China’s oldest continually operated baijiu distillery, starts with a mash of locally harvested red sorghum grain and local well water. It is fermented in 30-year-old earthen vessels with naturally harvested yeast cultures native to the Sichuan river town of Luzhou. After two months, the mash is unearthed and distilled in small batches using a traditional Chinese pot still. The spirits then are aged for up to two yearsbefore blending into Ming River’s distinctive flavor. 

Baijiu is traditionally enjoyed neat at room temperature, but Isler is working with bar tenders in trendy eateries to develop cocktails based on the spirit. He likens Ming River to Rhum Agricole, the white rums made from sugar cane in the Caribbean that are often components of cocktails.

A 750ml bottle of Ming River retails for $34-$35 with distribution currently limited to New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. In New York, you can find it at Bottle Rocket in Manhattan, in Brooklyn at the Brooklyn Wine Exchange andat Post Wines. Park Street Imports LLC, of Miami, FL, is the importer.

I purchased a bottle of Ming River and brought it to dinner. Most of my companions were not enthusiastic. I enjoyed it, however, sipping numerous cups as we dined on some 11 courses of Cantonese fare. Gan-bei!

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A serendipitous find of Brunellos, Barbaresco and Barolos

Photo1With the exception of an occasional media event, I don’t drink a lot of high-end Italian wines.  Can’t say why, for sure, but I probably should.

So it was serendipitous that during a recent stop at Post Wines in Syosset that I encountered Eric Svirida, a rep for Syosset-based Michael Skurnik Wines, pouring samples of the importer’s wares for a dozen or so customers.

Svirida had uncorked a trio of Brunello di Montalcino bottles, among Tuscany’s top reds, and a trio of Piedmontese reds— a Barbaresco and two Barolos. The wines ranged from $32 to $80. Given the typical premium prices often attached to these wines, I was astonished that so were attractive values.

The tasting started with the Brunellos, all from the 2008 vintage, a difficult, but good one for growers with an August hailstorm that damaged many vines. The Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino, a trade group, ‎ scored the vintage 4/5 stars.

We started with the San Filippo Brunello di Montalcino  2008. San Filippo is an estate of 22 hectares, 11 under vine (5.5ha in Montalcino) east of Montalcino. The wine is ruby red with a powerful nose of deep red fruit, mostly cherry, oak and herbs. The wine is dense, its tannins lush and soft, and there is a hint of heat. The cherry notes continue on the palate and the acidity is bright, suggesting the aging potential of the wine. Post’s price for the event: $36.

Next up was La Colombina Brunello di Montalcino 2008.  A relatively new producer with just 3 hectares near Castelnuovo Abbot, it sold its grapes until 1997, when it produced its first vintage. Wood and tart cherries on the nose were followed on the dense palate with notes of cherries and spices and dry tannins. Post sells this for $36.

The third Brunello was the Ciacci Piccolomino Brunello Pianrosso 2008, a single vineyard wine from the southwestern reaches of Montalcino. A large estate with 172 ha (425 acres) that dates to the 17th Century, this wine is produced with grapes from a single vineyard of just 11.69ha. This mouth coating ruby red wine offers up notes of plums, blackberries, minerals, lots of acidity, some heat and a big-dry finish. It sells for $56 at Post.

On to the Barbaresco, in this case a Sottomano Barbaresco Fausoni 2010. The 2010 Barbaresco vintage has been described by producers as spectacular and it was evident in this wine from a tiny — 1.5ha — 35-year-old vineyard in Nieve. This definitely is a food wine, starting with its huge nose of sweet cherries. On the palate there are cherry, earthy and Balsamic notes. And despite monster tannins, the wine proved accessible. Post price: $47.

Azelia Barolo 2008, our first Barolo, was a winner, in part because of its wallet-friendly price, just $32 at Post. A bit closed, the nose suggested the sweet fruits to come on the chewy, full-bodied palate. I picked up notes of prunes, licorice and cocoa with a mouthful of soft tannins. Accessible now, but it certainly will age well.

Our second Barolo and last wine, was the Chiara Boschis Barolo Cannubi 2008  is produced with Nebbiolo grapes grown in the well-known Cannubi vineyard. Chiara Boschis is the only female winemaker in Barolo. The nose is floral and fruity and on the dense, balanced palate there are generous notes of berries and minerals along persistent, albeit soft, tannins. With a 95-point score by the Wine Advocate, the wine was the priciest of the tasting at $80.

Skin flint that I am, I limited myself to buying one bottle: The Azelia Barolo. It’s hard to pass up such good value.

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Buffalo Trace tasting offers an education and 6 satisfying bourbons

I’m the first to admit that I don’t know a heck of a lot about bourbon, so when a nearby wine and spirits merchant announced an in-store seminar on this all-American whiskey, I was there. And happy I went.

The seminar at Post Wines in Syosset proved to be both an educational and delicious experience. In realty it was a guided stand-up tasting led by David Harper, euphemistically called a brand ambassador for Sazerac, the New Orleans-based distiller,

Born of a cocktail in the 1800’s the Sazerac Co. today is an independent, American family owned distilling company that owns such venerable brands as Buffalo Trace Distillery, A. Smith Bowman, Glenmore Distillery, Barton, Fleischmann, Medley and Mr. Boston.

So what is bourbon? It’s a distilled spirit whose grain recipe must include at least 51 percent corn and it may distilled at no higher than 160 proof (80 percent alcohol by volume). Moreover, it may not contain artificial additives; flavorings or caramel color and it must be made in the United States (though some might think, erroneously, only in Kentucky).

This tasting featured six bourbons from the 200-year-old Buffalo Trace distillery in Frankfort, Ky.

Buffalo Trace

Eagle Rare

Harper started his “students” with Buffalo Trace ($26.99 for 750 ml. – prices shown are those at Post), which he described as an easy drinking, everyday spirit, good for making Manhattan cocktails.  I started my evaluation using a method taught to me by a Scotch whisky maven, putting a dab of each on my wrist as you might a sample of perfume, let it dry and then sniff.  Then I nosed the bourbon – with a splash of water – in an old fashioned glass and then sipped, judiciously, because there’s no spitting out in a whiskey tasting. At 90 proof, the amber-hued Buffalo Trace was a smooth sipper with aromas of citrus and vanilla and sweet and spice notes on the palate.

Up next was Eagle Rare Single Barrel 10 years old ($29.99), also an amber-colored whiskey at 90 proof. But this whiskey’s grain mix called for more rye and as a result, it seemed fuller in body with a fruity, peppery nose and on the palate sweet, hot, spicy notes.

Our third sample was Blanton’s Single Barrel ($45.99), with a nose that exuded vanilla. It was intensely flavored with notes of caramel and spice and at 125 proof it’s definitely hotter on the palate. It finishes quite dry.

Rock Hill Farms


We’re then on to Rock Hill Farms ($47.99), also a single-barrel bourbon, this time 100 proof. There’s no age statement. Deep copper in color with a chary/tarry nose, this spirit shares a rye-heavy mash recipe with Blanton’s. I don’t detect as much spicy character, but I taste candied fruits, chocolate and sweet oak and more heat. My lips feel the same zing that they might after eating a dish loaded with spicy Szechuan peppers. Definitely a winner!

Our fifth pour was Elmer T. Lee ($31.99), which is labeled a sour mash, meaning an older fermenting grain mixture was added to start the fermentation. The grain recipe is the same as for Blanton’s and Rock Hill Farms. The nose screams English Leather aftershave lotion, but it also has notes of sweet vanilla and pepper.  Medium-gold in color, there’s a gentle spiciness and honey notes on the palate and a long finish. Also a big winner on my scorecard.

Col. EH Taylor

Elmer T. Lee

To finish us up, literally, not figuratively, Harper poured samples of the recently released Colonel E.H. Taylor Jr. ($64.99). Named for one of the founding fathers of the bourbon industry, this 100 proof, single-barrel whiskey comes from 93 barrels aged exclusively in the top two levels of the distillery’s Warehouse C, which was built in 1881 and which survived a 2006 tornado.  The most delicately flavored of the evening’s samples, this whiskey showed light, smoky and dried figs aromas. Candy sweetness, fruit and spice could be found on the palate. Relative to the other whiskeys, it finished short.

Now that I’ve sailed through previously unchartered waters, I’m ready to continue my bourbon education with much enthusiasm. Are you a fancier of bourbon?

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Long Island winemakers head to Nassau County for free April 21 tasting

Post Wines & Spirits in Syosset, Long Island, a long-time champion of Long Island wines, is making it easy for those who don’t want to travel to the East End to sample some of the region’s top wines.

The shop is hosting a group of East End winemakers who’ll be pouring free samples of their wares on April 21, from 2-6 p.m.

The list of wineries participating, so far, includes Lenz Winery, Paumanok Vineyards, Channing Daughters Winery, Wolffer Estate Vineyards, ,Jamesport Vineyards, Bedell Cellars, Macari Vineyards, and Castello Di Borghese Vineyard.

Winemakers Kareem Massoud of Paumanok Vineyards in Aquebogue, Eric Fry of The Lenz Winery in Peconic, and Kelly Urbanik of Macari Vineyards in Mattituck are expected to attend the gathering.

Post Wines is at 610 Jerico Tpke., just west of the Route 135, Syosset, N.Y. 11791. Phone (516) 921-1820.

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Prunier Cognacs Dazzle

Mention Cognac and what names come to mind? Courvoisier, Hennessy, Martell, Remy, are the obvious choices since they produce 90 percent of the world’s cognac. But how about Prunier?  Bet you never heard of it.  Neither did I — until last week, when I had the good fortune to attend an in-store tasting at Post Wines in Syosset, Long Island, conducted by Gerald Cogen, president of Prunier Cognac’s distributer, Select Brands International Inc.

The tasting, gratis and open to all, was sparsely attended, but the few there, including myself, were richly rewarded. I was dazzled by the Prunier samples, poured with a gracious hand by the soft-spoken, knowledgeable Mr. Cogen. All told, over the course of 90 minutes I tasted six Cognacs, an Armagnacs (brandy from the Armagnac region in southwest France) and two Calvados, brandies distilled from apples.

Cognac (pronounced kon-yak) is a brandy named for the French wine growing region and town of Cognac in the French Departments of Charente and Charente-Martime. For a distilled brandy to be called cognac, which is a AOC, or appellation d’origine contrôlée, it must be made from the Ugni Blanc gape, twice distilled in copper pot tills and aged at least two years in French oak barrels from Limousin or Tronçais.

Cognac matures in a similar manner to whiskies and wine when aged in barrels, and most cognacs are aged considerably longer than the minimum legal requirement. Cognac, raw from the still is colorless and gains its hues, from deep gold to russet, from the casks in which it ages. The raw spirit — Mr. Cogen provided a sample of this, too — resembled a fruity eau de vie, but harsh and fiery, not unlike some Italian grappas.

But the stuff that’s been aged in barrels, well, that’s quite a different story.

Starting at the low end of the brand portfolio there’s the VS ($23).  Aged four to six years, it’s soft and fruity, but hardly complex.

Next, the 10-year-old Axel Gay ($40), named for Prunier’s cellar master, and a soon-to-be discontinued label we were told, is smooth and soft with hints of fruit as well as fire.

The Prunier Family Reserve ($63) was among my favorites. Russet hued from a stay of 15 to 40 years in oak and blended together, it offered up a complex array of flavors, fruit, oak and hazelnut, heat and a touch of what I perceived as sweetness.

Prunier 20 Years Old Cognac ($80), is a single vintage spirit aged for 20 years. It’s golden color pales next to the Family Reserve, but while soft, it lacks the complexity of its blended brethren.

XO, or extra old Cognac, by French law must be aged for at least six years. Prunier’s XO ($105) includes in its blend spirits aged for more than 80 years. Russet hued, its has an exuberant nose and a full body. It’s silky on the palate and its finish is lengthy.

Cogen hadn’t planned on opening the XO Litz ($200), bottled in a handcrafted glass decanter, but he relented with a nod from Post Wine’s co-owner Mike Douglas. It’s blend that ,includes brandies from the 1937, 1939, 1947 vintages, Cogen explained. Amazingly soft, well-balanced and russet colored and with a finish that won’t quit. It’s a fine as you’ll get.

Onto the Armgnac Sauval ($NA), a more rustic, coarser tasting brandy than the cognacs, it offers prune notes on the palate. It’s aged 18 to 30 months.

Finally, we move on to Menorval Calvados Prestige AOC ($NA). Aged for four years its comes across as bitter and harsh. The Menorval Calvados XO Tres Vieux ($NA), aged for 17 years, is sweeter and smoother.

Maison Prunier S.A. has been produced Cognac since the 17th Century and began exporting a century later. The company remains family owned today.


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