Harvest 2001 is history now and it's looking very good. We managed to dodge the rain during the harvest this year. Rain in any real measurable quantity can wreak havoc with grape vines. In the past two decades, 1983 will go down in the history books and vintage charts as the worst in Santa Barbara County's wine history. In that year, an El Nino year by the way, we got torrents during harvest. The effect -- out of whack grape pHs, sugars and acids and unwanted water being soaked up by root systems cause the fruit to burst and rot on the vine.
Given the tragic events in September, California's grape harvest for 2001 -- the first year of the new Millenium -- may be some of the better news we have as we approach the 2002.
I'LL TAKE MANHATTAN
When I would come home for visits in my college days, my folks would usually offer me a cocktail before dinner. This was, of course, a big deal! You know how it is when you are in your late teens. The choice was always the same -- a martini or a manhattan. So I was weaned on both.
In recent years there has been a resurgence in the popularity of the martini. I understand martini bars are popping up all over, and one of my colleagues at work tells me there are a lot of flavored martinis offered at trendy bars.
I was raised a purist though. By definition, a martini is made with gin, never vodka. If you want a martini made with vodka you have to tell the bartender you want a VODKA martini!
The manhattan, though, is a stylish and delicious cocktail that frequently goes overlooked. I would describe a manhattan as an art deco drink, a liquid art form akin to Harold Ross's New Yorker magazine-smack dab out the the 20s! Manhattans like martinis can be served up (in a stemmed martini glass) or on the rocks. I offer you some manhattan recipes from "Esquire's Handbook for Hosts" published in 1949-a book that was my father's:
A 2-1 manhattan is made with 3 dashes of orange bitters, 1/3 Italian vermouth (sweet) and 2/3 rye or bourbon. The instructions read, "Pour over ice cubes in a tall glass, stir clockwise, chuck in a square piece of lemon rind, stir some more, then pour into a chilled glass-with or without maraschino cherry."
A 4-1 manhattan (a drier style cocktail and my personal preference) is four parts rye or bourbon, and one part Italian vermouth. The instructions read, "Stir, don't shake, with ice and pour into glass holding the proverbial cherry or, preferably, a twist or lemon peel."
Michael Jackson's Bar & Cocktail Companion (not the singer Michael Jackson) published in 1995 describes the Perfect Manhattan-rye or bourbon with equal parts of dry (French) vermouth and sweet (Italian) vermouth, substituting an olive for a cherry.
Except for the small batch pot still rye whisky, Old Potrero, distilled in San Francisco by Fritz Maytag of Anchor, I must confess I have never really developed a taste for rye whisky. For bourbon whisky (which by federal law must be made from at least 51 percent corn) I think Maker's Mark is peerless, especially for the price. Other American bourbon whiskies of exceptional character and quality include bottlings from A.H. Hirsch and Ezra Brooks (the rare Old Ezra if you can find it).
The best vermouths I have ever tasted are made right here in California by Andy Quady of Quady Winery, based in Madera over in the San Joaquin Valley.
Vermouths are wines which have been infused with botanicals.
Quady's dry VYA vermouth is made from two very fine varietals, columbard which was the base wine for fine cognac in the nineteenth century and orange muscat, infused with herbs like lavender and sage.
Quady's sweet VYA vermouth is made from columbard, orange muscat, and a red Portuguese varietal called valdapenas (known in Spain as Tempranillo) which thrives in the warmer climes of California's central valley. This vermouth is infused with nutmeg, cinnamon, galangal and gentian.
Vermouth on the rocks is quite popular as a cocktail in Europe. In fact, Andy Quady told me recently that sweet vermouth on the rocks is the most popular cocktail in Italy.
A manhattan or even fine vermouth on the rocks! Try one. They are great for the chilly evenings of fall and winter. And toast the courageous people of the Big Apple!
Bob Senn, who enjoys fine spirits as much as he does wine, lives in the Los Alamos Valley and owns the Los Olivos Wine & Spirits Emporium,
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