NYEve-Crafted Cocktails

sandraNYESo, we got another call from KXAN and this time they wanted to know about some HOT (as in “what’s sooo hot right now”) cocktails. Of course in light of it being NYEve this week champagne makes sense, but we just blogged on Champagne Cocktails (NYEve-Champagne Cocktails). So, of course, I had to have a ladies night where I collected couple of friends and a handful of recipes that featured cool and groovy ingredients.

Choosing what to make and keeping it varied was a bit of a challenge…so after a couple days of “mixing” ideas in my head, I decided to head over to the Twin Liquors Marketplace at Hancock Center…a mixologist’s mecca. I walked the shelves with staff members and we looked up some interesting recipes online. I wanted to create 4 drinks that featured some exotic liqueurs and some fresh herbs. That to me seems to be where “it’s at” these days in the bar scene…at least in places like Austin, NY & SF!!

Imagine the ladies’ surprise when I bounded into the place with a big box of spirits and herbs and juices. There was some hootin’ goin’ on!

So, onto the drinks…I of course started off trying to follow some of the recipes to a T, but if you know me, I just can’t do that…not even with my cooking. I must always adjust…it’s a thing! We had a blast, mixing and remixing and making simple syrup which coated the entire kitchen counter at one point. I tried this and that…and the girls had big grins and made “yucky” faces. However, when it was all said and done I had 4 pretty fun and solid recipes and a slight tummy ache. Keep in mind that my normal cocktail is an Extra Dry Vodka Martini or a really good Bourbon on the rocks. But, I do what I must to create fun recipes for YOU! It’s a tough job my friends!

okay, okay. you want to know about the recipes. well, all ideas were pulled from customers and various liquor company websites…then, we tweaked ’em good. You could tell after making each recipe which liquor company actually had a mixologist on staff and which companies just threw stuff together. So, in the interests of not naming any names and the fact that we really did change these recipes up A LOT, I have renamed some of these.

Oh, and I like to give recipes in “parts”…so you can multiply by however many drinks you want. But all the recipes serve about 1-2 drinks.

And remember, cocktails are ONLY AS GOOD as the ingredients you put into them. So make sure to use great quality stuff and fresh product whenever possible. 

Green-Tini (very dry, with a hint of sweet in the finish)
2 parts-Charbay Green Tea Vodka
1 part-St Germain Elderflower Liqueur
1 part-Ty Ku Sake
dash-lime juice

pour everything into a shaker filled with ice.
shake, shake, shake.
serve up in a chilled martini glass.
lime twist garnish.

Absolut Black Basil (refreshing and light, drier alternative to a lemon drop)
4-basil leaves torn
2 parts-Absolut Black 100 proof Vodka
2 parts-fresh squeezed Lemon Juice
1 part-Danny DeVito’s Limoncello
1/2 part-simple syrup
tonic floater (Fever Tree or Q Tonic, recommended)

in a stainless shaker, muddle basil and simple syrup.
fill with ice.
add, vodka, lemon juice, limoncello.
shake, shake, shake.
strain into a highball filled with ice.
floater of tonic, as you like.
lemon twist and basil garnish.

Raspberry-Ginger Snap (sweet and spicy)
3 parts-Raspberry Vodka (Hangar One or Three Olives, recommended)
2 parts-Canton Ginger Liqueur
dash-lime juice
dash-simple syrup
tonic floater (Fever Tree or Q Tonic, recommended)

in a stainless shaker add ice, vodka, canton, lime juice and simple syrup.
shake, shake, shake.
pour contents, ice and all, into a tall skinny highball
floater of tonic, as you like
raspberry and fresh ginger slice garnish (optional)

Pineapple-Sage Tequila Shot (fruity and rich)
2-3 sage leaves, torn
dash-orange liqueur (Grand Marnier/Citronge/Paula’s Orange, recommended)
dash-agave nectar/syrup
1 part-Don Julio Anejo Tequila
1 part-Pineapple Juice (fresh or really good bottled)

in a stainless shaker, muddle sage leaves with orange liqueur and agave nectar.
add ice, tequila, pineapple juice.
shake, shake, shake.
Pour into a tall skinny chilled shot glass.
pineapple wedge garnish (optional)

NYEve-Champagne Cocktails

cocktail2Time for some Cocktails! So, champagne is always on my NYE agenda, but I like to mix it up with some Spirit(s) too! This year I will probably drink an Andre Clouet, Paul Roger or Veuve Clicquot Vintage Rose champagne. Maybe I’ll even treat myself to some great truffles…I only eat chocolate when it’s really, really good. 🙂 But I will start the night with some sort of bubbly cocktail. Continue reading

I Like Beer: December Edition

How bittersweet it is, on winter’s night,
To listen, by the sputtering, smoking fire,
As distant memories, through the fog-dimmed light,
Rise, to the muffled chime of churchbell choir.
–   Charles Baudelaire, The Cracked Bell

December is about memories, and traditions, and family – at least for me.  The American fantasist John Crowley said that every Christmas seems to follow another; that the time between is just a dream, not real. While I’m not sure I’d go that far, I do know that for me the December table is about tradition. In my household, we try to maintain an unbroken chain of practices and traditions that reach back through the years — we light Chanukah lights in honor of one of my best friends and former roommates, a Ukranian Jew; gingerbread is always served Christmas morning, a longtime practice of my wife’s family; and at some point, someone will take a picture of me with a discarded bow on my head. (This is in memory of my late mother, who felt Christmas morning just wasn’t complete without wearing some of the discarded packaging.) Continue reading

A Spirited Heritage: Founder of Twin Liquors Dies

TheodoreJabour(November 24, 2009) Austin, TX — Today the Twin Liquors family says goodbye to the “Twin” of Twin Liquors, Theodore Jabour, who passed away Monday afternoon at the age of 88.

Theodore Jabour was born on New Year’s Day, 1921, in Austin, Texas.  Theodore’s father, Albert, and his family were merchants, and they operated a mercantile store (that was started back in the late 1800s) in the heart of Austin, Texas, which was then Congress Avenue and Pecan Street (the current Sixth Street).  As a young boy, Theodore learned how to be a retailer, and he and his twin brother, Arthur, loved working in the family business.  Austin was just a small town back then, and on warm summer days, Theodore and Arthur would walk across what is now Lady Bird Lake (when the river would only be a trickle), and they would run and play at East Avenue Park, which later became part of Interstate Highway 35.  As a child, Theodore watched his beloved church, St. Elias Orthodox Church, be built in 1933, and he would later attend and serve this church for the rest of his life.

During World War II, he and Arthur joined the U.S. Army and, at all times, were stationed together at the request of their mother, Mary, and the action of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  They faithfully served in the Philippines and New Guinea.  After the Army, Theodore and Arthur returned to Austin and began working in the family’s store which had since evolved, shortly after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, from a mercantile store into a liquor store, a drug store, and a soda fountain that was known as “Jabour’s Package Store.”   In 1953, Theodore and Arthur traveled to Lebanon, the country of their ethnic origin, with their mother.  There they both met their brides and within three weeks were married in a double wedding ceremony.  The couples returned to Austin to live.

Theodore, along with Arthur, their mother, and their brother, Jesse, worked hard and by the mid-1940s, had expanded “Jabour’s Package Store” from one store into three liquor stores and a tavern that only sold beer and featured the first live music on Sixth Street.  For approximately the next four decades, Theodore and Arthur were more than just merchants, providing wisdom, advice, support, encouragement, and attention to all of their customers.  Not surprisingly, they had many friends and received countless invitations for graduations and weddings and were truly loved by their customers.  In September 1981, Theodore and Arthur decided to retire after being in the liquor industry for approximately 40 years.  The family then closed the store and tavern.

When he was not working, Theodore was extremely active in his church and was a pillar of St. Elias Church.  Theodore served as greeter for many years and was a life time parish counsel member.  His love for his faith and his warmth for people brought many to inquire further about the Orthodox faith.  Theodore enjoyed seeing the many people that converted to Orthodoxy and several that subsequently became ordained priests and deacons throughout the country.
Theodore’s love for people soon brought him out of retirement.  In February of 1982, his immediate family, consisting of his children, Ralph(deceased), Margaret, and David, and Theodore’s brother-in-law, Gabe Diab, began operating a small 700-square-foot liquor store at the corner of 7th and Red River in downtown Austin.  The family named the store “Twin Liquors” in honor of Theodore who was known around town at that time as “Twin.”

Theodore’s business philosophy provided the foundation for Twin Liquors’ existence.  Theodore fundamentally instilled in his children the importance of relationships and customer service, and how serving and helping your community is an essential component of fulfilling the needs of customers.  This philosophy ultimately fueled Twin Liquors’ great growth. From the inception of Twin Liquors, the Jabours’ vision for the company has been to expand the business in order to serve its communities in every possible neighborhood with personnel that share the owners’ passion and sentiment for the consumer and the industry.   Today Twin Liquors consists of 59 locations throughout Central Texas and supports over 500 charitable events annually.

Theodore’s passion and love for his immediate family brought him immense joy, and he preferred to spend his days working together with his family and building a respected business rather than enjoying a leisurely retirement.  He was extremely proud of the fact that, today,  the Jabour family members are third-generation Austinites, proudly raising the fourth generation of Austinites.
Theodore remained active in Twin Liquors until his death providing passion, wisdom and direction to the company.  Even days before his death, the sparkle in his eyes and vigor in his voice when discussing company business confirmed his unwavering and steadfast commitment to his community, industry and family.  In an era when businesses rise and fall with relatively brief periods of success, it is reassuring to find that Twin Liquors has stood the test of time because of the beliefs of its founder. That’s the real testimony to honoring a heritage, a family and a father.

May his memory be eternal.

I Like Beer: November Edition

“No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member–
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds,
–“November”, Thomas Hood

It seems obvious to me in retrospect that what Thomas Hood needed was a beer or two.

            I rather like November, in truth. Certainly here in Central Texas it’s cooler, — the sky never gets as quite as blue as it does on a clear November day, the wind never as crisp. Of course, it’s also a time of cooler temperatures. When November rolls around, it means heartier food — and what best to go with it than heartier beer? This month I want to tell you about one of my favorite styles of beer: the witbier or biere blanche. Continue reading

Austin Chronicle’s Best of ’09

bestof09Best Liquor Store: Twin Liquors

Hyde Park dwellers thanked Bacchus early and often when the new millennium welcomed Twin Liquors to Hancock Center – and near a video rental store to boot! With some 55 sister outlets, its upgrade was unexpected, to say the least; employees of Twin Liquors’ new “flagship” headquarters next to Petco estimate the liquor barn’s square footage at 40,000. That’s the kind of mileage you’ll rack up in its Champagne alone. Watch the cork!

Best Tasting Hostess: Antoinette at Twin Liquors

Antoinette could be your mother, your grandmother, your auntie, or your sister, and like all great ladies, she’s known by first name only. The Twin Liquors hostess has been helping customers get the very best out of their liquor for decades. Her commitment to social justice is inspiring: When no one would sell to the gay clubs in Austin in the 1970s, Antoinette and the gang at Twin Liquors did. Arrive at the tasting stand at Twin Liquors, and you’ll be greeted with her radiant smile and a laugh, and she’ll tell you what’s good. She knows good. Everything she’s served to us has been perfect, and the conversation is delightful without fail. After five minutes you’ll wish she was related to you so you’d have more reason (than being a borderline alcoholic) to see her

Courtesy of The Austin Chronicle

Cognac or Brandy?

scotchorbrandyPut simply, all Cognacs are Brandy, but not all Brandys are Cognac.  Still a bit confused?  That’s a sure sign that it’s a French thing.  In order for a Brandy to be a Cognac it must come from the Cognac region of France.  Everything else is Brandy.  Brandy and Cognac are made by fermenting and then distilling grape juice.  Cognac has very strict production and labelling rules to protect it’s quality and reputation. Most Cognacs are not a “vintage” product.  They are made up of spirit from many vintages and the class of Cognac is determined by the youngest spirit in the blend.  Cognac must be at least two and a half years old starting with the first of October of the year the grapes were produced.

The classes and rules are as follows:

V.S. (Very Special)  The youngest in the blend must be at least four and a half years old and stored for two years of that time in cask.

V.S.O.P. (Very Superior Old Pale) also called Reserve, The youngest in the blend must be between four and a half and six and a half years old with minimum four years in cask.

X.O. (Extra Old)
also V.O., Napoleon, Imperial, or Hors d’age are a minimum of six and a half years old with six years in cask.  Many Cognacs and Brandies with these designations contain spirits that are fifty to over one-hundred-years old                                                                                                   
In addition other notable terms are put on a Cognac Label.
“Fine” when used on a label as in “Grande Fine Champagne” signifies that 100% of the grapes used were from the Grande Champagne Region.

“Fine Champagne” means at least fifty percent of the grapes were from Grand Champagne, the balance would be from the Petite Champagne region.

“Fine Petite Champagne” or “Petite Champagne” means that the grapes were all from the Petite Champagne region. 

These are the main regions of note for Cognac.  There are other lesser appellation designations that are considered lesser quality than those listed.  Brandy is made from grapes of other regions, Armagnac is one example.  Brandy can also be made from Apples (Calvados), Cherries (Kirshwasser), Plums (Slivovitz) or other fruits. In closing, Cognacs and Brandys are usually better enjoyed chilled rather than heated as the proliferation of Brandy Warmers would suggest.  Chilling tempers the spirit making the alcohol less harsh on the palate.


vinhoIt sounds strange to say it out loud, “Green Wine”. The literal translation of the beautiful Portuguese wine called Vinho Verde. And yes, it does have a slight green hue.  It is best when done as a white wine and should be young and slightly carbonated.  The sparkle comes from secondary bottle fermentation. Vinho Verde is a style of wine as opposed to a grape. Continue reading

What does it take to make great Washington wine in Walla Walla?

wallawallaBy Brenda Audino

Climate, soil, grapes and people…

I just returned from a whirlwind trip to Walla Walla in an effort to better understand what makes Walla Walla wines unique.
First the climate in Eastern Washington is the complete opposite of Western Washington.  We all know that the area around Seattle is cool and rainy most of the year.  The area around Walla Walla though is hot and dry.  Rainy Seattle gets about 35 inches while Eastern Washington is considered more of a dessert with rainfall ranging from 6 to 12 inches a year.  This contrast is due to the Cascade Mountains protecting Eastern Washington from the rain coming off the Pacific Ocean. Continue reading

Spain: Part two

Part one of our look at Spanish wines explored the rich history of Spain’s wine. Now we look to one of Spain’s particular wine regions and how the wines evolved there. Spain had developed an appellation control system to help ensure the quality and regional heritage of wines. Only one of the Spain’s regions has attained the highest ratings: Denominacion de origen Calificada.

This rating denotes a wine region that meets a “supper category” for quality and consistency. It was granted, in 1991, to the best-known wine region in North Central Spain, La Rioja. This region is known around the world for its rich Tempranillo wines.

The core of the name “Tempranillo” means “early.” This red grape ripens weeks earlier than Garnacha. Early Tempranillos were not oak-aged and were big fruit bombs, “fat” (low in acidity) and had to be consumed young. In the mid-1800s, a Spanish winemaker returned from a stay in Bordeaux, bringing with him French winemaking methods, new oak barrels, and a couple of well-known French grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. These French grapes are still considered experimental but contributed greatly to the complexity of the mostly Tempranillo-based wines.

The main grape, blended in the smaller quantities with Tempranillo to add the acidity it needs for long life, is Garnacha, known in France as Grenache. The addition of this grape, along with aging in new oak, elevated Rioja wines to a new level of quality. The wine’s name tells the story.

“Crianza” requires a minimum of six months of oak aging, and must not be released earlier than two years from harvest. “Reserva” needs a minimum of one year in oak, and three years before release. “Gran reserva,” only allowed in the best years, requires a minimum of two years in oak, with its earliest release coming in the sixth year after three years in bottle aging.

There are many inexpensive Tempranillo wines, expensive Gran Reserva and many great bottles in between these extremes.

BEER, Ales

alesMy last article was an introduction to beer and the beers classified as Lagers.  This time let’s look at Ales.  There is room for much more variation of styles of Ales than that of Lagers.  There are many, many styles, but we will focus on the basic recognized  Ales. Continue reading

BEER, Lager

Beer paulhas come a long way baby.  Too many to cover in depth in one column.  So let’s look at the basics and go from there.

Beer is divided into two styles, Lager and Ale.  What separates these is the fermentation style.  Lagers use top fermenting yeast and are kept cool during fermentation (below 50 deg. f., Ales use a bottom fermenting yeast and are fermented warmer (as high as 70 deg. F.)

All of the big American brands that we all grew up with are Lagers, most lighter in character than their European counterparts.  The original Lager is a Pilsner brewed in The Check Republic.  Think light, with a mild hops bite that lingers. The other beers that fall into this category are:

Oktoberfest (Marerzen).  These are a darker version of Lager usually a result of the brewing process.  Less “hoppy”, more malt character. Sweeter, richer, copper colored with a mild hops finish.

Bocks.  Darker, many are higher in alcohol (6% and up).  Rich, heavier, malty sweet softer hop finish
Dopple Bock, This means “Double Bock” but it’s not twice as strong.  It is a very heavy, rich beer, called “liquid bread”.  The monks used to drink this when they were fasting for Lent.  Makes you look forward to fasting and happier to boot.

Helles (pale) Bock, a pale version, sweet finish, with only enough hops to balance the malty character. Full bodied, golden color, typically higher in alcohol.

Steam Lager, Lager fermented at Ale temperatures, only one that I know of, Anchor Steam. Produces a light, crisp Lager style.

Jabour Pours on the Philanthropy

fortunate500In the notoriously flamboyant liquor business, “modest” and “mild-mannered” aren’t words typically assigned to its top brass. But then again, David Jabour is no ordinary beverage baron. As president of Twin Liquors, this former banker is a genteel family man and tireless philanthropist who just happens to own some liquor stores. Forty-six, to be exact.

Behind the desk of his humble office in a liquor warehouse, Jabour, 43, runs his family’s 70-year-old business and coordinates his extensive community calendar.

(Click to Read the Full Article)

Market Watch

1aTwin Liquors has received and continues to receive numerous awards and honors. In September 2004, on behalf of Twin Liquors, David and Margaret Jabour (the President and Vice Market Watch – Leaders 2004 President of Twin Liquors), received the wine and spirits industry’s most prestigious and coveted award, Market Watch’s United States Retailer of the Year. (Market Watch is the sister trade publication to Wine Spectator.) Previously, in 1999, David and Margaret Jabour were named one of the top retailers in the United States by Market Watch magazine. In 2000, Twin Liquors was named the Texas Retailer of the Year by the American Beverage Licensees (ABL). In April 2005, David was named the 2005 Who’s Who in Texas Food & Wine by the Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Festival. In July 2005, David and Margaret were inducted into the industry’s prestigious Sky Ranch Hall of Fame (the industry’s chosen charity). Locally, in February 2005, David and Margaret were named the 2005 Honorees for Outstanding Community Service by the Austin Symphony for all of the support and charitable contributions Twin Liquors has given to the Austin community. In addition, Twin Best of AustinLiquors has consistently been named “Austin’s Best Liquor Store” by The Austin Chronicle for over the past five years. Twin Liquors is also a member of the renowned Wine & Spirits Guild of America which is an organization of the largest and most prominent retailers in the United States.

Be Adventurous

SouthAmericaMapSmallI confess. I’m a slave to Cabernet Sauvignon. If I could drink only one wine for the rest of my life, it would be Cabernet. Thankfully, we are not bound by limits and as much as I love my Cabernets, I do need a change to keep myself from tiring of it. I am always on the prowl for new wines to experience.

Recently, my searching has led me to exciting wines from Spain and South America. There are a multitude of single varietals and blends out there that are luscious and priced in the $15 range and below.

The dominant grapes in these blends are:

Malbec: A Bordeaux blending grape that has taken on a new life in South America. Expect flavors of ripe plum, softer in character, closer to Merlot than Cabernet.


Tempranillo: This is Spain’s answer to Cabernet; big plum and blackberry character with complexity and tannins that can rival Cabernet.


Grenache: Another French grape that has found a home in Spain. Known in Spain as Garnacha, this is the softest in flavor and color of the three. More prone to aging quickly, this is fruity wine meant to be consumed while it’s young. Black currant is a primary flavor signifying its tendency to oxidize quickly.


These wines are exciting on their own and even more enticing when blended with Cabernet, Syrah or other grapes to add to the complexity and enjoyment. Surprisingly, many of these wines are under $10 a bottle! These wines can be paired with anything from steak to enchiladas and are great evening porch sippers. So be adventurous! Shake up your taste buds a little. You may find a new favorite.

Hamburger Wine?

Summer! Backyards and barbeques. Grilled burgers, fish and everything in between. The backyard domain traditionally ruled by beer and margaritas is slowly being invaded by wine. I like good beer with a burger, especially with the wide range of great brews available these days. However, you wouldn’t think twice about opening a great Claret or Cabernet Sauvignon with a filet mignon, so why change just because the meat is ground up?

 A burger with all the fixings is not a dish for a wimpy wine. You want a big, meaty California red or a rich, inky Malbec from South America to tackle that stack of meat. What’s that you say? Can’t do warm red wine in the Texas sun? When we talk about serving red wine at room temperature, nobody is talking about room temperature in Texas! So chill those reds down to 55 degrees or so, and they will be more refreshing.

Red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Tempranillo and Shiraz (Syrah) are great wines with grilled red meat. Everything from steak or ribs to fajitas will work; just remember with spicier meat to stay away from the heavily oaked wines or you’ll think you’ve set your mouth on fire. For lighter meats like pork, chicken or fish, pay attention to the sauce or seasoning and select the wine accordingly. Sauce and seasoning rule the dish. Sangiovese, Pinot Noir or Grenache are great for lighter red wines.

Make room in the beer cooler for Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Albarino and even Champagne or Prosecco as a fun alternative. Light, crisp and cold characteristics (sounds like a beer ad) make these backyard favorites. Are you marinating that meat or fish? Add some of the wine you’ll be serving to the marinade. It will marry the dish to the wine and help tenderize the meat.

So if I’m driving by and smell the grill, I just might knock on the door. Don’t worry. I’ll bring the wine.

Farewell to Spain

I have enjoyed our virtual visit with Spain’s wines and will use this final installment to discuss the wines outside of Rioja. It will be hard to cover all of the areas, so I will focus this article on the wines that are perfect for hot weather and the foods we enjoy in the summer.

Rias Baixas: The area in extreme Northwest Spain above Portugal along the coast. This is an area that lives with the sea. Its most famous wine is a white called Albarino. Softer fruit and good acidity make this a summer porch sipper and a first choice for shellfish or anything else from the brine.

Penedes: This is the area along the Northeast coast near Barcelona in Cava County. Cava is Spain’s full “Methode Champenoise” or Champagne district. Made in the true Spanish style using Macabeo, Parellada and Xarello grapes, Cava doesn’t carry the creamy texture that Chardonnay brings to French sparklers. But the style, once again, suits the cuisine. Crisp, with bright acidity, Cava is a great food wine and can be enjoyed with salads and seafood.

Cadiz: Located in the far South coastal area, this is Sherry country. The roots of Sherry making go back 3,000 years. This is a fortified wine of different styles. Think dessert, serve these cold. The main Sherry styles are:

Fino: Light, delicate and dry. Should always show the aroma and character of the “Flor,” a strain of yeast that sets sherry apart from other fortified wines.

Amontillado: With age, a Fino Sherry develops an Amber color and at eight years in the cask becomes an Amontillado with a nutty character and more body.

Oloroso: “Fragrant,” the name describes the style, heavier body without the Flor influence. Many are sweetened and drink closer to a Tawny Port.

Palo Cortado: A Fino that lost its Flor on its way to becoming an Oloroso. Only one in 1,000 barrels becomes a Palo Cortado.

Pedro Ximenez: Usually produced as a sweetening agent. Can be released in limited quantities. Usually old, dark, rich and powerful with deep raisin character.

Spain’s wines are, for the most part, still a bargain and fit well for summer drinking in Texas. Talk to your local wine expert to find some new summer favorites.

Spain: Part one

From this small beginning, Spain’s wine industry now has more area under vine than any other country in the world. Despite this, Spain is fifth in the world in wine production. Spain is a land of high plateaus ringed by mountains and crisscrossed with rivers. The elevation of Spain’s growing regions, from 1,600 feet to over 2,600 feet influences growers’ choice of grapes. They must produce well at altitude in an arid climate.

One World wine grows up around the cuisine and culture of people drinking it. Spain has several large areas defined by climate, food and culture. These factors drive the wine style in each area. Overall, until the early 1970s, Spain produced a massive amount of low-quality bulk wines for export. During the mid- to late-’70s, the Spanish wine industry underwent a massive transformation. Overproduction was reserved; better quality vines were planted. By the end of the ’80s, Spain had gained new respect.

Across the country, from the white wines of the Northeast, to the reds of North Central, through the Sherries in the South, Spain is producing and exporting quality wines. We look at some of those wines during our next visit.

Sparkling Cocktails

sandraSo, I know I’ve talked about this before, but I am just so into the sparkling cocktail. And, what better way to rev up NY Eve than with a drink dashed with bubbles! This is my way of making things fancy without having to go overboard. You can make all these drinks for a crowd…or just for two! Serve wine friendly bites and put on some great tunes and viola! you’ll be ready to count down to the New Year!

Do you have a Sweet Tooth?
A couple of weeks ago, we had a fun tasting at the Twin Liquors Marketplace tasting a different Sparkling Martini every night. There was the Moonlight Martini, Orange Blossom, Bellini, Pearfect and Candy Apple. They were all fun, but be warned you must have a sweet tooth for these.

Are you more of a classicist?
The Kir Royale is of course the quintessential sparkling cocktail. Many others like this can be made with fine liqueurs. Try a Framboise if you like raspberries or Amaretto if you like a more nutty flavor. My personal favorite is the Velvet Amber, which is Grand Marnier and a dash of cranberry juice in a champagne flute filled with bubbles. I actually drink the Velvet Amber a little cooler than room temperature. I find that the richness is complimented by a warmer temperature than being ice cold. Whatever your preference, these are all very classy cocktails.

Want to bring out the Austin-ist in you?
Okay, then try the Sparkling Saturday Night Margarita. This packs a punch and is festive with bubbles while reminding us that we are after all in Austin Texas. I love the tart lime, accompanied by the richness of the Grand Marnier and the light vibrancy of the bubbles. I make this one for a crowd, but beware it can sneak up on you. If that’s too rich for you, then try the Sling-Back…the simplicity of the this drink is that it’s bubbles over ice with a squeeze of lime! Very basic, but it is so refreshing and light. Actually, as I sit hear on December 27th with my air conditioner blasting, I think a slingback might be on the menu!

As with any of these festive cocktails, they can sneak up on you with a kick, so drink responsibly. And of course if making cocktails is just to cumbersome for you, a glass of classic champagne is timless and simple. I will be sipping on the Andre Clouet 1911 to start the night, then moving onto the Velvet Amber!

Recipes can also be found in the Recipe section of our website.

Sparkling Martinis

Moonlight Martini
1 part absolut kurant
1 part hiram walker blueberry passion
splash prosecco
garnish with blueberry

Orange Blosson Martini
1 partAbsolut Mandarin
1 part Hiram Walker Tangerine Schnapps
splash prosecco
garnish with orange twist

Bellini Martini
1 part Absolut Apeach
1 part Hiram Walker White Peach Schnapps
splash of Prosecco
garnish with peach slice or cherry

Pearfect Martini
1 part Absolut Apear
1 part Hiram Walker Pear Schnapps
splash of Prosecco
garnish with pear slice

Candy Apple Martini
1 part Absolut Vodka
1 part Hiram Walker Sour Apple Schnapps
splash of Prosecco
garnish with a red sugar rim, apple slice and cherry

Classic Cocktails

Kir Royale
1 part Chambord, or Cassis Liqueur chilled (also try other liqueurs like frambois or amaretto)
3 parts sparkling wine chilled
combine in champagne flute

Velvet Amber
1 part Grand Marnier
1/2 part cranberry juice
3 parts sparkling wine, chilled
combine in chamgane flute

Austin Inspired

Sparkling Saturday Night Margarita (Mexico 57)
1 part Grand Marnier
1 part sweet n sour
2 parts Cuervo Platino
2 parts Chandon Brut
pour into salt rimmed wine goblet filled with ice
garnish twist of lime

3-4 oz. Slightly Sweet Sparkling Wine, like Mumm Cuvee M, Mumm Demi-Sec, Chandon Riche or Gruet Demi-Sec
Lime Wedge
In a Champagne Fulte filled with ice, top with Sparkling wine and garnish with squeeze of lime

The Italian Revelation, and why I love to eat and drink

cheeseItaly has so much to offer in the way of lifestyle, culture, food and of course wine. Hospitality abounds throughout this country…All regions enjoy the communal aspect of breaking bread and toasting with wine–yet each region has a distinct flavor. Cream sauces in Parma…tomatoes in Roma. Burgundian style wines in the North to ripe and bright reds in the south. All these differences a common thread remains. Keep it local, fresh and real. But why? Continue reading

A Hill Country Food & Wine Festival Tale

DAVIDNCREWAs I sit here on this beautiful Monday morning, reflecting on the Hill Country Food and Wine Festival, sipping my coffee and “thinking” about getting on the treadmill, I am reminded of what an awesome town Austin really is. This weekend brought out a great group of people, not to mention, Central Texas restaurants, local and far away wineries and spirit producers from all over the world. It was an eclectic mix for an even more eclectic city. Now, I didn’t go to every event…but I feel like I did. Here are some of the Highlights. Continue reading


Winetails are the new trend. Wine-tails? Stories about wine? you ask. No, we are talking wine cocktails. These are fun drinks that incorporate or feature wine.

Substitute wine to make a lower alcohol version of your favorite drink or add wine to rev-up your favorite martini or margarita. In the 1960s and the 1980s wine cocktails were all the rage. However, over the last 25 years or so they disappeared from the bar. Continue reading

News Years Resolution

New Years Resolution #1 – Start a Wine Tasting Group


My Resolution this year is to drink more wine, enjoy more food and make it all count. I find that the older I get the more discriminating my palate becomes. Why drink just any wine when there are so many great wines in everyone’s budget and taste. But how do you find the wines you are looking for? Tasting of course! So, for those of you out there who have decided to start a wine group as your new years resolution here are some helpful tips.

Priority one, pick a day of the month and stick to it. The wine group I belong to meets every second Tuesday of the month. This makes it really easy when looking ahead at a calendar and planning. I suggest meeting every month, but if that’s too tedious make it even or odd months.

Next step, hosting…Generally there is a ringleader for these types of groups and it will more often fall upon that person to host. But if you can get a group of participants large enough, the hosting can be rotated. The key is to make it easy. Be prepared with cheeses, breads, crackers and fruits as well as a sweet treat. All bite size is the best…no hassling with utensils. Glassware can be supplied by the host, but I have found that it is much easier to ask guests to bring their own stem. This makes cleanup a breeze for the host.

Now the wine! First, a theme must be chosen, whether democratically or host choice. Try to make it seasonally apropos, whites in the heat of summer, reds in colder weather…you get the idea. You can theme by region, varietal, price, favorites, collectables-after seven years my Tuesday wine group still has exciting themes, some we have repeated but not often. The possibilities are endless. If you need help just ask one of our Twin Liquors Wine Authorities for some ideas.

The next step is to convey your theme and meeting place to all those invited and make each person bring at least one bottle of wine, their stem of course and something with which to take notes. I prefer blind tastings (brown bagged)…this eliminates any preconceived ideas and really makes you think about the actual tasting.

At this point it becomes a free for all tasting…a little bit social, a little bit wine geek! Advise folks to pour 1-ounce pours and to spit, rather than swallow (remember: 20, 1-ounce pours is 4 glasses of wine, whew!). I tend to spit everything and then return to the top 3-6 I am considering and enjoy those.

Once you can corral everyone back into focus, have everyone rank their top 5, calibrate the winners and then reveal the wines from least ranked to winner. (An interesting twist is to have everyone bring their wine for the tasting as well as a duplicate bottle…whoever has the winning wine, wins all the duplicate bottles.)

Lastly, make sure to follow up with your group by sharing the results within the next few days. This takes work, but is worth it because after tasting upwards of 20 or so wines the memory isn’t usually up to par. If you want to get crazy, you can do research on some of the wines and include that info as well…how intellectual you get is really up to you.

Follow these ideas and with fairly minimal effort your journey to discovering new wines will be exciting and varied. Or, you can join an already existing group!

A Bronx-tail…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOkay, okay, so this time the whole night wasn’t about eating and drinking! This time it was about the amazing Chaz Palminteri staring in the one-man Broadway show A Bronx Tale. The Long Center packed the house last night (9/3) with the opening night of this fantastic show. It was 90 minutes of non-stop Chaz…I mean he didn’t even take a sip of water. He took us thru his adolescence, perched on the stoop of 187th and Belmont. We laughed, we laughed harder, we were so quiet you could you could hear a pin…we’ll you get it…the audience was absoultely consumed by his performance. In a day an age where I feel standing Os are a little excessive yet sometimes tentative-last night when the curtain fell folks jumpped to their feet and rightly so.

After the show a few of us retreated to the Kodosky donor lounge and sipped wine and Bronx-tail themed “Palm”agranite martinis made with Pama Pamagranite liqueur… courtesy of Twin Liquors and shaken by Sterling Affairs! Then the true treat…Chaz himself came upstairs and met and greeted everyone. He was incredibly humble and kind. He spoke a few words to the crowd… sincerely expressing his appreciation for the Texas/Austin hospitality he was shown. It was his first trip here… but he’ll be back! He even had the character Sunny giving the crowd the hook’em!

Incidentally, I heard him talking about eating at III Forks–he’s a big fan! That’s saying a lot from a guy who I’m sure has dined in some of New Yorks finest!

A True Measure Of Scotch

scotchbottleThe price of a bottle of Scotch is in mostly a reflection of the cost of producing that bottle.  Basics like grain, water, barrels, stills, mash tuns, are all common factors that affect every Scotch produced. If all Scotch were produced the same, they would all be about the same cost.  So why is there such a wide variation in price?  Let’s look at the other factors that affect the price.  The amount of Scotch that can be produced affects the price.  If base costs are the same and you can produce more Scotch in one Distillery than another, your cost per bottle is less with more production.  The decision to use a Sherry Barrel instead of American White Oak has a cost. How old is the Scotch in that bottle?  The older the Scotch the more it costs to produce.  It has to be stored someplace and you lose two to three percent per year to evaporation (In Scotland this is called the Angel’s share).  If that Scotch is ten years old then you have given twenty to thirty percent to the angels. That really starts reducing your available Scotch for that twenty-five or fifty-year old whisky.  As a basic rule, the older the Scotch the smoother it should be.  Oak barrels are used in Scotland for forty to sixty years.  Barrels that old do not impart a great effect immediately, but over time the influence is greater.  The color of older Scotches tell the tale of the oak influence.  Does that make it a better Scotch than the eight or ten year old Scotch?  That depends on your palate.  It definitely makes it more expensive.  There are great single malts in all price catagories.  Experiment, have some fun, attend a Scotch Tasting or get a few different years, wood finishes and regions together for a side by side tasting.  You’ll be amazed at the range of flavors out there.

A Scotch Journey

A departure from my usual wine ponderings.  It was my pleasure to be part of a group of Twin Liquors Managers traveling to Scotland for a true Scotch education tour in July.  We were fortunate to have James McCartney, a Master of Scotch accompany us and were able to spend time with Ian Williams, Manager of Johnnie Walker Brands.  I have studied Scotch at length, personally and during my Sommelier training.  I thought I knew quite a bit about the regional characteristics of Scotches and would have told you that I could tell what flavors a Scotch contained based on the region that it was produced.  With Scotch, I was taught, everything from the grain to the glass leaves it’s signature.  The air, water, grain and barrel all contribute to give Scotch it’s regional signature.  While that is basically true, as with most things, it is a simplification of a complex process.  Our travels across the highlands from Speyside to Oban taught me that while Scotch has regional characteristics, ultimately the style is specific to the distillery that produces it.  Each distillery has created a variation of that base style.  Everything that each distillery does from how they geminate the Barley to the exact size and shape of the still remains a constant at each producer.  If they ever have to replace a still, it would be as exact a copy as could be made, right down to the metalurgy of the copper used for the still.  To do otherwise would change the Scotch forever.  Variations of the diameter, length and angle of the neck of the still are a major factor in the flavor difference between one Scotch and it’s neighbor down the road. So my Scotch journey has really just begun.  I’ll spend some more time on this subject in my next article, including why price isn’t the full measure of a bottle.

A Little Bit of Sherry

sherrySherry for all of its elegance, history and varied styles does not have a big following in the U.S.  It’s just not a wine that you think of everyday.  The origins and history of Sherry is to long a story to tell in this brief column but I will share a few facts.

The first vines are believed to have been brought to Jerez, Spain as early as 1100 B.C.  Sherry is a fortified wine (like port) and is unique because of the way it is aged.  Fino and Manzanillas will be put in Sherry Butts (oak casks) and filled to 5/6th of capacity leaving room for air to impart a level of oxidation that adds to the character.  These styles develop a cover of “Flor” that protects them from oxidation in the spring and fall but sinks to the bottom during summer and winter.  “Flor” is a yeast that, in addition to protecting the Sherry from oxidation, interacts with the alcohol and other components of the wine, imparting the unique flavors and aromas that we know as Sherry.  Sherry producers are also responsible for developing the Solera method of aging that blends many vintages ensuring consistency from year to year.  Each year a maximum of 33% of the Sherry from that vintage is used for production.  It is blended in with Sherry from many previous years in a process called “running the scales”.  As Sherry is removed from a cask it is refilled from the cask above it. That cask is then filled from the cask above that, etc.

I want to talk about the styles of Sherry available.

Manzanilla:  A Pale Dry, Fino Sherry that develops a character from the Flor that is so distinct that it has it’s own “Denomination De Origin”.  Fortified up to 19% has a fresh, delicate, dry flavor, served as a food wine.

Fino:  A pale straw colored dry sherry fortified to about 18%. Delicate on the nose and palate with a flavor suggestive of Almonds.

Amontillado:  An amber colored wine fortified up to 22% Deeper, sharper, nutty flavor hinting of Hazelnut.

Oloroso:  Deeper color than Amontillado, fortified up to 22% with more body, with overtones of nuttiness.  I find this Sherry richer, reminiscent of Tawny port but drier.

Palo Cortado:  Deep, red amber in color, fortified up to 22% closer to an Amontillado in flavor with the heavier body of an Oloroso.

Pedro Ximenez:  Made from grapes that are partially sun-dried, this is a heavy, rich, mouth filling, sweet sherry, fortified to around 18%

Dry Sherry:  Can be blended with sweet wine to produce less dry styles that are easier on the palate than the totally dry Sherries.  These are still fortified up to 22%; so a little glass is the standard for service.  These styles are:

Pale Cream:  Pale color, delicate in bouquet and slightly sweet and light on the palate.

Medium:  A Golden Darker to Mahogany in color probably Amontillado based richer than Pale Cream Sherry, slightly sweet on the palate, with a nutty character.

Cream:  Darker, Oloroso based with sweet wine added to produce a mouth filling, full bodied wine.

Care of your wine

sungrapesAs we plunge headlong into the Dog Days of summer remember to treat your wines like you would a baby.  Keep them cool, out of the bright sun, and quiet (minimize vibration).  Let’s talk about these one at a time.  First, keep your wines cool.  Not always easy to do.  Wine can take some warmth, but shocking a wine (temperature change to quickly) can damage it.  Also remember that alcohol expands faster and more than water.  Leave a bottle of red wine in a car on a hot day and you will most likely end up with red car seats.

 Liquid expansion can push wine past the cork or even force the cork out of the bottle.  Bright light is also the enemy of wine.  Direct sunlight can “cook” a wine.  Even if that doesn’t happen sunlight will degrade a wine’s color and prematurely age it.  Keeping a wine “quiet”.  Vibration is not a good thing for wines.  With sparkling wines a continuous vibration can cause all of your lovely bubbles to escape past the cork.  With still wines you can “shock” a wine.  Vibration during shipment or during the bottling process can cause a wine to go to sleep.  The wine will just not show the fruit, it will be dull and lifeless on the palate.  The reason Wine Closets are more expensive than refrigerators is the vibration and humidity control.  You are trying to recreate the environment in those old wine caves in Europe.  They worked so well because they were cool, dark and quiet.  I keep a cooler in my vehicle all summer to put wine and groceries in to get them home from the store.  It doesn’t have to have ice in it.  It acts as a barrier to protect from the direct heat.  Follow these tips and you will have better wine all summer long.

The other white grape…

pinotgrigioWe are all too familiar with the white grape standards, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. What about that other white grape, Pinot Grigio? Known as Pinot Gris in France (where the best of the bunch come from Alsace) this grape is gaining popularity from Italian producers. The best come from northern regions of Italy particularly Alto Adige and the Friuli-Venezia sectors. Although the wine made from this grape is always a white wine, the grapes vary in color form the light blue-gray to almost brown with a hint of pink. It is believed to be a relative or clone of Pinot Noir. The bunches grow in the same “pine cone” tight cluster that gave Pinot Noir its name.

Pinot Grigio is meant to be consumed young with no benefit gained from cellar aging. The wine produced carries fresh flavors of grapefruit, honey, citrus and floral notes. It usually has a crisp acidity that makes it pair well with soft cheeses, cream sauces and seafood. It is also a great porch sipper for those hot summer days.
The intensity of the wine varies by climate. The French, Alsatian wines tend to be more delicate, whereas the California Pinot Grigios tend to be more bold, fruit-driven wines. There are many styles and price points for this wine and there are many bargains to be found form Italy where many of my favorites hail from. With the Texas heat looming over us, this is a perfect time to explore one of my favorite summer wines. Try some and find a new favorite.

Happy Mother’s Day to all of our friends from the Twin family.

Cork or screw cap?

corkscrewThe debate ranges about which is better closure for wine, natural cork, crew cap(also known as Stelvin closure, probably because it sounds better then a screw cap) or some other synthetic or composite closure. The folks promoting the screw caps say that with the increasing number of wineries worldwide and wine consumption on the rise we are facing a cork shortage, so an alternative is inevitable. Continue reading

Port, anyone?

portWinter, or what passes for winter most years in Central Texas, usually brings with in gray, cool, damp days. That’s when I start digging around the wine closet for a good bottle of Port. Port is comfort food for me this time of year. There are two basic styles of Port: Ruby and Tawny, with variations on those that define them further.

Ruby Ports: This is a broad category that includes Vintage Port, Late Bottled Vintage (LBV), Reverse, and simply Ruby. These Ports are always deep Ruby Color and, to me, have a rich Burgundy cherry flavor. The differences in the Ruby Ports are:

Vintage Port: Always has a vintage year on the bottle and are only supposed to be made during the best years. Realistically, economic factors will sometimes dictate that a Vintage Port is produced that might not be the very best, can you say Millennium? Vintage Ports should be held for a minimum of eight to ten years before they are enjoyed. At a younger age the alcohol bite is rough and the wine has not integrated.

Late Bottled Vintage Port: This is Vintage Port that is aged in oak barrels for several years to make it drinkable as soon as it is released. You will always see two dates on these. The vintage year of the grapes and the bottling year. The difference between there dates in the time spent in oak, usually three to four years. This is a good way to enjoy a Vintage Port without the price tag of the traditional Vintage Ports.

Ruby Port: There are simple, big fruited, high alcohol, Ports that do not get any oak mellowing. They are inexpensive and most are quite good.

Tawny Ports: These differ from Ruby Ports because they are fermented without any regard for oxidation of the wine. That changes the flavors to a more raisin and nutty character. Rather than a vintage date, there are classified with either an age statement, 10 year, 20 year, etc. or simply labeled as Tawny. The longer the aging the higher the price.

Ports are usually meant as an after dinner drink. The classic food pairing for Port? Stilton cheese. I also enjoy dark chocolate with Ruby Port. Where to store your open Port? In the refrigerator. Port serves best chilled.

I heart NY

ateam2A Twin Liquors group of 8 was hosted in Manhattan last weekend by the Sidney Frank Company-the fabulous folks who bring you Jagermeister and Tommy Bahama Rums! And what a weekend it was…they pullled out all the stops with a great Hotel, a free day to sight see, a trip to Yankee Stadium to catch one of the last games in that historic venue and dinner at a fantastic NY city haunt-Scallinatella. I could go on and on about the whole weekend in detail, but you’d be jealous, so let me just comment briefly on what we ate and drank.

First off, on my free night, I chose to dine at Esca, Mario Batali’s fish inspired restaurant. Three hours later and many little courses…the pairing that stood out was the Valpolicella paired with squid ink risotto stuffed into a whole squid and grilled. OMG! The briny, rich, slightly charred dish complemented by the bright acidity and rich fruit of the Valpol was a party in my mouth. That whole meal was a night to remember…apart from the great food…we ordered 5 different wines by the glass to accompany all the different dishes and it was a great success.

On day two, while being treated to the Yankees game, situated in a fantastic sky box, catered to the nines…I have to say that I had a terrific pairing of Hot Wings, Sausage & Peppas’ and of course the dog & kraut with beer, beer, beer. Isn’t that always a great pairing though? It truly was a fun game…the Yankees finally won in the bottom of the 13! Talk about extra innings, whew!

That night as a group we dined at Scallinatella…we were served all sorts of dishes from stuffed zuchini blossoms to black truffle fettucini alfredo, from lamb chops, to veal chops and from tiramisu that would make your toes curl to stracciatella-and yes, I had a bite of everything! There, Pinot Noir was the wine of the night…we must have gone thru a case. It just (line) drives it home (no pun intended), that Pinot Noir is an all around food friendly wine…it paired beautifully with everything. We closed the restaurant down with shots of Jager and Grappa…what a combo.

All in all it was 48 fabulous hours in Manhattan, eating and drinking the whole weekend thru…how could anyone not heart NY?!

Twin Liquor associates descend on Napa and Sonoma

NapaIt’s not often that such a large group of Twin Liquors’ managers and associates can get away to wine country together, but this week we did!  There were ten of us and two Republic National Distributing representatives, our beloved drivers, who descended upon California last Sunday.  We were able to eat, drink and still learn a thing or two about wine while in Napa and Sonoma for 2 ½ days. Continue reading

I Like Beer: October Edition

“I like beer. it makes me a jolly good fellow,
 I like beer. it helps me unwind
 and sometimes it makes me feel mellow (makes him feel mellow)…”
  –Tom T Hall, “I Like Beer”

My name’s Duke, and I like beer.
     Oh, don’t get me wrong, I like wine and spirits of most kinds as well. But when it comes right down to it, when I come home after a long day, when I want something that’s familiar and friendly, I’m likely to drink a beer or a cider. Beer is something I’m passionate about; it makes me feel connected with all the history that has gone before me. Continue reading