It’s Kentucky Derby weekend in Louisville, and as the Paducah-born journalist and humorist Irvin S. Cobb famously said, “Until you go to Kentucky and with your own eyes behold the Derby, you ain’t never been nowhere and you ain’t seen nothin’!”
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Cobb hit the horseshoe nail on the head. Louisville is at its prettiest, at this peak of spring with dogwood and redbud blossoms, tulips and peonies everywhere; and Louisville puts on an extended celebration – and plenty of parties – during the three weeks that lead up to Derby Day, the first Saturday in May.
Now I’m just going to come right out and say it: Derby time is no time to be sipping wine. Sorry. Our native nectar hereabouts is bourbon, and a very large amount of it will be poured out this weekend, not all of it wasted in mint juleps.
My favorite brand, a preference I share with many Louisvillians, is Old Forester 86 proof straight bourbon, a fine, standard bourbon that’s been a local favorite since 1870, when the good folks at Brown-Forman first had the good idea of putting this potion into individually sealed glass bottles rather than requiring consumers to fill up from the barrel at the local saloon. We can usually buy it under $20, and like many of my compatriots, I see no need to go chasing after fancy trophy bottles that lure tourists and others with three-digit price tags. You needn’t do that, either, unless you just want to show off.
This year, though, Brown-Forman has lured me away from my old standard with a new offering that’s similar-only-different, just as good, and sells at about the same price. Hooking on to the booming popularity of rye whiskey, which has seen its sales increase more than tenfold over the past decade, the Louisville Distiller brought Old Forester Rye to market locally last year, rolling it out nationally early this year.
So what’s the difference? Brown liquors like bourbon, rye, Scotch and Canadian whiskey are all made from grain that’s fermented into a mash, then distilled into a clear, high-alcohol liquor and aged in wooden barrels before bottling. It’s a process similar to wine making, except that wine starts with grapes and is not distilled. (Distill wine and you get brandy, another kind of liquor that can be quite tempting, too.)
The choice of grains and specifics of barrel aging are strictly regulated by federal rules based on each liquor’s historic tradition, but all generally include a mix of corn, malted barley, and rye. Bourbon must be made from at least 51 percent corn, a tradition that goes back to pioneer days in Kentucky when settlers made their own booze out of the grains they had on hand. Rye must have at least 51 percent rye, a practice also traced to settlers in Pennsylvania and New York whose fields provided plenty of that crop.
Specifically, to fill in the blank, Old Forester 86 proof straight bourbon is made from a “mash bill” of 72% corn, 18% rye, and 10% malted barley. Old Forester rye almost reverses those numbers with 65% rye, 20% malted barley, and 15% corn, a mash bill with more barley and less corn than many popular ryes. Both bourbon and rye must be aged in new, unused charred oak barrels.
What’s the difference in flavor? They both taste like whiskey, of course, but that’s like saying that Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir both taste like red wine. In both cases, the joy is in the details. In reporting on whiskeys, I rely more on the nose than the palate. In Old Forester bourbon I enjoy rich caramel aromas and back notes of vanilla and spice. Old Forester rye offers brown sugar and distinct brown spices, cloves and cinnamon, and an intriguing aromatic in the finish that really does remind me of unseeded rye loaves cooling after they bake.
Want to try some? Both labels should be available nationally and to some extent overseas.
Old Forester Rye’s median U.S. retail price $26, according to Wine-Searcher.com, and it’s well worth that; but here at the source I can usually find it around $20 for a fifth, and you should look around too.
Old Forester 86 proof straight bourbon shows a $20 average U.S. retail on Wine-Searcher.com.
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This offer expires on June 30, 2019.
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Today’s Tasting Report
Tommasi 2016 “Arthemis” Masseria Surani 2016 Puglia Fiano ($14.99)
A blend of 90% Fiano grapes with 10% Chardonnay, this wine is a pale straw color. Very pleasant aroma, white flowers and a whiff of beeswax. Fresh and acidic, palate-cleansing white-fruit and orange blossom flavors follow the nose with moderate 12.5% alcohol. U.S. importer: Vintus LLC, Pleasantville, N.Y. (April 21, 2019)
FOOD MATCH: The winery suggests pairing it with broad recommendations, appetizers, salads, soups and fish. It proved versatile at an Easter buffet featuring ham, deviled eggs, mixed olives and more.
WHEN TO DRINK: The 2017 vintage is now in the market, but this 2016 is still showing well. It won’t benefit from long aging, but I wouldn’t worry about drinking it over the next few years.
This flavorful and interesting white wine is a good value at my $15 local price; better still at Wine-Searcher.com’s $13 average retail.
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE:
Locate vendors and check prices for Tommasi “Arthemis” Fiano on Wine-Searcher.com.
For links to vendors for many more Fiano wines and a short article about the grape, see this Wine-Searcher page.
Marqués de Riscal 2013 Rioja Reserva ($19.99)
A typical Rioja blend of 90% Tempranillo, 7% Graciano and 3%Mazuelo is dark ruby in color, shading to a water-clear edge. Its ripe, delicious black cherry aroma adds a distinct back note of oaky vanilla. Ripe, tart black cherries appear on the palate, framed by firm acidity and raspy tannins. Its 14% alcohol shows as a distinct warmth in the finish. U.S. importer: Shaw-Ross International, Miramar, Florida. (April 21 , 2019)
FOOD MATCH: The winery suggests a wide variety of food pairings: “ham, mild
cheeses, casseroles which are not highly spiced, bean and pulse dishes, poultry, red meat, grills and roasts,” which seems fair enough. It went well with several of those options on an Easter buffet.
WHEN TO DRINK: It’s fine to drink now, but good Rioja can also last and improve for 10 years or more under good, temperature-controlled cellar conditions.
Wine-Searcher.com returns a $20 average U.S. retail, which is a fine value for this good Spanish red.
The producer’s English language page offers extensive information on this wine.
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE:
Locate vendors and check prices for Marqués de Riscal Rioja Reserva on Wine-Searcher.com.
Read more about Rioja and find links to hundreds more Rioja bottlings and the vendors who sell them at this Wine-Searcher.com link.
More affordable wines
Want tips to still more good, inexpensive wines? Here are Wine-Searcher links to vendors and prices for a bunch more wines for $10 or less that I’ve told you about during the past year or two. Please tell us about your favorites!
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