My Second Favorite Grape-based Alcoholic Beverage

I’ve been penning this column for over 12 years and I’ve enjoyed presenting readers with diverse wine topics. While rambling through my archived columns during this pandemic, I came across a column I thought might be enjoyable to my readers. Here is an updated version.

What is my go-to beverage when wine is not appropriate for a particular situation? What do I enjoy as an occasional cocktail before a meal or at a social function?

Premium vodka.

But I have not been able to find a suitable tie-in between vodka and wine – until now. I have discovered a new vodka – one produced from grapes. Appropriately named Hanson of Sonoma Organic Vodka, it is distilled from a blend of organic grapes.

Employing literary license, allow me to expound on the shared characteristics and nuances of vodka and wine.  

  1. The ingredients. Of the 400 brands of vodka available in the United States, all but a handful are produced from wheat, rye, potato or corn. Each vodka is influenced by geography, soil and local weather – the same “terroir” concept applied to wine. The other primary ingredient, water, is used for achieving the desired level of alcohol.
  2. The process. Vodka ingredients are fermented, filtered and sometimes blended, similar to the winemaking process. The major departure is the distillation process (heating and condensing the fermented ingredients), in which flavors are refined. Filtering is applied in wine production to remove impurities. With vodka, multiple steps of filtering (as many as 10) are employed using charcoal and for certain brands, diamonds.
  3. The end result. Depending on the finer elements of the above two factors, an individual vodka will be distinct from its brethren. My criteria for evaluating a brand have always been a pleasant, herbaceous aroma, a nutty flavor and a smooth finish. I’ve tasted many vodkas – many harsh, medicinal and non-descript – before settling on my two current favorites: Crop Organic (produced in the United States) and Grey Goose.

With my discovery of grape-based vodkas, my focus is changing. A significant factor to consider is that, unlike the grain-based vodkas that dominate the market, these are gluten-free; for the first time, my gluten-intolerant friend Rick can join me in clinking martini glasses. Here are four that I’ve found in my research, with notes culled from various sources.

  1. a) Cîroc, produced from Mauzac (Gaillac region) and Ugni Blanc (Cognac region) grapes grown in France. A slightly grapey flavor, smooth with a mild aftertaste.
  2. b) Idôl, produced from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes grown in the Burgundy region. A slightly fruity aroma, silky smooth and an aftertaste that is more like tannins than alcohol.
  3. c) Roth, produced from a blend of six grapes grown in California, including French Colombard and Chardonnay. Faintly sweet bouquet (even though distilled five times), highly aromatic, velvety smooth, delicate finish.
  4. d) Hanson of Sonoma, produced from a blend of organic, non-GMO grapes grown in Sonoma County. Founded and operated by an eponymous family of six, it is distilled seven times in a hybrid pot and column still. Hanson also offers additional offerings infused with organic Meyer lemon, cucumber, ginger, mandarin orange or habanero.
  5. The final step. Consumption. Here’s my interpretation of the perfect vodka martini:
  • Sipped from a martini glass.
  • Straight up – no rocks to dilute the flavor.
  • Extra dry – just a whiff of white vermouth to enhance the aromatics.
  • Old is the key: a vodka martini that is not ice cold risks tasting like lighter fluid.
  • The martini glass must come straight from the freezer, next to the bottle of vodka.
  • Must be shaken, not stirred; when shaken, a perfectly prepared martini has tiny slivers of ice coating the surface area.
  • Add three olives; any garnish other than olives (onions or lemon twists) are for gin.

Ah, it’s my 15th week of sheltering in place. I need an appropriate drink. Excuse me while I head for the freezer.

Nick Antonaccio is a 40-year Pleasantville resident. For over 25 years, he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. Nick is the co-chairperson of the Wine Media Guild of wine journalists. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at nantonaccio@theexaminernews.com or on Twitter @sharingwine.

 

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