At first glance you might think that wine and spirits have little in common other than alcohol content. A closer look will reveal some interesting connections and dependencies.
Crème de cassis — Image courtesy Happyknightwines.com
Most of our common spirits have little indeed in common with wine. Rum is made from sugar cane, while whisky, bourbon, gin and vodka come from grains and other such sources.
Many of the finer whiskies and rums, however, are developed by long aging in barrels, very much like tawny port or big red wines. Some whiskies are aged in old port or sherry wine barrels to capture some special flavour components. That’s not much of a connection, but there is more.
Working in the other direction, sherry, port and similar “fortified” wines require the addition of spirits in the winemaking process. Those rather neutral spirit additives (they aren’t supposed to modify the flavours of the base wine) are made from grape juice. Another use for neutral spirits (from grapes or other sources) is the production of liqueurs in which flavour components such as fruits, nuts and herbs are added to the alcohol along with a sweetener.
Scotch has its competitors for the role of postprandial digestive in the form of Cognac, Armagnac and brandy of many sorts. These beverages are made from the distilled juice of grapes, and they don’t have neutral flavours! As in Scotch, the quality and taste of the product is dependent on the raw materials and the distillation and aging process.
Another common product from many a winery in Europe is a spirit made from the distillation of the leftovers from the pressing of the grapes in the winemaking process. Such a drink has many names throughout the continent, including “grappa” in Italy and “marc” in France.
I think it is also true that many enthusiasts of wine also enjoy sipping on fine spirits of many sorts. Many of the flavour descriptors of the two genres are shared, and pairing spirits with food is an interesting pursuit similar to wine and food pairings.
For this week’s tasting, we are looking at a product that is quite popular in France: crème de cassis. This is a liqueur made with blackcurrants as the main flavouring. It can be used in cooking primarily for dessert, for sipping or for mixing in cocktails. You may have heard of “kir” in which it is blended with white wine, or kir royale in which the wine used is Champagne.
A year or so ago, I reviewed a blackcurrant wine from Happy Knight in New Brunswick. Happy Knight has gone on to produce its own crème de cassis.
The crème has already won five wine awards in Canada, including a recent gold medal, its second, at the 2014 All Canadian Wine Championships.
The aromas and taste were everything I would have wanted, with abundant ripe fruit and the spiciness of the berry showing through. It had just enough syrupy texture to be enjoyable without cloying. Score: 15/Very Good.
Steve Delaney is a member of the Opimian Society. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.