Top Spirits, Wine & Beer in January

COS Frappato from Sicily at SPQR
COS Frappato from Sicily at SPQR

Most days, I’m tasting a wide range of spirits, wines and beers, whether at restaurants and bars, distilleries, wineries or breweries or as samples crossing my desk. For January, here are 3 wine standouts, a spirits highlight and a notable mead.


– 2013 Azienda Agricola COS Frappato from Sicily: On Shelly Lindgren‘s impeccable Italian wine list at SPQR, this Sicilian red hits notes ranging from green olive to lush berries, balanced by subtle acidity.
2013 Ostatu Viura-Malvasia from Rioja, Spain: On the menu at Hapa Ramen, this white is mineral, crisp loveliness.
Le Rocher des Violettes Malbec/Côt
from France’s Loire Valley: This earthy delight is currently on the menu at The Progress.


[Photo Source:]
[Photo Source:]

While I rather weary of this category of gin which has trended in the last few years (Bay Area-based Old World Spirits was one of the first a number of years back, releasing Rusty Blade Gin), this one is a standout. Sebastopol’s wonderful Spirit Works Distillery just released their Barrel Gin at the end of 2014, a limited production product made using organic California Red Winter wheat as the base.

Aged in new American White Oak, distiller Ashby Marshall has aged her gin to smoother effect, with spice and vanilla notes from the oak mellowing out juniper and California botanicals without masking them. As with other barrel aged gins, it works best sipped neat or as a base in whiskey-forward cocktails like an Old Fashioned. Also, at Science of the Cocktails this week, I sampled their extremely limited (NorCal only) barrel aged sloe gin, an 4 month aged version of their stellar sloe gin that has thankfully not masked the tart liveliness of their sloe gin with wood notes but adds a layer of complexity.

Buy: At D&M in San Francisco for $50.99


Orange Blossom Mead

Despite being honey wine, San Francisco Mead Company‘s mead is not sweet (except for their Apple Pie Mead) and should appeal to beer and sherry lovers. Made by husband and wife team Oron Benary and Sarah Jones, their California Gold is a strong, semi-dry choice, but my favorite is their dry Orange Blossom mead. It’s got a clean funkiness and dry complexity and is floral from the orange blossom groves in Ojai where they source this particular honey. All their meads are made with raw California honey and organic ingredients.
Buy: SF Wine Trading Co. and Whole Foods