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Wine gets in the spirit with release of new liquor blends
Associated Press
This Monday Sept.10, 2012 photo shows Vineyards in front of the Gevrey-Chambertin castle in Burgundy, eastern France. (AP Photo/Laurent Ciprinani)
This Monday Sept.10, 2012 photo shows Vineyards in front of the Gevrey-Chambertin castle in Burgundy, eastern France. (AP Photo/Laurent Ciprinani)
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Cognac blended with moscato? Pink wine mixed with port? And how about a mashup of white wine and vodka?

Hard liquor is showing a softer side as producers shake things up with new blends that put wine and spirits in the same bottle. “Companies are going out of the box,” observes Ted Carmon, spirits buyer for the BevMo! liquor chain.

There’s no official category name so far – Spirited wines? Laid-back liquors? – but Carmon traces liquor’s “anything goes” movement to Pinnacle Whipped, the wildly popular whipped-cream flavored vodka that came out a couple of years ago. “That really rewrote the rules on what kind of flavors could be used.”

Bill Newlands, president of Beam Inc., which bought Pinnacle Vodka earlier this year, sees the intensely flavored Whipped as playing into a trend of consumers “whether it’s an alcohol beverage or anything else, looking for more flavor reward.” They’re looking for two things, he says, “flavor and flavor intensity.”

That quest influenced Beam’s latest product, Courvoisier Gold, which blends French cognac with moscato wine from the South of France. Research indicated customers wanted a cognac with less alcohol but more flavor, and Gold answers on both counts coming in at 36 proof, or 18 percent alcohol by volume, well below the 40 percent (80 proof) of traditional cognac.

Gold follows last year’s introduction of Courvoisier Rose, which blends cognac with French red wine grapes. Both blends can be drunk on the rocks or mixed into cocktails.

Both Gold and Rose are grape-on-grape affairs since cognac, a type of brandy made in the Cognac wine region in France, is a distilled grape spirit.

But TUNE, a new product from Absolut, goes in a different direction, blending grain-based vodka with a sparkling white wine, New Zealand sauvignon blanc to be precise. It comes in a Champagne-style bottle decorated with an outer wrapper of silver, black and gold that “unzips” for presentation pizazz. TUNE, so named for the dual “notes” of vodka and wine, is 14 percent alcohol by volume.

Another beverage taking a lighter touch is Croft Pink, which is a port (not a liquor but wine that’s been fortified by addition of a spirit). Croft traces its roots to 1588 – producing classic ruby and tawny ports – and Croft Pink is made from in a traditional way but with light contact between the wine and the grape skins, resulting in a light ruby color. It was made with cocktails in mind to introduce port to a new audience, with an alcohol content that is 19.5 percent by volume.

Lain Bradford, a South Carolina wine and spirits writer who blogs at winetalk.org, has noticed the blurring of the lines between wines and spirits, especially in restaurants – margaritas made with fruit wine that’s been flavored to taste like tequila. As for the flavored spirits trend, “It almost feels like the vodka producers are just walking down the grocery aisle and saying, ‘Let’s try this flavor,’” he says, noting that flavored rums and tequilas also are being introduced.

He sees the new spirit-wine products as tailored to Americans’ fondness for all things sweet: “The sweet market has taken off so much. I think a lot of the spirit houses are capitalizing on the sweet market right now and introducing spirits with sweet wine to come out with drinks that will be a good crossover.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 19, 2012, on page 13.
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