I get really anxious when someone hands me a sample of something and says, “What do you think?”. My anxiety comes from two things. One, like any normal person, I like the things I like. Did you hand me a sweet pickle? If so, I will find it difficult if not impossible to like. I just don’t like sweet pickles. If you ask me what I think, I will have a hard time concealing my lack of enthusiasm for the item you gave me—that is not to say I won’t be grateful, I just won’t be able to conceal being nonplussed. Secondly, I have the unfortunate tendency of being neurotically true to my palate, and allowing it to speak. Dear sir, I taste band aids in the Scotch you gave me; Dear Madame, your Riesling smells deeply of burned vacuum cleaner belt; and Sir your red wine is reminiscent of cardboard, bell peppers, and the Virginia Garlic Festival.
All that to say, I was characteristically anxious when Diane Flynt of Foggy Ridge asked me to review her Pippin Gold Apple Port. Diane easily makes an impression on folks as a most positive, likeable, and caring person. What if I didn’t like the port?! As Charlottesville townies and Monticello AVA tipplers know, ports, while not altogether unenjoyable, are frequently not the highlight of most wineries’ tasting flights. I took the bottle out of the fridge, opened it, and took a sip. The first sensation was a wave of apple sweetness, followed by a hint of the hallmark funky, Roquefort flavors of fermented cider, all rounded out with a bit of tannin in the finish. In short, it is a balanced composition of all the things that Foggy Ridge advocates: apple fruit, real hard cider flavor, and natural tannins that come from vintage cider apple varieties. It was delicious.
How do you mix something that is already balanced and well thought-out? In attempt to keep the port flavor from getting buried in a long drink, I opted to make a short, Old Man-style cocktail, reminiscent of the New Orleans Sazerac that really echoed the aforementioned flavors of apple, funky cider, and bitter. Check it out:
1 ½ oz Laird’s Old Apple Brandy
¾ oz Pippin Gold Apple Port
2 dashes Angostura bitters (or something better if you have it)
3 large sage leaves
rinse of Absinthe or Herbsaint
In a shaker, add the 3 sage leaves. Gently muddle. Add ice, brandy, port, and bitters. Stir with a barspoon (or give it a slight jiggle) for just a of couple seconds. Pour a scant ¼ oz of Absithe or Herbsaint in a rocks glass. Swirl the liquid around to coat the inside of the glass and pour out the excess liquid. Strain the contents of the shaker into the rinsed glass. Rim the glass with the lemon peel, and twist the peel over the drink. Throw a sage leaf in there if you’re feeling decadent. Enjoy.
Again, the ingredients in this drink really echo and augment the flavors of the cider port. Make yourself one and see what you think. And please, don’t be afraid to follow your palate.