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Odds & ends
Leopold's Gin comes in hand–labeled, hand–numbered bottles.

Odds and ends fill this week’s shopping cart – a mixed bag of nice wine values, a boutique gin and and hand–crafted vodka that catching fire in the national market.

Waterstone wines

A pair of wines from this Napa Valley producer caught my attention last week – a red and a white.

Waterstone 2007 Merlot is a single varietal bottling – with grapes coming from the cool weather hillsides of Carneros and the warmer floor of relatively tiny Chiles Valley AVA.

I was impressed by the body and character of this nicely priced (about $18) Merlot. It’s dusty once you work past the sweet cherry, blackberry and plum flavors. Low Yield vines help deliver intensity; an oak regimen of 18 months in about one–third new French oak barrels adds hints of toasty oak.

My co–tasters and I agreed it’s a lot of Merlot for the money – and a real bargain considering only about 1,400 cases are produced.

I don’t give much ink to Chardonnay – there are so many bottlings and so few that rise to the top. Waterstone 2008 Chardonnay is one that ascends the peak to claim its rewards.

This is an oaked Chardonnay, which sends plenty of wine drinkers running. Fear not. Two– and three–year–old oak barrels lend mere hints of toastiness to this fruit driven Chardonnay.

Again, Carneros AVA delivers the fruit in a year when crops were plagued by frost, then soaring temperatures.
Expect citrus, pear and green apple profiles on the palate – and a lingering finish that delivers a mere whisper of oak. Priced at around $18, just under 1,400 cases were produced.

Summer is gin and tonic time

Denver Master Distiller Todd Leopold has caught the attention of critics and gin lovers alike with his small-batch Leopold’s Gin.

Every summer, I go on the hunt for another great gin to create the ubiquitous Savannah summer refresher – and Leopold’s earns my nod. The hand–labeled, hand–numbered bottles come from a 40–gallon still. Botanicals are infused in separate pots – and the gin is blended from those single botanical batches to insure each bottling is Leopold’s best work.
For those who are turned off by the typical juniper character of gin, Leopold’s may just convert you with its orange and pummelo fruit essences.

A reputation as big as Texas

Head south from Denver and sooner or later you’ll find Texas’ first legal distillery. Poke around Austin and sooner or later you’ll bump into Tito Beveridge, the namesake and founder of Tito’s Handmade Vodka.

Six distillings in small copper stills means Tito’s is super clear, smooth drinking and riding a tsunami of attention fueled by a devoted  cult following.

I blind tasted Tito’s against three other premium vodkas and nailed it as my No. 1 choice – it’s silky, clean tasting and elegantly balanced. Its character lends itself to making your own infusions and flavorings – recipes for which can be found on the website,