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Secrets of the trade (shows)

"Dude, you've got the coolest job! You DRINK for money!"

True. But here's the shocker: The downside is the alcohol.

In my chronic pursuit of what's new, what's hot and what's happening, I sample a mere dozen or up to 36 wines, beers or spirits a week. A taste here, a sip there...each lip-passing moment obsessed with ascertaining terroir, blending or IBUs. Even with minuscule tastes and frequent spitting, I'm a regular of Adam Cab and find too much alcohol to be a draining experience.

I'm not complaining. Still, some weeks I look forward to the days that I don't have to taste. Sweet tea is like ambrosia, water takes on a whole new sensory experience.

This means I'm on the invite list for nearly every wine dinner or distributor trade show. The trade shows are where your favorite package store owner samples products to be offered to you, the consumer. It's where restaurant folks taste the wines and spirits that go on their lists. In short, it's the proving ground to determine what you and your hard-earned dollar will buy.

As I write this column, lots of flavors are fresh on my mental palate -- I just returned home from a tasting where I sipped through about 30 wines, a handful of whiskies and odds and ends. What I can tell you is that you're gonna see some of these products arriving on retailer shelves in the coming weeks.

* Hope Family Wines offers a quartet of excellent labels but keep a sharp eye out for the Candor brand -- a Zinfandel blend and a Merlot blend that drink like $40 wines for half the money. Members of the Habersham Beverage tasting panel swapped notes with me on these wines, and I'm pretty confident they'll turn up on local shelves. Rather than specific vineyards, Hope Family blends from choice lots -- hence this first bottling being marked at "Lot One." The Merlot struck a chord with me, but I have to say, the low alcohol Zin (14.5 percent) means it's perfect as a chilled wine for stifling Savannah summers. Its spice and elegant complexity make it drink way bigger than its price tag.

* When I was cleaning out my pockets, I found something called a B-52 from Twin Shot in my pocket. This novel little peel-top shot glass offers caramel-vodka-cream and orange liqueur in one flavor-packed gulp. It was OK and gets me charged up enough to move to the next paragraph. This one's for the kids, not the hedonist.

* Elijah Craig Kentucky bourbon 12-year-old is my go-to whiskey -- but I finally sampled the 18-year-old single barrel version, which Paul Ganem tells me has on the shelves..

Like we say back home in Kentucky -- boy-howdy, that's some whiskey!

This perfect sippin' whiskey offers beautiful notes of sweet caramel, hints of charred oak barrel and soothing spiciness. I wouldn't tarnish this brown liquor with a mixer -- but would succumb to a cube or two of ice. Better, still, refrigerate this quaffer and enjoy it with the class of a Kentucky Colonel and the enthusiasm of a Bulldog fan!

Lots of new stuff is coming down the pike -- stay tuned!

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