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Best of the Best 2007: Liqueurs, Cordials & Aperitifs

Anthony Dias Blue

The Pagès Distillery has been making the heady, verbena-flavored Pagès Verveine du Velay Verte (www.verveine.com, $47) since 1859 in the sizable town of Le Puy-en-Velay, in France’s Auvergne region. The recipe—devised in the 19th century by a local apothecary and kept secret by the company—is said to contain more than 30 ingredients derived from plants grown on the nearby mountains. Pagès distills the liqueur in traditional copper alembic stills and then matures it in oak casks. Of the three versions available—Jaune, Verte, and Extra—the emerald green, spicy, and minty Verte is the most complex and aromatic.

St-Germain Délice de Sureau Elderflower Liqueur (www.stgermain.fr, $33) is the first liqueur made from the flower. Robert Cooper, scion of the American family who concocted the raspberry cordial Chambord, crafts the spirit in France. It is made from wild elderflower blossoms that are picked only once a year, in spring, in the foothills of the Alps. Each bottle is numbered and marked with the year of harvest. The bottles themselves evoke the Belle Epoque design of Paris’ Saint Germain des Prés, a favorite haunt of Cooper’s. A refreshing St-Germain cocktail includes equal parts St-Germain, Sauvignon Blanc, and soda water served with a mint sprig.

In Cognac’s Grande Champagne region, Jean-Luc Pasquet owns a tidy, 20-acre vineyard that has a Cognac-producing history dating to 1730. Aside from lush, elegant Cognacs, Pasquet and his wife, Marie-Françoise, craft artisanal spirits from fruit grown on the property. For their subtle, clean Pasquet Marie-Framboise (www.familytraditioncognac.com, $39), they macerate homegrown organic raspberries in a blend of Cognac and the juice of freshly harvested grapes to create a dazzling, 34-proof aperitif.

Cognac is justly celebrated for its brandies, but another wonderful product from the region remains unfamiliar to most Americans: Pineau des Charentes. It is created by adding young Cognac to grape must and then maturing the mixture in barrels for several months. This unusual amalgam, known technically as a vin de liqueur, makes a delightful predinner drink. Many producers of Cognac make Pineau des Charentes as a side project, including Pierre Ferrand, whose silky Pierre Ferrand Pineau des Charentes Sélection (www.pierreferrandcognac.com, $24) has lovely balance and style. Its ripe peach and apricot fruit flavors dominate the palate.

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