Best of the Best 2007: Spirits

Delamain Cognac Extra (www.delamain-cognac.com, $320) is a blend of Grande Champagne Cognacs sourced from grower-distillers with whom the company has established close relationships. Although many of these relationships began several generations ago, Delamain declines to sign binding contracts with the distillers. Instead, it purchases eaux-de-vie only after tasting each spirit. Smooth yet powerful, with deep flavors of treacle, spice, and caramel, the Extra is complex, very long, and bursting with flavor. The decanter depicts the same blue shield design that decorates a family heirloom Delftware plate dating to 1762, three years after the family-owned Delamain firm was founded.

The standard Chinaco tequilas—blanco, reposado, and añejo—are among the best of their respective types. Whether through an administrative blunder or by the cellarmaster’s intention, 12 casks of Chinaco were, according to the company, “lost” in the cellars five years ago and only recently discovered. Seven of them were deemed worthy of release as Chinaco Negro. The first two, labeled lots 15 and 17, are available now. Both are magnificent, but Chinaco Negro Extra Añejo Lot 15 (www.chinacotequila.com, $251) is slightly better. It is powerful and intense, with ripe agave, a fleshy texture, nuanced oak, and long, aromatic flavors.

Like that of many bourbon producers, the history of what is now known as Kentucky Bourbon Distillers begins during the post–Civil War era, when the forebears of today’s Willett family established their first distillery. The current facility was built in 1935 on farmland in Bardstown, the heart of bourbon country. Norwegian-born Even Kulsveen, who married into the Willett family, purchased the company in 1984, gave it its current name, and undertook a restoration to make it a fitting showplace for some of Kentucky’s finest whiskies. Noah’s Mill 15 Year Old Small Batch Bourbon (www.kentuckybourbonwhiskey.com, $60) was bottled at cask strength. It delivers edgy, dry, spicy, and grassy flavors with a rich, dense, and persistent finish.

Tanqueray Rangpur Gin (www.tanqueray.com, $22), a new entry in the gin category, should pique the interest of those who still miss the short-lived Tanqueray Malacca, a gin based on an 1839 recipe from Charles Tanqueray, who had founded the brand nine years earlier in London. Malacca debuted in 2000 and then disappeared from the market not long after that. This latest offering, however, has a quite different flavor. Whereas Malacca was spicy, the new gin’s key note comes from Rangpur limes from India. The gin, which has a florist-shop bouquet, also offers ginger, bay leaf, and other intriguing flavors. Rangpur is superb for mixing summer cocktails.

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