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September’s 10 Awesome Bottles: Oocha, Wine From San Diego, and More!

Did you know great wine is being made in San Diego?

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Assorted Drunken Meadow teas plus Oocha, far right.
Assorted Drunken Meadow teas plus Oocha, far right.
Drunken Meadow

September goes beyond matcha and adult root beer. Below, 10 excellent packaged drinks—both with alcohol and without—that are worth seeking out.


1) Drunken Meadow, Oocha ($5/8 ounces): Matcha-based drinks are everywhere, so it was only a matter of time before someone experimented with powdering a new tea leaf, in this case, oolong. Drunken Meadow, a Brooklyn, New York-centered tea outfit sells a shrewdly-curated list of leaves sourced from family farms throughout Asia. In fact, co-owner Furay Chang named the company after her grandfather's oolong farm in Central Taiwan, which dates back to 1932. So, yes, the oolongs she and friend/partner Eric Chan sell are straight from that property. Enter: Oocha, a three-month-old experimental tea made from popular Qing Xin oolong leaves given the matcha treatment. How this all works is that a family friend takes fresh oolong leaves and processes them like matcha, meaning the leaves are picked and washed, then dried in a moisture-extracting vacuum machine before they are ground into a fine powder. Because of the way the leaves are processed with zero oxidation (traditional oolong has somewhere between 10 to 85 percent oxidation), the tea is no longer oolong, hence the spliced yet totally appropriate name "Oocha." In line with its method of production, oocha channels the body and light grassy notes of matcha, yet imbibers will discern a more delicate, floral flavor and notes of buttered popcorn. This tea drinks smooth, with almost no discernible tanic bitterness. While bottles of oocha are sold in Brooklyn, New York at Court Street Grocers, in the near future Drunken Meadow will vend its powdered oocha online.

Photo: Drunken Meadow


2) Los Pilares, LaDona ($25/750ml): Though the city may be known for its craft beer, wine from San Diego is a thing. Fans of funky Jura wine will dig this (naturally) bubbly bottle made from Muscat Blanc grapes grown at Hunter & Mazzetti Vineyard on an Indian reservation in San Diego County. Los Pilares winemaker Michael Christian personally stomps whole-cluster grapes, along with help from his sister (and one of her friends), to produce this incredibly quaffable, wild-fermented, 12 percent ABV bottle that drinks like adult grape soda. The dry, cloudy wine starts funky and sour, with elegant and floral Muscat notes followed by the most subtle hint of back palate sweetness. The juice is unfiltered, bottle conditioned, and highly limited, considering Christian produces only 30 cases annually. The 2014 vintage is about to be released, but the 2013 is still available here. PS: This is not your traditional muscat and this is not an after dinner wine.

Photo: Michael Christian

3) Blackberry Farm's Classic Saison ($15/750ml): Though Tennessee's beloved boutique farmhouse hotel Blackberry Farm is lauded for its excellent, hyper locally-sourced cuisine (many ingredients come directly off the property), what most overlook is the estate's onsite brewery. Over the last five years, the Blackberry Farm brewery has produced 40 different beers (17 recipes are on tap for 2016), yet its flagship is this crisp, fresh saison with a hint of hops and citrus. Sure, it's available at the Farm's eating establishments, but the beer is, in fact, sold in 30 states from coast to coast.

Photo: beall + thomas photograhpy

4) Forbidden Root ($12/ 4-pack): Chicago's (self proclaimed) first botanic brewery, Forbidden Root looks back to look forward. Inspired by history and nature, the craft brewery produces a distinct line of five craft beers brewed with flowers, spices, herbs, roots, leaves, bark and more. Pecans, magnolia flowers and chocolate flavor its imperial stout, meanwhile lemon myrtle, black pepper and key lime give life to its ginger beer, Sublime Ginger. But especially intriguing is its namesake Forbidden Root root beer, a totally dry 5.5 percent ABV drink in line with the present boozy root beer trend. While some companies slant more toward the sweet root beer soda side, Forbidden Root stays savory, subtly echoing a warm, creamy potpourri of botanicals like cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper and mint.

Photo: Forbidden Root

5) Plantation Pineapple Dark Rum ($30/750ml): This 40 percent ABV bottle totally nails the boozy pineapple vibe, and with spirits savant David Wondrich attached, of course it's a winner. Initially crafted as a one-off for Tales of the Cocktail 2014 with limited distribution around New Orleans, Maison Ferrand re-released the bottle in select states this year as a now annual seasonal spring/summer special. Capturing the flavor of fresh pineapple soaked in a darker, more caramel-vanilla-tasting rum, Plantation Pineapple serves as both a sipping spirit and one that fares well in cocktails, especially of the tiki ilk. To craft this spirit, which was based off a distillate popular in 19th century England, Wondrich and Maison Ferrand devised a recipe in which they infusion white rum with Queen Victoria pineapple (a super sweet and flavorful heirloom variety from Reunion Island, off the coast of Madagascar) rinds and then distill that liquor. Separately, they infuse aged rum with pineapple flesh, then blend those two liquors together and age them for three months in barrel. Et voila.

Photo: Maison Ferrand

6) Vergano Americano ($37/750ml) and 7) Les Capriades Pet'Sec ($23/750ml): Although there's almost no way to go wrong when selecting low-intervention, micro-lot wine at Manhattan's hip, Parisian wine bar-inspired Wildair, a sure win is to begin with a Vegano Americano Spritz. A bittersweet play on the classic Aperol or Campari Spritz, this low ABV aperitif blends 2 ounces of bitter Vergano Americano with three ice cubes, an orange twist, and enough Les Capriades to fill a wine glass three quarters full. The beauty here is that you can mix these wines together for an excellently refreshing aperitif cocktail with an elegantly bitter edge, or drink them separately. The Vergano, which is made in Piedmont, Italy from a super high quality organic base wine of the Grignolino grape (produced by Cascina 'Tavijn) is infused with bitter orange, gentian and wormwood. Meanwhile, Les Capriades is made by Pet-Nat (naturally sparkling) king Pascal Potaire in Touraine, France from a blend of organic grapes, predominantly Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay, bottled méthode ancestrale. This bone dry mineral-driven wine is sulfur-free, but Potaire disgorges one to three times for consistency and stability. Fun tip, though Les Capriades is an effervescent wine, leave it in the fridge and two days later it will retain those bubbles.

Photo: Kat Odell

8) Mandorla N/V ($22/375ml): Even for a non-grappa drinker, it's easy to understand why Kenta Goto is so excited to pour this beautiful almond-flavored grappa at his new Lower East Side Bar, Bar Goto, in New York. Produced by Bortolo Nardinia pioneering Italian distillery that dates back to 1779 and has since been passed down through family membersthis medium-bodied digestif tastes nutty and mildly reminiscent of red berries, with the intense flavor of bitter almond balanced by distilled cherry juice.

Photo: Bortolo Nardini


9) Ouzon Soda ($3/12 ounces): Ouzo, Greece's ubiquitous anise-flavored aperitif liqueur, was the inspiration behind non-alcoholic Ouzon Soda, a sweet, sparkling beverage which launched five years ago but is slowly gaining traction now. Made in small batches in Upstate New York, Ouzon functions as an alternative to artificial sodas, composed of just four ingredients: organic star anise, sparkling water, cane sugar and citric acid. The drink is crisp and refreshing, backed by the licorice-y flavor of anise.


10) Feni ($25/750ml): It's hard to not get lost in the funky, sour, fruitythink banana meets mango meets duriansmell and taste of Feni, a triple distilled, 85 proof brandy native to Goa, India. Exotic, tropical, fermented, this unique spiritlong consumed in India yet only available stateside since earlier this summeris distilled from the pulpy fruit that grows around cashew nuts. Despite its curious aroma and flavor, it's an easy choice for cocktails, especially neo-tiki drinks that, lately, have been all the rage.

Photo: Feni