By Rick Riozza

As many of you readers know, I’m not a trained weatherman.  But I’m sure my forecast for the next few weeks here in the desert will be right on: Hot, Hot & Hotter!

And just as our weather, wine, beer & spirits are the hottest sellers in sales—due to the pandemic—that we’ve seen in years.  Nielsen numbers for the past month show an increase in spirits sales of almost 35% over last year; wine sales increasing by almost 30%—with wines priced over $20 rising to 40%; wine sold in boxes, over 40%; and wine sold in cans, close to a 68% increase from last year!

Additionally, all of those “hard-seltzers” (that we see being produced by every liquor company in town), which are chasing so many of our beloved beers off their traditional shelf space, their sales have grown by a whopping 300% from last year! And now they account for 9% of the total of all liquor sales and are quick to move up to one-tenth of the total!


And not to mention—by mentioning—what Americans couldn’t grab off the shelves before most stores closed, they’ve snapped up online. According to Nielsen research, online alcohol sales are up 243% over a year ago!

All right already—we get it!—or rather, we’re buying up!  So there are a lot of the usual suspects of key industry players who continue to grow the beverage market with all of their boozy products that are taking us by a hot tropical storm.  According to Market Watch (the beverage intelligence periodical), there were a total of 70 franchises from across the spirits and wine categories have earned the “Hot Brand” award for sales that are growing by leaps and bounds.  You’ve seen most of them on advertisements and colorful market displays.

During these quarantine times, the beverage companies are quite eager to get us columnists to write and talk about all the new beverages that they desire to make next year’s hot brand list.  I’ll just ramble on what has crossed and/or spilled on our desks recently:

Along with the Tequila explosion of recent years, its country cousin, Mezcal is the talk of the town.  I remember traveling to Tijuana and buying cheap bottles of the stuff—with that ubiquitous worm resting at the bottom of that harsh smokey tequila-like booze.  These days, like grappa and calamari, Mezcal prices are reaching the sky; when back in the old days they gave grappa away at the wineries, squid was all you could take away freely at the docks, and Mezcal, was half the price of Tequila.

Speaking of the talk of the town, Mezcal has changed its pronunciation: back in the day it was known as “meze-KAHL”—with that emphasized Spanish “l” lilt.  Modernly, along with the high prices, the name’s become, perhaps anglicized, as MEZ-cal—a touch dull, you think?

Anyway, what connoisseurs find inside the best mezcales, are complex, earthy, rich, smoky aromas and palate-pleasing flavors — sometimes reminiscent of the best peaty Islay whisky.  Many of you have seen the green bottle of the Del Maguey brand on the shelves. Offering different styles of Mezcal, the Ibérico expression, offers a spicy floral nose and wide palate dominated by flavors of smoky caramel and roasted vegetables with a splash of sea foam.  It sells for around $200!  Olé!

Last winter, I really enjoyed Wild Turkey’s Longbranch Bourbon Whiskey. It was made in collaboration with Wild Turkey master distiller Eddie Russell and the brand’s creative director—wait for it, actor Matthew McConaughey.  Aged for 8 years in new, charred American oak, it is refined with Texas mesquite and oak charcoals. Bottled at 86 proof. It was on the savory side and not on the sweet—loved it!

This year we have the 2020 edition of Wild Turkey Master’s Keep Bottled in Bond.  It’s a 17-year-old straight Bourbon select by master distiller Mr. Russell.  It sells for around one hundred and seventy-five bucks, which probably means that’s the last sample bottle I’ll be getting.

But wait, again, this whiskey will definitely be on my shopping list when I win the lottery.  It is one for the bucket list: just the introductory cherry scent was a sheer delight! But then I got scared; with the real root beer notes alongside vanilla hits, and then nutmeg and cinnamon, I thought the luscious liquid would be on the sweet side.  But it explodes with savory shots all over the place!  Acidic orange, sweet & salty kiss of candied nuts, woodland flavors, black licorice, minerality, classic bourbon notes, Meyer lemon, complex residual heat, with a finish of cashews and fresh leather.  Enough said.

We love those Luxardo Maraschino Cherries, the original maraschino cherry made from Italian marasca cherries—that I treat myself to once a year around Christmastime.  And of course, there’s their famed cherry liqueur, that bright, clear, and tasty liquid with its earthy nose and a sweet, creamy wild berry flavor with spice.  Now the company has extended its range with a London Dry Gin.

Fans of juniper-driven London Dry, as am I, are pleased with this expression. The nose is quite aromatic with juniper, coriander and a touch of iris. As you taste, the juniper once again comes in very strong on the palate. It is a bold gin for a Martini—add only an olive, onion, or lemon curl after quickly chilled with ice.

And finally, we have Chandon by the Bay, a new Chandon Brand Reserve blanc de blancs sparkler made with grapes sourced from the Yountville, Mt. Veeder, and Carneros AVAs Chardonnays.  These very brut California blanc de blancs are the latest craze among you bubbly lovers, especially during these brute times

It’s got a bright nose and smooth presentation, with notes of white flowers, lemon, apple, grapefruit, brioche, and almond throughout. The palate is zesty and fresh, with touches of minerality balancing soft creaminess and elegant bubbles. A perfect quaff for some hot times! Cheers!