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Volnay and Rum in Nicaragua

Posted: Jan 8, 2007 11:43pm ET

I arrived from Miami in Managua in good shape and was swiftly transported to lunch at a friend’s house. He used to live in France for a long time. He laid on an incredible lunch of crab soup. (Crab soup is something the locals eat to help hangovers … but we hadn’t even drunk anything yet!). He served this with a 1999 Morey Blanc Corton-Charlemagne, which was very tight and not giving much. 88 points, non-blind. We then had roasted steak with rice and red beans, zucchini stew and grilled bananas, with which he served a 2002 Michel Lafarge Volnay Vendanges Sélectionnées … so much for the hardship duty in Central America. Maybe I should open a bureau here for the winter? Good food, good wine, good cigars …

My friend (he asked me not to mention his name) buys an entire barrel of Volnay every vintage from Lafarge. I never knew that. Good friend indeed! I love Lafarge Volnays. I always have since I started drinking them in the mid-1980s when I lived in Paris. He makes refined, delicious and balanced Pinots. They are real, handmade Burgundies … none of the flashy, new wave, double new wood, blah, blah, blah. Anyway, the 2002 we drank was too young but I wasn’t complaining. I gave it 92 points.

I asked my friend if he had any aged bottles in his cellar. He answered, “No. I drink them all when I get them. I don’t know if I am going to be here tomorrow. I live in Nicaragua.”

Live for today. Drink great Burgundies today. That’s life in some parts of Central America … for very, very few though. Most people were worrying about the new government here at the moment.

After lunch, we took his helicopter for a 40-minute ride to the country’s prestigious rum distillery, which makes Flor de Caña. I have been to a number of distilleries in my career, from vodka in Finland to single malt in Scotland. I have also been to rum distilleries in Cuba. And I was very impressed with Flor de Caña. Robert Collins, marketing director of the company, explained that they don’t use soleras for aging their rum. In other words, their four-year-old rum is aged four years in barrel, as is their 18-year-old. “We are the single-malt producers of rum.”

Flor de Caña is growing in popularity in the United States, with about 100,000 cases sold there. Just five years ago, annual sales were about 15,000 cases. Total production of the brand is about 1 million cases—not an artisanal producer, but not a massive one, either.

I walked around the distillery and saw the distillation as well as the aging. They had about 200,000 barrels of rum aging. The wood is old Bourbon barrels.

Here are my tasting notes from a small, non-blind tasting I did at the distillery:

Flor de Caña Gran Reserva: This is seven years old. Light vanilla and butterscotch with lemon and lime character. Full and soft with lovely fruity flavors and a long, caramel aftertaste. 90 points. U.S. retail, $21 a bottle.

Flor de Caña Centenario 12 year old: Intense aromas of toffee and vanilla bean. This is a bit harder but lovely, good flavor. Shorter and less good than the seven-year-old. 88 points, $30.

Flor de Caña Centenario 21 Commemorative Edition: Salty, vanilla, aromas. But rich and very, very long. Vanilla, caramel and very long and beautiful. This is 15 years of age. 89 points, $40.

Flor de Caña Centenario Gold 18: Intense aromas of cedar, vanilla, toffee with hints of dried lemon rind. Full-bodied, balanced and refined with a long, caressing texture and a rich finish. This is 18 years old. 92 points, $60.

After the tasting, we climbed back into the helicopter and headed for Managua flying by a long line of dormant volcanoes and then Lake Managua. It was a breathtaking sight. Good start to a hardship tour of Nicaragua tobacco country ...

Victor Perez
Utuado PR —  January 9, 2007 9:14am ET
James I tried the Centenario 21 and is a very good rum, actually I love it, and I have a question... How many times are you been in Puerto Rico, any plans? ...we have plenty of rum producers, cigars and we always keep a stock of "vino de guarda" in our cellars.
Alfred Gregori
January 9, 2007 10:09am ET
James,We are traveling to London soon and was wondering if you have any recommendations regarding wine shops or restaurants.Thanks
James Suckling
 —  January 9, 2007 10:23am ET
I love the Woolsey. Very cool, English high end bistro. Expensive and hard to get into. Wine shops are same as always...Berry and Justerini & Brooks. Also, I like the expensive and elegant Square and Greehouse. Excellent wine lists. But you might have to refinance to pay for it. The dollar is getting hammered by the pound....
Silvio Guerrero
Arlington, VA —  January 9, 2007 10:56am ET
Even though I was born and raised in the US, I still visit when ever I get a chance since I have a lot of family still living there. I love the exchange rate, the food, the atmosphere, the rum, and the Pardon cigars. If you can, please taste and rate Ron plata, it's what the locals drink. Enjoy the rest of your trip and keep us posted.Thanks
Sapril Nguyen
January 9, 2007 11:44am ET
Having travelled to Nicaragua annually, I don't think that those were "bananas" that you had Mr. Suckling. Most Nicaraguan meals are accompanied by red beans with rice (almost has a slight sweetness to it) and PLANTAINS. You were of luxury to have them grilled and not fried.I remember some fond memories of sharing a 2002 Numanthia Termes and 2001 Turley Juvenille with friends at a Nicaraguan coffee "plantation" called Selva Negra near Jinotega. Although these aren't stellar wines by any means, I had introduced my friends to some good wine and with hopes that they will broaden their horizons with wine more.As for Flor de Cana, I am not sure if it will ever gain popularity in the United States. According to my palate, I prefer it over some of the other rums widely available in the US. Flor de Cana is widely available through out Nicaragua and practically found on every corner of the airport in Managua. It's probably the most popular souvenir for those visiting Nicaragua. For myself, I prefer Nicaraguan cigars instead of rum whenever I visit.
Ariel Solorzano
January 10, 2007 7:22pm ET
Joaquin Gomez ?
Ariel Solorzano
January 10, 2007 8:03pm ET

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