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March 2008


WINE & SPIRITS

Change is Good

(Page 2 of 3)

Last year alone some 60 new vodka brands hit the market. One of the more noteworthy debuts stands out as much for its price point as anything else: Sobieski, the best-selling premium vodka in Poland, reached the American market late last year at the astonishing price of $11 for a 750ml bottle. Out of the gate it won a "best buy" gold medal at an international spirits competition. Made from top-tier Dankowski rye, it has a silky smooth texture with a spicy rye and sweet citrus finish.

At the New York launch party for Sobieski, I caught up with Chester Brandes, importer and CEO of Imperial Brands, who happily took aim at his "overpriced" super-premium competition. "Distilling vodka umpteen times just removes the flavor," he said. "Sobieski is distilled just enough to still keep its character. Everyone is vying to be the next Grey Goose. That's all about packaging and marketing, not what's in the bottle." Poland, not Russia, he pointed out, is the spiritual birthplace of vodka, with the country's first distillery dating to the early 18th century.

While Sweden can't claim to be vodka's country of origin, it has certainly emerged as a modern vodka powerhouse. Master blender Boerje Karlsson, who helped develop the original Absolut recipe, has just released Karlsson's Gold, his own high-end vodka. At the brand's launch party at Aquavit, iced shots were served with a smorgasbord of tiny Swedish bites. If the super-smooth elegant finish doesn't do it, the distinctive apothecary-style bottle will ensure that Karlsson's stands out on bar shelves.

Tequila, too, had a big year in '07. Popular brand Jose Cuervo, eager to move beyond its entry-level margarita-mixer tequilas, has just released its own super-premium bottle, a limited edition Jose Cuervo Platino designed to compete with the Patrons of the world.

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