Rusty Barrel Vodka, Rusty Barrel Spirits, Sydney, NSW; 40%, $75 (700mL)
MAYBE it's harder to sell a vodka than a whiskey, or a gin, or basically anything. But this Sydney offering has a lid in the shape of a skull, and a bottle like a barrel you'd detonate in Duke Nukem 3D. You can buy a glass skull with it. There's a bit going on. Happily, the liquid inside is more than a mixer. There's something Japanese about it, more a soak in a bathhouse than karaoke. Expect a dryness upfront that makes way for spice, then a saltiness like edamame. It's moreish, which you mightn't suppose from a spirit commonly imbibed in our parts with a Red Bull and a nightclub stamp.
Capital XPA, Capital Brewing Co, ACT, 5%, $4.99 per 375ml can from Dan Murphy's
A CALYPSO sunset in a can, this Canberran concoction promises in the fine print around the rim. It follows through, too, with a bright and vibrant beer that never overstays its welcome. At 5% it packs more teeth than you might expect, the booze buried under waves of gentle citrus that never overwhelms. Its mildly bitter finish rounds out a beer fit for a beach day. The XPA is equally suited to a craft connoisseur after simple pleasures and a drinker ready to explore the flavours of craft without jumping into the deep end straight off the bat.
Giusti and Zanza 2019 Nemorino Toscano Rosso, $50
THE EUROPEAN heatwave probably means very little red wine is being consumed in Italy, but that doesn't apply in wintry Australia. Thanks to importer Single Vineyard Sellars, here are two vivacious Italian reds available from Vintage Cellars stores and website. This 80% shiraz, 10% merlot and 10% sangiovese blend is part of a wine range named after Nemorino, the tenor love triangle character in Donizetti's comic opera The Elixir of Love. From organic vineyards in the central Italian Lucca area of Tuscany, it has 13.5% alcohol, bright crimson hues and berry pastille scents. The front palate features juicy, ripe black cherry flavour, the middle palate cranberry, briar, peppermint and vanillin oak and the finish has ferric tannins. It would go well with veal stroganoff and will cellar for five years. Giusti and Zanza was founded by Paolo Giusti and Fabio Zanza in 1995 on a long-established winegrowing land and is now run by Italian viticulturist-winemaker Stefano Chioccioli.
Mottura 2020 Primitivo del Salento, $30
FROM the Salento Region on the "heel of the boot of Italy", this multi-faceted red comes from a grape variety carrying multiple names. It's best known as zinfandel in Australia and California and is believed to have originated under the name plavac veliki in the Dalmatia area of Croatia and it is also dubbed tribidrag. Called primitivo in Italy and other European wine areas, this one comes from the Mottura family wine company founded in 1927. It's been run by four generations of the family and has a 4000-tonne capacity winery and 250 hectares of vines up to 60 years old in the province of Lecce in southern Italy. The wine registers 13% alcohol, shines purple-tinged crimson in the glass and has potpourri scents. The front palate delivers vibrant blackcurrant flavour and the middle palate has Maraschino cherry, spice, herb and savoury oak elements. The finish brings forth chalky tannins and it will go well with roast pork loin with prune stuffing and cellar for seven years.