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lperry
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A while ago I made a sidecar with a little bottle of Courvoisier that I found in the liquor cabinet. I loved the drink, but I know so little about brandy and cognac that I didn't know to look at the label more closely. (VS? VSOP? None of the above?) I thought I'd buy some more to make a few more sidecars this holiday season, however, the array of brandies available is overwhelming. They come from all sorts of places and have all sorts of names, not to mention prices, and I have no idea what to try. Brandy from Spain, cognac and armagnac from the French regions, then things like Metaxa or even E & J... I just want a bottle that will mix me a nice drink and flambe a few fruit desserts from time to time. Does anyone have a favorite for this drink?

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You're using Cointreau for your Sidecar, right? If not, I'd upgrade your triple sec before your cognac. The choice of cognac is more subjective, just trust what you've enjoyed before and it should work pretty well for you.

The sugared rim is also a lost art, and hugely important to this drink. I'm not good at it at home, yet. The best technique, IMO, in town is at Bourbon Steak, I like the choice of glass that they use. Order one of their crustas from Jamie, Duane or Dean. A good sidecar should be pretty tart, with just a lightly sugared rim for the perfect balance.

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You're using Cointreau for your Sidecar, right? If not, I'd upgrade your triple sec before your cognac. The choice of cognac is more subjective, just trust what you've enjoyed before and it should work pretty well for you.

The sugared rim is also a lost art, and hugely important to this drink. I'm not good at it at home, yet. The best technique, IMO, in town is at Bourbon Steak, I like the choice of glass that they use. Order one of their crustas from Jamie, Duane or Dean. A good sidecar should be pretty tart, with just a lightly sugared rim for the perfect balance.

Dave is absolutely correct on this. Sugar content is critical on this drink.

As far as a sugar rim goes, Degroff suggests freezing the glass after rimming it.

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I used Cointreau and fresh-pressed lemon juice. Ratio: Two parts cognac, one part Cointreau, one part lemon. I like a drier drink, and this was pretty good with no sugared rim. I've since read that you can rim half the glass and try it both ways to see which you prefer. There's a lot of literature out there about the Sidecar, but very few people are willing to suggest a brandy. I guess they assume you are making it with your favorite. Now I just need a favorite.

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I apologize for interjecting my own agenda into your question. I do think the choice of cognac is secondary to these getting those things down, I'd hate for someone to read this and think a $75 cognac is more important than the Cointreau. But you obviously got all the fundamentals down!

I haven't tried it yet, but the next cognac I'll get is the Pierre Ferrand Ambre. I've heard good things about it. Previously I've used Hennessey "Privilege" VSOP to great success, but I'm trying to support the independents. I hope you'll report back if you find something you love, I could use that info.

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Instead of Cointreau, try Triplum Triple Sec from Luxardo.

I'll look for it next time I shop.

I apologize for interjecting my own agenda into your question. I do think the choice of cognac is secondary to these getting those things down, I'd hate for someone to read this and think a $75 cognac is more important than the Cointreau. But you obviously got all the fundamentals down!

I haven't tried it yet, but the next cognac I'll get is the Pierre Ferrand Ambre. I've heard good things about it. Previously I've used Hennessey "Privilege" VSOP to great success, but I'm trying to support the independents. I hope you'll report back if you find something you love, I could use that info.

No apology necessary. Ulterior agendas frequently lead to better drinks.

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I haven't tried it yet, but the next cognac I'll get is the Pierre Ferrand Ambre. I've heard good things about it. Previously I've used Hennessey "Privilege" VSOP to great success, but I'm trying to support the independents. I hope you'll report back if you find something you love, I could use that info.

The PF Ambre makes a very good Sidecar. The VA ABC sells it for $46.95, but I'm sure that you can get a better deal across the river. Happy experimenting!

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I think, as a general rule, that any cocktail made with an orange-flavored liqueur is best made with Cointreau, which is not only the best orange-flavored liqueur, but the one best suited to cocktails. In fact, I don't think anything else comes remotely close, although I must admit I've never tasted the Luxardo that Dean recommends above. (Luxardo maraschino is certainly the ne plus ultra of that tipple.) As to brandy, I think putting an expensive brandy in a cocktail is a silly waste of money. St. Remy, discussed above, is surprisingly smooth and pleasant, especially considering that it's practically free, and since you're spending all that money for Cointreau it's nice to save a little on the brandy. For a somewhat more upscale choice, you might consider a cognac called Decourtet; Calvert Woodley sells the VS version for $16.99, the VSOP for ten dollars more.

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I think, as a general rule, that any cocktail made with an orange-flavored liqueur is best made with Cointreau, which is not only the best orange-flavored liqueur, but the one best suited to cocktails. In fact, I don't think anything else comes remotely close, although I must admit I've never tasted the Luxardo that Dean recommends above. (Luxardo maraschino is certainly the ne plus ultra of that tipple.)

You know, I have to think there's a billion-dollar industry waiting to be built from scratch in Florida.

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I think, as a general rule, that any cocktail made with an orange-flavored liqueur is best made with Cointreau, which is not only the best orange-flavored liqueur, but the one best suited to cocktails. In fact, I don't think anything else comes remotely close, although I must admit I've never tasted the Luxardo that Dean recommends above. (Luxardo maraschino is certainly the ne plus ultra of that tipple.)

For what it is worth, since I bought my first bottle of Luxardo Triplum I have not bothered to replace the Cointreau, I find it to be the better triple sec.

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I think, as a general rule, that any cocktail made with an orange-flavored liqueur is best made with Cointreau, which is not only the best orange-flavored liqueur, but the one best suited to cocktails. In fact, I don't think anything else comes remotely close

I absolutely agree. I've personally been taught by two of the top dogs in the industry that using Cointreau is paramount when making Sidecars, Cosmos and Margaritas. It has a viscosity that lends the drink body. Luxardo is good but very different. It's bright and a little thin. It's good for mixing but not if you are looking to make the classics as they were intended.

As to brandy, I think putting an expensive brandy in a cocktail is a silly waste of money. St. Remy, discussed above, is surprisingly smooth and pleasant

Right again, the only rule is V.S. or older.

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I absolutely agree. I've personally been taught by two of the top dogs in the industry that using Cointreau is paramount when making Sidecars, Cosmos and Margaritas. It has a viscosity that lends the drink body. Luxardo is good but very different. It's bright and a little thin. It's good for mixing but not if you are looking to make the classics as they were intended.

Right again, the only rule is V.S. or older.

St. Remy Brandy VSOP, NV, 1.75, $23.99,

(Schneider's of Capitol Hill)

yes or no?

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For what it is worth, since I bought my first bottle of Luxardo Triplum I have not bothered to replace the Cointreau, I find it to be the better triple sec.

Who carries it in Washington? (A related issue is what exactly is "triple sec", and what exactly is "curaçao"? I've never managed to find a definition of either that is explicit and authoritative enough that I can confidently assign either Cointreau or Grand Marnier to one or to the other or to neither. And why is something as sweet as orange liqueur called "triple sec" anyway?)
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Who carries it in Washington? (A related issue is what exactly is "triple sec", and what exactly is "curaçao"? I've never managed to find a definition of either that is explicit and authoritative enough that I can confidently assign either Cointreau or Grand Marnier to one or to the other or to neither. And why is something as sweet as orange liqueur called "triple sec" anyway?)

I bought my bottle of Luxardo Triplum at Central Liquors. They carry alot of the Luxardo line, but I had to special order this bottle (around $24). I'd probably just special order from Ace this time around.

I understood triple secs (like Cointreau) to be neutral spirit based, and orange curacaos (e.g. GM) to be brandy/cognac based. That is why I somewhat disagree with you that Cointreau is the be-all end-all. Those are the two in my home bar, although I do use Triplum and Marie Brizard's orange curacao in my well.

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I understood triple secs (like Cointreau) to be neutral spirit based, and orange curacaos (e.g. GM) to be brandy/cognac based.

Yeah, but cite an authoritative source for your understanding. That's what I'm looking for: Not an understanding, but a definition. And it's hard to reconcile Cointreau, which does not proclaim itself a triple sec, with bottles of self-proclaiming triple sec, since Cointreau has twice the alcohol. And how is Grand Marnier a curaçao, when it doesn't call itself one? And who says a triple sec is neutral-spirit based, and who says Cointreau is neutral-spirit based, and who says curaçao is brandy-based? I agree that Grand Marnier is brandy-based, but I don't see how that necessarily makes it a curaçao, since I've seen no definitive taxonomy that defines brandy-based orange-flavored liqueur as curaçao. None of this, of course, alters the fact that Cointreau is the supreme orange-flavored liqueur.
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Yeah, but cite an authoritative source for your understanding. That's what I'm looking for: Not an understanding, but a definition. And it's hard to reconcile Cointreau, which does not proclaim itself a triple sec, with bottles of self-proclaiming triple sec, since Cointreau has twice the alcohol. And how is Grand Marnier a curaçao, when it doesn't call itself one? And who says a triple sec is neutral-spirit based, and who says Cointreau is neutral-spirit based, and who says curaçao is brandy-based? I agree that Grand Marnier is brandy-based, but I don't see how that necessarily makes it a curaçao, since I've seen no definitive taxonomy that defines brandy-based orange-flavored liqueur as curaçao. None of this, of course, alters the fact that Cointreau is the supreme orange-flavored liqueur.

"...before Prohibition the Cointreau bottle still read Cointreau Triple Sec. The liqueur was not only the first triple sec, it's how the term was coined. After imitators reproduced the signature square bottle and imprinted the words "Triple Sec" in the Cointreau typeface, Cointreau dropped the words from their bottle. The premium liquor has long since transcended the category, but that's how it started out...the first and best triple sec. ... Use generic triple sec only if you are short on cash."

-"Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails" by Ted Haigh (aka Dr. Cocktail)

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Yeah, but cite an authoritative source for your understanding. That's what I'm looking for: Not an understanding, but a definition. . . None of this, of course, alters the fact that Cointreau is the supreme orange-flavored liqueur.

Well, there is no definition, it's just a generally accepted principle. I've heard of orange curacao being whiskey based too, way back when. There are no regulations for the production of triple sec or orange curacao anywhere in the world (unlike bourbon, champagne, calvados, etc)

I can cite an authoritative source that Grand Marnier is the supreme orange-flavored liqueur though: David Embry's The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks. :(

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^ I agree with this statement and would add that the principles are tied up in the histories of production of orange liqueurs. Cointreau and triple sec were mentioned above, and I will add that curaçao was originally named for the island of Curaçao where the bitter oranges used to flavor the liqueur were grown. Bitter oranges for both Cointreau and Grand Marnier are currently grown in Haiti.

As for the second claim, I'd argue that Dave Embry should try Santa Teresa Rhum Orange. It is sublime.

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^ I agree with this statement and would add that the principles are tied up in the histories of production of orange liqueurs. Cointreau and triple sec were mentioned above, and I will add that curaçao was originally named for the island of Curaçao where the bitter oranges used to flavor the liqueur were grown. Bitter oranges for both Cointreau and Grand Marnier are currently grown in Haiti.

As for the second claim, I'd argue that Dave Embry should try Santa Teresa Rhum Orange. It is sublime.

For those suffering from sticker shock, let me just add that you can make a close-to-dead-ringer for GM yourself using the cheapest Stock brandy, orange peels, sugar and about 4 months.
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Well, there is no definition, it's just a generally accepted principle.

I'm not even sure what you are claiming is a generally accepted principle, but there is clearly no consensus on what is triple sec. Bols Triple Sec, one of the most widely available bottlings to call itself triple sec, is 21% alcohol by volume; Cointreau is 40%. How can they be the same thing, or occupy the same category? Especially when Cointreau refrains entirely from calling itself triple sec? Perhaps it was triple sec at one time, but the meaning of that term has clearly changed. Think of this: You walk into a liquor store and tell the shop attendant you're looking for a bottle of triple sec. Does he whip out a bottle of Cointreau? Or Bols or De Kuyper? Further, no clarity at all exists as to the line between curaçao and triple sec; I've seen definitions where the former is a sub-category of the latter, and others where it's vice versa, and others that draw the neutral-spirits/brandy distinction between them, and also assertions that Cointreau is actually not made from neutral spirits at all, but rather from un-aged brandy. I would propose that if it says "triple sec" on the label it's triple sec; if it says "curaçao" on the label it's curaçao, and if it says neither it's neither. As to the claim that Grand Marnier is the supreme orange-flavored liqueur, I'd say "fiddlesticks". For one thing, there are widely-available near-substitutes for it, such as Gran Gala. I might be persuaded that the Luxardo Triplum can stand in for Cointreau if I had a bottle of it, but nothing I've tasted that calls itself triple sec makes even a remote approach to Cointreau.
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I would propose that if it says "triple sec" on the label it's triple sec; if it says "curaçao" on the label it's curaçao, and if it says neither it's neither.

Or if it says both, then it's both?

I'm not even sure what you are claiming is a generally accepted principle, but there is clearly no consensus on what is triple sec. Bols Triple Sec, one of the most widely available bottlings to call itself triple sec, is 21% alcohol by volume; Cointreau is 40%. How can they be the same thing, or occupy the same category? Especially when Cointreau refrains entirely from calling itself triple sec? . . . I might be persuaded that the Luxardo Triplum can stand in for Cointreau if I had a bottle of it, but nothing I've tasted that calls itself triple sec makes even a remote approach to Cointreau.

Just to add to the confusion, the Luxardo Triplum is 39%. I agree that Cointreau is the standard-bearer. I do use it instead of triple sec, if a recipe calls for triple sec. The orange liqueur industry is a very saturated market, and there are all plenty of fine products, so I was just resisting your call to name one as the absolute best. Say, you wouldn't know of any nice cognacs out there, would you? :(

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The sugared rim is also a lost art, and hugely important to this drink. I'm not good at it at home, yet.

Well I finally solved a big part of the puzzle tonight. I was using powdered sugar, which apparently contains enough cornstarch to make an unpleasant globby mess. I couldn't find a Whole Foods that carries baker's sugar (the ideal ingredient), so I blade-grinded some granulated sugar into a superfine. Rub a rim with citrus, plate the ground sugar, and blot the glass into the plate until uniformly sugared. I rim a good two inches down the wine glass (ala Bourbon Steak). Compare to using a coarse grain sugared rim which is anathema to a perfect Sidecar.

Although it is a generously sugared rim, the sugar is so fine that it adds minimal sweetness. The trick is to measure/shake the Sidecar so that it is just on the edge of being tart or sweet. The rim adds just a marginal sweetness. For me, it just the same as making an viable omelette that is still creamy on the inside, or a pasta that is al dente, or any other dish where it teeters on underdone and overcooked. You know what I'm talking about.

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The PF Ambre makes a very good Sidecar. The VA ABC sells it for $46.95, but I'm sure that you can get a better deal across the river. Happy experimenting!

Not willing to suffer last week's brutal winds in transit for a professional cocktail, I ended up being "that guy" in the nearby liquor store who dashed any hopes of an early closing. The cashier was openly considering his nightlife options as a backdrop to my bottle safari, so I took the hint and ended my rummaging of bottom shelves.

Heading to the counter with a generic six-pack in hand, I suddenly found myself in the cognac aisle. A quick scan and I see The Bottle. Feeling somewhat guilty of the time (not to mention I had turned down their suggestion of Leopold Bros when I was looking for Zuidam gin), I eschewed the beer and upgraded to the PF Ambre, $43.99 (although it would have been $43.94 had I brought in my own bag instead of merely carrying the label out exposed).

At home, 2:1:1 PFA/Cointreau/fresh squeezed lemon juice. With a sleeping baby in the next room, I declined to shake and instead used a hand-held frother to mix. Add ice, stir 50ish times. Strain into my (lightly, see upthread) sugared rimmed London Dock glass.

I immediately regretted the first sip, as it was clear my standards for this cocktail mainstay had been significantly raised. Ignorance is bliss (and often saves you alot of cash too), and it's doubtful I'll ever savor a mid-level cognac Sidecar as much as one made with this style of cognac. What surprised me about this version was its delicacy. A delicacy not found in ANY margarita or daiquiri I've encountered. I had also thought of cognac as a hearty, wintertime type of spirit, which also biased my expectations.

I'm not much of a braggart (if I do say so myself), but this was probably the best cocktail I've ever mixed. Put more restrainedly, the PFA compliments my style of making Sidecars. Most brandies/cognacs I have used are fairly hefty (or sweetish, as discussed upthread). But when you consider the supporting cast of the Sidecar: lemon juice (not nearly as pungent as lime), Cointreau (the most delicate of all orange liqueurs out there), and my style of lightly sugar rimming the glass . . . the light-bodied PFA does not overpower any of those delicate components, whereas I now think most other cognacs are too big (especially in relation to the Cointreau).

A sidenote to my Sidecar: just wanted to point out that my rimmed glass is almost equal parts of superfine sugar AND a citrus rub. The net of these two ingredients adds just a marginal sweetness with some tang, and not pure sugar. I found my version to be plenty dry.

I think next I'll find an appropriate tequila to make a similar styled margarita. Probably will also blade grind some salt, as large grains on the cocktail rim really are too overpowering. Cheers!

Edited by DaRiv18
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You can also get St. Remy (which folks might not be aware is a Remy-Martin product) in 750ml size for around $12, or even a 200ml size for about $5.

As for using Cognac, I've had good reports from serious consumers that Chalfonte V.S.O.P. is well worth the investment ($23), Even Salignac V.S. Cognac ($18) or Ansac V.S. ($19-21, I can't recall) have their merits.

As for the whole orange liqueur debate, Jay Hepburn did a remarkable and somewhat exhaustive comparison here: The Great Oh Gosh! Orange Liqueur showdown and it's well-worth a read to help understand the differences between the various types. And yeah, Cointreau comes out very, very, well and Jay specifically mentions how it's the best all-rounder.

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I think next I'll find an appropriate tequila to make a similar styled margarita. Probably will also blade grind some salt, as large grains on the cocktail rim really are too overpowering. Cheers!

Last Spring, when I was at Wine Expo in Santa Monica, CA, the owner, Roberto Rogness turned me on to his favorite blanco tequila--Herencia Mexicana Blanco (80 proof--100% puro agave). Roberto is something of a tequila specialist--he sells, among the familiar high-quality brands, numerous small-batch bottles that one rarely sees, except in high-end Mexican restaurants. When Roberto tells you that this is the best blanco he's ever tasted, it warrants paying attention to. Oddly, I have also tasted the Herencia reposado and añejo, and agree with Roberto that the blanco is tastier. It must be quadruple distilled at least, because it is unbelievably smooth, in addition to having a wonderfully complex flavor. We were using it to make Aperol Sunsets during the summer, and that has got to be one of the most delicious cocktails I've ever tasted.

When we finished the bottle I brought back from L.A., I despaired that I would find it here. But some very helpful advice from a friendly local bev-shop manager led me to find it on the shelf at Schneider's. Definitely not inexpensive, but so worth it.

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^ I'll look for the Herencia when our current supply of blanco runs out. I think we have Cabo Wabo right now. Aperol Sunsets sound amazing.

I've made several sidecars with the St. Remy VSOP, and I find that if I go scant on the measurements for brandy and Cointreau, and go a little over the line when measuring the lemon juice, it is a nicely balanced cocktail. I'm afraid I'm not a fan of the sugared rim. I suppose if I upped the lemon even more, it would work. I am enjoying this drink in the winter weather - it seems somehow appropriate for this time of year.

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Enthusiasts might want to take note of the release this past September of Etude XO and Etude Pinot Noir brandies ($150 list) from California. These are one-off releases, uniquely blended, but directly descended from the celebrated and lamentably discontinued RMS brandies of a decade ago.

ETU_423884_D.png

Back in 2002, Etude acquired the former RMS property in the Carneros district, once the most ambitious brandy distillery in the USA. Rémy-Martin and Schramsberg established their joint venture in the 1980s to produce high quality brandies from California grapes, using an onsite battery of eight copper alambic stills. Schramsberg pulled out in the 90s, perhaps owing to the financial burden of waiting out the long maturation process, but the commercial failure of their initial release of three-year-old brandies in 1985 must have weighed heavily on their minds, in contrast to the contemporary ascendency of Germain-Robin. No RMS brandies were released again until 1998, now at minimum ages between 7 and 14 years, with the top-label QE ("Qualité Extraordinaire") competing favorably against established XO brands. R-M shuttered the operation around 2001 after losing tens of millions on the venture, but it was rumored that they were also concerned about QE having become too good in comparison to their flagship XO Cognacs. I remember gubeen's delight at discovering that Virginia ABC had some QE as late as 2004; she picked up what was probably then the last case in the Commonwealth.

As Etude winemaker Jon Priest wrote on Chowhound earlier this year, RMS cellar master Rick Estes had selected a number of barrels of aging spirits to be transferred with the property, and over the last seven years the two have been collaborating to complete its aging and blending. The NYT's Florence Fabricant wrote a short piece back in late August, prior to the release. California-based reviewer Anthony Dias Blue scored the new releases 93 and 94 in his November newsletter, observing that the XO displays both burnt orange notes and unusual complexity; these were also frequently-noted characteristics of QE.

No clue who, if anybody, has these in the DC area.

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I'm about 3/4 through a bottle of Courvoisier VS that I picked up for about $20 a while back when I happened to see it on sale. I've been using it both in sidecars and in cooking applications, and I like the flavor more than I like the St. Remy. I've tried to figure out what exactly it is that I like about it, but all I can come up with is that it's more cognac-y, particularly in the sidecar which, in a side-by-side comparison, seemed almost overwhelmingly orange-flavored with the SR. I know it's something of a boring, predictable choice for a cognac, but I've enjoyed it. I'll promise to try to find something more interesting to buy now that this bottle is coming to a close.

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So here's a minor mystery. My mom was given a bottle of Metaxa VSOP as a gift. In the US, Metaxa is marketed with a "star" grading system and a different label design, and avoids the VS, VSOP, etc nomenclature. The bottle is a 70cl European size, and based on the front label design and the "export" sticker slapped onto the back, I presume the contents are a version normally produced for the Greek market.

What's Metaxa VSOP, and is it the same as any of the US variants?

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