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Vodka is king, and varied

For years, vodka has shaken and stirred the spirit(s). It accounts for a quarter of booze sales in the United States. That's more than all whiskeys combined, twice as much as the rum total, and about five times the amount of gin.

What counts with vodka, whether it's made from potatoes or from wheat, whether it's Russian or not, is smoothness -- although there are some cocktails where the stuff burns and you wouldn't notice. It wouldn't matter, either.

A decade old, Blue Ice produces vodka via potato (from Idaho russets) and, more recently, wheat (certified organic winter). They're both clear and fine, with a trace of sweetness, contributing to an enjoyable martini. The potato vodka goes for about $20 for a 750ml bottle; the wheat, $24.

EFFEN is a Dutch producer of wheat vodka. The newest version of EFFEN is cucumber and vanilla, which works especially well to refresh your Bloody Mary. The dry original has a subtle touch of spice and is a polished, silky choice. Try it neat. EFFEN vodka sells for about $30 for a 750ml bottle.


Long Island's Wines of the Week

The wine labels of Scarola Vineyards feature a stylized image of the arched window in the Great Hall of Ellis Island -- a tribute to Italian immigrants, including patriarch Cosimo Scarola. The ripe, rich wines made at Wölffer Estate are ideal with hearty, Italian-American dishes. Try the plummy 2008 Scarola ''Masseria'' Merlot ($18); the 2008 Scarola Cabernet Franc ($24), which has a trace of spice; and the spirited 2008 Scarola ''Mistura'' ($24).

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