Review: 3 Languedoc Wines – Montmassot Picpoul, Chateau du Donjon Rose, and Chateau Trillol

ChâteauduDonjonMinervoisRoséFrance’s Languedoc region is reknowned for offering an array of wines in diverging styles, almost all available at low prices. In recognition of this, we recently received three Languedoc wines for review — one white, one rose, one red — to gauge just how far a buck can go in this sunny, southern part of France. (Pro tip: White are best!)

Thoughts follow.

2014 Montmassot Picpoul de Pinet – An affordable, star-bright-white picpoul from the village of Florensac, offering crisp minerals and simple fruit notes — lemon, apple, and a touch of melon. Some say you can get a touch of salt air on this wine, and if I had a dozen oysters on hand I might be inclined to agree. That said, I’m drinking it with dill-roasted halibut and shrimp, and it’s a perfect, summery combination, especially at this price. A- / $11

2014 Chateau du Donjon Rose Minervois – A rose of 30% syrah, 30% cinsault, 40% grenache. Beautifully floral, and berry-infused. Lightly sweet, with a touch of marshmallow to juice up the strawberries and carnation petals underneath. Uncomplicated but perfectly summery. B / $12

2010 Chateau Trillol Grenache-Syrah Corbieres Cucugnan – Lots of pruny notes up front on this 60-40 grenache-syrah blend, with notes of smoked meats underneath. A bit flabby at the start, it warms up and its somewhat discordant flavors eventually manage to come together, somewhat fitfully. C+ / $15

Review: 3 Wines from Aia Vecchia, 2015 Releases

Sor Ugo_NVAia Vecchia is a Bolgheri-based producer that makes a variety of reds and whites — with a heavy focus on blends made with international grape varietals. Thoughts on three recent releases, one white and two reds, follow.

2014 Aia Vecchia Vermentino Maremma Toscana IGT – A simple vermentino (with 5% viognier). Initially quite sweet with fresh peaches and lemon notes, it gives way to some somewhat off-putting notes of dried herbs and forest floor character, especially as it warms up. It’s more of a food-friendly wine than an aperitivo, but decent enough either way. B / $12

2012 Aia Vecchia “Lagone” Toscana IGT – Nothing much to see here. This Bogheri/Magliano-sourced bottling of 60% merlot, 30% cabernet sauvignon, and 10% cabernet franc offers few surprises. Notes of stewed fruits, spiced plums, and chocolate sauce aren’t particularly negative in any way, but they do combine to make for an over-sweetened, mouth-filling experience. It’s a wine that needs food to show its strengths. On its own, the sweeter notes dominate too strongly. B- / $15

2011 Aia Vecchia “Sor Ugo” Bolgheri Superiore DOC – 50% cabernet sauvignon, 30% merlot, 15% cabernet franc, 5% petit verdot. A fairly light-bodied Bolgheri, offering decent fruit — cherries and plums — balanced by darker notes of licorice, coffee bean, and some chewy tree bark. A slight bitter edge adds more than a touch of nuance, tuning toward menthol notes on the finish. B+ / $35

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Review: AnestasiA Vodka (2015)

anestasia

In 2012, a new vodka called AnestasiA hit the market, sporting an insanely avant garde bottle and an even more insane liquid inside. Charitably described as a mouth-numbing, menthol-flavored vodka (and not noted on the label as any such thing), the Oregon-produced vodka was derided by critics and, apparently, shunned by drinkers.

AnestasiA went back to the drawing board. They kept the bottle, but they axed the flavoring agents completely. The new AnestasiA is totally unflavored… a complete 180 from the original.

In fact, the new AnestasiA is one of the most “unflavored” spirits I’ve ever had.

AnestasiA 2015 has an extremely mild nose, with almost no discernable scent aside from some basic, simple medicinal notes. On the palate, it offers very light notes of rubbing alcohol, with a slight wash of both vanilla and brown sugar. The finish is clean, if short of bracing. There’s nothing not to like here, but nothing particularly memorable about the composition, either. For some, that’s what makes for a perfect vodka.

All in all: Smart move, guys.

80 proof.

A- / $29 / anestasia.com

Review: Zaca Recovery Chewables

Zaca05I’ve written a lot about how effective Zaca patches can be at preventing hangovers, but the problem with patches is an obvious one: You have to put them on before you go out.

Now Zaca is hitting the market with a chewable that’s designed to help you out if you overdid it and, er, left the house without protection.

About the consistency of a Tums, the tablets contain Japanese raisin, L-alanine l-glutamine, prickly pear, and L-glutathione. I don’t know what most of that means, but it’s a considerably different list of ingredients than the patch contains. I tried them out and they seemed to offer some help on a tough morning, and they were far easier to get down than most sickly-tasting hangover beverages, which often taste so bad you end up wondering whether the cure is worse than the malady. A couple of chewables and a glass of water is a better deal in my book.

That said, fixing the problem is never as good as preventing it in the first place. My advice is to stick with the patch, but toss a couple of these packets in your bedside table… just in case.

B+ / $20 for 16 tablets / zacalife.com [BUY IT HERE]

Review: Draftmark Beer Tap System

 

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Having beer on tap at home is a killer move, but kegerators are enormous, costly, and frankly, a bit frat-house juvenile. Draftmark has an answer: A mini keg that fits in your fridge.

The Draftmark system includes a battery-powered base and replaceable, one-gallon growlers that fit inside it. Just charge up the battery, install a plastic jug of one of the half-dozen beer varieties available (I chose Goose Island IPA), and you’ve got enough fresh draft for about ten 12 oz. servings. When it’s dry, pop it out, recharge the battery (which powers an air compressor that keeps the mini-keg pressurized), and you’re ready to go again.

The Draftmark system is a pretty cool idea, but I had one major issue with it: It was too big for my ’80s-era fridge. The only way I could get the door to shut was to put it in diagonally on the shelf, which pretty much ate up the entire thing. I expect more modern kitchens won’t have this problem, but for me it’s a deal killer that means I can’t use it regularly… at least until I commit to a second fridge for the garage. Also: Refills are cheap, but the selection is limited and — more importantly — tough to find, for now. (Pro tip: Look for free shipping deals.)

Otherwise, it’s a pretty cool idea, and the beer it pours (albeit slowly) does come out fresh and pub-worthy. (Make sure you give it plenty of time to chill down or you’ll end up with a ton of foam.) Those of you with those enormous Sub-Zeros and lots of space for novelties might clear out that Chinese takeout and give it a try.

B+ / $70 (1 gallon refills about $15) / draftmark.com [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Review: Four Roses Single Barrel Private Selection from Nasa Liquor

Four Roses private barrel offerings are invariably fun to find and taste, and this selection from Nasa Liquor, a shop in Houston, Texas, is no exception.

This is an OESF Four Roses (20% rye, made with Four Roses’ “herbal” yeast), aged 10 years, 2 months. This is a slightly younger expression of the 2014 Single Barrel, which was an amazing release.

Nasa’s private selection is an amazingly sweet and surprisingly fruity expression of Four Roses. It starts on the nose: Butterscotch candies, candied apples, and vanilla caramels abound. More raw wood character emerges on the nose in time, and left in the glass for a while it will overpower the more dessert-like elements of the whiskey.

On the palate, the vanilla is astonishing at first, intense with notes of fresh creme brulee. Again, sip and reflect and you’ll find juicy raisin notes and some mint chocolate, particularly on the finish. It doesn’t drink especially hot, despite the barrel strength, but a touch of water does help to bring out more of the chocolate elements along with some cracked pepper notes.

There are more than a few similarities between this whiskey and the 2014 Single Barrel linked above, but that general bottling is a bit hotter and coaxes out a bit more wood on the back end. Kissing cousins, for sure, but both are great exemplars of Four Roses single barrel bottlings.

111 proof.

A / $59 / facebook.com/nasaliquor1

Review: 2014 Charles & Charles Rose Columbia Valley

Charles and Charles Rose cap 014

We reviewed the 2013 bottling of this wine and are back with a new vintage. This year’s version of the Washington state rose is made from a blend of 72% syrah, 8% mourvedre, 8% cabernet sauvignon, 6% grenache, 3% cinsault, and 3% counoise. Nicely floral with rose petal and crushed violets up front, it slides into pretty red fruits, strawberry, and a touch of vanilla cream. Perfect for summer.

B+ / $12 / bielerandsmith.com

Review: Ecliptic/Wicked Weed/Stone Points Unknown IPA

pointsunknown_bottle_4webIt’s time for another three-way collaboration from Stone, bringing in Portland, Oregon’s Ecliptic Brewing and Asheville, North Carolina’s Wicked Weed. As if three breweries wasn’t tough enough to pull together, what Stone has done with Points Unknown is take two divergent beers and blend them together.

Three-quarters of the beer is a west coast-style double IPA. The other quarter is a Belgian tripel, barrel aged for four months in casks that first held red wine and then held tequila. It may say “IPA” on the label, but what’s inside is much more than that.

If this all sounds complicated, try tasting it. Both elements of the brew are well represented here, with the tripel starting things off with a malty, slightly spicy character featuring notes of cloves, coffee beans, and just a touch of sour cherry. The IPA element ultimately takes over, though, offering bracing bitterness, much more citrus-focused than it is piney. Some bitter root notes emerge with time, but it’s those sour cherries that stick with me the most. It’s a complicated — and not entirely cohesive — beer, but it’s easily worth a try while you can still nab it.

9.5% abv.

B+ / $9 per 22 oz. bottle / stonebrewing.com

Review: 2014 Sonoma-Cutrer Sauvignon Blanc

sonoma cutrerSonoma-Cutrer is best known for its Chardonnay, which is one of the top-selling wines in American restaurants. The winery makes other bottlings (particularly Pinot Noir), but this year the company branches out into Sauvignon Blanc for the first time ever. Here’s how this new release stacks up.

This inaugural bottling offers clear pepe du chat notes on the nose, with some tropical character backing it up. On the palate, both the ammonia notes and the fruit are in balance, with the more pungent hospital character up front ultimately giving way to more of a pineapple-focused finish, tempered by mineral and steely, metallic notes. Considerably better with food than on its own.

B- / $25 / sonomacutrer.com

Review: Newcastle Collaboration Edition British Pale Ale and Session IPA

Newcastle Best of Britain Variety Pack bottles

Newcastle is back and continuing its Collaboration Edition series of limited releases with two new brews made in collaboration with Edinburgh’s Caledonian Brewery — updates on the pale ale/IPA recipe.

Newcastle Collaboration Edition British Pale Ale – Had I not read the label I would have assumed this was a standard brown ale, quite malty and nutty, with a touch of baking chocolate on the back end. I get very little hops here — though it is dry hopped to 39 IBUs, according to Newcastle. B-

Newcastle Collaboration Edition British Session India Pale Ale – A slight pine element up front and a hint of bitterness (though it’s rated at 45 IBUs) doesn’t exactly make this into a real IPA. Newcastle’s signature chocolate maltiness is spread thick on this brew, which washes away the crispness and ultimately gives its citrus notes a bit of orange-flavored chocolate character. Just so-so. At 5.1% abv, it’s just barely below the 5.8% of the standard edition. B-

each about $8 per six-pack / newcastlebrown.com