Tasting Report: Rosso Montefalco and Montefalco Sagrantino, 2015 Releases

It’s been a year since we checked in with our friends in Montefalco, Umbria, and the time was nigh to revisit the wines of this storied region in Italy. Six wines were tasted as part of this live event broadcast from Italy — four 100% Sagrantino wines and two Rossos, which are only 10 to 15% Sagrantino but are mostly Sangiovese (60 to 70%). Other grape varieties make up the balance.

Let’s taste!

2011 Perticaia Montefalco Rosso DOC – Ample earth, dried herbs, and a lashing of currants. Restrained, this wine keeps the focus on the earth and its treasures — rosemary, sage, and some eucalyptus. B+ / $28

2011 Colpetrone Montefalco Rosso DOC – A much different, fruitier wine, with fresh strawberry and blackberry dominating the palate. Almost jarring at first, with its new(er) world approach and vanilla notes. Fresh and lively — and one of the few wines here that are approachable without food. B / $19

2008 Tenuta Castelbuono (Lunelli) “Carapace” Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG – Dense, wintry, with some smoky and coal dust notes on the nose. Aging well, the body exudes raisin and prune notes, old wood, and more charcoal notes. Thick and palate-coating with tannins and a lasting finish. B+ / $37

2009 Antonelli Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG – More balsamic character on this wine, its darker fruit notes tempered by spices and dried herbs. Earthy and mushroomy, with notes of truffles and cured meats. Give this one ample time in glass to show off the dense fruit at its core. A- / $45

2008 Scacciadiavoli Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG – Lovely cherry starts things off on this expression of Sagrantino which has lightened up considerably since last year’s tasting of the same vintage. Watch for notes of dark chocolate and vanilla, and a finish that brings out blueberry notes. A really fun wine with a balanced but complex character. A- / $40

2009 Arnaldo Caprai “Collepiano” Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG – Tannic and still quite tight, this wine needs some air to pull fruit from the dusty coal and char notes that lie beneath the surface. This is a wine that will be ready to drink in another decade, but for now it showcases tightly bound earth and roots, licorice, and the essencce of a well-used fireplace in an ancient manor. Hints of blackberry and blueberry emerge on the finish… a taste of what’s to come (some day). A- / $60


Review: Maker’s 46 Cask Strength

Maker’s Mark last year put out a widely acclaimed cask strength bottling of its standard Maker’s Mark bourbon. Naturally, a follow-up was in order: A cask strength rendition of Maker’s 46.

Same story as last time: This is a barrel proof version of Maker’s 46, which is takes standard Maker’s and puts extra charred-wood staves inside the barrel to give it a stronger wood influence. While Maker’s 46 is 94 proof, Maker’s 46 Cask Strength hits 108.9 proof. (It’s unclear whether this will change over time.)

The results offer some marked differences vs. standard 46. The nose starts off with charred wood notes, then leads into surprising sweetness: butterscotch, vanilla, and some cotton candy notes. Over time, some forest-like notes  The body also plays up the sweet stuff, integrating burnt caramel, more butterscotch, and loads of fruit that linger on the tongue for quite a while. It’s not as overtly woody as you’d expect — nor is it altogether racy despite the high alcohol content. I didn’t have trouble sipping it without water, though some agua does bring out an almost Christmassy element to the whiskey.

All told: It’s a solid offering from Maker’s that gives you one more way to enjoy this wheated classic.

Available only at the Maker’s Mark Distillery in Loretto, Kentucky.

Bottle photo to come.

B+ / $40 (375ml) / makersmark.com

Review: A Trio of Portuguese Wines – Grous, Ravasqueira, Esporao

Herdade do Esporao Duas Castas 2013Tis the season for Portugeuse vino, with affordable bottlings arriving from all over the small yet vineyard-covered country. Here’s a threesome that represents a range of blended styles common to Portugal.

2012 Herdade dos Grous Vinho Regional Alentejano Tinto – A red blend of aragonez, syrah, alicante bouschet, and touriga nacional from the Alentejano region. Well rounded, this is an earthy and herbal wine with a restrained fruitiness and notes of chocolate on the finish. Surprisingly balanced and nuanced for such an affordable bottling. A- / $14

2013 Monte da Ravasqueira Vinho Regional Alentejano Tinto – The same four grapes as the Grous make up this wine, a rather brutish, young, and ham-fisted bottling. Quite sweet, and tough to really get into, this wine exudes notes of strawberry candies and sugar cookies. A massive letdown compared to the prior bottling. C- / $10

2013 Herdade do Esporao Duas Castas 2 – A white blend of antão vaz and gouveio grapes. Tastes a lot like an Italian wine, heavy on pear notes, lightly sweet and a bit floral. The finish takes things to a slightly herbal place — particularly as it gets warmer — but on the whole it’s a simple sipper. B / $15

Review: Signatory Un-Chillfiltered Collection Mortlach 1998 16 Years Old

signatoryThis beautiful indie bottling of Mortlach spent 33 months of its 16 years in an Oloroso Sherry butt, then was outturned and bottled at cask strength.

Gorgeous color here, with deep aromas of sherry, walnuts, oily leather, and some madeira character. At full strength, it’s quite a blazer. Though it’s barely over 110 proof, this bottling is positively scorching — and that’s coming from someone quite accustomed to high-test bourbons sans water.

A healthy splash of water brings out this whisky at its absolute finest. Malty and nougat-laden at the core, it offers notes of ripe banana and more of that walnut before segueing into the sherry finish. It’s a big one, showcasing the citrus-focused wine in all its glory, almost chocolatey at times as it offers flamed orange oil and spicy aromatics.

An amazing whisky. Don’t miss it.

111.6 proof. Reviewed: Cask #1, bottle 629 of 669, from K&L Wine Merchants. (Binny’s has cask #2, by the way.)

A / $100 / klwines.com

Review: Four Sigma Foods Mushroom Drinks

four sigma

You’re reading that right: The newest superfood you’re about to start consuming is the good old mushroom — only this time powdered and served as a hot beverage.

This innovation is being brought to you by Four Sigma Foods, which has created no less than 12 different mushroom-infused drink packets, including flavored coffee, flavored cocoas, and more mushroom-forward concoctions. Different varieties of each are available, as are products made with different types of mushrooms.

Why mushrooms? Hell if I know. Health benefits (immunity, etc.), Four Sigma says. These beverage mixers are designed particularly for people who take mushroom supplements (who knew?) but want something more potent than off-the-rack pills.

I checked out a trio of products spanning the line. I can’t tell you if they’ll boost your immune system, but here’s a look at what you can expect from the taste department.

Four Sigma Instant Reishi Mushroom Drink is one of the company’s best-sellers, made with reishi mushrooms, star anise, mint leaf, licorice root, and stevia. Here it’s particularly hard to detect much mushroom at all, as the sweet stevia, licorice, and anise all make much more of an impact. It’s a pleasant enough beverage, though a bit sweet for my tastes — and not something I’d likely drink on a regular basis. B- / $35 for 20 packets

Mushroom is slightly more detectable in the Four Sigma XOCO Red Hot Cacao Drink Mix, which adds cordyceps mushrooms to a packet of cacao, coconut palm sugar, guarana, and cayenne pepper. The mushroom gives the hot chocolate an earthy underpinning and provides an herbal finish to the drink. If you like your hot cocoa with less sugar and more depth, it’s one to try. B / $20 for 10 packets

The Four Sigma Mushroom Coffee adds cordyceps and chaga mushrooms to coffee powder (remember this is instant, not something you brew). Bring your own sweetener. Here you’ll find the most mushroom flavor of them all, going head to head with the coffee character to create a pungent, earthy, and sultry spin on coffee. Sure, it isn’t cold pour-over, but as instant goes, it’s surprisingly palatable and intriguing. B / $15 for 10 packets


Head to Head: Alcoholic Root Beer! Not Your Father’s vs. Rowdy

nyfTwo makes a trend for us today, with a duo of alcoholic root beers hitting the market at the same time, one from La Crosse, Wisconsin-based Small Town Brewery, the other from Stevens Point, Wisconsin-based Berghoff. Both are not root beer soda with alcohol added but rather flavored beers/malt liquors with the spices integrated into the production process. Here’s how they stack up!

Small Town Brewery Not Your Father’s Root Beer – Per the label, a flavored beer. My father doesn’t drink root beer, but he would probably find this concoction palatable. The palate offers a classic root beer structure, but with a muddier, earthier body that tends to linger on the finish. On the whole, tastes like a glass of root beer should, just with a kick! 5.9% abv.  B+ / $11 per six pack of 12 oz. bottles / smalltownbrewery.com

rowdy-root-beer-canBerghoff Rowdy Root Beer – Per the label, a malt beverage with artificial flavor added. Doesn’t immediately come across like a root beer, including some bitter, traditional beer-like elements on the nose, with some herbal notes dusted on top, particularly cloves and burnt sugar. These flavors integrate relatively poorly on the palate, which is a bit too sweet and a bit too thin, again letting some of those raw beer notes seep through. The finish loads up indistinct caramel and a sharp, saccharine conclusion. A major letdown next to Small Town’s rendition. 6.6% abv. C- / $10 per six pack of 12 oz. cans / berghoffbeer.com

Review: Alaskan Brewing Company Imperial India Pale Ale and Pumpkin Ale

alaskan imperial ipa pilot seriesTwo new brews from Alaskan — another large format IPA in the Pilot Series and, of course, a new, seasonal Pumpkin Ale. Thoughts follow.

Alaskan Brewing Company Imperial India Pale Ale – This new Pilot Series offering pours a dusky light brown. Crisp and plenty bitter, it’s got loads of freshly baked bread plus a backing of light citrus and spice notes. These are washed away by the piney overtones that quickly come to the fore, but the breadier elements linger — something you don’t often get with IPAs. It’s a nice combination, and one that tempers the hops well enough to make it accessible to non-IPA fans. 8.5% abv. A- / $9 per 22 oz. bottle

Alaskan Brewing Company Pumpkin Ale – This is not the same beer as Alaskan’s Pumpkin Porter. Indeed, it’s a far different experience, made in a sweeter style that features rich malt laced with cinnamon, cloves, and ginger. Brown sugar sweetness sticks with you, along with some hoppy, almost leathery notes that emerge on the finish. A better style of beer to pair with pumpkin spices. 6% abv. B / $8 per six pack


Maker’s Mark Launches Avant Garde Single Barrel Program

Big news for Maker’s Mark fans today: A new Private Barrel program will let you create bespoke Maker’s — but it goes beyond letting you pick a barrel. Maker’s is going to let you choose the exact type(s) of wood to be used as extra staves in a finishing barrel where your chosen whiskey will rest for an extra 9 weeks before bottling. (Basically it’s the same process used for Maker’s 46, only with a variety of wood selections beyond basic charred oak.) With over 1000 wood finish combinations possible, who’s ready to start collecting Single Barrel Maker’s Mark bottlings by the dozens?

Here’s the full announcement.

Loretto, KY (October 6, 2015) – Maker’s Mark is bringing real innovation to the bourbon industry with a first-of-its-kind barrel program, Maker’s Mark Private Select. The new experience will allow retail customers to “make their own Maker’s” by finishing fully-matured cask strength Maker’s Mark Bourbon in a single barrel made up of their custom selection of oak staves. The program will kick off in limited release in November 2015, with bottled product available for sale by retail participants beginning March 2016.

Through the Maker’s Mark Private Select Experience, participants will have the opportunity to spend an immersive and educational day at the historic Maker’s Mark Distillery in Loretto, KY, where they will roll up their sleeves and mirror the process used by Chairman Emeritus Bill Samuels, Jr. when he created Maker’s 46 in 2010.

“This innovative process of creating a personal expression of Maker’s Mark allows the customer to create a bourbon that wanders in some intriguing ways from our traditional taste profile, while still being distinctively Maker’s Mark,” stated COO Maker’s Mark Distillery, Rob Samuels. “We’ve never before given anyone this kind of access or opportunity to create their favorite version of Maker’s, but we’re excited to see what folks come up with and how they like to make their Maker’s when given the chance.”

As with Maker’s 46, Maker’s Mark Private Select will start with fully-matured Maker’s Mark straight out of the barrel. Participants will receive an in-depth immersion that illustrates the essential role that wood plays in the taste of bourbon, and will select their preferred combination of five types of wood staves with which to finish their custom Maker’s expression. This collection of oak staves – each accentuating different flavors found in fully-matured Maker’s Mark – includes Baked American Pure 2, Seared French Cuvee, Maker’s 46, Roasted French Mocha, and Toasted French Spice. With 1,001 possible stave combinations, participants can create a customized finish and taste profile that is uniquely their own.

After aging for nine additional weeks in a single barrel with the participants’ custom stave combination, the Maker’s Mark Private Select bourbon will be bottled, corked and dipped at cask strength with details such as proof and stave combinations handwritten on the label. Maker’s Mark Private Select Program will be available to Kentucky and Illinois based retailers in its first year and will be expanded to additional markets in 2016.

Review: Bib & Tucker Small Batch Bourbon 6 Years Old

Bib-and-Tucker-BottleshotA newer part of the 35 Maple Street collection, Bib & Tucker is sourced bourbon from Bardstown, Kentucky (sorry, Indiana!), in barrel for 6 years. No mashbill information is available.

The whiskey cuts a frontier style on the nose, hot and loaded with lumber notes, cut with vanilla and some rye-driven spice. The body follows suit, kicking off with intense wood, then wandering into notes of burnt citrus peel, leather, toffee, some green hay, and toasted baking spices. The finish is lasting, hot, slightly astringent, and not overwhelmingly satisfying as it pinballs from one flavor to another.

Those who like their whiskey with a lot of push and punch may find B&T quite a delight, but I expect most bourbon aficionados will be put off by the lack of nuance and the over-exuberant youthfulness that Bib & Tucker exemplifies. While it has its moments and some charm, I think 50 bucks can go further elsewhere.

92 proof.

B- / $50 / 35maplestreet.com

Review: 2013 Sequoia Grove Chardonnay Napa Valley

Sequoia Grove NV ChardonnayThis latest release from Napa’s Sequoia Grove is classic, buttery Chardonnay, offering an archetypal vanilla-apple core. It features an ample body with plenty of length, but there’s not much in the way of nuance from start to finish. The back end is a bit too lingering with sweetness, that vanilla component lingering for the long haul. You’ll know before the first sip if it’s something you’re going to enjoy.

B- / $20 / sequoiagrove.com