Review: Wines of Portugal, 2014 Quinto Elemento and Fiuza


Portugal is more than just Port and vinho verde. Here’s a look at two bottlings from off the beaten path, both hailing from the Tejo region, near the Spanish border to the far east of the country.

2014 Quinto Elemento Arinto Reserva Vinho Branco Tejo – Made from the arinto grape, this racy white offers a lightly tropical/pineapple core studded with lots of aromatics and perfume notes, to the point of mild astringency. The finish mixes in notes of sweet peaches with honeysuckle and roses, the florals becoming particularly pronounced as the wine warms up a bit. B / $8

2014 Fiuza Premium Alicante Bouchet Tejo – A funky, vegetal red with barnyard and vague smoke overtones. Alicante bouchet isn’t the world’s most beloved grape, and its iffy nose leads to an almost bizarre body, which takes notes of prune and rhubarb and folds in tobacco and tar character. Highly acidic, but the wacky flavor profile takes some real getting used to. C / $13

Review: Christian Brothers Sacred Bond Brandy Bottle-in-Bond 4 Years Old

christian-brothers-sacred-bond-750mlThe bonded spirits almost always finds a home with whiskey (particularly bourbon and sometimes rye). But there’s no rule that other liquor products can’t go through the bonding process, which involves storing the product in barrel in a special, government-regulated warehouse for at least four years, and bottling the finished product at 100 proof. The bottled-in-bond seal is a mark of quality, and everyone seems to love a “BiB” whiskey.

So… how about a bottled-in-bond brandy? Christian Brothers (part of Heaven Hill, which knows a thing or two about the bonded whiskey world) just launched one: Sacred Bond (get it?), a pot-distilled brandy that goes through the full rigmarole. It’s the first ever bottled-in-bond grape brandy produced (there are some BiB apple brandies out there).

Those used to (or looking for) sticky-sweet brandy won’t find it here. Sacred Bond is distinctly oaky on the nose, with curious notes of apple peels, salted caramel, strong tea, and just a hint of raisin. The palate is striking and unexpected. Again, any sense of sugar is nearly absent here, the brandy pumping out woody tannins, menthol, and some hospital notes. The impact of wood is so strong that my hands want to type “whiskey” every time I have to write “brandy,” but the follow-up notes of cayenne, plum, and saffron are entirely unique and far away from the typical whiskey character list. The finish is drying, spicy, and aromatic, but it’s a bit rough on the back of the throat, something I don’t chalk up entirely to the alcohol level.

This is a unique brandy that’s clearly designed for cocktails, but some may find its whiskeylike kick more suitable for exploring solo. Your mileage may vary.

100 proof.

B / $26 /

Gift Idea: Etched Globe Decanter with Matching Glasses


Keeping your whiskey in a decanter is a fancy way to serve spirits, but short of etching a monogram on the bottle, your options for showing off are limited. Instead, try this, MoonRise Market’s decanter that comes in the shape of a globe and comes complete with geographical etchings as well as its own stand, which allows the decanter to rotate just like the real thing.

This perhaps isn’t the most practical decanter, but it does make a real statement on your bar. It’s also paired with two matching glasses, similarly semi-globular and also etched with a map of the world, and includes a funnel to help get your hooch from the bottle into the decanter.

Fun stuff, and I’ve been enjoying using it for one of my bespoke blends.


Review: Flora Springs Ghost Winery 2013 Red Wine and 2014 Malbec


Each year, Flora Springs celebrates its supposedly haunted old stone winery with fall-released wines released under the sub-moniker of “Ghost Winery.” We received two samples of current releases from the label, just in time for Halloween.

2013 Flora Springs Ghost Winery Red Wine Napa Valley – A blend of 52% cabernet sauvignon, 20% merlot, 17% syrah, 8% petit verdot, and 3% cabernet franc. This is a dark and dense wine, enigmatic with notes that might make you think of malbec, petite sirah, or something else altogether. Turns out it’s mostly a Bordeaux-ish blend, plus some syrah, which doesn’t really come through to the finish. Instead, the dense color of the petit verdot makes the strongest impression, with violets and other florals from it and the merlot making quite a showing. This is all layered over intense blackberry notes, touched here and there with menthol and chocolate syrup. Bold and mouth-filling, it needs a decent meal to keep it from becoming overwhelming. B+ / $40

2014 Flora Springs Ghost Winery Malbec Napa Valley – 100% malbec. An initially fruitier style of malbec, lightly floral but studded with blackberry and blueberry notes. The finish offers hints of tobacco, cloves, and licorice — it’s quite dry, which makes for an interesting counterpoint to the slightly sweeter attack. It’s atypical for a malbec but intriguing nonetheless, food friendly but also worth exploring as a solo experience. B+ / $55

Review: Bar Keep Bitters


Greenbar Distillery doesn’t just make vodka, whiskey, and a very cool liqueur, it also makes bitters, all of which are organic and bottled at 48% abv. Each was made in conjunction with a different bartender (or two), part of a series of bitters-designing competitions the company has sponsored for several years. Here’s a look at five of the company’s (many) bitter offerings.

Bar Keep Apple Bitters – Solid apple flavor, with a healthy grating of cinnamon on top. It fades away fairly quickly into a more general bitterness, taking the fruit character with it. B+

Bar Keep Lavender Bitters – Finally, some bitters you can use in your spa! Floral notes like this can be overpowering, but if you can find a cocktail where you want a pop of lavender, you’ve got a wholly credible candidate here. B

Bar Keep Fennel Bitters – A really like the licorice kick on this one, and it’s got quite a bit of cayenne spice to back it up. Don’t want to bother with an absinthe rinse? Try a drop of these bitters… but be careful with the quantity. A little goes a long way. A-

Bar Keep Saffron Bitters – Subtle flavors here, but they linger for quite a while. A little saffron always goes a long way, and in a cocktail it can be hit or miss. A tricky product with a distinctive flavor. B

Bar Keep Chinese Bitters – Inspired by Chinese five spice blend, but heavy on cloves, with a bit of cinnamon and anise. The more I toy with it, the more I like it, particularly the lingering but relatively mild finish. A-

each $13 per 8 oz bottle /

Review: Courvoisier VS, VSOP, and XO Cognac



Courvoisier is revamping the packaging of its VS, VSOP, and XO expressions, with the VSOP getting the biggest switch, moving from its old, iconic, and unwieldy bottle design (called the Josephine) to a more stylish, modern look (see above). Changes to the VS and XO aren’t as extreme. We took the opportunity to review all of the above in their latest incarnations. Thoughts follow.


All are 80 proof.

Courvoisier VS Cognac – Aged from three to seven years old. A fairly garden variety Cognac, this VS is a showcase of caramel and vanilla, with just a hint of apple and raisin fruit bubbling up toward the back end. Easy to enjoy, but difficult to truly love, it’s fine for a sidecar but just doesn’t have enough going on to merit serious attention. The finish sees some more raw, ethyl alcohol notes pushing through, as well. B- / $31

Courvoisier VSOP Cognac – No specific aging information supplied, but reportedly under 10 years old. Bolder and a bit tannic, it’s a little rough at first, but eventually it settles into a groove that showcases raisins, chocolate, caramel sauce, and heavy baking spices — maybe a bit too much, as the cloves tend to dominate before the raisiny finish makes a reprise. More exciting than the VS, but still a bit unbalanced. B / $41

Courvoisier XO Cognac – From eaux de vie 11 to 25 years old. On the nose, it’s immediately heavy on almond/marzipan notes, then dried fruits, baking spice, and toasty wood. On the palate, it’s immediately sweet with slightly winey notes, with cherry overtones — bold, but far from overwhelming, and not incredibly complex. A little menthol creeps in on the finish, along with a touch of pepper plus some vaguely soapy notes. All told it’s a perfectly credible cognac, though it doesn’t drink as particularly old or austere. I think it might be the only XO I’ve tried that I’d have no qualms about using to mix a Sidecar. B+ / $125

Review: 2013 Rotari Brut and Rose


The Trento DOC is part of Italy’s Alto Adige, and it is home to Rotari, a well-distributed sparkling wine made using traditional methods. Generally gentle in style, these are wines that drink well on their own, with food, or in cocktails like Mimosas. As for these specific bottlings, here’s a look at two new, vintage-dated releases from Rotari. (Rotari also makes a lower-end nonvintage wine, so be sure you’re looking at the right bottling.)

2013 Rotari Brut Trentodoc – 100% chardonnay. Surprisingly light on its feet, this drinks like Prosecco crossed with Cava. Fresh and fruity with an apple-heavy core, the dry wine also offers notes of almond, lemon, and a bit of coconut. Gently fizzy with fine bubbles, it’s refreshing and cleansing on the lightly bubbly finish. The bottle may not look like much, but this is an easy go-to sparkler that won’t break the bank. A- / $20

2013 Rotari Rose Trentodoc – Made from pinot noir and chardonnay. Not nearly as much fun as the Brut, the rose has an overly creamy character that makes it a bit muddy at times, and which dulls the fruit profile. Notes of red berries and flowers on the nose give way to an odder body, which offers notes of peaches, bananas, and whipped cream. The finish is short, though harmless. B / $20