Review: Vida Tequila Reposado

vida reposado_newWe did the Blanco. We did the Anejo. Now it’s time for the final frontier, Vida Tequila’s Reposado bottling.

This tequila, aged a relatively lengthy six months in barrel before bottling, offers a quiet nose that is mostly sweeter notes. At first sip, it evokes gentle notes of caramel flan, melding burnt sugar with a dense creaminess. As it evolves on the palate, peppery agave comes to the fore, but it’s held in check by the sweetness, which turns toward notes of banana and a little milk chocolate.

All told, it’s got spice, it’s got sweetness, it’s got moments of brilliance, but mixes well while also drinking well on its own. A very well made reposado.

80 proof.

A- / $58 / vidatequila.com

Review: NV Faire la Fete Brut Cremant de Limoux

CSrDIbkVAAEV7FoA sparkler from France’s Languedoc region (the Limoux AOC dates back only to 2005), Faire la Fete is a blend of chardonnay, pinot noir, and chenin blanc grapes.

It’s an intriguing wine — very fruit-forward, with a moderate level of fizz. The palate includes notes of fresh apple, tangerine, banana, and light floral touches. The finish is clean and quick, making this almost perfect for a pre-dinner sipper. It may be a wholly unserious wine, but it’s the perfect bottle to crack open at the beginning of a celebration.

A- / $20 / fairelafetewines.com

Review: The Famous Grouse Blended Scotch Whisky

famous grouseThe Famous Grouse — a blended whiskey made by the same folks that produce Highland Park and The Macallan, including a significant sherry cask regimen — is a major player in the blended world. (It is the best-selling whisky in Scotland, so that’s saying something.) Somehow it’s escaped our review (though the more recent Black Grouse did get a writeup in 2010) — until now.

It’s easy to see why the Famous Grouse is so well-liked — it’s a baby Macallan at a fraction of the price.

The sherry doesn’t take long to make its presence known — big, sharp, and juicy, it’s got a powerful punch of citrus peels and a squirt of clementine juice that hits the senses right away. Toasted brioche notes are sizeable underneath all that citrus, but the overall aroma is altogether gentle and inviting.

On the palate, the juicy rush is palpable, offering notes of both grapefruit and satsumas, amply sherried with some winey/oxidized notes. As this fades, a stronger grain character hits; what is restrained on the nose is more palpable on the tongue, and as the sherry washes away, the toasty/bready character dominates the palate in full. Secondary characteristics include touches of heather, honey, and a hint of nutmeg — but none of this is overwhelming or particularly pushy.

The finish is more astringent than I’d like, with a slightly chewy mushroom quality and some more raw alcohol character that is a bit at odds with what’s come before, but given the price of the whisky and the pedigree of its makeup, it’s hard to complain too vociferously.

80 proof.

B+ / $20 / thefamousgrouse.com

Review: 2013 Carmel Road Pinot Noir Monterey Drew’s Blend

Carmel Road 2013 Drew's Blend PNWho is Drew, you ask? Drew Barrymore, that’s who.

America’s favorite ’80s star is the name brand behind this wine, produced with winemaker Kris Kato, which is a delightful little pinot from the little-known label Carmel Road.

Drew’s Blend is a precious wine, gentle on the palate but studded with notes of cherry, tea leaf, eucalyptus, and a squeeze of citrus. Very light on its feet, it is quaffable on its own and pairs well with food, too. It worked delightfully well with a butter-sauteed shrimp and spiced tomato rice dish. Notes of black pepper mingle with mint tea on the finish.

A- / $28 / carmelroad.com

Review: Redemption Aged Barrel Proof Straight Rye – 7, 8, and 10 Years Old

redemption 8 years oldIn our recent coverage of Redemption, I mentioned some rare, older, cask strength whiskeys that the company was releasing. We unexpectedly received samples of all three — all of which are 95 percent rye and 5 percent malted barley, aged 7, 8, or 10 years in oak — and all “honey barrel” picks of the best of the best. It’s all MGP stock, but it’s very rare to find the company’s whiskeys at this age on the market any more, much less at cask strength.

Let’s take a dive into all three.

Redemption Aged Barrel Proof Straight Rye 7 Years Old – Fruit and herbs both dominate the nose, with a juicy apple character tempered by ample baking spice. This continues straight through to the palate, which is warming and quite full of those apple pie notes, plus notes of brown sugar and scorched butter. Water helps, but those apples won’t be ignored. Tempered a bit, the spirit evolves clearer notes of cinnamon along with some savory herbs, with a touch of apple butter-meets-butterscotch on the finish. 122.6 proof. B / $80

Redemption Aged Barrel Proof Straight Rye 8 Years Old – It’s just one year older, but what a different profile it cuts. A clearer and stronger wood influence leads the way toward some bold caramel and vanilla notes, both on the nose and on the palate. That savory herbal character appears again on the back end, particularly toward the finish. Water really brings out the best in this whiskey, both its sultry, cinnamon-stick dessert tones and its gossamer-thin savory elements. The complex interplay between the two on that lingering finish really makes the experience wonderfully worthwhile. Definitively, this is the expression to seek out. 121.5 proof. A / $90

Redemption Aged Barrel Proof Straight Rye 10 Years Old – This batch was made from only six barrels of whiskey. Again things take a curious turn, as at the age of 10 this whiskey heads to new territory. Reminiscent of older bourbons, this rye pushes both its substantial barrel influence and some notes of menthol and tobacco, characters uncommon in rye whiskeys. Though considerably lower in proof, it comes across just as racily, and water is once again a huge help in coaxing out more flavor. A quite savory whiskey at heart, it presents a huge, mouth-filling body that offers notes of licorice, tree bark, and cloves. The finish isn’t as long or as satisfying as the 8 year old — here it comes across more as a study of age — but it offers some compelling notes in its own right. 110.1 proof. B+ / $130

redemptionrye.com

Review: New Belgium Accumulation White IPA

new belgium Accumulation_12oz_BottleColorado-based New Belgium is out with a winter special called Accumulation, a seasonal, Belgian-style IPA.

This combination of pale malt and wheat offers a a malty, bready attack that fades into a chewiness that loads up some crisp apple notes, chocolate, caramel, and a hint of pineapple. The body is moderate in weight and backed by ample hops character — finishing off with a bit of a lemon kick.

All told, it’s a nice way to give IPA a bit of a kick and a seasonal spin.

6.2% abv.

B+ / $7 per six-pack / newbelgium.com

Review: 1800 Coconut Tequila

1800 coconutFlavored tequila can be a mixed bag, and straight out of the bottle, 1800’s coconut-flavored expression smells exactly like Malibu — at least until you stick your nose into the glass, when sharp agave notes come to the fore.

On the palate, it’s a combination of the two, as the spirit bounces between notes of sweet coconut flakes and brash, green, and peppery blanco tequila (100% agave is used here, though), with very little else happening in between. A touch of pineapple hits the finish, but otherwise this is sugary coconut and punchy agave notes, trying to live side by side.

My mind struggles trying to figure out the appropriate use for the spirit, though. As a sipper the two styles never quite get together in a friendly enough way. As a mixer, the same issue applies — the tequila clashes with cola or another standard add-in.

That really leaves one option: Coconut margaritas, anyone?

70 proof.

C+ / $24 / 1800tequila.com

Tasting: Tempranillo Wines of California, 2016 Releases

quinta cruz s

When one thinks of California wine grapes, tempranillo doesn’t exactly spring to mind. Turns out though, that tempranillo — which is most notable for its viticulture in Spain — is grown all over the state. To prove it, we tested six tempranillo wines, each from a different region of California, with some interesting results.

Thoughts follow.

2013 Castoro Cellars Tempranillo Whale Rock Vineyard Reserve – Grown in western Paso Robles. Chocolatey, with notes of cloves. Ample plum notes add a fruity character, while the herbal character on the finish gives it a bittersweet conclusion. B+ / $17

2013 Lee Family Farm Tempranillo Arroyo Seco – Arroyo Seco is part of Monterey County. Menthol meets notes of fresh thyme, sage, and — strangely — lime zest take this in some oddball (though not entirely unlikable) directions. The finish reminds me of a creme de cassis more than a table wine. B- / $18

2012 Quinta Cruz Tempranillo San Antonio Valley Pierce Ranch – From the Santa Cruz region. The plum and berry fruit is restrained here, the wine already showing some age with balsamic and oxidized notes. Some mild spice notes lead to a body that is slightly bitter, with a short finish. B / $18

2013 St. Amant Tempranillo Amador County “The Road Less Traveled” – A dense wine from the Sierra foothills, atypical in this roundup but a fantastic reminder of what solid tempranillo can be — featuring dark plums, blackberries, and black tea leaf character all bound up in an unctuous and juicy body. The long, spot-on finish recalls some lightly herbal and tea-driven character. A- / $23

2011 Terroir Coquerel Tempranillo Calistoga Napa Valley – Dusty and dry up front, here we see tempranillo showing as more austere and Old World in style. Raspberry, tea leaf, and some bramble notes mingle in a moderately acidic and tart package. It’s the only wine in this package that makes me think of Rioja, where tempranillo is basically a religion. A- / $42

2012 Matchbook Tempranillo Dunnigan Hills – From Yolo County in the Sacramento Valley. A tad watery, but with heavy, extracted fruit notes. Some coffee notes add a little complexity, but the somewhat off, herbal finish doesn’t overly engage. B- / $15

Review: Grand Mayan Silver Tequila

grand_mayan_3dsilver_r1_c2Commonly known as Grand Mayan 3D Silver Tequila, the name doesn’t have to do with special glasses you need to wear in order to drink the stuff. Rather, Grand Mayan’s fancily-bottled blanco is triple distilled, a rare occurrence in the tequila world because it’s thought to strip too much flavor from the spirit (which is normally just double distilled).

Grand Mayan Silver — “Very Special Tequila,” per the bottle — is a 100% agave Lowlands tequila that is one of the more gentle blancos on the market — a likely by-product (and intentionally so) of that triple distilling. The nose is modest, with some citrus, a bit of caramel, and peppery notes behind that. Nice start, but on the palate, it’s so quiet and restrained that you just might miss it. Light vanilla, lemon, and some allspice eventually come across as enduring notes that pair well with the moderately herbal underbelly. Given the quiet buildup, the short finish is not unexpected, and the mild tequila goes out without much fanfare.

If you’re the kind of person who loves to drink — and describe — their tequila as “smooth,” crawl, don’t walk, to Grand Mayan.

80 proof.

B+ / $48 / gmtequila.com

Review: Cocktail & Sons King Cake Syrup

Cocktail and Sons King Cake Syrup Limited Edition 2016Cocktail & Sons is still a new operation, but the New Orleans syrup manufacturer is already out with its first limited edition line extension: King Cake Syrup.

If you don’t know King Cake, you need to get your butt to New Orleans, stat. This sweet treat is rarely seen outside of NOLA (at least in the U.S.) and comes in many shapes and sizes, but generally it’s formed into a ring, features a cinnamon-spiked dough, and is dusted with technicolor sprinkles (and stuffed with a “good luck” plastic baby — long story).

Anyway, now it seems you can have your cake and drink it, too.

The nose of C&S’s King Cake Syrup is pretty heavy on the cinnamon, which is downright bracing as it wafts out of the cocktail glass. The body folds in the pecans and just the right amount of sweetness — the only thing lost is the citrus, though that’s hardly an essential component in my mind. Those not in the know will probably assume this is a straight-up cinnamon syrup, but careful consideration will reveal the deeper charms within. That said, even if it was just a cinnamon syrup, it’d still be a damn good one.

Baby included.

Available through the end of February 2016.

A- / $15 per 8 oz. bottle / cocktailandsons.com