Book Review: The Book of Wine

51ezKYD0l1L._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_If you’re a rank novice when it comes to wine — I mean, you really know absolutely nothing — then Jackson Meyer’s primer, The Book of Wine, is as good a place as any to start — short of dropping in on your local wine bar, that is.

In a breezy 220 pages, Meyer covers, as the subtitle states, “an introduction to choosing, serving, and drinking the best wines.” Best may be overstating things a bit. The book devotes more space to South Africa than to Napa and Sonoma (which are lumped together in a spare section in the “Wine Regions” chapter).

Meyer dutifully covers the basics — grape varietals, identifying flaws, what to do with a wine list (and I don’t much agree with his advice here) — enough to get you at least to a $600 question in a Jeopardy! wine category. Less can be said for his often bizarre “recommended wines” which accompany the section explaining each major varietal. I’m unclear how recommending a bottle of Penfolds Grange 1998 (1998!) is going to benefit the novice wine drinker other than make him look like a rube at his local wine merchant.

C- / $14 / [BUY IT FROM AMAZON]

Review: Gordon & MacPhail Imperial 1995

imperial 1995This was my most prized purchase in Edinburgh, where I nabbed the last bottle from Royal Mile Whiskies. Imperial was a Speyside distillery, opened in 1897 and shuttered in 1998 (and demolished in 2013), making this one of a dwindling number of bottles still available.

Bottled in 2014, this is 19 year old Imperial, which has seen at least some time in sherry casks.

The nose is delicate, offering gentle cereal and mixed florals, all backed by easygoing, sherried, orange marmalade character. White peaches emerge on the nose with continued time in the glass. On the palate, it’s a quiet spirit that showcases roasted barley alongside nougat and marzipan, clove-studded oranges, and a soothing finish that keeps the sharp citrus notes dancing on the body. Hang on for a bit and a touch of smoky char makes an appearance as the whisky fades away.

Enjoyable and understated.

86 proof.

A- / $95 (70cl) / gordonandmacphail.com

Review: Alberta Rye Dark Batch Whisky

AlbertaRye_Bottle_HIRESAlberta Rye Dark Batch Whisky is so complicated it is typically accompanied by a flowchart explaining the convoluted method by which it is made. I’m going to try to digest this oddball Canadian rye for you… but don’t feel bad if you get lost. Really it’s all about what’s in the glass in the end.

Alberta Dark Batch starts with two ryes. One is from a pot still, aged six years in new #4 char American oak barrels. One is from a column still, aged 12 years in ex-bourbon barrels.

These two ryes are blended 50-50. This rye blend now becomes 91% of what goes into the Dark Batch bottle. The other 9%? 8% is bourbon (provenance unknown which is Old Grand Dad). 1% is sherry (provenance also unknown). Yes, it’s really 1% sherry. No, not 1% whiskey finished in a sherry barrel. Yes, real sherry. Yes, like the wine. I know.

My first encounter with Dark Batch at a recent whiskey show wasn’t a hit, but I don’t think I was prepared for the assault on the senses that Dark Batch makes, particularly when compared to some more delicate and gentle alternatives. Now, Dark Batch has grown on me at least a bit — though it’s still certainly not my favorite whisky.

Let’s start with the name. Dark Batch is right: This whisky pours a dark tea color, almost a mahogany depending on the light. On the nose, it’s exotic and complex, with notes of coffee, tree bark, evergreen needles, burnt caramel, and blackened toast. All dark, dense, earthy overtones — made even pushier thanks to its somewhat higher 90 proof.

On the palate, even more oddities are in store for you, starting with distinct sherry notes — surprising, considering it’s just the 1 percent. I guess that was enough. There’s more coffee character, plus some red raspberry fruit — particularly evident as the finish approaches, taking the whiskey into sweeter and sweeter territory. This lingers for a considerable amount of time, growing in pungency to the point where it evokes notes of prune juice. As it fades, it coats the palate in an almost medicinal way — which isn’t such a great thing as you finish your glass, but hey, at least I haven’t had to cough all evening.

90 proof.

B- / $30 / albertarye.com

Review: Paulaner Hefe-Weizen Natural Wheat and Weissbier-Radler NA

HefeWeizen 0.33 Liter (11.2 Oz) Bottle (TIF)What, has Drinkhacker gone soft? Another non-alcoholic beer review? I promise, we review what we get. We even review water from time to time, after all. Here’s a look at two newly available ones from Munich-based Paulaner, a bold hefeweizen and a non-alcoholic “weissbier-radler.”

Paulaner Hefe-Weizen Natural Wheat – Aka “Naturtrüb” if you want to get your Deutsch on. This isn’t your girlfriend’s hefeweizen but rather a burlier, chewier, and more hoppy style of the classic wheat brew. As the light bitter elements fade the beer evokes notes of lemon, grapefruit, and tropical notes. The finish offers more cereal, with a bit of almond character to it. Hefeweizen is never my go-to beer style, but Paulaner really does a stand-up job with this “natural” expression. 5.5% abv. B+ / $2 per 16.9 oz. bottle

Paulaner Weissbier-Radler Non-Alcoholic – “With lemon juice.” This is basically a shandy in a bottle, but in lieu of lemonade it tastes like something akin to lemon marmalade has been added to the mix. Incredibly sweet, there’s no beer character here at all, but rather a sticky, sweet-and-sour combination of flavors that come across like something your kids would probably enjoy. I understand when folks can’t drink, but there’s no reason to punish them for it. D- / $9 per six-pack

paulaner.com

Review: Wines of Kendall-Jackson and Jackson Estate, 2015 Releases

KENDALLJACKSONIt’s time to look at Kendall-Jackson’s latest releases, including a new pinot gris from the Vintner’s Reserve line and three releases from the more limited Jackson Estate collection. Thoughts follow.

2014 Kendall-Jackson Pinot Gris California Vintner’s Reserve – A simple wine, uncomplicated but loaded with melon character, creme brulee, and a touch of bitter anise on the back end. Hints of blue cheese and cured meats make for a curious (and not unpleasant) antipasti experience at times. Best with food. B / $11

2013 Kendall-Jackson Jackson Estate Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley – A big, hairy, classic K-J Chardonnay, full of butter and nuts and brown sugar dripping off of a little essence of roasted meats. Stylistically, it’s love it or hate it, but for me it’s simply too far down the yellow (and I mean yellow) brick road. B- / $28

2013 Kendall-Jackson Jackson Estate Pinot Noir Anderson Valley – Atypical pinot for Anderson Valley, with a density that’s more representative of southern California. Cola and coffee and black pepper on the nose are engaging, but the body veers toward hefty jam notes — some blueberry and some cherry — which tend to drown out the nuances. This wine grows on you with time (and air), though, its fruitier core ultimately settling into an engaging groove. B+ / $30

2012 Kendall-Jackson Jackson Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley – A straightforward, “hot climate” Cabernet, offering an herbal entry that leads to blueberry, raspberry, and some juicy currants. Somewhat thin, the palate wears out pretty quickly as the wine fades out to a finish that’s a touch too bitter, though overall the impact is relatively innocuous. Think of it as a solid, but not altogether memorable, “house wine.” B / $36

kj.com

Review: Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Select Tennessee Whiskey

jack daniels

Say what you want about JD, but the company’s Single Barrel releases, which debuted in 1997, really did play a role in bringing ultra-premium whiskey to the masses. Today, JD Single Barrel remains on the top shelf of many a back bar, and collectors snap up the bottles — reasonably priced but each a unique slice of Lynchburg, Tennessee — sometimes loading up on dozens of different expressions. As with black label, the whiskey is bottled with no age statement — but the company says only 1 out of 100 barrels of JD go into the Single Barrel program.

Each bottle of JD Single Barrel will be a bit different of course, but this one makes quite a nice impression and stands as a marked improvement over standard grade black label Jack Daniel’s. It’s sharp at first… (At 94 proof this is a lot closer to the JD that Frank Sinatra must have enjoyed in his day. Jack was sold at 90 proof until 1987 and has been diluted twice since then, down to the current 80 proof.) But give it a little time (and perhaps some water) to open up and it really shows its charms.

The nose offers rich toffee and caramel notes touched with cinnamon, really amazing depth here, with just a touch of charcoal to add some smokiness. The body pumps things up further, layering on notes of orange peel, cloves, and gentle dusty lumber notes. The ultimate impact isn’t exactly complex, but it is well balanced and features a wealth of happily integrated flavors. The finish is moderately long and soothing, blending sweet and spice together in a wholly satisfying way that ultimately shows, hell, this is why so many people love Jack Daniel’s.

Reviewed: Rick L-14, Barrel M-5425, Bottled 9-23-14. 94 proof.

A- / $45 / jackdaniels.com

Review: Rabbit Electric Corkscrew

Opening a bottle of wine by pulling the cork is part of a longstanding ritual, but everything evolves with the times. (Hello, screw cap!) For some, working a manual corkscrew — even a fancy one like a Rabbit — just isn’t a possibility. Enter alternatives like the Rabbit Electric, which are designed to make the process a lot easier, through the power of electricity.

Rabbit Rechargable Electric CorkscrewThe Rabbit Electric is a long tube of a device, about a foot long. You charge it through an AC adapter (included, along with a manual foil cutter), and a full charge is said to be good for 30 bottles of wine. (20 seems closer to reality, though.)

To use it, just plop the Rabbit on top of a bottle — after the foil has been removed — then press the “down” button. A screw descends into the cork and then extracts it from the bottle in one smooth motion. I timed the process at about 8 seconds with each bottle I tried. Add another 6 or 7 seconds to extract the cork from the device.

Online reviews for the Rabbit Electric are savage, but I didn’t have any real problems with the device. Some complain that it won’t fit atop bottles with wide necks, but I didn’t encounter this issue. Others complained that the screw doesn’t go in straight, but again I never had an issue. It even handled bottles that had a layer of wax on top of the corks without much trouble. Corks came out clean and easy, though, yes, you do have to use a second hand to hold the bottle.

That said, using the Rabbit Electric is hardly the most romantic way to open a bottle of wine. The plaintive wheeze of the motor is probably not the mood setter you’re looking for when you’re preparing a fancy dinner for your wife on date night — but then again, she probably doesn’t want to see you writhing on the floor with a hernia from trying to pull out a cork by hand, either.

B+ / $45 / [BUY IT FROM AMAZON]

Review: Glory Irish Poitin

IrishGloryPoitin-0This poitin — Ireland’s answer to moonshine — comes from West Cork Distillers, whose aged whiskeys we reviewed a few months back. Pot-distilled from barley and beet sugar, it is bottled without aging.

The nose of Glory is incredibly pungent. Strong notes of fuel hit first, touched with just a bit of sweet vanilla. The body arrives with a rush of heat, more petrol notes, and some earthier notes — tree bark, forest floor, and a bit of mushroom. Some sweetness creeps in, but it’s hard to place specifically. Burnt sugar? Clove-dusted doughnuts? Who can say?

Poitin is rarely an elevated drinking experience, and Glory comes across largely as expected — on par with the white whiskey experience but dusted with a touch of sweet stuff.

80 proof.

C+ / $25 / mswalker.com

Drinking in Dublin: Guinness Storehouse and Teeling Whiskey

Howdy, everyone. Just back from the British Isles, where I spent nearly two weeks exploring Ireland and Scotland, two of the lands whose names are inexorably linked with the world of whiskey. This is the second of two travel pieces on major drinking attractions across the pond — this one focusing specifically on the city of Dublin.

Ireland boasts a handful of distilleries, but they are spread all around the island and visiting them takes quite a bit of doing. We devoted our time in Ireland largely to Dublin (with one day trip to the countryside by bus), but you can do a lot of boozy exploration without having to venture far from the city center.

In addition to a wealth of pubs and whiskey bars, Dublin boasts at least three attractions dedicated to drink. I skipped one of them, the “Old Jameson Distillery,” which is really just a museum and not a working still. Locals regard it as a tourist trap, so I focused on these two spots, both of which I heartily recommend visiting.

Guinness Storehouse

Dublin is the home of Guinness, and the Guinness Storehouse is the mecca for all fans of this archetypal stout. Yes it is chock full of tourists. Yes it is still well worth visiting.

The Storehouse is part museum, part experience, located adjacent to the brewery itself, which is a massive sprawling area that spans a couple of city blocks. Inside the Storehouse you’ll access a multi-story tour about how Guinness is made, and your ticket will also get you at least a pint or two of Guinness to enjoy while you’re making the rounds. The top floor, called the Gravity Bar, boasts panoramic views of all of Dublin. It’s extremely crowded, though; better to spend your time in the bar two stories below, where you are taught how to pour the perfect pint — and get to pull one for yourself to test your skills.

True enthusiasts will want to upgrade to the Connoisseur VIP experience, which comprises a 90-minute tasting of all of Guinness’s major versions worldwide, including a history lesson and a deep dive into the company that you won’t get from the standard tour. After the tasting, you’re set loose behind the bar — and when it’s all over you get to pick your favorite bottling to take with you on the road. Feel free to take it up to one of the three restaurants and enjoy it with your lunch — the Beef and Guinness Stew was one of the best I had during my time there.

Bottom line: Whether you like Guinness or not, don’t miss this experience.

Teeling Whiskey Company

Jack Teeling is an official Friend of Drinkhacker, and his distillery — the first to operate in Dublin since 1976 — just opened for visitors in May. Teeling Whiskey Company is still building out its tourist experience, but visitors are welcome to take a brief tour and taste some of the company’s products. At present, everything Teeling is bottling is sourced from other distilleries, but you can watch new-make spirit being produced now. Eventually this juice running from these stills will comprise the core of the Teeling product line.

We had a private tour with Jack and master distiller Alex Chasko, where we tasted Teeling’s standard lineup — widely available in every bar in Dublin — and some of its very rare limited edition releases. My hands-down favorite: The 26 Year Old Single Malt, which is finished in white burgundy casks for three years, an elegant whiskey that showcases the delicacy of Irish by infusing it with florals, gentle heather, and light citrus fruit notes. The fragrant, white flower finish almost makes you forget about the €450 price tag.

Also on hand at the tasting was one of the first bottlings of Teeling’s new Single Malt Single Cask offering. Seven different casks are being bottled — with different wood types and different age statements — and I managed to bring one home for a formal review. Stay tuned — and make sure you tell Teeling I sent you if you drop by.

Don’t miss the first part of this travelogue… Scotland!

Review: Bacardi Gran Reserva Maestro de Ron

bacardi maestro

“Gran Reserva.” “Maestro de Ron.” These are terms that one would expect to see applied to a dark, old, well-aged rum, but Bacardi is taking the unusual step of slapping them on its latest release, a white rum.

Bacardi Gran Reserva Maestro de Ron is “designed to elevate the simple cocktail experience” and is intended as “the ultimate white mixing rum.” As with most white rums, it is aged in white oak, then filtered to white — though Maestro de Ron is said to be “double aged” — each barrel is aged for at least one year, then the barrels are married and aged again for a further three months.

That aside, the results are fine and the rum is capable, if less inspired than the name might imply.

The nose of this spirit — not quite white but rather the palest shade of gold — strikes familiar white rum chords. Hefty vanilla notes with a modest touch of fuel-like character give it that unmistakable Bacardi aroma. On the palate, the vanilla is backed up with more traditional white rum notes, including ripe banana, pencil shavings, coconut husk, and a touch of cinnamon — for the most part they are all flavors that would play nicely in tropical cocktails.

On its own, Bacardi Maestro isn’t altogether that exciting. It’s got too much of a bitter edge, particularly on the finish, which tends to highlight the petrol character a bit too clearly. There’s nothing wrong with a little funk in a white rum, particularly at this completely reasonable price level, but you’ll probably want to use it as intended — in cocktails, rather than by itself.

80 proof.

B / $25 / bacardi.com