Author Archives: Christopher Null

Review: Milagro Tequila UNICO Edicion II

unico 2 milagro 525x759 Review: Milagro Tequila UNICO Edicion II

Two years ago, Tequila Milagro aimed to reinvent tequila with UNICO, a $300 blend of blanco and aged tequilas that had been filtered back to white — a technique born in the rum world that is exploding in popularity with tequila, too.

1,200 bottles were produced — and sealed in impossibly elaborate decanters — and surely these sold out quickly. Now Milagro is back with UNICO II — unico edicion dos — made using basically the same process: “aged silver tequila with rare barrel-aged reposado and añejo reserves, creating a super-premium joven blend.”

How does the 2014 expression of UNICO fare? We tried it so you don’t have to spend $60 a shot to find out.

Very pale yellow in color, the nose of UNICO II is one of a solid, well-aged reposado or possibly an anejo tequila. Classic vanilla and caramel mixes with a bit of bite of agave, creating a rather enchanting opening statement. The body is sultry — lemon pepper, marshmallow, lightly browned sugar, and a healthy slug of racy agave on the back end. The finish is vegetal and clearly, classically tequila, with just the slightest tempering of sugar syrup.

Overall this is an improvement over the 2012 expression of UNICO, but frankly it remains a simplistic rendition of the spirit, as my limited tasting notes might indicate. By filtering out all the color-bearing solids, I fear Milagro takes with it a lot of the flavor of those “rare reposado and anejo reserves,” leaving behind, basically, water and alcohol. Why not leave this at its natural color?

Anyway. The bigger issue here is, of course, the obvious one: 300 bucks can go an awfully long way toward buying some amazing tequila. Or you can get this pretty crazy bottle. YOU DECIDE.

80 proof. 1,500 bottles produced.

B+ / $300 / milagrotequila.com

Review: Fall 2014 Pumpkin Beer Blowout

October is here, and that means everyone and his sister is putting pumpkin into beer in honor of the arrival of autumn. For some, pumpkin brews are something they wait for urgently all year long. For others, a pumpkin beer is something you enjoy precisely once and quietly wait for the season to pass. For me, I’m somewhere in the middle… mainly because it depends on what’s inside the specific bottle.

Here’s a look at four new pumpkin beers vying for your gourdly attention this fall.

Magic Hat Wilhelm Scream Pumpkin Ale – If you aren’t familiar with the Wilhelm Scream, you can read all about it here. I expect that will not alter your enjoyment of Magic Hat’s first ever pumpkin beer in any way, though. This ale drinks with burly, brown, fall-friendly flavors, only one of which is a dusting of pumpkin. Cloves and cinnamon, ginger, and some earthier notes tend to dominate. Overall it’s quite dry, with chewy, nougaty maltiness pushing through to the finish. 5.4% abv. B / $9 per 6-pack

Red Hook Out of Your Gourd Pumpkin Porter – A spiced dark ale made with maple syrup, this is a very dark and brooding brew, quite the opposite of the relatively light bodied Wilhelm Scream. Deeply malty, the maple syrup adds a viscosity to the beer that coats the mouth like a barrel-aged porter. The clove character is on point here, but any sense of pumpkin is pushed well into the background. For fans of traditional, British-style dark brews. 5.8% abv. B / $10 per 6-pack

Alaskan Brewing Co. Pumpkin Porter – Quite bitter, but almost gooey with raw malt syrup notes. The malt overpowers anything else in the beer — including brown sugar and burnt pumpkin notes that don’t quite integrate with the rest of the beer. Difficult balance, with a finish that is not at all refreshing. Save for winter. 7% abv. C+ / $1.60 per bottle

21st Amendment/Elysian He Said Baltic-Style Porter – Collaborative brew project. An epic alco-bomb (and a lager, by the way) with a nose further from anything autumnal than the rest of the lineup here. Lots of malt, wood and cardboard notes, wet earth, mushroom, and some green vegetable notes. No pumpkin character to speak of. 8.2% abv. C / $9 per 4-pack (cans)

Tasting Report: Rosso Montefalco and Montefalco Sagrantino, 2014 Releases

2003MontefalcoRosso btl 91x300 Tasting Report: Rosso Montefalco and Montefalco Sagrantino, 2014 ReleasesWelcome to Montefalco, “the balcony of Umbria” in the backyard of Tuscany. Montefalco is a relatively little-known wine region in the U.S., known primarily as the birthplace and home of Sagrantino, a grape that thrives in the hills of this area. Sagrantino (from “sacrament,” called thusly because dried Sagrantino grapes have been used by monks to produce raisin-based wines for centuries) makes for a massive, classically Italian wine. It is said that Sagrantino wines have some of the highest levels of tannins in any commercially produced wine in the world, so feel free to open these well before you drink them and watch them evolve in the glass.

A recent virtual tasting put on by the Consorzio Tutela Vini Montefalco and broadcast from the heart of Montefalco let us Americans sample a collection of eight recent vintages — four pure Sagrantino bottlings and four Montefalco Rosso bottlings. (Montefalco Rosso is a blend that typically includes heavy Sangiovese and a smaller proportion of Sagrantino, among other international varietals.)

Thoughts on the eight wines — exhibiting some remarkably similar DNA while showing off unique flourishes here and there — which were sampled follow.

2010 Le Cimate Montefalco Rosso DOC – 60% Sangiovese, 15% Merlot, 15% Sangrantino, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. A touch of barnyard on the nose doesn’t mar an otherwise fun, fruity Rosso. Bright cherry and strawberry notes attack up front, with more earthy elements taking hold on the back end. Shortish, drying finish. B / $20

2010 Arnaldo Caprai Montefalco Rosso DOC – 70% Sangiovese, 15% Sagrantino, 15% Merlot. Firing on all cylinders, this Rosso features a well-balanced body that keeps baking spices, dried fruits, tobacco, and fresh cherries all in check. Long finish, with the herbal notes rising to the top. Quite food friendly. A- / $22

2010 Antonelli Montefalco Rosso DOC – 65% Sangiovese, 15% Sangrantino, 10% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. Sedate and undemanding, this lightly vegetal Rosso drinks without much fuss, a steady wine that brings fennel, licorice, rosemary, and thyme to the forefront. Very compacted fruit on the back end, as the wine plays everything close to the vest. B / $18

2010 Tenute Lunelli Ziggurat Montefalco Rosso DOC – 70% Sangiovese, 15% Sagrantino, 15% Cabernet/Merlot.Dry but balanced with fruit, this wine features notes of violet mingled with its blackberry core. Vanilla and strawberry notes emerge over time. This one’s well balanced and easy to enjoy either on its own or with a meal. A- / $15

2008 Scacciadiavoli Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG – Initially very austere and restrained. Intense herbal character, almost bitter with tree bark and root notes. Given significant time the wine opens up to reveal blackberry notes, plums, and a little brown sugar — but its huge bramble and balsamic character dominates through the finish. Hearty as all get out. B+ / $40

2009 Tenuta Bellafonte Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG – Immediately more fruit up front, with some barnyard notes in the background. In the glass, the wine develops more of a fruit punch character to it, with plum and cran-apple flavors evolving. The finish shows tannin, but is nowhere near as overwhelming as the Scacciadiavoli. B / $50

2010 Romanelli Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG - Quite an enchanting nose — floral and fruity. Clear floral notes on the palate, with notes of violets and strawberry. The chewy, tannic finish takes things more to licorice than balsamic. B+ / $37

2009 Perticaia Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG – Heady aromas of blueberry and some baking spice. The sweetest wine of the bunch by a longshot, which is a huge help in cutting through the tannin, which grows on the back end as the wine develops on the palate. Notes of eucalyptus leaf and menthol find their way into the finish. B+ / $40

consorziomontefalco.it

Review: Wilderness Trail Distillery Harvest Rum

harvest rum 525x787 Review: Wilderness Trail Distillery Harvest Rum

How’s this for unique? Harvest Rum is made by Kentucky-based Wilderness Trail Distillery from molasses made from cane sorghum grown right on the company’s own farm. The rum is then aged in used Four Roses bourbon barrels for “several” months.

It’s tough to imagine more of a “bourbon drinker’s rum,” and Harvest is indeed surprisingly whiskeylike. The nose isn’t immediately evocative of either spirit, a curious mix of green papaya, peanut butter, and saltwater taffy. The body kicks in with some bubble gum, vanilla cookies, and light hospital character… then the sweetness fades as the more woody astringency comes to the forefront. The finish is bittersweet and lightly chocolatey, with strong black pepper overtones.

Harvest says this drinks like a bourbon and finishes with a rum, but I think they’ve got it backwards. I found the more candylike rum characteristics at the start, with the more wood-driven notes (which I more closely associate with whiskey) on the back end. Your mileage my vary. Either way, it’s fun to take the drive.

95 proof. Reviewed: Batch #1. (Proof level will vary among batches.)

B+ / $20 (375ml) / wildernesstracedistillery.com

Review: Highland Park Dark Origins

HP Dark Origins bottle 750ml HR 525x783 Review: Highland Park Dark Origins

Welcome to the family, Dark Origins. Here’s a new expression from Highland Park that nods (so they say) at the company’s founder, Magnus Eunson.

The Dark Origins in question actually refer to the use of sherry casks for maturation. Compared to standard expressions of Highland Park, Dark Origins uses double the number of sherry casks than Highland Park 12 Year Old in the vatting, giving it a darker, deeper color. Dark Origins does not bear an age statement, though it will be replacing Highland Park 15 Year Old on the market around the end of the year.

This is a beautiful but quite punchy expression of Highland Park, very dissimilar to other HP bottlings. The extra sherry makes it drink like a substantially more mature, almost bossy spirit. The nose is lightly smoky like all classic Highland Park expressions, with honeyed undercurrents, but tons of sherry up top give it an almost bruising orange oil component. On the tongue the smokiness quickly fades as notes of orange peel, wood oil and leather, old wood staves, and toasted walnuts pick up the slack. Let’s be totally clear here: It is strongly, austerely woody and tannic, with HP’s signature fruitiness dialed way back. Candylike marshmallow and intense sherry notes arrive later on the finish, along with some maritime character, giving Dark Origins a complex, but chewier, dessert-like finish.

All told, as noted above, it comes across like an older expression — which is really the point of using extra first-fill sherry casks — with more smokiness, more sherry flavor, and more tannin than you tend to get with Highland Park 18 and older expressions. Lots of fun, and lots to talk about as you explore it: Is this too much of a departure for Highland Park, or just what the doctor ordered for the brand? Discuss amongst yourselves.

93.6 proof.

A- / $80 / highlandpark.co.uk

Preview: Cognac Lheraud Cuvee 20 and 1974 Vintage

011 525x393 Preview: Cognac Lheraud Cuvee 20 and 1974 Vintage

Cuvee Lheraud (lerr-oh) is a family-owned Cognac producer that makes a million bottles of brandy every year all from its estate vineyards. And you’ve never heard of them, because until now they have not sold products in the United States.

This fall, Lheraud arrives on U.S. shores, bringing its unique spin on Cognac to our esteemed shores. While it makes single-vintage editions much like many other high-end producers, it also takes the same approach to its higher-end non-vintage dated blends. As Export Manager Francois Rebel explained to me on a recent visit to San Francisco to introduce the brand, the various cuvee bottlings, including the 20 year old Cuvee 20, are made from casks of exactly that age. This year’s Cuvee 20 was made from casks distilled in 1994. Next year it’ll be 1995 casks, and so on. Doesn’t this cause a problem with consistency from year to 0131 300x225 Preview: Cognac Lheraud Cuvee 20 and 1974 Vintageyear, if you can’t blend from other vintages to achieve a flavor profile that doesn’t vary from year to year? Yes. But that’s the way we do it, says Rebel. Some years customers may not like the changes, but “Lheraud does not blend.”

Neat idea, though I could never get a clear explanation of why the Cuvee 20 doesn’t indicate it’s a Cuvee 20 distilled in 1994 — which would seem to boost sales. Ah, the French!

Rebel tasted me on two of the distillery’s upcoming releases, and my thoughts are below. Note: Our sampling was quite limited to small tastes, so these should be considered preview descriptions and ratings and not canonical reviews. Prices are estimated based on overseas pricing. Will update with official pricing when it is available.

Cognac Lheraud Cuvee 20 (2014 Bottling) – Made from grapes from the Petite Champagne region. Classic style for a Cognac this age, light incense and raisin notes atop a sweet core that offers oaky, almond, and honey notes on the palate. Easy to like. 86 proof. B+ / $70

Cognac Lheraud 1974 Vintage – Made from Grand Champagne-grown grapes. A 40 year old bottling, bottled at cask strength — unusual for any Cognac. More exotic on the nose than the Cuvee 20, it offers darker chocolate and nut character, dark raisins, dried figs, and drying, resinous oak on the finish. Less sweet than the Cuvee, but it still has plenty of sugar to go around. Complex and worthwhile. 98 proof. A / $500+

cognac-lheraud.com

Free Tickets to SF Chouffe Fest – Oct. 23, 2014

Hey beer fans in the Bay Area! Want to get your chouffe on at Chouffe Fest? We’ve got a pair of tickets. Just email us from your preferred email address — to contest4@drinhacker.com — and we’ll send a pair to a randomly selected winner.

Contest ends at noon on October 13, 2014!

Review: Warsteiner Premium Dunkel

warsteiner dunkel 101x300 Review: Warsteiner Premium DunkelOktoberfest is nigh, and that means Oktober-centric brews are hitting the market in force. First out of the gate is this dunkel from Warsteiner, a Munich-style lager brewed in Warstein, Germany. It’s actually a year-round brew but is aimed toward fall/winter drinking.

Roasted malt defines this beer, giving it a toasty, almost smoky character up front. Sweetness builds from there, with the beer developing a juicy. syrupy quality to it, with plum-flavored overtones. The finish is lasting but heavy on mouth-coating jam, with just a touch of bitter hops to add complexity.

Overall, it’s a decent enough beer but nothing I’d go out of my way to experience — even if there are big pretzels, oompah bands, and dancing girls.

4.8% abv.

B / $10 per six-pack / warsteiner.us

Celebrating 60 Years with Wild Turkey’s Jimmy Russell

Hey, look who dropped into San Francisco on the eve of WhiskyFest! It’s Jimmy and Eddie Russell, the co-master distillers at Wild Turkey. Over toasts and samples of a variety of WT expressions — including the Diamond Anniversary edition, which is now making its way to the west coast — the duo talked Old Time Kentucky, ponies, houseboats, and, of course, Bourbon-makin’. (Did you know: Eddie Russell claims Wild Turkey is the only major distillery not using GMO grains? That the inventor of Bourbon, Elijah Craig, was a Southern Baptist minister? That Wild Turkey has used the same yeast strain since 1954?)

While Eddie vowed that after his storied father finally retires, “I promise I will never change Wild Turkey 101,” he did speak about some new products coming down the pipe. Among them are Sting, a (likely) limited edition version of Wild Turkey American Honey infused with ghost pepper. As well, Russell Jr. notes that they didn’t use up all the 16-year-old casks to make the Diamond Anniversary bottlings — so watch for a possible 17-year-old expression of Turkey come 2015.

Congrats, Jimmy!

Review: South Bay Rum

south bay rum 122x300 Review: South Bay RumHere’s a decidedly unique approach to crafting a rum. South Bay Rum is made from molasses in the Dominican Republic, aged and blended in the solera style. The catch is in the barrels used for the aging: South Bay uses a collection of casks that previously contained bourbon, sherry, port, or single malt Scotch whisky, an approach I’ve never quite heard used in the rum world.

Results are typical of moderately aged rums, with some nuanced edges that makes it fun to experience. On the nose, burnt marshmallows and dark caramel sauce dominate. The body keeps things sweet at first, tempering this with citrus notes, juicy raisins, green banana, and baking spices.

Don’t get me wrong. There are hints of many of the casks used here — those port-driven raisin notes the strongest evidence of something out of the ordinary being done — but overall this is still distinctively rum through and through, its molasses core remaining the clear focus. Alas, all good things must come to an end. The finish is long and quite drying, with a lasting raisiny edge that begs for another sip to bring the sweetness back to life.

80 proof. Reviewed: Batch L.2112.

A- / $28 / southbayrum.com

Review: Laphroaig Select Single Malt Whisky

laphroaig select 525x700 Review: Laphroaig Select Single Malt Whisky

Another step in the “NAS” (no age statement) movement that’s sweeping the whisky world, Laphroaig Select is a new expression from the Islay standby that is deathly devoid of numerics.

Laphroaig’s approach with this release is an interesting one, taking a variety of styles of the whiskies in its stable and mixing them all together. Select was made from a mix of Quarter Cask, PX Cask, Triple Wood, and straight 10 Year Old barrels. During development, six different blends were produced from these four spirits, after which Laphroaig fans voted on their favorite. They picked this one — and even chose the name, Select, which is at once incredibly boring and surprisingly descriptive.

It’s a fine little Scotch, even if it’s unlikely to knock your socks off. Here’s how it presents itself.

It’s straight up smoky peat on the nose, with some barnyard notes, giving Select a rather rustic character, at least at the start. The body is easier than the olfactory build-up would indicate. Dry and restrained, it offers hints of old sherry blended with waxy candle smoke, giving the spirit a bit of a holiday feel, with indistinct vanilla and baking spice notes coming along as the finish builds. As with any Laphroaig expression, ashy peat notes dominate the spirit from front to back, but with Select the distillery dials things back a bit to reveal a kinder, gentler Laphroaig that novice Islay drinkers will likely find approachable, but which peat-drinking veterans will still be able to enjoy.

B+ / $60 / laphroaig.com

Review: Jura Brooklyn Scotch Whisky

Jura Brooklyn white background 525x837 Review: Jura Brooklyn Scotch Whisky

Scotch distillers continue to take oddball twists and turns. For Jura, its latest adventure brought it from the Isle of Jura and landed it in Brooklyn, New York. Jura Brooklyn is a dramatic bespoke single malt with a bizarre provenance. Here’s the deets:

In 2013, Jura brought together 12 respected Brooklyn artisans to co-collaborate on Kings County’s first single malt Scotch whisky. As the rule-breaker of the Scotch whisky world, Jura was long intrigued by Brooklyn, a geography that similarly defies convention. Jura’s rogue of a Master Distiller, Mr. Willie Tait, traveled across the Atlantic to the streets of Williamsburg, Park Slope, Bushwick and every neighborhood in between, with one objective: to craft a world-class single malt Scotch, chosen by and for the people of Brooklyn.

Tait met with his hand-picked team (Bedford Cheese Shop, Brooklyn Winery, The Richardson, Post Office, Fine & Raw, New York City Food Truck Association, BAM, Brooklyn Brewery, Noorman’s Kil, Vimbly, Buttermilk Channel and Brooklyn Magazine) in New York’s famed borough, armed with six different cask samples each reflecting the distinctive flavors of Brooklyn’s heritage (such as BBQ, Egg Cream and Artisanal Chocolate). During a series of blending sessions held in Brooklyn, the collaborators tasted different whisky marriages paired with fried chicken, artisanal cheese and fine chocolates, finally arriving at a whisky by Brooklyn, for Brooklyn.

Jura Brooklyn has been aged up to 16 years in American White Oak Bourbon, Amoroso Sherry and Pinot Noir casks.

In tasting Brooklyn, it seems the borough likes it nice and mild. Jura’s new creation is quiet on the nose. Lightly smoky, it exhibits simple cereal notes with the lightest hints of coffee bean. Aromas fade quickly, leaving behind just smoky wisps like an extinguished candle. On the palate, the sherry cask elements become clearer, while the smokier elements take on a more maritime tone, laced with seaweed and iodine. The finish is short, with a focus on honeyed shortbread, ash, and a hint of sweaty dog. Sadly it stands in the shadow of more flavorful, richer competitors… maybe a bit like Brooklyn itself. (Sorry, Brooklynites! Don’t throw things!)

84 proof.

B / $80 / jurawhisky.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Tasting Report: Cinsault Wines from Lodi’s Bechthold Vineyard, 2014 Releases

Cinsault may not be a household wine varietal, but they sure seem to grow a bunch of it up in Lodi, located at the foot of the Sierra Nevada. Recently the Lodi winemaking trade group sponsored a tasting of four Cinsault wines, all from the region’s Bechthold Vineyard.

Primarily known as a blending grape in the Languedoc region of France, Cinsault makes for surprisingly soft and fruity wines, often with a dash (or more) of spice. It lies somewhere between Pinot Noir and Zinfandel. As another point of reference, Cinsault and Pinot Noir were crossed to make Pinotage, the unofficial national grape of South Africa.

The four wines below demonstrate how widely variable wines made from this grape can be — even those made from grapes grown in the same vineyard. Thoughts follow.

2013 Turley Cinsault Bechtoldt Vineyard Lodi – Immediately spicy on the nose — cinnamon and ginger, unusual qualities in any wine — with tons of fruit. Strawberries and crisp rhubarb burst forth, with a long, slightly sweet finish. Most would guess this is Pinot. Either way, it’s lots of fun. [sic] on the spelling of the vineyard name on the label. A / $17

2013 Michael David Ancient Vine Cinsault Bechthold Vineyard - Dense and chocolaty, easily mistaken for Zinfandel. Earthy and lightly smoky, the only thing connecting this to the Turley is the strawberry at its core — but here it is more like strawberry jam or preserves. A much different, but compelling, wine. B+ / $25

2012 Estate Crush Cinsault Bechthold Vineyard – A more middle-of-the-road wine, offering a blend of jammy fruit and a dusting of baking spices. Strawberry is the clear fruit component here, pulling you into a vanilla-infused finish. B+ / $26

2011 Onesta Cinsault Bechthold Vineyard – A more brooding wine, somewhere between the prior two wines in intensity and depth of flavor. Give it a few minutes in the glass and plenty of strawberry notes come forward, along with ample chocolate and caramel character, adding nuance. Definitely a wine that would work with dessert — but also with the main course. Worthwhile. A- / $29

Dispatch from the 2014 Lake Tahoe Autumn Food and Wine Festival

Autumn wasn’t technically with us in late August, but that didn’t stop the folks at Northstar Resort in Lake Tahoe, California, from putting on a grandiose wine and food festival. Now in its 29th year, the Lake Tahoe Autumn Food and Wine Festival is a multi-day event that combines a walk-around tasting with focused events that let you dive into various topics.

A session that paired beer and cheese was a fun and unusual way to approach the dairy-driven topic. While a few of the pairings were a bust, all of the cheeses were great, and most of the beers — primarily offerings from Goose Island — were refreshing on a hot day on the mountain.

Later that evening, Charbay hosted a spirits and caviar event, pairing vodka and tequila and cocktails made from both with caviar samplings and various dishes from Tsar Nicoulai Caviar Company. A lengthy session — we started famished but finished full of fish eggs and Charbay spirits.

The final day of the festival focuses on the food and wine en masse, with 20-some booths each featuring a winery (or beer company) and a restaurant serving a small bite. I left that afternoon stuffed to the gills from bites both mundane (sliders) to exotic (rabbit, crudo, venison, and more). The wines here included a strange mix of stuff from all over the world, but my personal highlights were offerings from Pride, Mutt Lynch, Hahn, and Handley. The event is competitive. Full winners can be found here.

I took some photos over the two days I was there. Enjoy, and let’s all head to Tahoe for the event in 2015!

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Review: Coppersea New York Raw Rye

Coppersea Bottle Shot photo by John McJunkin 71x300 Review: Coppersea New York Raw RyeCoppersea Distilling is a new upstate New York-based craft distiller that’s doing things the old-fashioned way. Based on a farm in the Hudson Valley, the grains are grown locally, floor malted and milled on the premises, distilled, then blended with on-site well water.

With this product, the end result is an unaged rye (75% unmalted rye, 25% malted barley) — a rustic yet surprisingly refined spirit, which master distiller Angus MacDonald describes thusly: “The Raw Rye is what you would have gotten if, around 1825 to 1880, you walked into a bar in upstate New York, and said: whisky.” Just imagine: Frontier drinking right in the backyard of bustling Manhattan!

Cereal notes attack the nostrils from the start, but it’s touched with just a hint of honeycomb and golden syrup. The body builds on that, adding layers of complexity that I hadn’t thought I’d find. Notes of flinty stonework, mustard seed, tahini, and some burnt caramel character follow. That’s a lot to swallow, but Coppersea turns a melange of flavors into a fairly cohesive whole — at least for a white whiskey. You won’t escape that brash youthfulness here, but sometimes that’s not such a bad thing.

90 proof. Best with some water.

B+ / $70 / coppersea.com

Review: anCnoc Rutter and Flaughter Single Malts

ancnoc 2 525x742 Review: anCnoc Rutter and Flaughter Single Malts

anCnoc (pronounced a-NOCK) is the whisky produced by the Knockdu distillery, presumably called thus because “Knockdu” was too easy to spell and pronounce.*

anCnoc, a Highland producer right on the edge of Speyside, is known for its unpeated spirits, but now it’s hitting the market with a quartet of peated expressions. These whiskies, all named after peat cutting and working tools, are known as anCnoc’s “peaty range.” The two not reviewed here includ Cutter and Tushkar (which is only available in Sweden). Rutter and Flaughter, which we sampled, are the two least-peated whiskies in the range.

No age statements on these, just pictures of funky shovels, which are just as good. Thoughts follow.

anCnoc Rutter Highland Single Malt – Peated to 11ppm, giving this a sweetly smoky toasted-marshmallow character on the nose. Initially quite sweet on the palate, it also offers notes of red bell pepper, almond, and plenty of candy bar nougat. It’s a simple spirit, but fun enough for an evening tipple — and well suited for fall drinking. 92 proof. B+

anCnoc Flaughter Highland Single Malt – Peated to 14.8ppm, but I find this to be a softer expression of peated malt. The nose is milder, with more cereal notes than smoky ones. The body brings that peaty character to the forefront quickly, offering a classic island-style composition that blends wood fire smoke with a fruity, almost tropical finish. Touches of iodine on the back end. 92 proof. B+

each $85 / ancnoc.com/peaty

* Actually to avoid confusion with Knockando.

Review: 2011 Faust Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

Faust bottle shotnovintage 200x300 Review: 2011 Faust Cabernet Sauvignon Napa ValleyFaust’s latest Cab is ready to go today. Gentle menthol notes mix with overtones of rhubarb and a touch of vanilla. The body starts off with a touch of vegetal character, but this dissolves into more classic Napa Cab notes: rich currants, chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry on the back end. Long and fruit-forward finish, with those vanilla notes working remarkably well with the wine’s minty menthol character.

Faust: It’s Goethe stuff!

A- / $40 / faustwine.com

Review: Wines of Benessere, 2014 Releases

Benessere is a small, family-owned vineyard and winery in St. Helena, where it focuses heavily on estate-grown grapes. Specifically, Italian varietals and Zinfandel dominate the bill. Today we look at a selection of five wines from the company. Thoughts follow.

2013 Benessere Rosato di Sangiovese Estate St. Helena Vineyard – Let this rose warm a bit before tucking into it. Straight from the fridge you’ll find it overbearing with astringency and hospital notes. With some air and warmth it reveals lots of strawberry, lychee, green banana, and mandarin orange notes. The finish is off, but it still works well enough. B / $18

2012 Benessere Sangiovese Estate St. Helena Vineyard – Lush and exciting, this is an easy-drinking wine that’s stuffed with sangiovese’s signature cherry notes, but also vanilla notes, wet earth, and gentle tannins to give it structure. A- / $32

2012 Benessere Zinfandel Collins Holystone St. Helena Vineyard – An old vine Zin, this wine initially attacks the palate with overwhelming sweetness, but eventually it settles into a highly drinkable rhythm, lush with jammy plums and raspberries, tempered with chocolate sauce notes, but it pulls out enough refinement enough to work with a hearty meal. B+ / $35

2012 Benessere Zinfandel Black Glass Estate St. Helena Vineyard – A more vegetal showing of Zin, its fruit demolished by a thin body that has a weedy, earthy funk to it. B- / $35

2012 Benessere Moscato di Canelli Napa Valley “Scintillare” – Standard-grade sweet moscato, orange oil studded with some hospital notes. Lots of honey, short finish. B / $25 (375ml)

benesserevineyards.com

Review: Germain-Robin Old & Rare Brandy Barrel 351

craft distillers barrel 351 525x350 Review: Germain Robin Old & Rare Brandy Barrel 351

Craft Distillers has made just 120 bottles of this brandy under the Germain-Robin label, all from a single cask of 26 year old spirit of 100% pinot noir — grown in a Mendocino vineyard that no longer exists. In its online notes, Germain-Robin calls this perhaps its “finest distillate” and notes its “almost feral intensity.”

That’s a completely apt description of this complicated spirit, a brandy that drinks with impressive complexity and depth. The nose is restrained fruit — apricots, peaches, and plums — tempered with austere oak and notes of what might pass for apple cider vinegar. Things rachet up as you tuck into actually drinking the thing. The body is downright beastly with intense notes of wood planks, caramel sauce, baked apples, and flamed orange peels. Dark chocolate and some nutty notes emerge as the finish develops, with this brandy’s intense, old fruit character ultimately taking another complex turn toward the dark and brooding.

A small sample will never get to the complexities of this spirit, and it can initially be so daunting that it’s off-putting to really dig into. Give it the time to show you it’s charms. After all, you will have paid dearly to see them.

90.6 proof.

A- / $600 / craftdistillers.com

Review: El Luchador Organic Tequila 110 Proof

el luchador tequila 473x1200 Review: El Luchador Organic Tequila 110 Proof

Tapatio 110 isn’t the only overproof tequila in the game. Now comes El Luchador, a tequila from David Ravandi that also hits the 110 proof mark.

El Luchador (“the wrestler”) is made from organic agave, single estate grown. Grown at 4,200 feet, the agave hails from the upper reaches of what is considered a Lowlands spirit. Individually numbered and bottled in antique-looking recycled glass bottles, the masked Mexican wrestler on the label makes quite an impression before you ever crack into it.

This is heavily overproof tequila, so naturally it’s appropriately racy on the nose, stuffed with agave, lemon pepper, and fresh sea salt. On a second sampling, I found a lot more citrus than I’d originally expected. (Citrus notes are a hallmark of Lowlands tequilas.)

The palate is rich and powerful, as you’d expect from a 110 proof spirit, but also silky-sweet with notes of nougat and coconut — with a growing character of cinnamon-inflected horchata. It is not “too hot” at all, and drinks surprisingly easily with no water added. The agave notes build on the finish, offering white pepper, lemongrass, and soothing touches of mint as it fades. The cinnamon sticks around for quite a while, helping to spice up the finish.

Altogether El Luchador offers a lovely, creamy complexion with a nice balance of the sweet and savory, making it both exciting and quite complicated for a blanco.

Arriving this fall.

A- / $45 / website under construction