Review: Vodka Mariette

vodka marietteMade in Bordeaux, Vodka Mariette is as striking on the palate as it is in the body. How’s it made? Not unlike many a vodka on the market today. To wit:

Vodka Mariette is distilled 5x in Bordeaux using only French, GMO-free whole wheat and water from the Ambes Spring. Volcanic rock from the Eocene Era coats the floor of this spring and deionizes the water.

The Eocene Era, people!

Mariette is a bright and clean vodka, one of the most pristine I’ve had in quite awhile. On the nose — there’s almost nothing. Light medicinal notes, light citrus, and just a touch of butterscotch. On the palate, again it’s very clean with just a bit of sweet cream on the body. From there, a little vanilla and a hint of lime zest are really the only notes that manage to push through an otherwise shockingly neutral experience. Those looking for a racy Old World vodka won’t care for it, but fans of a crystalline and pure vodka will have trouble finding anything more worthwhile.

And it looks like a pepper mill. What’s not to like?

Three flavored expressions (not reviewed here) are also available.

80 proof.

A / $30 / vodkamariette.com

Review: Chivas Regal Extra

Chivas Extra

Chivas? Yes, Chivas! And the brand is back with its first new blend in the U.S. in eight years: Chivas Extra.

Extra is made from Chivas’s collection of traditional malts and grain whiskies — including Strathisla single malt — that is finished in Oloroso sherry casks. The resulting spirit, positioned as a step up from the $25 Chivas 12 Year Old, is a surprisingly fun expression of Chivas Regal, distancing itself from the brand’s austere image through the use of the wine barrel finishing. (That said, Extra is bottled with no age statement.)

On the nose, it’s a bit hard to parse at first: It’s woody, with notes of brown butter, baked apples, tangerines, graham crackers, a little Mexican chocolate, and ample malt. The nose ultimately congeals all of this into a bit more cohesive experience, starting with huge cereal notes then layering on notes of sugary tinned fruit, (very) ripe banana, sandalwood, and a bit of cinnamon. The body isn’t heavy or oily, but it does have a chewiness that gives it an interesting grip on the palate. All told, it’s a solid blend, and something worth sipping on at least once if for no other reason than to remind yourself that Chivas is still hard at work.

Available now in major U.S. metros. Expanding to the rest of the U.S. later this year.

80 proof.

B+ / $40 / chivas.com

Review: 2009 Dow’s Late Bottled Vintage Porto

Dows LBV 2009With this 2009, Dow has crafted an affordable late bottled vintage port that’s perfectly quaffable right from the gate. Pure raisins on the nose, with just a touch of baking spice — particularly cloves — laced in. On the tongue, there’s pure dried berries, some caramel and chocolate sauce, and a strawberry glaze. It’s lacking the brooding depth of a vintage port, but that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? A terrific value.

A- / $24 / dows-port.com

2015 Whisky Extravaganza Dates Announced — Get 10% Off

We’ve had a great time at The Whisky Extravaganza over the years — though we haven’t been recently since it hasn’t landed in San Francisco for a few years.

Nonetheless we’re still fans and recommend you become one as well. This year’s events are scheduled, starting later this month in Houston, Texas. Want to go there, or to any of the other eight cities the event is going to hit? Use promo code EXTD2015 and you’ll get 10 percent off the price of a ticket.

Find out more and buy your tickets at thewhiskyextravaganza.com!

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Review: Old Overholt Straight Rye Whiskey

old overholtOld Overholt’s been making rye since well before rye was cool. Part of the Beam Suntory empire, the brand claims heritage back to 1810 and was reputedly the whiskey of choice of Doc Holliday himself.

Old Overholt is commonly used as a mixer — and is a frequent denizen of the Sazerac cocktail — but let’s take a look at how well it stands on its own two feet. While there is no official production information available (including the mashbill), some say Overholt’s trimmed its barrel time down to 4 years while simultaneously raising prices.

True or not, as of 2015 Old Overholt drinks a lot like a young, rye-heavy, mainstream bourbon. On the nose, menthol notes and some hints of leather and cloves. The body is lightly sweet, heavy on notes of cinnamon and clove, bitter roots, and some simple, sawdusty wood character. Sampled neat, Old Overholt drinks as a simple spirit, light on the tongue, a bit bitter, and with a touch of red pepper on the finish. Pleasant and cordial enough, but best as a mixer, where, true to form, it proves quite versatile.

80 proof.

B / $17 / beamsuntory.com

Review: Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey Batch #121

Stranahan's Bottle ShotIt has been many years since we visited Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey in a formal capacity. Batch #33, in fact, back in 2009.

Since then, Stranahan’s has become a bona-fide phenomenon, one of the stalwarts of craft whiskeymaking and the recipient of a cult following. Today we look at the 121st batch of Stranahan’s — still 100% Rocky Mountain barley and local water, aged two-plus years in new barrels, and bottled in batches made from 10 to 20 barrels a pop, which makes it more different with each bottling than the typical whiskey.

Stranahan’s has always had a certain soul and its own raison d’etre, and that is one that resonates with intense oak, old prunes, lumberyard notes, and an almost funky, mushroomy cereal character. Stranahan’s is a gut punch, and depending on your mood that day it can be a welcome friend or an angry enemy. Re-tasting Batch #33 reveals a brooding spirit that still rests on its grainy base but which is tempered by some citrus notes, a little baking spice, and some gingerbread.

In contrast, Batch #121 comes across as more youthful in the selected barrels — the grain overpowering the secondary elements singlehandedly. Here the whiskey is enveloped in that mushroom funk, featuring some austere, winey elements ultimately giving it some astringency. The notes of fermented bean curd are weird, but not out of bounds for a whiskey as generally as strange as Stranahan’s, but the lack of any real fruit or spice element in this batch makes it a tougher slog than it ought to be. I’ll say one thing: Stranahan’s is such a unique whiskey that none of this should come as a surprise. Batch #122 probably tastes nothing like it.

B / $60 / stranahans.com

Review: 2013 Vineyard 29 Cru Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc

wn-web-image-cru-sb-2013A pair of new wines from Vineyard 29 under the “Cru” label, one a Napa Sauvignon Blanc from V29’s backyard, the other a pinot brought in from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Both are excellent. Thoughts, as always, follow.

2013 Vineyard 29 Cru Pinot Noir Willamette Valley – Initially this comes across as a slightly tough pinot, with a root-laden/woody edge on the nose. On the palate, there’s lots of cherry fruit up front, then lingering notes of licorice, fruit tea, and a touch of lychee. Ultimately the wine comes together quite well, offering a rounded balance, bold flavors on the body, and a cohesive finish. A- / $54

2013 Vineyard 29 Cru Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley – Tons of fruit here, with citrus and apple notes dueling it out with coconut and vanilla. Crisp and acidic on the finish, this little delight uses its rich palate to suck you in, then spits you out clean with mineral notes and a hint of flowers. A- / $54

vineyard29.com

Review: SomruS Indian Cream Liqueur

somrusSomPriya is a curious company. The organization has an app for finding Indian restaurants and it makes an alcoholic beverage with one capital letter too many. SomruS is “the original Indian cream liqueur,” made in Chicago from Wisconsin dairy cream, Caribbean rum, and natural flavors that include cardamom, pistachios, saffron, almonds, and rose petals.

The balsa-wood colored liqueur is a different animal than any other cream liqueur on the market, including others in this wheelhouse, like Voyant Chai Cream Liqueur. One whiff of the nose and the rose element becomes extremely clear. The cardamom and pistachios contribute some vague Asian-ness to the nose, but the floral character is what’s wholly unavoidable. On the palate, this evolves into an intense perfume character, muddling the rose petals with notes of strawberry, jellybeans, marzipan, and Turkish delight.

It’s a funky product, but the finish is so heavy with that flowery perfume it’s like stepping back in time to another era. That finish sticks with you for a long time, too — and it gets a bit too familiar, if you ask me.

27 proof.

C+ / $28 / somrus.com

Review: Jim Beam Signature Craft Harvest Bourbon Collection – High Rye

JB_SC_Harvest_High_RyeHey, remember last September when Jim Beam rolled out two oddball whiskeys in its 6-whiskey series called the Signature Craft Harvest Bourbon Collection — Soft Red Wheat and Brown Rice? Well now two more are coming out — Rolled Oat and High Rye. We actually reviewed Rolled Oat in the above link (and tragically have yet to get our lips on the Brown Rice expression), but today we’re going to look at High Rye.

As a reminder, these are all bourbons, each made with one unusual grain in the mashbill. As with the others, High Rye is at least 51% corn and includes some amount of malted barley — but in this case there’s ample rye in the mash (the total amount isn’t disclosed). As with the other six expressions, High Rye is aged 11 years before bottling at 90 proof.

This whiskey was of course dreamed up well before the current RyeMania hit, so back in 2004, Fred Noe probably had no idea that “high rye” bourbons were going to be insanely popular (and even less of an idea that straight rye whiskey would be a big deal). That makes the Harvest Bourbon Collection High Rye a little less special than, say, the one made with oats, but it’s still a compelling spirit and a welcome friend to the Harvest Collection.

This is textbook “high rye” whiskey, a chewy and racy bourbon that is dripping with baking spices. Cinnamon, mint, tree sap, and baked apples all make an appearance on the nose. Big and pushy, it’s downright heady with the aromas of the bakery. On the palate, more of that classic rye character quickly comes to the fore. Amidst the apple pie and gingerbread notes emerge some traditional wood barrel notes, vanilla and lumberyard intertwined. The finish is long and punchy, a spicy fade-out that’s hard not to keep sipping on. Drink it neat, no water.

90 proof.

A / $50 (375ml) / jimbeam.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Tasting Report: Bordeaux and Sauternes, 2012 Vintage

Vintage 2012 Bordeaux is in the cusp of release, and recently I had the opportunity to taste a huge swath of it when some 80 chateaux decended on the U.S. All in all, these wines showed quite well. 2012 white Bordeaux wines are drinking particularly well already, and the reds of Saint-Julien had a strong showing as a whole. Special commendations go to Château Gazin from Pomerol, Château La Tour Carnet of the Haut-Medoc, and Château Grand – Puy – Lacoste of Pauillac, all showing off impressive balance. But the star of the show was easily Château Léoville Barton, a Saint-Julien wine with elegence, grace, and impressive depth.

Complete (yet brief) notes on all wines tasted follow.

2012 Bordeaux Tasting Report

2012 Château de Chantegrive Graves Blanc / B- / a bit weedy
2012 Château Bouscaut Pessac-Leognan Blanc / A- / pretty, with floral notes
2012 Domaine de Chevalier Pessac-Leognan Blanc / A- / slightly meaty
2012 Château de Fieuzal Pessac-Leognan Blanc / A- / lots of bright peaches, some herbs
2012 Château Haut – Bailly Pessac-Leognan Rouge / A- / lush and rounded, raisins and mixed berries
2012 Château Larrivet Haut – Brion Pessac-Leognan Blanc / B+ / more mineral notes, meaty finish
2012 Château Latour – Martillac Pessac-Leognan Rouge / B / jammy, overcooked
2012 Château Picque Caillou Pessac-Leognan Blanc / A- / grapefruit, melon, and flowers
2012 Château Smith Haut Lafitte Pessac-Leognan Blanc / A / dense with fruit and nougat notes, and almost vegetal edge adds balance
2012 Château Smith Haut Lafitte Pessac-Leognan Rouge / A- / licorice, dark chocolate, big body
2012 Château Canon – La – Gaffelière Saint-Emilion Grand Cru / A- / thin but lively with fruit and florals
2012 Clos Fourtet Saint-Emilion Grand Cru / B / dusty, some pruniness
2012 Château La Tour Figeac Saint-Emilion Grand Cru / A / loaded with chocolate and blueberries
2012 Château Troplong Mondot Saint-Emilion Grand Cru / B+ / earthy and dense, long, tobacco finish
2012 Château Beauregard Pomerol / B- / bizarrely structured, heavy fruit dives into big tannin
2012 Château Le Bon Pasteur Pomerol / A- / lots of chocolate and raspberries
2012 Château La Cabanne Pomerol / B+ / cherry and some bubblegum notes
2012 Château Clinet Pomerol / A- / dense and lush, a powerhouse
2012 Château Gazin Pomerol / A / unusual, mint and berry compote mashed up
2012 Château La Pointe Pomerol / B+ / densely fruity, some mint and milk chocolate
2012 Château Clarke Listrac-Medoc / B+ / slightly thin, herbs and strawberry notes
2012 Château Chasse – Spleen Moulis-en-Medoc / A / just right; acidity supports violets, raspberry, blackberry notes
2012 Château Maucaillou Moulis-en-Medoc / B / dense and dusty, cigar box elements
2012 Château Poujeaux Moulis-en-Medoc / A- / deep chocolate and raspberry notes
2012 Château de Camensac Haut-Medoc / B+ / huge earthiness, tobacco notes
2012 Château Cantemerle Haut-Medoc / B+ / lush fruit, some balsamic, raspberry notes
2012 Château Citran Haut-Medoc / B+ / restrained but with some balance, an easygoing style
2012 Château Coufran Haut-Medoc / B / a bit astringent, more balsamic
2012 Château La Lagune Haut-Medoc / A- / easy fruit, some herbs, a little smoke
2012 Château La Tour Carnet Haut-Medoc / A / wonderful balance, fruit meets cedar box
2012 Château La Tour de By Medoc / B+ / a bit thin, lively fruit and herb notes
2012 Château Angludet Margaux / B / a bit flabby, pungent edge
2012 Château Cantenac Brown Margaux / A- / chocolate and berry core; long, dry and tannic; one for cellaring
2012 Château Dauzac Margaux / B+ / lots of bacon, rough around the edges; powerful
2012 Château Durfort – Vivens Margaux / B+ / dense and dry; violets and blackberry notes
2012 Château Ferrière Margaux / B+ / good balance with leather and cedar notes
2012 Château Giscours Margaux / B- / pencil shavings, dry tobacco; very dry finish
2012 Château Kirwan Margaux / B- / thin, very vegetal
2012 Château du Tertre Margaux / B / classic; dusty and pungent earth
2012 Château Beychevelle Saint-Julien / A- / strawberries and violets; tannic finish
2012 Château Gruaud Larose Saint-Julien / A- / very fruity; strawberry notes, milk chocolate
2012 Château Lagrange Saint-Julien / A- / fruity, with chocolate notes; woody back end
2012 Château Langoa Barton Saint-Julien / A- / similar to the Leoville Barton; some sweetness, fruity finish
2012 Château Léoville Barton Saint-Julien / A+ / beautiful, balanced with herbs, red fruit, and an intensely chocolate finish
2012 Château Saint-Pierre Saint-Julien / B / slightly thin and acidic
2012 Château d’Armailhac Pauillac / B+ / green, herbal with some big red fruit coming up behind
2012 Château Clerc Milon Pauillac / B+ / very fruity, a bit overdone
2012 Château Grand – Puy Ducasse Pauillac / A- / fresh, balanced, lots of herbs and fruit together
2012 Château Grand – Puy – Lacoste Pauillac / A / gorgeous; balanced with fruit and lots of spice
2012 Château Haut – Bages Liberal Pauillac / A- / fruity, almost jammy with an herbal finish
2012 Château Lynch – Bages Pauillac / B+ / bright and fruity, balsamic edge
2012 Château Pichon Baron Pauillac / A- / fresh, blackberry, mild chocolate, nicely balanced
2012 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande Pauillac / A / opulent and beautiful, fruit and chocolate in harmony
2012 Château Ormes de Pez Saint-Estephe / B+ / big cedar box, cherry notes
2012 Château de Pez Saint-Estephe / B / odd balance here; intensely vegetal, cooked fruit notes
2012 Château Phélan Ségur Saint-Estephe / A- / tannic but lively, herbs and cedar box
2012 Château Climens Barsac / B+ / dense, honey — almost toffee notes
2012 Château Coutet Barsac-Sauternes / A / rich, caramel sauce and layered with honey
2012 Château Doisy Daëne Barsac / B+ / very intense; baked apples, baking spices
2012 Château Guiraud Sauternes / A / good balance of fruit and honey character
2012 Clos Haut – Peyraguey Sauternes / B+ / butterscotch candies, a bit too sweet
2012 Château Lafaurie – Peyraguey Sauternes / A- / slight herbal edge
2012 Château de Rayne Vigneau Sauternes / B+ / a bit thinner
2012 Château La Tour Blanche Sauternes / A / sweet clover honey notes, some lemon in the mix