Category Archives: Reviews

Review: 2012 Bluxome Street Winery Pinot Noir and Chardonnay

bluxome street 279x300 Review: 2012 Bluxome Street Winery Pinot Noir and ChardonnayWebster Marquez has been a winemaker for such estates as C. Donatiello and Williams Selyem. For his next act, what does he do? He opens a winery in the heart of San Francisco. Focused on vintages made from Sonoma County fruit — specifically the Russian River Valley — Marquez is off to a fun start. Thoughts on two reserve-class wines from his 2012 vintage follow.

2012 Bluxome Street Winery Russian River Valley Pinot Noir “South of the Slot” – Named for the SOMA district, south of the San Francisco cable car “slot,” where Bluxome Street is based. Bright and very fruity, with forward strawberry and cherry fruit right from the start. Light notes of tobacco, anise, and vanilla add touches of complexity to what is otherwise a very fresh and enjoyable, summery red. A- / $45

2012 Bluxome Street Winery Russian River Valley Chardonnay Teac-Mor Vineyard – Fairly typical California Chardonnay, light tropical notes countered by a curiously meaty character. Think pineapple and ham spears. Notes of white pepper emerge, particularly as the wine warms up and its fruitier elements start to show more clearly. B / $38

bluxomewinery.com

Review: 2012 Rioja Wines of deAlto Amo

deAlto Amo Tinto 88x300 Review: 2012 Rioja Wines of deAlto AmoHere are two budget bottlings from deAlto (aka deAlto Amo), a Rioja-based producer.

2012 deAlto Amo Riojo Blanco DOCa – 75% viura, 25% chardonnay. Lifeless, almost watery, with just a smattering of apple and vanilla to give it some level of substance. There are hints of pineapple on the nose, but otherwise it’s a forgettable experience. C- / $10

2012 deAlto Amo Rioja Tinto DOCa – 70% tempranillo, 30% garnacha. Light smoky elements here, atop a brambly, lightly pruny core. Notes of tree bark, pencil shavings, and some dense currants and raisin notes. Plenty of tannins to go around, but it drinks well enough as a budget bottling. Mostly harmless. B / $10

bodegasdealto.com

Review: Selvarey Rum and Selvarey Cacao

Selvarey White 570x1024 525x943 Review: Selvarey Rum and Selvarey Cacao

Yes, that’s a gorilla silhouette on the bottle. Yes, these spirits are made in Panama. Yes, the closest wild gorillas live about 6,300 miles away from Panama, across the Atlantic Ocean in Africa. Yes, Bruno Mars is an investor in this distillery. Yes, that’s as random as that gorilla on the bottle.

Selvarey’s recent launch brought forward two products, a white rum and a “cacao rum,” a chocolate-flavored spirit. We nabbed them both and bring our thoughts on them to you here.

Selvarey Rum – A blend of two column-distilled rums, one three years old, one five years old, both aged in former bourbon barrels. The two are mixed together and filtered back to a nearly white spirit. Selvarey has a significant level of refinement for a white rum. Aromas of light brown sugar, glazed doughnuts, and vanilla hit the nose. On the palate, it’s on the sweet side, veering toward marshmallow, with a touch of a smoky edge to it. This is a good thing, adding nuance to a spirit category that can often veer into one of two directions — bruising petrol-fueled bomb or overly sweetened diabetes in a glass. Selvarey threads the needle as neither, pulling off a sweetish rum that is born to mix with, but which can also do a decent job in the world of sippers. Way to go, Mr. Mars. If that is your real name. 80 proof. A- / $25

Selvarey Cacao – Misleading product name: Selvarey Cacao is actually dark rum infused with natural chocolate flavor. Selvarey Cacao is a five-year old aged rum blended with local cocoa. The nose is rich with chocolate notes; the rum component is there, but indistinct. The body is a bittersweet chocolate powerhouse, but up front you’ll catch notes of vanilla, butterscotch, and a bit of coffee bean. Overall, the chocolate element is so powerful that this could easily work as a chocolate liqueur alternative, but the rum component keeps it grounded in the spirit world. Try it as a cordial, then a mixer. 70 proof. A- / $30

selvarey.com

Review: Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Bourbon Round Fourteen

We’re near the end of Buffalo Trace’s exhaustive (and exhausting) Single Oak Project, a series of 192 bourbons all made in a slightly different style — an attempt to find the whole grail of whiskeydom. With this round, we’ve got 168 down, 24 to go. Home stretch!

Need a primer on the Project? Here’s our past coverage to date:

Round One (including all the basics of the approach to this series)
Round Two
Round Three
Round Four
Round Five
Round Six
Round Seven
Round Eight
Round Nine
Round Ten
Round Eleven
Round Twelve
Round Thirteen

Round 14 features whiskeys all aged in barrels made from the bottom half of the tree, put in barrel at 125 proof, and aged in a wooden-floor warehouse. Variables include char level, stave seasoning, wood grain, and of course recipe (rye vs. wheat). We’ve seen iterations on these variables in the past; at this point, the project is mainly about cleaning up what’s left in the lineup.

Two whiskeys — the classically structured Barrel #2 and the Stagg-like Barrel #34 stood out in an otherwise fair but unremarkable field. Nothing in this round was particularly unlikable, except perhaps the unbalanced Barrel #172. The overall winners so far (based on popular vote) are Barrel #82 and #83. I graded them both at a B+.

Complete thoughts on round 14 follow.

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #2 – Classic, with lots of depth of flavor. Touches of sandalwood, honey, and walnuts all meld together into a well-integrated, creamy, and lightly spiced (yet lengthy) finish. It goes down almost too easy, offering all the classic bourbon notes with every sip. Easily the best of this round. A (rye, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, wooden ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #12 – Foresty — with eucalyptus and solid oak notes. The hearty body melds chewy wood with some modest fruit notes. A bit ashy on the finish. B (rye, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, tight grain, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #34 – Bold up front, with a rich, chocolaty nose. It all follows through to the body, with a rounded, almost malty character that pushes through to a racy, brown sugar-infused finish studded with cloves, cinnamon, and cayenne. A (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, wooden ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #44 – Dessert time! Marshmallows and light nuts on the nose. The body is all silky caramel and nougat, until some wood-driven astringency arrives on the finish. Slow start, but it builds to a delightful middle and an agreeable, balanced end. A- (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, tight grain, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #66 – Blazing with heat and big wood character, it’s hard to catch much nuance on the nose. The body however reveals some surprises: Spicy rye character at its core, with touches of baking spices blended with red pepper. Big and bold, it’s loaded with lumberyard notes that really hang on. B+ (rye, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, average grain, wooden ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #76 – Racy with both baking spices and more savory ones — think red pepper, thyme, sage, and pine needles. Lots going on here that’s unusual for bourbon, but it’s not a whiskey without some charms — so Old World in its austerity, herbaciousness, and restraint. B+ (rye, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, average grain, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #98 – Indistinct, alcohol-redolent nose, but the body is bursting with fruit. Orange and cherry notes play with dark brown sugar tones, and some cinnamon red hots on the finish. A fine whiskey; too bad the nose isn’t there to finish the job. B+ (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, average grain, wooden ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #108 – Intriguing on the nose, this whiskey strongly exudes cherry cola notes, with underpinnings of oak. The body is moderate and a bit more scattered. The cherry’s not here, but the cola notes are big, along with some tea leaf, heavy charred wood, licorice, cardamom, and a touch of cloves. B+ (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, average grain, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #130 – Unusual notes of lemon and wood here — think Pledge, but in a way you might drink — at least on the nose. The body is more indistinct in its citrus focus, drinking hot while offering ample notes of wood oil and cloves on the back end. B (rye, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, coarse grain, wooden ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #140 – Traditional: vanilla, caramel, wood. This could be any rack bourbon, but it’s classy and refined — a darker, woodier, coal-fired, more cigars-in-the-back-room bourbon than most of the comparably fruity expressions you get in the SOP. B+ (rye, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, coarse grain, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #162 – Mild menthol on the nose leads in to a very easygoing palate. The body on this one is liquid caramel from front to back, spiked with cloves. Strangely, a bit of barnyard character emerges on the nose after some time in the glass, dulling what is otherwise a pleasant, anywhiskey experience. B (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, coarse grain, wooden ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #172 – Not an incredible level of character here. The nose is filled more with raw alcohol than anything else, the body is a fiery experience that finishes with smoke and brimstone. Not the Project’s best. B- (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, coarse grain, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

$46 each (375ml bottle) / singleoakproject.com

Review: Wines of Baglio di Pianetto, 2014 Releases

9 Ramione 2009 212x300 Review: Wines of Baglio di Pianetto, 2014 ReleasesSicily’s Baglio di Pianetto takes the classic grapes of this fiery island and funnels it through the mystique of a French chateau style of production. That’s what they say anyway. The production at this winery (which also has a resort on the premises) is extensive. Today we look at a selection of six wines — two whites and four reds, including two DOC “reserve” wines. Thoughts on everything follow.

2013 Baglio di Pianetto “BDP” Insolia Sicilia DOC – From the higher-end DOC bottling of Baglio di Pianetto comes this 100% insolia, a lovely white that has a lightly peachy nose, flecked with apricots and oranges. Also look for hints of graham cracker. The body follows suit, showing some of that vanilla you find in the Ficiligno, but drinking really wonderfully on its own. Look for a bit more earthiness up front here than with the aforementioned wine, but with a finish that’s both sweet and tart, and more citrus-driven. Equally enjoyable. A / $NA

2013 Baglio di Pianetto Ficiligno Sicilia IGT – A blend of insolia and viognier. What a fun white this is, lush with white peaches, apricots, lemon, and vanilla. It’s a perfectly dialed-back expression of viognier, that overwhelming fruit showing both restraint and mouth-filling gorgeousness. A / $16

2012 Baglio di Pianetto “BDP” Nero d’Avola Sicilia DOC – Not a particularly refined Nero, a bit weedy, a bit barky, and a bit of old fruit. Dusky and brooding, but lacking the oomph of more powerful Neros. Some fun touches of licorice and vanilla emerge on the nose if you give it time. Fine, but more apropos as a food wine. B / $NA

2011 Baglio di Pianetto Ramione Sicilia IGT – This is a blend of merlot and nero d’avola. Softer than you’d think, with a strongly fruity nose of blackberries, touched with a bit of tobacco and leather. A simple wine, with some mild astringency on the finish. Works well with tomoto-based dishes. B+ / $20

2011 Baglio di Pianetto Shymer Sicilia IGT – A blend of syrah and merlot, which sounds like it will be a whole lot better than it ends up being. There’s almost no body or soul on this wine. It drinks like one of those grape-flavored waters you might buy when Aquafina just doesn’t do it. Has the fruit already raced out of this wine, or was there none to begin with? Not worth bothering with. C- / $20

2007 Baglio di Pianetto Cembali Nero d’Avola IGT – This 100% nero d’avola starts off muted and dull, but fruit emerges with some time in glass. Bright cherry and currant notes are fun for a bit, but they quickly turn toward the raisiny, with balsamic notes and some racy oxidized character coming to the forefront — indicative of this wine’s age. B / $20

bagliodipianetto.com

Review: AVIV 613 Vodka

AVIV BOTTLE FRONT 8x10 300dpi 525x627 Review: AVIV 613 Vodka

Sorry, Easter egg hunters, AVIV 613 Vodka is not named after the area code for Ottawa, Canada. It is rather named for the city in which it is made — Tel Aviv, Israel — and a purported 6/1/3 proportion of ingredients used in its production. I wouldn’t dare try to explain this unique process, so I’ll let AVIV 613 do the job:

Yossi Gold, our master distiller, arrived at the precise formulation of AVIV 613 after three years of trial and error. He begins with wheat and barley distilled three times. To that he adds thrice-distilled alcohol from a mash made from olives, figs, dates, grapes, and pomegranates. He tweaked the quantities of the ingredients, along with the proportions of the alcohol, until he reached the exact flavor notes and strength of each he wanted.

Remember that the distinctive sweet finish of AVIV 613 comes from flavors that are not added to the vodka, but which evolve from the perfect blending of grain and fruit alcohol. Water from the Sea of Galilee, the lowest freshwater source in the world, contributes to it’s unique taste and smoothness.

Distilling AVIV more than 4 times removes too many of its natural flavors. We distill the grains 3 times and the fruits 3 times before they’re blended and distilled 1 more time. Then AVIV goes through 6 filtration processes to make it ultra clean and smooth.

The nose is not any more clearly distinctive than any number of modern, moderately sweet vodkas. You can smell sugar up front on the nose, alongside mild charcoal and flinty earth notes. The sweetness fades with some aeration, leaving behind some more generalized hospital notes. The palate is less sweet than you’d think, with a pleasant silkiness to the body. Given all that goes into the mash, there’s strikingly little flavor to contend with — and certainly no olives or pomegranates. Rather, it arrives alongside quite mild notes of butterscotch, licorice, and a bit of cake frosting on the finish. It’s apt enough for stirring into a cocktail, but hardly something you’d expect to have come from the Sea of Galilee.

80 proof.

B+ / $35 / avivvodka.com

Review: Domaine Carneros 2012 The Famous Gate Pinot Noir, 2010 Brut Cuvee, and 2007 La Reve

1 90627750 3 Review: Domaine Carneros 2012 The Famous Gate Pinot Noir, 2010 Brut Cuvee, and 2007 La ReveToday it’s a smorgasbord of wines from our friends at Carneros-based Domaine Carneros. Let’s jump right in.

2012 Domaine Carneros The Famous Gate Pinot Noir Carneros – A gorgeous Pinot, with notes of currants, blueberry, brewed tea, cocoa nibs, and touches of violets. Everything’s firing almost perfectly here — it’s so easy-drinking that it’s hard to put down, but the panoply of flavors in the glass make it an exploratory revelation as well. A / $75

2010 Domaine Carneros Estate Brut Cuvee Carneros – 51% Chardonnay, 49% Pinot Noir. Crisp and fruit-forward, this sparkler has an apple-citrus kick with a touch of vanilla on the back end. One of the easiest-sipping sparkling wines you’re likely to find, with an orchard up front and plenty of homey biscuity notes in the back. A / $29

2007 Domaine Carneros La Reve Blanc de Blancs – 100% Chardonnay. A very fine and subtle edition of La Reve, this on with toasty notes that balance the pears, apples, and lemons that dominate the body. The modest fizziness is restrained but pairs well with fruit that grows and grows as the body builds to a seductive head. Let this one rest for a few more years. A- / $99

domainecarneros.com

Review: Captain Morgan 1671 Commemorative Blend Spiced Rum

Captain Morgan 1671 525x787 Review: Captain Morgan 1671 Commemorative Blend Spiced Rum

Captain Morgan has been on a tear with new releases and special bottlings over the last few years. 1671 is its latest expression, a fancified version of the Cap’n that still comes in at just 20 bucks.

Captain Morgan 1671 is a St. Croix-based distillate that is crafted with a unique blend of spices and is finished “through Spanish Oak.” Unique or not, don’t go looking for any reinvention of Captain Morgan’s well-worn wheel here, as this rum sticks close to the standard Captain Morgan character.

The nose is appropriately cinnamon-focused, tempered with orange and caramel notes. Vanilla and cinnamon are present on the body, with some fruit finally picking up the rear. Orange notes hit first, with a surprising cherry character coming along in the finish. But that odd addition alone isn’t enough to make 1671 come across as particularly revolutionary. In fact, the 35% alcohol level of this rum does it a real disservice, leaving it feeling a bit watery at times.

1671 is a perfectly serviceable spiced rum, but it is unfortunately distinguished from standard Captain Morgain more by its fanciful bottle than anything unique going on inside of it. At this price, however, die-hard Cap’n fans will likely find enough to enjoy to merit giving it a place on the back bar.

70 proof.

B / $20 / captainmorgan.com

Review: Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2014 Edition

buffalo trace 2014 BTAC 525x420 Review: Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2014 Edition

 

Buffalo Trace’s Antique Collection needs no introduction, I’m sure — this is one of the most well-respected and sought-after annual whiskey collections on the market. Closely allocated and tough to find, you’re best off starting your hunt now. These releases formally hit the market in late September/early October.

Thoughts on the 2014 lineup follow.

Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old – It’s an open secret that Sazerac 18 has been sitting around in a stainless steel vat for years and doesn’t really change (effects of oxidation notwithstanding), making this less of a special release and more of a limited allocation of a very special spirit. Sazzy 18 rarely fails to disappoint. This year is no exception, with the whiskey showing a woody — yet fresh — nose, cherries jubilee up front on the body, and a finish that takes you to places of marzipan, apple pie, and streudel. Watch for apple cider notes to come along after you think the finish has faded away. 90 proof. A

Eagle Rare 17 Year Old Bourbon – This edition of Eagle Rare 17 is a vatting of whiskeys from the second, third, and sixth floors of Buffalo Trace’s Warehouse I and K. Aged “nearly two decades,” according to the company — so as with last year, it may be a bit older than 17 years. This one’s a smooth operator, not quite the burly old guard that it can sometimes present as. Instead, it’s all silky caramels, bittersweet chocolate, Bing cherry, and graham crackers. Some spicier notes of cloves and allspice develop in the finish. 90 proof. A-

George T. Stagg Bourbon – The one you’ve been waiting for. The bruiser of the bunch. The hottest bourbon that isn’t named Pappy. It’s telling that the Stagg is set apart from the rest of the batch in the photo above, I think. This is a monster of a whiskey. Just look at the depth of color compared to the other whiskeys in that lineup — and remember, there are some 18+ year old whiskeys in there! As always, this is the kind of whiskey that, as grandma used to say, would put herr on yer chest, and at 138.1 proof it’s nearly a return to the heady days of 2012 and prior, when the whiskey regularly hit 70% alcohol. Fear not the water on this one — a selection of barrels from warehouses C, H, I, K, L, P, and Q distilled in 1998 (making it 16 years old). You can douse it 1:1, water to whiskey, and still get plenty of its character. And that would include tobacco, (very) dark chocolate, fresh roasted coffee bean, slate, and pencil lead. A smattering of spices arrive in time for the finish — cinnamon and cloves, the usual stuff — which help to season what is, as always, a dark, mammoth, brooding whiskey. This year, Buffalo Trace has just about nailed it. Stagg is always a tough nut to crack — and my palate tends to prefer more nuanced spirits — but the sheer depth of its flavor has me finding myself drawn more to this release than it has in recent years. A-

William Larue Weller Bourbon – A massive blazer, this is the hottest release of Weller in history. This is a 12 year old bourbon from the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 6th floors of warehouses D, K, and L — basically a mutt from all over the place. An initial rush of smoke starts things off with thoughts of log cabins and a touch of mothball. The palate settles down after adding significant amounts of water, ultimately revealing some plum, chocolate, and coconut — but in the end the wood and smoky qualities take hold, pushing everything else out of mind. 140.2 proof. B

Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye – Last year Jim Murray named the 2013 Handy Rye his #1 whiskey in the world. This created a massive run on Handy, despite the fact that no sane person would ever name this cask strength rye — typically 6 years old, as it is again this year — the best whiskey in the world. 2014’s Handy was aged on the fifth floor of warehouse M and arrives at a fairly typical strength for this spirit. This year’s expression exudes classic rye notes — lots of roasted grain character, chewy scorched cereal notes, some caramel, some baking spice, and a lengthy, campfire finish. Over time, some curious notes come forth — I can describe them only as fresh upholstery. Ample water is a must. I like it fine, but it frankly doesn’t hold a candle to the Sazerac 18 — which will probably be a hell of a lot easier to find thanks to Mr. Murray. 129.2 proof. B+

$80 each / greatbourbon.com

Review: Parker’s Heritage Collection Original Batch Wheat Whiskey 13 Years Old (2014)

Parkers Original Batch Bottle Shot 414x1200 Review: Parker’s Heritage Collection Original Batch Wheat Whiskey 13 Years Old (2014)

Last year Heaven Hill released the Parker’s Heritage Collection Promise of Hope, a 10 year old bourbon from which $20 of each bottle were donated to ALS research, a sober nod to Heaven Hill Master Distiller Emeritus Parker Beam, who was diagnosed with the disease two years ago. Promise of Hope ended up raising over $300,000 for ALS research (take that, ice bucket people!).

How do you follow that up? This year, Heaven Hill has decided not to release a Parker’s Heritage Collection bourbon at all.

What? Gotcha: The 2014 Parker’s Heritage Collection release is a Wheat Whiskey, technically not a bourbon at all. For this edition of the highly anticipated PHC, Heaven Hill is going back to basics. The bottles on offer are from the very first run of what would later become Bernheim Original Wheat Whiskey — hence “Original Batch” in this expression — only this bottling is considerably older than Bernheim, at 13 years of age to be exact, aged on the top floors of Heaven Hill’s Rickhouse Y, and bottled at barrel strength. The mash is predominantly winter wheat, plus corn and malted barley to round things out. Oh, and this year, $5 from each bottle sold will go to ALS research.

On to the tasting…

The woody nose, studded with vanilla and gentle baking spices, could herald the beginning of any solid bourbon. As with all of the Parker’s Heritage releases, it’s blazing with alcohol, and it can handle substantial water to bring out its true spirit. With some time, this whiskey’s unique and sophisticated nature becomes clear. Silky caramel and honey notes ooze out of this whiskey. Hints of apple pie, a touch of red pepper, and a little gingerbread — veering into cinnamon roll territory at times — dominate the finish. On the whole it’s a gorgeous, refined, and incredibly drinkable whiskey — and despite its lack of any noticeable popcorn or cereal character, most drinkers will readily assume it’s a well-aged bourbon, even after a couple of glasses. (That’s not a complaint, mind you.)

Sadly I don’t have any stock Bernheim on hand to compare this whiskey to, but it’s clear it carries some of the Bernheim DNA while being at heart quite a different animal. That is also not a complaint. As usual, Heaven Hill has crafted another unexpected and unique whiskey that merits strong attention from both casual whiskey drinkers and collectors alike. Grab it now.

127.4 proof as reviewed (individual bottle proof may vary).

A / $90 / bardstownwhiskeysociety.com

Review: Glenglassaugh Revival, Evolution, Torfa

Glenglassaugh Revival infront 525x606 Review: Glenglassaugh Revival, Evolution, Torfa

Brought back from the dead in 2008, Glenglassaugh is a storied distillery that had been dormant since 1986. Last year the newly-running distillery changed hands and was fell to BenRiach, which is now bottling a number of expressions consisting of  both new make spirit and old stock. None of the old stock offerings — some reaching up to 40 years old — are reviewed here, but this trio of whiskies should give you a sense of the kind of stuff Glenglassaugh is putting out… and a hint of what it will be releasing down the line.

Note, the distillery is Speyside-based, though like some others, it also puts the more general “Highlands” descriptor on the label.

Thoughts follow.

Glenglassaugh Revival – The first expression released from Glenglassaugh after being mothballed for more than 20 years, non-peated but matured in a mix of ex-red wine and fresh bourbon casks, then vatted and finished in sherry casks. Heavily malty, with a nose of crude wood fire notes and a wet cement character. The body doesn’t stray too far from its simple underpinnings, with notes of malt extract, cinnamon and raisins, orange peel, and ample oakiness. Lots going on here, but finding the balance among the collection of parts is tough. 92 proof. B / $60

Glenglassaugh Evolution – Matured completely in ex-Tennessee whiskey barrels and bottled with no age statement. Light maritime notes on the nose, with a distinct pear character beneath the seaweed and coal fires. The body plays up the smoky notes, making this non-peated whisky come across as lightly peated. Notes of over-ripe banana, Bit-O-Honey candies, and green vegetables come together in a wildly unbalanced way on the body… and yet it’s so unique and strange you can’t help but keep sipping on it. Worth a try for novelty value alone, my rating notwithstanding. 100 proof. B / $70

Glenglassaugh Torfa – Torfa is “turf” in Gaelic, turf meaning “peat” in this usage. A “richly peated” whisky, it offers no other aging information. Drinks a lot like an Islay. Sweet barbecue smoke dominates the nose and rushes the palate, alongside cherry and citrus notes — the BBQ sauce to this otherwise meaty spirit. The smoky fruit notes are lasting (with hints of bubblegum), but the spirit is otherwise on the simple side. Probably the most fun of the bunch, however. 100 proof. B+ / $65

glenglassaugh.com

Review: Newfoundland Screech Rum, Spiced Rum, and Honey Rum

screech spiced rum Review: Newfoundland Screech Rum, Spiced Rum, and Honey RumWho woulda thought they’d name a rum after this guy?

In all seriousness… Back in the old days (like, yesteryear), Newfoundland-based sailors drank a lot of rum. They got their rotgut from Jamaica, and it didn’t even have a name. As the story goes, decades later an American WWII G.I. drank a slug of the unwatered-down rum while visiting and upon swallowing he gave off a howl of pain. The noise was described as “The Screech,” and the rum finally had its name.

Today, Screech Rum is still a partly Canadian product, sourced in the Caribbean as always and bottled in Newfoundland. A straight expression is available, along with a spiced rum and one flavored version. Thoughts on all three follow.

Newfoundland Screech Rum – Aged Jamaican rum, no age statement, with caramel color added (it’s quite dark in coloration). The nose is quite funky, with notes of well-burnt/almost-blackened sugar, charcoal, and beef jerky. On the tongue, things sweeten up, but it’s still easy to see how Screech got its name. Though this expression is far from barrel proof, it’s got a healthy amount of hogo to it, its overpowering burnt sugar notes somewhat balanced by some, well, non-burnt sugar. Not much fruit here, just secondary character of ash and smoldering lumber, and a dusky finish that lasts for ages. Definitely for fans of more rustic (yet aged) rum styles. 80 proof. B- / $17

Newfoundland Screech Spiced Rum – This is wholly different stock, made from Demerara rum from Guyana, aged 4 to 8 years. Spiced, with no sugar added. This is a compelling spiced rum. Again that burnt sugar character is strongest, with light vanilla and cinnamon notes coming up behind — almost French toast-like at times. Unlike the straight version, here at least those secondary elements stand a fighting chance. The smoldering finish of the straight rum fades as the spiced element grabs hold, giving this rum a considerably better balance on the whole — though it. 70 proof. B+ / $18

Newfoundland Screech Honey Rum – Why should whiskey have all the fun? Here’s a new idea: rum flavored with honey. This starts with the same aged Jamaican rum as above, then receives “natural honey flavor.” Coulda fooled me. The overall impact is more of a lemon-flavored rum, or some kind of lemon-honey amalgam. Either way, the rum is largely lost and the finished product comes off like some kind of liquified throat lozenge. 70 proof. C- / $18

screechrum.com

Review: The Exclusive Malts Batch #5 – Ledaig, Glenrothes, Speyside

Ledaig bb 525x770 Review: The Exclusive Malts Batch #5   Ledaig, Glenrothes, Speyside

The latest round of the always-enticing independently-bottled Exclusive Malts arrives with seven expressions available. We managed to get our hands on three of them. Without further ado, thoughts follow.

The Exclusive Malts Ledaig 2005 8 Years Old – Extremely pale, with just a touch of yellow on it. A Highland whisky distilled at Tobermory on the Isle of Mull and uncharacteristically peated to a heavy level, this is a delightful little spirit. The smokiness of course gives it plenty in common with Islay whiskies, but there’s such sweetness here that it immediately distinguishes itself from that western crowd. There’s so much tropical fruit character here, plus marshmallows, maple syrup, roasted sweet potatoes, and Sugar Babies — all with a dusting of grandpa’s pipe smoke. Sorry, but I just can’t stop sipping on this one, which drinks as far more mature than its age would indicate. 115.2 proof. A / $90

Glenrothes bb 215x300 Review: The Exclusive Malts Batch #5   Ledaig, Glenrothes, SpeysideThe Exclusive Malts Glenrothes 1996 18 Years Old – The classic Speyside distillery gets a cask strength indie bottling with this exotic and unusual malt. The nose is voluminous with pure apple pie (not just baking spices, the whole shebang), ripe banana, apple cider, cinnamon rolls, and, well, pretty much the whole dessert cart. On the palate, it’s rich and sensual, but also an after-dinner bomb. Glazed doughnuts, clove-spiked oranges, pie crust, and caramels. Fun stuff, and quite uncharacteristic of Glenrothes. 104.6 proof. A- / $140

The Exclusive Malts Speyside 1989 25 Years Old – This whisky hails from a mystery distillery in, of course, Speyside (though the bottle says this is from “Speyside Distillery,” but those stills weren’t operating until 1990). Lots of malt on the nose, with a touch of citrus. The body offers restraint — more malty cereal notes, some almond, and notes of canned peaches, shortcake, bananas, and a bit of ash. This is a fine whisky, and easy to sip on, but after two powerhouses, it’s a bit overshadowed and tough to take overly seriously. 97.6 proof. B+ / $200

impexbev.com

Review: Casa Noble Tequila, 2014 Re-Review

casa noble Bottle Anejo 2014 final cut Review: Casa Noble Tequila, 2014 Re Review

From time to time we like to revisit spirits we’ve spent time with in the past. Management changes. Production practices change. Formulations change. Climate changes. And stuff varies from bottle to bottle even when none of the above changes. Sometimes our reviews are identical. Sometimes they’re wildly different.

Today we look again at Casa Noble, a venerable ultra-premium tequila line that we last reviewed in 2009. Very little seems to have changed on Casa Noble’s end, and from my perspective, very little has changed too. My ratings are all the same, with one slight (yet watershed) upgrade for the masterful anejo.

You’ll note some slight packaging changes (the reposado bottle is no longer blue but is now clear; the anejo is still in its distinctive purple bottle), but otherwise I expect nothing much has been altered behind the scenes of these three tequilas. (Amazingly, prices seem to have fallen a bit in the last few years!) All are of course 100% agave and all are 80 proof.

New thoughts follow.

Casa Noble Crystal (Blanco) – Pungent on the nose, with deep, deep agave notes, white pepper, and cayenne. The body isn’t nearly the agave bomb you might be expecting. It is both sweet and peppery, but not really vegetal at all. Instead you’ll find notes of tart lemon juice, caramel sauce, and a touch of rhubarb. Very well crafted. Everything a blanco should be. A / $35

Casa Noble Reposado – Spends 364 days in French white oak, making this a very well-aged reposado. The nose has that trademark peppery pungency of the blanco, but with an undercurrent of stone fruit — peaches and apricots — to give it some balance. The body is very fruity, slight tropical notes atop lemon and oranges, plus notes of chocolate peppermints and ample wood-driven vanilla. It doesn’t drink nearly as leathery and “old” as my prior comments indicated, but perhaps that’s just my increased experience with tequila over the last five years talking. Still delightful, either way. A / $45

Casa Noble Anejo – Aged “to perfection” for two years in French white oak. Nicely dark, but not overdone. That peppery agave is still front and center on the nose, with more of a caramel/marshmallow character attempting to overtake it. The body shows that it’s a silky dessert sipper all the way. The palate starts with bittersweet chocolate and graham crackers, then hops to burnt caramel and dark brown sugar notes. The fruit is absent save for a little flamed orange peel, which plays nice with the molten chocolate cake character that bubbles on and on on the finish. A benchmark anejo that mixes a racy attack with a silky sweet finish. A+ / $50

casanoble.com  [BUY THEM NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Del Maguey Iberico Mezcal

del maguey Iberico 431x1200 Review: Del Maguey Iberico Mezcal

Del Maguey’s Pechuga Mezcal is legendary in the mezcal world, and justifiably so. For those not in the know, in Spanish, a pechuga is a poultry breast, commonly a chicken breast. Why would you call your mezcal Pechuga? Because it has a chicken breast in it.

How’s that? Del Maguey mezcel is distilled three times, and during the third distillation of Pechuga, a whole chicken breast (bones and all) is suspended in the air within the still. As the distillation progresses (a 24-hour process), the vapors interact with the chicken meat in a strange and incredibly compelling way. How anyone came up with this idea is beyond me, but the proof is in the bottle — Pechuga is easily my favorite of Del Maguey’s increasingly vast lineup of single village mezcals.

What then is Iberico? If you’re up on your gourmet foodstuffs, you’ll recognize the name Jamon Iberico, a ham made of free-range, acorn-fed, black-footed Ibérico pigs from Spain. Using your deduction skills you’ve probably figured out what Iberico Mezcal is by now: In lieu of a chicken breast, it’s made with an Iberico ham hanging in the still. A collaboration between Cooper and chef Jose Andres, it’s an equally bizarre and decidedly non-kosher approach to spirits production.

So, how’s it taste?

As with all mezcals, the nose is smoky, but here that pungent aroma takes on a curious scent of cigar smoke with fleeting undertones of mint chocolate. The body is beautiful. Racy with notes of cracked black pepper, the spicy body is tempered by a melange of flavors that include orange peel, grapefruit, nougat, and vanilla. That smokiness rushes back up on the finish, along with notes of camphor and incense. Complex with a load of flavors, yet extremely easy to sip on for hours, Iberico is nearly the same masterwork that Pechuga is — even though it doesn’t exactly remind you of Iberico ham at all.

Maybe I just need to enjoy a glass or two alongside some pata negra and see if that makes a difference…

100% agave espadin from Santa Catarina Minas, Oaxaca. 98 proof.

A / $250 / mezcal.com

Review: The Arran Malt 17 Years Old and Arran Sherry Premium Single Cask 1997

Arran 17yr 525x1106 Review: The Arran Malt 17 Years Old and Arran Sherry Premium Single Cask 1997

Isle of Arran-based Arran keeps pumping out special releases, with these two new offerings now hitting the market. Thoughts on both follow.

The Arran Malt 17 Years Old – A limited edition bottling, fully matured in ex-sherry casks, this is the second release in a trilogy of single malts leading up to what will be Arran’s first ever official 18 year old expression. Enchanting from the start, with a nose that offers a rich nougat character and ample aged/burnt orange notes. The body folds together those nicely roasted grains with the sherry core in a beautiful way. At 46% abv it’s a touch on the hot side, and a few scant drops of water really helps to open things up and settle down some of the whisky’s more fiery notes. As the spirit opens up, some nice chocolate notes begin to develop, particularly on the finish, alongside notes of cola, sea salt, and marshmallow. A really fun whisky that I easily recommend. 9,000 bottles produced. 92 proof. A / $95

Arran Premium Sherry 225x300 Review: The Arran Malt 17 Years Old and Arran Sherry Premium Single Cask 1997The Arran Malt Premium Sherry Cask 1997 – Arran had a version of this whisky from the 1996 vintage, now it’s “back in stock” with another one: Again, it’s a cask-strength single cask release, only this time it’s 17 years old, fully matured in a sherry cask (much like the 17 year old reviewed above). This whisky initially presents a lot like the 17 Year Old, but the extra alcohol pumps up the orange character even further, sending the more cereal characteristics into the background. Pure, tart tangerine and orange oil invades the nose and the tongue, with notes of black pepper, cardamom, incense, and toasted marshmallow coming up behind. This is an interesting foil to the 17 Year, offering a lot of similarities but just enough differences to make for a fun side-by-side comparison. Reviewed: Cask #217 (562 bottles produced from this cask). 106.4 proof. A / $125

arranwhisky.com

Review: 2011 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

chateau montelena 2011 cab 200x300 Review: 2011 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon Napa ValleyA lighter style of Cab arrives from Chateau Montelena this year, a rare, fresh Cabernet that you can actually enjoy with warm weather, fresh and lively at just 13.4% abv.

Fresh strawberry and light vanilla cookie notes dominate — altogether unusual for a Napa Cabernet. As the body develops, some mild tannins emerge, but it keeps things focused on the fruit. Increasing notes of strawberry and cherry, touched with wispy smoke, emerge, and given some time, you’ll find notes of balsamic and gentle tobacco notes. More than ready to drink now; not one to hold.

91.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, .5% Cabernet Franc.

A- / $50 / montelena.com

Review: Arteis & Co. Vintage Brut Champagne – 1999 Brut and 2002 Extra Brut

arteis 525x393 Review: Arteis & Co. Vintage Brut Champagne   1999 Brut and 2002 Extra Brut

Arteis is a small French producer of Champagne “micro-cuvees.” The company made its big introduction to the U.S. market in New York last year. Now it’s making more inroads to the U.S., mainly in restaurant markets. We sampled two of the four Arteis vintages now on the market; both are well-aged Champagnes that have just recently been bottled. Thoughts follow.

Oh: Arteis asked us to let you know that on-premise pricing for these wines is considerably higher: $105-150 and $300-350 for the two, respectively.

1999 Arteis Brut Champagne – 40% Chardonnay Couilly, 40% Chardonnay Vertus, 10% Pinot Noir Vertus, 10% Meunier Congy. Disgorged in May 2013, this bright vintage Champagne is a winner. Spicy and floral on the nose (with a healthy but not overpowering yeastiness), it offers rich fig and pear fruit notes on the palate, with notes of both crisp red bell pepper and brown sugar on the finish. Complex and intriguing, but just a touch on the sweet side for a vintage brut. A- / $50

2002 Arteis Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne – 100% Chardonnay from Cuis (Côte des Blancs). Disgorged in August 2013, this is another refined champagne, though quite different from the 1999 due to its bone-dry palate. The nose is light with biscuit notes and light apple fruit. On the tongue, again it recalls the fields more than the fruit — heather and amber waves of grain. Notes of grapefruit and blood orange come along as the finish develops, which is palate cleansing and lightly bittersweet. A- / $129

arteis.co

Review: Oryza Vodka and Oryza Gin

Oryza Review: Oryza Vodka and Oryza GinDonner-Peltier Distillers, the Louisiana-based company behind the Rougaroux line of rums, has a little bit of everything in its stable including, of course, two white spirits: Oryza Vodka and Oryza Gin.

Oryza Vodka is distilled from local rice, 17 times, they say, in a copper (column) still. The vodka has a rustic quality to the nose — a touch earthy and vegetal, but with a frosting-like sweetness atop it. The body largely follows suit, exhibiting some forest floor notes that ultimately turn a little salty and sweaty as the vodka opens up in the glass. Sweetness builds alongside the finish, but it has a somewhat saccharine character to it, something that just doesn’t play well with that funky saltiness up front. 80 proof. B- / $30

Oryza Gin is made from the same base as Oryza Vodka, and is flavored with an exotic blend of botanicals that includes juniper, satsuma, lavender, orris root, cantaloupe, coriander, pink peppercorn, angelica root, paradise seed, orange peel, and lemon peel. Yes, cantaloupe! The tagline of this gin includes the phrase “Distinctively Citrus,” and that’s easily the strongest element here. I couldn’t peg the oranginess as satsuma by any stretch, but it’s got an indistinct citrus fruit character that’s definitive on the tongue (more so than on the somewhat muddy nose). What’s lacking here is just about everything else. I don’t catch any juniper at all, and aside from a touch of spice and just a hint of melon, none of the other components in the botanical bill make an impact. If I’d tasted this blind I’d have told you it was a workable orange-flavored vodka, and discriminating drinkers should probably approach it as such. (My rating considers it on that scale, not as a true gin.) 96 proof. B / $30

dpdspirits.com

Review: William Wolf Pecan Bourbon

william wolf pecan bourbon Review: William Wolf Pecan BourbonWilliam Wolf Bourbon is made in Holland of all places, and it’s the only product under this curious brand so far. It’s made from American bourbon and infused with natural flavors — but otherwise we know almost nothing about the product except that there’s a cartoon wolf playing a banjo on the label. Presumably this is William.

There’s a really big nutty/sweet nose here, almost like a praline. The body starts off mildly sweet then quickly builds. What arises is a curious blend of dissolved sugar, pecan extract, and modest vanilla notes. It’s pleasant and fun, but a bit overwhelming after awhile. The initially modest sweetness quickly builds… and builds… to the point where the whiskey develops a candylike character. After half a glass the finish has gotten so sweet that it coats the palate with a nutty sweet unctuousness that’s tough to shake.

On the whole it’s a uniquely fun product that’s worth tasting — but my hunch is that it will work better as a (minor) cocktail ingredient.

60 proof.

B / $26 / thinklikeawolf.com