Review: 2015 Chateau Sainte Marguerite “Symphony” Rose

BS-Symphonie-Rose

More Provence rose as summer hits its peak months, this one a blend of 40% grenache, 40% cinsault, and 20% syrah. Restrained with light apricot, browned apple, and apricot notes, the wine unfolds to reveal some white floral elements, a bit of honeysuckle, and more herbs and baking spice on the finish. Showing lovely balance — and with not a hint of “strawberry” to be found — it’s an unusual rose that plays best for the white wine enthusiast.

Aka Symphonie.

A- / $34 / dreyfusashby.com

Review: 2014 Avignonesi Rosso di Montipulciano DOC

avignonesi Rosso di Montepulciano_2014

Avignonesi’s 2014 Rosso di Montipulciano is in line with its prior efforts, which kicks off with a healthy cherry character with a slightly sweet, vanilla-dusted finish. Some modest tannins, a touch of licorice, and a bit of chocolate. Light balsamic notes add complexity to the finish, but otherwise the wine is a simple but enveloping expression of Italy.

B+ / $19 / avignonesi.it

Review: Woodford Reserve Distillery Series – Five Malt

woodford reserve Five Malt Bottle Shot

Woodford’s latest Distillery Series bourbon — a limited edition experimental series that doesn’t quite merit Master’s Collection status — is here. “Five Malt” connotes what it is, though the company doesn’t exactly tell you everything:

Inspired by the popularity of micro-breweries to explore malted grains typically used for beers when crafting whiskey, Five Malt’s distinctive flavor profile is established within the grain recipe and aging process. To obtain the desired sensory elements, minimum wood exposure is required. Five Malt is a whiskey distilled from malt mash then aged in recycled Double Oaked barrels for a span of six months resulting in warming malt notes with a coffee flavored finish.

That doesn’t quite tell you the whole story, as it is mute on the identity of the five malts, which it turns out are these:

  1. Two row barley
  2. Wheat
  3. Pale Chocolate barley
  4. Kiln Coffee barley
  5. Carafa barley

All five are malted renditions of the grain, of course.

Again, this concoction is cooked up and distilled and aged for all of six months before bottling. In other words, while it’s got a touch of wheat in there, this is effectively a very young single malt, American style.

It fits the part. Master distiller Chris Morris wants us to experience the grain in all its glory here, and damn but you’re gonna get it. Anyone with familiarity with young American malt whiskey will know exactly what they’re getting into before the bottle is ever opened. Intense cereal notes meet a heavy wood influence on the nose — think hard pretzels, heavily charred toast, and coal. The palate offers notes of rye bread, fresh malt, and more of that intensely charred wood influence, with hints of licorice and cloves on the back end.

In other words — there’s not a whole lot to see here, as the finished product is largely indistinguishable from any number of other immature malts aged in new oak. I know Woodford likes to experiment with young whiskeys from time to time, but I also know that this would have been a lot more interesting in roughly 2022.

90.4 proof.

B- / $50 (375ml) / woodfordreserve.com

Tasting and Testing: MashBox Club Spirits Samplers

mashbox

Like Flaviar and the Whisky Explorers Club, MashBox aims to expose you to spirits you wouldn’t normally get to try. The main difference with this booze-of-the-month club is that with MashBox you get a lot more than just whiskey (as we’ll see below). It’s a veritable tour of the entire spirits universe.

The deal is simple: $99 a year gets your four boxes of three 50ml samples. which works out to about $8 per dram. That’s about what a shot of Jack will cost you around these parts, so it’s not a bad deal.

MashBox’s focus is squarely on craft and unusual spirits (with a heavy focus on New York-based operations) — and some of the products included in the sample kits I’ve received I’m never encountered in the wild, or even heard of before this. There’s no need to scour the web for data, though. Each shipment comes with a set of cards offering some basic production information and tasting notes on each product you receive. And if you like something, you can buy a full bottle at a discounted price.

Here’s a look at nine of the samples from three recent MashBox shipments. These mini-reviews are in no particular order as the products of the various sample boxes we received got mixed up, but they should give you an idea of what to expect each quarter. While not every product is a home run, I’m a big fan of trying something off the beaten path once in a while. Give MashBox a try and see what you think!

Kings County Distillery Bourbon – Young bourbon from Brooklyn, NY. Heavily grainy, with chocolate malt overtones and tons of wood. It’s initially undercooked, as craft whiskey can often be, with a surplus of ginger and baking spice on the back end to help temper the heavy barrel influence. 90 proof. C

Barrell Whiskey Batch 2 – We’ve covered Barrell a few times, but batch 2 of its sherry-cask treated whiskey is a new one for us. Interesting butterscotch notes and red berries meld well with caramel and vanilla notes. A bit astringent, but that happens at 123.8 proof. B

Mister Katz’s Rock & Rye – Spicy, with rather intense mulled wine notes. Tastes like Christmas. See full review here. 65 proof. B+

Van Brunt Stillhouse Rye Whiskey – Van Brunt’s 9 month old rye is youthful and brash (see other Van Brunt reviews here), but its pungent nose finds a curious companion in a body that offers up notes of cloves, petrol, burnt bread, and a bit of burnt rubber, too. Intriguing, but extremely young. 84 proof. C+

Oak & Rye Wormwood – Grain-distilled spirit (corn- and rye-based whiskey) flavored with wormwood. In other words, it’s a unique spin on absinthe by way of a flavored whiskey. The nose is so hard to place — forest fires, rubber, and scorched herbs — but the palate is gentler, with a smoky sweetness that finds a strange complement in the form of lingering anise notes. One of the more bizarre spirits I’ve seen lately. 90 proof. B-

Maid of the Meadow – Vodka with herbs and honey from Denning’s Point Distillery in Beacon, New York. Quite good, and it delivers on exactly what the description promises. The honey is restrained and gentle, the herbs a dusting of cinnamon, sesame, and lemon. Tastes like it’s made for a toddy. 80 proof. A-

Glorious Gin – Breukelen Distilling offers this heavily floral gin, which includes rosemary, ginger, and grapefruit in the mix. It tops a somewhat earth-toned core with a good amount of fruit character and only a modest juniper slug. Interesting stuff and unexpected from the normally bombastic craft gin market. Try with a craft tonic. 90 proof. B+

Kas Krupnikas – A traditional Lithuanian honey spiced liqueur made in Mahopac, New York. Richer and much more honey-focused than Maid of the Meadow, but just as compelling in its own, special way. While Maid of the Meadow feels like an ingredient, Kas Krupnikas is a soothing sipper that works beautifully on its own. Very heavy honey — equal parts fruit and earth — dominates, with some hints of orange peel, cloves, and fresh gingerbread. A beautiful little surprise. 92 proof. A

Doc Herson’s Natural Spirits Green Absinthe – A South African madman makes absinthe in Brooklyn, people. What he’s come up with is a classic rendition of the spirit, with a sweet licorice and fennel focus that comes alive with sugar and water. It doesn’t need much doctoring, mind you, just a little kick to bring out its inner beauty. Lovely mint and cocoa powder notes emerge on the finish. 134 proof. B+

mashandgrape.com

Review: 2013 Yangarra Grenache McLaren Vale

Yangarra Old Vine Grenache 2013 Bottle Shot

This old vines grenache from Australia’s McLaren Vale starts off both a touch thin and overloaded with fruit character. Things settle down a bit with air in the glass, revealing some tart balsamic notes to balance out that initial rush of plum and red berries. The finish adds a touch of dark chocolate and a kick of licorice.

B+ / $32 / yangarra.com

Review: 2015 Hecht & Bannier Cotes de Provence

magnum-cotes-de-provence-rose-hecht-bannier_2014-hd-blanc-1

Another Provence rose, this one a blend of 40% grenache, 40% cinsault, and 15% syrah. The nose is pure strawberry with a lemon twist, but the body takes on a more curious note, with essence of orange peel, herbal lemongrass, and some odd currant and winey Port notes on the somewhat gummy finish. I also get a wierd roasted red bell pepper character as the finish fades. All told, it’s an unusual rose but pleasant enough as a weekday diversion.

B- / $20 / hechtbannier.com

Review: The Arran Malt 18 Years Old

arran 18

The Arran distillery on the Isle of Arran turns 21 this year. To mark the occasion, the bottler is adding an 18 year old single malt to the permanent lineup. Aged in a mix of ex-sherry and ex-bourbon casks, it is bottled at 46% abv. (Note that this is a different whisky than the previous Arran 18, which was a limited edition release aged exclusively in sherry casks.)

This is a powerful whisky with a considerable sherry influence. The nose is loaded with fruit — apricots and peaches, punched up with sharp Indian spices — heady and quite aromatic. On the palate, the fruity sweetness upfront is tempered by a wild variety of interesting flavors, including marzipan, black pepper, orange blossoms, and red berries. There’s a lot going on, but it finds a balance somewhere in the madness. The finish is a bit sharp but nonetheless quite engaging as it invites continued exploration. This is one to really dig into.

92 proof.

A- / $140 / arranwhisky.com