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

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

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

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

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

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

kj.com

Review: Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Select Tennessee Whiskey

jack daniels

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

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

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

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

A- / $45 / jackdaniels.com

Review: Rabbit Electric Corkscrew

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Glory Irish Poitin

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

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

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

80 proof.

C+ / $25 / mswalker.com

Review: Bacardi Gran Reserva Maestro de Ron

bacardi maestro

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

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

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

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

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

80 proof.

B / $25 / bacardi.com

Review: Innis & Gunn Rare Oak Pale Ale and Highland Ale

I&G Highland Ale Bottle with Box 660ml 2015 LO

It’s our second look at Scotland-based Innis & Gunn‘s beers, with two new oak-aged offerings (as all I&G beers are made) hitting the shelves now. The first is a seasonal brew, the second is a special edition that comes in a large-sized bottle and its own wooden carton.

Innis & Gunn Rare Oak Pale – Aged over Scottish oak, with the addition of elderflower and sweet gale (a medieval hops alternative) during the maturation. Sweet, but not aggressively so as in some Innis & Gunn bottlings, it offers distinctly floral and fruity notes — almost like juicy apple meets fresh violets. The vanilla-fueled oak plays out over all of that, with just the lightest touch of bitterness to even things out. 5.8% abv. B / $11 per four-pack

Innis & Gunn Highland Ale – This is an oversized, special edition brew, made from “Scotch Ale matured over oak chips infused with 18 Year Old Highland Scotch Whisky in Innis & Gunn’s patented Oakerators (think coffee percolator).” As with most Innis & Gunn bottlings, it’s very malty and quite sweet, pushy candylike notes with caramel sauce and cream soda notes. The whisky element comes through, a bit, on the somewhat racy nose and through a raisiny note on the body, but what this ale really needs is some bitterness to help cut through the sugar and add a little balance. 7.4% abv. B / $7 per 22 oz. bottle

innisandgunn.com

Review: Starr Hill King of Hop and Soul Shine (2015)

King of Hop 4pk_transIt’s time for one new, limited release — King of Hop — and the return of a seasonal — Soul Shine — to the Drinkhacker beer fridge. Let’s dig in…

Starr Hill King of Hop Imperial IPA – Not to be confused with the King of Pop, this is a classic, dry-hopped Imperial IPA with all the expected trimmings. Lovely citrus-pine notes up front, dusted with a touch of burnt marshmallow and notes of forest floor. Chewy and lightly resinous — but far from overpowering in the bitterness department — it’s a refreshing and well-crafted IPA with just a touch of uniqueness to carry things along. 7.5% abv. A- / $NA per four-pack

Starr Hill Soul Shine Belgian-Style Pale Ale (2015) – This “Americanized” Belgian ale grew on me a bit with this go-round, its late-game bitterness pairing a bit better with its heftier up-front maltiness and mushroomy, bready, slightly vegetal notes. 5.2% abv. B- / $10 per six-pack

starrhill.com

Tasting the Wines of Italy’s Lugana Region

IMG LUGANA (11)

What, you’re not drinking Lugana wines every night? You can be forgiven if the name doesn’t ring a bell. Lugana is a tiny region in the north of the country, nestled between the better-known areas of Lombardia and the Veneto, snug against the southern shores of Lake Garda, the largest lake in Italy.

It’s here that Lugana makes primarily white wines, almost all from the turbiana grape, aka trebbiano di Laguna. What’s turbiana? There is significant debate about this — scientific in nature, even — and there’s no concensus quite yet. It’s not the same is trebbiano, but some researchers claim it is the same grape as verdicchio. Others say it is its own unique grape that lies somewhere between these two — and possibly other grapes — and even the many producers and importers that attended a recent lunch showcasing Lugana ultimately had no idea what the truth is. (If you want to get really into the weeds, Fringe Wine will help you.)

Lugana wines are, as is the case with most Italian white wines, crisp and acidic and loaded with minerals. The wines have similarities to Soave, to Pinot Gris, and to Sauvignon Blanc, depending on the bottling.

Tasting through a couple of dozen wines reveals a lot of commonality — high acid and generally low alcohol (12.5% or 13%), zippy mouthfeel and a cleansing finish with a touch of bitterness. Generally I preferred the younger wines to the older bottlings. After only a couple of years these fresh wines start to take on a pungency and develop some oiliness in the mouthfeel — similar to what happens to riesling as it starts to age. Nearly universal at the event was the opinion that Lugana wines were best when consumed with food.

Lugana wines typically run $16 to $20 in the U.S., and up to $25 for reserve bottlings. In Italy or neighboring Germany, where much Lugana is reportedly consuming, you’ll likely find these wines for under 10 euros.

L003ugana isn’t in hefty supply stateside, and that could be threatened in the near future by a new high-speed rail that’s being constructed to connect Milan and Venice. It will cut directly through the Lugana region and reportedly cut wine production by 30 percent in the process.

Brief thoughts on all wines — the majority of which are not currently imported to the U.S. — follow.

Tasting Report: Wines of Lugana, 2015 Releases

2014 Bulgarini Lugana / B / lots of zip, herbal aromatics
2012 Cesari Cento Filari Lugana / B / notes of cheeses and roast meats, apricots, some coconut
2013 Cà Lojera Lugana / B+ / nice tropical notes, some astringency, lovely aromatics
2014 Ca Maiol Fabio Contato Lugana / B- / lots of funk, meaty and vegetal at times
2014 Citari Conchiglia Lugana / B+ / tropical, lots of citrus, good balance
2014 Le Morrette Mandolara Lugana / B+ / pine needles, brisk finish
2014 Lenotti Decus Lugana / B+ / mild, fresh
2014 Le Preseglie Hamsa Lugana / B+ / fresh, zippy, floral and citrus
2014 Malavasi Lugana / B / quite herbal
2014 Marangona Lugana / B+ / brisk citrus, followed by light meat notes
2013 Marangona Tre Campane Lugana / A / good mouthfeel, well balanced, better structure; a standout here
0062014 Montonale Montunal Lugana / B+ / rougher, chewy body
2013 Pratello Lugana / A- / organic; higher altitude bottling; fresh herbs, citrus, lots of acidity
2014 Pilandro Terecrea Lugana / A- / nicely bitter edge, zippy, acidic; good balance
2014 Selva Capuzza Selva Lugana / B / meaty, rustic
2014 Selva Capuzza Antica casa Visconti Lugana / B-
2014 Tenuta Roveglia Limne Lugana / A- / bigger fruit, acid, tropical notes
2011 Tenuta Roveglia Vigne di Catullo Lugana / B+ / showing significant age; roast meats, oily
2014 Villabella Ca del Lago Lugana / B / meaty edge, fruit hits later
2014 Zenegaglia Carlo Montefluno Lugana / B+ / some briny notes
2014 Zeni Marogne Lugana / B- / off balance
2014 Zeni Vigne Alte Lugana / B+
2013 Il Lugana Lugana / A- / vanilla and coconut notes, sea spray, nice tang
2014 Ca dei Frati Il Frati Lugana / A / massive acid, big zing, another standout
2014 Olivini Lugana / B- / off balance

Review: 1792 Sweet Wheat Bourbon

1792 Sweet Wheat Bottle

1792 Ridgemont Reserve Bourbon has long been a well-respected but widely overlooked part of the Buffalo Trace stable, which is understandable since it’s made at its own facility, Barton 1792, quite a ways away from the thriving Buffalo Trace headquarters.

But BT is breathing some new life into 1792 with this, the first of what is planned to be a series of new, limited edition expressions of 1792.

1792 Sweet Wheat is a wheated bourbon, aged eight years at the Bardstown facility. (The standard 1792 uses rye.) Fret not about flavorings or added sugar. There’s nothing overly “sweet” about the whiskey beyond the house style of the whiskey itself; the sugars are derived from standard barrel aging the same way they are in any other straight whiskey.

1792 Sweet Wheat starts off not with sugar but with lumberyard notes; the nose is surprisingly forward with wood, tempered with tropical notes and a touch of peach. On the palate, it’s not especially sweet either, offering notes of tinned fruit, coconut, cinnamon, ample vanilla, and some gingerbread notes coming up the rear. There’s ample wood structure here, giving the whiskey some tannin — and tempering the sugars — which is actually a bit of a disappointment considering the name of the spirit. Give it a little air and things open up in time — the chewy cinnamon bun of a finish is worth waiting for — but otherwise there’s not that much to get too excited about.

91.2 proof.

B / $33 / 1792bourbon.com

Review: 2013 Mark West Pinot Noir California

MKW_PN_750ml_2013_LR1 (Standard_Final_JPG) [CA-ECM2159504 Revision-4]-2If there’s a store that sells wine in California that does not have Mark West on the shelves, I haven’t been there. But nine bucks for pinot is a deal that’s pretty tough to beat, so it’s easy to see why retailers and consumers alike gravitate to the brand and its iconic, yellow label.

The wine is short of the “remarkable” goal set by its founders (fun fact: the producer was founded in 1978), but it isn’t bad at all, particularly for a deep budget bottling. On the nose it’s driven by cola, dried grasses, and simple cherry notes. On the palate, the wine is drier than you’d think, its berry notes balanced with more cola character. As it aerates, it improves further, though the sugar does start to rear its head with continued drinking.

B- / $9 / markwestwines.com