Review: 4 Albarinos from Rias Baixas, 2013 Vintage

Pazo SeñoránsFour new albarinos from the Rias Baixas region of Spain, each showcasing that classic acid-meets-the-tropics character… but each with a unique little spin on the theme. Thoughts follow.

2013 Paco & Lola Abarino Rias Baixas – A perfectly serviceable albarino, creamy with notes of peaches and tropical fruits, and a caramel-dusted finish. A juicy party wine, with a nice balance of fruit and acid, but not entirely nuanced. B+ / $17

2013 Albarino de Fefinanes Rias Baixas – Very dry, with notes of white peach and restrained tropical character, with lots of acidity on the back end. The dryness demands food rather than a beach chair, but the mineral notes are intriguing in their own right. B+ / $26

2013 Namorio Albarino Rias Baixas – Initially quite dry, with some peachy notes. As it opens up, it reveals a nice balance between mineral notes and a growing tropical character that hits fairly hard on the finish. As the bargain bottling in this lineup, it’s worth a strong look as your new everyday white. A- / $15

2013 Pazo Senorans Albarino Rias Baixas – A slight herbal edge sets this apart on the nose immediately, with notes of sweet peaches, apricot, and lemon bubbling up on the palate. A tart, acidic body that oozes with touches of light marshmallow cream seals it as the winner in this lineup. A / $25

Review: Balls Vodka

ballsWell, at least Balls vodka isn’t trying to take the vodka category too seriously. There’s no story of frost-kissed grapes, diamond-filtration, or crystal decanters to contend with. This is bulk vodka with a pinup model on the label, and, in case you missed it, it’s called BALLS, which appears in great big letters. Even my sample bottle was no little mini but a full 1.75-liter handle of the stuff. How am I going to fit all this Balls in my mouth?

OK, enough of that. Let’s taste this vodka, which is made from non-GMO corn and is 4x distilled, per the label.

The nose is moderately intense: Medicinal, but shy of coming across as industrial, with a touch of sweetness underneath it. The palate is a bit on the sweeter side, offering some marshmallow and vanilla notes on a moderately creamy body. The finish fades quickly, leaving a strong note of vanilla ice cream on the back of the palate. The touch of sweetness isn’t overdone though, and it doesn’t detract from what is an otherwise straightforward, workable spirit that should work just fine as a mixer in sweeter cocktails.

80 proof.

B+ / $20 (1 liter) / ballsvodka.com

Review: Skyy Infusions Texas Grapefruit

SKYY Infusions Texas GrapefruitSkyy turns to the south for this latest flavored vodka: Texas Grapefruit.

It’s very brisk on the nose with fresh grapefruit notes. It’s not overly candied or sweet, but appropriately tart. That carries through to the palate, a modestly sweet vodka that balances its sugar with dauthentic grapefruit notes, appropriately sour and tangy with a touch of lemon-orange character. The finish is lasting and somewhat sugary, but it’s far from overwhelming.

On the whole: Uncomplicated. Which is probably the best praise you can give a flavored vodka, no?

70 proof.

B+ / $15 / skyy.com

Review: Anaba 2013 Turbine White and 2012 Turbine Red

Anaba_Sonoma_TurbineWhite_2013You’ll find Anaba in southern Sonoma, where it focuses on Rhone-style wines along with chardonnay and pinot noir. Today we look at two of the Rhoneish releases, both bottled under the “Turbine” moniker.

2013 Anaba Turbine White Sonoma Valley – 42% roussanne, 20% grenache blanc, 20% picpoul blanc, 18% marsanne. Slightly tropical, with lots of oak influence. The fruit is dialed back here, and quite a bit too far. The body feels considerably overoaked, which pushes the peachy/apricot-leaning notes into somewhat vegetal territory. The finish is lightly astringent and underwhelming. B- / $28

2012 Anaba Turbine Red Sonoma Valley – 43% grenache, 41% mourvedre, 16% syrah. Extremely dense, with a nose of roasted meats and tree bark. The body is a touch bitter, with just a hint of fruit to work with at first. Touches of licorice and bacon are fine, but there isn’t much for them to grab on to. Time helps things open up, revealing some sour cherry and blackberry notes, but I was hoping for more from the get-go. Quite food-friendly, however. B / $28

anabawines.com

Review: Captain Morgan Grapefruit, Pineapple, and Coconut Rum

captain morgan flavors

Is the world crying out for more flavored rum? Captain Morgan thinks so, and as such it’s released a trio of new tiki-friendly rums, each naturally flavored and beyond-intensely sugared.

All three are bottled at 70 proof. Thoughts on each follow.

Captain Morgan Grapefruit Rum – Strong grapefruit notes on the nose, with a slight medicinal character underneath. The body is very sweet, with strong caramel overtones. This tends to wash out the natural tartness of the grapefruit and imbues it with heavy candylike notes. As the sweetness fades on the lengthy finish, there’s a vegetal echo, offering some incongruous notes of rosemary and sage. C-

Captain Morgan Pineapple Rum – Pineapple candy (or at least canned pineapple) gets the nose going, but the body is (unsurprisingly) all sugar. Imagine steeping pineapple slices in molten sugar, then bottling it with a touch of water and you’re not far from what Captain Morgan has come up with here. It’s lacking that veggie funk that the Grapefruit expression has, but it’s still far from anything identifiable as rum. C

Captain Morgan Coconut Rum – After all of that, I was scared to death to crack into this one for fear of being immediately put into a diabetic coma. I shouldn’t have fretted so much. While Captain Morgan Coconut is as sweet and saccharine as you’d expect, it’s restrained in comparison to the two fruit-flavored spirits that come before. This doesn’t straw too far from the Malibu formula, though it’s less tropical than that old coconut standby. The finish is surprisingly clean for a coconut vodka, and the caramel notes present in all of these rums actually complements the coconut flavor in a way that it fails to do in the other rums. Definitely the best of the lot. B

each $16 / captainmorgan.com

Review: Deepwells Botanical Dry Gin

deepwellsLong Island Spirits is the producer of LiV Vodka and other products — and now it’s at long last expanding into gin (after six reported years of tinkering with the recipe). Deepwells takes the triple-distilled LiV potato-based distillate and infuses it with 28 botanicals — 9 local botanicals and 19 “exotic” ones. That botanical list is exhaustive, and reads like this: almonds, apple, anise, basil, chamomile, cinnamon, coriander, cubeb berries, cucumber, elderflower, fennel, grains of paradise, grapefruit peel, honeysuckle, juniper berries, lavender, lemon peel, licorice root, lime peel, merlot leaf, nutmeg, orange peel, orris root, pansy flowers, pear, pineapple, spearmint, and watermelon.

Damn.

That is a huge list of stuff.

Watermelon? Pansy flowers? Everything you could possibly think to put into gin is here, and lots of stuff you couldn’t.

I’m pleased to report the nose smells nothing like watermelon but rather offers notes of wet earth, saddle leather, forest floor, and indistinct evergreen notes. On the palate, it’s a bit muddy, with some bitter citrus character colliding with some of the earthier elements, like orris and coriander. There’s so much gritty, earthy depth here it’s hard to appreciate some of the spirit’s more interesting characteristics — including some delicate floral notes that emerge as the finish starts to show. But ultimately this seems to be a textbook case of trying to jam too much into one bottle and ending up with a melange of flavors that just don’t seem to get along entirely well.

Maybe skip the watermelon next time?

94 proof.

B / $33 / lispirits.com

Review: Duke Kentucky Straight Bourbon

duke-bourbon-bottle-shot-front-print

John Wayne wouldn’t let something as silly as being dead get in the way of drinking a good whiskey, and neither should you. Now you can drink just like John Wayne by drinking, er, the very essence of John Wayne — by swilling some Duke.

Duke Bourbon (sometimes called “The Duke,” but that’s not what the label says) is emblazoned with an iconic picture of Wayne along with his fabled nickname. Designed to celebrate everything about his Wayneness, it is said to have been formulated specifically to Wayne’s personal tastes “learned when his son, Ethan Wayne, discovered a private collection of his father’s liquor, letters and tasting notes dating back to the early 1960s.”

Read that again: John Wayne kept tasting notes, people.

Though producer Monument Valley Distillers laughably claims to be an artisan distiller “crafting small batches of superior bourbon, whiskey and brandy,” Duke is really (undisclosed) sourced bourbon from Kentucky (so not MGP) and is bottled without an age statement (and, of course, without mashbill information), but some have suggested it’s being produced by Wild Turkey (which would be unusual) and is a five to ten year old product (which would also be old for sourced whiskey). No one knows for sure, but does this whiskey have true grit?

The nose doesn’t give a lot of hints. The aroma is gentle and slightly corny with some lumberyard notes. It’s racy with alcohol but not particularly with spice — leading me to believe it’s got only a small amount of rye in the mash. On the palate, again it’s very easygoing — much more than its slightly overproof alcohol level would indicate anyway — very gentle with notes of candied almonds, dried apples, Cracker Jack, and some milk chocolate. A slight hint of smoke and a touch of mint add layers of complexity, but the finish is sweetness, a bit of baking spice, and gentle vanilla caramels.

Sure, Duke is a vanity bourbon project — God knows there are dozens of them on the market now — but I’d be remiss if I dismissed it as mere plonk served up in an overpriced bottle. I can’t weigh in on whether this resembles anything John Wayne would have actually consumed in real life — his persona seems like it would surely have preferred something more fiery and frontier-like — but if he was a man of discriminating tastes, he wouldn’t have been wrong in making this whiskey his go-to tipple.

88 proof.

A- / $30 / dukespirits.com

Review: Ezra Brooks Kentucky Straight Bourbon

EZRA_BROOKS_90_PROOF_750EB.-p19m9sups9t4v25t13qcn8efeu

Let’s be clear: We’re drinking the bottom shelf with Ezra Brooks, a sub-$15 bourbon that got its start in the 1950s (not quite 1800 as the label would have you believe) and became part of what’s now the Missouri-based Luxco Corporation in 1993. In keeping with many ultra-cheap bespoke bourbons, Heaven Hill makes Ezra Brooks on Luxco’s behalf. This expression, colloquially known as “Ezra Brooks Black Label,” carries no age statement, but it is bottled at a slightly higher proof.

It’s not a bad whiskey. On the nose, there’s plenty of vanilla, butterscotch, and some gentle lumberyard notes. Basic and uncomplicated, but not unpleasurable. The body is soft and quite mild, with some initial notes of apple cider and a stronger vanilla character than the nose offers at first. As it develops, the apple notes fade into a more general citrus character, with a backing of baking spices, particularly cinnamon. A hint of chocolate on the back end takes things out on a slightly sweet note.

Bottom shelf it may be, but Ezra Brooks is nonetheless a well-made (if uncomplicated) bourbon that acquits itself admirably. While it may be designed for dumping into punch bowls or mixing liberally with Coke, it actually drinks just fine on its own. No shame there, folks.

90 proof.

B+ / $14 / ezrabrooks.com

Review: Russell Henry Dark Gin

RH_DarkGinAbout a year ago, the mad scientists at Craft Distillers took the last 100 cases’ worth of Russell Henry London Dry Gin they had and did a funny thing. Rather than bottle it and sell it, they put it in oak barrels (what type/provenance is unclear). After a year, the aged gin is bottled and branded as “Dark Gin.” Other than the aging, this is the same London Dry that we previously reviewed.

Barrel aging gives Russell Henry Dark Gin an exotic character all around, for better and for worse. Notes of peppermint, roses, citrus oil, and evergreen notes provide plenty of perfume on the nose. On the body, first there’s an attack of pine and juniper, followed by a surprising apple cider character. Vanilla and some marshmallow emerge, but the finish brings out wood oil and some green, slightly vegetal notes. The spirit offers lots of complexity, but the balance just doesn’t seem quite right, as if the barrel has had its way with the relatively delicate nature of the unaged gin.

91.4 proof.

B+ / $65 / craftdistillers.com

Review: Steel Reserve Alloy Series Margarita and Hard Pineapple

steel reserveI won’t belabor the introduction of these two new flavored malt beverages from Steel Reserve with a lot of bloviating. So here we go … with Steel Reserve Margarita and Steel Reserve Hard Pineapple.

Steel Reserve Alloy Series Margarita – Kryptonite green in color and, I have to presume, in flavor. Vaguely lime flavored, then blended with crushed up cough drops and topped off with rubbing alcohol. The slight fizz helps to mask some of its roughness, but that’s only marginally effective. D+

Steel Reserve Alloy Series Hard Pineapple – Gatorade yellow in color and every bit as horrifying as you’re expecting. I actually did a spit take on my first sip, and subsequent attempts to consume this monstrosity weren’t much better. Pineapple candy is the character at the start, sure, but from there it’s a combination of lemon-lime zest and what I can only describe as the flavor expired, off-brand mouthwash. No me gusta! F

8% abv.

about $2 per 24 oz. can / steelreserve.com