Category Archives: Reviews

Review: Leaf Vodka – Alaska and Rocky Mountain Expressions

LEAF Vodka MediaKitAssets 2SKUs 525x315 Review: Leaf Vodka   Alaska and Rocky Mountain Expressions

Does water matter? Sure, in marketing material there’s talk of hidden springs, deep ocean water, melted icebergs, rushing rivers, secluded family wells, and just about every other form of exotic water on earth… but how can you discern its impact on your vodka if you don’t have anything to compare it to?

Enter Leaf Vodka, which offers two expressions of vodka that are presumably made the same way, distilled five times from organic wheat in Temperance, Michigan, but which are brought down to proof with two very different types of water. In the green corner we have Leaf Vodka, made with Alaskan glacial water. In the blue corner: Leaf’s vodka made with water from the Rocky Mountains. How do they compare? Let’s find out!

Both expressions are 80 proof.

Leaf Alaskan Glacial Water Vodka – Clean nose, sweet on the body, but surprisingly refreshing. Some light, lemony notes emerge with time, which help to give the spirit a brisk, summery, mouth-cleansing character. While the residual, caramel-like sweetness may be a bit on the heavy side, it’s a versatile vodka that has ample cocktailing applicability and can do double duty in a pinch as a straight sipper, too. B+

Leaf Rocky Mountain Mineral Water Vodka - Racier from the get go, with a crisp medicinality on the nose and a bit of a charcoal-like edge. While it’s a step back from some of the more classic Old World vodkas, it nonetheless pays its respects to Mother Russia, with a minimalistic residual flavor profile that just nods at black pepper and a touch of brown sugar. B+

Does water make a difference? In Leaf’s case, there’s a clear distinction between these two spirits, and presuming there’s no doctoring aside from the water that’s added, it’s proof plenty that you should definitely be paying attention not just to the mash and the type of still they use to make your vodka, but the water source as well.

each $17 / leafvodka.com

Review: 2012 Boneshaker Zinfandel Lodi

bon zin 12 bottle new 132x300 Review: 2012 Boneshaker Zinfandel LodiBig Zin fans rejoice: Boneshaker easily lives up to its name. This punchy, Lodi-grown Zinfandel (produced by Hahn Family Wines) is thorny with notes of dark chocolate, coffee beans, and a melange of stewed prunes and raisins. And that, basically, is it. With a lasting and rustic, slightly dirty finish, it’s a BBQ-friendly wine that sticks to the ribs. And, at 15% alcohol by volume, the wine’s tagline — “Feel it.” — is one to take to heart.

B /$20 / hahnfamilywines.com

Review: Frescobaldi 2010 Nipozzano and 2011 Nipozzano Vecchie Viti

NipozzanoVecchiViti2011 79x300 Review: Frescobaldi 2010 Nipozzano and 2011 Nipozzano Vecchie VitiTwo new releases from  Marchesi de’Frescobaldi, the royal family of Tuscany — the standard bottling of Nipozzano (named after the 1000-year-old family estate) and a new release of Vecchie Viti, a bottling rarely seen on U.S. shores. Thoughts follow.

2010 Frescobaldi Nipozzano Riserva Chianti Rufina – A textbook example of what Chianti should be, bright with that signature cherry of sangiovese, but complicated by notes of tea leaf, cocoa powder, and a mushroomy earthiness on the finish. The denouement is dour and brooding, not big and fruity — or highly acidic — like so much Chianti can be. A big winner at mealtime, less of a solo sipper. A- / $16

2011 Frescobaldi Nipozzano Riserva Vecchie Viti Chianti Rufina – This “old vines” release of Nipozzano is a more fruit-forward, slightly jammier expression of Chianti. Aged 24 months in barrel, it exhibits notes of fresh cherries, strawberry, and fresh mixed berry jelly. A bit on the sweet side for my tastes — compared to the more herbal, earthy notes I like to see in a Chianti, but still a fun wine that’s worth exploring. B+ / $30

frescobaldi.it

Review: Macallan Rare Cask

macallan rare cask 525x432 Review: Macallan Rare Cask

A $300 no-age-statement Scotch whisky? The time is here, folks, and Macallan is leading the charge.

Macallan Rare Cask is matured fully in first-fill Spanish oak casks that formerly held dry oloroso sherry for 18 months. How long the whisky was in there remains a secret.

This is a classic, heavy-sherry (and intensely deep-amber) expression of Macallan from the start. It’s got plenty of age on it (maybe not $300 of age, but plenty nonetheless), opening with a nose that’s rich in citrus notes, but which also bears notes of cocoa powder, plus some classic, slightly meaty, nutty, and almost hoppy notes. The body is mouth-filling and chewy, sherry and apricot undercut with some vegetal components — bean sprouts and roasted grains that counterbalance the sherry character pretty effectively. The finish brings the citrus back for a reprise — classic orange zest with a bit of dark chocolate, plus a doughy character that recalls wood fires, though not exactly smoke, if that makes any sense. Its sweetness is smoothed out in the finish — a characteristic that may or may not appeal to fans of Macallan’s typically sweeter style.

Macallan Rare Cask is a capable, curious, and punchy whisky that merits exploration, although the price tag is awfully heady. While it’s hardly the most expensive NAS whisky to hit the market, this is one of the most audacious and noteworthy general malt whisky releases to arrive in this latest push away from age statements. Macallan would of course like the spirit itself to do the talking, and not a number on the label of the bottle. But to get there, first you’re going to have to get past another number… and that’s one that has three digits in it, not two.

86 proof.

B+ / $300 / themacallan.com

Review: Pisco Waqar

waqar pisco 525x924 Review: Pisco Waqar

Waqar! Waqoff!

Sorry.

Pisco, essentially an unaged brandy, has been fueled by the revival of the Pisco Sour and a few other piscoriffic cocktails. But Chilean pisco is something of a rarity in a day and age where Peruvian pisco rules the market. Waqar is produced from muscat grapes grown at the foot of the Andes in Tulahuen, in northern Chile; in Peru that would make this an aromaticas-style pisco.

Muscat makes for a distinctive brandy, and Pisco Waqar is no exception. The nose is heavily perfumed and infused with aromas of rose petals, honeysuckle, lemongrass, and some hospital notes. The body is typical of pisco — a pungent, exuberant spirit with notes of lemon oil, crushed flowers, a touch of pears, and more perfume (or rather, what I imagine it would be like to drink perfume). The finish is a bit spicy — not just racy the way white brandies can be, but fiery on the tongue.

Initially a bit daunting, Waqar grew on me over time, winning me over in the end.

80 proof.

B+ / $50 / piscowaqar.cl

Review: 2012 Collazzi Liberta Toscana IGT

LIBERTA 2012 foto 77x300 Review: 2012 Collazzi Liberta Toscana IGTThis Tuscan mutt is 55% merlot, 30% syrah, and 15% sangiovese. It’s also awfully damn good for a sub-$20 wine. Earth hits the nose first, with notes of dried mint, violets, and cedar chest coming along in short order. On the palate, the merlot is right up front, offering those characteristic floral notes, slightly sweetened by the fruity, cherry character in the syrah and the sangiovese. The finish offers notes of chocolate, mint, amari, and a dusting of cloves. Any restaurant looking for an amazing wine-by-the-glass should add this to their list pronto.

A / $17 / collazzi.it

Review: VEEV 2.0 and VitaFrute Cocktails

VeeV StraightOn NewBottle LogoFix typefooter NOshadow web Review: VEEV 2.0 and VitaFrute CocktailsRemember, VeeV, the “acai spirit” that rode the superfruit craze in the late zeroes, launching in 2008 as “the only açai spirit on the market?” I figured you didn’t, and that’s probably why VeeV — now an even louder VEEV — is relaunching, reformulating, and re-hoping you will get on the bandwagon of endorsing a speciously healthier alternative to drinking straight vodka. No longer labeled “acai spirit,” it’s now “neutral spirit with a blend of acai and other natural flavors.” That makes it a flavored vodka in my book — particularly since the proof level has risen from 60 proof in 2008 to 70 proof today.

But wait, there’s more! VEEV, nee VeeV, is also launching a collection of pre-made, bottled cocktails, called VitaFrute, which are of course made with VEEV, natural fruit juices, and (sometimes) agave nectar — and they’re under 125 calories per 3 oz. serving. (At first glance, the front label looks like it says 12.5 calories… now that’d be a neat trick.) And we tried all of this stuff! Thoughts follow.

VEEV (2014 Edition) – The new tagline for VEEV is “Born in Brazil, handcrafted in America.” From the nose alone, you might think it was handcrafted in a candy factory. Punchy with the nose of a typical cherry or fruit punch-like vodka, the new VEEV is closer than ever before to a typical fruit-doctored hooch. The body melds cherry with notes of blueberry, with a candylike finish. VEEV manages to keep things just this side of super-saccharine cough syrup, but there’s no doubt it’s still a sugar bomb in vodka’s clothing. If this is good for you, well, good luck selling your significant other on that one. 70 proof. B / $25

vita frute 300x240 Review: VEEV 2.0 and VitaFrute CocktailsVitaFrute Cocktails Lemonade – The simplest of the VitaFrute collection – VEEV, lemon, agave — this spiked lemonade has pulpy bits floating in the mix, so you know you’re getting something legit here. The beverage is unfortunately heavy on the agave — sweet to the point of being almost syrupy — and light on the lemons. Some rebalancing is in order to bring the tartness level up to code. What’s there is pretty spot on, though. Not boozy at all, and with a little doctoring something you could even serve to guests. 30 proof. B / $12

VitaFrute Cocktails Margarita – Includes tequila, VEEV, lemon, lime, and agave. You can smell intense caramel notes up front. As this warms up in the glass those become stronger — almost taking on a burnt sugar character with touches of cinnamon. This isn’t so much a margarita as it is a wacky after-dinner drink that hints at lime notes from time to time. 30 proof. C- / $12

VitaFrute Cocktails Cosmopolitan – Includes VEEV, cranberry juice, and “a hint of citrus.” Tastes like VEEV and cranberry juice with a hint of citrus. Mercifully less sweet than the above, this straightforward blend is something you could easily whip up on your own, but the lazy might enjoy this pre-mixed version of any old cosmo you might otherwise spend 4 bucks on at your favorite Holiday Inn happy hour. Unremarkable but largely palatable, with tart cranberries, restrained sweetness, and a squeeze of naval orange — though its caramel hints on the finish give it a cloying finish. 30 proof. B- / $12

VitaFrute Cocktails Coconut Colada  – Includes VEEV, coconut water, and pineapple juice. Pina Colada-lite, this premixed cocktail sacrifices that agave sweetness for the tropical notes of pineapple and watery coconut. Not disagreeable — if you’re in a Hawaii mood, anyway — if you don’t mind it sticking around on the roof of your mouth for the better part of the next half hour. 30 proof. B / $12

veevlife.com

Review: Blue Chair Bay Coconut Spiced Rum Cream

blue chair bay coconut cream 525x874 Review: Blue Chair Bay Coconut Spiced Rum Cream

Somehow we never managed to review Blue Chair Bay Rum — a product rolled out by country star Kenny Chesney — when it launched last year, but today we did land a sample of a new limited edition line extension: Blue Chair Bay Coconut Spiced Rum Cream.

Now that sounds like a lot of pressure to put on a poor, defenseless rum, and this milky, eggnoggy-looking product doesn’t exactly shriek with high hopes when poured into a glass. For heaven’s sake at least dust it with some nutmeg so people don’t think you’re drinking milk, mmkay?

The nose is gooey and unctuous, somewhat off-putting in the way that only eggnog can be — a lot like the milk left in the bottom of a bowl of sugary cereal. Distinct banana notes are prevalent, with touches of cinnamon. The body has more where that came from. The powerful cotton candy sugar notes hit you first, then banana. Coconut is more of a hint on the finish, as is a vague indication of cinnamon. Until then, I would have assumed this was a banana cream rum if I didn’t already know any better. Either way, it’s the overwhelming sweetness that sticks with you, seemingly for hours, over any of the fruit or spice elements. Be ready for some serious toothbrushing lest the cavity creeps give you the once over later on.

That said, this is probably good enough to use for a quickie, down-and-dirty Pina Colada if you’re out of the other raw ingredients. I wouldn’t make a habit of it, though.

30 proof.

B- / $22 / bluechairbayrum.com

Review: 2013 Achaval Ferrer Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon

achaval ferrer CMendoza 2013 88x300 Review: 2013 Achaval Ferrer Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon2013 releases from Achaval Ferrer, based in Mendoza, are here. We tasted the Malbec and the Cab from this major Argentinian producer.

2013 Achaval Ferrer Malbec Mendoza – Overpowering, and not in a good way. Intense notes of menthol cigarette smoke, backed by a heavily balsamic vinegar character. Mouth-puckering with heavy acidity and a vegetal underpinning, this is not Malbec at its finest. D+ / $19

2013 Achaval Ferrer Cabernet Sauvignon Mendoza – Starts off dusty and tannic, but with time it opens up to reveal a surprisingly capable, if simple, expression of Cabernet. Light plum on the nose leads to a dense, leathery, raspberry/blackberry-driven body. Lightly vinegary on the finish, but this works well enough, particularly with food. (I even had a good experience with it alongside grilled salmon.) B / $20

achaval-ferrer.com

Review: Aperol Aperitivo

APEROL 198x300 Review: Aperol AperitivoThe Aperol Spritz is a perennial favorite cocktail — but I can’t say that I’ve ever actually drank much Aperol on its own. Until now!

An aperitif that is often shelved alongside Campari (the same company now makes both), this liqueur’s most noteworthy ingredient (not including sugar) is bitter orange, though a host of other bitter roots are also used to give it its flavor. Lighter in color and much less bitter than Campari, the spirit is a bittersweet beauty. The up-front sweetness can be a little cloying, with a viscous body and spun sugar character that approaches cough syrup, but once that passes, its complexities take hold. Aperol offers gentle bitterness on the back end, with notes of chocolate and root beer leading to a pleasant, dessert-like finish. Not too lasting, the sweet and bitter eventually meld into a cohesive whole as the liqueur finally fades away.

Aperol can be used as an alternative to Campari in almost any cocktail — particularly if you’re not looking for the bitter wallop to the senses that Campari provides. For even more fun, use it as an alternative to Grand Marnier, Cointreau, or any other triple sec and see what the slug of bitterness does to your favorite cocktail.

22 proof. (The rating is for solo sipping…)

A- / $25 / aperol.com

Review: Sons of Liberty Pumpkin Spice Flavored Whiskey

sons of liberty Pumpkins with award 525x702 Review: Sons of Liberty Pumpkin Spice Flavored Whiskey

Pumpkin spice apparently knows no bounds. Now here it, in our whiskey!

Sons of Liberty is a craft distiller out of Rhode Island, focusing on American single malts as well as seasonal, flavored whiskies. In addition to a hop-flavored whiskey there’s this pumpkin one, which is focused on fall.

The base of the spirit is SoL’s single malt, a young NAS spirit, which is flavored with juice made from thousands of pounds of roasted, pressed pumpkins, plus a touch of traditional holiday spices — cloves, allspice, cinnamon, vanilla, and orange. When bottled, it is a deep, reddish brown, the color of very old brandy.

If you’re expecting a Starbucks-class sugar bomb, walk away. This is not a sweetened whiskey, but is quite literally a blend of young American malt with actual pumpkin juice and a bit of stuff from the spice rack. The nose is coffeelike, with a dusting of cloves, tea leaf, tobacco (cigars, really), and roasted grains. The pumpkin is much more evident on the body, where roasted gourds make a distinct — and unique — appearance. The combination of pure pumpkin and young whiskey makes for a bizarre experience in the mouth, with those vegetal squash notes waging war with brash, young malt character. Cinnamon comes along at the end, but it’s that coffee note that hits hardest on the finish, making for a reprise that feels a lot like you’re scooping out the dregs of the coffee maker at the office and taking a big bite out of sludge that’s in there.

This is an overwhelming style of whiskey but it’s wholly unique and worth experiencing, even if just to experience once what a madman can do with a copper still and a few tons of holiday squash.

80 proof. Reviewed: Batch #1.

B- / $40 / solspirits.com

Review: Genius Gin and Navy Strength Gin

genius gin 525x732 Review: Genius Gin and Navy Strength Gin

Texas loves its gin (why? it’s hot!), and they’re making some right there in the capital now. Genius Gin hails from Austin, Texas, where they (of course) do things a little differently. Per the company:

The many ingredients in Genius Gin are balanced and treated with individual care. Our incredibly detailed two-part “Hot and Cold” process caters to the delicate and unique characteristics of each botanical as exposed to different temperatures.

First, we ferment and create a low % alcohol (essentially a beer), to be redistilled for purification and strength reasons. This first run is prepared through our beautiful 6-plate copper still. The resulting product is then infused at room temperature with the first half (the Cold) of our proprietary botanical blend for over 72 hours. (this blend includes: Elderflower, Lavender, Lime Peel, Angelica Root, and more….) When ready, this fragrant and colorful mix is distilled again (the Hot) in a process that pushes vapors through our remaining ingredients enclosed in a basket within the still. These heat activated ingredients include: Juniper, Cardamom, Coriander, and a few others..) Each “Hot” preparation involves the toasting and muddling of all the fresh ingredients. (think “made to order” Gin).

That’s a complicated process, so let’s see if the proof is in the bottle.

Genius Gin (Standard Strength) – Fragrant right out of the bottle, it’s got plenty of juniper up front, but the more feminine elements like lavender and elderflower make a strong showing on the nose, too. The body offers a surprisingly complex collection of flavors. Floral at first, it quickly segues into evergreen notes alongside complex touches of mushroom, grapefruit peel, and some cloves. A final act comes along in the finish, where fresh fruit and citrus notes dominate. Think frozen table grapes dusted with fresh lime zest. There’s a ton going on here, but Genius presents itself in courses, offering something new with each passing second. It’s a really, er, genius product. 90 proof. A / $26

Genius Navy Strength Gin – Surprisingly, the nose is less powerful here than that of the standard strength edition. Evergreen notes still dominate, but the intensity isn’t quite as sharp, and the floral notes are gone. The body is naturally a powerhouse of alcohol first and foremost, and it takes some time to really warm up and show off its charms. It comes across as sweeter than the standard strength, offering more of a caramel note that washes over the rest of it. Lavender is the strongest secondary note. The finish offers less clarity. You could add water to coax out more of the gin’s nuance as evidenced above… but what would be the point of that? 114 proof. B+ / $33

geniusliquids.com

Gold Label Reserve Joins Johnnie Walker Permanent Lineup

johnniewalker goldlabelreserve750  01937.1407759372.1280.1280 525x525 Gold Label Reserve Joins Johnnie Walker Permanent Lineup

Last year, Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve arrived in the U.S. in limited release. We wrote about it at length at the time, but knew that, as just a visiting member of the family, our thoughts would be fleeting at best. Well, now Gold Label has its green card and is back in the family, a permanent resident in the JW lineup.

We got a fresh bottle of Gold Label Reserve (the non-gilded version of the bottle) and took it out for a fresh spin. While I didn’t like it quite as much as I did upon my first encounter, it’s still a standout blend and arguably the best part of JW’s lineup. My fresh thoughts on the latest release follow.

Racy on the nose, there’s an indistinct mix of citrus and grain character that combine with more base alcohol characteristics — all in all, the picture of a standard, sherried, blended whisky. The body starts off phenomenally sweet, spiking the cloves and citrus notes with big candy bar character. The sugar settles down as some more pungent Madeira notes emerge on the finish, but the overall spirit is balanced, on point, and lasting.

80 proof.

A- / $75 / johnniewalker.com

Tasting the Wines of Chateau du Moulin-a-Vent

An icon of the Beaujolais, Moulin-a-Vent’s estate began producing wines as early as the 1700s. Today the estate has 30 hectares of land under vine, separated into 91 different plots — many of which are used to make single-plot releases showcasing a specific terroir. Ownership changed with the 2009 vintage — and some of these wines are just now hitting the market.

Beaujolais is of course the home of Gamay (red wines) and Chardonnay (whites, which are comparatively rare). Moulin-a-Vent only grows Gamay. Its Pouilly-Fuisse is made with non-estate fruit.

We recently looked at eight different wines from this famed chateau, in three different categories:

First are the CMV wines, which feature a much different art deco-style label and are made from non-estate fruit.

CMV Couvent Des Thorins Brand 300x273 Tasting the Wines of Chateau du Moulin a Vent2012 CMV Moulin-a-Vent Pouilly-Fuisse Vielle Vignes - A rather vegetal white wine, it shows lemony notes at first before delving into a rather intense green vegetable note that builds on the finish. This eases up a bit with some warmth, but the slightly bitter character is sustained for quite awhile. B / $15

2012 CMV Moulin-a-Vent Couvent des Thorins – Classically Old World on the nose, with lots of vinegary acid, rhubarb, and licorice root notes. The body is equally heavy on the acid, brash and mouth-searing with its simplistic cherry-like construction and fiery finish. C- / $15

Up next, these are blends from all many of Chateau du Moulin-a-Vent’s plots. They comprise the most common expressions from the chateau. Here’s a look at a vertical of three recent vintages of the wine.

2011 Chateau du Moulin-a-Vent – Engaging nose, with gentle fruit, some smoke, some mint. The body is ripe without being overly fruity or lush, a gentler expression of gamay with a core of simple plums, touches of vanilla, and notes of pumpkin spice on the back end. Easy to enjoy. B+ / $20

2010 Chateau du Moulin-a-Vent – More earth here, particularly on the dusty, mushroomy nose. The body offers balance between the savory earth elements and fruit, presenting a significantly different profile than the fruitier 2011. Fans of bigger, more wintry, and more food-appropriate wines will probably prefer this style. B+ / $20

2009 Chateau du Moulin-a-Vent – Well past its prime. Again, showing lots of oxidation and acidity like the Thorins reviewed above, with a somewhat skunky, burnt nose and a body that attacks the tongue with vinegar notes. This was an exemplary vintage in Beaujolais, so it appears time has really had its way with this wine. C- / $20

Finally come the terroir-driven, plot-specific releases from Chateau du Moulin-a-Vent. Each is released with its specific plot noted on the label.

2009 Chateau du Moulin-a-Vent Clos de Londres - It fares better than the standard 2009 bottling above, but not by much. Again, it’s well past its prime, showing strong vinegar chateau du moulin a vent 11 Croix des Verillats Bottle 83x300 Tasting the Wines of Chateau du Moulin a Ventnotes, but offering pleasant enough cranberry, raspberry, and blackberry character after the intense acid starts to fade. C+ / $NA

2011 Chateau du Moulin-a-Vent Champ de Cour – Ample earth and licorice notes, backed by restrained, austere fruit — raspberries and blackberries. The finish features tobacco notes, blackberry jam, and a return to some of that woody, earthy funk. An interesting wine with shades of the 2010 standard bottling. B+ / $34

2011 Chateau du Moulin-a-Vent Croix des Verillats – Notes of ripe cheese on the nose start things off in a weird way, but the highly fruity, almost jelly-like body, pairs with it in an unexpected way. This is an austere wine that drinks like an older expression of Moulin-a-Vent, but offers a worthwhile complexity and depth to it. B+ / $32

chateaudumoulinavent.com

Review: Deschutes Brewery Jubelale Winter Ale 2014

JubelaleBTL 79x300 Review: Deschutes Brewery Jubelale Winter Ale 20142014’s winter brew from Deschutes is upon us, and this year’s Jubelale is a bit of a smoother operator. It’s got the standby nut and malt core, plus notes of licorice, coffee bean, mushroom, and mild hops. That isn’t a surprising lineup of flavors for Jubelale, but this year things feel restrained a bit, making this a more introspective beer, almost like a coffee stout, rather than the flavor bomb it can sometimes be. The finish isn’t so much creamy and mouth-filling as it is soothing and — almost — refreshingly wintry.

6.7% abv.

A- / $8 per six-pack / deschutesbrewery.com

Review: Blue Heron Vodka

blue heron vodka 374x1200 Review: Blue Heron Vodka

As we reviewed earlier, Wilderness Trail Distillery produces Harvest Rum — “the Bourbon drinker’s rum” — in the heart of Kentucky. But did you know they also make a vodka? Naturally, “the Bourbon drinker’s vodka,” Blue Heron.

Made from a 50-50 corn/wheat mash and bottled unfiltered, this is a vodka with a clearly different focus. It’s far from “neutral,” but whether that’s a positive is open for discussion. Thoughts follow.

The nose is immediately woody, almost with a character of twine or hay. Over time, a corny character develops akin to a white whiskey (which, arguably, is what this is). But despite this pastoral setup, the palate initially throws you for a loop. A surprising contrast, it offers a sweet and slightly citrus-focused attack, before settling into a body that blends chewy nougat with a cornmeal mash. It’s interesting up until the end: The finish is a bit astringent, a funky fade-out that melds saccharine sweetness with those initial woody/earthy notes in a most unusual way. Sadly, this juxtaposition doesn’t grow on you over time, but rather becomes less and less engaging as you work your way through it.

100% heron free. 80 proof.

C+ / $28 / wildernesstracedistillery.com

Review: 2012 Pinot Noirs from Domaine Carneros

DC LA TERRE PROMISE PN NV 96x300 Review: 2012 Pinot Noirs from Domaine CarnerosThree new Pinots from Domaine Carneros, all part of the 2012 vintage, including two single-clone varietals, a rare feat in the Pinotverse.

2012 Domaine Carneros Pinot Noir Clonal Series Swan – Each year Domaine Carneros spotlights one of the 12 different Pinot Noir clones grown here by bottling it separately. The 2012 vintage is the first year to feature the Swan clone. It’s textbook Pinot at first, but eventually reveals itself to be a bit on the sweet side, with notes that veer more toward chocolate sauce and raisin notes up front, with a tart, mouth-puckering finish that hints at tobacco leaf. As a big Pinot fan I could drink this any day, but the lushness of the body becomes a bit overwhelming by the end of the second glass. B+ / $55

2012 Domaine Carneros Pinot Noir Clonal Series Dijon 115 - Another wine from the Clonal Series, Dijon 115 is a better-known clone and it’s easy to see why it’s so popular, offering a dense cherry core that’s studded with notes of cola, tea leaf, and chocolate. The finish heads floral, recalling violets and a touch of spice. Pretty but also lush, this wine could easily be released as is, no blend required. A / $55

2012 Domaine Carneros Pinot Noir La Terre Promise – This is a single-vineyard estate wine from Domaine Carneros, created from a blend of Pinot clones. Here the whole is less than the sum of the parts. The wine is deep and rich, with chocolate notes, but it’s lacking the lively fruit that great Pinot has, replacing it with Port-like currant notes. There’s a touch of vegetal-driven bitterness here, too, particularly on the finish. My wife said she never would have guessed this was Pinot if she’d tasted it blind, and it’s easy to see why. The density and sweetness of the wine make it come across closer to a Zin-Cab hybrid, not the elegant type of wine I typically associate with Domaine Carneros. B+ / $55

domainecarneros.com

Review: Re:Find Vodka, Cucumber Vodka, Gin, & Limoncello

refind Gin Vodka 525x1008 Review: Re:Find Vodka, Cucumber Vodka, Gin, & Limoncello

Distilled from grapes in Paso Robles, California, Re:Find is a boutique distillery that turns its “neutral brandies” into a variety of straight and flavored spirits. Distilled “from grapes” has certain connotations, but Re:Find is careful to note its vodka is not grappa, a specific type of brandy that is distilled from a by-product of winemaking. Re:Find is rather made from “free run” juice called saignee that is bled off during pressing, before red wine grapes are fermented — so it’s closer to an unaged brandy in composition. These are high-end grapes, which just so happen to be used to make wine at Villicana Winery — which is under the same ownership.

Mostly available only in California, we got a look at four of the spirits in Re:Find’s lineup. All four spirits reviewed below are 80 proof.

Re:Find Vodka – A bit grappa-like on the nose, with some of that funky, twig-‘n’-stem character you see on this spirit, but it’s undercut with the lightest aromas of honey and marshmallow. The body offers more in the way of hazelnuts, banana, and vanilla cookies, which makes for an interesting counterpart to the funkier nose (again, much like a good grappa). There’s a lot going on in this spirit and while it’s initially a bit much when sipping straight, it does show lots of nuance and character, and it merits exploration both on the rocks and in more complex cocktails. A- / $35

Re:Find Cucumber Vodka – Interesting choice for your first flavor, but damn if a nose full of Re:find Cucumber doesn’t smell like you’re headed to a day at the spa. Crisp and authentic, this vodka offers pure and refreshing cucumber flavor through and through, with just the lightest dusting of sweetness on the finish to offer some balance against the vegetal notes up front. You get none of the earthy grappa character in the unflavored vodka here, just fresh cukes from start to finish. Impressive considering this is legitimately flavored with fresh cucumbers. Seasonally available. A / $25 (375ml)

Re:Find Gin – Triple distilled and infused with (mostly local) juniper berry, coriander, orris root, lemon & orange peel, grains of paradise, and lavender. This is an engaging gin, juniper-forward on the nose, with hints of lavender underpinning it. On the palate, things get a bit switched up. Here the lavender picks up the ball and runs, with the citrus notes coming on strong. It’s quite a trick, as the nose sets you up for a big evergreen bomb, then the body lets you down easy with a more sedate character suitable for the tropics. Re:Find Gin could benefit from a bit more complexity — maybe grapefruit peel or black pepper, or both — but as it stands it’s an engaging and quite drinkable little spirit. A- / $43

Re:Find Limoncello – Pale in color in comparison to many commercial limoncellos and translucent, Re:Find’s Limoncello looks and smells more like pure, fresh lemon juice — much more so than the stuff you typically see from Italy. Heavy on sour juice and bitter zest, this is intense stuff. If you’re looking for a sweet and lightly sour limoncello that will pair well with your berries-and-whipped-cream dessert, this isn’t the liqueur for you. If intense, almost raw, lemon character is your bag, give it a go… though you’ll have to visit Re:Find’s distillery to get some. B+ / $NA (375ml)

refinddistillery.com

Review: Haig Club Single Grain Scotch Whisky

 Review: Haig Club Single Grain Scotch Whisky

If you’re a whiskey fan, by now you’ve heard of Haig Club, a new brand of Scottish single grain whisky that counts Simon Fuller and David Beckham among its originators. While it sounds like a vanity project, let’s put that to rest: Haig Club has a legit history and is quite an interesting spirit in its own right.

The Haig family dates its distilling heritage back to the 1600s and had one of the earliest licensed distilleries in Scotland. In 1824, John Haig built Cameronbridge Distillery in Fife, and Haig’s cousin is credited as an inventor of continuous distillation (including the column still). Cameronbridge remains the oldest grain distillery in Scotland.

Today, Cameronbridge produces grain-based spirits for just about everyone in the Diageo portfolio, including Smirnoff, Tanqueray, and every blended whiskey Diageo markets (Johnnie Walker, J&B, and of course the Haig brand). Some 110 million liters of product flow from Cameronbridge every year, and now a small amount of that production is going to become Haig Club.

Grain whiskey is a lighter and more delicate style of whisky than malt whiskey, as well it should be. Made from 10% barley and 90% wheat, Haig Club is column distilled instead of pot distilled, and is aged in a mixture of ex-Bourbon barrels, refill whisky casks, and rejuvenated whisky casks. Haig Club is clearly on the young side — again, not unusual for grain whisky — but is bottled with no age statement in a soon-to-be iconic cobalt blue bottle. (The blue glass used is a nod to the opaque tasting glasses used during by distillers in order to avoid being influenced by the color of the spirit.)

Nosing Haig Club reveals a youthful exuberance: coconut husk, roasted grains, vanilla and faint touches of sawdust — some of the hallmarks of many younger whiskies, even something akin to a craft American whiskey or even some white rums. Th nose doesn’t immediately win you over, but the body is quite a surprise. Here you’ll encounter more of that coconut but less raw grain character. As it develops, you get butterscotch, some dried fruits, and curious evergreen notes — alongside some forest floor — on the back end. The finish is brisk and clean, unlike the brooding and lasting intensity of many malt whiskies. In theory that makes Haig Club a solid base for cocktails, but I find it sips rather beautifully and intriguingly on its own — an interesting diversion from the typical world of malt.

80 proof. Available in the U.S. in November 2014.

A- / $70 / haigclub.com

Review: BridgePort Brewing Trilogy 3

bridgeport Trilogy 3 225x300 Review: BridgePort Brewing Trilogy 3The final round of BridgePort Brewing Company’s 30th anniversary line of beers is finally here: Trilogy 3 Brewers’ Class. This is a truly interesting beer, made in collaboration with the Fermentation Science Program at Oregon State University. (Did you know? My book on film criticism is a textbook at OSU!) Given little direction, the students and profs dreamed up a brown ale that’s been dry hopped, a nifty spin on an old standard.

Trilogy 3 is easily my favorite beer in the lineup. Tasting all three beers side by side, Trilogy 1 is now drinking a little strangely — too nutty and too corny on the finish. Trilogy 2 is faring better, but still suffers from a dearth of fruit or evergreen notes, essential for a big IPA win. Trilogy 3 stays a little closer to established beer “rules,” but the dry hops work surprisingly well as an adjunct to that classic nutty, slightly chocolaty brown ale. Giving it some pop and a piney bite on the finish, rather than that typical, muddy-sweet character that brown ales so often lack.

BridgePort will bottle the beer that consumers pick as their favorite as a year-round release starting in 2015. Consider my vote cast!

5.0% abv.

A / about $8 per six-pack / bridgeportbrew.com