Review: Chapters of Ampersand Et No. 1 Limited Edition Cognac


Chapters of Ampersand is a new Swedish company that wants to bring the absolute finest in Cognac to the world. This isn’t going to be inexpensive, to say the least. For its first ultra-limited expression, called Et No. 1, the company is blending three Cognacs in collaboration with Tiffon Cognac: a Grande Champagne Cognac distilled in 1974, a Grande Champagne Cognac from 1943, and a pre-phylloxera Cognac from 1870. None of those are typos. The finished product is bottled in a unique piece of Swedish art glass crafted by artist Göran Wärff.

We received an understandably small sample to review. Let’s check it out!

The nose offers intense and nearly overwhelming complexity: raisin notes up front, then cinnamon, nougat, spiced nuts, and some dark cherry. A slight soapiness emerges with some time in glass, but this evolves into more of a powder room perfume character that doesn’t detract from the notes of nuts and old fruit.

On the palate, this character segues toward a maple syrup note, though it’s filtered through a heavy leather character, with some notes of fresh tobacco, those raisin notes settling into a Madeira character — winey, lightly balsamic, and moderately sweet. The finish is far lighter and livelier than I expected, going out gently and almost subtly with lightly toasted wood notes. It stands in a stark contrast to that punchy, brooding nose, but does offer a lingering touch of dried fruit that hangs around on the palate as a lovely little reminder of what’s come before.

Et No. 2 is reportedly in the works. Can’t wait to see what the Swedes unearth next time!

80 proof. 300 bottles produced.

A / $8395 /

Tasting the Wines of Lambert Bridge and Quivira, 2016


A recent trip to Dry Creek Valley took us to two of the region’s most noteworthy wineries, Lambert Bridge and Quivira, both well-regarded operations that make a wide variety of wines largely using local and estate fruit.

We tasted through the current releases (and some library wines) at both venues — which are both well worth your time should you find yourself in this uncommonly placid part of the California wine country. Thoughts on all wines tasted follow.

2013 Lambert Bridge Chardonnay / $55 / B- / traditional on the nose, bit butterscotch body; wet and woody finish
2015 Lambert Bridge Sauvignon Blanc / $36 / B / creamier style but quite dry; some gentle herbs, grassy
2013 Lambert Bridge Viognier / $52 / B- / 100% barrel fermented; unusual; caramel notes drag the acidity down
2011 Lambert Bridge Merlot Chambers Vineyard / $60 / A- / heavy chocolate and violet character; big big berries; blueberry and licorice
2009 Lambert Bridge Merlot Chambers Vineyard / $60 / B+ / very bold on the nose; lively with a slight herbaceousness; classic, lean finish
2013 Lambert Bridge Cabernet Franc / $70 / B / very dry, quite herbal; some dialed-back blackberry notes in time (95% cab franc)
2012 Lambert Bridge Malbec Chambers Vineyard / $70 / A- / some barnyard notes; quite earthy but lush and velvety at times; restrained overall, with a bit of black pepper showing
2009 Lambert Bridge Cabernet Sauvignon / $110 / A- / 100% cab sauvignon; lush and fruity, very pretty, but restrained on its berry profile; quite balanced
2012 Lambert Bridge Petit Verdot Chambers Vineyard / $70 / B+ / dry but very floral, with menthol overtones
2012 Lambert Bridge Crane Creek Cuvee / $110 / A / the five Bordeaux grapes really come together here, showing some earth, a licorice kick, and some coffee character (90% merlot based)
2014 Quivira Fig Tree Sauvignon Blanc / $24 / B+ / 75% aged in stainless; 25% in acacia wood barrels; cinnamon and ginger notes atop the usual grapefruit-heavy character
2014 Quivira Roussanne-Viognier / $34 / B+ / heavy lavender, eucalyptus, and fig; overwhelming aromatics
2013 Quivira Grenache / $32 / B / super strawberry up front; more general fruit notes on the back end, with a lingering, gentle sweetness
2013 Quivira Elusive / $36 / B+ / southern-style GSM blend; heavy chocolate up front, then some coffee; bolder fruit notes emerge with time
2013 Quivira Flight Zinfandel / $42 / A- / great balance; some menthol notes; lots of cherry character
2013 Quivira Goat Trek Vineyard Blend / $55 / B+ / heavily herbal with ample tannins; zippy fruit and raisin notes on the otherwise aromatic nose
2014 Quivira Black Boar Zinfandel / $NA / B+ / largely available only in restaurants; super fruity, with blackberries and some milk chocolate; huge alcohol on this one
2014 Quivira Montepulciano-Sangiovese / $NA / A- / 65/35 blend; bold but very dry with light aromatics; a big cherry closer

Review: Viniq Glow Shimmery Liqueur


Google “Viniq” and you’ll see that Google has a helpful section called “People also ask.” The first question that people ask about Viniq is: “What is Viniq made of?” The answer: “A delicious combination of Premium Vodka, Moscato, Natural Fruit Flavors, and a one-of-a-kind shimmer, Viniq is the perfect fusion of style and taste.” Well, that really doesn’t quite get to the heart of it. The real question people are asking, I think, is what is that “one-of-a-kind shimmer” made of. That answer is in the next part: “Our shimmer is the same ingredient that gives frosting its shine on your favorite cake or the sparkle in rock candy and is safe to consume.” (As far as I can tell, this stuff is made from something called “silver luster dust,” which is made from any number of molecular compounds, like titanium dioxide.)

Viniq is in the same family as Hpnotiq, Alize, and other fruit-forward, moscato-based, super-sweet liqueurs. Designed for mixing and imbibing in da club, it’s the “shimmer” that gives Viniq its distinction. More impressive than beverages that suspend gold flake in the bottle a la Goldschlager, the shimmery effect emerges when a bottle is thoroughly shaken, moving wave-like through the liqueur in a truly hypnotic fashion.

That said, the rest of Viniq is a rather staid affair. Glow (orange in color) is peach-flavored moscato and vodka, which tastes exactly like you think it does: Like liquified peach jelly, doused to the breaking point with sugar. There’s not a lot of nuance here — it’s lightly tropical and orange-dusted from the Moscato, but otherwise the peach flavoring completely takes center stage, though it’s closer to apricot at times. Did I mention it’s sweet? Oh, I did.

Of course, Viniq is all about the “shimmer,” and I have to admit it’s a nifty effect. There’s worse things you could mix with Grey Goose under a strobe light, I guess.

40 proof.

C+ / $16 (375ml) /

Review: Wines of Dierberg, 2016 Releases


Established by Jim and Mary Dierberg in 1996, Dierberg Vineyards is a pinot and chardonnay shop that grows grapes in two cool-climate estate vineyards: the 160-acre Dierberg Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley appellation, and the 70-acre Drum Canyon Vineyard in the Santa Rita Hills. (The family also runs the Star Lane winery, which is in the Happy Canyon area.

Today we look at the 2016 releases of the Santa Barbara-esque Dierberg.

2013 Dierberg Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley Dierberg Vineyard – Nicely balanced between fruit and brown butter, this is a Santa Maria chardonnay that starts off with classic vanilla and oak notes, plus a bit of roasted meat character, then finally settles into a fruity groove that offers notes of figs, passion fruit, pears, and baked apples. Gentle sandalwood notes dust the finish, which manages to hang on tightly to that fruit all the way to the end. Beautiful Burgundy-style chardonnay… and an amazing value wine. A / $25

2013 Dierberg Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley Dierberg Vineyard – A dense SoCal pinot, this flavor-packed wine offers raspberry and baking spice, heavy on the cloves, with a finish that heads toward tobacco and licorice. As it opens up, a lively strawberry note takes hold, which helps to balance out the darker fruit up front. A touch of pencil lead lingers on the back end. The body is on the dense side, but the finish lightens things up just enough. Great on its own, it excels with food. A- / $40

2013 Dierberg Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills Drum Canyon Vineyard – Heading south, and up from the valley and into the hills of Santa Rita. Oddly this wine takes a turn toward a lighter style, restrained in flavor, but lively and light. Blueberries and blackberries take the lead here, but with more acidity — a bit like a fruit-flavored lemonade, dialed down, anyway. The finish is lightly sour, with rhubarb notes, making it pair better with food than on its own. B+ / $43

Review: Captain Morgan Jack-O’Blast


You know how you have those neighbors that go all out at Halloween? They put their decorations up in September. Everyone gets dressed up, even the dog. They give out the full size Snickers. You know the type.

Well, I had no idea, but Captain Morgan is that family. This new limited edition expression follows in the footsteps of Captain Morgan Cannon Blast, which was designed as a Jagermeister-like shot and bottled in a faux cannonball. Jack-o-Blast, as you can see from the photo above, is bottled in a faux pumpkin! And it looks legit! It doesn’t really matter what this stuff tastes like. You can put the bottle on your dining table as a credible centerpiece for the Halloween season.

Anyhoo, there is actual liquid inside the bottle, which is described as “pumpkin spiced rum.” At 30% alcohol, it’s lower-proof than Cannon Blast even, which is likely part of why the color is so light and golden hued. On the nose, imagine a liquified pumpkin pie, heavy with cloves, ginger, and vanilla — the hallmarks of a classic pumpkin pie. The palate isn’t quite as crystal clear. It drinks foremost with cola notes, from start to finish, the herbal elements adding a layer on top of that. Quite sweet from start to finish, it manages to keep from being overblown with sugar. In fact, while that sweetness hangs in there, it’s the cloves that linger longest on the finish, though its the aroma that makes the biggest and most lingering pumpkin-like impression.

Prototypical “pumpkin everything” fans will probably enjoy this beverage a bit more than I did… but I expect more of it will end up in coffee and on ice cream than it does in shot glasses.

60 proof.

B / $15 /

Review: Sonoma Cider The Wimble


This new limited edition cider from Sonoma Cider is billed as a Rhubarb Gose, a spin on the classic, slightly salty, semi-sour beer style. Sonoma’s gose-cider (gosider?) is made from organic apples, organic red rhubarb, and sea salt, coming together with a lick of sugar and salt up front, quickly fading to a light sour character. It’s hard to identify the flavor specifically as rhubarb; perhaps the sea salt mutes that specific flavor. That aside, the finish is dry and surprisingly refreshing, which is probably the only time I’ve said that about rhubarb anything.

5.5% abv.

B / $9 per 4-pack /

Review: Baileys Pumpkin Spice


Fall is here, and that must mean it’s time for… special edition flavored liqueurs!

Today’s comes from Baileys, which takes its iffy history with limited edition flavors and adds to it that biggest of crowd pleasers: pumpkin spice. Of course, pumpkin spice never really means much in the way of pumpkins, but “nutmeg/cinnamon/ginger/clove spice” just doesn’t have the same ring, does it?

Baileys is always most appropriate as a fall/winter spirit, and this is at least a credible use of the pumpkin spice motif. The spices are reasonably accurate and make for a natural companion to the creamy-vanilla-whiskey notes of the Baileys, but as with all things pumpkin spice and all things Baileys, this can quickly become far too much of a good thing.

Baileys Pumpkin Spice is ultimately a bit overwhelming, no surprise, all of this coming to a head on a finish that lingers for what feels like hours, thoroughly coating the palate with an unctuous character that feels like a pile of holiday cookies that have been liquefied and poured into your mouth.

But hey, maybe that’s your thing.

34 proof.

B / $19 /