Category Archives: Reviews

Review: Wines of Smith-Madrone, 2015 Releases

smith-madroneThree new winter releases from Smith-Madrone, located at the top of Napa Valley’s Spring Mountain.

2012 Smith-Madrone Chardonnay Napa Valley Spring Mountain District – Buttery, with strong notes of vanilla and nuts. Not much in the way of a surprise here, with modest pear and lemon notes duking it out with that big, brown butter back end. Ultimately there’s a bit too much wood on this traditionally styled California Chardonnay for my tastes, but it’s a fair enough sipper in the right context. B / $32

2013 Smith-Madrone Riesling Napa Valley Spring Mountain District – Fresh, moderately sweet Riesling, this bottling offers notes of honey and candied apple, with notes of honeysuckle flowers. The floral notes lend a perfumed, but fresh, character to the finish. A- / $27

2011 Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Spring Mountain District - Solid, but uncomplicated, with notes of green olive studding simple cassis and raspberry notes. Modest finish, with more fresh, savory herbs coming to the fore. A solid effort. B+ / $48

smithmadrone.com

Review: Wines of Esporao, 2015 Releases

esporaoThree new offerings from Portugal’s Esporao, new releases from the company’s Reserva line as well as its Quinta dos Murcas Reserva offering. Some thoughts follow.

2011 Esporao Reserva Red DOC Alentejo – Made from a blend of traditional Portuguese grapes, including aragonez, trincadeira, cabernet sauvignon, and alicante bouchet. Incredibly dense, this wine starts with licorice notes and jumps straight down an earthy, leathery hole. The wine simply doesn’t let up, finishing dry as dust, with a raisiny character and a tannic, brambly back-end. B- / $25

2013 Esporao Reserva White DOC Alentejo –  A blend of antão vaz, roupeiro, perrum, and semillon. Bold, buttery, and honeyed, this wine is packed with ultra-ripe fruit — rich and sweet like a Sauternes — but without the unctuous body. That sweetness makes it a bit much for food, but the pushy fruitiness is fun enough in its own right. B / $20

2010 Esporao Quinta dos Murcas Reserva DOC Douro – This blend of old vine tinta roriz, tinta amarela, tinta barroca , touriga nacional, touriga francesa, and sousão is a cut above the other wines in this roundup. Simple red berry and currant notes slide their way into more complexity — tea leaf, coffee bean, and some savory herbs — but all wrapped up in a rounded, mature body. There’s the slightest hint of vinegary oxidation on the very back end, which lends a touch of austerity and maturity to what might otherwise be a too-simple wine. It’s working surprisingly well right about now. A- / $40

esporao.com

Review: Glendalough Poitin

glendalough poitin

Poitin (po-cheen) pushers are trying their darnedest to bring this ancient Irish spirit back to the masses. A distillation of malt barley and sugar beets, the finished product is aged in virgin oak (but generally filtered back to white). Ireland’s Glendalough sent us a trilogy of poitins for us to sample. Our thoughts follow.

Glendalough Poitin – The curious marshmallow notes on the nose are no preparation for what comes next on the body — rubber at play with gasoline notes that immediately recalls both American moonshine and Brazilian cachaca. Unfortunately, there’s no fruit, no real interest on the palate to make this investment worthwhile, just a cacophony of raw flavors straight off the still that never quite makes it. All poitin tends to be something of an acquired taste, but this expression may require more acquiring than others. 80 proof. D+/ $31

Glendalough Mountain Strength – I guess they like it strong up there in the mountains. The extra alcohol of this high-proof expression actually helps to soften things up a bit, but the palate is still possessed by a moonshiny monster. A longer finish is simultaneously both a good and a bad thing, bringing out some hints of tart berry fruit, but also pumping up the petrol character. 120 proof. C- / $37

Glendalough Sherry Cask Finish – This is the only non-clear expression of Glendalough, which undergoes a secondary finishing in sherry casks. The citrusy wood influence sure doesn’t hurt, tempering that rubbery character a bit with some orange peel and incense, particularly on the nose. The finish doesn’t go nearly far enough, however. While there’s a little savory lumberyard character in the mix, that raw, almost saccharine character still manages to shine through. 80 proof. C- / $37

glendaloughdistillery.com

Review: Bowen’s Whiskey

BowensWhiskey-BottleHere’s a craft spirit out of Bakersfield, California, a Bourbon-like whiskey that’s not quite Bourbon, a spirit that wears its smoky character on its muscular sleeves.

The company describes how it is produced thusly:

Bowen’s Whiskey, a true artisan whiskey, is made from 100% corn, cut to proof with a proprietary, structured micro-clustered water to bring out the grain’s complex nuance. Natural, forest fire charred red oak, hand-selected during expeditions into the Piute Mountains of central California, provides the whiskey its unique smoky, campfire flavor.

No age statement is offered, but one would probably not be overly useful anyway with this curiosity.

Smoked grain starts things off on the nose, with ample wood influence. The picture of the campfire on the label isn’t just for show — the body features smoky wood fire notes, some dark clove and cinnamon notes, and the essence of burnt toast. Imagine the charred remnants of a campfire over which you’ve cooked the best steak of your life, and you’ve got Bowen’s in a glass. What it’s lacking is much in the way of sweetness — but that’s more of a stylistic choice than a specific fault. You’ll find some vanilla if you give it some time to open up in the glass and have plenty of patience. It’s there, waiting for you as the burly finish starts to fade.

90 proof.

B+ / $39 / bowenswhiskey.com

Review: Oregon Spirit Vodka and Merrylegs Genever

vodka odsTwo more spirits from Oregon Spirits Distillers in Bend, Oregon — these renditions of those two most classic white spirits, vodka and gin. Let’s taste them together!

Oregon Spirit Vodka – Distilled from winter wheat. Very innocuous on the nose, it’s got just some modest hospital notes and a dusting of white grape juice to provide tartness and sweetness. The body is extremely neutral — all vodka is supposed to be flavorless, in theory, but this is one of the most neutral vodkas I’ve ever encountered. No bite. Nothing much at all on the palate aside from just the lightest touch of toffee character to provide a little sweetness on the very end of the finish. If you truly want a flavorless vodka, look no further. 80 proof. A / $25

merrylegsMerrylegs Genever Style Gin – Genever-style gin is distinguished by being a distillate of barley wine, and sure enough Merrylegs stakes its claim on being “authentic” because it is indeed made from a base of 100% malt barley. The infusion bill includes juniper, coriander, star anise, green anise, pink rose, and lemon. The gin is fragrant like a white whiskey, its malt character rising instantly to the forefront. This masks all the botanicals on the nose, but you’ll find them front and center on the palate. The anise character is easily the strongest, giving this gin a light licorice touch up front. At the back end, the coriander makes its presence felt more strongly, with a little kick of sweetness and a licorice candy echo to finish things off. I’m not sure what to think of this product — it’s easy to sip on, but it doesn’t come across much like gin at all. (I get almost no juniper character in it at all.) White licorice whiskey? Starter absinthe? You tell me. 80 proof. B+ / $30

oregonspiritdistillers.com

Review: 2012 Yangarra Grenache McLaren Vale Old Vine

yangarra 2012 Old Vine Grenache_YangarraThis grenache hails from McLaren Vale in South Australia. Those expecting the typical, Australian sugar bomb might be pleasantly surprised to find ample restraint here: Touches of strawberry and blueberry up front lead to a silky core that integrates mild notes of spun sugar to the mix. The end result is slightly sweet, but still balanced thanks to its focus on the fruit, and it’s surprisingly food friendly.

574 cases produced.

B+ / $32 / yangarra.com

Review: RIPE Bar Juice

ripe bar juice

Sure, there’s nothing better than fresh-squeezed juices you press yourself. But fresh, cold-pressed, pre-bottled juices run a pretty close second.

RIPE makes a line of seven fresh-squeezed juice-based mixers — all refrigerated, natural, unpasteurized, lightly sweetened with agave nectar (all except the Bloody Mary mix), and uncut with preservatives. Essentially RIPE is a juice company, but with its eyes on the bar, not the breakfast table.

We tried six of the company’s mixers, and are itching to pour them by the liter into this year’s holiday punch. Thoughts follow.

RIPE Cranberry Cocktail Bar Juice – Made from cold-pressed Ocean Spray cranberries. Tart, but lightly sweetened, just about perfect for cocktail use if you want actual cranberry flavor to come through — rather than vague sugar and red color. Flavorful, but not too punchy, though drinkers accustomed to sweeter mixers might find it not sugary enough. B+

RIPE Classic Cosmopolitan Bar Juice – Take the cranberry mixer above and mix in lime and orange juices and you get this, highly appealing, straight-up pink number. The Cosmo has a bad rap — OK, a terrible rap — but this mixer is really appealing, featuring a melange of super-bright fruit and that kick of real lime (which grows stronger and stronger on the back end, finishing clean and crisp). A-

RIPE Agave Margarita Bar Juice – Take the cranberry out of the Cosmo mix and you’ve got this appealing blend of lime and orange juices, lightly sweetened and ready to go in any quality margarita. Just add tequila, and you’re good to go with a cocktail that offers powerful — but not overpowering — lime character. The agave is stronger and more noticeable on this one (as opposed to cane sugar), but that suits a margarita just fine. A-

RIPE Agave Lemon Sour Bar Juice - Lemon and agave, a simple sour mix that offers versatility and bright lemon notes. Sweeter than some of the other mixes, and less focused on the specific fruit than, say, the margarita mixer. B+

RIPE Bajan Punch Bar Juice – This “tiki sour” includes lime, pineapple, and orange, and is spiced with Angostura Bitters and fresh nutmeg. The most complex of these juices, it’s an instant tropical drink in a glass — even the nutmeg comes through clearly and expressively. Not overdone one bit, it’s perfect for when you need a ready-to-go punch. A

RIPE San Marzano Bloody Mary Bar Juice – Naturally there’s a Bloody Mary mix, and this one includes San Marzano tomatoes, celery and lemon juice, horseradish, balsamic vinegar, white vinegar, sea salt, pepper, and cayenne. A thick one, and in many ways sweeter-tasting than anything else in this lineup, thanks to the power of those tomatoes. Racy, but not too hot, with maybe a bit too much lemon flavor on the back end. Still a highly credible and delicious Bloody Mary mix. A-

$10 each per 1 liter bottle / drinkripe.com

Tasting the Wines of Marchesi de’Frescobaldi

We previously reviewed  two wines (including the first two wines discussed below) in our coverage of Tuscany-based Frescobaldi, one of the royal families of Italian winemaking. In a recent online tasting with the family, we were led through a guided look at four of their current releases. All four are 90% to 100% sangiovese-based wines, but each comes with a much different terroir, aging regimen, and end result. Some thoughts on the four wines tasted follow.

2010 Marchesi de’Frescobaldi Chianti Rufina DOCG Riserva Nipozzano – Solid cherry with some bright acid, with notes of dark chocolate and coffee bean. Very herbal on the finish, with notes of rosemary and thyme. Quite drying but a clean, pure expression of Chainti. A- / $20

2011 Marchesi de’Frescobaldi Chianti Rufina DOCG Riserva Nipozzano Vecchie Viti – Bolder, with more balsamic character up front, and a more brooding, pungency underneath. The finish remains tougher and denser than the standard bottling, but quite food friendly. B+ / $30

2011 Marchesi de’Frescobaldi Chianti Rufina DOCG Riserva Montesodi – An estate selection of the Frescobaldi sangiovese harvest. Really lovely on the nose, with notes of both fruit and perfumed florals. Bright and lush, the body folds together cherries and chocolate sauce into a balanced and complex whole, presenting notes of tea leaf, bay leaf, and mint leaf. Lots of leaves. A / $40

2008 Marchesi de’Frescobaldi Brunello di Montalcino DOCG Castelgiocondo – A gorgeous wine, with a nose of chocolate covered cherries and a body that approaches the density of Port. Big and chewy, with touches of dried figs and black tea. Waves of vanilla wash ashore on the finish. Quite a wine, but definitely worth reserving for a special, meat-heavy meal. A- / $75

frescobaldi.it

Review: Newcastle Scotch Ale

newcastle ScotchAle_01Newcastle is embarking on an experimental collection of collaborative beers, made with a number of old-school European breweries. First out of the gate is this one, Newcastle Scotch Ale, made in the company’s sister brewery, Caledonian, in Scotland. Fittingly, it’s a Scotch Ale. Here’s how it tastes.

Malty up front, the burly brew offers licorice notes that fade into chocolate character after a time. There is some coffee-licked bitterness in the middle, while the finish melds both the cocoa notes and that syrupy maltiness into a rounded, warming finish. Initially a bit off-putting, this brew grows on you as its chewy, Christmassy characteristics become more present — and more inviting over time.

6.4% abv.

B / $8 per six-pack / newcastlebrown.com

Review: Urban Remedy Detox Juices

afterparty_1

Some time ago, I wrote about my experience on a three-day juice cleanse with Urban Remedy products. Recently the company contacted us to inquire if we would be interested in covering a handful of its products that are suitable for post-holiday revelry — detoxification, curing hangovers, and the like. It’s a happy new year, so why not?

The four juices below are all designed for getting you back up and running after some hard living, and what with all the New Year’s Resolutions out there, what better time is there than the present to dig into the stuff? (You might also check out the company’s tiny detoxifying tinctures, alcohol-based essences that you can mix into your juice or drink in a single, painful shot.) Since we last encountered Urban Remedy, the company has switched from glass bottles to plastic and now says that its fresh, cold-pressed juices will last for seven days in the fridge instead of just three.

Here are some detailed thoughts on each of the four juices we sampled. Get in there and detox! Or, you know, don’t.

Urban Remedy Soothe – Made from cucumber, celery, apple, spinach, parsley, ginger, and lemon. The celery hits first and hardest, but the ginger and lemon are effective at masking the intensely vegetal flavor. The result isn’t exactly refreshing, but for a muddy-looking green juice, it’s about as close as it gets. B

Urban Remedy Clean – Cucumber, celery, spinach, parsley, kale, burdock root, dandelion green, and lemon. Not much sweet stuff in this one, and yeah, it’s very “green,” with only that hint of lemon to brighten up a juice that is heavy on spinach and parsley notes. With 230% of my daily Vitamin A, 130% of Vitamin C, 25% of calcium, and 30% of iron, thank god this is really, really healthy. C+

Urban Remedy After Party – Carrot, apple, beet root, ginger, and lemon. There’s a nice balance between sweet and savory here, the carrot and beet offer garden freshness while the apple and lemon give it a more palatable body. Apple juice ain’t exactly healthy — there’s 34 grams of sugar in this — but I presume the other ingredients more than compensate. B+

Urban Remedy Boost – Turmeric, lemon, stevia. Minimalist faux lemonade, with a spicy edge. The color approaches Sunny Delight, but the flavor recalls a Moroccan bazaar. Best in smallish sips, lest the turmeric really start to grind away at your throat. B

juices not sold separately; cleanse programs run about $75 per day (for 6 pints of juice) / urbanremedy.com