Review: 2014 Atalon Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley

atalonAtalon has been releasing wines since 1997, with just three offerings on the table — two reds, and this sauvignon blanc.

Intensely grassy, this is sauvignon blanc that at first showcases a wine pushed to its herbal limits. As it develops, notes of grapefruit peel and saltwater taffy give this wine an extreme profile, a bitter-sour attack leading to an increasingly sweet finish. This is a wine that defies easy categorization — except for drinkers who, I’m sure, will largely either love it or hate it.

C+ / $21 / atalon.com

Review: Marlee’s Green Tea Whiskey

marleesTea-flavored whiskey is nothing new, but Marlee’s, produced in the Miami area, is rye whiskey flavored with green tea, a unique combination. Also in the bottle: Mexican agave nectar, miscellaneous natural flavors, and caramel color.

Now the south is the home of sweet (black) tea, and the home of whiskey. The two have come together in exciting ways in the past, so it makes sense that an upstart would like to try something new. Using gunpowder green tea immediately sounds odd — why mess with a proven combination? Well, what if green tea is even better with whiskey than the usual stuff?

Let’s give it a shot.

Oddly, most prevalent on the nose are the agave notes from the sweetening nectar — herbal with citrus overtones — plus a bit of a vanilla whiskey kick underneath. On the palate, it’s quite sweet as expected, but the tea hits with surprising power. It’s not just any old tea, but green tea, that nicely herbal, slightly minty, slightly peppery spin on the stuff. Immediately it clashes with the whiskey, as both elements struggle to dominate the blend. Some rye-driven clove notes come along late in the game, but the finish makes a 180 and hangs on to the sweet agave, with vague notes of lemon.

Tea-flavored anything is always sweet, but Marlee’s is just a bit overblown for my palate, and the green tea simply doesn’t meld as I would have liked with the rye. Nothing too offensive, though, and it’s a spirit that works well enough as a diversion.

29.9 proof.

B / $19 / whiskeyt.com

Review: Pinnacle Cinnamon Roll Vodka

Pinnacle Cinnabon Vodka_750Those of you afraid that vodka flavors are losing their edge, rest easy, here’s a flavor that’s sure to strip the enamel straight off your teeth: Cinnamon roll, produced in conjunction with (or at least, with a picture and logo from) Cinnabon.

Unbearably sweet — though that’s not far from the source — the overall impression of this vodka is akin to vanilla cake frosting. Big butter (ok, margarine) notes just add to the fat bomb impression, and at least give it some sense that there’s a pastry somewhere in there. Cinnamon is — oddly enough — the weak link in the puzzle. While readily detectable, it’s dialed back to the point where its addition seems to come across as an afterthought. Bizarre.

Picking up a bottle to satisfy your boozy sweet tooth? God help you, dear reader.

70 proof.

D+ / $10 / pinnaclevodka.com

Review: Wines of Matanzas Creek, 2016 Releases

Matanzas 2012 Jackson Park MerlotSonoma’s Matanzas Creek is out with new merlots and a chardonnay. Let’s dive in to these new releases.

2013 Matanzas Creek Winery Chardonnay Sonoma County – Initially quite oaky, with a bold, brown-butter body. Classic California chardonnay from top to bottom, but Matanzas Creek infuses it with just enough fruit to make the dense, dessert-like confection work well. Over time, hints of apricots, lemon zest, and peaches emerge, all swirled into that buttery, creamy core. Decadent. A- / $20

2012 Matanzas Creek Winery Merlot Sonoma County – An entry-level merlot, but pleasant through and through. Fresh blackberry up front leads to some balsamic notes, dark chocolate, coffee bean, and (finally) the expected crushed violets. Give it some time in glass for best results. B+ / $28

2012 Matanzas Creek Winery Merlot Jackson Park Vineyard Bennett Valley Sonoma County – That’s a mouthful of a name for a home run merlot from this storied winery. Initially a bit closed off, it opens up to reveal notes of dense currant, chocolate, licorice, and salted caramel. Huge body with a dense mouthfeel, the finish is long, seductive, and even decadent at times. This is not your mother’s merlot. A / $60

matanzascreek.com

Review: Wines of Avant, 2016 Releases

 

avant wines

Avant is a new budget label from the folks at Kendall-Jackson, with a trio of basic California-sourced wines comprising the initial production run. While a lot of this comes across exactly as you expect it will, there’s at least one modest surprise in the bunch.

Thoughts follow.

2014 Avant Sauvignon Blanc California – Undistinguished and a bit boring, this plain jane sauv blanc offers notes of canned peaches and pineapple, brown sugar, and fruit leather. It works passably with a food, where the more saccharine notes are lost, but on its own it’s a study in plainness. C- / $13

2014 Avant Chardonnay California – A surprisingly fresh and drinkable chardonnay. The muted oak isn’t exactly refined, but the notes of butter-sauteed apples and a touch of citrus give this wine more complexity than you would expect given its price tag. The marshmallow notes on the finish aren’t a surprise, but they aren’t a bad complement, either. B / $13

2013 Avant Red Blend California – Mystery grapes from a mysterious place — what could go wrong? While you might expect a jammy fruit bomb, Avant’s red is more restrained than most wines of this pedigree, though the simple notes of maraschino cherry, strawberry, and brown sugar don’t cry out for in-depth analysis. Probably perfect for making sangria. B- / $17

avant.kj.com

Review: Score Vodka

score_medium

The grain in Ukraine falls mainly on the vodka producers, one of which is the maker of this new spirit, Score Vodka.

Score is distilled from organic winter wheat, distilled seven times, and run through a “unique milk-based filtration,” which sounds pretty crazy but, hey, it’s Ukraine, amirite?

The vodka itself is clean and very lightly oily, an interesting balance between old world and new world styles. The attack is lightly sweet — cotton candy through a lemonade filter. On the tongue, a little rush of sugar gets things going, then a big, astringent, hospital note hits hard, largely washing all of that sweetness away. The finish arrives quickly and is quite bittersweet, an interesting melding of the two styles that come before it.

One comment must be reserved for the bizarre closure, which is not a traditional screwcap but rather, is a plastic top that, when twisted, causes a controlled-pour spout to emerge directly from the top of the cap. Twist it the other way and the spout descends back down. A little flap of plastic works as a rudimentary cover for the affair (which, improbably, is actually watertight). Wild stuff, but exactly what you’d expect from Eastern Europe, I guess.

80 proof.

B / $NA / scorevodka.com

Review: Troegs Perpetual IPA and Blizzard of Hops Winter IPA

Troegs_Family

I had the good fortune of visiting the Troegs brewery, in Hershey, Pennsylvania, last summer. (You should go, too — the cafe is amazing.) Recently the company sent a couple of new releases to Drinkhacker HQ for us to formally review. Let’s give these a go!

Troegs Perpetual IPA – Initially rather dusty and mushroomy, the hefty bitterness brings this into stylistic focus after a time. The finish remains entrenched in notes of leather and tobacco, with layers of malt and even bitter chocolate and coffee on the finish. A curious spin on the IPA, but what do you expect from a brewery out of Hershey, PA? 7.5% abv. B / $10 per six-pack

Troegs Blizzard of Hops Winter IPA – What sounds like a curious combination — IPA with traditional “winter beer” spices — is in reality something a little more straightforward. Blizzard of Hops is really a fairly straightforward IPA, bringing pine and citrus notes into a core that seems just a touch scented with cloves. Perfectly palatable, winter, summer, or fall. 6.4% abv. B+ / $9 per six-pack

troegs.com

Review: Redemption White Rye, Rye, High-Rye Bourbon, and Straight Bourbon (2016)

redemption.pngIt’s been four years since we last checked in with Redemption Whiskey, one of the best-known bottlers of spirits sourced from Indiana-based MGP.

Redemption’s cylindrical bottles are as iconic as its rather singular focus: Rye whiskey, a category which Redemption was fanatical about before rye was cool. All of its products are rye-heavy, and even its “straight bourbon” is made from a mash of 21% rye, which is heavy when you look at the full market.

Things have changed a bit for Redemption over the years — the company was acquired by Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits in June of 2015 and it now markets a high-end line of cask strength whiskeys as well (reviews coming soon). The core line has evolved as well, and we’ll analyze some of these in the updated writeups below.

Let’s get going!

Redemption White Rye Batch 002 – 95% rye, 5% malted barley. This is essentially the straight rye, unaged. It’s surprisingly fruity on the nose, with strong notes of lemon and pineapple, alongside some roasted grains and coconut notes. That’s a lot for a white whiskey, but the palate keeps things rolling with more of that citrus, notes of coconut husks, and some mint. Hospital notes emerge with time — not uncommon for a white whiskey — but the finish of sugared grains, marshmallow, and menthol really take this in another direction. An unusually worthwhile example of a well-crafted white dog. 92 proof. B+ / $24

Redemption Rye Batch 189 – 95% rye, 5% malted barley, aged in new oak “less than 4 years.” Redemption’s best-known product, it does not appear to have undergone significant changes, offering a light body, ample granary character, and hospital overtones. Some menthol develops on the palate late in the game, with bittersweet cocoa powder notes on the back end. I like this less today than I did four years ago, but whether that is my palate or the spirit in the bottle is up for debate. 92 proof. B- / $27 [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Redemption High-Rye Bourbon Batch 094 – 36% rye, 4% malted barley, and 60% corn, aged “no less than 500 days.” This product has changed a bit since 2011, when it was 38.2% rye and 1.8% barley, aged over two years. So: a touch less rye, a touch less age. They’re different on the palate, too. I still have Batch 010 on hand and it has a depth that 094 is missing to a degree. There’s nothing wrong with this bourbon, but it certainly drinks young. Lots of granary character kicks things off, though there’s burnt sugar, licorice, cloves, and some mint to spice things up. A bit of toasted coconut on the finish adds more nuance, but the overall impression remains one of youth. Redemption clearly has a demand to fill and buyers who don’t mind drinking a very young spirit, but there’s no question that this whiskey would see much improvement after another few years in barrel — economics be damned. 92 proof. B+ / $26  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Redemption Straight Bourbon Whiskey Batch 004 – This used to be called Temptation Bourbon, but otherwise looked exactly like the Redemption bottles, only with a green label. Now it’s all just Redemption, and this one’s made from 21% rye, 4% malted barley, and 75% corn, aged over two years. Lower in proof than all of the above. Traditional in structure, this bourbon offers fresh vanilla, caramel, and a bit of barrel char right on the nose. A bit dusky, clove notes emerge with sustained sniffing. On the tongue, the lighter alcohol level is immediately noticeable, giving the whiskey a softer attack and a gentleness that the punchier high-rye formulation lacks. That’s just fine with me, as it lets the sweetness, some baking spice, black tea, and little hints of orange peel come to the fore. The finish is a bit muddy, but otherwise it’s a worthwhile endeavor for a whiskey that’s clearly quite young. 84 proof. B+ / $26  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

redemptionrye.com

Book Review: The Manhattan Cocktail

41enOr6ZSRL._SX317_BO1,204,203,200_Whiskey, sweet vermouth, bitters. Sub in dry vermouth for some of the sweet if you want to be fancy. As most of us know it, this is the Manhattan Cocktail, one of the absolute classics of the industry and the base upon which legions of other drinks have been built.

To Albert W. A. Schmid, the above is just a starting point. There are dozens — perhaps a hundred — variations on the Manhattan, along with reams of history of the drink that require consideration from the cocktail completist.

This tiny tome, pocket-sized in dimensions and under 100 pages in length — looks like something you could digest in full during a slightly above-average visit to the bathroom. But the truth is Schmid has crafted a barside companion that Manhattan fans will want to keep near their bar setup for the long haul. The history of the drink aside, the variations that Schmid has turned up are fascinating and sometimes mouth-watering. Got celery bitters, absinthe, and fernet? Get ready to have some fun spinning your Manhattans in different directions.

At a mere 12 bucks, it’s hard not to recommend this book as a fun addition to a serious barman’s shelf or even as a little gift to the kind host who constantly lets you raid his bar.

A- / $12 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Review: Big Bottom Pear Brandy and Oregon Gin Collection

big bottom PearBrandy-10-NEWIf you know Big Bottom, you probably know the company for its bourbons, most of which feature exotic finishes and impressive levels of quality.

Big Bottom also makes white spirits, though, including fruit brandies (pear now, apple is coming) and a collection of gins. Today we take a look at four of BB’s latest white offerings… well, three white spirits and one with a touch of age on it.

Thoughts follow.

Big Bottom Oregon Pear Brandy – Made from a blend of Oregon-grown Asian pears. Rather musty up front, the nose offers fruit restrained by astringent notes, a commonality of young fruit brandies. On the palate, significant earthy notes interplay with modest pear character — and you can indeed pick out that slightly citrus Asian character vs. the more traditional flavor of domestic pears. The finish, however, is a bit hot and indistinct. This is clearly a labor of love, but as with many pear brandies, it’s one that could benefit from some tempering by wood. 80 proof. B- / $45

Big Bottom Oregon Gin – 16 botanicals (none named) are used in the production of this New Western gin. It’s got a significant floral character, with a touch of black pepper adding spice. Juniper is present, but modest and restrained, as sweeter notes dominate. On the palate, it’s a gentle gin with ample sweetness enveloping the palate, those floral notes — honeysuckle and some white flowers — quite dominant. Citrus elements come on strong as well, with just a little kick of that pepper hitting on the back end. Fun stuff, and a nice change of pace from juniper-forward bruisers. 91 proof. A- / $30

Big Bottom Oregon Gin Navy Strength – Same gin as the above, but higher in proof. It offers similar notes to the lower-proof product, but it’s plenty racier if that’s your bag. As with many an overproof product, the higher-proof version will immediately fire up the palate, but it also offers a few surprises: a slightly fruitier character, and juniper that’s more immediately evident. Slight caramel notes offer a silky sweetness on the back end. All in all, it’s a solid Navy version of a juniper-restrained gin. 114 proof. A- / $46

Big Bottom Oregon Gin Finished in Oak Whiskey Barrels – Same gin as the first, aged (for 12 months in a new solera system) in used whiskey barrels outfit with new heads made from a mix of Oregon oak and Hungarian oak. The gin takes on a more dessert-like note here, with clear cinnamon notes and some mulled apple cider character. Sweet caramel on the finish takes this gin on a ride between a white spirit and a light, spiced whiskey, with notes of cloves and vanilla in lieu of any significant juniper or floral elements, which are washed away by the wood. Aged gins can be hit and miss, but this is surprisingly fun stuff, perfect for winter cocktails or even sipping straight with dessert. 91 proof. A / $38

bigbottomdistilling.com