Category Archives: Reviews

Review: Wines of Chloe, 2014 Releases

chloe wines 170x300 Review: Wines of Chloe, 2014 ReleasesChloe is yet another wine brand designed to appeal to the I-need-a-cutely-named-wine-with-a-cute-bottle-to-take-to-the-dinner-party crowd. Not to be confused with Chloe Wines (a Seattle importer), the Chloe Wine Collection is a new offshoot of The Wine Group, a California-based mega-bottler.

Chloe is starting up with three wines — two California bottlings and an Italian white. Thoughts on each follow.

2013 Chloe Pinot Grigio Valdadige Italy DOC – Mild on the nose, and steely. Tropical notes emerge, namely pineapple, with melon notes emerging on the finish. Easy to enjoy as an aperitif, and works well with food too. A- / $17

2012 Chloe Chardonnay Sonoma County - Big and buttery, almost to a fault. The nose starts off with something akin to butterscotch or cake frosting, before finally settling down into a brown sugar, vanilla extract, oak barrel character. Restrained pineapple notes emerge, but a weirdly herbal, almost astringent, finish wipes them all away. C+ / $17

2011 Chloe Red No. 249 North Coast California – A blend of Syrah, Merlot, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, and Petit Verdot from the Northern California region. Fruity but not overblown. Big strawberry notes. A touch of blackberry. Some rhubarb. Long, semi-sweet finish, with butterscotch candy notes on the finish. B / $17

chloewinecollection.com

Review: Six Ciders from Tieton Cider Works

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It’s time for a gaggle of apple ciders from Tieton Cider Works, based in Tieton, Washington. TCW makes at least 10 different products. Here we review a half dozen, all spins on the classic apple cider formula, and arranged from dryest to sweetest. Enjoy.

Tieton Cider Works Tieton Blend Cider Dry – English style cider, bone dry with barely a hint of sweetness. This is a tough one for those more accustomed to fruitier, sweeter ciders, and even after putting on my dryest of dry white wine hats, I couldn’t cut through it. Herbs and minerals abound here, but the overall effect is like a weak sauvignon blanc. 7% abv. C

Tieton Cider Works Yakima Valley Dry Hopped Cider Dry – Dry cider blended with local hops. Cider plus beer is known as a “snakebite,” but I’ve never seen anyone actually drink one. Here, the sweet, sour, and bitter are combine to create an initially off-putting concoction, but over time your palate adjusts and reveals a complex and unique brew. The sour apple notes remain the heaviest component, the hops largely blowing off to show themselves primarily as a hint on the finish. 6.9% abv. C+

Tieton Cider Works Wild Washington Apple Cider Semi-Dry – Aptly described, with tart and sweet elements. Lots of mineral notes here, along with an earthy (“wild,” perhaps) pungency on the nose. This is a cider for those who are OK with sweeter stuff, but who might want to experience a somewhat dryer beverage from time to time. 7% abv. B

Tieton Cider Works Apricot Cider Semi-Dry - Blended with apricots, naturally. Quite fruity, with strong overtones of fresh and dried apricots. Seems sweeter than “semi-dry” would indicate, with a biting acidity on the finish. The simplest, but perhaps the best, of the bunch. 6.9% abv. B+

Tieton Cider Works Apple Cherry Cider Semi-Sweet – Plenty of cherry flavor up front here, so much so that it almost drinks like pomegranate/cherry juice. Heavy sour notes on the finish abate over time, leaving behind the essence of fruit, with an almost mineral edge to it. Not bad. 6.9% abv. B

Tieton Cider Works Blossom Nectar Cider Sweet – Includes apple blossoms in the mix. Quite sweet, and indeed very floral, with a pleasant balance between tart apple and the perfumy, rose-scented blossoms. The perfume does take on a “grandma’s house” note over time, particularly as it warms up, but hey, you’re drinking cider, so stop moaning. 7% abv. B+

$42.60 as a mixed six-pack of 500ml bottles (one of each of the above) / tietonciderworks.com

Review: 2012 Natura Cabernet Sauvignon and 2012 Novas Sauvignon Blanc

Natura CS 2012 72x300 Review: 2012 Natura Cabernet Sauvignon and 2012 Novas Sauvignon BlancWe may have missed the “Earth Day” timing of these affordable, biodynamic, sustainably produced wines from Chile’s Emiliana Winery, but it’s safe to say you’ll find them for sale pretty much year-round. Anyway, we love to hear stories about Earth-friendly wines being made… but if you’re serious about sustainability, perhaps you should be drinking local plonk instead of foreign stuff? Just sayin’.

2012 Emiliana Natura Cabernet Sauvignon Rapel Valley Curious nose: dark cocoa powder, toasty wood, and dense currant notes. The body doesn’t really deliver, alas, bringing some astringency to bear alongside an acidic, moderately tannic, and restrained fruit. The finish is drying and a bit bittersweet. C / $10

2012 Emiliana Novas Sauvignon Blanc Gran Reserva San Antonio Valley - Intensely vegetal nose. Asparagus, lettuce, some lemon peel, pepe du chat. The body brings on some merciful acidity and citrus juice notes, here predominantly grapefruit. Very tart finish, which washes away those somewhat uninspiring notes on the nose. B- / $15

emiliana.cl

Review: Wines of Belle Ambiance, 2014 Releases

belle ambiance 200x300 Review: Wines of Belle Ambiance, 2014 ReleasesA new brand from DFV/Delicato, Belle Ambiance has a rock bottom price combined with appealing, upscale packaging that’s certain to drive some sales. Launching out of the gate with a collection of six wines, we tried three for review. Not entirely sure I’m buying the “family vineyards” claim on the label, given that all of these wines carry generic “California” designations, but, hey, it’s what’s inside that counts, no?

2013 Belle Ambiance Pinot Grigio California – On the sweet side, with lots of mango notes, plus some lemon and a touch of melon. The lasting finish offers some light herbal notes, before recalling that tropical punch up front. Fine, but best with food. B / $8

2012 Belle Ambiance Chardonnay California – Straightforward, big butter/vanilla notes, with a lemon chaser. Long finish, with quite sweet marshmallow notes picking up on the back end. Not bad, but needs some refinements. B- / $8

2012 Belle Ambiance Pinot Noir California – Gentle, simple stuff. Light cherry and strawberry notes lead to a quietly sweet body, with light tea leaf notes on the finish. Oh so pleasant, almost harmless. B+ / $8

belleambiancevineyards.com

Review: The Exclusive Malts Batch #4

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Five more tiny-production, very rare, Scotch whiskys are about to arrive on our shores, courtesy of the independent malt whisky bottlers at Exclusive Malts. As always, total bottles produced tend to number in the low hundreds, so if you see something you like, get it now.

The Exclusive Malts Linkwood 1999 14 Years Old – This Speyside distillery is known for providing its casks to blended Scotch producers, and here it turns in a spicy, racy, young-tasting single malt that, on first blush, feels like it would be right at home as a component in Dewar’s or Johnnie Walker. Cereal and heather give way to chewy nougat, finally revealing some restrained apple and banana character. Tough to crack, with a lightly smoky finish. Try some water to coax more out of it. 111.6 proof. B- / $97

The Exclusive Malts North Highland 1996 17 Years Old – A Highlands spirit, matured completely in a refill ex-sherry hogshead. Lots of sherry up front on the nose, of course, but also tar, cigars, and unripe banana. Quite fruity on the palate, it blends orange oil with notes of incense and baking spice, the finish coming across as racy, smoldering, and luscious. Quite fetching. 112.2 proof. A- / $138

The Exclusive Malts Bladnoch 1992 21 Years Old - Lowland whisky from the southwest end of Scotland, aged in an ex-Bourbon hogshead. Malty and grassy on the nose, tinged with lemon oil and a touch of iodine. The body is much fruitier than the nose lets on, a concoction that offers sweet lemonade and sweet(er) tea, with a candy-like nougat character that comes on strong on the finish. More grainy/grassy notes on the back end, also. Well-aged but far from hoary, this malt still has plenty of life left in it, and it drinks hotter than its (relatively) lower proof level would indicate. 96.2 proof. B+ / $170

The Exclusive Malts Glencadam 1991 22 Years Old - Coastal Highlands single malt from an ex-Bourbon hogshead, surprisingly light in color. Pure honey, tempered with touches of smoke. The beautiful nose is complex, adding touches of heather and a hint of granary character. The rounded body is seductive and sweet, pushing the honey notes to the limit. The finish nods at cereal while going out on a smoldering but sweet finale, inviting continued sipping and savoring. There’s not a terribly high level of complexity here, but this Glencadam is so enjoyable it’s hard not to love. 100.8 proof. A / $179

The Exclusive Malts Bowmore 2001 12 Years Old - The only Islay in this release, bottled after 12 years in a refill Sherry butt. Intense smoke and melting wax notes on the nose. Tons of iodine all around. On the palate, it’s an intense dram, blending sweet sherry notes and a Madeirized character with the essence of tire fire. These two characteristics do battle for some time on the tongue. Neither one ends up winning, a shame. 116.8 proof. B- / $138

impexbev.com

Review: Tawny Ports of Croft, Fonseca, and Taylor Fladgate, 2014 Releases

1964 Single Harvest Tawny 2 525x802 Review: Tawny Ports of Croft, Fonseca, and Taylor Fladgate, 2014 Releases

Even seasoned wine enthusiasts often get confused over the world of Port, and who can blame them? Bottled both in vintage-dated and non-vintage but “xx years old” varieties (and in ruby, tawny, white, and other versions), the topic quickly gets complicated — when all you want to do is enjoy something sweet with dessert.

What’s the difference between ruby and tawny, the two major types of nonvintage Port? As Taylor Fladgate wine director David Guimaraens says, “Most people are familiar with the dark purple, ‘ruby’ Ports which range from very basic up to the storied Vintage Ports.  Rubies are aged in bottles, so they keep their fresh red fruit flavors.  On the other hand, Tawny Ports are aged in wooden casks, so they have more interchange with the air around them.  This process evolves their color to a ‘tawny’ amber color, and changes their flavors from predominantly fruity to predominantly nutty.”

Guimaraens’ comments aside, I’d still characterize most tawny Ports as extremely fruity, but more chocolatey and coffee-like than rubies. These notes come across more distinctly in older bottlings, though. Young tawny can often be just as fruity as a typical ruby.

What does “10 years old” or “20 years old” mean in these Ports? Well, contrary to what you might expect, it doesn’t mean that in 2004 or 1994, Port was dumped into a barrel and a decade or two later was prepped for bottling. Ports with age statements like this are blends of a variety of years, and the number on the label is somewhat meaningless. Most tawnys are a blend of solera-style old stock and young stock, and the years noted on the label are a sort of moving target that the blender is supposed to aim for. There’s nothing requiring any sort of accuracy here, and in many cases no way of even knowing how old the wine is in any given bottle. But a 20 year old should at least taste older than a 10 year old, even if both of those numbers are fudged a bit.

The exception of course is when a vintage does actually appear on the label. That’s the case with the last tawny on the list below, a 1964 single-vintage Tawny Port from Taylor Fladgate. What that means is exactly what it sounds like: This Port was made exclusively from grapes picked in ’64. Yes, 50 years ago. They’ve been mellowing out in barrel ever since, and aren’t blended with other vintages. And unlike non-vintage Tawny, this stuff won’t be around forever, so snap it up while you can.

Croft, Fonseca, and Taylor Fladgate are all sub-brands of Taylor’s, a mega-Port operation whose CEO, Adrian Bridge, we’ve met on several occasions. He’s a swell guy, and we’re excited to offer notes on several Tawny Ports in current release, as well as the exceptional 1964. Thoughts follow.

NV Croft Aged Tawny Porto 10 Years Old (bottled in 2010) – Bright raspberry and sour cherry notes, just the right amount of vinegar to balance out some very focused fruit flavors. I’ve always thought of Croft as the fruitiest of vintage Ports, and here it produces a tawny that is closer to the ruby style of Port than most others you’ll encounter. Very easy drinking and versatile. A- / $28

NV Fonseca Aged Tawny Port 10 Years Old – Jammier, with more chocolate notes, and a lightly minty finish. Long, bold, and lightly creamy on the palate, this is a tawny with a little more oomph and more sourness on the back end. B+ / $23

NV Taylor Fladgate Tawny Port 10 Years Old – Somewhere between the fruitiness of Croft and the power of Fonseca lies Taylor Fladgate’s 10 year Tawny, an inviting wine with ample fruit at the core, but with bittersweet edges of licorice, chicory, and coffee bean. These characteristics, plus some chocolate notes, tend to overtake the fruit on the finish, but the body, on the whole, is surprisingly delicate. Complex, yet a bit immature. B+ / $23

NV Fonseca Aged Tawny Port 20 Years Old - Plenty of fruit and body here, but the chocolate notes are pumped up, and the fruit takes on more of a classic, Port-like raisin character. At 20, some of the more rustic elements of the Fonseca 10 Year Tawny are rounded out, giving this Port a slightly more refined construction, albeit one with plenty of lasting sweetness. A- / $40

NV Taylor Fladgate Tawny Port 20 Years Old - Lots of intensity here, with an almost bruising sour cherry and tart raisin character that overpowers some of this Port’s more delicate coffee and chocolate notes. The finish is lasting and almost punishing in its mouth-puckering character. This is a step back from the 10 year. B / $40

1964 Taylor Fladgate Single Harvest Tawny Port (pictured) – Wow, this is how tawny should be experienced. Drawn from a single vintage that’s 50 years old, this tawny is showing well rounded notes of cinnamon, raisin, and allspice… layered with cedar wood, chocolate, and coffee bean notes. The finish is long and sweetly sour — ending on a note of Cherries Jubilee that has the perfect balance of fruity and winey flavors. Lovely. A / $300

taylor.pt

The Drinkhacker Shopping List – 05.30.2014

Welcome to another edition of the Drinkhacker Shopping List, our semi-regular compendium of the best and worst beverages we’ve covered over the recent weeks. This time around we’ve had plenty to go around in every category, including some exceptional A-rated offerings, especially in the bourbon category.

TheList053014 525x1113 The Drinkhacker Shopping List   05.30.2014

We’ve also had a few expansive tasting reports for your consideration:

Rhone Rangers 2014
Whiskies of the World Expo San Francisco 2014
Blue Chip Wineries of Paso Robles, 2014

Review: American Born Moonshine

ABM 3 Bottles on white 525x511 Review: American Born Moonshine

Moonshine continues to grow as a category, and this Nashville-based producer, founded in 2012, is getting its first products on the market in its home state, plus four others. Featuring mason jar bottles with a custom pouring system built into the lid, the company aims to class up an (often intentionally) unsexy industry.

Purportedly made from a 200 year old recipe, American Born Moonshine uses a 100% corn mash that’s sweetened with sugar. Two flavored (and lower-proof) versions are also on the market. We tasted them all, straight out of mini Mason jars.

Thoughts follow.

American Born Moonshine Original White Lightning – Unaged and overproof, this moonshine is the legit stuff. Popcorn and cane sugar on the nose, it’s got a surprising level of refinement lacking from most moonshines, presenting some measure of balance from the start. On the tongue, the popcorn fades to reveal more sweetness, almost like that from grape juice, plus notes of toasted marshmallow, marzipan, and nougat. Sippable on its own, but more intriguing as a mixer, and one of the best white corn whiskeys you’ll find on the market right now. 103 proof. A-

American Born Moonshine Apple Pie - One of the most popular of flavors for moonshines these days, American Born’s apple pie flavored ‘shine is heavier on tart apple notes and lighter on those traditional apple spice characters like cinnamon and cloves. The nose hints at more, but the juicy body is more akin to cider than pie. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s not exactly what’s on the label — and who wants a glass of juice when they could be eating pie? 83 proof. B

American Born Moonshine Dixie Sweet Tea - Tea flavoring has been fading from the vodka world for a while, but here it shows its face again. In fact, the company claims this is the first sweet tea-flavored moonshine on the market. ABM’s rendition is sweet first, tea second, though both components come through in spades. The slightly corny finish adds an interesting spin, but I can’t say I prefer it to a more straightforward tea-flavored vodka. As with its compatriots, it’s easily enjoyable on the whole. 83 proof. A-

each $25 / americanbornmoonshine.com

Review: 2011 Uproot Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

Uproot Cabernet Sauvignon 1721 94x300 Review: 2011 Uproot Cabernet Sauvignon Napa ValleyLast week we reviewed the initial releases from boutique winery Uproot, a pair of Sauvignon Blancs. Now the company is expanding with the de rigueur Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa-sourced and priced for collecting.

Thoughts: It’s seductive, with red berry notes on the nose. Very light tannin, with some sweetness evident even before the first sip. On the palate, it’s a bit chalky up front (a surprise), before building its berry core up. As the wine opens up, the fruit turns more toward jam, while secondary notes of licorice, cedar, and milk chocolate emerge. Some sweet marshmallow notes also present themselves on the finish.

A- / $78 / drinkuproot.com

Tasting Report: Wines of Domaine Carneros, 2014

Visiting the grand chateau of Domaine Carneros in the region between Napa and Sonoma is always a treat, and a recent jaunt wine-ward brought us back to the spectacular views of Domaine’s north-facing patio. We sampled a variety of both sparkling and still wines. Brief thoughts on everything tasted — all of which is currently available — follow.

2006 Domaine Carneros La Reve Blanc de Blancs / $99 / A- / rich and yeasty, nutty and malty notes; slight floral finish

2010 Domaine Carneros Vintage Brut Rose / $37 / A- / big fruit character, with tart raspberry and herbal notes on the finish

2009 Domaine Carneros Vintage Brut Cuvee / $28 / B+ / quite dry, with apple and fig notes, some floral and citrus character

2008 Domaine Carneros The Famous Gate Pinot Noir / $80 / A / rich with menthol, tobacco, and cedar box notes, massive and dense, with a chocolate/blueberry character to it

2011 Domaine Carneros Estate Pinot Noir / $35 / A- / dark cherry, licorice, and dense blackberry notes; lingering sweetness and more cherries on the finish

domainecarneros.com

Review: NV Domaine Carneros Cuvee de la Pompadour Brut Rose Napa Valley

domaine carneros brut rose 125x300 Review: NV Domaine Carneros Cuvee de la Pompadour Brut Rose Napa ValleyNamed for Madame de la Pompadour, Louis XV’s lover, this new brut rose from Domaine Carneros is 58% pinot noir and 42% chardonnay.

This is a more powerful sparkler than I’m accustomed to from Domaine Carneros, offering a complex collection of aromas that range from yeasty notes to strawberry to smoked bacon to balsa wood. The body boils this down mainly to the fruit component, with jammier berry and stone fruit notes, atop a fizzy, yeasty core. The finish is a touch sweet, and brings up some very slight, gentle vegetal notes, almost the aroma of char-grilled vegetables. Curious stuff.

B+ / $36 / domainecarneros.com

Review: 79 Caramel Spirit

79 gold caramel spirit 514x1200 Review: 79 Caramel Spirit

79 is the atomic number for gold. It’s also the proof level for the spirit that bears the numerical name of 79. Perhaps, it’s also a veiled reference to its owner, rapper Rich Dollaz.

The spirit begins by distilling a mash from Idaho wheat and then flavoring it with caramel and vanilla. Bearing a whole gaggle of alternative names, you might find this liqueur listed under 79, 79 Gold, 79Gold, Au 79, 79 Gold Au Wheat, or some combination of the above. Frankly I’m not sure what to call the stuff, or even whether it’s a flavored vodka or a liqueur. I’m going to hedge and call it both.

Light gold in color with visible cloudiness swirling in the bottle, 79 offers a nose of caramel candies and cake frosting. The body is sweet as expected, offering a moderately rich spirit, offering the expected notes of pancake syrup, sugar cookie batter, and melted caramels. There’s an undercurrent of smokiness here, though not really enough to give 79 any kind of special nuance. 79 offers interesting possibilities as a dessert drink mixer, but at 79 proof it’s probably a bit on the powerful side for most drinkers looking for something to splash into their coffee. Use with appropriate levels of caution.

Now available in Atlanta.

B / $NA / 79caramel.com

Review: Diageo Orphan Barrel Project Rhetoric Bourbon 20 Years Old

rhetoric bottle 525x679 Review: Diageo Orphan Barrel Project Rhetoric Bourbon 20 Years Old

For the third whiskey from its controversial Orphan Barrel Project, Diageo has chosen another odd name (though perhaps not as odd as Old Blowhard): Rhetoric. Rhetoric has a number of meanings, but the most notable is “language designed to have a persuasive or impressive effect on its audience, but often regarded as lacking in sincerity or meaningful content.”

Probably not what I’d call my new whiskey, but anyway.

This release is a 20 year old spirit sourced from Bernheim Distillery in Louisville, where Barterhouse was also sourced. Differences in aging are said to give this release a different character. How different? Let’s find out.

Interesting nose here, with lots going on: oak resin, mint leaves, cherries, apple cider, and a sherried character. Well-aged but not past its prime, Rhetoric hangs on to its fruit without giving everything up to the tannins of the wood. The body is silky and full of fruit — caramel apples, milk chocolate-covered cherries — and features a finish that brings its cinnamon and nutmeg elements alive. Exuberant and fun, it’s not a dusty, hoary old beatdown like so many well-aged bourbons. It’s hanging on to its youth, and doing a damn fine job of it by melding well with the wood in its barrel. Easily my favorite of the three Orphans to date.

90 proof.

A- / $85 / diageo.com

Review: Four Roses Yellow Label Bourbon

FOUR ROSES yellow label 367x1200 Review: Four Roses Yellow Label Bourbon

Officially known only as “Four Roses Bourbon,” Yellow Label — called thusly for reasons you can surely fit together on your own — is the company’s entry level product. It’s also one of its most venerable. “Yellow Label” bottlings have been on the market since probably the 1930s and 1940s. (The distillery has seen massive ups and down since then… and Yellow Label perseveres.)

We’ve reviewed I-don’t-know-how-many single barrel and small batch expressions of Four Roses, but never the stalwart (and super-cheap) Yellow, bottled with no age statement and blended from up to all 10 of the company’s mashbill combinations (depending on supply and the season). Finally we’re getting around to it. Without further ado…

It’s initially a bit brash on the nose, with plenty of youthful exuberance. Strong vanilla (think extract, not wafers), knotty lumberyard, and hints of dark chocolate emerge, once the booziness blows off. On the palate, it’s quite sweet, which works hard to counterbalance the woodier notes that emerge. Think cinnamon sugar, chocolate-covered caramels, and just the lightest touch of honey-doused cornbread. As big blends go, it’s hard to find a lot of fault here aside from a bit of roughness up front.

Overall, it’s nowhere near as nuanced as many single barrel offerings, but for barely over $1 a shot (based on the bottle price), it’ll do the trick. Also makes a supreme base for cocktails.

80 proof.

B+ / $18 / fourrosesbourbon.com

Review: Piccini 2009 Brunello and 2008 Brunello Riserva

Piccini Brunello Riserva NV 2 94x300 Review: Piccini 2009 Brunello and 2008 Brunello RiservaTwo new Brunello releases from Piccini, a huge Tuscan producer that still manages to carve out time for these rarities, 100% sangiovese wines from the Montalcino region, aged at least 2 years in oak.

Some thoughts follow.

2009 Piccini Villa al Cortile Brunello di Montalcino DOCG – A beautiful wine, showing a complex collection of cherries, blackberries, violets, and menthol on the nose. The body adds to that with hints of earthy mushroom, spicy licorice root, and touches of tobacco and cedar box on the finish. Over time, hints of prunes and raspberry emerge, too — this is a wine that evolves beautifully in the glass and is well worth exploring over the course of an evening. All in all, it’s a moderately dense wine with lots to recommend it, a Brunello that’s close to a benchmark for the style. A / $60

2008 Piccini Villa al Cortile Brunello di Montalcino Riserva DOCG - Similar to the standard bottling, but tougher to parse. There’s more herbal character on this one, with those violets really pumped up to create quite a perfumy experience. The body still packs in plenty of tannin, and it doesn’t quite give up its grip even after an hour in glass. Notes of coffee and leather send the fruit into dried plum and dense, dried cherry areas. Still tough on the finish. This’ll probably be hitting its stride in 2018. A- / $80

aveniubrands.com

Review: Young Ribera del Duero Wines from Garcia Figuero and Protos

Tinto Figuero 4 Month 109x300 Review: Young Ribera del Duero Wines from Garcia Figuero and ProtosSpanish wines are known for being released well-aged, with some Rioja reservas spending 8 to 10 years in barrel and bottle before hitting the market… and sometimes longer.

But not all Spanish wines are aged for such a long time. In fact, the Ribera del Duero has two lesser-known classifications, in addition to the older crianza and reserva bottlings, which are intended to be consumed young. Known as barrica and roble wines, these Riberas are released within a year of harvest, both spending between three to eight months in oak — though, by Spanish law, they are not required to spend any time in barrel at all. Basically: It’s prison rules wine, letting a winemaker do just about anything he wants to craft the best wine he can, without having to worry about Spain’s arcane aging and labeling requirements.

Both wines are made from 100% tempranillo (aka tinto fino) grapes — but otherwise couldn’t be more different. Thoughts follow…

2012 Garcia Figuero Roble Ribera del Duero - This “roble” wine spends only four months in new oak barrels (3/4 American, 1/4 French), then four more months in bottle before release. (The wine is also officially known as “Four Months in Barrel” in English — hence the big “4″ on the label.) The nose is intense with bramble, dense wood, and meaty sausage notes. On the body, there’s more fruit than expected, but these thick blackberry jam notes are punched down by licorice, bitter roots, tobacco leaf, and tar characteristics. Chewy and more than a little tough. C+ / $20

2011 Protos Tinto Fino - This wine spends a full year in 60% French, 40% American oak barrels. The difference between the Figuero is remarkable, with the Protos showing a much more refined character on the nose and body. Aromas of blackberry and violets pervade, and the body is moderate to lush, with fresh fruit, some peppery notes, and a touch of floral character. This is a young wine that is sometimes a bit brash, but on the whole it’s finding its balance, with ample structure and smoothed out tannins. B+ / $15

Review: The Fat Trout Blended Scotch Whisky

the fat trout 131x300 Review: The Fat Trout Blended Scotch WhiskyThe Fat Trout is a blend from the Speyside that’s produced by the world renowned Ian Macleod Distillers. A “standard 3 year old” blend, the whisky is comprised of approximately 30 different single malts, mostly from the Spey region, but also from Islay and the Highlands.

There is also a huge fish on the label of this, “the sportsmans choice.”

There’s lots of grain on the nose, as expected, but things are balanced with not insubstantial sherried orange notes. A fair amount of alcoholic heat makes things indistinct, however, at least until the Trout has had substantial air time.

The body is more interesting than expected, the cereal notes becoming more balanced here with some marshmallow, caramel, and gentle chocolate character. A sugared orange slice character takes hold — surprisingly strongly — on the finish, almost to the detriment of some of the other notes in the whisky. Initially brash and rustic, the palate of The Fat Trout also improves with some air time, but it never really elevates beyond a basic blended experience.

80 proof.

C+ / $23 / thefattrout.com

Review: Old Pulteney Navigator Single Malt Whisky

old pulteney navigator 525x649 Review: Old Pulteney Navigator Single Malt Whisky

Old Pulteney, “The Maritime Malt,” is based in the remote region of Wick in the far north of Scotland’s Highlands. It recently added this whisky to its lineup, a limited edition single malt with no age statement.

Navigator is aged in bourbon and sherry casks, but otherwise little is known about it. The nose doesn’t really scream age. It offers ample cereal character, with the sherry component evident underneath. Big and malty, it doesn’t pull any punches, raising the ante with some light sea salt and iodine notes.

On the body, few surprises await. The cereal is punchy and fresh, the hallmark of a young spirit. Smoky elements add some complexity, and some fruit builds on the finish — orange peel, coconut, touches of unripe banana and cherry — but these just don’t last. It’s back to smoked grains for the denouement, with a hot, lingering aftermath.

As with the similarly-ageless and recently-launched Talisker Storm, Navigator is largely defined by its lack of anything truly unique or exciting to say. Its youth is born right on its sleeve (if not on the bottle), the mild sherry notes largely serving to mask some of the raw granary feeling going on. Oh well.

92 proof.

B / $47 / oldpulteney.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Abraham Bowman Double Barrel Bourbon

Abraham Bowman Double Barrel Bourbon March 2014 525x911 Review: Abraham Bowman Double Barrel Bourbon

This new whiskey from Sazerac-owned A. Smith Bowman is a semi-experimental offering from the Virginia-based distillery. It involves putting the spirit into two separate barrels… both of them newly-charred oak.

From the company: “Originally put into barrels on December 12, 2006, this bourbon was transferred to new barrels on April 17, 2013.  After aging an additional six months in Bowman’s standard Warehouse (A1), the barrels were then moved to the mezzanine of Warehouse K, and aged for an additional 5 months where they experienced increased air-flow and scrutiny.” Total time in barrel is 7 years, 2 months.

Barrel finishes are common in the whiskey world and are increasingly part of the bourbon landscape, but usually the second barrel is a former wine, rum, or cognac barrel — something to add a little special something to an otherwise standard whiskey. What’s the point then of aging a second time in a new oak barrel? To point out the obvious: It pumps up the “wood” character. Put simply, the longer an oak barrel is in use, the more whiskey it soaks up, and the less of the wood components it gives back. An oak barrel probably does most of its work in the first few years. After that, you’re dealing with diminishing returns. By moving the aged bourbon into a brand new barrel, Bowman is essentially doubling down on the aging process.

The results are interesting, and not really what I expected. On the nose, there’s ample wood, but it’s not overwhelming. Notes of vanilla, cinnamon, and cloves are all readily available. There’s lots of alcoholic heat here, too, so it might be wise to come prepared with water.

The body is quite sweet. You would be forgiven for assuming there’s a sherry influence here, with orange notes strong up front. (The color is even more orange than you’d expect.) Caramel and marshmallow follow on that, with just hints at cinnamon-sugar spice after that. Expecting heavy wood notes on the palate? I was shocked to find them quite muted. Aside from the vanilla components that are laced throughout the body, the expected sawdust and lumberyard notes are surprisingly restrained. Heavy on the nose, sure, but almost absent on the body. That’s not a slight, but a sign of how surprisingly well-balanced this spirit is. Bowman has hit on something here that works well, drinking like a mature bourbon, but not one that’s so old it’s growing hair out of its ears.

100 proof.

A- / $70 / asmithbowman.com

Tasting Report: Rhone Rangers 2014

It’s never hard to find good wines at the annual Rhone Rangers festival of Rhone-style wines made in California, and this year’s event was no exception. An easy standout: The wines of Big Basin, which released its first vintage back in 2002 but which I am only now discovering for the first time.

Complete tasting notes on all wines encountered follow.

Tasting Report: Rhone Rangers 2014

2011 Arrowood Viognier Saralee’s Vineyard / $30 / B / very buttery, biscuit notes
2011 Arrowood Syrah Saralee’s Vineyard / $35 / B- / thin, somewhat lifeless
2010 Big Basin Syrah Old Corral Santa Cruz Mountains / $55 / A- / touches of mint, cherry notes
2010 Big Basin Syrah Coastview Vineyard Gabilan Mountains Monterey / $48 / A- / some currants, chocolate, easygoing
2010 Big Basin Red Blend Grizzly / $48 / A- / a touch softer
2011 Big Basin Red Blend Paderewski Vineyard Paso Robles / $55 / A / spicy, just a bit of chocolate
2011 Big Basin Homestead / $36 / A- / Rhone blend; cigar box, lush spices, fun
2010 Big Basin Rattlesnake Rock Syrah / $55 / B+ / more dense, some meaty notes
2011 Big Basin Homestead Block Roussanne / $48 / B+ / rich, pineapple with some vanilla
2009 Bonny Doon Red Blend Le Cigare Volant Normale / $38 / A / beautiful, balanced fruit with light earth notes
2009 Bonny Doon Red Blend Le Cigare Volant En Bonbonne / $75 / A- / spends time in glass carboys before bottling; menthol notes; brisk, slightly more acidic
2012 Bonny Doon Cuvee R / $NA / A- / rich chocolate, dense blueberry
2012 Davis Family Vineyards White Blend Cuvee Luke Saralee’s Vineyard / $28 / A- / peachy, lightly sweet, butterscotch notes
2010 Davis Family Vineyards Syrah Soul Patch Russian River Valley / $42 / B+ / jammy, lush, red berries
2010 Davis Family Vineyards Red Blend Marco Mistral / $100 (magnum) / B+ / dense, exotic, curious
2012 Donelan Roussanne Venus / $45 / A- / big aromatics, pretty, easy to love
2012 Donelan Red Blend Cuvee Moriah / $40 / B+ / drinking young, cigar box
2011 Donelan Syrah Cuvee Christine / $45 / B+ / light body, some green notes
2011 Donelan Syrah Walker Vine Hill / $45 / B+ / dense and chewy, pepper and plums
2011 Eric Kent Wine Cellars Syrah Kalen’s Big Boy Blend Sonoma County / $42 / A- / fruity, good balance, restrained palate
2011 Eric Kent Wine Cellars Syrah Las Madres Vineyard Carneros / $40 / A- / chewy with lush fruit, some chocolate
2011 Eric Kent Wine Cellars Grenache The Barrel Climber Russian River Valley / $40 / A / coffee and cocoa powder, lovely finish
2012 Skinner Vineyards Picpoul Blanc El Dorado County / $24 / B+ / melon, goosebarry, toasted wood finish
2012 Skinner Vineyards Mourvedre El Dorado County / $24 / B / meaty, chewy, roasted nuts
2011 Skinner Vineyards Red Blend Eighteen Sixty-One / $30 / A / brighter, balance, rich with silky acidity
2008 Terre Rouge Syrah Sentinel Oak Vineyard Shenandoah Valley / $35 / A / unusual coffee, chocolate, and toffee notes; like a rich dessert
2007 Terre Rouge Syrah DTR Ranch Fiddletown / $38 / B / funky on the finish
2008 Terre Rouge Syrah Ascent Sierra Foothills / $90 / A / mint notes balanced with rich layers of fruit
2012 Two Shepherds Grenache Blanc Saarloos Vineyard Santa Ynez / $25 / B+ / butter cookes and apple notes
2012 Two Shepherds White Blend Pastoral Blanc Saralee’s Vineyard / $28 / A- / more floral, better acid
2013 Two Shepherds Rose of Grenache Gris Rose / $24 / A- / pretty, floral, touches of strawberry
2012 Two Shepherds Grenache Saralee’s Vineyard / $38 / B+ / quite fruity, hints of chocolate
2011 Two Shepherds Pastoral Rouge / $NA / B+ / mint, spices, cherry
2011 Two Shepherds Syrah/Mourvedre / $NA / A- / drinking well, solid acid and tart raspberry
2010 Zaca Mesa Syrah / $25 / B+ / peppery, beef jerky notes
2010 Zaca Mesa Z Three Red Blend / $42 / A- / pepper and blueberry/blackberry notes