Review: 2013 Mulderbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Rose

Mulderbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Rose 2012This rose of Cabernet hails from Mulderbosch, located in the Stellenbosch region of coastal South Africa. This wine has been in release since 1999 and was the first of its kind from South Africa.

Fresh and fruity, this rose offers crisp notes of strawberry, with undertones of lemon, lime, and tangerine. There’s only the lightest touch of floral notes underneath, which lets the fruit really shine.

Complex? Not exactly, but that’s par for the course for rose — bright, lively, and ready for summer fun and sun. And dirt cheap, to boot!

A- / $8 / mulderbosch.co.za

Review: Celtic Honey Liqueur

celtic honeyCeltic Honey is Ireland’s other answer to Scotland’s Drambuie. As with Celtic Crossing, it’s a mild blend of Irish Whiskey and honey that goes down easy and won’t harm any sensibilities.

The whiskey hits you first, vanilla and light wood tones, before the honey kicks in. Alongside the usual lightly earthy, caramel-driven notes, there are interesting lemon and peppermint hints to be found here. What starts off as almost plain becomes more intriguing as it evolves in the glass, its various flavors melding into a cohesive, and quite enchanting, whole.

That said, as with many honey-infused spirits, Celtic Honey is far from complex, but it manages to keep everything in balance while presenting a gentle, pretty picture.

60 proof.

A- / $18 / celtichoney.com

Review: Starr African Rum

starr african rum

The strikingly-bottled Starr African Rum hails from Mauritius, home to Penny Blue and Pink Pigeon, the only other African rums I’m familiar with.

At first blush, this is a fairly typical white rum. The nose is lightly woody, with notes of coconut, black tea, and caramel. Slightly unusual, but nothing insane. The body really punches things up. Here a more fruity, tangerine-heavy character takes hold, along with a big herbal component. Think anise, cloves, and cardamom. Lots of depth, and it gets more intriguing as it opens up in the glass, the finish folding everything together nicely into an almost punch-like package.

I like it better and better, the more I sip on it.

80 proof. Fair trade certified.

A- / $30 / africanrum.com

Review: Vodka DSP CA 162 – Straight and Flavored

vodka dsp 162 straight

In 2010, California-based Craft Distillers sold its highly-regarded Hangar One Vodka line to Proximo Spirits. (You may not have even realized this, but now you know.) At the time, Craft signed a strict non-compete agreeing not to make vodka for three years. Well, the three years are up, and Craft is now back at work with some vodkas which incorporate flavors that might sound a bit familiar.

No frills here, and that’s by design to keep the focus on what’s in the bottle; the brand name refers to an old federal designation for the distillery. The scientifically-named spirits are distilled in the company’s copper cognac still from a wheat base, and the flavored vodkas are made with real macerated fruits. They’re filtered, but these spirits do still have a slight yellow tint to them. All of the botanicals are grown in the rare-fruit orchards of John Kirkpatrick in the San Joaquin Valley.

Each vodka is 80 proof. Thoughts follow.

Vodka DSP CA 162 Straight - This vodka takes the wheat-base spirit and blends it with vodka made from wine grapes (riesling and viognier). You can smell the pot still character right from the start. Mineral notes play with a bit of grainy character, marshmallow, and nougat on the nose. The body is silky with a pungent character common to grape-based vodkas, balanced by modest sweetness and, curiously, some stronger cereal notes on the finish. You’re left with a character that is, surprisingly, not unlike a white whiskey or a blanche cognac. B

Vodka DSP CA 162 Citrus Hystrix – Flavored with Malaysian limes and their leaves. Brisk lime character on the nose, like candied lime peel. Bracing on the body, with crisp lime balanced with the right amount of sweetness. The lasting finish really brings out the leaf component, with just the right of grassiness poured over the tart body. The old Kaffir Lime vodka was always the most popular Hangar One flavor (at least in my experience in the field), and the company hasn’t strayed far from a successful formula. Big win here. A

Vodka DSP CA 162 Citrus Medica var. Sarcodactylis – Flavored with Buddha’s Hand citrons. The aromatics are somewhat muddier than my memory of the crisp Hangar One Buddha’s Hand, but otherwise it’s very aromatic and unusual — almost perfumed — on the nose. The body has a creaminess to it — like lemon meringue pie — with a vaguely tropical character going on. Herbal notes or rosemary and sage emerge over time, particularly on the nose. A-

Vodka DSP CA 162 Citrus Reticulata var. Sunshine – Flavored with tangerine and tangelo. A pretty orange nose recalls mild mandarines, but the body pumps it up with a brightness that almost hits a Tang-like quality. Sweet but not sugary, this is probably the most “modern” vodka in the lineup, but it’s also the most approachable on its own. Cosmo lovers would be calling this vodka all night long, but I doubt many cosmopolitan drinkers could pronounce the name. A-

each $38 / craftdistillers.com

Re-Review: Botran Reserva Rum

botran 15 reservaHere’s a fresh look at Guatemala’s Botran rum and its Reserva bottling, which we last considered in 2010.

This solera-aged rum goes through a range of barrel types — American whiskey, sherry, and Port — and is composed of rums aged 5 to 14 years old. That makes for lots of complexity, with the nose exuding coffee, dark chocolate, and vanilla notes. The body offers coconut, rich coffee, tobacco leaf, and a charred, almost burnt sugar finish. There’s lots of depth here, and the full package is quite rich and brooding. Good stuff.

80 proof.

A- / $24 / ronesdeguatemala.com

Bar Review: Trick Dog, San Francisco

trick dog cancerA quick pre-dinner stop at San Francisco’s new Trick Dog became a fun diversion into oddball mixology. The cramped space is carved into the newly resurgent corridor surrounding the unfathomably popular restaurant Flour + Water, and many of the patrons (like me) seem to be folks who come here while they’re waiting for their table at F+W.

There’s beer and wine to be had here, but the focus is on a collection of 12 cocktails, each named for a sign of the zodiac. My wife and I sampled three of the dozen, and enjoyed them all. The Gemini was my least favorite, a bit overpowering and featuring two kinds of amaro, Noilly Prat vermouth, a sour orange tincture, sesame, and cava.

My favorite: The Cancer (pictured), including Black Grouse, Ardbeg 10, salted pineapple, peanut, and sage, all on a big fat block of ice. This was the strangest sounding conflagration on a list that features a lot of really oddball combinations (sherry and kiwi soda? guava and stout? whiskey and whey?) and I ordered it just for that reason. The combination of pineapple and smoky scotch was surprisingly on point — and the peanut notes were just as much fun.

Good but not great: The Libra, which serves tequila, tangerine, dill, lime, egg white, and maccha powder in a coupe. This fell somewhere between a margarita and pisco sour… and works quite well on the whole.

Trick Dog has a variety of bar snacks on offer (table service is available upstairs for diners), but you’ll need to arrive early if you want a seat downstairs in order to nosh on them, otherwise it’s standing room only.

Fun place.

A-

Review: Wines of Bianchi, 2011 Vintages

bianchi cabernet sauvignonBianchi is a Paso Robles-based winery making some impressively high-quality wines at around the $20 price level. We got a taste of the latest releases, three reds from the 2011 vintage. Thoughts follow.

2011 Bianchi Zinfandel Paso Robles – Initially quite jammy, intense strawberry and raspberry notes on the nose and the front of the palate. Things settle down with a bit of time, revealing a somewhat more balanced wine in the end, with notes of tea leaf, dark chocolate, and licorice, with a gentle, pleasing finish. B+ / $18

2011 Bianchi Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley Garey Vineyard – Seductive. Nose of rosemary, thyme, and even cloves. The body is lighter than you’d expect — much lighter — with an easy strawberry, raspberry, and subtle chocolate note. The finish hints at spices again, and even rhubarb. Lots going on, but well balanced in the end. Quite lovely. A / $22

2011 Bianchi Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles – A solid, if young wine. Notes of greenery, chicory, pepper, and incense are layered atop a fruit-forward core, adding layers of complexity (and ample tannin) over a fairly berry-rich wine. Modest finish, with notes of black pepper and green pepper. Well-made. B+ / $19

bianchiwine.com

Review: Italian Wines from The Order of Malta, 2014 Releases

bottiglia monteroneThe Order of Malta. The Knights of the White Cross. There’s a whole lot of mystery from the get-go with this collection of Italian wines, all of which bear the distinct white-on-red, stylized, squared-off cross on their labels… but which reveal nothing about what that insignia means.

What’s it all about? The Sovereign Order of Malta is an ancient Catholic Religious Order that continues today to provide global relief efforts to areas affected by natural disasters. There are different chapters of The Order around the world. One of the things the organization does is make wine. For the first time, wines from The Order of Malta are now becoming available in the United States, courtesy of Fritz Cellars (Clay Fritz was a member of The Order for a number of years before deciding to import the wines).

I wasn’t able to attend a formal tasting with Fritz, but I did receive a number of the newly imported wines for review. Thoughts follow.

2012 Rocca Bernarda Ribolla Gialla Friuli DOC – Ribolla Gialla is an indigenous grape to Italy, and at first this white wine drinks like an indistinct blend, fruity and moderately acidic, but a bit touch to parse. As it warms, notes of honeydew and white flowers develop, adding some mystery to an inexpensive and drinkable wine. B+ / $27

2012 Castello di Magione Monterone Grechetto Colli del Trasimeno DOC – A brilliant gold wine with massive fruitiness all around. The nose is rich with apples, pears, apricots, and bright honeysuckle notes. The body is tart and rich with all of the above, but also laced with buttery vanilla. The finish is zippy and alive, like a lemon meringue pie. Good stuff.  Amazing value. A- / $25

2008 Castello di Magione Morcinaia Vendemmia – An Umbrian blend made from Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Gamay. It’s the Sangiovese that pops the brightest, with bright cherry notes at play with some earthy, slightly herbal character (Gamay, maybe?). Solid body, but nothing mind-blowing. The finish is a bit tart for my tastes, but it works well with food. B / $40

2012 Castello di Magione Sangiovese Umbria – A brisk, classic (albeit young) Sangiovese. Floral notes on the nose interplay with cherry fruit, while a brambly character brings nuance to the body. Some dried herbal notes hang around on the finish. Very food friendly and well-crafted considering the price. A- / $25

fritzwinery.com

Review: Beers of Peak Organic Brewing Company

peak organic ipaWest coast readers can be forgiven for never having heard of Peak. The brewery is based in Maine, about as far from our shores as you can get. Things are changing, though, and Peak is making its way west. As part of its expansion to Northern California, we got to sample six of Peak’s (many) brews.

Thoughts follow.

Peak Organic Fresh Cut – Peak’s latest, a seasonal release. This is a dry-hopped Pilsner, with an apropos name. It’s grassy to extremes, almost to the point of being meadowy, if that makes sense. The sharpness of the greenery eventually gives way to a sort of mushroom character on the mid-palate. The finish offers modest hops. Fairly refreshing and reasonably restrained. 4.7% abv. B+

Peak Organic Hop Blanc – A Belgian white IPA, made with Belgian wheat and a cluster of hops. This is a lovely, hybrid-style beer, citrusy up front with a slug of Christmas spice. The finish: Bracing and bitter, with earthy overtones (a bit of a “house style” in Peak’s brews, it seems). 6.4% abv. A-

Peak Organic Nut Brown Ale – A bold and, indeed, nutty ale from Peak. This one starts right off with notes of fresh-from-the-oven wheat and rye bread, walnuts and almonds, and a dusting of brown sugar. Dense with lightly chocolate notes on the finish and modest bitterness. Touches of banana bread, even. A completely solid effort on a style that can be a little shopworn at times. 4.7% abv. B+

Peak Organic IPA – Made with Simcoe, Amarillo, and Nugget hops. Quite citrusy for an IPA, but with plenty of forest floor-laden bitterness to back up the fruit. Easy to slug on despite a high alcohol level (which you don’t really notice), with very light floral tones on the back end. 7.2% abv. A-

Peak Organic Simcoe Spring Ale – A Pale Ale dry-hopped with Simcoe (as you might expect) hops. Nutty up front, with notes of pine needles and tree bark. A little muddy on the mid-palate, with a finish that heads more toward the forest floor than the canopy. The IPA is similar in style but suits me better with its balance of citrus. 5.4% abv. B

Peak Organic King Crimson Imperial Red Ale – A unique duck in this lineup, maltier than the rest with cherry, root beer, and licorice notes. The finish is long, bitter, and malty, with subtle citrus notes. Heavy on the alcohol. Fun, but a bit much in the end. 9% abv. B

prices all NA / peakbrewing.com

Review: Hammer & Son Old English Gin

old english gin

Henrik Hammer, M.D., brings us Old English Gin, thankfully out of England proper. Distilled in a pot still from English wheat, the gin is said to be based on a recipe dating from 1793. In fact, Hammer is attempting to recreate gin so old that I would have expected it to be called Olde English Gin, or even Ye Olde English Gin. Even the bottle design and presentation are intended to be historically inspired, if not quite accurate.

I can’t comment on how Olde this gin is, but I can tell you how it tastes. Verily:

There’s plenty of juniper on the nose here, and the gin is indeed classically built with subtle layers of citrus and touches of mushroom. On the palate, juniper again hits first and hits hard, with fresh lemon underneath. That earthiness is again present, more chalky and forest floor-like than mushroom, but all of the aforementioned are present and accounted for. The finish is sharp and sweet at the same time, offering gin’s classic “pins and needles” character as it goes down clean.

A solid product, it’s good as a martini constituent or as a component of various tall drinks.

88 proof. Bottled with a wax-covered, driven cork, so bring your own stopper.

A- / $40 / oldenglishgin.com