Review: Cloudy Bay 2011 Te Wahi Pinot Noir and 2012 Sauvignon Blanc

Te wahi 2011 (Native) [MHISWF041779 Revision-1]New Zealand’s most notable winery is back with new vintages — including a major departure for the brand with its new Pinot. Let’s not let my intro get in the way. Here are thoughts on two new releases from Cloudy Bay.

2011 Cloudy Bay Te Wahi Pinot Noir Central Otago – This is Cloudy Bay’s first wine not sourced from the Marlborough region and its first new product in 18 years. A gorgeous Pinot, it drinks more like a California wine than a jammy New Zealand wine. Notes of tea leaf, cinnamon, and ginger mingle with a cherry/blueberry core just perfectly. The wine is best with a touch of chill on it; too warm it starts to feel a bit watery. That said, on the whole it comes together beautifully. A / $75

2012 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough – Classic New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, offering tropical notes, some brown sugar, and a lemon-fueled finish. Herbal notes emerge on the big, juice palate as the wine warms a bit, revealing more balance and a somewhat sour citrus finish. A- / $36

cloudybay.co.nz

Review: 2012 Terrazas Torrontes Reserva

terazzas reserva_torrontesThis new torrontes from Argentina’s Terrazas de los Andes offers tropical character right from the start, with just a hint of bitter hops on the nose. That herbal character builds on the body — particularly as the wine warms a bit — bringing the spirit to a nicely balanced whole that infuses floral aromatics with peaches, pineapple, mango, and apple plus some touches of rosemary and sage. Fun stuff that lies somewhere between a Gewurztraminer and an unoaked Chardonnay. Great with spicy food.

A- / $18 / terrazasdelosandes.com

Review: Wines of Joel Gott, 2012 Vintage

Gott II bottle 002To paraphrase Ayn Rand: Who is Joel Gott?

A fixture in California wine country, Gott is a longtime retailer, winemaker, and burger purveyor in the thoroughfares of Napa, where his Gott’s Roadside is a must-stop dining experience (also in the San Francisco Ferry Building). With his partners at Trinchero, Gott now has his own label — affordable wines designed for everyday drinking. We tried three from the 2012 vintage. (Random Gott bottling pictured.)

2012 Joel Gott Unoaked Chardonnay Monterey/Sonoma/Napa – Crisp with notes of lemon and apple, a very lively, easy-drinking Chardonnay. Touches of fig and vanilla ice cream emerge on the finish, giving it a bit too much sweetness, but at this price it’s hard to resist. A- / $13

2012 Joel Gott “Alakai” Grenache California – A big, fruity wine, but plenty shy of turning into jam in a bottle. The nose offers blackcurrants, blueberries, and tea leaf, with ample vanilla on the back end. The body is rich, the finish lasting. Slightly sweet with the tiniest hint of red pepper (red pepper jam?), giving this a lively, summery feel. B+ / $15

2012 Joel Gott “815” Cabernet Sauvignon California – Overblown, its intense, sweet tea character pumped up with sugary grape jelly, with a nose that reeks of fruit concentrate. Canned fruit on the finish. D+ / $12

gottwines.com

Review: Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2014 Edition

2014_OFBB_BottleMockup

Old Forester’s annual release of Birthday Bourbon — a celebration of the birthday of George Garvin Brown, founder of Brown-Forman — may not have the level of breathless anticipation surrounding it that, say, the year’s Antique Collection or Parker’s Heritage whiskey does. But I’ll say one thing for it: It’s always a well-crafted, worthwhile spirit.

This year’s Birthday Bourbon provides the usual minimal about its composition. No mashbill information is offered, but one can deduce from the vintage label that it’s been aged for 12 years. Some have expressed concern that Birthday Bourbon 2014 is coming out a bit later than usual — never a good sign in the whiskey world — but I’m happy to report that any such fears are unfounded.

2014’s Birthday Bourbon starts off fairly typical of this whiskey’s usual profile. Very woody on the nose, it offers an immediate attack of dark chocolate cocoa powder before you take your first sip. The body is racy and spicy with notes of more wood, licorice, and gunpowder. The finish warms up with gingerbread, custard, and vanilla, tamping down some of that early, and close to overwhelming, wood character. The result is a nice balance between sweet and savory with plenty to recommend it, and one of Old Forester’s more elegant special releases.

97 proof.

A- / $60 / oldforester.com

Review: Wild Turkey American Honey Sting

stingIs the honey-flavored whiskey thing coming to an end? Now, Wild Turkey is releasing a limited edition flavored flavored whiskey: American Honey Sting, a crazy expression of the classic American Honey that is spiked with the infamous ghost pepper, the hottest chili pepper in the world. No relation to this guy.

Honey-flavored whiskies have rapidly become the most boring category of spirits on earth. Dump some honey into cheap bourbon, Canadian, Scotch, or Irish whiskey — all of these have honey expressions on the market now — and it sweetens things up while smoothing out the harsher elements of a lesser spirit. Sure, not all honey whiskies are made equal — a few are quite good, some are truly awful — but for the most part they are hard to distinguish from one another.

And so, with Sting, at least we’re getting something different. While it might foretell the end of the honey whiskey market, it might be the beginning of something entirely new in this space. Honey-plus whiskies. God help us.

As for Sting itself, there’s little up front to cue you in to anything out of the ordinary with this product. Even the name “Sting” on the bottle is understated. I expect many purchasers of this spirit won’t have any idea what they’re buying because there’s no picture of a cartoon chili pepper on the bottle.

That may not be such a problem, though. Despite the spooky threat of the ghost pepper, Sting is surprisingly understated. I’ve had far hotter spirits in the past, and some of those were flavored with little more than cayenne or jalapenos. The nose starts out with pure honey liqueur — and with just a touch of woody bourbon to it — with just a hint of heat if you breathe it in deep. Give it some time and it starts to singe the nostrils a bit, but it’s fully manageable. But that takes time. A cursory sniff reveals nothing out of the ordinary.

The body starts of with that well-oiled, thick honey sweetness — and then you figure you’ll wait for the heat to hit. You might be waiting for quite a while. In my experience with Sting, that heat was hit and miss. Some sips would offer none at all. Some would end with a pleasant warmth coating the back of the throat for about a minute. There’s nothing scorching or quick-give-me-some-milk burning, really, just a nice balance of sweet and hot — at least most of the time.

While the absence of heat in some encounters with Sting are a little strange, they don’t really impact the enjoyment of the spirit in a negative. In fact, they kind of make things fun. Will this round be simple honey… or will it come with a kick? I had fun with it, anyway.

71 proof.

A- / $23 / americanhoney.com

Bordeaux Review: 2010 Chateau de Viaud-Lalande & 2012 Chateau du Bois Chantant

Château Viaud LalandeWhen’s the last time you ordered a bottle of Bordeaux with dinner? The folks in France’s ancient wine region realize the answer to this is probably never for most people, so they’re out to change things and freshen up their image.

Today’s Bordeaux (motto: “It’s not that expensive!”) is embracing fruit and lower-cost wines. Sure, Mouton and Lafite and Petrus are still around, but the Bordeaux Wine Council would like you to consider some alternatives that you won’t make you choose between drinking wine and paying the mortgage this month.

We checked out two recent releases to see what this more affordable side of Bordeaux was like. Thoughts follow.

2010 Chateau de Viaud-Lalande Lalande-de-Pomerol – 70% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc. Surprisingly fruit forward, with lots of violet, floral character. As it ages in the glass, notes of balsamic come to the fore along with gentle lumber and leather notes. Drinks a lot like a New World merlot, almost textbook. Nice little number and very food friendly. A- / $31

2012 Chateau du Bois Chantant – 79% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc – Not nearly as fun as the Viaud-Lalande. This wine offers dull fruit — indistinct berries, mainly — light wood tones, some vegetal character, and a thin finish. Slightly weedy on the finish, it’s best with food and in small quantities. (2012 is not considered a great year for Bordeaux.) B- / $17

Review: Trianon Tequila

Trianon AnejoTrianon is a 100% agave tequila hailing from the Lowlands, available in the usual three expressions. All are 80 proof, and we review all three below.

Trianon Tequila Blanco – Sedate and seductive on the nose, the agave here seems dialed way back, and a touch sweet based on the honeyed aroma. The body plays down herbal and earth notes in favor of showcasing how restrained a blanco can be. Notes of spun sugar and light honey dominate. A character akin to chomping into a stalk of crisp celery is about as close as it gets to agave essence, though some hints of black pepper, red chilies, and matchsticks remind you it really is a tequila. If restraint and “smoothness” is what you’re looking for in a tequila, look no further than Trianon. For me, it might be playing things a bit too close to the vest, to the point where it’s hiding a bit of its essence. B+ / $38

Trianon Tequila Reposado – Rested for six months in a mix of French and American oak barrels. The nose starts off with some unusually winey, citrus characteristics, almost sharp to the nostrils with orange and lemon peel notes. The body’s a totally different story. Here, the sweet characteristics of the blanco are pushed to the max, the spirit starting off with a kind of sugary breakfast cereal character before diving headlong into a finish that favors marshmallow fluff and caramel syrup just barely flecked with cracked black pepper. Given the sweetness of the blanco, the sugariness of the reposado isn’t totally surprising — but it makes me wonder what’s left for the anejo… B+ / $50

Trianon Tequila Anejo – Deep brown in color, this anejo spends 18 months in the same French/American oak barrels used for the reposado. Sugar bomb? Not quite. The nose is quite a bit more austere than expected, those winey characteristics on the nose taking on more of a Port character and the essence of chocolate syrup. This leads to a body that is, as expected, full of sweetness, but which features more of a carmelized/brown sugar character akin to creme brulee crust. The agave notes are pretty much gone at this point, this anejo offering some vaguely vegetal character only on the downswing of the finish. This racy heat however does stick with you for quite a while, battling with sugary notes that threaten to choke you into submission. A fun study in opposites. A- / $57

tequilatrianon.com

Review: 2012 Vineyard 29 Cru Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

cru-cs-2012Distinctly smoky on the nose, this second-label wine from Vineyard 29 offers a body that pushes plenty of currants, blueberries, and gooseberries, with a healthy slug of wood, ash, and fresh leather to back it up. This sweet-meets-savory character is so full of body it can be almost overwhelming. Give it time, let it aerate in the glass, and things start to come together. Excellent with chocolate.

A- / $60 / vineyard29.com

Review: Angel’s Envy Cask Strength Bourbon – Limited Edition (2014)

angels envy cask strengh 2014

Angel’s Envy remains a top bourbon pick — and cheap, too — but true fans know that something special awaits if they just hang in there. Last year the company released its first Cask Strength Edition of its Port-finished bourbon. Available in an an edition of a whopping 600 bottles, you would probably have had better luck finding bottles of Pappy on closeout. (Whoops: I forgot about the 4,000-bottle 2013 2nd edition release that came out last year as an addendum…)

Well, 2014 is here and Angel’s Envy Cask Strength is back — with 6,500 bottles being released, more than 10 1.4 times last year’s figure. (It’s also $20 more expensive, but who’s counting?)

As I noted last year, this is a very different bourbon from standard-edition Angel’s Envy. Hot and charcoaly with lots of burnt sugar, toffee, and chimney ash, it reveals interesting notes of plum and banana only well into the finish. Water is big help here, bringing down those burnt/blackened sugar and molasses characteristics and revealing more of the essence of wood, cloves, and (very) dark chocolate notes to back it up. Fans of old, heavily wooded whiskeys will naturally eat this up, but those who enjoy a more fruity spirit will probably find something to enjoy here, too. Even more water (don’t be shy) helps to coax out more gentle vanilla, caramel, raisin, and cherry notes — some of the hallmarks of the standard AE bottlings — while still hinting at its burlier underpinnings.

119.3 proof.

A- / $169 / angelsenvy.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Crop Organic Spiced Pumpkin Vodka

Crop Spiced_Pumpkin_Final‘Tis the season for all things pumpkin… which brings us to our first pumpkin spice-flavored vodka here at Drinkhacker, from (of all people) Crop Organic.

Crop has a well-deserved reputation as a purveyor of high-end organic spirits, and despite the novelty nature of anything pumpkinesque, Crop somehow hits another home run with this hip flavor.

Appropriately burnt orange in color, Crop Spiced Pumpkin offers a quite sweet nose with a fragrant, cloves/cinnamon/vanilla spice to it. The body has the inimitable pumpkin spiciness to it — difficult to put into words, but distinctly nodding toward holiday tipples. That said, it is extremely sweet, to the point where you’ll have no idea whether you’re drinking a flavored vodka or a dense, sugary liqueur. From the orangey appearance, observers would be well justified in assuming you’re sipping on Grand Marnier.

Clearly one would never do that — save your intrepid critic — as this is a mixer through and through. With that in mind, Crop has provided a number of recipes for your enjoyment. See below.

70 proof.

A- / $25 / cropvodka.com

Recipes!

Crop Organic Pumpkin Ginger Cooler 
(Arley Howard, Top of the Hub) 
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 lemon slice
Nutmeg
2 parts Crop Organic Spiced Pumpkin Vodka
1 part ginger liqueur
1 part sour mix
Ginger ale

In a highball glass, muddle brown sugar with lemon and a sprinkle of nutmeg. Add ice, Crop Organic Spiced Pumpkin Vodka, ginger liqueur, and sour mix. Shake contents and then top with ginger ale.

Plymouth Rock Julep 
(Nick Nistico, Premier Beverage Company) 
2 parts Rye whiskey
1 part Crop Organic Spiced Pumpkin Vodka
1/2 part cinnamon syrup
5 dashes Bitter Truth Aromatic Bitters

Swizzle all ingredients with ice and then top with crushed ice.  Garnish with a candy-corn pumpkin and grated cinnamon.

Pumpkin Cocktail 
(Nick Nistico, Premier Beverage Company) 
1 part Crop Organic Spiced Pumpkin Vodka
5 dashes bitters

Top with pumpkin ale.

Pumpkin Collins 
(Nick Nistico, Premier Beverage Company) 
2 parts Crop Organic Spiced Pumpkin Vodka
1 part fresh lemon juice
1/2 part simple syrup

Shake with ice and strain over fresh ice. Garnish with a lemon wheel dusted with cinnamon.