Category Archives: Rated A-

Review: Pendleton 1910 Aged 12 Years Canadian Rye Whisky

With 1910 Pendleton (based in Hood River, Oregon) takes its Canadian whisky upmarket, bottling this 100% rye after a lengthy 12 years in oak. (The name is a reference to the first ever Pendleton Round-Up rodeo, which took place 102 years ago.)

I’ve previously discussed the standard, blended Pendleton bottling as overwhelmingly sweet, but things are more mellow with this expression. Intensely fruity, it offers lots of thick cherry notes, orange marmalade, and well-integrated spice throughout. Sweetness is still there in the form of a bit of butterscotch syrup, but it’s not overwhelming in the way regular Pendleton is.

Good balance and a strong but not overpowering body. Surprisingly mellow finish considering this is a 100% rye spirit.

80 proof.

A- / $40 /

pendleton 1910 Review: Pendleton 1910 Aged 12 Years Canadian Rye Whisky

Review: Bastille 1789 Blended French Whisky

This isn’t our first encounter with French whisky (see also Armorik, here), although it claims to be the “first hand-crafted whisky from France.”

Compared to the Armorik, Bastille 1789 (the year of the French Revolution, in case your history is rusty) is a world away. Crafted in the Cognac region on the western border of the country, it is stylistically closer to Irish whiskey than anything else, where it is distilled from barley and wheat, then aged for five to seven years in a combination of French oak, cherry wood, and acacia wood casks.

Lush with cinnamon notes, this fruity, spicy whisky offers a character not dissimilar to a Bit o’ Honey candy, lightly sweet but with a distinctly chewy honey character underneath. Those spices — not just cinnamon but dried ginger and a little sage — are quite strong and lengthy, all leading up to a cherry-inflected finish. Quite a light, lovely, and unexpected whisky, and well worth the price.

Launching this month.


BASTILLE whisky Review: Bastille 1789 Blended French Whisky

Tasting the Wines of La Rochelle and Steven Kent

We’ve written about the Pinots of La Rochelle in the past, and now we’re back with a broader look at this winery’s production, including Chardonnay and Rose, plus one wine of its parent company, Steven Kent. Is this the beginning of a big uptick in quality from this unsung region (located out in the sticks, east of Oakland)? Livermore hasn’t been a significant region for wine to date, but good things are starting to percolate. Thoughts on Steven Kent and La Rochelle’s latest follow.

2010 La Rochelle Chardonnay Anderson Valley Ferrington Vineyard – Crisp, with distinct pineapple notes and a very buttery nose. Really quite easygoing, but rich enough to stand up to food. Fun vanilla and gingerbread notes on the finish. A- / $65

2010 La Rochelle Chardonnay Santa Lucia Highlands Rosella’s Vineyard – Bolder and big, very rich with a classic woody/buttery California structure. Stingy with the fruit, but a bit of citrus-inflected tartness shows up on the finish. B / $65

2011 La Rochelle Rose of Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands – Pinot-based roses are a rarity, and perhaps La Rochelle’s is a lesson in why. An enticingly fruity nose lends its way not to a lightly sweet summer wine but rather a massively intense acidic monster.  Light berry notes in there, but it’s hefty lemon juice character that you get the most of. B- / $TBD

2009 La Rochelle Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Dutton Ranch Campbell Vineyard – Nice balance on this Pinot, with dark fruit and plenty of cinnamon and clove spice lacing the body. Quite tart, with a lingering and lightly sweet finish. A- / $48

2009 The Steven Kent Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Livermore Valley – An ultra-ripe Livermore Cab, bordering on overdone with raisin and prune overtones. Light menthol character on the nose, with notes of tea and cigar box. Pleasant and easy-drinking finish. B+ / $48

Review: Talisker Distillers Edition 2011 – Distilled 2001

Though it’s just 10 years old (making it the youngest in this series of whiskys), this Isle of Skye-born malt, finished in Amoroso sherry casks, is the most expensive in the 2012 collection.

Part of that has to do with the elevated proof level, and part has to do with the richness of the dram. The smoky peat is well integrated into the sweet body, where flavors of orange, nougat, and cherry character. Not overly woody (it’s just 10 years old, after all) this is a well structured whisky that’s both easy to sip on yet more complex than you’d think. The smoke and sweetness play perfectly well together here, and while it lacks the austerity that you typically want to find in older whiskys, it’s got more than enough going on for an evening dram.

91.6 proof.

A- / $83 /

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Review: Dalwhinnie Distillers Edition 2011 – Distilled 1995

Day two of our Classic Malts Distillers Edition 2011 coverage continues with this 15-year-old Dalwhinnie, born in the Highlands of Scotland and finished in Oloroso sherry casks.

Big honey and nougat notes here, this spirit is showing a lovely maturity and balance, with smoldering maltiness that exhibits a touch of smoke on it. Coconut and a bit of banana are also present, atop a mild and pleasant sweetness driven by that citrus-fueled Sherry body. Some green pepper character in the finish doesn’t detract; instead it adds a touch of complexity.

In the grand scheme of things this is a very mild single malt, but it’s one that is surprisingly rich with flavor. All in all, a lovely little dram.

86 proof.

A- / $81 /

Dalwhinnie Distillers Edition 2011 Review: Dalwhinnie Distillers Edition 2011   Distilled 1995

Review: Captain Morgan Black Spiced Rum

Spiced rum continues its move upmarket courtesy of that most massive of standbys: Captain Morgan.

The Captain saw a line expansion with a 100 proof version in 2008, and now comes the even bigger gun: Captain Morgan Black Spiced Rum. This is actually an American rebranding of a product called Captain Morgan Black which the company has sold internationally since late 2011. The rum is a blend from Jamaica, Guyana, and Barbados (though the label notes only “the Caribbean”), spiced with cloves and cassia bark (we call it cinnamon!), and aged indeterminately in “double charred blackened oak” (whatever that means).

Ultra-dark and loaded with aromas — you can smell the vanilla when you crack open the bottle — it’s a clear competitor (and a worthy one) to the recent flood of high-end spiced rums, including Kraken and The Lash.

The emphasis here remains clearly on the sweet stuff. Vanilla and molasses, plus semi-sweet chocolate on the finish, it’s loaded with these dessert notes. Clove and cinnamon are present almost as afterthoughts, but you’ll catch them once your sweet tooth wears out. Finally, there’s a long, and surprisingly pleasant, finish, one which inspires one to consider girly-type cocktails but which begs to be consumed solo.

Captain Morgan has quite a winning spirit on its hands here, one which comes across at considerably lower proof than it is (and which can be awfully dangerous) and which elevates the Captain to the upper echelon of spiced rum makers. Well done.

94.6 proof.

A- / $22 /

Captain Morgan Black Spiced Rum Bottle Shot Review: Captain Morgan Black Spiced Rum

Review: Wines of Batasiolo

Beni di Batasiolo is based in the heart of Italy’s Piedmont region, where it makes a variety of wines from the simple to the complex and massive. We tasted four, courtesy of our friends at U.S. import company Boisset.

NV Batasiolo Moscato Rose Dolce – Pretty typical of the modern Moscato resurgence: Very sweet, low alcohol (7.5%), a combination of ripe strawberry and moderate floral notes, the latter particularly present on the nose. A bit much in the sugar department for me. B / $14

2010 Batasiolo Gavi DOCG – Brisk and fresh, a great example of how great Gavi can really be. Notes of pineapple, lemon, fresh green apple, and an acidic finish with touches of chalk. Wonderful little white, perfect for drinking solo or with dinner. A- / $15

2009 Batasiolo Sovrana Barbera d’Alba DOC – The nose is enticing with a rich earthiness, but the body doesn’t back it up. Thin, tart, and redolent with canned fruit character and a sour, gummy bear-like finish. Unpleasant at first, it improves a bit with time in the glass. C / $20

2007 Batasiolo Barolo DOCG – What a surprise — and a wonderful wine. Those expecting mega-tannic Barolo will be quieted immediately by this rich and intensely aromatic Nebbiolo-based wine, but the balance is already showing. Lots of herbal notes — rosemary and bay leaf — balance out a rich plum core, plus a touch of smoke on the end. Easy sipping, especially with dinner, and a great value for Barolo. A / $40

Review: Rums of Rhum J.M.

Along with Rhum Clement, Rhum J.M. (a sister distillery) is one of the biggest names in Martinique’s rhum agricole industry. Distilled from sugar cane juice instead of molasses, agricole has a distinctly different character than most rums you’re probably familiar with. Intense with fuel-like flavors when they’re young, agricoles often develop into remarkably complex, world-class spirits when they’ve been aged for a spell.

We finally got hold of four of J.M.’s rhums to review. Comments follow. (And be advised: While the prices below reflect 750ml bottles, you are more likely to find J.M. in one-liter bottles, with accordingly higher prices.)

Rhum J.M. Rhum Agricole Blanc  - J.M.’s white rum looks innocuous, and an idle sniff will reveal cachaca-like tones and petrol character. Take a sip, though, and you’ll find it’s bursting with tropical character: Bananas, pineapple, coconut, and a long vanilla finish. Hot as hell (in part because it’s bottled at 100 proof), but the complexity and balance in the fruit, dessert, and subtle spice flavors make it a real knockout among normally difficult white agricoles. A- / $30

Rhum J.M. Rhum Agricole Elevé Sous Bois – This is J.M.’s “gold rum,” (aka “Paille”), and the color is a perfect representation of that metal. The body is a lot like the blanc, with more vanilla brought to the forefront due to spending a full year in wood. The finish is a bit drying, though, which whisks away some of the natural fruit character you’ll find in the blanc. Most of the same components are still there, but here they take a bit of a back seat to the wood, which hasn’t come all the way to fruition yet. 100 proof. B+ / $36

Rhum J.M. Rhum Vieux Agricole VSOP – Spends four years in wood, and bottled at a slightly lower 90 proof. Now that agricole funk is seriously dialed back, as this VSOP takes on some of the more traditional notes you find with aged rums made from molasses. Big caramel and vanilla, lots of heavy wood especially in the finish, along with a curious black cherry/chocolate note. I like this a lot, seems bottled at just the right time. A- / $55

Rhum J.M. Rhum Vieux Agricole 1997 – Not to be confused with the above, this vintage rum spends a minimum of 10 years in oak before being bottled. That’s crazy in a world where a rum that’s been in oak for three years is considered ancient, and J.M. shows how incredibly wise and delicious that decision can be. Intense caramel, chocolate, and vanilla on this, with barely a hint of tropical fruit and banana on the finish. A real knockout of a rum, with a long and smooth finish, silky body, and a price to match. Gorgeous stuff. 96 proof. A / $130


Review: Four SakeOne Sakes

We’ve got a sake primer, courtesy of SakeOne and Momokawa, for you right here — and this week the Oregon-based sake empire sent us four samples for our consideration, particularly as cocktail ingredients. There’s a whole bunch of recipes involving these sakes available here. We won’t reprint them all but encourage you to pick up a bottle of one of the below — they’re very affordable — and experiment all you’d like. Just remember: Sake is at its best when it’s very fresh.

Comments below are based on the unadulterated stuff.

Momokawa Organic Medium Rich Junmai Ginjo Sake (re-reviewed) – A sake with a moderate body, quite a tart and sweet little number, rich with malty notes, melons, pears, and an easy earthiness. Quite drinkable, but the finish fades too quickly. 14.5% abv. A- / $13

SakeOne G “joy” Junmai Ginjo Genshu Sake – As much as I like the Organic, this sake is immediately bigger and bolder, which creates a stronger and rather immediate impression. Filled with big, stewed fruit character, it comes with a powerfully sour finish that is almost overwhelming. Likeable, but less easy-drinking than the Organic. 18% abv. B+ / $20

Moonstone Asian Pear Sake – The pear is right there on the nose, almost candy-like. That continues into the body, where you’ll find a Starburst-like sweetness that plays, not entirely harmoniously, with the melon tones of the sake underneath. 12% abv. C+ / $12

Moonstone Plum Sake – Lightly pink, very bright fruit on the nose. Drinking this you’d have no idea this was sake at all. The sweetness is reminiscent of a white zinfandel or a fruit-based wine, with a thick, syrupy finish reminiscent of an (admittedly better-tasting) cough syrup. Not my favorite of this bunch. 7% abv. C- / $10

Re-Review 2012: Herradura Tequila

This is my second full review of the Herradura line and my third of the blanco. My last review was 3 1/2 years ago, so another spin around the block certainly felt warranted.

Why re-review anything? Because, after all, no spirit is made in a vacuum. (Well, OK, some spirits are made in vacuums, but that makes for a less exciting metaphor.) Harvests are variable, staff undergo changes, recipes are altered. For better or worse, here’s how Herradura comes across in 2012.

All expressions are 80 proof.

Herradura Silver - (third sample, original report here) – As blancos go, this silver tastes quite mild to me now. Have I become accustomed to or my tastebuds dulled by over-agaved tequilas? Nice sweetness, with natural vanilla character to offset a mild agave backbone. Big, buttery body. A touch of coffee bean on the back end. Very, very drinkable and a bit dangerous because of it. A- / $33

Herradura Reposado – Aged 11 months. Vanilla is pumped up, but oddly so is the agave. While the blanco has a nice balance to it, the reposado is off. The vanilla comes on too strong, with a butterscotch character that doesn’t play as well with the agave as it should. B / $34

Herradura Anejo – 25-plus months in oak. And somehow the anejo pulls it all back together. In balance, vanilla, caramel, chocolate, big ripe banana character, and a little agave at the back. Silky and rich, a banana cream pie from south of the border. A- / $43

herradura Re Review 2012: Herradura Tequila

Review: Dimmi Liquore di Milano

The Italian answer to gin and absinthe, Dimmi is an old (1930s) product now making a resurgence. Distilled in the Lombardy region in Italy’s north, Dimmi is distilled from organic wheat (like a vodka) and infused with licorice, orange peel, rhubarb, ginseng, and vanilla. Following this infusion, peach and apricot blossoms are infused into the mix, and Nebbiolo-based grappa is added to top it all off along with a touch of organic beet sugar, for sweetness.

Very pale yellow in color, Dimmi is a pretty enticing liqueur that, based on the above description, tastes nothing like you are probably expecting. The nose hints at lemon, but on the tongue it comes across with grapefruit character backed up with vanilla custard. This sounds like an odd combination, but imagine candied fruit garnishing a creme brulee and you’re in the ball park. (Strega is also a distant, yellower cousin.) But still, there is plenty of bitterness and sourness to balance out the sweetness here, and more than enough complexity to keep you sipping if you’re drinking it neat.

Lots of cocktail possibilities. Consider it in lieu of vermouth in your favorite drink if you’re looking for a way to get started, experimentally speaking.

70 proof.

A- / $40 /

dimmi liquore di milano Review: Dimmi Liquore di Milano

Review: Blackwell Jamaican Rum

Chris Blackwell made music (he founded Island Records in 1959 and exposed the world to reggae). Now he makes rum. Dark, dark rum, hailing from Jamaica.

Distilled at Appleton Estate, this is rum the color of cola, deep and dark. (Aging isn’t disclosed.) On the nose there’s that telltale scent of molasses, fresh and sugary, and perhaps some pineapple. On the palate, the rum kicks in with lots of smooth syrupy character, plus a big chewy coconut character. The finish is less sweet than you would expect, turning to charcoal embers and coconut husks, leaving you with a denouement that is a touch chalky, and leaving you with notes that are a bit bittersweet.

Quite engaging, and certainly worthwhile if you aren’t interested in a pure sugar bomb.

80 proof.

A- / $30 /

blackwell rum Review: Blackwell Jamaican Rum

Review: 2007 Chateau La Nerthe Chateauneuf-du-Pape

Certified organic in 1998, the 90 hectares of Chateau La Nerthe are part of the Chateauneuf-du-Pape region’s oldest estates. This 2007 vintage is composed of 48% Grenache, 29% Syrah, 22% Mourvedre, and 1% Cinsault.

Deep and rich currant aromas on the nose hint at a really big wine, but it’s surprisingly lively on the tongue, lighter than you’d think. Spices dominate the palate, typical for Rhone blends, underpinned by a modest earthy character. The moderate-bodied wine ends with a bit of pepper and leather, a touch drying but overall quite a pleasant experience.

A- / $59 /

Chateau La Nerthe rouge NV bottle Review: 2007 Chateau La Nerthe Chateauneuf du Pape

Review: Marquis de Montesquiou Armagnac VSOP and XO

Montesquiou… man, that is a lot of vowels.

It is also the producer of a lot of Armagnacs. Formerly part of the Pernod family, it’s now being imported by ImpEx, repackaged, and expanding into broader U.S. distribution. We tasted both the VSOP and XO bottlings. Both are 80 proof and made from eaux de vie from Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche, Colombard, and Baco. Thoughts follow.

Marquis de Montesquiou Armagnac VSOP – Very nutty, with aromas of nougat, honey, and fresh cut grass. On the palate, flavors of chocolate malt balls, sweet apple and citrus, vanilla, caramel, and a moderate but well-balanced finish. A classic brandy, richer than young Cognacs and arguably more enjoyable. A- / $50

Marquis de Montesquiou Armagnac XO Imperial – Immediately more intense on the nose, and huge in the body, this tastes like a classic old Cognac. Really rich with smoothed fruit, marzipan, milk chocolate, more nuts, and a fantastic balance of sweet and smoldering. Exceptionally drinkable, though the price might be a bit hard for some to swallow. A / $130

Review: 2009 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

Chateau Montelena is a winery that probably needs no introduction to most wine drinkers, but in case you’re a newb, it’s the winery made the Chardonnay that beat out all of Burgundy in the famed Paris Tasting of 1976.

Today, Montelena is probably better known for its Cabernet Sauvignon, and we recently snagged the 2009 vintage for review.

It’s a surprisingly wonderful wine, ready to drink now and far from overcooked. (At just 13.8% alcohol, it’s practically a lightweight compared to its local competition and balanced perhaps by 13% Merlot and 2% Cabernet Franc.) The nose: Ripe and fragrant, with a modest touch of leather. On the palate: Absolutely fresh fruit, strawberries, raspberries, and plums, with just a touch of currant character. What tannin is here is well integrated now, leaving you with just a bit of mouth puckering tartness on the finish. It’s welcome after such a fruit-forward, but far from sweet, Cabernet — and that creates a wine with surprisingly good balance.

I’d written off Montelena years ago, but here’s the proof that this legendary winery is still making near-classic wines.

A- / $50 /

chateau montelena cabernet sauvignon Review: 2009 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

Book Review: Champagne Cocktails

Champagne Cocktails 233x300 Book Review: Champagne CocktailsI’m on record as saying that sparkling wine is perhaps the most underused cocktail ingredient around (the other: Damiana Liqueur), so I was really pleased to get A.J. Rathbun’s book, Champagne Cocktails: 50 Cork-Popping Concoctions and Scintillating Sparklers.

It’s a slim, hardbound tome, with just 50 recipes included, spanning both classic and original cocktails, and not always centered around “Champagne” – the whole gamut of sparkling wines get their due in this collection (even sparkling Aussie Shiraz!).

And though just 50 drinks are covered – many with color photos, all with an introductory writeup of some kind – I’m hard pressed to come up with a sparkling wine-based cocktail that isn’t included here, except for the ones I’ve invented myself. More inspiration than reference, it’s a fine guide for the shelf or a good gift for the bubbly lover in your life.

A- / $11 / [BUY IT HERE]

Review: 2011 Virage Rose of Cabernet Franc Napa Valley

Cabernet Franc is rarely used on its own, and almost never as a rose wine, but here Virage takes fresh Cab Franc presses and blends in a touch of red Cab Franc, then lets it chill out in stainless steel for a few months. The results are a pale and inviting pink.

Don’t be afraid of the pink. This is very much a white wine at heart, big in body yet quite crisp and fragrant, and awfully rich with oranges, figs, and lots of distinct grapefruit character. There’s a chalkiness in the finish, that gives the wine a touch of grit on the tongue.

Drink this blind and you’d never know it was a rose.

A- / $24 /

Virage Rose of Cabernet Franc Review: 2011 Virage Rose of Cabernet Franc Napa Valley

Review: Bruichladdich The Laddie Ten 10 Years Old

Bruichladdich calls this “without doubt the most important release in our history.” That is some heavy language, and so far the world has responded in agreement. It was recently named the single malt whisky of the year from Whisky Advocate, capping a run of high praise for the dram.

Why is this humble 10-year-old so important? Because it is the first release from the company under its current ownership based solely on spirits it distilled and put into casks. In 2001 Jim McEwan bought the then-closed distillery (and its aging stock), and fired up the stills. In late 2011 he bottled his first whisky, called it Laddie Ten, and declared it would be the company’s flagship Scotch henceforth.

That’s a lot to rest on this Laddie’s shoulders, but I’ll agree that the praise is valid. Aromas of banana and orange fill the room just from cracking open the bottle, very fresh and very sweet. Stick your nose in the glass and it’s amplified all the more.

On the palate, smooth honey, gingerbread, mild malt and grain, and citrus overtones. A touch of sea salt, as you’d expect from an Islay (albeit peat-free) whisky. Big, big body, belying the relative youth of this malt, which helps to balance some surprisingly vibrant and strong flavors. Some very light hints of smoke on the back end. The sherry-infused finish however is indicative of a younger whisky, but that’s not so much a fault as it is a simple reality of getting a $50 single malt into the bottle. Certainly a whisky that is worthy of both everyday and special occasion drinking, but affordable enough to have on hand at all times.

A- / $50 /

the laddie ten bruichladdich Review: Bruichladdich The Laddie Ten 10 Years Old

Review: Warre’s Otima 10 Ten Year Old Tawny Port

Tawny Port is the fastest growing Port category in the U.S., because it’s an easy shortcut: Leave Port in wood barrels for a decade or so and it oxidizes in ways that ruby and vintage Port simply can’t. The result is a madeirized wine that adds woody and sour oxidized character to the traditional raisin notes in the wine.

Warre’s Otima 10 is a ten-year tawny, meaning it still has plenty of freshness in the wine itself to stand up to that lengthy oaking session. As tawnys go, it’s quite fruity, full of plums and raisins, but backed with plenty of that “old tasting” oxidation. Not much complexity to report, but perhaps this is a wine that doesn’t require it. For late-night sipping after a big meal, Otima 10 does the trick nicely and doesn’t make you answer a whole lot of questions.

A- / $28 /

warres otima 10 Review: Warres Otima 10 Ten Year Old Tawny Port

Review: Four Roses 2012 Limited Edition Single Barrel Bourbon

Four Roses’ annual Single Barrel release is almost here. Based on the OESK recipe, I was surprised that this 2012 Limited Edition was from the lower-rye mashbill (just 20% of the grain mash blend), bottled at 12 years old. You can really taste the rye, and the finish has the spicy kick you’d expect from big, mainly-rye whiskeys. There’s lots to love here: Cherries, cocoa powder, vanilla, and racy, spicy cinnamon on the finish.

It compares favorably to other recent Limited Edition Single Barrel releases, considerably better than the underwhelming, bitter-finished 2011 and a pleasant companion to the sweeter 2009, both of which I had on hand for side-by-side tasting. It’s also quite a departure from the non-vintage, always available Four Roses Single Barrel, which is sweeter, smoother, and more balanced than the 2009 even (and arguably my favorite Bourbon of all of these).

If you’re a spicy-style Bourbon fan, I think you’ll like the 2012. 4,000 bottles were made, to be released this month. Release proof will vary. My sample was at a mere 109.4 (surprisingly cool for this series).

A- / price TBD /

four roses 2012 single barrel Review: Four Roses 2012 Limited Edition Single Barrel Bourbon