Category Archives: Rated A-

Review: 2009 Cliff Lede Cabernet Sauvignons

This Stags Leap-based winery (Lede is pronounced “lady”) produces just Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon — and fetches a pretty penny for them. The 2009 Cabernets — in two versions — are now hitting the market. Thoughts follow.

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The Pisco of Chile: Control C and Espiritu de Elqui Reviewed

Chile celebrates its Independence Day on September 18, and this year the country took the opportunity to revive the battle its been locked in with Peru over who originated — or makes better — the South American spirit of Pisco.

Distilled from grapes, Pisco is essentially unaged (usually) brandy, though in Chile they are more apt to drop their Pisco in an oak barrel for a few months or years than they are in Pisco.

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Review: Jim Beam Jacob’s Ghost White Whiskey

Is anyone not getting into the white whiskey game? JD, High West, Buffalo Trace… everyone’s got one.

Why not Jim Beam, then?

Jacob’s Ghost — named after the founding father of Jim Beam, Jacob Beam, who distilled his first whiskey in 1795 — is a white whiskey with a twist. Made from the same mashbill as Jim Beam’s white label, this isn’t white dog bottled right off the still. Instead, it’s aged in barrel for a full year, then filtered to get most of the color out of it.

A year in barrel will give a lot of color to a whiskey, and you’ll notice that Jacob’s Ghost is not entirely clear. It’s a very pale yellow — on par with a very light white wine — that really does come across as a bit ghostly.

That year really makes all the difference. The burly petrol notes of true white dog are mellowed out, leaving behind a smoother white whiskey than you might be accustomed to.

The nose offers few clues. Very sweet, it’s got a distinct marshmallow character to it. Touches of oak, but very mild on the nose.

The body follows suit: Big marshmallow notes. Sugar and vanilla all the way, with just a touch of corn — think Fritos — on the finish. Everything you’re expecting in a white whiskey is simply not present here. No roughness, no vegetal notes, no fire water. It’s sweet enough to make you feel like it’s doctored — though I don’t actually believe that.

What Jacob’s Ghost is lacking is complexity. This is a very young, and very sweet whiskey, through and through. I’d wager most tasters would have trouble guessing what this was at all. Is it vodka? White rum? Tequila? Try serving this to your whiskey friends and watch their heads spin.

Fun stuff. I’m into it.

On sale February 2013. 80 proof.

A- / $22 /

jim beam jacobs ghost white whiskey 310x1000 Review: Jim Beam Jacobs Ghost White Whiskey

Review: 2010 Chenin Blanc Wines of Clarksburg Wine Company

clarksburg chenin blanc 200x300 Review: 2010 Chenin Blanc Wines of Clarksburg Wine CompanyChenin Blanc is far from what anyone would consider a Big Wine in the U.S. right now, but that hasn’t kept the Clarksburg Wine Company from releasing not one, not two, but three takes on the grape, a standby of the Loire Valley in France. Based in the Old Sugar Mill in Clarksburg, near Sacramento, California, Clarksburg’s facility is home to lots of wineries and, apparently, lots of weddings.

Here’s how Clarksburg’s three Chenin Blancs stack up, whether you’re getting hitched or not.

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Review: Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection “Four Wood”

Every year Woodford Reserve launches a limited edition (and quite expensive) whiskey that shows off the creativity of its master distiller, Chris Morris. This is Woodford’s seventh iteration of the Master’s Collection.

As the name implies, Four Wood is a Bourbon with a unique finishing program. Standard Bourbon, finished in newly charred American oak, is finished in one of three different types of barrels: maple, Sherry wood, and Port wood. (Woodford has experimented with maple in a past Master’s Collection.) The three barrel-finished whiskeys are batched together — the ratio is undisclosed, as are the ages of these whiskeys — and bottled as Four Wood.

The nose offers that big wood rush that’s classic Woodford, lots of lumberyard character that masks what you’re about to get into. On the tongue, it’s woody as expected, but surprisingly sweet. Chocolate notes are prevalent, plus lots of fresh red/black  fruit — the Port finish overpowers everything with black cherry and raisin notes. Sip this whiskey long enough and orange elements, driven by the sherry finish, come along as well. That’s a good thing, but it does give Four Wood a bit of a fruit salad feeling, with a whole lot going on in the fruit department and not enough spice to back it up. Not bad, but there’s a bit of an embarrassment of riches in the sweetness department here.

A- / $100 /

woodford reserve four wood Review: Woodford Reserve Masters Collection Four Wood

Review: Kahlua Midnight Liqueur

After midnight, we’re gonna let it all hang out… and we’re gonna drink this new liqueur from the increasingly huge portfolio of products from Kahlua: Kahlua Midnight.

Midnight is a major departure for Kahlua, which has to date been happy to create new versions of its signature coffee liqueur by adding additional flavorings like you’d find in a coffee shop (various incarnations now include cinnamon, vanilla, hazelnut, mocha, and peppermint versions). Midnight is something different: A 70 proof monster mix of the classic coffee liqueur with rum.

In truth, even the standard 40-proof version of Kahlua has rum in it (it’s touted on the label), but it’s watered down and sugared up so those Desperate Housewives can sip it all day. At 70-proof, Kahlua Midnight is nearly full-strength booze, more rum than Kahlua — though it’s still just as black as before (caramel color is added). In case you’re unclear, the bottle is completely different than the standard tiki-friendly Kahlua one.

In all honesty, Kahlua Midnight — in taste — is not a great departure from its mother, standard-grade Kahlua. The coffee is clear on the nose and the palate. Rum, as with regular Kahlua, is really just hinted at, indistinctly and more on the undercarriage of the nose than in the body, where the strong coffee character is simply overpowering to anything underneath it. It’s got more of a boozy kick in the middle, but the finish is mild, dominated by a clear, fresh-ground coffee character.

What’s the point of Midnight? It’s primarily meant for consumption straight, on the rocks. God help the hacker that uses this stuff in lieu of standard Kahlua and doesn’t realize what he’s getting into.

A- / $24 /

kahlua midnight Review: Kahlua Midnight Liqueur

Review: George Dickel Rye Whiskey

DG RyeWhisky 250x300 Review: George Dickel Rye WhiskeyEveryone is getting in on the rye game, and the latest to join the party is George Dickel, which has crafted this whiskey from 95% rye and 5% malted barley, then aged it for five-plus years. Sourced from Indiana (where plenty of rye is being produced for just about everyone), it’s still made to Tennessee whiskey specifications: Chilled, filtered through charcoal, then bottled at 90 proof.

As with Dickel’s corn-based whiskeys, Dickel Rye is very silky smooth, that “charcoal mellowing” having done its duty admirably. But there’s ample rye character here — chewy raisin bread with ample cinnamon notes. Vanilla a-plenty. Cocoa powder finish. Overall, the body is light and easygoing, a pleasant and sweet rye that would work well in any cocktail.

Compare to Bulleit Rye.

Shipping in November 2012.

A- / $25 /

Review: Charbay R5 Clear and Aged Hop-Flavored Whiskey

Whiskey is (basically) made from beer, so why not make it from really good beer?

For its long-awaited R5 whiskey, California’s Charbay (best known for its high-end flavored vodkas) took Bear Republic’s beloved Racer 5 IPA and put it through a still. This is not an inexpensive task: 10 gallons of beer distill down to 1 gallon of whiskey. Double-distilled in copper pot stills, the resulting whiskey is being released in two versions: “Clear,” an unaged version, and “Aged,” which spends 22 months in French oak barrels.

We got our hands on both varieties; both are bottled at 99 proof. Thoughts follow.

Charbay R5 Clear Hop-Flavored Whiskey Lot 610C – Lots of tropical fruit on the nose and body. That funky white dog character is there, but it’s overpowered by fruit and sweetness. Creamy and seductive, it’s surprisingly easy-drinking and enjoyable for a white whiskey, with plenty of character to overpower any of the funk left behind from the white doggedness. Imagine an IPA while you’re drinking it and you’ll understand everything. A- / $52

Charbay R5 Aged Hop-Flavored Whiskey Lot 610A – Aged 22 months, making this a very young whiskey — though not as young as the Clear, of course. Surprisingly similar to the white version, this light brown spirit would be indistinguishable on the nose if not for a slight chocolate note that you can catch. The body is bolder and richer. That chocolate comes along here again, along with some of the tropical fruit character of the Clear version. That said, I was hoping for more depth of flavor. The wood tones down the fruitiness a lot, and the finish is more drying than fruity. It’s strange to find myself saying this, but I prefer the white version. B+ / $75  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: 2010 Breggo Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Savoy Vineyard

Breggo is a blue chip winery in Mendocino, based in Boonville and the proprietor of the Savoy Vineyard, located in the heart of this region’s Anderson Valley. While Breggo makes a wide range of wines, Anderson Valley is Pinot country, and this 2010 bottling is the flagship.

The 2010 Savoy Vineyard bottling features a shocking amount of herbs, dill, and licorice, atop a very deep core of black cherry and luscious wood that, when put together, comes across as almost whiskey-like. This is no delicate Pinot but rather a powerhouse of fruit and oak that builds itself into a punchy, Port-like finish. Quite pleasing, but no wallflower.

A- / $55 /

breggo 2010 Savoy Pinot Noir Review: 2010 Breggo Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Savoy Vineyard

Review: Casa Sauza XA Extra Anejo Edicion Limitada

casa sauza xa tequila 239x300 Review: Casa Sauza XA Extra Anejo Edicion LimitadaSauza may be best known for making inexpensive yet perfectly drinkable 100% agave tequila, but now it’s raising the bar with an extra anejo called Casa Sauza XA.

This fancy-pants bottling is indeed extra-old, 100% aged three years in a combination of new and used American oak barrels. The bottle is something like I’ve never seen, featuring a cork closure that is strapped down by a leather belt and buckle. (Cute, but inconvenient.)

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Review: Scotch Malt Whisky Society October 2012 Outturn

Five whiskys this month from the SMWS. Thoughts follow on each.

SMWS Cask 5.35 – 12 year old Auchentoshan from the Lowlands – Big orange flower and honey on the nose. Very light smokiness on the finish. Youthful and fresh, it shows off its grain base but in a modest and understated way. The sweeter body and light touches of hay and fresh bread give this an almost breakfasty feel. Fun stuff, but pricey for 12 year old Auchie. Distilled 1999, 109.4 proof, allocation n/a. B+ / $105

SMWS Cask 26.84 – 21 year old Clynelish from the Highlands – Burned out. Old wood and hospital notes, a whisky that’s been in barrel too long (or in a barrel that had faded too much). Things settle down with some air, but the finish is still rough, hot, and coal-filled. Distilled 1990, 98.2 proof, allocation n/a. C- / $145

SMWS Cask 33.113 – 8 year old Ardbeg from Islay – Less smoke on the nose than I was expecting, but rest assured, it comes along later in the game. Sharp and wintry, this malt offers mulled spices and a long finish that smolders like a dying fire. Amazingly restrained, but so warming (at cask strength you won’t miss the heat) that you are overwhelmed with flavor anyway. Great balance, and worthwhile if you’re into Ardbeg. Distilled 2003, 120.8 proof, allocation n/a. A- / $85

SMWS Cask 85.23 – 12 year old Glen Elgin from Speyside – Hot stuff from a refill sherry butt. The first blush is all Orange Julius, creamy citrus and a chewy sweet finish. Touches of pine needles on the nose, and classic Christmas cake character. On the mid-palate, some graininess evolves — indicative of this whisky’s youth — with a finish that builds with malt and burly wood characteristics. The balance is good, not great. Would have loved to experienced this whisky in 2018. Distilled 1999, 118.8 proof, allocation n/a. B+ / $105

SMWS Cask 93.47 – 9 year old Glen Scotia from Campbeltown – Sugar and peat come together in this coastal dram, a young and brash smoke bomb that could easily be confused with young Laphroaig thanks to that barbecue smoke finish. There’s a certain inflection here that’s almost minty — again, those juniper and pine needle characters come along, this time very late in the finish. A somewhat simple peated style, again the price is a concern. Distilled 2002, 119.4 proof, allocation n/a. B+ / $90

october 2012 smws Review: Scotch Malt Whisky Society October 2012 Outturn

Review: Laphroaig Cairdeas Origin Edition 2012

Laphroaig cairdeas origin 2012 200x300 Review: Laphroaig Cairdeas Origin Edition 2012In 2011 Laphoaig made the bold step to release its Cairdeas limited release whisky to the public. Previously held back as a private bottling for the Friends of Laphroaig, Cairdeas (“car-chass”) is an annual release that differs each year. Last year we were fortunate enough to try a very young version of Cairdeas with Laphroaig Master Distiller John Campbell.

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Review: El Cartel Tequila

El Cartel tequila 199x300 Review: El Cartel TequilaThis new brand, the brainchild of Mike Hamod, was created to be “the Ciroc of tequila” as its goal — courtesy of celebrity sponsorship that includes Daddy Yankee, Jermaine Dupri, and Eddie Griffin. Made of 100% agave in the Highlands of Jalisco, it is initially available in two varieties, a silver expression and (wait for it) a silver tequila infused with gold flakes.

Thoughts follow. Both are 80 proof.

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Review: Sarapo Family Wines

sarapo wines Review: Sarapo Family WinesSarapo is the second label from Eric Kent, and these wines are not made with secondary fruit, but are rather produced with a bit of a twist. Small lots from other winemakers — which would be destined for bulk blending in central California — are “rescued” by Sarapo, blended, and sold at bargain prices. (Cameron Hughes does the same thing, on a much bigger scale.)

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Review: Graham’s Tawny Port 10 Years Old

Grahams tawny port 10 years old 132x300 Review: Grahams Tawny Port 10 Years OldThis 10 year old tawny port is pretty, offering more than just madeirized raisin character, but also touches of orange, grapefruit, and a bit of black tea character. Bing cherries come along on the very long finish. It’s still young and offers a bit of woody astringency on the finish too, but overall this is an effective and easy-drinking young tawny.

A- / $34 /

Review: Vecchio Amaro Del Capo Liqueur

Amaro del Capo 150x300 Review: Vecchio Amaro Del Capo LiqueurBorn in Calabria — the “toe of the foot” of Italy — Vecchio Amaro Del Capo (or just Del Capo) is a classic amaro made from 29 local herbs and roots. Lightly brown like a brewed tea, it looks a bit like whiskey in the glass but smells far different as it is poured.

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Review: Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2012 Edition

Old Forester’s annual “Birthday Bourbon,” a limited edition release celebrating the birthday of one of Brown-Forman’s founders, is upon us.

This year’s B-day Bourbon is 12 years old (its typical age), crafted from a single-day’s production of 82 barrels of whiskey. (The twist with this batch is that the mashbill included 2% extra malted barley than the usual Old Forester mash.)

Immediately this whiskey struck me as very light and mild, not at all the smoky, burly monsters that Old Forester’s Birthday Bourbons can sometimes be. Peaches are at the forefront here, along with maraschino cherries, sugar syrup, and touches of orange juice. It is almost like a Manhattan cocktail in a glass.

This is one of the most easy-drinking Birthday Bourbons I’ve encountered, and it drinks much younger than its 12 years of age. That smoothness comes at the expense of some depth and complexity, but there’s no denying the overall quality and craftsmanship of this year’s Birthday Bourbon.

97 proof.

A- / $50 /

old forester birthday bourbon 2012 Review: Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2012 Edition

Review: Limited Edition Beers of Magic Hat

Magic Hat is a new brewery to me, and the ungodly number of beer varieties it produces is challenging to get one’s head around. Packaged individually and in a number of variety packs, here’s a look at three of the newer offerings — all limited releases — from this South Burlington, Vermont operation. You can find all three of these, along with Magic Hat #9, in the company’s “Participation Variety Pak,” composed of brews selected based on a tally of votes from the company’s customers.

Magic Hat HI.P.A. -Traditionally styled India Pale Ale, with bracing bitterness, plenty of hops, and a slight underlying sweetness. Not at all heavy, despite the higher alcohol level. Nice fruitiness underneath: Citrus, with some orange peel and a touch of coriander. 6.7% abv. A-

Magic Hat Hex Ourtoberfest – A yummy, mild brown ale, caramel notes which open up with some orange notes in a wide-mouth glass. Maltiness is the key element here, lending a touch of sourness to the finish. Quite easy-drinking, though, at 5.4% abv. B+

Magic Hat Hocus Pocus – Not brewed since 2008. This lighter wheat beer was my least favorite of the bunch, but is still refreshing and enjoyable. Lemony with a malty body, it’s a hazy brew with plenty of mouthfeel behind it, but the very short, crisp finish is more reminiscent of simpler, summer beers. 4.5% abv. B+

Review: Blue Ice “G” Vodka

Blue Ice continues to expand its line of vodkas, and for once a company is pushing not into an endless panoply of flavors.

For its third unflavored vodka, Blue Ice G, the company is taking the affordable route with a vodka made from a blend of mixed grains.

And what a surprise it is: This may be Blue Ice’s most exciting spirit to date.

The vodka is racy and spicy, with lots of character. Up front there’s cinnamon, and dark cocoa powder, which together fade into sweet nougat and marshmallow tones. Red and black pepper character comes back as an echo in the finish, leaving a touch of heat on the palate (but not a cheap vodka “burn”). The overall impact is both fresh and refreshing, with just the right amount of spice to balance the sugar. Overall, there’s just great balance here in a vodka that does an awful lot despite a surprisingly light body — and affordable price tag.

80 proof.

A- / $15 /

blue ice g vodka Review: Blue Ice G Vodka

Review: Campo Azul Tequila

Campo Azul is a 100% blue agave from the Jalisco Highlands, most notable for the hologram that wraps around the neck of the bottle. We sampled both the blanco and extra anejo expressions of the spirit (sorry, reposado!) — two tequilas as wildly different in quality as they get. Both varieties are 80 proof.

Campo Azul Blanco Tequila – This unaged expression is clean, with a moderate agave backbone and a bit of an earthy character to, somewhat uncommon in blanco tequila. Very smooth, with no burn at all, light lemon notes, and light notes of fresh evergreen needles. Refreshing, and very affordable for 100% agave. A- / $23

Campo Azul Extra Anejo Tequila – Aged 18 months in oak, you’d think a sugar bomb was in store for you, but you’d be wrong. Instead, here the piney character goes overboard, with a finish that exudes Pine-Sol so heavily I was instantly transported to a Las Vegas bathroom. There are touches of vanilla on the finish, but nothing can stand up to that gin-like evergreen character. D+ / $27