Review: Kikori Whiskey

kikori

Everyone knows that Japan loves rice so much that they even make their booze out of it. Sake, shochu… and now, whiskey.

Rice whiskey? You read that right. Kikori is distilled from 100% rice grown in the Kumamoto region, which goes through a “two-mash fermentation process, before distilling the mash in a single batch and casking it in [lightly charred] American Oak, repurposed Limousin French Oak and sherry barrels from Spain. For 3 to 10 years, the subtle notes of the barrels are imparted into the whiskey,” per the producer.

Whether or not this is proper “whiskey” is an academic discussion; let’s see what it actually tastes like.

The nose at first comes across like a cross between very young scotch and an immature brandy. A distinct melon aroma, reminiscent of sake, emerges from the fog given some time, combining with a touch of vanilla that pops up to offer a somewhat appealing and very unique entry.

The body follows along these lines, starting off with a light vanilla and caramel character, then kicks out more of that fresh honeydew melon as the finish starts to build. There’s no sense of grain or earth here — making your whiskey from rice instead of barley sure does make a difference — just a very light base of floral notes that, when combined with melon and oak, evokes dry sherry at times. The finish is clean and fresh, but offers a stronger caramel character than the lead-up would telegraph.

If you’re a fan of sake, Kikori in many ways presents that classic beverage in a more refined and higher-proof form. (Just as you can think of whiskey as a distillate of beer, consider Kikori as a distillate of sake — in simplified terms, of course.)

I was skeptical that Kikori would be very good — I mean, whiskey made from rice? Come on… — but after spending many hours poring over several glasses of the stuff, I’m a convert. I can’t wait to see what Team Kikori does with this idea next.

82 proof.

A- / $47 / kikoriwhiskey.com

Review: Garzon Sauvignon Blanc and Albarino Uruguay, 2015 Vintage

garzon

Uruguay? Uruguay. The country you probably can’t even find on a map turns out to make some surprisingly good wine.

But first, a little info from the company:

Officially opened to the public in March 2016, Bodega Garzón is an emergent family estate in the idyllic country of Uruguay, pioneered by Alejandro P. Bulgheroni, an Argentinian and Uruguayan-based international vintner. Unique to the region, Bodega Garzón is leading the charge in winemaking innovation, varietal experimentation, and sustainability.

Thoughts on the first releases available in the U.S. follow.

2015 Garzon Sauvignon Blanc Uruguay – A crisp yet fruity wine, Garzon’s sauvignon blanc takes its apple core and laces it with pineapple and a very light touch of ammonia — enough to ensure you know this is sauvignon blanc right from the start. The finish is fruit-forward and lightly lemony, bright with acidity. It’s a simple wine, but quite a delightful sipper on a hot summer day. A- / $17

2015 Garzon Albarino Uruguay – Unoaked and 100% albarino, this wine exudes peaches and apricots at the start, with secondary notes of white flowers. There’s lots of acidity here, which is good, because it needs it to balance the mountain of fruit that it’s packing, but ultimately the finish veers a touch heavily on the sweet side. B / $17

bodegagarzon.com

Tasting the Beers of Devils Backbone: Five Apostles Saison, Pear Lager, Golden Stag, Black Rock Milk Stout, Catty Wompus, and Trail Angel Weiss

devils backbone

Lexington, Virginia-based Devils Backbone has been cranking out craft brews for years, and earlier this year the operation was acquired by Anheuser-Busch. The company says that the Bud connection won’t stifle its autonomy, and that it will keep releasing daring beers for years to come.

That’s starting with the brewery’s new Adventure Pack, which includes Five Apostles Saison, Pear Lager, Golden Stag, and Black Rock Milk Stout, all of which were formerly available only at the Devils Backbone brewpub. We’re reviewing all four of these below, plus a couple of one-off releases, Catty Wompus and Trail Angel Weiss, further on down the page.

Let’s start with the four beers from the Adventure Pack.

Devils Backbone Five Apostles Saison Belgian-Inspired Farmhouse Ale – A relatively alcohol-heavy expression of a saison, this fruity and spicy ale offers notes of coriander, overripe apples, and a smattering of baking spices, culminating in a finish not far from fresh baked gingerbread. A bit drier than I expected, but that’s actually a positive — giving this saison a truly refreshing finish. 6.9% abv. A-

Devils Backbone Pear Lager – A lager flavored with natural pear flavor. That’s not a combination I’ve ever asked for (or even thought much about), but it works better than expected. Gentle though unspecific fruit mixes easily with the up-front malty lager notes, with these two factions fighting for control for quite some time as the palate builds and then fades to its curiously fruity but distinctly beer-like conclusion. 4.8% abv. B

Devils Backbone Golden Stag Blended Beer – Designed as a hybrid of a lager and an IPA, and the combination works quite well. The IPA at first seems that it will win this war of styles, with heavy (though not particularly citrusy) hops, but eventually the big and malty body muscles its way to the forefront. Bold without being overwhelming. 5.5% abv. B+

Devils Backbone Black Rock Milk Stout – A traditional, black-as-night milk stout sweetened with milk sugar, though it’s not as creamy or as sweet as you might be expecting. Notes of coffee and well-roasted nuts take center stage, with gently soothing sweetness acting as a very modest foil to the proceedings. The finish has a slightly odd touch of sourness to it. Curious. 5.4% abv. B+

And here’s a look at the two one-offs…

Devils Backbone Catty Wompus – “A Belgian inspired India Pale Ale,” this expression offers the best of both of those worlds, starting things off with a foot deeply set in the IPA world, then slowly letting those Belgian Ale notes take hold. That means a good dose of hops start things off with a healthy level of bitterness before some more subtle fruit components — apples, apricots, orange blossoms — start to take hold. The finish is a refreshing but rounded and mouth-filling blend of both elements. Well done. 7.5% abv. A-

Devils Backbone Trail Angel Weiss – Made in the “Bavarian style,” which is really how all weissbier is made. It’s a little funky at the start, with some mushroom notes that aren’t perfectly in sync with the lemon peel and substantial malt character, but at least gives the beer a hefty, chewy, bready body, something that isn’t always in the cards in the world of weissbier. 4.7% abv. B-

about $17 per 12-pack / dbbrewingcompany.com

Tasting Sicilian Grillo: 2014 Tasca and 2013 Firriato

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Grillo is a Sicilian grape variety (thought to be a cross between moscato and catarratto) known best as one of the varietals used for the production of Marsala — but it can also be used to produce a lively table wine that echoes pinot grigio, but with a bolder and rounder body.

Recently we sampled two grillo bottlings, both from the Sicilia DOC. Thoughts follow.

2014 Tasca Tenuta Regaleali Grillo Cavallo delle Fate Sicilia DOC – Bold in body and chewy at times, but loaded with notes of fresh lemon, sweetened grapefruit, and mild apricot. At the back of the palate, the wine offers brightness and acidity — slightly floral. Some lightly meaty notes, touched with sweet marshmallow fluff, come along on a gently woody finish with recalls a gentler expression of American chardonnay. (While this is 100% grillo, grillo-chardonnay blends (and other grillo blends) are common.) B+ / $18

2013 Firriato Altavilla della Corte Grillo Sicilia DOC – Also 100% grillo. A somewhat similar wine, though here we find a stronger fresh fruit component — with more distinct tropical notes — plus a touch of vanilla-scented wood influence. This wine would be easier to confuse with a pinot grigio than the Tasca, but on the whole I find it just a touch more enjoyable thanks to a higher level of acidity. A- / $17

Review: Stolichnaya Gluten Free Vodka

Stoli Gluten Free

At the risk of angering my gluten-free readership even further, I’m about to review another gluten-free beverage that’s arriving in the form of Stoli Gluten Free.

It’s becoming increasingly popular for manufacturers to claim that various liquor products are gluten free, but it’s commonly known that gluten does not survive the distillation process. By and large (so they say), all distilled spirits are gluten free, unless they are flavored with some kind of gluten-containing product.

The catch: That fact doesn’t actually matter. Per the TTB, you can’t put “gluten free” on your label unless the product was made from start to finish with gluten-free ingredients. Distill from wheat and you can’t claim the product is gluten-free… even if it actually is gluten-free due to the processing.

For Stolichnaya, that’s a problem, because its standard bottling is made from a mash of wheat and rye. Rather than reformulate the original product just to please a few anti-glutenites, it’s launched a whole new version of Stoli: Stolichnaya Gluten Free. Made from a mash of 88% corn and 12% buckwheat, it’s gluten-free right from the start.

Nosing Stoli GF doesn’t indicate anything out of the ordinary. It’s sharp and moderately medicinal, classically Old World in its aroma, with hints of black pepper and pine needles. On the palate, the vodka doesn’t depart much from the expected profile: Hospital notes first, followed by very mild sweetness, a hint of cracked grains, and a bit of a charcoal note on the back end. It’s a very neutral vodka without much in the way of secondary aromas or flavors, its quite crisp finish further ensuring than any additional flavor notes that did survive distillation and filtering are quickly whisked away.

The bottom line: Whether or not you buy in to the gluten-free craze, Stoli’s figured out how to make a “completely” gluten-free vodka that tastes just as good as the “real” stuff. Feel free to sub it in freely for any other top shelf vodka.

80 proof.

A- / $17 / stoli.com

Tasting the Pinots of Emeritus Vineyards, 2013 Vintage

Emeritus HR

Emeritus began in 1999 when the irascible Brice Cutrer Jones, founder of Sonoma-Cutrer, bought a coveted 115-acre apple orchard in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley. Apples went out. Pinot noir grapes went in. The goal: Craft an all-estate-grown Burgundy-style wine “from scratch,” its grapes carefully dry-farmed for maximum flavor extraction — and to actually showcase the terroir of California. (This vineyard is said to be the largest dry-farmed vineyard in California.)

Today Emeritus spans three small vineyards (two in the Sonoma Coast), with each responsible for producing a single-vineyard pinot noir. Today a small group of writers sat down (via a web chat) with Jones and his daughter and partner Mari Jones to step through the three latest bottlings of Emeritus pinot, all 2013 vintage releases, and listen to Jones extol the benefits of dry farming… and rail against the commercial winemaking practices of the Napa Valley.

Thoughts on each of these wines follow.

2013 Emeritus Vineyards Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Pinot Hill Vineyard – The newest vineyard, about 30 acres on the northern end of the Wind Gap, planted in 2008 (before that it was a llama farm). Distinctly Burgundy style, with notes of bacon and pepper on the nose. The body is loaded with fruit, gentle raspberry and cherry notes, plus notes of tea leaf. The conclusion is gentle and easy, with light wood notes. A quiet nod to the Cote de Nuits. B+ / $55

2013 Emeritus Vineyards Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Hallberg Ranch Vineyard – Sourced from the original 115-acre vineyard discussed above. Brighter, more acidic, and with a clearer, though not overblown, fruit character. It’s a departure from the ultra-jammy style that’s typical of the Russian River, with a smattering of savory spices, and a finish that evokes crisp red apple notes. Really gorgeous, elegant, and fresh, it’s easy-drinking and light on its fight… but loaded with a depth of flavor that merits considerable thought. Definitively not your daddy’s RRV pinot. A / $42

2013 Emeritus Vineyards Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast William Wesley Vineyard – Sourced from a high-elevation vineyard, a 30-acre plot that was originally a partnership with Aubert de Villaine, the proprietor of Domaine Romanée-Conti. De Villaine eventually backed out of the project, but the finished product nonetheless has some of his DNA. It’s heavily Burgundian in style, brooding on the nose with wet earth and some, big meaty notes, and tempered with touches of spearmint. There’s a density on the palate, loaded with notes of licorice, blackberry bramble, and some tar, which combines to make for a quite heavy pinot that might even be mistaken for syrah at times. That’s not a slight. Brice thinks of this as his winery’s “grand cru” bottling… and he’s not wrong in that descriptor. A- / $67

emeritusvineyards.com

Review: Rose Wines of Chateau Saint-Maur, 2015 Vintage

 

Ch St. Maur Clos de CapeluneAs summer begins to fade, we take yet another look at rose from France’s Provence region, this time including a trio of wines all from the same producer, Chateau Saint-Maur, which produces rose at the higher-end of the typical price band for this style.

Below we look at three wines from St.-Maur, all cru classe bottlings from the 2015 vintage.

2015 Chateau Saint-Maur Cotes de Provence Cru Classe – Grenache-heavy, with cinsault and carignan making up most of the rest of the blend (a half-dozen other grapes fill out the remaining few percentage points). This is the only “standard bottle” in this bunch compared to the oversized monsters below, this is a quite dry expression of rose, with light orange overtones and a simple, pleasant structure. Some grapefruit and quiet floral notes find a nice footing in the gentle finish. B+ / $25

2015 Chateau Saint-Maur L’Excellence Cotes de Provence Cru Classe – Grenache, cinsault, and syrah, in that order. Bottled (as is the Clos de Capelune) in a bottle with an ultra-fat base that will challenge any racking system you have. That aside, this is a pretty rose with more fruit to it than the other wines in this lineup, with peach and apricot notes leading the way to a modestly floral finish. Lively from start to finish with an enduring acidity. A- / $45

2015 Chateau Saint-Maur Clos de Capelune Cru Classe – Sourced from newly-acquired vineyards (hence the double name on the bottle), this blend spins things around, featuring cinsault first, then syrah, then a bit of grenache. Fragrant and floral on the nose, again with white flower petals and a touch of apricot notes. On the palate, it’s quite dry and even tannic at times, though the fruity finish, with its notes of peaches and a dollop of red raspberry, is often inspiring. A- / $65

chateausaintmaur.com