Review: Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley and Alexander Valley, 2012 Vintage

louis martiniThe 2012 vintage releases from cabernet-focused Louis Martini are here. (For 2011 vintage reviews, click here.) Let’s see what this vintage has in store for us!

2012 Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – Dense and raisiny on the nose, almost pruny at times. The body offers dried herbs atop a plum, raisin, and dark chocolate core. Somewhat bittersweet and drinking quite tight at the moment, with a lengthy finish that kicks up the sweetness around the edges. Not bad, but a bit workmanlike. B / $25

2012 Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley Sonoma County – Cohesive and well-structured, this wine offers a better balance than the Napa bottling, with plenty of fruit but less jamminess. Chocolate notes are easy to enjoy, but the kick of licorice gives it some nuance. The finish is drying but far short of astringent. All in all, it’s a solid and easily drinkable effort. A- / $19

Review: Magic Hat Ale, Electric Peel, Miss Bliss, and Belgo Sutra

magic hat Electric Peel Bottle JPGA quartet of brews from Vermont’s Magic Hat, including two seasonals, a new full-time release, and limited edition available only on draft. Let’s go!

Magic Hat Ale – Seasonal for fall. A simple name for a simple beer, an Irish-style red ale with ample malt and a slightly fruity, caramel-heavy palate. Magic Hat Ale serves up some chocolate notes and a bit of caramel apple on the finish, but it’s nothing too get too excited about in the end. 4.6% abv. B- / $8 per six-pack

Magic Hat Electric Peel Grapefruit IPA – Year-round. Grapefruit is rapidly becoming the “it” beer ingredient, but it gets a bit lost in this chewy, resinous, and otherwise standard-bearing IPA. Lots of piney notes mixed with a strong but less distinct citrus character give this a pleasant balance without blowing you off your barstool with the hops. A slightly sour tang on the finish nods in the direction of the Ruby Red, but if you didn’t know what was in the bottle in advance, you’d probably never realize it was there. All in all, quite enjoyable on its merits. 6% abv. A- / $8 per six-pack

Magic Hat Miss Bliss – Seasonal for fall. This is a lightly spiced ale made with malted rye and dusted with coriander and orange peel. I’m normally not a fan of spiced beers, but Miss Bliss really surprised me. It’s delicate on the tongue with lightly floral notes, then kicks up ample caramel as the body picks up steam. As it develops, the sweetness remains in check while the herbal notes take over. The finish is soothing and nostalgic, reminding the drinker of dry autumn leaves, Halloween, and Thanksgiving baked goods all at once. Refreshing as hell, too. 4.5% abv. A / $8 per six-pack

Magic Hat Belgo Sutra – Very limited. A Belgian dark ale, available on tap only, made with six different malts and fermented over figs and dates. This could be a sugar bomb, but Magic Hat keeps it in check with a bit of Apollo hops to balance things out with some bitterness. That said, it’s still strong, dark, and teetering on the edge of being syrupy, but the malt is big and bold, silky with caramel notes, while the figgy fruity element manages to shine through. Drink one with your fez on. 8.2% abv. B+ / $NA (tap only)

Review: Copper & Kings Absinthe Complete Lineup

copper and kings absinthe

Recently we talked about Copper & Kings’ brandies. Today we look at the absinthes, a set of four blanche absinthes made in… Kentucky. All are based on the brandy distillate (so, made from Muscat grapes — though some sources claim French Colombard), vapor-distilled with grande wormwood, fennel, anise, and hyssop during the initial distillation.

Intriguingly, three “flavored” varieties are also available, though that’s quite a misnomer, as the extra ingredients — each is self-explanatory in the name of the product below — are added during that initial distillation run. In some cases, these are significant improvements to the original recipe!

Thoughts on all four follow. All are 130 proof.

005Copper & Kings Blanche Absinthe – Again, this is a blanche absinthe — so a clear absinthe, not green. It louches well with water and sugar to a pure, pale, milky white. The absinthe offers intense, candied licorice notes, both on the nose (straight) and even stronger with a traditional preparation of water and sugar. There’s a fruity undercurrent on the palate here, a slight note of apples and one of golden raisins, too. Dial back the sugar a tad to reveal some earthy qualities, perhaps a touch of cinnamon. A nice starter absinthe. B+

Copper & Kings Citrus Absinthe Superior – Adds a distinct orange element to the above, but in extreme moderation: just a grating or two of orange peel into that sweet candied licorice core. Very subtle. B+

Copper & Kings Lavender Absinthe Superior – Lavender’s a character that’s tough to disguise, and on the nose it’s clear as a bell — at least until you add water and sugar. From there on, the lavender takes a back seat. As with the citrus, it’s quite subtle (though not quite so difficult to detect), lending a floral note to the proceedings. I liked this a lot more than I expected — lavender in anything comestible is usually a horrible idea — and it turned out to be my favorite of the bunch by a very slight margin. A-

Copper & Kings Ginger Absinthe Superior – Another strong flavor that again makes its presence known more on the unadulterated nose than on the palate. Here, the finished concoction veers more toward a fuller-bodied cocktail, with just a touch of heat on the tip of the tongue as the finish develops. Again, this is a slight improvement on the undoctored version of the spirit, though it’s awfully tough to tell what’s specifically been added if you don’t already know. Another subtle yet well-crafted improvement. The ginger gets clearer with more water. Definitely a worthwhile addition. A-

each $55 /

Review: Mezcal Amaras Cupreata

Mezcal Amaras Cupreata Packshot 1

Mezcal Amaras is new on the scene, but it’s already got a new expression available: Cupreata. What’s cupreata? Amaras explains…

The rare cupreata agave, found only on certain mountain slopes in the Rio Balsas basin in Mexico, produces an equally rare mezcal, known for its distinctly vegetal flavor profile. Today, Anchor Distilling Company makes this special mezcal more available in the U.S. with the introduction of Mezcal Amarás Cupreata, a 100% cupreata agave unaged mezcal. This new release joins the brand’s first expression, a 100% espadín agave unaged mezcal, released in January 2015…

Mezcal Amarás Cupreata is produced by master mezcalero Don Faustino Robledo in the small village of Mazatlán in the State of Guerrero, Mexico. Of the more than 22 different species used to make mezcal, the cupreata agave, or maguey papalote (as it is referred to in Guerrero), is one of the least common agaves utilized. Semi-cultivated on the steep terrain of the Sierra Madre del Sur highlands at 4,000 to 6,000 feet above sea level, the plant has bright green, wide, fleshy leaves lined with copper colored thorns, and takes approximately 13 years to mature due to the harsh climate conditions of the region.

The mezcal is made with no added yeast, only open air fermentation, and is double distilled in copper pot stills. A joven mezcal, it is released unaged.

This is quite a rustic mezcal, with a nose of fresh and sweet mesquite wood, crushed berries, apricots, cut apples, and a touch of evergreen. On the palate, there’s loads of sweetness, backed by that roaring, smoky mesquite fire. The fruits create a bit compote here, with the apricot leading the way toward a woody, smoky finish that folds in all kinds of fruit. Apricots lead to overripe banana notes, which linger on the finish with some odd walnut character that comes to the fore late in the game.

Really exotic stuff, and worth checking out by any mezcal fan, particularly at this price.

86 proof.

A- / $50 /

Review: Booker’s Bourbon “Oven Buster Batch” 2015-04

BookersBatch04We’re just now catching up with Booker’s, which is spending 2015 and beyond releasing some different, limited-release versions of this beloved bourbon brand. Booker’s may not be my go-to bourbon brand, but I have an immense respect for the craftmanship that Fred Noe puts into it and the depth of flavor it provides whenever I sample its charms.

Today we’re looking at the fourth monthly release, “Oven Buster Batch,” which is an uncut, unfiltered bourbon bottled after 6 years, 5 months, and 20 days. (What, no hours?)

Why “Oven Buster”?

“I’ve always been fond of cooking with bourbon,” said Annis Wickham Noe, wife of Booker and mother of Fred. “Years ago, as I was preparing a pork roast, I mistakenly reached for a bottle of my husband’s namesake bourbon to pour over the roast. The oven sparked from the bourbon’s high proof and the door flew open — that’s how the Oven Buster nickname was born!”

As with any Booker’s release, this is a racy one, the nose laden with alcohol and ample (but not overdone) wood. Maybe some mesquite? There’s ample vanilla of course, plus some mint that wafts up with some milk chocolate, too. On the palate, it’s rich with winey notes — think Port and chocolate — plus dense wood. More mint here on the tongue, particularly on the finish, which also offers a bit of fresh berry fruit. There’s plenty of youth in this whiskey, with some popcorn and more raw elements, but the frontier style gives this a bit more character than cigar-room character that off-the-rack Booker’s tends to have.

You might think water is a plus here, and while it certainly helps to dull the alcohol, it really does a number to the sweeter and fruitier components of the whiskey. If you must (and I understand if you must), add water by the drop, not by the splash.

127 proof.

A- / $60 /

Review: Wines of Argentina’s Alamos, 2015 Releases

Alamos Seleccion 2013 Mendoza Argentina Malbec 750mlAn affordable Argentinian icon, Catena’s Alamos brand is out with three new releases. Let’s try ’em all!

2014 Alamos Torrontes Origin Salta – Extremely aromatic and perfumed, a field of white flowers in a summer rainstorm. Big apple and white peach notes and honeysuckle dominate the palate, with a very fragrant finish quickly following (and lasting for quite a while). B / $8

2014 Alamos Malbec Mendoza – Nice, dense fruit here, chewy and rounded on the palate. Notes of cloves and licorice play well with a plum and currant core, with touches of tobacco showing on the finish. Drinks well above pedigree. A- / $9

2013 Alamos Malbec Seleccion Mendoza – The reserve bottling of the Malbec above is a more herbal and aromatic wine, initially a bit closed but over time opening up to reveal elegant fruit, a layer of fresh herbs, and some light wood notes — sandalwood? — and a bit of incense. Quite lovely. A- / $17

Review: Wines of CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs, 2015 Releases

crossbarnWe’ve covered the wines of Paul Hobbs in the past, but this year we look at a larger collection of five offerings. Thoughts? Here they come!

2014 CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs Chardonnay Sonoma Coast – Fresh and easygoing, blending tropical notes with gingerbread cookies up front. The finish is creamy and caramel-focused, but it’s not overwhelming with this sweetness. Some light herbal notes add nuance on the back end. A letdown. B / $25

2014 CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs Sauvignon Blanc Sonoma Coast – Big and bright, punctuated with citrus and some fresh herbs — thyme and a touch of fresh cinnamon. The finish fades to a less distinctly acidic character, offering some chewiness and a bit of brown sugar — but all of that actually makes CrossBarn’s sauvignon blanc quite food-friendly, compared to most of the enamel-stripping examples of California sauvignon blanc out there. B+ / $25

2014 CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs Rose of Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast – Quite dry, perfumed with notes of both roses and white flowers. Gentle raspberry and strawberry notes dust the palate, but it’s far from overly fruited. Pretty and food-friendly but a bit underwhelming. B / $19

2013 CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir Anderson Valley – Excellent representation of Anderson Valley pinot, including bright cherry fruit, a dusting of spice, and gentle vanilla notes. A moderate, balanced body makes this approachable from all sides — summer sipping or enjoying alongside a steak — a real versatile player in any cellar. Stock up. A- / $35

2013 CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast – Nice and spice up front, with black pepper at play with blackberry notes. Some dusky baking spice emerges, offering cloves and some slight, bitter root notes. A dusting of sweetness on the back end complements what has come before, a little vanilla and citrus add layers of complexity atop a solid pinot noir. A- / $35

Review: Mezcal Alipus, 4 Expressions

alipus San Juan_alta

Del Maguey isn’t the only game in town if you want to explore single-village mezcals. Craft Distillers has put together a line of six different mezcals (including one special bottling of only 600 bottles) showcasing different terroirs in the pueblos of Oaxaca — all of which are a bit south of the capital. Each of these is 100% agave espadin, of course.

Let’s try four of them!

Mezcal Alipus San Andres – Fragrant on the nose, quite floral. The body features big orange and grapefruit notes, some cinnamon and black pepper, and gentle smokiness lacing throughout it all. Sweet and spicy, with a quiet demeanor to it. 94.6 proof. B+

Mezcal Alipus San Juan – These agaves are harvested from 1100 meters, the lowest elevation in this group (the rest all hover at around 1600 meters). Quite smoky, with some fruit underneath it. This is a more brash mezcal, though notes of banana and coconut bubble up on the finish to add some nuance. Overall, though, this is the most heavy-handed mezcal of the bunch — which is a good and a bad thing, depending on your POV. 95.4 proof. B

Mezcal Alipus San Luis – Milder, and instantly sweeter on the nose, with more of a barbecue character. Applewood bacon, some citrus, particularly lime, are heavy on the palate. A touch of red pepper on the tongue gives this mezcal a little more heat than the others, while some sweeter elements give the finish a gentle way out. There’s lots going on with this mezcal, which has a complexity that some of the other Alipus expressions lack. 95.6 proof. A-

Mezcal Alipus Santa Ana del Rio – Sweet, with piney notes. The least smoky of the bunch — definitely a starter mezcal for those afraid of it. A quiet spirit, it offers distinctly floral perfume notes on the nose, then some fruit on the palate — pomelos and peaches, perhaps? A bit rocky on the finish, as some medicinal notes emerge. Curious stuff. 93.8 proof. B

each $48 /

Review: Braulio Amaro Alpino

braulioBraulio’s an Italian amaro… alpino. Alpino? From the alpine mountains, which gives it a bit of a different spin than what you might be used to.

Braulio originated in 1875, and it’s created with a blend of 13 herbs. Only four are known to the public: gentian, juniper, wormwood, and yarrow. The rest of the ingredients remain secret.

Well there’s definitely spearmint here (or some kind of mint, anyway), and it’d be safe to bet on cinnamon, cloves, and orange peel, all of which seem to make an appearance on the palate. The nose keeps things heavy on the mint, and the body folds that into a moderate to intense bitterness that takes you to a quite lengthy and bittersweet finish.

All in all, Braulio drinks like a traditional amaro that adds in a big, minty punch. For after-dinner sipping, it hits the right spot.

42 proof.

A- / $32 /

Review: Kirk and Sweeney Dominican Rum 18 Years Old and 23 Years Old


Kirk and Sweeney 12 Years Old, imported by Sonoma’s 35 Maple Street, is one of the best artisan rums on the market. And that’s just a babe at a mere 12 years old.

Today we’re looking at the older line extensions of Kirk and Sweeney, including the 18 year old and 23 year old expressions. All three are bottled in similar, urn-inspired decanters, so look for the digits etched onto the glass in order to help keep them straight.

Both are 80 proof.

Thoughts follow.

Kirk and Sweeney Dominican Rum 18 Years Old – Traditional, well-aged rum notes on the nose — brown sugar, vanilla, and some chocolate/coffee overtones. The body starts things off in that direction, then takes an interesting side street toward some curious red wine notes. The coffee character builds as the finish grows, along with some leather notes and a bit of dense sweetness, almost Port-like as it mingles with that wine-like character. Austere and worthwhile. A- / $40

Kirk and Sweeney Dominican Rum 23 Years Old – At 23 years old, this rum is fully matured and ready for sipping on the beach, shoes off. Here you’ll find deep caramel, flecked with barrel char, toffee, intense vanilla, and a touch of baking spice — particularly cloves. They’re all here, from the nose, to the palate, to the rich, silky finish. This isn’t a particularly complicated rum, but it’s got a laser focus on the elements that make rum great. It’s one of the best rums on the market and, at just 50 bucks, quite a bargain. What’s a 23 year old bourbon going to cost you, eh? A / $50  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]