Category Archives: Rated A-

Review: Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2014 Edition

old forester birthday bourbon 2014 525x725 Review: Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2014 Edition

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

sting 525x1031 Review: Wild Turkey American Honey 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 Lalande  104x300 Bordeaux Review: 2010 Chateau de Viaud Lalande & 2012 Chateau du Bois ChantantWhen’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 Anejo 256x1200 Review: Trianon TequilaTrianon 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 2012 143x300 Review: 2012 Vineyard 29 Cru Cabernet Sauvignon Napa ValleyDistinctly 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 525x750 Review: Angels Envy Cask Strength Bourbon   Limited Edition (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

Review: Crop Organic Spiced Pumpkin Vodka

Crop Spiced Pumpkin Final 288x1200 Review: Crop Organic Spiced Pumpkin Vodka‘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.

Review: Hibiki 17 Years Old and 21 Years Old

hibiki 21 525x742 Review: Hibiki 17 Years Old and 21 Years Old

Great news for lovers of Japanese whiskies. Suntory has just launched two older Hibiki expressions, 17 Years Old and 21 Years Old, to join its 12 year old bottling that arrived on our shores way back in 2009. We got fresh looks as the first shipments hit the U.S.

Hibiki 17 Years Old – Nicely balanced between supple grain notes and dessert-like characteristics on the nose, including sherried nuts, honeycomb, and nougat. The body plays up both sides of this equation nicely. The cereal side is well-aged, mellow, and slightly racy, while the oak-driven side offers deep almond and hazelnut notes and a lightly sweet, whipped cream finish that ties it all together like a nice ice cream sundae. Could be a touch punchier, but overall it’s a great way to end an evening. 86 proof. A- / $150

Hibiki 21 Years Old – Elevated. Almost cognac-like on the nose, with austerity and grace, but also clear sweetness. The palate starts out a bit hot — surprising given the relatively gentle alcohol level here — with a cinnamon-like burn and more of those roasted cereal notes. Give it a little time in glass and some honey character emerges along with soothing brown sugar notes. The finish is where Hibiki 21 really kicks in, with some red fruits, sherry, red peppers, and a bit of chewy marshmallow to top it all off. Exemplary. 86 proof. A / $250

suntory.com

Review: NV Laurent-Perrier Ultra Brut Champagne

Laurent Perrier Ultra Brut with Box Hi Res 212x300 Review: NV Laurent Perrier Ultra Brut ChampagneLaurent-Perrier Ultra Brut is a rare Champagne made with absolutely no dosage — the addition of refined sugar to the finished wine as a sweetener. Even the driest of sparkling wines tends to have some sugar in it — even if it’s a tiny amount. In L-P’s Ultra Brut, the sweetness is all in your mind. About half chardonnay and half pinot noir, this nonvintage sparkler offers a surprisingly lively core of fruit. Fresh cut apples are long and expressive here, with bready notes that keep the yeast character in check. It’s dry, but notes of lemon peel, lime, and a very light violet fragrance give this a lot more body and power than you would probably expect.

A- / $40 / laurent-perrier.com

Review: Milagro Tequila UNICO Edicion II

unico 2 milagro 525x759 Review: Milagro Tequila UNICO Edicion II

Two years ago, Tequila Milagro aimed to reinvent tequila with UNICO, a $300 blend of blanco and aged tequilas that had been filtered back to white — a technique born in the rum world that is exploding in popularity with tequila, too.

1,200 bottles were produced — and sealed in impossibly elaborate decanters — and surely these sold out quickly. Now Milagro is back with UNICO II — unico edicion dos — made using basically the same process: “aged silver tequila with rare barrel-aged reposado and añejo reserves, creating a super-premium joven blend.”

How does the 2014 expression of UNICO fare? We tried it so you don’t have to spend $60 a shot to find out.

Very pale yellow in color, the nose of UNICO II is one of a solid, well-aged reposado or possibly an anejo tequila. Classic vanilla and caramel mixes with a bit of bite of agave, creating a rather enchanting opening statement. The body is sultry — lemon pepper, marshmallow, lightly browned sugar, and a healthy slug of racy agave on the back end. The finish is vegetal and clearly, classically tequila, with just the slightest tempering of sugar syrup.

Overall this is an improvement over the 2012 expression of UNICO, but frankly it remains a simplistic rendition of the spirit, as my limited tasting notes might indicate. By filtering out all the color-bearing solids, I fear Milagro takes with it a lot of the flavor of those “rare reposado and anejo reserves,” leaving behind, basically, water and alcohol. Why not leave this at its natural color?

Anyway. The bigger issue here is, of course, the obvious one: 300 bucks can go an awfully long way toward buying some amazing tequila. Or you can get this pretty crazy bottle. YOU DECIDE.

80 proof. 1,500 bottles produced.

B+ / $300 / milagrotequila.com

Tasting Report: Rosso Montefalco and Montefalco Sagrantino, 2014 Releases

2003MontefalcoRosso btl 91x300 Tasting Report: Rosso Montefalco and Montefalco Sagrantino, 2014 ReleasesWelcome to Montefalco, “the balcony of Umbria” in the backyard of Tuscany. Montefalco is a relatively little-known wine region in the U.S., known primarily as the birthplace and home of Sagrantino, a grape that thrives in the hills of this area. Sagrantino (from “sacrament,” called thusly because dried Sagrantino grapes have been used by monks to produce raisin-based wines for centuries) makes for a massive, classically Italian wine. It is said that Sagrantino wines have some of the highest levels of tannins in any commercially produced wine in the world, so feel free to open these well before you drink them and watch them evolve in the glass.

A recent virtual tasting put on by the Consorzio Tutela Vini Montefalco and broadcast from the heart of Montefalco let us Americans sample a collection of eight recent vintages — four pure Sagrantino bottlings and four Montefalco Rosso bottlings. (Montefalco Rosso is a blend that typically includes heavy Sangiovese and a smaller proportion of Sagrantino, among other international varietals.)

Thoughts on the eight wines — exhibiting some remarkably similar DNA while showing off unique flourishes here and there — which were sampled follow.

2010 Le Cimate Montefalco Rosso DOC – 60% Sangiovese, 15% Merlot, 15% Sangrantino, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. A touch of barnyard on the nose doesn’t mar an otherwise fun, fruity Rosso. Bright cherry and strawberry notes attack up front, with more earthy elements taking hold on the back end. Shortish, drying finish. B / $20

2010 Arnaldo Caprai Montefalco Rosso DOC – 70% Sangiovese, 15% Sagrantino, 15% Merlot. Firing on all cylinders, this Rosso features a well-balanced body that keeps baking spices, dried fruits, tobacco, and fresh cherries all in check. Long finish, with the herbal notes rising to the top. Quite food friendly. A- / $22

2010 Antonelli Montefalco Rosso DOC – 65% Sangiovese, 15% Sangrantino, 10% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. Sedate and undemanding, this lightly vegetal Rosso drinks without much fuss, a steady wine that brings fennel, licorice, rosemary, and thyme to the forefront. Very compacted fruit on the back end, as the wine plays everything close to the vest. B / $18

2010 Tenute Lunelli Ziggurat Montefalco Rosso DOC – 70% Sangiovese, 15% Sagrantino, 15% Cabernet/Merlot.Dry but balanced with fruit, this wine features notes of violet mingled with its blackberry core. Vanilla and strawberry notes emerge over time. This one’s well balanced and easy to enjoy either on its own or with a meal. A- / $15

2008 Scacciadiavoli Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG – Initially very austere and restrained. Intense herbal character, almost bitter with tree bark and root notes. Given significant time the wine opens up to reveal blackberry notes, plums, and a little brown sugar — but its huge bramble and balsamic character dominates through the finish. Hearty as all get out. B+ / $40

2009 Tenuta Bellafonte Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG – Immediately more fruit up front, with some barnyard notes in the background. In the glass, the wine develops more of a fruit punch character to it, with plum and cran-apple flavors evolving. The finish shows tannin, but is nowhere near as overwhelming as the Scacciadiavoli. B / $50

2010 Romanelli Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG - Quite an enchanting nose — floral and fruity. Clear floral notes on the palate, with notes of violets and strawberry. The chewy, tannic finish takes things more to licorice than balsamic. B+ / $37

2009 Perticaia Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG – Heady aromas of blueberry and some baking spice. The sweetest wine of the bunch by a longshot, which is a huge help in cutting through the tannin, which grows on the back end as the wine develops on the palate. Notes of eucalyptus leaf and menthol find their way into the finish. B+ / $40

consorziomontefalco.it

Review: Highland Park Dark Origins

HP Dark Origins bottle 750ml HR 525x783 Review: Highland Park Dark Origins

Welcome to the family, Dark Origins. Here’s a new expression from Highland Park that nods (so they say) at the company’s founder, Magnus Eunson.

The Dark Origins in question actually refer to the use of sherry casks for maturation. Compared to standard expressions of Highland Park, Dark Origins uses double the number of sherry casks than Highland Park 12 Year Old in the vatting, giving it a darker, deeper color. Dark Origins does not bear an age statement, though it will be replacing Highland Park 15 Year Old on the market around the end of the year.

This is a beautiful but quite punchy expression of Highland Park, very dissimilar to other HP bottlings. The extra sherry makes it drink like a substantially more mature, almost bossy spirit. The nose is lightly smoky like all classic Highland Park expressions, with honeyed undercurrents, but tons of sherry up top give it an almost bruising orange oil component. On the tongue the smokiness quickly fades as notes of orange peel, wood oil and leather, old wood staves, and toasted walnuts pick up the slack. Let’s be totally clear here: It is strongly, austerely woody and tannic, with HP’s signature fruitiness dialed way back. Candylike marshmallow and intense sherry notes arrive later on the finish, along with some maritime character, giving Dark Origins a complex, but chewier, dessert-like finish.

All told, as noted above, it comes across like an older expression — which is really the point of using extra first-fill sherry casks — with more smokiness, more sherry flavor, and more tannin than you tend to get with Highland Park 18 and older expressions. Lots of fun, and lots to talk about as you explore it: Is this too much of a departure for Highland Park, or just what the doctor ordered for the brand? Discuss amongst yourselves.

93.6 proof.

A- / $80 / highlandpark.co.uk

Review: South Bay Rum

south bay rum 122x300 Review: South Bay RumHere’s a decidedly unique approach to crafting a rum. South Bay Rum is made from molasses in the Dominican Republic, aged and blended in the solera style. The catch is in the barrels used for the aging: South Bay uses a collection of casks that previously contained bourbon, sherry, port, or single malt Scotch whisky, an approach I’ve never quite heard used in the rum world.

Results are typical of moderately aged rums, with some nuanced edges that makes it fun to experience. On the nose, burnt marshmallows and dark caramel sauce dominate. The body keeps things sweet at first, tempering this with citrus notes, juicy raisins, green banana, and baking spices.

Don’t get me wrong. There are hints of many of the casks used here — those port-driven raisin notes the strongest evidence of something out of the ordinary being done — but overall this is still distinctively rum through and through, its molasses core remaining the clear focus. Alas, all good things must come to an end. The finish is long and quite drying, with a lasting raisiny edge that begs for another sip to bring the sweetness back to life.

80 proof. Reviewed: Batch L.2112.

A- / $28 / southbayrum.com

Tasting Report: Cinsault Wines from Lodi’s Bechthold Vineyard, 2014 Releases

Cinsault may not be a household wine varietal, but they sure seem to grow a bunch of it up in Lodi, located at the foot of the Sierra Nevada. Recently the Lodi winemaking trade group sponsored a tasting of four Cinsault wines, all from the region’s Bechthold Vineyard.

Primarily known as a blending grape in the Languedoc region of France, Cinsault makes for surprisingly soft and fruity wines, often with a dash (or more) of spice. It lies somewhere between Pinot Noir and Zinfandel. As another point of reference, Cinsault and Pinot Noir were crossed to make Pinotage, the unofficial national grape of South Africa.

The four wines below demonstrate how widely variable wines made from this grape can be — even those made from grapes grown in the same vineyard. Thoughts follow.

2013 Turley Cinsault Bechtoldt Vineyard Lodi – Immediately spicy on the nose — cinnamon and ginger, unusual qualities in any wine — with tons of fruit. Strawberries and crisp rhubarb burst forth, with a long, slightly sweet finish. Most would guess this is Pinot. Either way, it’s lots of fun. [sic] on the spelling of the vineyard name on the label. A / $17

2013 Michael David Ancient Vine Cinsault Bechthold Vineyard - Dense and chocolaty, easily mistaken for Zinfandel. Earthy and lightly smoky, the only thing connecting this to the Turley is the strawberry at its core — but here it is more like strawberry jam or preserves. A much different, but compelling, wine. B+ / $25

2012 Estate Crush Cinsault Bechthold Vineyard – A more middle-of-the-road wine, offering a blend of jammy fruit and a dusting of baking spices. Strawberry is the clear fruit component here, pulling you into a vanilla-infused finish. B+ / $26

2011 Onesta Cinsault Bechthold Vineyard – A more brooding wine, somewhere between the prior two wines in intensity and depth of flavor. Give it a few minutes in the glass and plenty of strawberry notes come forward, along with ample chocolate and caramel character, adding nuance. Definitely a wine that would work with dessert — but also with the main course. Worthwhile. A- / $29

Review: 2011 Faust Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

Faust bottle shotnovintage 200x300 Review: 2011 Faust Cabernet Sauvignon Napa ValleyFaust’s latest Cab is ready to go today. Gentle menthol notes mix with overtones of rhubarb and a touch of vanilla. The body starts off with a touch of vegetal character, but this dissolves into more classic Napa Cab notes: rich currants, chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry on the back end. Long and fruit-forward finish, with those vanilla notes working remarkably well with the wine’s minty menthol character.

Faust: It’s Goethe stuff!

A- / $40 / faustwine.com

Review: Wines of Benessere, 2014 Releases

Benessere is a small, family-owned vineyard and winery in St. Helena, where it focuses heavily on estate-grown grapes. Specifically, Italian varietals and Zinfandel dominate the bill. Today we look at a selection of five wines from the company. Thoughts follow.

2013 Benessere Rosato di Sangiovese Estate St. Helena Vineyard – Let this rose warm a bit before tucking into it. Straight from the fridge you’ll find it overbearing with astringency and hospital notes. With some air and warmth it reveals lots of strawberry, lychee, green banana, and mandarin orange notes. The finish is off, but it still works well enough. B / $18

2012 Benessere Sangiovese Estate St. Helena Vineyard – Lush and exciting, this is an easy-drinking wine that’s stuffed with sangiovese’s signature cherry notes, but also vanilla notes, wet earth, and gentle tannins to give it structure. A- / $32

2012 Benessere Zinfandel Collins Holystone St. Helena Vineyard – An old vine Zin, this wine initially attacks the palate with overwhelming sweetness, but eventually it settles into a highly drinkable rhythm, lush with jammy plums and raspberries, tempered with chocolate sauce notes, but it pulls out enough refinement enough to work with a hearty meal. B+ / $35

2012 Benessere Zinfandel Black Glass Estate St. Helena Vineyard – A more vegetal showing of Zin, its fruit demolished by a thin body that has a weedy, earthy funk to it. B- / $35

2012 Benessere Moscato di Canelli Napa Valley “Scintillare” – Standard-grade sweet moscato, orange oil studded with some hospital notes. Lots of honey, short finish. B / $25 (375ml)

benesserevineyards.com

Review: Germain-Robin Old & Rare Brandy Barrel 351

craft distillers barrel 351 525x350 Review: Germain Robin Old & Rare Brandy Barrel 351

Craft Distillers has made just 120 bottles of this brandy under the Germain-Robin label, all from a single cask of 26 year old spirit of 100% pinot noir — grown in a Mendocino vineyard that no longer exists. In its online notes, Germain-Robin calls this perhaps its “finest distillate” and notes its “almost feral intensity.”

That’s a completely apt description of this complicated spirit, a brandy that drinks with impressive complexity and depth. The nose is restrained fruit — apricots, peaches, and plums — tempered with austere oak and notes of what might pass for apple cider vinegar. Things rachet up as you tuck into actually drinking the thing. The body is downright beastly with intense notes of wood planks, caramel sauce, baked apples, and flamed orange peels. Dark chocolate and some nutty notes emerge as the finish develops, with this brandy’s intense, old fruit character ultimately taking another complex turn toward the dark and brooding.

A small sample will never get to the complexities of this spirit, and it can initially be so daunting that it’s off-putting to really dig into. Give it the time to show you it’s charms. After all, you will have paid dearly to see them.

90.6 proof.

A- / $600 / craftdistillers.com

Review: El Luchador Organic Tequila 110 Proof

el luchador tequila 473x1200 Review: El Luchador Organic Tequila 110 Proof

Tapatio 110 isn’t the only overproof tequila in the game. Now comes El Luchador, a tequila from David Ravandi that also hits the 110 proof mark.

El Luchador (“the wrestler”) is made from organic agave, single estate grown. Grown at 4,200 feet, the agave hails from the upper reaches of what is considered a Lowlands spirit. Individually numbered and bottled in antique-looking recycled glass bottles, the masked Mexican wrestler on the label makes quite an impression before you ever crack into it.

This is heavily overproof tequila, so naturally it’s appropriately racy on the nose, stuffed with agave, lemon pepper, and fresh sea salt. On a second sampling, I found a lot more citrus than I’d originally expected. (Citrus notes are a hallmark of Lowlands tequilas.)

The palate is rich and powerful, as you’d expect from a 110 proof spirit, but also silky-sweet with notes of nougat and coconut — with a growing character of cinnamon-inflected horchata. It is not “too hot” at all, and drinks surprisingly easily with no water added. The agave notes build on the finish, offering white pepper, lemongrass, and soothing touches of mint as it fades. The cinnamon sticks around for quite a while, helping to spice up the finish.

Altogether El Luchador offers a lovely, creamy complexion with a nice balance of the sweet and savory, making it both exciting and quite complicated for a blanco.

Arriving this fall.

A- / $45 / website under construction

Review: Taken and Complicated Wines, 2014 Releases

Complicated 2013 HI Res Bottle Lineup 188x300 Review: Taken and Complicated Wines, 2014 ReleasesWhat’s Liam Neeson’s favorite wine? Taken!

Taken Wine Co. is a five year old winery that bottles under two labels — Taken and Complicated. Part of the Trinchero empire, these are most affordable wines designed to be crowd pleasers. Thoughts follow.

2011 Taken Red Wine Napa Valley - 60% cabernet, 40% merlot. A soft and ready-to-go red that balances fruity plums and currants with touches of leather, chocolate, and hints of balsamic. Well balanced and supple. Probably not called “Complicated” because it’s anything but. B+ / $30

2012 Complicated Chardonnay Sonoma County – Slightly floral on the nose, with hints of sugar cookies and almonds. The body plays up the sweet side of things — apple butter and brown sugar — but notes of sage and pine add curiosity. The incredibly long finish is surprisingly sugary, which isn’t the way I’d like to see this wine end up, but give it time to warm up a bit and things settle down. B / $18

2012 Complicated Red Wine Central Coast – A mash-up of grenache, syrah, and carignane. Quite drinkable, full of fruit but far from jammy. Restrained, even, showing notes of tea leaf where you’d otherwise find chocolate syrup. Nice balance between raspberry (lots), strawberry, and even some citrus notes. An easy, affordable drinker. A- / $20

takenwine.com

Book Review: Bourbon Desserts

Bourbon Desserts 300x300 Book Review: Bourbon DessertsThe problem here is twofold: there’s perception and then there’s reality. When in the kitchen, I often fancy myself as an avant-garde foodie supreme. I daydream about and attempt to make gastropub delights and fancy myself in the same limelight as my particular chef of idolatry, Homaro Cantu. The results are certainly avant-garde, but just not in a good way. Often my well-intended attempts at something cutting edge would be worthy of inclusion on a Buzzfeed “Nailed it” meme, with friends powering through dishes with puckered faces and compliments in the form of ambiguous grunts and phrases like, “I like how the burnt ends really add a smoky texture to this” (it was a key lime pie).

So when the University of Kentucky Press (full disclosure: I also work for UK. Go Cats.) sent me an advance copy of recipes one can cook with bourbon, I was beside myself in utter delight. The rest of my household, not so much. For everyone would know that the end result would be an assault on their taste buds with a litany of bourbon-infused recipes gone horribly wrong — mutations in a mad scientist’s laboratory who has no right even calling himself a cook.

Thankfully Lynn Marie Hulsman’s book steered me in the right direction courtesy of her straightforward, relatively easy to follow recipes. The bourbon poundcake was devoured by test subjects, as were the bourbon infused marshmallows at a separate potluck. One of my favorite parts of the book was experimenting with different bourbons to get different flavor profiles in the finished product. I’m looking forward to revisiting a few of these to see the difference between Maker’s Mark, Weller, or Bulleit and each brand’s contribution to the end results. (Note: probably best not to use that Four Roses Limited Edition for this adventure.) Novices, experts, and destructive cooks alike can approach this book with confidence knowing that in the end, bourbon makes everything taste better.

A- / $15 / [BUY IT NOW]