Category Archives: Rated A-

Review: Highland Park Dark Origins

Highland Park Dark Origins 750ml

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 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-shotnovintageFaust’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

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

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 Chard bottle 006What’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

HulsmanCompF.inddThe 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]

First-Look Review: The Glenrothes 1992 Single Malt 2nd Edition

014

Glenrothes Brand Heritage Director Ronnie Cox descended on San Francisco the other day, and I was fortunate to enjoy dinner with him alongside a sampling of a variety of Glenrothes vintages. Included in the lineup were the straighforward, almond- and orange-driven Glenrothes 1998 (paired beautifully with a chicken liver mousse and almond praline spiced toast), the introspective and sandalwood-fueled Glenrothes 2001, and wrapping up with Glenrothes 1995, a 14 year old expression that I hadn’t encountered before. (It’s a racier expression of Glenrothes, begging for water to temper its sherry, toffee, leather, and coffee bean notes, but a compelling dram.)

Cox regaled us with tales of whiskydom — did you know that Chivas Regal invented the age statement? that Glenrothes was originally designed to be a “fruitier” version of Macallan, which is located next door? — but the real reason for our dinner was to crack open a bottle of The Glenrothes 1992 2nd Edition, which had been flown in from Scotland that very afternoon, the first time it would be served outside of the offices of Berry Bros. & Rudd, which owns the Glenrothes brand. (More fun facts: Berry Bros., located in London, is the oldest spirits merchant in the world.)

Glenrothes regulars may find this vintage familiar — a 1992 Glenrothes was released back in 2004 as a 12 year old. That vintage is long since sold out, of course, but the company found after revisiting the remaining casks that 1992 was worth revisiting. Now matured to the ripe old age of 22 years old, The Glenrothes 1992 2nd Edition has launched.

Aged in both sherry and bourbon casks (in keeping with Glenrothes’ standard protocol), this expression of the whisky offers lots of intensity, showing notes of chewy molasses cookies, dark chocolate, and baked apples. There’s some ashiness to the finish, which is long and lingering with more of those chocolate and caramel notes. The American/bourbon oak influence is stronger here than the sherry, which is a bit unusual for Glenrothes, but probably more of an indication of how well-aged this release is on the whole than how much of it has seen time in sherry casks. All in all it’s drinking beautifully and shows off how an older expression of this Speyside classic can really shine.

A- / $250 / theglenrothes.com

Review: 2012 Bluxome Street Winery Pinot Noir and Chardonnay

bluxome streetWebster Marquez has been a winemaker for such estates as C. Donatiello and Williams Selyem. For his next act, what does he do? He opens a winery in the heart of San Francisco. Focused on vintages made from Sonoma County fruit — specifically the Russian River Valley — Marquez is off to a fun start. Thoughts on two reserve-class wines from his 2012 vintage follow.

2012 Bluxome Street Winery Russian River Valley Pinot Noir “South of the Slot” – Named for the SOMA district, south of the San Francisco cable car “slot,” where Bluxome Street is based. Bright and very fruity, with forward strawberry and cherry fruit right from the start. Light notes of tobacco, anise, and vanilla add touches of complexity to what is otherwise a very fresh and enjoyable, summery red. A- / $45

2012 Bluxome Street Winery Russian River Valley Chardonnay Teac-Mor Vineyard – Fairly typical California Chardonnay, light tropical notes countered by a curiously meaty character. Think pineapple and ham spears. Notes of white pepper emerge, particularly as the wine warms up and its fruitier elements start to show more clearly. B / $38

bluxomewinery.com

Review: Selvarey Rum and Selvarey Cacao

Selvarey White (570x1024)

Yes, that’s a gorilla silhouette on the bottle. Yes, these spirits are made in Panama. Yes, the closest wild gorillas live about 6,300 miles away from Panama, across the Atlantic Ocean in Africa. Yes, Bruno Mars is a co-founder of the company. Yes, that’s as random as that gorilla on the bottle.

Selvarey’s recent launch brought forward two products, a white rum and a “cacao rum,” a chocolate-flavored spirit, both made at legendary rum-maestro Don Pancho’s distillery in Pese. We nabbed them both and bring our thoughts on them to you here.

Selvarey Rum – A blend of two column-distilled rums, one three years old, one five years old, both aged in former bourbon barrels. The two are mixed together and filtered back to a nearly white spirit. Selvarey has a significant level of refinement for a white rum. Aromas of light brown sugar, glazed doughnuts, and vanilla hit the nose. On the palate, it’s on the sweet side, veering toward marshmallow, with a touch of a smoky edge to it. This is a good thing, adding nuance to a spirit category that can often veer into one of two directions — bruising petrol-fueled bomb or overly sweetened diabetes in a glass. Selvarey threads the needle as neither, pulling off a sweetish rum that is born to mix with, but which can also do a decent job in the world of sippers. Way to go, Mr. Mars. If that is your real name. 80 proof. A- / $25

Selvarey Cacao – Misleading product name: Selvarey Cacao is actually dark rum infused with natural chocolate flavor, not a cocoa bean liqueur. Selvarey Cacao is a five-year old aged rum blended with local cocoa. The nose is rich with chocolate notes; the rum component is there, but indistinct. The body is a bittersweet chocolate powerhouse, but up front you’ll catch notes of vanilla, butterscotch, and a bit of coffee bean. Overall, the chocolate element is so powerful that this could easily work as a chocolate liqueur alternative, but the rum component keeps it grounded in the spirit world. Try it as a cordial, then a mixer. 70 proof. A- / $30

selvarey.com

Review: Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Bourbon Round Fourteen

We’re near the end of Buffalo Trace’s exhaustive (and exhausting) Single Oak Project, a series of 192 bourbons all made in a slightly different style — an attempt to find the whole grail of whiskeydom. With this round, we’ve got 168 down, 24 to go. Home stretch!

Need a primer on the Project? Here’s our past coverage to date:

Round One (including all the basics of the approach to this series)
Round Two
Round Three
Round Four
Round Five
Round Six
Round Seven
Round Eight
Round Nine
Round Ten
Round Eleven
Round Twelve
Round Thirteen

Round 14 features whiskeys all aged in barrels made from the bottom half of the tree, put in barrel at 125 proof, and aged in a wooden-floor warehouse. Variables include char level, stave seasoning, wood grain, and of course recipe (rye vs. wheat). We’ve seen iterations on these variables in the past; at this point, the project is mainly about cleaning up what’s left in the lineup.

Two whiskeys — the classically structured Barrel #2 and the Stagg-like Barrel #34 stood out in an otherwise fair but unremarkable field. Nothing in this round was particularly unlikable, except perhaps the unbalanced Barrel #172. The overall winners so far (based on popular vote) are Barrel #82 and #83. I graded them both at a B+.

Complete thoughts on round 14 follow.

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #2 – Classic, with lots of depth of flavor. Touches of sandalwood, honey, and walnuts all meld together into a well-integrated, creamy, and lightly spiced (yet lengthy) finish. It goes down almost too easy, offering all the classic bourbon notes with every sip. Easily the best of this round. A (rye, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, wooden ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #12 – Foresty — with eucalyptus and solid oak notes. The hearty body melds chewy wood with some modest fruit notes. A bit ashy on the finish. B (rye, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, tight grain, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #34 – Bold up front, with a rich, chocolaty nose. It all follows through to the body, with a rounded, almost malty character that pushes through to a racy, brown sugar-infused finish studded with cloves, cinnamon, and cayenne. A (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, wooden ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #44 – Dessert time! Marshmallows and light nuts on the nose. The body is all silky caramel and nougat, until some wood-driven astringency arrives on the finish. Slow start, but it builds to a delightful middle and an agreeable, balanced end. A- (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, tight grain, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #66 – Blazing with heat and big wood character, it’s hard to catch much nuance on the nose. The body however reveals some surprises: Spicy rye character at its core, with touches of baking spices blended with red pepper. Big and bold, it’s loaded with lumberyard notes that really hang on. B+ (rye, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, average grain, wooden ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #76 – Racy with both baking spices and more savory ones — think red pepper, thyme, sage, and pine needles. Lots going on here that’s unusual for bourbon, but it’s not a whiskey without some charms — so Old World in its austerity, herbaciousness, and restraint. B+ (rye, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, average grain, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #98 – Indistinct, alcohol-redolent nose, but the body is bursting with fruit. Orange and cherry notes play with dark brown sugar tones, and some cinnamon red hots on the finish. A fine whiskey; too bad the nose isn’t there to finish the job. B+ (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, average grain, wooden ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #108 – Intriguing on the nose, this whiskey strongly exudes cherry cola notes, with underpinnings of oak. The body is moderate and a bit more scattered. The cherry’s not here, but the cola notes are big, along with some tea leaf, heavy charred wood, licorice, cardamom, and a touch of cloves. B+ (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, average grain, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #130 – Unusual notes of lemon and wood here — think Pledge, but in a way you might drink — at least on the nose. The body is more indistinct in its citrus focus, drinking hot while offering ample notes of wood oil and cloves on the back end. B (rye, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, coarse grain, wooden ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #140 – Traditional: vanilla, caramel, wood. This could be any rack bourbon, but it’s classy and refined — a darker, woodier, coal-fired, more cigars-in-the-back-room bourbon than most of the comparably fruity expressions you get in the SOP. B+ (rye, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, coarse grain, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #162 – Mild menthol on the nose leads in to a very easygoing palate. The body on this one is liquid caramel from front to back, spiked with cloves. Strangely, a bit of barnyard character emerges on the nose after some time in the glass, dulling what is otherwise a pleasant, anywhiskey experience. B (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, coarse grain, wooden ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #172 – Not an incredible level of character here. The nose is filled more with raw alcohol than anything else, the body is a fiery experience that finishes with smoke and brimstone. Not the Project’s best. B- (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, coarse grain, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

$46 each (375ml bottle) / singleoakproject.com

Review: Domaine Carneros 2012 The Famous Gate Pinot Noir, 2010 Brut Cuvee, and 2007 La Reve

1_90627750_3Today it’s a smorgasbord of wines from our friends at Carneros-based Domaine Carneros. Let’s jump right in.

2012 Domaine Carneros The Famous Gate Pinot Noir Carneros – A gorgeous Pinot, with notes of currants, blueberry, brewed tea, cocoa nibs, and touches of violets. Everything’s firing almost perfectly here — it’s so easy-drinking that it’s hard to put down, but the panoply of flavors in the glass make it an exploratory revelation as well. A / $75

2010 Domaine Carneros Estate Brut Cuvee Carneros – 51% Chardonnay, 49% Pinot Noir. Crisp and fruit-forward, this sparkler has an apple-citrus kick with a touch of vanilla on the back end. One of the easiest-sipping sparkling wines you’re likely to find, with an orchard up front and plenty of homey biscuity notes in the back. A / $29

2007 Domaine Carneros La Reve Blanc de Blancs – 100% Chardonnay. A very fine and subtle edition of La Reve, this on with toasty notes that balance the pears, apples, and lemons that dominate the body. The modest fizziness is restrained but pairs well with fruit that grows and grows as the body builds to a seductive head. Let this one rest for a few more years. A- / $99

domainecarneros.com

Review: Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2014 Edition

buffalo trace 2014 BTAC

 

Buffalo Trace’s Antique Collection needs no introduction, I’m sure — this is one of the most well-respected and sought-after annual whiskey collections on the market. Closely allocated and tough to find, you’re best off starting your hunt now. These releases formally hit the market in late September/early October.

Thoughts on the 2014 lineup follow.

Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old – It’s an open secret that Sazerac 18 has been sitting around in a stainless steel vat for years and doesn’t really change (effects of oxidation notwithstanding), making this less of a special release and more of a limited allocation of a very special spirit. Sazzy 18 rarely fails to disappoint. This year is no exception, with the whiskey showing a woody — yet fresh — nose, cherries jubilee up front on the body, and a finish that takes you to places of marzipan, apple pie, and streudel. Watch for apple cider notes to come along after you think the finish has faded away. 90 proof. A

Eagle Rare 17 Year Old Bourbon – This edition of Eagle Rare 17 is a vatting of whiskeys from the second, third, and sixth floors of Buffalo Trace’s Warehouse I and K. Aged “nearly two decades,” according to the company — so as with last year, it may be a bit older than 17 years. This one’s a smooth operator, not quite the burly old guard that it can sometimes present as. Instead, it’s all silky caramels, bittersweet chocolate, Bing cherry, and graham crackers. Some spicier notes of cloves and allspice develop in the finish. 90 proof. A-

George T. Stagg Bourbon – The one you’ve been waiting for. The bruiser of the bunch. The hottest bourbon that isn’t named Pappy. It’s telling that the Stagg is set apart from the rest of the batch in the photo above, I think. This is a monster of a whiskey. Just look at the depth of color compared to the other whiskeys in that lineup — and remember, there are some 18+ year old whiskeys in there! As always, this is the kind of whiskey that, as grandma used to say, would put herr on yer chest, and at 138.1 proof it’s nearly a return to the heady days of 2012 and prior, when the whiskey regularly hit 70% alcohol. Fear not the water on this one — a selection of barrels from warehouses C, H, I, K, L, P, and Q distilled in 1998 (making it 16 years old). You can douse it 1:1, water to whiskey, and still get plenty of its character. And that would include tobacco, (very) dark chocolate, fresh roasted coffee bean, slate, and pencil lead. A smattering of spices arrive in time for the finish — cinnamon and cloves, the usual stuff — which help to season what is, as always, a dark, mammoth, brooding whiskey. This year, Buffalo Trace has just about nailed it. Stagg is always a tough nut to crack — and my palate tends to prefer more nuanced spirits — but the sheer depth of its flavor has me finding myself drawn more to this release than it has in recent years. A-

William Larue Weller Bourbon – A massive blazer, this is the hottest release of Weller in history. This is a 12 year old bourbon from the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 6th floors of warehouses D, K, and L — basically a mutt from all over the place. An initial rush of smoke starts things off with thoughts of log cabins and a touch of mothball. The palate settles down after adding significant amounts of water, ultimately revealing some plum, chocolate, and coconut — but in the end the wood and smoky qualities take hold, pushing everything else out of mind. 140.2 proof. B

Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye – Last year Jim Murray named the 2013 Handy Rye his #1 whiskey in the world. This created a massive run on Handy, despite the fact that no sane person would ever name this cask strength rye — typically 6 years old, as it is again this year — the best whiskey in the world. 2014’s Handy was aged on the fifth floor of warehouse M and arrives at a fairly typical strength for this spirit. This year’s expression exudes classic rye notes — lots of roasted grain character, chewy scorched cereal notes, some caramel, some baking spice, and a lengthy, campfire finish. Over time, some curious notes come forth — I can describe them only as fresh upholstery. Ample water is a must. I like it fine, but it frankly doesn’t hold a candle to the Sazerac 18 — which will probably be a hell of a lot easier to find thanks to Mr. Murray. 129.2 proof. B+

$80 each / greatbourbon.com

Review: 2011 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

chateau montelena 2011 cabA lighter style of Cab arrives from Chateau Montelena this year, a rare, fresh Cabernet that you can actually enjoy with warm weather, fresh and lively at just 13.4% abv.

Fresh strawberry and light vanilla cookie notes dominate — altogether unusual for a Napa Cabernet. As the body develops, some mild tannins emerge, but it keeps things focused on the fruit. Increasing notes of strawberry and cherry, touched with wispy smoke, emerge, and given some time, you’ll find notes of balsamic and gentle tobacco notes. More than ready to drink now; not one to hold.

91.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, .5% Cabernet Franc.

A- / $50 / montelena.com

Review: Arteis & Co. Vintage Brut Champagne – 1999 Brut and 2002 Extra Brut

arteis

Arteis is a small French producer of Champagne “micro-cuvees.” The company made its big introduction to the U.S. market in New York last year. Now it’s making more inroads to the U.S., mainly in restaurant markets. We sampled two of the four Arteis vintages now on the market; both are well-aged Champagnes that have just recently been bottled. Thoughts follow.

Oh: Arteis asked us to let you know that on-premise pricing for these wines is considerably higher: $105-150 and $300-350 for the two, respectively.

1999 Arteis Brut Champagne – 40% Chardonnay Couilly, 40% Chardonnay Vertus, 10% Pinot Noir Vertus, 10% Meunier Congy. Disgorged in May 2013, this bright vintage Champagne is a winner. Spicy and floral on the nose (with a healthy but not overpowering yeastiness), it offers rich fig and pear fruit notes on the palate, with notes of both crisp red bell pepper and brown sugar on the finish. Complex and intriguing, but just a touch on the sweet side for a vintage brut. A- / $50

2002 Arteis Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne – 100% Chardonnay from Cuis (Côte des Blancs). Disgorged in August 2013, this is another refined champagne, though quite different from the 1999 due to its bone-dry palate. The nose is light with biscuit notes and light apple fruit. On the tongue, again it recalls the fields more than the fruit — heather and amber waves of grain. Notes of grapefruit and blood orange come along as the finish develops, which is palate cleansing and lightly bittersweet. A- / $129

arteis.co

Review: Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch Bourbon 2014 Edition

four roses 2014LESmallBatch_Front_US

September is here, which means the second of Four Roses’ annual limited releases have arrived. The 2014 Limited Edition Small Batch release from 4R is a vatting of four different bourbon recipes: 13 year old OBSV, 12 year old OESV, 11 year old OBSF, and 9 year old OBSK. Three of those four, the OB bottlings, are from Four Roses’ “high rye” recipe. While 13 years sounds old, this is actually fairly young stock for this release. Unlike most prior Small Batch releases, the stock here doesn’t reach into the upper teens, and the Small Batch series has never had a whiskey younger than 10 years old in it before now. (That youth may also explain why this cask strength release is so racy, at an estimated 120 proof.)

That said, 9 years is plenty old for a Kentucky Bourbon, and the 2014 Small Batch doesn’t disappoint. It is an exceedingly fruity expression of Four Roses, bursting with notes of cherry, strawberry, orange, and lemon. Compared to the 2013 (which is now drinking as surprisingly austere), the 2012 (burly but increasingly approachable), and the 2011 (balanced but full of spice), it’s positively doused with an almost candylike character to it. I think it’s the cherry notes that ultimately come across the strongest — almost presenting like a Starburst fruit chew. Over time, the nose develops more of a woodsy character that melds with the cherry notes in a fun and enjoyable way — after spending some hours with the whiskey, I found myself thinking of Baker’s. Fans of that Bourbon may find lots to like in the 2014 Small Batch as well.

This isn’t my favorite whiskey in the Small Batch series, but damn if I didn’t enjoy it as much as those that have preceded it. Four Roses and Jim Rutledge love to tout how those 10 vaunted recipes can generate all kinds of different Bourbons when blended with an expert hand. This 2014 release continues to show that they know what they’re talking about.

11,200 bottles made. That’s 40% more than last year, so hopefully there’s more to go around.

A- / $90 / fourroses.us

Review: Cognac Claude Chatelier XO

cognac-claude-chatelier-xo-extra-b

I recently encountered this Cognac for the first time on a trip. I wasn’t familiar with the brand at all, but was pleasantly surprised by what I found inside the bottle of its XO release. No age statement is provided.

Perfectly fruity nose, with notes of cherry, apricot, and a bit of ruby Port. Some woody notes give it an incense character, too. On the palate, again the fruit dominates, offering pretty citrus, touches of plum, vanilla, and more of that woodsy incense character. A touch of heat makes the finish a bit racy, just enough to give this Cognac some curiosity, keeping it from devolving into an an utter fruit bomb. An all-around excellent effort at a very affordable price level.

80 proof.

A- / $50 / claudechateliercognac.com

Review: Aberlour Double Cask 12, 16, and 18 Years Old

aberlour 12 years old

Years ago I wrote about Aberlour’s beloved cask strength a’bunadh bottling, but I have long overlooked some charming offerings from this Speyside-based distillery. (Never mind the “Highland” on the label.) Aberlour’s standard age-statemented, more typical proof whiskies rely on some uncommon barrel aging techniques to create some unusual and easy-drinking single malts. Thoughts follow on the 12, 16, and 18 year old expressions.

Aberlour Highland Single Malt 12 Years Old Double Cask Matured – Not a sherry-finished whiskey. Rather, whiskies are either fully aged in a traditional oak cask or a sherry cask, then these two whiskies are married after each age for 12 years or more to create this expression. Just coming out of its youth, the nose offers fruit and a touch of heather and cereal. The body features lots of dried fruit notes — apricots, golden raisins/sultanas, and a healthy dose of woodiness. Really on fire at this blend of sherry and bourbon oak — proof that whisky needn’t be aged to the hilt in order to be masterful and delicious. 80 proof. A- / $43

Aberlour Highland Single Malt 16 Years Old Double Cask Matured – Made using the same dual-aging method as the 12 year old expression, just 4 years older. Considerably darker in color, almost ruddy in complexion. While the 12 year old is relatively light and carefree, the 16 shows off a much more powerful depth of flavor, heightening just about every aspect of the whisky. The dried fruit is punchier here, and so is the wood. Overall it’s the sherry character that gets the most notice with the 16 year old, a pungent orange peel and citrus oil note that endures throughout a lengthy session with this spirit. 80 proof. B+ / $75

Aberlour Highland Single Malt 18 Years Old – The label doesn’t say it’s double cask matured like the above, but this malt undergoes the same production treatment as its younger siblings. It is however bottled at 43% abv, a bit hotter than the rest. Similar notes here, but the 18 takes on a dark chocolate note, with hints of cinnamon and root beer. Some hospital notes tend to endure, driven mainly by the higher alcohol level. 86 proof. B+ / $92  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

aberlour.com