Review: Russell’s Reserve 1998 Kentucky Straight Bourbon

RR 1998 HiRes Email

Right on the heels of Master’s Keep comes Russell’s Reserve 1998, Wild Turkey’s rarest expression yet. Back in 1998, Jimmy and Eddie Russell laid down some “special occasion” casks — and only now are they getting around to actually bottling them, 17 years later.

These whiskies predate the Russell’s Reserve brand altogether, so it’s not really right to think of this as a line extension (though there is a natural familial resemblance between the 1998 and the Russell’s Reserve 10 Years Old bottling). What this is, really, is a very small batch expression of Wild Turkey bourbon from a single vintage distilled in the previous millennium.

From all angles, this is intense and powerful stuff. The nose is spicy and nutty — heavy vanilla-focused bourbon through and through — with some mentholated notes adding warmth. On the palate it’s an outright sugar bomb, loaded with baked apples, a double dose of vanilla-infused sugar cookies, some fresh ginger, and only on the back end, some barrel char influence. Hugely expressive and loaded with flavor from start to finish, I can understand if some actually find it to be too much of a good thing.

102.2 proof. 2,070 bottles produced.

A- / $250 /

Review: Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Select Granite State Collection Head-to-Head

JD NH Single Barrel 2Headlines were made earlier this year when the largest ever single barrel purchase of Jack Daniel’s — 15 barrels’ worth — was completed. Big liquor store? Weathly billionaire? Not exactly. The purchase was made by none other than the state of New Hampshire.

New Hampshire is a “control” state, which means it operates its own liquor stores. As such, it has plenty of money to drop on wacky ideas like this — 15 whole barrels of JD Single Barrel Select.

The Granite State folks sent us samples from two of the 15 barrels so we could see what kind of goodies New Hampshirans (that’s what they’re called) now have in their backyard. Here’s a look at the duo.

Both are 94 proof.

Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Select Granite State Collection Rick R-6 Barrel 15-1778 – Very fruity, not a term I often associate with JD, featuring minimal wood influence, some cherry, and some cinnamon on the nose. On the palate, the fruit comes through the strongest, but ample vanilla and barrel char still shine through. The finish is all super-ripe bananas — almost tropical at times and not at all like any JD you’re likely accustomed to. A-

Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Select Granite State Collection Rick R-8 Barrel 15-1933 – Much more intense with alcohol and stronger wood char notes, a touch of that banana, plus burnt marshmallow, and supple vanilla notes. All in all, it’s classic Jack Daniel’s, with more of an alcoholic kick. Very good, but awfully familiar. B+

each $45 /

Review: Wines of Francis Ford Coppola, 2015 Releases

VendettaIt’s a bumper crop of new releases from Coppola. Here’s a look at something old and something new from this always-busy operation.

2014 Francis Ford Coppola Sauvignon Blanc Diamond Collection Yellow Label – A workmanlike, even gentlemanly, sauvignon blanc. Quite sweet, with marshmallow notes, lemon juice, and creamy orange Dreamsicle notes. Simple but with a lightly herbal edge to the finish, it’s classic yet cheap summer wine (if the bright yellow label didn’t cue you in). B / $16

2014 Francis Ford Coppola Pinot Grigio Diamond Collection Emerald Label – A rather tropical pinot grigio, melding mango and banana notes into a festive shell. Simple, lightweight, lightly sweet, and rather refreshing, but better as an aperitif than with food. B+ / $12

2013 Francis Ford Coppola Claret Diamond Collection Black Label – Surprisingly on point, the 2013 claret — a Bordeaux style blend that nonetheless reads “California Cabernet Sauvignon” on the back label — has youth and austerity, both in moderation. Bright red strawberries and raspberries seize the day — there’s not too much currant character here — with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar and tea leaf (sweet tea, maybe?) lingering on the finish. Mostly dry but with a short, quick finish, this is as gentle an entry to this style of wine. B+ / $21

2014 Francis Ford Coppola Sofia Rose Monterey County – Pleasant, summery, and refreshing, this rose of syrah and pinot noir is an easy sipper with strawberry and blackberry notes, atop a fresh apple juice core. Probably the best thing you’ll find under the Sofia sub-label. A- / $19

2014 Francis Ford Coppola Pinot Noir Director’s Sonoma Coast – (Not the same as “Director’s Cut.”) Not a bad effort here, and it evolves to show more charm in the glass as it gets some air. Cherry up front, with some dusky brewed tea and cracked pepper notes. Nice balance, with a lightly bitter kick on the finish. B+ / $21

2013 Francis Ford Coppola Zinfandel Director’s Cut Dry Creek Valley – A reserved and quite tannic zinfandel, this wine features muted bramble notes, leather, and mild currants. Quite drying on the finish, with a licorice kick. B- / $17

2013 Francis Ford Coppola Vendetta – The new kid on the block. A cab-merlot blend, packaged in the oh-so-trendy paper-wrapped bottle. An often horrifying wine, doctored and pumped up (IMHO) with artificial sweeteners. Chocolate and cinnamon notes mingle with a cloying sweetness that positively coats the palate. Was the vendetta against me? D / $21

Review: Royal Salute The Eternal Reserve Blended Whisky

Royal Salute_TER_BottleCartonWhite

Royal Salute is one of those curious blended whiskies that everyone seems to know about, but no one ever seems to drink. I’ve oddly never sampled a dram from the porcelain (not glass!) flagon, which calls the Strathisla distillery its home.

Beyond the decanter, all expressions of Royal Salute have a gimmick, and a pretty good one: Even though most Royal Salute expressions don’t carry an age statement, no spirit in any Royal Salute bottling is less than 21 years of age. That’s right: Royal Salute 21 is the entry level whisky.

This new release, Royal Salute The Eternal Reserve, is actually the second whisky up the ladder. Here’s what’s inside:

Royal Salute has selected rare and precious whiskies with an exceptionally long finish to blend and marry together in 88 casks to form the inaugural batch. Using a unique process called Circular Blending, Royal Salute has committed to including this original blend in each subsequent The Eternal Reserve release for decades to come.

Each time a new batch is unveiled, half of the blend will be re-casked in the Royal Salute Vault to conserve the precious liquid created in 2015. Thus, the original blend is forever preserved by this perpetual re-circulation – creating a smooth, voluptuous whisky that justifies its original name: uisge beatha (the water of life).

So, for those doing the math, this is going to be a solera release, and this is the first edition. From here on out, every Eternal Reserve bottling (which the company says should be an annual release) will have a little bit of this 2015 release in it… just less and less each year.

So, let’s give the inaugural bottling of The Eternal Reserve a spin, shall we?

Malty, classic blended Scotch notes feature on the nose, plus notes of roasted nuts, a bit of citrus, some mushroom, and some wood influence. On the tongue, more of the same, backed up with a bit of coconut, some graham cracker, and notes of canned pears and baked apples. The finish echoes a bit of that mushroom, impressively lingering with an almost musky, slightly smoky character. All in all, it adds a little nuance to an otherwise well-crafted and enjoyable spirit.

80 proof.

A- / $180 /

Review: Wines of Liberated, 2015 Releases

Liberated_Pinot Noir 2013I’m not sold on the Hitchcock-meets-James Bond labels (or the name), but the prices of Liberated’s wines are hard to beat. One doesn’t often find wines of this quality at the $20 or lower level, but these guys are putting together a solid product. Thoughts follow.

2014 Liberated Sauvignon Blanc Sonoma County – Lightly tropical, with big mineral notes and plenty of acidity. Some coconut notes add an exotic touch to an otherwise straightforward, New World sauvignon blanc. Refreshing and easy-drinking, without some of the ammonia notes that California sauv blancs typically exhibit. A- / $13

2012 Liberated Pinot Noir Monterey – A classically structured pinot, with dark cherry tempered by black pepper and a touch of tobacco. Gentle acidity leads to a relatively lengthy finish that echoes pepper and a touch of balsamic. Surprisingly complicated for a Monterey pinot, and worthwhile. A- / $15

2012 Liberated Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County – A well-crafted but milder expression of cabernet, with currant notes, some black tea, vanilla, and a bit of dusty wood that builds over time. Relatively drying, it still keeps the fruitier components alive on the palate, finishing with some baking spice. B+ / $20

Review: Cognac Paul Giraud – VSOP, Napoleon, and Tres Rare

Cognac Paul Giraud

Paul Giraud is a small Cognac producer that has been harvesting its own vineyards to make brandy since the 17th century. While not commonly available in the U.S., you can find a bottle or two of the eight expressions the company makes if you look hard enough. Today we take a spin through three expressions, all of which are bottled at 80 proof.

Thoughts follow.

Cognac Paul Giraud Grande Champagne VSOP – Bright gold in color. On the nose, fresh fruit — baked apples and a touch of golden raisins — and caramels. It’s fresh and sweet, but largely uncomplicated. On the body, things evolve with a considerable level of baking spices, which make for a natural and quite beautiful companion to the sweet and fruity notes on the nose. Some notes of incense and that classically, lightly bittersweet astringency on the finish give this a classic Cognac showing. Pretty, young, vibrant, and quite a nice start to this collection. A- / $40

Cognac Paul Giraud Grande Champagne Napoleon – It’s one step up from the VSOP bottling, but this Napoleon bottling shows just a shade lighter than the VSOP. The nose is considerably different — almost leathery at times, the fruit elements veering more toward dried apples and brandied prunes rather than the fresher notes of the VSOP. The body heads more into sultry notes of cloves, freshly cut wood, and a finish that plays up the more bitter elements in the brandy — bordering on astringent at times. All told it’s a rather straightforward Cognac with its sweetness dialed back — which may be a more preferable experience to some drinkers who find some bottlings on the sugary side. Let your palate be the judge. (That said, I prefer the VSOP.) B+ / $50

Cognac Paul Giraud Grande Champagne Tres Rare – How rare? Tres rare. Darker, richer, and clearly older, this is Cognac drinking at a solid degree of maturity. While it hasn’t developed quite into the stratosphere, Tres Rare is a showcase of Cognac as a study in contrasts — rich, vibrant, and almost jammy fruit (apple, plum, cherry, banana), melded with notes of exotic woods, almonds & marzipan, leather, and a dense layer of toasted spices. Complex and sometimes challenging, Tres Rare is firing on multiple levels that create a cohesive and intricate experience that is tough to find in mainstream brandies. Taken all together it shows why premium Cognac commands the prices it does — while this bottling still keeps things relatively affordable. Well done. A / $179

Review: Deanston Highland Single Malt 18 Years Old Bourbon Cask Finish


New to the distillery’s permanent lineup in 2015, Deanston’s 18 year old expression has more going on than the relatively light and straightforward 12 year old. Note that this is the bourbon cask finished expression — which is finished in first-fill bourbon barrels — and not the more expensive/exotic Cognac cask finished expression.

Here, we find a nose a nose that loads up light smoke elements, a bit of burnt rubber, and ample charred wood influence. Underneath, a bit of mothball and some honey notes don’t give away too many secrets, but stick with it for a few sips… On the palate, Deanston 18 nearly explodes with a melange of flavors, a veritable shotgun blow across the tongue. First, simple grains and some gentle honey notes, then fruit — banana at first, then some citrus. Nutty notes come along to provide a tertiary smattering of flavors, along with a touch of tar as the finish builds.

Deanston doesn’t have a reputation for offering a nuanced drinking experience — if you’ve heard of Deanston at all — but here’s proof of what a difference a few years can make to an otherwise standard and unchallenging malt, eh?

92.6 proof.


Review: 2013 Madrona Chardonnay and Zinfandel

Madrona_Zin_Four-Blocks_201El Dorado County, just southwest of Lake Tahoe, is home to Madroña Vineyards (mind the tilde), a boutique winery with a wide range of offerings. Zinfandel, of course, is a focus, and today we look at its 2013 zin as well as its chardonnay.

Madroña is brought to us today by Gold Medal Wine Club, which sent these wines as exemplars of the kind of wines you can expect with your membership. Prices start at $37 a month for two bottles. Check them out and see what you think!

Prices below are for standalone bottles.

2013 Madrona Chardonnay El Dorado – Lots of fruity tropical notes on the nose raise expectations, but the body doesn’t follow through. Instead, on the palate it’s studded with astringent hospital character, stale nuts, and notes of earthy gravel. Some sweetness on the finish comes across more in the form of canned fruit than fresh juice. C- / $24

2013 Madrona Zinfandel Four Blocks El Dorado – A full-bodied zin, loaded with currants and cocoa and infused with strawberry jam. Surprisingly dense and not overly fruity, this zin offers secondary notes of tea leaf and blackberry, all coming together as a cohesive whole. The finish is a little short and muddy, but otherwise it’s a knockout zinfandel. A- / $26 /

Review: Wines of Fathers & Daughters, 2015 Releases

fathers and daughters cellarsFathers & Daughters is a brand new winery operating out of Anderson Valley. Its first two wines, a sauvignon blanc and a pinot noir, come from the Ferrington Vineyard. Thoughts follow.

2013 Fathers & Daughters Sauvignon Blanc Anderson Valley Ferrington Vineyard – Minerally and herbal, this grassy sauvignon blanc offers a restrained edge of coconut and pineapple and a relatively simple structure. The finish is not particularly remarkable as the acidity begins to fade by this point, but it pairs well enough with food. B / $25

2012 Fathers & Daughters Pinot Noir Ella’s Reserve Inaugural Release Anderson Valley Ferrington Vineyard – A nearly killer pinot, flush with cherry, strawberry, and raspberry, tempered with slightly bitter/sour rhubarb notes, plus a sprinkling of baking spices and licorice root. Lots going on, but such beautiful balance, with a long finish (though maybe a bit tart in the end). A- / $42

Review: Wines of Orsianna, 2015 Releases


Orsianna is made by the family of Fred Tocchini, who operates the San Francisco Wine Trading Company. (We reviewed their single-barrel bottling of Four Roses a few months back.) Now we’re taking a peak into what Tocchini and co. can do with wine, including some fresh whites and some lightly aged reds.

2013 Orsianna Sauvignon Blanc Mendocino County – Apple and melon-focused, and a bit gooey on the palate with creme brulee notes and some toasted marshmallow character. That’s far from the norm for sauvignon blanc, but the gentle sweetness here gives it an “everywine” character that works fine both on its own and with food. Don’t be surprised if your date asks if it’s chardonnay. B+ / $15

2013 Orsianna Chardonnay Mendocino County – Fairly traditional chardonnay, nougaty and nutty, with buttery vanilla dampening the fruit component. This is a chardonnay-lover’s chardonnay, chewy and rich with an almost dessert-like character to it at times. Just a hint of acid on the finish gives it a little spark. B / $17

2010 Orsianna Merlot Sonoma County – A well-crafted and still-youthful wine, despite the 2010 vintage date. Fresh strawberry up front, some violet florals, then a long, soothing fade-out. The fruit is the focus from start to finish with this wine, but the violet edge gives it more to chew on. A- / $20

2009 Orsianna Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino County – Well aged and starting to show a little balsamic character which finds some pleasant companion in its notes of cloves, ginger root, and licorice root. Forceful and a bit astringent at times. Drink now. B+ / $20 /