Review: 4 Albarinos from Rias Baixas, 2013 Vintage

Pazo SeñoránsFour new albarinos from the Rias Baixas region of Spain, each showcasing that classic acid-meets-the-tropics character… but each with a unique little spin on the theme. Thoughts follow.

2013 Paco & Lola Abarino Rias Baixas – A perfectly serviceable albarino, creamy with notes of peaches and tropical fruits, and a caramel-dusted finish. A juicy party wine, with a nice balance of fruit and acid, but not entirely nuanced. B+ / $17

2013 Albarino de Fefinanes Rias Baixas – Very dry, with notes of white peach and restrained tropical character, with lots of acidity on the back end. The dryness demands food rather than a beach chair, but the mineral notes are intriguing in their own right. B+ / $26

2013 Namorio Albarino Rias Baixas – Initially quite dry, with some peachy notes. As it opens up, it reveals a nice balance between mineral notes and a growing tropical character that hits fairly hard on the finish. As the bargain bottling in this lineup, it’s worth a strong look as your new everyday white. A- / $15

2013 Pazo Senorans Albarino Rias Baixas – A slight herbal edge sets this apart on the nose immediately, with notes of sweet peaches, apricot, and lemon bubbling up on the palate. A tart, acidic body that oozes with touches of light marshmallow cream seals it as the winner in this lineup. A / $25

Review: Duke Kentucky Straight Bourbon

duke-bourbon-bottle-shot-front-print

John Wayne wouldn’t let something as silly as being dead get in the way of drinking a good whiskey, and neither should you. Now you can drink just like John Wayne by drinking, er, the very essence of John Wayne — by swilling some Duke.

Duke Bourbon (sometimes called “The Duke,” but that’s not what the label says) is emblazoned with an iconic picture of Wayne along with his fabled nickname. Designed to celebrate everything about his Wayneness, it is said to have been formulated specifically to Wayne’s personal tastes “learned when his son, Ethan Wayne, discovered a private collection of his father’s liquor, letters and tasting notes dating back to the early 1960s.”

Read that again: John Wayne kept tasting notes, people.

Though producer Monument Valley Distillers laughably claims to be an artisan distiller “crafting small batches of superior bourbon, whiskey and brandy,” Duke is really (undisclosed) sourced bourbon from Kentucky (so not MGP) and is bottled without an age statement (and, of course, without mashbill information), but some have suggested it’s being produced by Wild Turkey (which would be unusual) and is a five to ten year old product (which would also be old for sourced whiskey). No one knows for sure, but does this whiskey have true grit?

The nose doesn’t give a lot of hints. The aroma is gentle and slightly corny with some lumberyard notes. It’s racy with alcohol but not particularly with spice — leading me to believe it’s got only a small amount of rye in the mash. On the palate, again it’s very easygoing — much more than its slightly overproof alcohol level would indicate anyway — very gentle with notes of candied almonds, dried apples, Cracker Jack, and some milk chocolate. A slight hint of smoke and a touch of mint add layers of complexity, but the finish is sweetness, a bit of baking spice, and gentle vanilla caramels.

Sure, Duke is a vanity bourbon project — God knows there are dozens of them on the market now — but I’d be remiss if I dismissed it as mere plonk served up in an overpriced bottle. I can’t weigh in on whether this resembles anything John Wayne would have actually consumed in real life — his persona seems like it would surely have preferred something more fiery and frontier-like — but if he was a man of discriminating tastes, he wouldn’t have been wrong in making this whiskey his go-to tipple.

88 proof.

A- / $30 / dukespirits.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: El Mayor Tequila Complete Lineup (2015)

El-Mayor-Tequila-2

It’s been seven long years since we encountered one of the oddly shaped bottles of El Mayor Tequila, and even then it was just the blanco expression. Today we’re taking a fresh look at El Mayor — and covering the complete lineup of three expressions of this highlands-born, 100% agave spirit. (There’s an extra anejo too, not reviewed here.)

All are 80 proof. Read on for more.

El Mayor Tequila Blanco – Very gentle, it’s one of the lightest-bodied tequilas I’ve encountered in recent years. The nose is moderately sweet, with some honeysuckle notes and a bit of spicy black pepper leading to a punchy but balanced agave backbone. The body has some citrus notes, cloves, and a modest agave, which together with the citrus character gives it a bit of the flavor of pickled jalapeno on the finish — though not much of the heat. The tequila wraps up clean and fairly soft, just about perfect for a blanco sipper or as a premium mixer. Reviewed: Batch 1478. A- / $27

El Mayor Tequila Reposado – Aged up to nine months. Again, very gentle on the nose, though this time it’s got notes of cola, some vanilla, and emerging agave spice. The body features some cinnamon and gingerbread, more vanilla custard, and even butterscotch notes. Herbal agave notes are present, but fleeting, as the sweeter components do more of the heavy lifting. Some pepper on the finish keeps things grounded in the world of reposado. Reviewed: Batch 883. A / $30

El Mayor Tequila Anejo – Aged 18 months. The nose isn’t dramatically different from the reposado except for the addition of some lumberyard aromas — a few tannic notes that give the anejo more of a brooding character. The body starts off somewhat sharp, which is a surprise, before venturing into sweet, dessert notes — chocolate, toffee, caramel — that build and build on the lush finish. The agave takes a back seat here, but that’s typical in many anejos, as the barrel makes its influence known. El Mayor’s gentle blanco is a good match for that, leaving behind just enough herbal agave to make things worth exploring again and again. Reviewed: Batch 878. A- / $48

elmayor.com

Review: Black Dirt Bourbon 3 Years Old

BD Bourbon w fire

Black Dirt is made in New York State’s first microdistillery, where an applejack and this bourbon are produced. Made from a mash of 80% local “black dirt” corn (hence the name), 12% malted barley, and 8% rye, it’s aged for three years in #3 char new American oak barrels. Let’s take a look under the hood.

The nose is appealing, showing light popcorn and breakfast cereal, then lumberyard notes, plus gentle vanilla and caramel notes. It’s youthful, but not too young, just a peeling back of the layers of the spirit to reveal its grainy underpinnings. The body largely follows suit, offering a touch of chocolate up front, then a modest dip back into the grain pool for another helping. Some baking spice and a bit of citrus come along before you reach a finish that returns to chocolate for a reprise.

Cereal-heavy whiskeys are often a bummer, but Black Dirt (the name notwithstanding) is surprisingly easygoing and balanced between its granary notes and its sweeter components. The finished product may still drink like it’s in short pants, but it’s nonetheless quite enjoyable on its merits. It’s rare to find a microdistilled bourbon that has balance and a unique character all its own, but Black Dirt is one of them.

90 proof. Reviewed: Batch #6.

A- / $38 / blackdirtdistillery.com

Review: Sauvignon Blancs of Brancott, 2015 Releases

brancottBrancott is a bit like the Mondavi of New Zealand. It was the first to plant Sauvignon Blanc in Marlborough, a region that has become one of the world leaders in this style of grape. Today, Brancott makes dozens of wines, including eight different sauvignon blancs. We reviewed five of them, from entry-level juice to some surprising rarities that I wasn’t even aware of before cracking into them.

2014 Brancott Estate Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough – Entry level, and it shows. The tropical notes are strong, but come across more like canned mango and pineapple, with a slightly vegetal note. Best when served very cold, which helps accentuate the acidity. C+ / $14

2013 Stoneleigh Latitude Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough – Note that it doesn’t actually indicate “Brancott” on the label. The nose is tropical but also strongly bent toward melon notes. On the body, it’s slightly frizzante, which I’m not sure is intentional, but it brings out the cantaloupe/honeydew notes more distinctly. A little odd, but it grows on you. B / $18

2013 Brancott Estate Flight Song Sauvignon Blanc – A low-cal wine with 88 calories per 5 oz glass and 9% alcohol. Strongly orange on the nose, with floral notes and tropical underpinnings. Slightly buzzy on the tongue with a touch of fizz, but clean on the finish with and echo of more fresh citrus. Easy and breezy, so they say. Surprisingly good for “diet wine.” B / $15

2013 Brancott Estate Letter Series Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough – A well-balanced sauvignon blanc, with strong pineapple and mango notes on the nose and a solid level of acidity in the body. Some sweet caramel and light almond notes continue on the palate — but the finish veers sharply into some earthier, mushroom tones, a bit discordant here. B / $26

2010 Brancott Estate Chosen Rows Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough – Very well-aged for a sauvignon blanc, this wine starts with tropical character and then showcases creme brulee, vanilla caramel, and light lychee notes. Much more complicated then the relatively straightforward big-fruit-then-acid wines above, Chosen Rows uses a little funk to add depth to what is normally an uncomplex style. Bottled in the most exotic screwcap I’ve ever seen. A- / $65

brancottestate.com

Head to Head with 4 Bloody Mary Mixes: Scales, Tabanero, Bloody Good, and Bloody Amazing

tabaneroSummer is hear, and that means brunch with bloodies is upon us.

Sure, it’d be great if you could always crush your own tomatoes and grate your own fresh horseradish, but really, who’s got the time. Recently we’ve been inundated with bottled bloody mary mixers, which we put head to head to head to head.

Thoughts follow.

Scales Bloody Mary Mix – For a so-called low-carb bloody mary mix (5 grams of carbs per 3 oz.), this sure tastes sweet. The very dark color is a bit misleading; the mixer is more tart than spicy or meaty, a densely acidic mixer with a heavy tomato paste character and a metallic aftertaste. Not at all spicy, despite the claims of being made with Texas Pete’s hot sauce. B- / $6 per 1 liter bottle

Tabanero Spicy Bloody Mary Mix – Definitely “Mexican style,” with a salsa-like character to it. Intensely spicy, with lasting, burning habanero notes, plus notes of green pepper, cilantro, and lots of onion. It’s a bit on the watery side, so don’t expect to try watering it down to temper its heat. That said — I really like it (and the Tabanero hot sauce.) Mixing half and half with a less racy mix might work, though. Oddly has less carbs than the Scales. A- / $10 per 1 liter bottle

Bloody Good Bloody Mary Mix – A local brand you won’t likely find outside of northern California. Very fresh, with ripe tomatoes, some green veggies, black pepper, and lots and lots of horseradish. Quite gentle in spice level, but it’s pungent thanks to the horseradish component. Nicely balanced; definitely a strong contender. Very difficult to pour (as it’s bottled in what is basically a spaghetti sauce jar). / $9 per 32 oz jar

Bloody Amazing Premium Mary Mix – While Tabanero approaches bloodies from a salsa standpoint, Bloody Amazing comes at it from the shrimp cocktail sauce arena. Very dense, with stewed tomato notes, black pepper, and horseradish — plus lots of Worcestershire to add a brooding character that Bloody Good doesn’t have. This one’s more a matter of taste, as the overall character is very much a “coastal” one. Only slightly spicy; easily manageable. B+ / $13 per 750ml bottle

Review: Alessio Vermouth di Torino Rosso and Vermouth Chinato

Alessio_Vermouth_TORINOTempus Fugit Spirits has turned to vermouth for its latest products, importing from Italy a pair of fortified, aromatic wines: Alessio Vermouth di Torino Rosso and Alessio Vermouth Chinato, both “inspired by a true ‘Renaissance man,’ Alessio Piemontese.”

These vermouths are both produced in a considerably more bitter style than the typical Italian or sweet vermouth on the market. Both feature added bittering agents in the form of wormwood and, in the case of Chinato, cinchona bark. As such, they straddle the line between vermouth and amaro, and can be easily consumed on their own much like the latter. (They’re best chilled.)

Alessio Vermouth di Torino Rosso – “Based on a classic di Torino recipe from the late 19th century, Alessio Vermouth di Torino Rosso is designed to be enjoyed as what was commonly called a ‘Vino di Lusso’ (luxury wine), a wine thoroughly consumed on its own. Created with a fine Piedmont wine as the base, this authentic Vermouth di Torino contains both Grande and Petite Wormwood, along with over 25 other pharmaceutical-grade herbs, roots and spices.” It’s quite dense and dark, with intensely bitter amaro notes on the nose — licorice root, stewed prunes, and cloves — and not much in the way of sweetness. The body offers a more bittersweet character, however, tempering the heavy bitter components with some raisin and baking spice notes. A fairly dark chocolate character comes along on the finish to add some mystique. I really like how it all comes together, and it works well as a cocktail ingredient and drinks beautifully on its own. 17% abv. A- / $22

Alessio_Vermouth_CHINATOAlessio Vermouth Chinato – “Alessio Vermouth Chinato is also based on a classic di Torino recipe from the late 19th century combined with the additional bittering of Cinchona bark and more than 25 other balancing herbs, including Grande and Petite Wormwood, and reflects an almost-lost style of bitter vermouth.” The nose is somewhat less appealing, lacking some of the intensity of di Torino, but otherwise cuts a similar aromatic profile. The body seems to miss out on some of the di Torino’s depth, trading the back-and-forth of sweet and bitter for a focus that veers more toward sour cherries with a strongly bitter undercurrent. The finish is lengthy and mouth-coating, rather than the bitter cleansing character you get with the di Torino. Better as a mixology ingredient. 16.5% abv. B / $25

anchordistilling.com

Review: Craft Distillers Mezcalero Release #11 Bramaderos (Miahuatlan)

MEZ_11Craft Distillers’ Mezcalero is a series of one-time batches of mezcal, similar to the ArteNOM tequila releases. Once they’re all sold, they’re gone for good. But don’t worry — in both cases, they always make more.

We first encountered Mezcalero in its second batch, and while I felt that release was a touch lackluster, it intrigued me enough to keep following the line. Mezcalero is now in its 12th release — and we just received release #11, still on the market, for review.

Mezcalero #11 is made from four types of agave: Semi-wild agave karwinskii  (madrecuishe) that grows on stalks, bicuishe, rhodacantha (Mexicano), and cultivated espadín. (Espadin is by far the most common type used in modern mezcal.) The spirit is crafted by distiller Alberto Ortiz (aka Don Beto) near Miahuatlan, Mexico.

Mezcalero #11 is silky and sweet and smoky on the nose, offering neat citrus aromas, iodine, and a persistent lacing of gentle smoke character. The body starts off gently, again pushing its citrus character along with ample notes of roasted meats (or bacon) and some menthol. The smoke builds slowly, then faster, but the sweetness holds its own throughout. The finish is rounded and seductive, a solid example of a well-crafted mezcal that has all the essentials in place.

1068 bottles produced, making this a bit easier to find than prior releases. 94.6 proof.

A- / $84 / craftdistillers.com

Review: 2014 Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc – Icon and Regional Collection

Nobilo Icon Sauvignon Blanc Bottle Shot Hi ResTwo new releases from New Zealand’s Nobilo, including the budget Regional Collection bottling and the flagship Icon expression. Thoughts on these 2014 vintage releases follow.

2014 Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc Regional Collection Marlborough – Moderately tropical, with strong lemon overtones and just a touch of vanilla. Bright acidity lends the wine an easy, festive finish. Uncomplicated, but not hard to enjoy. Great value. B+ / $9

2014 Nobilo Icon Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough – Exceptionally tropical: Mango on the nose, pineapple on the palate. A creamier, chewier body — with a touch of caramel on the back end — gives this expression a bit more muscle than the prior wine, but the acid on the finish keeps things fresh and lively. Even harder not to enjoy. A- / $15

nobilowines.com

Review: The Jackson Cannon Bar Knife

Bar Knife w. Lime Credit Heath Davis of Bacardi

The best bar tools aren’t just functional. They’re nice to look at, too. Such is the case with the Jackson Cannon Bar Knife, produced in conjunction with R. Murphy Knives.

Cannon is a longtime Boston barman who set out to create the perfect knife for the unique work often required behind the bar. The result is this well-crafted blade, a high-carbon steel knife with a squared tip and featuring a nicely contoured handle made of polished tropical cocobolo wood.

In my hands, the knife — heavier than you’d expect based on its size — felt great, its squared-off tip making short work of fruits and garnishes. Peels and twists are easy to carve out thanks to its short blade and good balance, and, as mentioned, this is a knife that looks just perfect on any bartop. My only issue, and it’s a minor one, is that the knife could use a bit more sharpening to really slice easily through thick citrus rinds. But that’s something that can easily be done at home — and will need to happen periodically to keep the blade sharp and honed.

It isn’t cheap, but a quality knife never is!

A- / $79 / rmurphyknives.com