Review: Glenfiddich “The Original” Single Malt Whisky

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In 1963 Glenfiddich launched a single malt whisky and sold it outside of Scotland, a highly unusual move considering that the whisky world at the time really only knew of blended Scotch, not single malts. While many may very well debate the claim (considering single malt whisky dates back to at least the 1400s), the distillery has put a stake in the ground as the inventor of the modern single malt category as we now know it.

So, what Glenfiddich has done is recreate the 1963 “Original,” as it was called back then, for a modern audience. Assuming this is an accurate representation of the past, they were drinking pretty impressively back in ’63. Much like the Shackleton recreations, Glenfiddich Original — created in keeping with an authentic recipe from the era and aged in sherry butts — offers a gentler experience with the focus more squarely on the grain.

The Original starts with aromas of nicely roasted malt, rounded out by modest, restrained sherry notes. The nose goes on to offer almond and dried apple plus gentle coal fire notes driven by the wood.  The body is rounded but relaxed and easy, offering notes of coconut, dried banana, light citrus, and fresh hay on the finish. It’s not overwhelmingly complex, but it doesn’t try to be. Instead it’s a lightly sweet, delightfully drinkable whisky that is just as welcome today as it must have been 50 years ago.

80 proof.

A- / $100 / glenfiddich.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Tasting Report: 6 Spanish Garnacha Wines

Some say Garnacha, the Spanish inflection of Grenache, is the next “It Wine.” (It doesn’t hurt that most Garnachas are extremely inexpensive.) Is it so? We tasted six Garnachas (one of which is a Garnacha/Syrah blend), from 2009, 2012, and 2013 vintages, to see where this varietal is headed.

2009 Bodegas y Vinedos del Jalon Alto Las Pizarras Garnacha Vinas Viejas – Engaging, exotic, almost perfumed on the nose. Notes of violets and raspberry mingle with hints of black tea and coffee to create a surprisingly rousing and rounded whole. The finish heads toward more of a candied violet character, but there’s plenty of tannin here to keep things out of jam territory. A / $9

2009 Castillo de Maluenda Punto y Seguido Garnacha Vinas Viejas – The embarrassingly simple label wouldn’t cue you in to how impressive the wine in this bottle is, a showy, fruit-forward wine that simultaneously offers depth and balance. Notes of tea leaf, cola, and leather are layered atop blackberry and cherry forming a core that drinks with lushness but which features muted, well-smothered tannins. The finish is complex, echoing everything that’s come before with a fresh denouement. A / $15

2009 Vinas del Vero Secastilla Somontano - A little pruny and overcooked, almost stewed. Very dense fruit competes with balsamic notes and runs up against a finish that offers coffee bean and dense, oily leather notes. C- / $25

2012 Castillo de Monseran Carinena Garnacha – Very fruity, almost like a Gamay-based wine. Thick strawberry jam leads to a finish that’s almost sickly sweet and unbalanced. C- / $8

2012 Pagos del Moncayo Garnacha – A very easy-drinking garnacha, offering a refreshing mix of strawberry and currant notes, backed with light chocolate, some tea leaf, and gentle tannins. Though not entirely complex, it’s lovely from start to finish, and ready to go immediately. A- / $12

2013 Bodegas Paniza Agoston Garnacha & Syrah – A blend, as the name suggests, with a surprising amount of fruit from the start — it almost comes across as candied berries with a dusting of chocolate sprinkles. More herbal notes take hold as the wine develops on the palate — think thyme and rosemary on a Sunday roast — but that youthful spirit and dense fruit maintains the focus through to the finish. B+ / $8

Review: Tempus Fugit Creme de Cacao and Creme de Menthe

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Quick, when’s the last time you had a Grasshopper? Pink Squirrel? Brandy Alexander?

While some things never come back into vogue, for classics like these, it seems inevitable that hipsters will once again be guzzling these things by the gallon — and probably in hollowed-out coconuts and pineapples.

Creme de Cacao and Creme de Menthe are typically purchased — if they’re purchased at all — in the cheapest form available. But Petaluma, Calif.-based Tempus Fugit Spirits is dead-set on elevating the category with this pair of artisan liqueurs, recreated from well-researched historical recipes and high-end, natural ingredients (no oils or essences… or, yech, chemical flavorings here).

Thoughts follow.

Tempus Fugit Creme de Cacao – Crafted from distilled raw cocoa, then flavored with additional cocoa and whole vanilla beans. A shade of light brown in color, the nose offers rich cocoa powder character, touched with the essence of barbecue spices — and other spice rack staples, including rosemary and thyme. Dark chocolate notes win out on the palate, as a dessert-friendly amalgam of cinnamon and vanilla wash over the body. By taking the focus off of pure sugar and keeping it locked in the baking cabinet and the chocolate bar, this creme de cacao is an easy winner in a maligned category. 48 proof. A / $31

Tempus Fugit Creme de Menthe - An even more maligned category, demolished by the downfall of peppermint schnapps. But Tempus Fugit is undaunted. This liqueur distilled from winter wheat, then flavored with real peppermint and spearmint, plus added botanicals (in keeping with historical recipes). The result is both traditionally minty and surprisingly piney on the nose, leading into gentle peppermint candy notes with touches of vanilla extract and citrus peel emerging late in the game. An excellent digestif, but a bit syrupy for continued sipping. 56 proof. A- / $31

tempusfugitspirits.com

Review: Old Forester Whiskey Row Series – 1870 Original Batch Bourbon

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Rest assured, Old Forester 1870 Original Batch Bourbon was not made in 1870. Rather, this is a whiskey that is the first release in what Old Forester is calling its new Whiskey Row Series. “This unique series highlights our bourbon’s significant milestones and production innovations with each release.  From the first batched bourbon to a post-prohibition era style bourbon, the series will allow consumers to sip Old Forester as it was enjoyed in the late 1800s through the mid-1920s,” says the company.

And so we start here, an attempt to recreate the tone of 1870, when OldFo became, they say, the first “batched bourbon” — made at three different distilleries and blended together later. Attempts have been made to keep things legit:

To emulate Brown’s pioneering 1870 batching process, the 1870 Original Batch bourbon is comprised of barrels selected from three different warehouses with a different day of production as well as a different entry proof and maturation period. The expressions will be batched together to create this 90-proof product which represents the innovative technique developed by Brown which has become an integral part of the bourbon industry.

And so, let’s see how this first batch pans out…

Big notes of caramel apple attack the nose right from the start. Fruity notes carry well into the body, until some leathery, tobacco notes finally emerge as the palate starts to round out. The finish offers tons of grip and tannin, but it’s complemented by a slug of baking spices — cinnamon and ginger, mainly — giving it an almost candylike character on the back end. It’s an almost simple whiskey, though it’s so loaded with that candy apple character that it’s hard not to like.

90 proof.

A- / $45 / oldforester.com

Review: WhistlePig “The Boss Hog: Spirit of Mortimer” Rye Whiskey Single Barrel 2014

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Clearly, Vermont-based WhistlePig has a stash of barrels of rye aging away in a warehouse, so each year the company can bottle a bit of it and see what happens, while the rest continues to mellow outtakes a little bit of its well-aged rye and bottles it just to see what’s going on. The rest lingers for another year.

This year WhistlePig’s special edition is a “nearly 14 year old” rye — 100% rye, as always — named in honor of the company’s deceased Kune Kune pig and mascot. “The Spirit of Mortimer” is marked not by a name on the label but by a large “M” and a pewter stopper that sits atop the bottle, a winged piglet that honors the deceased Mortimer. (To confuse matters further, the black label, similar in hue to 2012’s WhistlePig 111, merely indicates it’s “The Boss Hog,” akin to last year’s bottling.)

With that, we’re on to the tasting…

There’s ample wood and some campfire smoke on the nose of WhistlePig: Spirit of Mortimer, with hints of apple cider and cinnamon. The body is hefty and chewy, but with a fruitiness that shines through the haze of sawdust and lumber. Cinnamon and clove notes emerge on the racy finish, and while it’s all well-integrated with caramel characteristics at its core, it’s not altogether quite as intriguing as last year’s expression. Fine effort on the whole, however.

118 to 124 proof, depending on batch (our sample was not disclosed). 50 barrels bottled, less than 2,000 cases produced.

A- / $189 / whistlepigwhiskey.com 

Review: Uncle Val’s Restorative Gin

uncle val's restorative ginDoes this bottle look familiar? Does the name sound familiar, too? Ah, you’re probably thinking about Uncle Val’s Botanical Gin, which we reviewed upon release in 2012.

Uncle Val’s Restorative Gin offers a somewhat different formulation. In lieu of juniper, cucumber, lemon, sage, and lavender — the key ingredients in Botanical — Restorative offers juniper, coriander, cucumber, and rose petals.

If that sounds a lot like Hendrick’s, that’s because it is a lot like Hendrick’s. And once again, my tasting notes run to some unexpected places that are not wholly in keeping with the botanical bill. The nose presents juniper and lemony citrus (surprising, as there’s no citrus in the gin), a brisk and powerful introduction that should keep fans of more traditional, juniper-forward gins happy.

The body folds in the florals — lots of rose petal character (considerably more than Hendrick’s) that fortunately manages to stay on this side of the perfume counter. The coriander adds an earthy element that is present mainly on the finish. Cucumbers are the only element that don’t really make a major showing. Intended to be “cooling,” the gin does have a gentler (and sweeter) let-down on the back end than you might expect, which takes things out on a refreshing and, well, restorative finish.

I like this gin a bit better than the Uncle Val’s Botanical bottling, although with only four botanicals to rely on, Restorative has to work harder for your love. For the most part, it succeeds in earning it. Hendrick’s fans should definitely give this a shot to compare and contrast.

90 proof.

A- / $40 / 35maplestreet.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Rueda Wines Reviewed: Shaya and Jose Pariente

Shaya HabisFret not if you’re unfamiliar with Rueda. This region, directly to the west of Spain’s Ribera del Duero, is the home to a white wine that is beginning to find favor overseas. Long a favorite in its homeland, Rueda wines are made primarily from the verdejo grape (viura and sauvignon blanc are also grown here, as are some red wine grapes). Best of all, the wines are quite affordable and designed for everyday drinking (much like Ribera reds).

Think of verdejo as somewhere between sauvignon blanc and viognier. For a more detailed look at what this wine is like, we examined two recent vintages straight outta Rueda.

2010 Bodegas Shaya Habis Verdejo Old Vines Rueda – Somewhat buttery and nutty on the nose at first, the wine’s aromatics eventually take hold on the tongue, offering light perfume mingled with notes of apricot, lime zest, and a touch of tropical character. Hazelnuts make an appearance as the wine’s finish fades, bringing things full circle. A- / $25

2013 Jose Pariente Verdejo Rueda – A touch musty, this wine offers peaches and apricots on the nose. A touch of caramel and cotton candy get the palate started, and then more of a citrus and tropical character takes hold. Pleasant, simple, and fruit-forward. B+ / $10

Review: 2011 Matchbook Tempranillo Dunnigan Hills

matchbook tempranilloHere’s a surprisingly lovely little wine from JL Giguiere’s Matchbook brand, made from Tempranillo in Yolo County, grown in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

The restrained nose features notes of tanned leather, stonework, touches of smoke, and dried fruits. On the palate, things are more fruit-forward: dark cherries, plums, tobacco, and cranberry notes lead to a well-rounded, moderately big finish. This wine offers balance as well as lasting fruit notes that polish off a food-friendly, imminently drinkable wine that drinks like a considerably more expensive bottling.

A- / $15 / crewwines.com

Review: 2011 Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG

avignonesi nobile2011This 100% Sangiovese wine from the Montepulciano region is a beautiful introduction to both the grape and the region. Bright cherry notes mingle with a touch of raspberry, plus touches of vanilla, flinty stone, coffee bean, and some cinnamon on the finish. Over time, hints of chocolate emerge — give it some air. Lush without being overpowering, the wine is a perfect solo fireside companion but also works perfectly with food.

A- / $29 / avignonesi.it

Review: Jardesca Blanco California Aperitiva

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Drinkhacker pal Duggan McDonnell — of Encanto Pisco fame — is up to some new tricks. His latest project: Jardesca, a lightly fortified, aromatic wine. Esseentially part of the vermouth/Lillet category, Jardesca is a blend of sweet and dry wines plus a double-distilled eau de vie that is infused with 10 different botanicals. The big idea: Find a balance between the cloyingly sweet stuff and the grimace-inducing bitter apertifs.

Jardesca’s bittersweet character is at first surprising because it’s so different from other aperitif wines. A bit off-putting, I found myself struck first by notes of dill, eucalyptus, and dried apricot. That’s a weird combination of flavors, and it takes some processing — and some time exploring the product to really figure out what’s happening here. The wine develops in the glass and on the palate, offering rich honey notes, grapefruit, and a nose that’s increasingly heavy with floral aromatics — lavender and honeysuckle, plus rosemary notes.

Like I said, lots going on here, and sometimes it comes together beautifully, and sometimes it comes across as a bit much. Actually I found myself enjoying the more herbal components of Jardesca over its sweetness, which helps it to shine quite brightly in a vodka martini. It works well on its own, but I think its true destiny is a spot on progressive bar menus as a more intriguing vermouth.

18% abv.

A- / $29 / jardesca.com