Tasting the Wines of Angela Velenosi, 2015 Releases

velenosiAngela Velenosi works the Le Marche region of Italy, east of Tuscany, to produce a fantastic assortment of wines bottled under the Velenosi Vini banner (also look for “Villa Angela” on the label). I couldn’t attend a lunch with her to taste through her wines, but she was kind enough to send a collection of eight of them for me to try on my own.

Thoughts follow.

NV Velenosi Passerina Vino Spumante Brut – Want an alternative to Prosecco? Check out Velenosi’s sparkler made from Passerina grapes. Notes of honey and banana liven up a creamy but crisp lemon/apple core, giving this wine a character that’s a bit closer to Alsatian Cremant than its Italian cousins. Perfectly palatable. B+ / $16

2014 Velenosi Falerio Pecorino DOC – Pecorino? Not just a delightful cheese, but also a wine, it turns out. Similar to Pinot Grigio, but with a more herbal, almost vegetal character on the finish. Tropical notes up front make this a nice summertime sipper, but the greener elements call for a food pairing. Simple but fully approachable. B / $9

2014 Velenosi Verdicchio Classico Dei Castilli di Jesi DOC – A well-crafted Verdicchio, with bright acidity and notes of lemon zest, peaches, and subtle grapefruit notes. Very cleansing and refreshing, it’s a more refined alternative to Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc. A- / $15

2013 Velenosi Lacrima di Morro d’Alba DOC – 100% Lacrima di Morro d’Alba grapes, a variety I had heretofore been unfamiliar with. Quite sweet, with a vegetal/herbal undertone. The palate is almost candylike with strawberry notes, an7d surprisingly creamy — almost unctuous. On the finish, balsamic notes arise to wash much of that away, creating a bit of a conflict of balance. C+ / $13

2013 Velenosi Rosso Piceno Superiore DOC – 70% Montepulciano, 30% Sangiovese. Simple, but pretty, with bright cherry notes laced through with tobacco and a little tar. Lightly leathery and a bit herbal, with a gently sweet character on the back end. B / $15

2010 Velenosi Rosso Piceno Superiore DOC – 70% Montepulciano, 30% Sangiovese — an older bottling. What a difference a few years makes; this wine is showing layers of berries, vanilla, and a touch of marshmallow cream. Tart cherry notes stretch out the slightly syrupy finish. B+ / $15

2011 Velenosi Ludi Offida Rosso DOCG – 50% Montepulciano, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot. Extremely dense, loaded with notes of prunes, licorice candy, dark chocolate, and some balsamic. Massive, densely alcoholic and featuring a “big meal”-friendly, satiny body. Give this one time — decant it if you can — and a big glass to quaff from. Drinks like a much more expensive wine (and the bottle has the heft to back that up). A- / $35

NV Velenosi Visciole – A blend of Lacrima di Morro d’Alba and syrup from sugar-soaked sour cherries. Pretty wacky, but it grows on you, believe it or not. The cherries-in-syrup character is by far the main event here, though at 13.5% abv there’s plenty of wine in the mix to give this a slightly elevated edge. This isn’t something I could drink every day, but it’d play beautifully at the next Italian wedding you throw. B / $22 (500ml)

velenosivini.com

Review: William Grant New Releases 2015 – Girvan No. 4, 25 Years Old, 30 Years Old, Kininvie 23 Years Old, Annasach 25 Years Old, and Ghosted Reserve 21 Years Old

william grant (1)

William Grant is the home of Glenfiddich and Balvenie, two of the biggest name in single malt whisky. But lately the Grants have been pushing some of their lesser-known offerings, including new bottlings from lesser known malt shops like Kininvie, single grain whisky from Girvan, and limited edition blends. Over a recent lunch, the company walked me through an array of these new launches, most of which are already hitting store shelves.

Here’s a look at everything tasted.

Girvan Single Grain No. 4 Apps – The entry-level offering from Girvan is a NAS single grain, named for the still it is produced in. Aged in bourbon casks, this lovely grain whisky offers ample vanilla notes, plus melon and candylike citrus character. 85.2 proof. A- / $50

Girvan Single Grain 25 Years Old – Like No. 4, this is made primarily from a wheat mash. Beautiful in the glass, it is dark and deep whisky that presents a big butterscotch and toffee bomb, turning to cocoa powder on the back end. Gentle grain notes wash over a lovely experience. 85.2 proof. A / $330

Girvan Single Grain 30 Years Old – 30 years ago, Girvan was making whisky mainly from corn, not wheat. The results are staggeringly different from the 25 year old, where sweetness takes a back seat to much stronger grain character from the start. Delicate fruit notes – lemon peel and some melon — collide with popcorn and heavier wood character. A real surprise. 85.2 proof. B+ / $500

william grant (2)Kininvie 23 Years Old – Tucked in next to Balvenie and Glenfiddich is Kininvie, a smaller distillery mainly being used to make blending malt. Now William Grant is realizing what they’ve been sitting on, releasing as a limited edition a 23 year old single malt expression (the second batch of Kininvie ever made) aged in 80% bourbon casks and 20% sherry casks. Very floral on the nose, it offers a mix of flowers and restrained sweetness, with some coconut notes. But the experience is as light as a feather on the palate. The finish is long, engaging, and sultry at times. 85.2 proof. A / $150 (375ml bottles only)

William Grant Rare Cask Reserves The Annasach Reserve 25 Years Old Batch #1 – This is a blended malt (no grain whisky) made from old William Grant stocks. The catch? Some 40 single malts go into this blend, and none are owned by William Grant itself; all are acquisitions from other distilleries. Slightly musty and mushroomy, it offers notes of leather, vegetables, roasted nuts, and breakfast cereal. Deep and complex, it’s one to savor and explore, despite some vaguely odd notes. Exclusive to BevMo. 792 bottles made. 80 proof. B+ / $280

William Grant Rare Cask Reserves Ghosted Reserve 21 Years Old – This one-off release is a blend of malt and grain whisky from three defunct distilleries, Ladyburn, Dumbarton, and Inverleven, most of which have been closed for decades. The nose is restrained, ultimately revealing toffee and some nutty elements. The palate plays up grain, citrus, and nougat, with a touch of smokiness. Very Old World in construction. 80 proof. B+ / $TBD 

williamgrantusa.com

Review: Corbin Cash Sweet Potato Liqueur

Corbin Cash_Sweet Potato LiqueurCalifornia-based Corbin makes a respectable vodka out of sweet potatoes. But you know what else you can make out of sweet potatoes? Sweet potato liqueur.

That’s right folks, if you didn’t get enough yams-‘n’-marshmallows on Thanksgiving, now you can drink it right down in alcohol form and not feel so bloated at the end of the evening.

Corbin Cash is made from 100% estate grown sweet potatoes, and has brown sugar, spices and extracts added to the mix. It is barrel-aged for four years before bottling.

Corbin Cash tastes, well, pretty much like you are expecting (and possibly hoping) it to taste. The nose is heavy with sugar-spiked sweet potatoes, a dense brown sugar character subbing in for gooey white marshmallows. On the tongue, there’s a nutty character of honey-soaked pecans that pairs well with the sugary tuber, and the spices really kick up for a lengthy and rounded finish — cloves and vanilla being the main contributors.

What exactly will you do with a sweet potato liqueur? Use it in lieu of nut-flavored liqueurs, I’d suggest, or to spike the holiday coffee or eggnog. Now that I think about it, why not add a little to your sweet potato mash come Christmastime and see what happens?

70 proof.

A- / $35 / sweetpotatospirits.com

Review: Old Limestone Mixing Water

OldLimestone_750ML_Bottle (2)If you’re a huge Scotch nerd, you’ve probably seen the ultimate in geek mixers: Water imported from different regions in Scotland that you’re supposed to add to whisky from that region – the ultimate complement for your high-end hooch.

Now Kentucky’s getting in on the game, with Old Limestone Mixing Water, sourced straight from Bourbon country.

Old Limestone has two selling points. One, it’s limestone-filtered (limestone is everywhere in Kentucky). Two, it’s free of iron. This latter point is often touted by Bourbon makers – and Jack Daniel’s never shuts up about its iron-free water – because it is said to impart negative qualities to Bourbon.

I put Old Limestone side by side with some filtered tap water from my (California) house and, tasting them blind, I couldn’t taste much of a difference, if any. Both were quite neutral, dead flat, with a hint of mineral notes. But then I put a good sized splash into some Bourbon, and damn if I didn’t like the Old Limestone version a bit better. The tap version was fine, but the Old Limestone-doctored whiskey was a little creamier on the palate, with clearer, brighter flavors.

8 bucks for a glass-bottled liter of water might be a bit much (a cheaper, plastic-bottled version is also available), but compared to the price of a premium spirit, it’s really a drop in the bucket, ain’t it?

A- / $8 / oldlimestone.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Review: Aberlour 10 Years Old

aberlour 10Aberlour’s 12, 16, and 18 year old expressions are commonly available in America, but surprisingly its entry-level bottling, Aberlour 10 Years Old, isn’t sold here.

That’s a shame, because it’s a fine example of the Speyside distillery’s house style and comes at a very reasonable price (the appropriate US dollar conversion has been made below). “Double cask” aged in both bourbon and sherry barrels, it is a youthful but quite exuberant little dram that you should pick up if you ever happen across it.

Malty on the nose, but well sherried, offering a nice balance between savory and spicy by way of an introduction. On the palate, Aberlour 10 fires immediately: Big baking spices, lots of sherry-fueled orange peel, roasted (but well-integrated) grains and cereal notes, and a lengthy, warming finish. The balance is just about perfect, with hints of petrol raising their heads from time to time and a smoldering, coal-dust character on the finish. What sticks with you though is that racy, sides-of-the-mouth sherry punch, though — not overdone, but just enough to wake you up and ask for another. Please, sir.

80 proof.

A- / $30 / aberlour.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM MASTERS OF MALT]

Tasting with Ferrari-Carano, 2015 Releases

ferrari caranoFerrari-Carano is a winery with which I’m intimately familiar. It was one of the first “serious” wines I spent my own money on when I was first learning about oenology, and I’ve visited the winery on many occasions since.

Today we’re looking at the winery’s current 2015 releases, including chardonnay, pinot noir, and the Tresor reserve, all part of a live tasting with winemaker Sarah Quider.

Let’s check them out!

2012 Ferrari-Carano Reserve Chardonnay – A dense and woody chardonnay — not so much on the buttery/vanilla tip, but rather a more lumberyard-influenced wine. Bold fig and baked apples give this a wintry tone that works well with the bold, present body. Classic in structure but a bit unique in its flavor profile, this is a slight (but fun) diversion for California chardonnay. B+ / $38

2013 Ferrari-Carano Anderson Valley Pinot Noir – Lovely cola notes give this wine a sense of place, adding some herbal-driven bitterness to a solid core of red berries. The body is a bit on the flabby side, though, offering a leanness that tends toward wateriness at times. Slightly smoky on the back end, with tobacco notes. A perfect “house red” (never mind the price tag). B+ / $36

2012 Ferrari-Carano Tresor – This is a classic Bordeaux blend made from 71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Petit Verdot, 7% Malbec, 7% Merlot, and 6% Cabernet Franc. Rich and chocolaty, this is classic Ferrari-Carano, offering a lush and velvety texture that is studded with dark berries and baking spices. Almost unctuous, it’s a huge operator with a bold attack and an even bigger finish. Your steak wine, should you be seeking one, is right here. A- / $52

ferrari-carano.com

Review: 2012 Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley and Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford

FREEMARK_ABBEYFreemark Abbey’s always-engaging Cabernets are here, representing the 2012 vintage. Some real standouts… without further ado.

2012 Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – 75.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16.6% Merlot, 3.3% Cabernet Franc, 2.6% Petit Verdot, and 2.0% Malbec. Dense and quite sweet, this is New World cabernet at its most iconic, all crushed red fruits, vanilla, and a sprinkling of fresh herbs. It’s all layered into a rich and sumptuous body, almost like marshmallow creme at times. I have a feeling all the sweetness is going to leave me with a headache tomorrow, but for now it’s so easy to drink and enjoy that I can’t complain much. A- / $44

2012 Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford Napa Valley – 83.2% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8.3% Merlot, 4.6% Petit Verdot, and 3.9% Cabernet Franc. A more regional designate of the above (oddly, in a slightly larger bottle). Again, classic Napa Cabernet, but elevated to near perfection — supple cherry and berry fruit, very gentle tannin, the slightest layering of baking spices. This is so easy drinking it’s almost criminal, with hints of violets (hello, Merlot), black pepper, and blackberry bramble raising the game that much more. A / $75

freemarkabbey.com

Review: Alaskan Brewing Company Heritage Coffee Brown and Smoked Porter 2015

alaskan-beer-hero-smoked-porter1

It’s cold outside! Don’t stop drinking beer. Drink winter beer.

Try these two from our friends up at Alaskan…

Alaskan Brewing Company Heritage Coffee Brown Ale – Brown ale brewed with coffee from Heritage Coffee Roasting Co. Part of the Alaskan Pilot Series. Less dense and enveloping than you’d think, this beer offers quite mild coffee notes folded into a lightly spicy brown ale. Notes of brown sugar and ample malt make up the bulk of the experience, with some gentle nutmeg notes coming up the rear. 7% abv. B+ / $9 (22 oz. bottle)

Alaskan Brewing Company Smoked Porter 2015 – Alaskan’s take on rauchbier, which is made with smoked malt to give the beer a distinctly smoky flavor. I first had rauchbier in Bamberg, Germany, crowded into a tiny room full of drunken locals. German rauchbier was far, far more alcohol-laden than this (a mere 6.5% abv) but that’s no matter; for a fun dive into a really wild and unique type of beer, give this one a spin: Intense wood smoke — somehow it comes across as evergreen smoke, not sure why — dominates, but underneath you’ll find chocolate malt notes, cocoa nibs, crumbly charcoal, and modest bitterness to help break up the finish. There’s a picture of caribou at sunset on the label of Alaskan Smoked Porter — but if you look away while sipping this beer, you can still see them. 6.5% abv. A- / $10 (22 oz. bottle)

alaskanbeer.com

Review: 2013 Hahn SLH 2013 Pinot Noir and Chardonnay

hahnLooking for big quality in American wine at a really attractive price? Check out Hahn’s SLH sub-label, a pair of wines sourced from estate grapes in the Santa Lucia Highlands.

 

These both represent a bit of a premium over the standard Hahn bottlings, but as you’ll see, they’re worth it.

2013 Hahn SLH Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highands – Dusky at first, with blackberry notes and tea leaf. On the palate, a bit sweeter than expected, with black pepper and a touch of ruby port character, but a finish that plays beautifully to the blackberry and dark raspberry notes, with a dusting of brown sugar on top. Incredibly easy-drinking, maybe too much so. A- / $18

2013 Hahn SLH Chardonnay Santa Lucia Highlands – A restrained expression of California chardonnay, offering a nose that is front-loaded with fruit — apples and figs, oddly enough — before veering into more traditional lines with a body that offers moderate and creamy buttery vanilla notes. A measured wine, it keeps things balanced between the fresh fruit and sweeter notes, with a dusting of nutmeg on the finish. A- / $20

hahnwines.com

Review: Herradura Ultra Anejo

herradura ultra

Clear, filtered anejo tequila is still the big thing in the agave category, and next up in the queue is Herradura, which takes tequila that has spent over 4 years in oak barrels and filters it back to blanco (in color, anyway).

The results are curious and a departure from other tequilas made in this style, starting with very tropical notes on the nose. Pineapple and coconut are both distinct, along with some citrus and a huge slug of marzipan.

On the palate, the sweet almond paste takes center stage, providing a core upon which the rest of the spirit builds. Strong coconut muscles the pineapple down a bit, allowing some interesting floral notes to build — think honeysuckle and white carnations. The finish marks a return to fruity sweetness, a touch more coconut and some chocolate dropping a sugar bomb into the syrupy fruit cocktail that bubbles up for your farewell.

The biggest surprise here is how different this is than most XO tequilas, which are almost always vanilla-heavy monsters that don’t often showcase much nuance. That said, the flavors here would probably be more at home in a rum than a tequila, and this Herradura offering all but wipes away any hint of the agave that was used to make it. That said, it would be crazy to accuse this tequila of being difficult to enjoy on its merits (and at this price, one of the least expensive for an extra anejo I’ve seen).

80 proof.

A- / $50 / brown-forman.com