Review: Don Julio Tequila Blanco and Reposado (2016)

It’s hard to believe that it’s been eight years since we looked at Don Julio’s tequilas, aside from a (disastrous) appearance in our blind tequila roundup. Reportedly these have undergone recipe changes at least once since 2008 — the brand was sold to Diageo in 2014 — and Don Julio has continued to grow.

Today we take fresh looks at the blanco and reposado expressions of Don Julio, 2016 editions, which are grown from highland agave. Both are 80 proof.

Don Julio Tequila Blanco – I’ve been on and off with Don Julio’s blanco, but as of now it is revealing itself as a quite gentle but also engaging little spirit. The nose showcases crisp agave, a touch of lime, and white pepper. Spicy but not overpowering, the aroma sets you up for a bold body — but that never materializes. Instead we find it drinking with a surprising restraint, sometimes even bordering on coming across as watery. A stronger citrus profile makes its presence known, along with lingering floral notes. The finish is clean, lightly peppery, with a bit of lime zest hanging on. A great choice for mixing. A- / $30

Don Julio Tequila Reposado – Aged for eight months in oak (same as 8 years ago). Stylistically it’s quite light, which makes sense considering the blanco’s similar state. Notes are similar, though the pepper here is dialed way back. In its place, some orange peel, light caramel, and some light barrel char notes arrive on the nose. On the palate, again the pepper notes are restrained, with some modest brown sugar in their place. The floral elements are harder to catch here, their gentleness done in by the power of the barrel. The finish sees some red pepper, tempered by brown sugar, and a fleeting hint of licorice. All told, it’s a slightly sweetened-up version of the blanco. Nothing wrong with that. A- / $35

donjulio.com

Review: Tequila Herradura Coleccion de la Casa Port Cask Finished Reposado, Reserva 2016

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Herradura’s fifth Coleccion de la Casa special edition tequila makes a return to its original expression from the series’ launch: Port cask finishing. Last seen in 2012, Herradura returns to the same formula for 2016.

As with the 2012 version, this tequila spends 11 months in ex-bourbon casks, then finishes for two months in formerly used Port casks.

This expression finds a relatively traditional reposado nose of vanilla-scented caramel and toasted marshmallow, plus modest agave and just a hint of red fruit. Aromatically quite racy, it’s got a level of red pepper I haven’t really seen in this line before. On the palate, again, traditional reposado notes tend to dominate. Black pepper, green onion, and mixed savory herbs give this a dominant, heavy base — and after five or ten seconds more fruity elements, driven by the Port finish, finally begin to surface. The finish lingers with very light notes currants and some strawberry, but it’s red and black pepper notes that hang in there after all else has faded away.

You’ll find more complexity, and a much stronger Port influence, in the original bottling, but this expression is quite compelling in its own right.

80 proof.

A- / $90 / herradura.com

Review: Charbay 2005 Double Aged Rum

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This new and highly, highly expensive rum from Napa’s Charbay was distilled in 2005 from Hawaiian and Jamaican first-press sugar cane juice (not molasses), fermented with Champagne yeast, and distilled on Charbay’s pot-style Cognac still. It was aged in stainless steel for five years then put into French oak Chardonnay barrels for three more years. It was bottled two years later, before finally being released at full barrel strength, uncut and unfiltered.

If the production methodology alone didn’t cue you in, this is an exotic and highly unusual rum. It has a lot in common with nicely aged rhum agricole, but it finds a style that’s completely its own, too.

The nose kicks things off with curiosity: dried banana, buttered popcorn, and notes of saltwater taffy. On the palate, the popcorn really pops, as notes of maple syrup, toasty brown sugar, cinnamon, and cloves hit forcefully, followed by a backbone of earthy coffee bean, mushroom, and tobacco. Deep and lasting, it is surprisingly approachable at nearly 65% alcohol, but water is a lovely idea, which brings out some salted licorice notes that don’t fully show at cask strength.

137 proof. 2790 bottles produced; about 25% of that was released this year.

A- / $450 / charbay.com

Review: Wines of Lazy Creek Vineyards, 2016 Releases

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Lazy Creek Vineyards, part of the Ferrari-Carano family of wines, is an Anderson Valley winery focused on pinot noir. Winemaker Christy Ackerman makes all of its wines as well as all of Ferrari’s pinots, and she invited a number of wine writers to sit in on an online tasting to sample the winery’s wares and learn more about what makes Lazy Creek so darn lazy.

First, some back story:

Lazy Creek Vineyards sits on a 95 acres ranch in Mendocino County’s bucolic Anderson Valley. Its vineyards were first planted more than 100 years ago, by the Italian Pinoli family. The winery was established in 1973 by Hans and Theresia Kobler, and quickly earned its reputation for excellent pinot noir and Alsatian-style gewurztraminer. In 2008, Lazy Creek Vineyards was acquired by Don and Rhonda Carano, who have continued a winemaking program emphasizing single-vineyard, terroir-driven pinot noirs and gewurztraminer, under the direction of winemaker Christy Ackerman. In 2014, Lazy Creek Vineyards was designated a California Certified Sustainable Winery (CCSW) by the Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA).

And now let’s taste some wines!

2015 Lazy Creek Vineyards Rosé of Pinot Noir – A beauty, very lively and fresh, closer to a white wine than a classic, fruit-driven rose. Strawberry notes meld with sea spray and slate here, with a fresh and lightly floral finish. A- / $22

2014 Lazy Creek Vineyards Lazy Day Pinot Noir – This is the only Lazy Creek wine in broad distribution and comes from a blend of various estate vineyards. Fairly standard-issue for Anderson Valley, loaded with notes of cherries, raspberry, and some vanilla. A little licorice edge on the back end gives this some tannic grip and a bolder profile that is more aggressive than more inland pinots. Highly drinkable. A- / $35

2014 Lazy Creek Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir – As weighty as the Lazy Day pinot is, this expression pushes things much further. Big notes of licorice, coffee bean, and some smoky wood notes dominate, giving the wine a body closer to a syrah than a typical pinot noir. The bittersweet finish offers a respite in the form of dried cherry and light cocoa notes, but what comes before is quite aggressive and needs careful attention, particularly if attempting to pair it to food. B / $58

2014 Ferrari-Carano Anderson Valley Pinot Noir – A point of comparison for the tasting, as this is bottled under the primary Ferrari-Carano label, but still comes from Anderson Valley fruit. Again the licorice kicks off right from the start, with darker blackberry notes forming the core. Spicy clove and black pepper give it an aggressive edge, along with some balsamic character. The finish is rougher than Lazy Day, but not as bold as the Estate pinot. B+ / $38

lazycreekvineyards.com

Review: Mount Gay XO Cask Strength

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As a celebration of 50 years of Barbados independence comes Mount Gay XO Cask Strength, its most luxe bottling to date. This is a limited edition, overproof expression of its existing Mount Gay XO bottling, which is itself a blend of rums 8 to 15 years old.

This expression is a deep and brooding rum that kicks off with heavy aromas of barrel char, licorice, and coffee bean. Dark chocolate and cloves are both well represented on the nose. At 63% alcohol it’s a burner on the palate, and a healthy splash of water helps to reveal its significant charms. Sans water, the dusky notes of the nose follow through closely to the palate, but when tempered it reveals much more — ample wood, to be sure, but a backbone of rich baking spices, sweet coffee, molasses cookies, and ginger. There’s a lot going on, but it sticks closely to the family of holiday baked goods and, well, very old rum.

What’s not to like?

126 proof. 3000 bottles produced.

A- / $185 / mountgayrum.com

Review: Del Maguey Wild Papalome and San Pablo Ameyaltepec Mezcal

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Del Maguey hits this month with not one but two of its Single Village Mezcals – Wild Papalome and San Pablo Ameyaltepec. Let’s try both.

Del Maguey Wild Papalome Mezcal – A 100% agave papalome bottling from the Mixteca Alta region. A definitively sweeter style of mezcal, its barbecue-smoke nose layers in notes of citrus and pineapple — almost Hawaiian in style at times. On the palate the mezcal offers few surprises. kicking off with a rather sharp but gently sweet note, then segueing into gentle smoke that influences notes of orange peel, lemon, green banana, and some white wine character. It’s definitely on the quiet side for mezcal, but pleasant and pretty from start to finish. (For what it’s worth, my tasting notes have nothing in common with Del Maguey’s back label; your mileage may vary.) 90 proof. B+ / $100

Del Maguey San Pablo Ameyaltepec – Also 100% agave papalome, this mezcal is made from 12 to 18 year old plants grown in Ameyaltepec, in the Puebla region, where mezcal production was only recently given the OK. Here’s proof that terroir matters in mezcal — this is a much different spirit than the Wild Papalome, kicking off with a nose that is both leathery and smoky-spicy, with notes of dried flowers, almost evoking potpourri. The body is gentle to moderate in strength, and it offers numerous surprises, including notes of milk chocolate, orange flowers, smoked meats, and dried apple character. On the finish we find notes of bubble gum, gingerbread, and wispy smoke — which lingers on the back of the throat. Taken as a whole, it’s an exotic mezcal with an awful lot going on, but an awful lot that manages to come together in inspiring fashion. 94 proof. A- / $110

delmaguey.com

Review: Deschutes Brewery Jubelale Winter Ale 2016, The Dissident 2016, and Conflux Collage #2

Deschutes Brewery Jubelale Winter Ale 2016 – Jubelale is always the first taste of Christmas for me each year, and for 2016 the brewery’s winter ale seems particularly pleasing, a warming experience that builds on a malty base with gentle notes of raisin and fig, mulling spices, and vanilla. What Jubelale has in spades this year is balance, and the beer manages to ride the line between malt, fruit, and light bitterness with aplomb. One of the best versions in recent memory. 6.7% abv. A- / $8 per six-pack

Deschutes Brewery The Dissident 2016 – Now an annual release, this beloved sour, a Flanders-style sour brown brewed with Oregon cherries, strikes with a vengeance. I’m never big on sours, but The Dissident is one I can happily sip on, its tart cherry notes surprisingly restrained against a backdrop of Madeirized wine, almond and walnut notes, chocolate malt, and stone fruit pits. The key to the beer’s success is that the sourness here isn’t the slap-yer-mama affair as it can so often be in big sours, but rather a refined and elevated experience that shows that sours can have a surprising elegance. 10.9% abv. A- / $16 per 22 oz. bottle

Deschutes Brewery Conflux Series Collage #2 – This is a wacky, wacky thing, the second beer in Deschutes’ Conflux Series, which blends up a bunch of rare, barrel-aged beers from both Deschutes and Hair of the Dog brewery to make one insanely, super-rare, barrel-aged beer. I never saw Collage #1, but Collage #2 is a different blend, which incorporates Deschutes’ The Abyss (only the portion from Pinot barrels) and The Stoic (100% aged in Pinot barrels) plus Hair of the Dog’s Fred (aged in American oak and rye whiskey barrels) and Doggie Claws (100% aged in cognac barrels). That’s four barrel-aged beers, all aiming squarely at your gullet with an alcohol level that’s over 14 whopping percent. It’s definitely interesting as a sipper, but decidedly not an everyday experience. Notes of intense raisin, fig, and prune mix with overwhelming, syrupy caramel, thick molasses, and grainy malt extract. The beer is uncommonly sweet with dark sugar and dried fruit notes, with a finish that will linger for hours if you let it, eventually devolving into a pungent, mushroom-and-molasses character. Beers like this are rarified air, something fun to sample while you’re bloated after Christmas dinner, but nothing I need to experience more than a few ounces of. 14.3% abv. B / $25 per 22 oz. bottle

deschutesbrewery.com

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