Review: NV Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Heredad Cava

There’s no question that venerable Segura Viudas spends more money on this elaborate, pewter-based bottle than it does on the wine inside it, but that doesn’t mean that this Spanish cava isn’t good stuff (in fact, it’s aged on the lees in bottle for a full 30 months before releasing). In fact, at just $21 a bottle, it’s a rare value play that makes quite a striking impression on the table or when presented as a gift.

How’s Segura Viudas Reserva coming across in 2016? Let’s have a taste of a fresh (but still nonvintage) bottling.

The nose is brisk — very lightly yeasty with a modest amount of apple and lemon behind it. On the palate, it’s lightly effervescent — one of the selling points of less-bubbly cava — with ample fruit to offer, predominantly notes of buttered apples (even applesauce) and figs. The finish is on the tart side, greener than the sweeter start has to offer, which helps to tie the wine together and ends things on a cleansing note.

A- / $21 /

Review: Suntory Whisky Toki


Japan’s Suntory is well known for its single malts, but it also blends whisky from time to time. With Toki (“time” in Japanese), it’s trying something a little different. Specifically, Toki is a blend of a number of Suntory’s other whiskies, including spirits from Hakushu Distillery, Yamazaki Distillery, and Chita Distillery.

Some addition information from the distillery:

While Suntory Whisky Toki respects tradition, it also challenges whisky convention by rethinking the hierarchy of its components. Suntory blends often use Yamazaki malts as their key component. Inspired by the spirits of innovation, the House of Suntory’s fourth Chief Blender Shinji Fukuyo took a fresh approach with Suntory Whisky Toki, selecting the singular Hakushu American white oak cask malt whisky — with its unique freshness, mellowness and spectacular green apple notes — as one of the blend’s two pillars. To complement that selection, Fukuyo chose Chita heavy-type grain whisky as the blend’s second pillar, adding a clean taste with notes of sweetness and vanilla. By pairing these seemingly dissimilar but deeply accordant whiskies, Fukuyo’s insight overturned the old relationship between malt and grain and created a blend that is both groundbreaking and timeless.

Traditionally in Suntory blends, grain whiskies have played merely a supporting role, acting as a broth or dashi to accentuate key malts. But the unrivalled sophistication and wide range of grain whiskies produced at Suntory’s Chita distillery led Shinji Fukuyo to rethink that role. He saw these whiskies, with their exquisite balance of complexity, subtlety and refinement, not as a scaffold for the heroic malt to ascend but as true heroes in their own right.

This unique encounter between Hakushu malt and Chita grain whiskies gives Suntory Whisky Toki its silky taste and vivid character. To give the blend greater depth and complexity, Fukuyo carefully selected two Yamazaki malts. Yamazaki American white oak cask malt whisky harmonizes the Hakushu and Chita components, while bringing roundness and reinforcing the sweetness of Chita heavy-type grain whisky with peach and custard aromas. Finally, Yamazaki Spanish oak cask malt whisky adds woody and bittersweet notes to the blend.

Well, color me curious. Let’s give Toki a try. Here’s how it comes across.

Toki is surprisingly light in hue, reflecting what must be significant youth at its core. The nose is also quite light and spry, fragrant with mixed grains, a bouquet of fresh flowers, and notes of incense and jasmine. It’s all very clean, a gentle counterpoint to some of the world’s more intense single malts.

The palate is equally light and fresh, offering sweetened cereal notes, green apple, brown sugar, and a touch of spearmint. On the finish, it’s more of the same, though the sweeter notes tend to dominate along with touches of ginger and cinnamon.

There’s nothing fancy about Toki, but Suntory has put a lot of care into blending a very light and gentle spirit that surprises with its level of success. This lightness reminds me quite a bit of the recently-reviewed Kikori, again proving that intricate and complex flavors need not come from heavy-handed production methods.

86 proof.


Tasting the Wines of Roussillon, 2016 Releases


Banyuls rimage Tour vieille

The Roussillon is France’s southernmost wine region, nestled into the wedge formed between Catalonia, Spain and the Mediterranean Sea. Within this region there are dozens of sub-regions, including some well-known ones like Minervois, Corbieres,, Fitou, and Banyuls. The Roussillon is but a small part of the broader Languedoc-Roussillon region, and is often simply lumped into the sprawling Languedoc province.

This hot climate is home to both table wines and dessert wines. Rose is common here, made largely from Rhone-style grapes, as are sweet wines, including muscat (and lots of it) and the dessert wines from Banyuls, which are made much like Port with the addition of fortifying spirit, a unique process not seen elsewhere in France.

Below you’ll find reviews of four Roussillon bottlings, including two dry roses and two dessert offerings, all of which are affordable buys. Thoughts follow.

2015 Penya Rosé Côtes Catalanes – A simple rose, made from 96% grenache and 4% syrah, this wine balances heavy floral elements with lively strawberry and some citrus notes, plus a healthy smattering of dried herbs, which become heavy on the finish. The finish is quiet and lightly sweet, with hints of lavender. B / $9

2015 Domaine Lafage Miraflors Rosé Côtes du Roussillon – 50% mourvèdre, 30% grenache, and 20% grenache gris. Fragrant and balanced, this rose offers classic strawberry notes complemented by gentle florals and a touch of brown sugar. This is all layered atop a surprisingly rich body that shows off a density rarely seen in rose. A- / $15

2014 Domaine La Tour Vieille Banyuls Rimage – A classic, dense-ruby Banyuls made of grenache noir and carignan. Fresh red berries and tart cherries, with overtones of chocolate syrup and a surprising toasted almond-hazelnut character. Notes of hickory wood and some licorice give this a rustic character you won’t find in ruby Port, but that seems to add to the wine’s uniqueness and charm. 15.5% abv. A- / $22 (500ml)

2014 Domaine de la Coume du Roy Muscat de Rivesaltes – An extremely sweet muscat dessert wine (16% abv), it offers ample aromatics of the orange blossom variety, followed by a dense body of orange-mango-peach-apricot notes. The finish is sugary to the point of being cloying, with moderate to heavy notes of fresh, green herbs. All told, it’s a bit much to handle after a big meal. B- / $22

Review: Stone Citrusy Wit, Go To IPA, Mocha IPA, and Scru Wit

stone scru wit

Four new beers have arrived from SoCal’s Stone Brewing — all ready to be sampled and sussed out. Let’s dig right in!

Stone Citrusy Wit – What’s the first thing most people do with a wheat beer? Squeeze an orange into it. Stone does that heavy lifting for you with this beer, which adds tangerine and kaffir lime leaf to the mix. That sounds better on paper than it is in the glass, where some big and funky mushroom notes blend with pungent herbs driven by the kaffir lime leaf. There’s a bare essence of a witbier somewhere in here, but it comes off as quite a bit too hoppy for a wit. 5.3% abv. C+ / $11 per six-pack

Stone Go To IPA – A sessionable, hop-heavy IPA, this is is a fruity rendition of IPA, loaded with lemons and oranges and liberally infused with a sizable amount of piney hops. You’d be hard-pressed to ID this blind as “session” anything, given its dense body, chewy palate, and the loads of authentic IPA flavor it packs. 4.8% abv. A- / $10 per six-pack of 16 oz. cans

Stone Mocha IPA – “Style-defying” is no lie: This is a double IPA with cacao and coffee added. What? Surprisingly, this isn’t a complete and utter failure. The beer offers both bracing bitterness and the classic flavors of a chocolate-spiked coffee, the former more up front, the latter more evident in the rear. How these two go together eventually starts to make sense, if you think about the bitterness of coffee, or its sometimes herbal notes (evident in a big IPA). Sure, the big piney character of a classic double gets a bit confusing in a beer meant to taste like coffee and chocolate, but as experiments go, it’s hard not to dig what Stone has come up with, at least for a pint. 9% abv. B+ / $16 per six-pack

Stone Scru Wit – This is one of Stone’s spotlight ales/pet projects, a melding of styles which probably aren’t too common in your corner store. Specifically, a Finnish sahti, a medieval European gruit, and a Belgian imperial wit, made with a recipe that includes mugwort, wormwood, and juniper berries. They call it “SahGruWit,” hence the name. The results are about what I thought they’d be: A crazy bunch of styles that probably went over better in medieval Germany than it does today. The beer finds notes of smoked grains (rauchbier-like at times), freshly turned earth, sweet malts, and a variety of canned green vegetables. It’s long on the finish, and a bit syrupy at times… but you can barely even taste the mugwort, God! 8.5% abv. B- / $8 per 22 oz. bottle

Review: Kilchoman 100% Islay Sixth Release

kilchoman 100 islay 6th edition

Kilchoman’s 2016 version of its annual 100% Islay release is here, and this time it’s a vatting of fresh and refill ex-Buffalo Trace Bourbon barrels that were filled in 2010 and bottled in 2016 — the most mature expression of 100% Islay to be released to date. As always, the 100% Islay line is more lightly peated than the rest of the Kilchoman range.

While Kilchoman tends to shine the brightest in its sherried expressions, this bourbon-only rendition is quite a delight. The bourbon barrel time imbues the whiskey with aromas of chocolate and vanilla, its light grain notes fragrant with peaty smoke. The body follows suit for the most part, though some citrus notes are a bit of a surprise. The lingering smoke on the finish is mild and fragrant, with notes of maple syrup, cinnamon, and green banana.

Brooding but very refreshing, it’s one of the most drinkable Kilchoman releases in recent memory.

100 proof.

A- / $100 /

Review: Purity Vodka

purity vodka 2

So a funny story about Purity Vodka. I was all set to review Purity in 2010, and then the sample bottle disappeared. My housekeeper stole it, a testament to how pretty the bottle is. I ended up firing her, and forgot all about the Purity review… until now, when at last a new bottle of Purity has appeared on my doorstep, at last ready to review. My current housekeeper doesn’t drink, so this bottle survived unscathed.

Purity hails from Sweden, where its claim to fame is being column distilled 34 times. Those numbers don’t mean a lot in column stills, which tend to be continuous, but you get the idea. Purity, made from a mash of organic winter wheat and malted barley, is supposed to be pure — as neutral as vodka can get. Bottles are numbered and identified by batch.

Purity certainly lives up to its promises. The nose is very slight, with gentle hospital notes touched lightly with sugar, marzipan, and a touch of herbs. The palate is very clean, sweeter by a hair than the nose would indicate, with notes of lemon peel and some macadamia nut notes. The finish stays on the ultralight track, adding some vanilla to the mix.

Final analysis: As vodka goes, it couldn’t be an easier sipper and works easily as a versatile mixing ingredient.

80 proof. Reviewed: Batch #87.

A- / $28 /

Review: South Hollow Spirits Dry Line Gin

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Massachusetts-based South Hollow Spirits focuses on rum, but it also makes gin, particularly this bottling, which is, like its rum, made from 100% sugar cane. More specifically, here’s the full process:

Dry Line Cape Cod Gin is a small batch, twice-distilled spirit made from organic sugar cane juice. The sugar cane juice is fermented for three weeks and distilled for the first time before the botanicals are added. After the first distillation, the gin moves to 55 gallon steel drums to spend 48 hours steeping with large hemp bags containing a carefully curated local selection of botanicals, including Eastern Red Cedar juniper berries, orange peel, lemon peel, cardamom, allspice, coriander, orris root, grains of paradise, angelica root, anise, and dried cranberry. This infusion method enables the spirit to absorb essential oils from the botanicals before it is redistilled and brought to its final proof of 94.

That’s a pretty traditional botanical bill (cranberry aside); in fact the use of sugar cane as the fermentation base is the biggest twist. It comes through on the finished product, which offers a nose of light juniper, rosemary, and lots of vanilla-citrus sugar layered underneath the herbs. The palate is extremely soft for a gin of this alcohol level, juniper-restrained and silky with light notes of hazelnuts, cloves, and even some milk chocolate. The finish is sweet and lengthy, folding light herbal notes into some lingering sweetness. All told it’s quite unorthodox for a gin, but surprisingly worthwhile in the unique story it has to tell.

Think of it, perhaps, as a juniper-infused white rum.

94 proof. Reviewed: Batch #1, bottle #22.

A- / $45 /