Review: Jardesca Blanco California Aperitiva

jardesca

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

Tasting Mortlach Rare Old, 18 Years Old, and 25 Years Old with Georgie Bell

Mortlach_25YO

Mortlach, “The Beast of Dufftown,” is a storied Speyside distillery that has a long reputation as the maker of a connoisseur’s whisky. For years, single malt from Mortlach has been hard to come by; most of its production has been destined for inclusion in blends like Johnnie Walker. But demand for single malts continues to rise, so a couple of years ago, current owner Diageo announced it would be increasing production and launching some new Mortlach malts. The results are finally here, in the form of three general releases (plus one travel retail release). All of the prior bottlings of Mortlach are now being dropped.

georgie bellThe trilogy of malts was introduced to many of us via a web-based tasting by the enchantingly goofy Georgie Bell, aka “Miss Mortlach,” Mortlach’s Global Brand Ambassador. Bell led the group through the history of Mortlach, including its fabled yet confusing “2.81 distilling process,” which involves a carefully calibrated utilization of its three stills, each a different design, in the production of its whisky.

But the highlight was a tasting of these amazing whiskies, all hitting the market soon. All of the whiskies are bottled at 86.8 proof. (And here’s a pro tip: Real Scots pronounce the distillery MORT-leck. The R is nearly silent.)

Thoughts follow.

Mortlach Rare Old – Bottled with no age statement, but don’t let that deter you. Rare Old has a solid grain structure on the nose, plus hints of honeycomb, vanilla, and chocolate malt balls. Over time, some notes of dried herbs and barrel char emerge… give it some minutes in the glass before downing the sucker. The body is big, showcasing lots of honey from the start along with salted caramel, citrus, and some emerging floral notes later on. The finish is bold and satisfying, very lush, lovely, and warm with a touch of chocolate on the very end. Despite the lack of an age statement, this is not really an entry-level dram — but one which should really earn a top shelf spot on any bar. A / $110  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Mortlach 18 Years Old – Now we’re entering into age statement territory. Racier on the nose, the 18 Year Old features stronger sherry notes, some raisin, and stronger floral elements. Quite sharp on the nose, this is actually quite misleading. The body turns out to be a sweeter, more uplifting experience, offering notes of gingerbread, dark chocolate, candied orange peel, and some notes of almond, nougat, and cocoa nibs. Bolder on the body than the Rare Old but quite sharp again on the finish, it’s a fun companion to the Rare Old that proves itself to be a clear sibling — but one with its own DNA. A / $280

Mortlach 25 Years Old – More brooding on the nose, with some smokiness and more of that barrel char. Think roast beef and old wood — a departure from the more elegant, grain-meets-fruit composition of the above two spirits. The nose’s composition carries over to the body, where you find a more burly, fireside-type whisky that offers gentle smoke alongside both citrus notes and some floral elements. All of this is well-balanced and integrated, but it does step away from the sweeter style of Mortlach showcased in the above. Today I find myself drawn to the less austere expressions, but this is a lovely and unique expression of Mortlach as well. A- / $944

mortlach.com

Review: Maker’s Mark Cask Strength

Makers Cask Strength Hi Res

Hey, remember when Maker’s Mark said it was going to lower its proof from 90 to 84? That didn’t work out, so the company figured why not go the other way, with a limited-availability cask strength expression of the classic Maker’s Mark.

Cask strength bourbon is a bit at odds with the company’s avowed mission to market a “soft” whiskey, but there’s no denying that customers are going to eat this stuff up. The demand for overproof, barrel strength whiskey is seemingly insatiable, so, mission or not, I expect Maker’s knew exactly what it was getting into here.

Let’s engage in a tasting, shall we?

Maker’s Mark Cask Strength is classic Maker’s on the nose — vanilla, lightly almond-like notes, modest wood, and hints of ripe banana. Modest and sweet-smelling, the spirit at first indicates little to the nose about its overproof nature. The body starts off with only a few minor surprises. Cinnamon and red hot candies start things off, but then it’s on to an intense, alcohol-laden punch as that 113-plus proof core takes hold. Bigger, tannic oak notes arise here, along with more of that sweet vanilla core, some cocoa powder, and hints of grain. The finish is drying and a little bittersweet — another Maker’s Mark hallmark — with notes of butterscotch and a little menthol and black pepper as the finish fades. All told, it’s not unlike classic Maker’s Mark, just punched up a bit in both the flavor and the body departments to appeal to the overproof whiskey lover in the family. There’s definitely more intensity and fire here, but it’s easily drinkable at bottle strength. A touch of water brings out more nuances in all of the above.

On the whole, I like it just fine, though not necessarily better than the classic Maker’s Mark. Frankly I’m not sure I need to have Maker’s at this proof level, but I like the idea that if I decide I do, I know it’s there for me.

Reviewed at 113.3 proof (abv will vary). Reviewed: Batch 14-02.

A- / $35 (375ml) / makersmark.com

Rioja Review: 2008 Rioja Bordon and 1998 Vina Albina

Franco-Espanolas Reserva Bordon 2008When it comes to upscale wines, Rioja is a category that is often overlooked. But these Spanish wines, primarily Tempranillo with a smattering of other Spanish regional grapes, like Mazuelo and Graciano, thrown in, can often be aged for a decade or more, particularly at the Reserva level or higher.

Today we look at a 2008 Reserva and a 1998 Gran Reserva (the only major production difference is time spent in barrel and bottle before release). Both are now available on the market.

2008 Bodegas Franco Espanolas Rioja Bordon Rioja Reserva – There’s good age on this bottling of a classically-structured Rioja Reserva, offering a nose of dusky, dried fruits, charred wood, and roasted meat. The body is lightly balsamic with tart cherry character and more of those meaty/slightly smoky notes on the finish. A- / $15

1998 Bodegas Riojanas Vina Albina Rioja Gran Reserva – At 16 years old, this one’s starting to feel its age, with some oxidation starting to creep in on an austere and brambly experience. Notes of balsamic, dried figs, and cherry jam emerge, along with a heavily tannic, licorice-flecked finish. Still showing well, but it is beginning its downswing. B+ / $50

Review: The Arran Malt Devil’s Punch Bowl Chapter III – “The Fiendish Finale”

devils punch bowl 3

All good horror stories deserve a trilogy, and Arran Malt, with its Devil’s Punch Bowl series, is back for a third and final round of this special release whisky: The Fiendish Finale. See notes on Chapter I and Chapter II here.

There’s unfortunately not a lot of production information on this batch, but it is drawn from whisky that has been finished in oloroso sherry butts. No age information is offered. As with previous editions, it is a cask strength bottling.

This expression of the Devil’s Punch Bowl is racier and spicier on the nose than previous expressions, with a clearer expression of its barley base at first. The body is huge — powerful with sherry notes, chewy malt, and a finish that pushes forth notes of dried fruits, milk chocolate, and a sweetness akin to caramel sauce on fresh Belgian waffles. It’s not at all smoky like Chapter II, instead letting the sherry do almost all of the talking here, building a dessert-like confection that layers both fresh and dried citrus notes atop a big caramel core. Lots of fun, and a real go-to whisky for after-dinner drinking.

All in all, this is a fantastic way to round out one of the more memorable series of Scotch whiskies to arrive in recent years.

106.8 proof.

A- / $130 / arranwhisky.com

Review: Frescobaldi 2010 Nipozzano and 2011 Nipozzano Vecchie Viti

NipozzanoVecchiViti2011Two new releases from  Marchesi de’Frescobaldi, the royal family of Tuscany — the standard bottling of Nipozzano (named after the 1000-year-old family estate) and a new release of Vecchie Viti, a bottling rarely seen on U.S. shores. Thoughts follow.

2010 Frescobaldi Nipozzano Riserva Chianti Rufina – A textbook example of what Chianti should be, bright with that signature cherry of sangiovese, but complicated by notes of tea leaf, cocoa powder, and a mushroomy earthiness on the finish. The denouement is dour and brooding, not big and fruity — or highly acidic — like so much Chianti can be. A big winner at mealtime, less of a solo sipper. A- / $16

2011 Frescobaldi Nipozzano Riserva Vecchie Viti Chianti Rufina – This “old vines” release of Nipozzano is a more fruit-forward, slightly jammier expression of Chianti. Aged 24 months in barrel, it exhibits notes of fresh cherries, strawberry, and fresh mixed berry jelly. A bit on the sweet side for my tastes — compared to the more herbal, earthy notes I like to see in a Chianti, but still a fun wine that’s worth exploring. B+ / $30

frescobaldi.it

Review: Aperol Aperitivo

APEROLThe Aperol Spritz is a perennial favorite cocktail — but I can’t say that I’ve ever actually drank much Aperol on its own. Until now!

An aperitif that is often shelved alongside Campari (the same company now makes both), this liqueur’s most noteworthy ingredient (not including sugar) is bitter orange, though a host of other bitter roots are also used to give it its flavor. Lighter in color and much less bitter than Campari, the spirit is a bittersweet beauty. The up-front sweetness can be a little cloying, with a viscous body and spun sugar character that approaches cough syrup, but once that passes, its complexities take hold. Aperol offers gentle bitterness on the back end, with notes of chocolate and root beer leading to a pleasant, dessert-like finish. Not too lasting, the sweet and bitter eventually meld into a cohesive whole as the liqueur finally fades away.

Aperol can be used as an alternative to Campari in almost any cocktail — particularly if you’re not looking for the bitter wallop to the senses that Campari provides. For even more fun, use it as an alternative to Grand Marnier, Cointreau, or any other triple sec and see what the slug of bitterness does to your favorite cocktail.

22 proof. (The rating is for solo sipping…)

A- / $25 / aperol.com

Gold Label Reserve Joins Johnnie Walker Permanent Lineup

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Last year, Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve arrived in the U.S. in limited release. We wrote about it at length at the time, but knew that, as just a visiting member of the family, our thoughts would be fleeting at best. Well, now Gold Label has its green card and is back in the family, a permanent resident in the JW lineup.

We got a fresh bottle of Gold Label Reserve (the non-gilded version of the bottle) and took it out for a fresh spin. While I didn’t like it quite as much as I did upon my first encounter, it’s still a standout blend and arguably the best part of JW’s lineup. My fresh thoughts on the latest release follow.

Racy on the nose, there’s an indistinct mix of citrus and grain character that combine with more base alcohol characteristics — all in all, the picture of a standard, sherried, blended whisky. The body starts off phenomenally sweet, spiking the cloves and citrus notes with big candy bar character. The sugar settles down as some more pungent Madeira notes emerge on the finish, but the overall spirit is balanced, on point, and lasting.

80 proof.

A- / $75 / johnniewalker.com

Review: Deschutes Brewery Jubelale Winter Ale 2014

JubelaleBTL2014’s winter brew from Deschutes is upon us, and this year’s Jubelale is a bit of a smoother operator. It’s got the standby nut and malt core, plus notes of licorice, coffee bean, mushroom, and mild hops. That isn’t a surprising lineup of flavors for Jubelale, but this year things feel restrained a bit, making this a more introspective beer, almost like a coffee stout, rather than the flavor bomb it can sometimes be. The finish isn’t so much creamy and mouth-filling as it is soothing and — almost — refreshingly wintry.

6.7% abv.

A- / $8 per six-pack / deschutesbrewery.com

Review: Re:Find Vodka, Cucumber Vodka, Gin, & Limoncello

refind Gin-Vodka

Distilled from grapes in Paso Robles, California, Re:Find is a boutique distillery that turns its “neutral brandies” into a variety of straight and flavored spirits. Distilled “from grapes” has certain connotations, but Re:Find is careful to note its vodka is not grappa, a specific type of brandy that is distilled from a by-product of winemaking. Re:Find is rather made from “free run” juice called saignee that is bled off during pressing, before red wine grapes are fermented — so it’s closer to an unaged brandy in composition. These are high-end grapes, which just so happen to be used to make wine at Villicana Winery — which is under the same ownership.

Mostly available only in California, we got a look at four of the spirits in Re:Find’s lineup. All four spirits reviewed below are 80 proof.

Re:Find Vodka – A bit grappa-like on the nose, with some of that funky, twig-‘n’-stem character you see on this spirit, but it’s undercut with the lightest aromas of honey and marshmallow. The body offers more in the way of hazelnuts, banana, and vanilla cookies, which makes for an interesting counterpart to the funkier nose (again, much like a good grappa). There’s a lot going on in this spirit and while it’s initially a bit much when sipping straight, it does show lots of nuance and character, and it merits exploration both on the rocks and in more complex cocktails. A- / $35

Re:Find Cucumber Vodka – Interesting choice for your first flavor, but damn if a nose full of Re:find Cucumber doesn’t smell like you’re headed to a day at the spa. Crisp and authentic, this vodka offers pure and refreshing cucumber flavor through and through, with just the lightest dusting of sweetness on the finish to offer some balance against the vegetal notes up front. You get none of the earthy grappa character in the unflavored vodka here, just fresh cukes from start to finish. Impressive considering this is legitimately flavored with fresh cucumbers. Seasonally available. A / $25 (375ml)

Re:Find Gin – Triple distilled and infused with (mostly local) juniper berry, coriander, orris root, lemon & orange peel, grains of paradise, and lavender. This is an engaging gin, juniper-forward on the nose, with hints of lavender underpinning it. On the palate, things get a bit switched up. Here the lavender picks up the ball and runs, with the citrus notes coming on strong. It’s quite a trick, as the nose sets you up for a big evergreen bomb, then the body lets you down easy with a more sedate character suitable for the tropics. Re:Find Gin could benefit from a bit more complexity — maybe grapefruit peel or black pepper, or both — but as it stands it’s an engaging and quite drinkable little spirit. A- / $43

Re:Find Limoncello – Pale in color in comparison to many commercial limoncellos and translucent, Re:Find’s Limoncello looks and smells more like pure, fresh lemon juice — much more so than the stuff you typically see from Italy. Heavy on sour juice and bitter zest, this is intense stuff. If you’re looking for a sweet and lightly sour limoncello that will pair well with your berries-and-whipped-cream dessert, this isn’t the liqueur for you. If intense, almost raw, lemon character is your bag, give it a go… though you’ll have to visit Re:Find’s distillery to get some. B+ / $NA (375ml)

refinddistillery.com