Review: Jefferson’s Reserve Old Rum Cask Finish Bourbon

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Jefferson’s latest release is this special edition, which takes standard, fully-matured Jefferson’s Reserve Bourbon and finishes it in Gosling’s Family Reserve Old Rum barrels.

The barrels themselves have a compelling history — they held bourbon for four years, then held Gosling’s for 16 years, then were sent back to Jefferson’s for this experiment, in which he dumped the eight-year old, straight Kentucky whiskey. The bourbon aged for 15 additional months in these barrels before bottling.

So, fun stuff from the get-go, and sure enough it’s a knockout of a whiskey.

The nose is loaded with molasses notes, brown sugar, tons of baking spice, some coconut husk, and only a smattering of wood. If I didn’t know any better, from the nose I’d probably have guessed this was a well-aged rum instead of a whiskey.

The palate belies the bourbonness of the spirit, melding caramel corn with a big injection of sweet caramel, dark brown sugar, cinnamon, and layers of chocolate sauce — both sweet milk and bittersweet dark. The rush of sweetness isn’t overpowering, but rather fades easily into its lightly wooded, vanilla-focused finish.

This is one whiskey that’s hard to put down. I’d snap it up on sight before it’s all gone.

90.2 proof.

A / $80 / jeffersonsbourbon.com

Review: Laphroaig 25 Years Old and 30 Years Old (2016)

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Old Laphroaig is one of life’s great pleasures, but I haven’t encountered any truly wonderful old stock from the Islay classic since 2009. Good news, folks: Laphroaig is reintroducing both the 25 year old expression and launching its 30 year old single malt stateside, to boot.

Best news: We got ’em both and we’re here to review the updates. Thoughts follow.

Laphroaig 25 Years Old (2016) – A blend of whiskies aged in second-fill European oak Oloroso sherry barrels and ex-bourbon American oak barrels, bottled at cask strength. A quarter of a century in barrel have ensured that the fruity notes temper the smoky aromas considerably, everything coming together to showcase notes of camel hair, wet asphalt, licorice, and ample iodine. On the palate, ripe citrus notes from the sherry barrels trickle down into a pool of molasses and salted licorice waiting below. Cloves, pepper, and other spices emerge on the racy and lasting finish. This expression isn’t as well-formed as its 2009 rendition, but it’s still highly worthwhile. 97.2 proof. B+ / $500

Laphroaig 30 Years Old – Double-matured in first- and second-fill ex-bourbon barrels. No sherry impact here. This is a glorious expression of old Laphroaig, sweet and smoky and mellow as can be. The nose is a racy, spicy beast, familiar to anyone who’s dabbled in older Islay. But the use of 100% bourbon casking lets a more pure expression of the whisky shine through. The nose’s fire and brimstone are tempered with vanilla and caramel, and unlike many an Islay, its sweetness is kept clearly and firmly in check. The palate builds on that base, taking the the dying embers of a spent fire and injecting them with fresh apple notes, plus notes of gingerbread and flamed banana. Again, its sweetness is kept firmly in check, the finished product showcasing a balance and delicacy you almost never find in Islay whiskies. The above may be simple flavors and tastes, but Laphroaig 30 is anything but a basic whisky. It’s a nuanced malt definitively worth exploring, savoring, and understanding. 107 proof. A / $1000

laphroaig.com

Review: Beaujolais Wines of Georges DuBoeuf, 2015 Vintage

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Georges DuBoeuf is an icon of France’s Beaujolais, and every year around this time the winery’s new releases hit the market. Today we look at six of them, including two offerings from DuBoeuf’s Domaine selection — smaller producers owned by the winery and still bottled under their own labels.

2015 Georges DuBoeuf Macon-Villages – Brisk and acidic, this wine is loaded with lemon and grapefruit notes, delving from there into a lightly herbal character, plus some light notes of brown sugar. The finish is heavy with slate notes, and lightly bittersweet, which dials back the impact of the finish a bit. B+ / $20

2015 Georges DuBoeuf Pouilly-Fuisse – Lovely fruit and light mineral notes find balance here atop a moderate to bold body that offers distinct buttery notes. Relatively California-esque in style, it builds to a vanilla-scented crescendo. The finish is a bit too brooding making it a bit overpowering on its own, but it does stand up well to food. B / $35

2015 Georges DuBoeuf Beaujolais-Villages – The focus is squarely on fruit here, but it’s dialed back unlike, say, a Beaujolais Nouveau’s brash and overpowering jamminess. Light cherry and currant meld with fresher, juicier strawberry notes, dusted with a bit of lavender and a touch of orange peel. A solid wine at a great value. A- / $13

2015 Georges DuBoeuf Fleurie – Youthful, with a simple structure that focuses on dried plums, violets, and overtones of saddle leather. The body is fine but nothing special, round and a bit flabby with a gumminess that tends to stick to the sides of the mouth. B- / $22

2015 Emile Beranger Pouilly-Fuisse – A fine Pouilly-Fuisse, offering ample minerality, to the point of light saltiness, plus overtones of melon and hints of roasted meats. Notes of slate and bouqeut garni alternate on the finish, which give the wine an uncommon complexity. B+ / $40

2015 Domaine les Chenevieres Macon-Villages – A gorgeous wine, loaded with notes of lemon, quince, and tangerine, and layered with alternating notes of brown butter, baking spice, and a hint of woody vanilla. A perfectly balanced body kicks out floral notes and a touch of white pepper from time to time, all beautiful accompaniments to the fruit-forward main event. Beautiful on its own but a standout with lighter fare. A / $22

duboeuf.com

Review: Martell Blue Swift

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Finishing Cognac is officially a thing. Hot on the heels of Bache-Gabrielsen’s new oak-finished Cognac comes this spin from major Cognac house Martell, a VSOP Cognac that is finished in previously used Kentucky bourbon casks. No word on the length of the finishing, but Martell does say this:

Martell Cognac’s latest offering represents the essence of the curious and audacious spirit of founder Jean Martell. Engraved on the bottle, Martell’s iconic swift emblem is significant as legend has it, Jean Martell was guided by the flight of a swift on his original journey from the island of Jersey to Charente, while the bird is famous for flying exceptionally long distances, crossing the Atlantic Ocean twice a year. A tribute to the shared history between Martell and the United States, Martell Blue Swift joins the core lineup along with Martell VS, Martell VSOP, Martell Cordon Bleu, and Martell XO.

Blue Swift is a rousing success that shows how Cognac and bourbon can work beautifully together. The color of the spirit is bourbon-dark, much deeper in hue than any standard VSOP you’ll encounter. On the nose, there’s lots going on, the traditional raisin-plum notes of brandy mingling nicely with oaky whiskey notes, layering in some cinnamon, flamed banana, and a touch of almond.

The palate follows that up with aplomb. A relatively light body gives way to lush fruit, touched with oak. Currants and vanilla, figs and cocoa, hints of peppermint and gingerbread — they all come together into a surprisingly cohesive whole that showcases the best of both the brandy and bourbon worlds. The finish is light on its feet, not at all heavy, cloying, or otherwise overblown. Rather, it’s slightly drying and quite clean, its toasty wood notes lingering while echoing hints of fruity raisin.

It’s lovely in its own right, but I’m particularly hard-pressed to think of a better Cognac at this price point. Stock up!

80 proof.

A / $50 / martell.com

Review: Glenfiddich 50 Years Old

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It’s not every day you get to sample a 50 year old whisky. I’ve now had four of those days, but the experience I had with Glenfiddich’s 50 year old single malt was definitively the most fulfilling and complete.

The evening began with dinner at Sausalito’s Murray Circle, with dishes paired with a variety of malts from Glenfiddich and sister distillery The Balvenie, all preludes to the final act, GF50.

Among the appetizers (whiskily speaking) were a sampling of Glenfiddich 15 Years Old Solera Vat, served atop a frozen layer of mineral water — a neat twist on “on the rocks,” followed by Balvenie 21 Years Old PortWood Finish, which was served in a miniature copper “dipping dog,” used in the warehouses to retrieve whisky — authorized or otherwise — from a cask. This unctuous, fig-and-raisin-dusted dram led to a tasting of austere Glenfiddich 26 Years Old, wrapping up with Balvenie 14 Years Old Caribbean Cask, served with dessert, its gooey sweetness pairing perfectly with something sugary.

At last it was time for the finale, Glenfiddich 50 Years Old, bottle #301 of 450. Glenfiddich 50 was distilled in 1959. Two 50-year-old casks were married and put into a neutral vat in 2009 to suspend aging. 50 bottles have been released every year since then. The last 50 will go into bottle in 2017, and GF50 as we know it will be finished. The company says something old will be coming thereafter, but mum’s the word for now as to what it might be.

Unlike many very old whisky tastings I’ve attended, this one included a significant pour, at least 3/4 of an ounce, not a “full shot” but more than enough to really get a feel for the spirit. Given its rarity, the pour was quite generous and unexpected.

Digging into this dram, it immediately shows itself as light and delicate, a much different experience than many a hoary, old whisky that’s been done in by too much time in wood. The nose offers immediate surprises: tropical notes, primarily mango, and ample floral character. Just nosing it, you’d think this was a rather young spirit, not something born during the Eisenhower administration.

The palate showcases a considerably different experience. Quite nutty and malty, and infused with some barrel char, it’s here where it starts to show its age. I spent a long 20 minutes with this dram, letting it evolve with air and allowing its true nature to reveal itself. Notes of toasted coconut and orange peel make their way to the core, before the finish — quite sweet with creme brulee notes and candied walnuts — makes a showing. If there’s a dull spot in the 50, it comes as this finish fades, a very light mushroom/vegetal note that may well be remorse for having to live through the 1970s.

All told, this is a beautiful old whisky, one of the most engaging I’ve ever encountered. Should you find yourself with a spare $28K, I highly recommend picking one up.

96 proof.

A / $28,000 / glenfiddich.com

Review: Chivas Regal Ultis

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Chivas is a venerable blended Scotch whisky brand, and after over 100 years in business, the company is releasing its first ever blended malt — a vatting of single malts, with no grain whisky included.

Chivas Regal Ultis is a premium offering composed of just five single malts that represent the “signature” of Chivas. The quintet are all Speyside distilleries: Strathisla, Longmorn, Tormore, Allt A’Bhainne, and Braeval. No aging information is provided, however, and Ultis does not carry any age statement.

And never mind any of that, because it’s a glorious whisky, showing that Chivas is a perpetually underrated producer that really knows its stuff. On the nose, you’ll find some unusual and exotic notes — Eastern spices and incense, sandalwood, flamed orange peel, and some dried flowers. The body kicks off with a core of sweetness — nutty malted milk, brown butter, some seaweed, and sesame seeds. The finish sees more of a fresh floral element, a touch of mint, and some almond notes.

That’s a lot to try to pick out, and indeed Ultis is a complex whisky with a big body and lots of depth. There’s a little bit in Ultis for everyone, but I don’t think master blender Colin Scott was being populist in creating it. I think he was merely looking at the five single malts he had to work with and said, “What’s the best whisky I can make out of this group of spirits?” Well, job well done.

80 proof.

A / $200 / chivas.com

Review: Gary Farrell 2014 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir Russian River Valley

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Iconic Russian River winery Gary Farrell is out with its 2014 vintage wines, a chardonnay and a pinot noir. These are both the entry-level bottlings; single vineyard options abound if you want to go upscale. Let’s taste!

2014 Gary Farrell Chardonnay Russian River Valley – A gorgeous chardonnay, rich and full of fruit, with just the right amount of wood exposure to give it depth and body. Fresh apple finds a nice counterpart in big lemon notes, which add acidity and intrigue. The finish is round and lasting and just a touch herbaceous, which gives the wine balance while elevating it above the usual fare. Really, really well done. A / $35

2014 Gary Farrell Pinot Noir Russian River Valley – Surprisingly thin for a Russian River pinot, but with time in glass its simple cherry (both fresh and dried) notes become more forceful, tart and moderately acidic. The finish isn’t particularly engaging but finds some interesting companions in light notes of dried herbs, some licorice, and a touch of cocoa nibs. B / $45

garyfarrellwinery.com

Review: Gin Mare

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Gin Mare is billed as a “Mediterranean Gin,” distilled in Barcelona. “Made in small batches in a copper pot still with 250 liters of capacity per batch, Gin Mare’s key botanicals include Arbequina olive, thyme, rosemary and basil, each sourced from four different Mediterranean countries.” (Citrus fruit and green cardamom are also components.) “Distinguishing itself from traditional London dry gins, the spirit highlights its botanicals through the use of premium barley base, delicate maceration, individual distillation and authentic blending.”

The key takeaway in all of that is a single word: olive. By using olives as a flavoring agent, Gin Mare takes a martiniesque shortcut that I haven’t really encountered before. The nose has a distinct olive note, plus a lacing of black pepper, mixed dried herbs, and a bit of green onion. Quite savory on the nose, the body finds room for some sweeter stuff, with light notes of simple syrup that fade into clearer notes of rosemary, earthy cardamom, and lemon peel. The finish remains restrained and savory and reminiscent of an olive tapenade with a lemon twist upon it. Note however that there’s scarcely a hint of juniper throughout the experience.

What a unique, quirky, and curious gin! It’s several big steps off the beaten path, but it’s so intriguing — and enjoyable — that it hardly matters. Whether you think of this as gin or olive-flavored vodka is completely beside the point. Try it in your next martini.

85.4 proof.

A / $38 / ginmare.com

Review: Decadent Saint Sangrias and Wine Concentrates

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Decadent Saint is a company run by Michael Hasler, an enologist from Australia whose letter to me in impeccable calligraphy introduced a unique product: concentrates made from wine intended to be diluted into sangria and other fanciful beverages.

These are all natural products, packaged in swing tops and designed to be mixed on the fly. Directions generally suggest adding one part mix to 3 to 5 parts water, sparkling water, or sparkling wine — each option will give the finished drink a different tone. Some bottlings can be served either on ice or warm.

We tried all four of Decadent Saints’ offerings. Each is bottled at 20.5% abv as a concentrate, so expect a much lighter finished product once they’re watered down.

Decadent Saint White Sangria – White wine, fruit, and spices. Very heavy with peaches and apricots — even with water it comes across at first like a mimosa. Some light citrus ekes through late in the game, with mango heavier on the finish. This is a simple concoction, but it’s really quite lovely and overflowing with an abundance of fruit. I like it just fine as a still beverage (no sparkling water or wine), but it works well both ways. Reviewed twice: Batch #7 and #8. A

Decadent Saint Red Sangria – Red wine, fruit, and spices. Heavy with red berries, with raspberry especially prominent. Citrus, mango, and even some banana notes make a showing later in the game. It’s a bit sweeter than I expect from sangria — this drinks a bit more like a wine cooler than a sangria — but those who like their sangria on the fruity side will probably gravitate heavily to this concoction. Water is fine, but sparkling wine gives this a much-needed kick. Reviewed: Batch #3. B+

Decadent Saint Fire or Ice Sangria – Another red sangria — also billed as containing red wine, fruit, and spices — with a twist. “Drink hot or cold,” hence the name, so it could work as either a chilled sangria or a holiday glogg. I tried it at a bit below room temperature but can totally see the appeal as a hot beverage, its plummy/raisiny core and a healthy slug of cinnamon and nutmeg giving it a distinct holiday feel. Sparkling wine helps to cut through some of the sweetness here, which is amped up above that of the white sangria, but with less of that classic apple/berry/citrus character one expects in a standard sangria. Reviewed: Batch #9. B

Decadent Saint Rocky Mountain Rescue – Here we find Hasler going straight up loco. This is a blend of red wine, dark chocolate, decaf coffee, berries, and spices. The taste is, perhaps unsurprisingly, exactly what you are expecting: a nutty, mocha-heavy coffee experience with a finish that leans toward dried berries and jam. There’s more raisin and cinnamon on the somewhat gummy palate, particularly on the back end, and lengthy, lingering notes of gingerbread and milky coffee. I like all the flavors in this bottle… I’m just not really enchanted by them all mixed together. Reviewed: Batch #6. B-

each $20 per 750ml bottle / whatwelove.com

Review: 2013 Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford Napa Valley

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This is one of the highest-end wines from Napa’s Freemark Abbey that are in widespread release. Give this one some breathing room before diving in. Initially a bit tight and tannic, the wine takes 20 minutes or so to find its footing, which reveals itself in layers: dense tobacco leaf, then sweet currants, then notes of plum and cloves. The finish is drying and austere — this is a wine that will benefit from at least 4-5 years in the cellar — but pleasant and lengthy, with echoes of exotic spice and dried figs, a clear sign of great things to come.

A / $70 / freemarkabbey.com