Review: Glenmorangie Milsean

Glenmorangie Milsean - Bottle shot transparent backgroundThe latest expression in the increasingly convoluted and difficult-to-pronounce Glenmorangie line of Highland single malts is this one: Milsean, Scots Gaelic for “sweet things.” (Pronunciation: meel-shawn.) This is the seventh release in the company’s annually updated Private Release line.

Glenmorangie has long been a massive proponent of wine barrel finishing, and Milsean is no exception. After an initial stint in bourbon barrels, the twist here is that the wine casks (reportedly Portuguese red wine casks) used for finishing the whisky are re-toasted with flames before the spirit goes into them for round two. (Typical finishing casks are left as-is in order to let the wine or other spirit that was once inside mingle with the whisky.) Re-toasting essentially re-caramelizes the wood, along with whatever was once inside.

Milsean’s name is a hint that sweetness is the focus, and the name seems wholly appropriate to this reviewer. The nose is a beaut, featuring pungent florals — the hallmark of Glenmo — mixed with candied fruits, a touch of alcoholic punch, and cinnamon-driven spice. The aroma alone is enchanting and offers plenty to like — but of course there’s more ahead.

On the tongue, Milsean is equally delightful, offering a host of flavors that develop over time. Watch for golden raisins and clementine oranges up front, followed by the essence of creamy creme brulee mixed in with a melange of cinnamon and nutmeg notes. The finish tends to run back to those florals — I get bright white flowers in my mind as the whisky fades — as it evaporates on the palate, leaving behind a crisp brown sugar character — the sweetest moment in this whisky’s life.

Glenmorangie special release expressions can be hit and miss — and often gimmicky — but Milsean is a magic trick that works wonderfully. I don’t hesitate to say that it’s the best expression from this distillery in years. I’d stock up on it.

92 proof.

A / $130 / glenmorangie.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Vikre Vodka, Gin, and Aquavit Lineup

vikre spruce white bkgrdDuluth, Minnesota, on the shores of Lake Superior, is the home of Vikre Distillery, which takes a localvore approach to making a wide range of (mostly white) spirits, using local grains, herbs, and water from the lake next door to make its craft spirits. The six spirits below — 1 vodka, 3 gins, and 2 aquavits — represent the bulk (but not all) of Vikre’s production. Who’s ready to take the plunge into the production from this neighbor from the Great White North?

Join us.

Vikre Lake Superior Vodka – Distilled from malted barley. Very mild, clean, and fresh. The nose is gentle but hints at hospital notes. On the palate, light sweetness starts things off, but the overall impression is surprisingly clean and pure. Only on the finish do some secondary notes start to emerge… a dusting of bee pollen, some thyme and rosemary, and a pinch of cinnamon. Surprisingly well done and nearly perfect in its balance. 80 proof. A / $35

Vikre Boreal Juniper Gin – Purportedly a traditional dry gin, including standard (local) botanicals plus rhubarb. One whiff and this is anything but traditional — quite sweet on the nose, at offers heavily fruity notes and an intensely floral/rose petal undercarriage. The body hones in on that sweet-and-sour rhubarb, confectioner’s sugar, a mild slug of juniper, and chocolate notes on the finish. I know what you’re thinking: What a random collection of flavors. And so am I. Calling this a “Juniper Gin” leaves me a bit bewildered. 90 proof. C / $35

Vikre Boreal Spruce Gin – Spruce is the primary botanical here, as you might expect. The overall impact is a lot closer to a traditional gin than the Juniper Gin above, though again it carries with it a sweetness that is unexpected. Piney notes mingle with brown sugar and, again, more indistinct florals and perfume notes. Here, the balance is a bit more appropriate, as the spruce character is brought up to where it needs to be, and the sweeter elements are dialed back. Still, it’s an unconventional gin that will need the right audience. 90 proof. B / $35

Vikre Boreal Cedar Gin – This one was fun because I’m allergic to live cedar, so I was excited to see if I would break out in hives from drinking a gin flavored with cedar wood (along with wild sumac and currants). I didn’t, and I wasn’t in love with the gin, either. The nose is much different than the two above gins — musty and mushroomy on the nose, with a medicinal note and some evergreen beneath that. Again, the body is quite sweet — the currants are distinct — with a slurry of notes that include ripe banana, fresh rosemary, and some nutty characteristics. Pumped up evergreen on the body tends again to give this a more balanced structure, but the overall character is, again, a little out there. 90 proof. B / $35

Vikre Ovrevann Aquavit – It’s actually Øvrevann Aquavit, but I have no idea if that’s going to render properly online. Caraway, cardamom, and orange peel are infused into this traditionally-focused aquavit, which is a more savory, herbal meditation on gin. Appropriately Old World, it layers exotic, caraway-driven, Middle-Eastern-bazaar notes with touches of licorice, juicy citrus, seaweed, and light sandalwood notes. Credible on its own, but it probably works best as a substitute for gin, cutting a profile that was probably along the lines of what Bombay Sapphire East was going for. 88 proof. B / $35

Vikre Voyageur Aquavit Cognac Cask Finished – The above aquavit, finished (for an indeterminate time, but long enough to give the spirit a gentle yellow hue) in used Cognac casks. I like the combination a lot. The nose features a fruitiness that Ovrevann doesn’t have, plus a touch of barrel char that adds mystique. This leads to stronger licorice notes on the nose, plus notes of cloves, raisins (a clear Cognac contributor), menthol and spearmint, and a lingering, herbal finish. The Cognac balances out the sweet and savory notes in the spirit, giving this a well-rounded yet entirely unique character that’s worth exploring. 86 proof. A- / $57

vikredistillery.com

Review: Redemption Aged Barrel Proof Straight Rye – 7, 8, and 10 Years Old

redemption 8 years oldIn our recent coverage of Redemption, I mentioned some rare, older, cask strength whiskeys that the company was releasing. We unexpectedly received samples of all three — all of which are 95 percent rye and 5 percent malted barley, aged 7, 8, or 10 years in oak — and all “honey barrel” picks of the best of the best. It’s all MGP stock, but it’s very rare to find the company’s whiskeys at this age on the market any more, much less at cask strength.

Let’s take a dive into all three.

Redemption Aged Barrel Proof Straight Rye 7 Years Old – Fruit and herbs both dominate the nose, with a juicy apple character tempered by ample baking spice. This continues straight through to the palate, which is warming and quite full of those apple pie notes, plus notes of brown sugar and scorched butter. Water helps, but those apples won’t be ignored. Tempered a bit, the spirit evolves clearer notes of cinnamon along with some savory herbs, with a touch of apple butter-meets-butterscotch on the finish. 122.6 proof. B / $80

Redemption Aged Barrel Proof Straight Rye 8 Years Old – It’s just one year older, but what a different profile it cuts. A clearer and stronger wood influence leads the way toward some bold caramel and vanilla notes, both on the nose and on the palate. That savory herbal character appears again on the back end, particularly toward the finish. Water really brings out the best in this whiskey, both its sultry, cinnamon-stick dessert tones and its gossamer-thin savory elements. The complex interplay between the two on that lingering finish really makes the experience wonderfully worthwhile. Definitively, this is the expression to seek out. 121.5 proof. A / $90

Redemption Aged Barrel Proof Straight Rye 10 Years Old – This batch was made from only six barrels of whiskey. Again things take a curious turn, as at the age of 10 this whiskey heads to new territory. Reminiscent of older bourbons, this rye pushes both its substantial barrel influence and some notes of menthol and tobacco, characters uncommon in rye whiskeys. Though considerably lower in proof, it comes across just as racily, and water is once again a huge help in coaxing out more flavor. A quite savory whiskey at heart, it presents a huge, mouth-filling body that offers notes of licorice, tree bark, and cloves. The finish isn’t as long or as satisfying as the 8 year old — here it comes across more as a study of age — but it offers some compelling notes in its own right. 110.1 proof. B+ / $130

redemptionrye.com

Review: Wines of Matanzas Creek, 2016 Releases

Matanzas 2012 Jackson Park MerlotSonoma’s Matanzas Creek is out with new merlots and a chardonnay. Let’s dive in to these new releases.

2013 Matanzas Creek Winery Chardonnay Sonoma County – Initially quite oaky, with a bold, brown-butter body. Classic California chardonnay from top to bottom, but Matanzas Creek infuses it with just enough fruit to make the dense, dessert-like confection work well. Over time, hints of apricots, lemon zest, and peaches emerge, all swirled into that buttery, creamy core. Decadent. A- / $20

2012 Matanzas Creek Winery Merlot Sonoma County – An entry-level merlot, but pleasant through and through. Fresh blackberry up front leads to some balsamic notes, dark chocolate, coffee bean, and (finally) the expected crushed violets. Give it some time in glass for best results. B+ / $28

2012 Matanzas Creek Winery Merlot Jackson Park Vineyard Bennett Valley Sonoma County – That’s a mouthful of a name for a home run merlot from this storied winery. Initially a bit closed off, it opens up to reveal notes of dense currant, chocolate, licorice, and salted caramel. Huge body with a dense mouthfeel, the finish is long, seductive, and even decadent at times. This is not your mother’s merlot. A / $60

matanzascreek.com

Review: Big Bottom Pear Brandy and Oregon Gin Collection

big bottom PearBrandy-10-NEWIf you know Big Bottom, you probably know the company for its bourbons, most of which feature exotic finishes and impressive levels of quality.

Big Bottom also makes white spirits, though, including fruit brandies (pear now, apple is coming) and a collection of gins. Today we take a look at four of BB’s latest white offerings… well, three white spirits and one with a touch of age on it.

Thoughts follow.

Big Bottom Oregon Pear Brandy – Made from a blend of Oregon-grown Asian pears. Rather musty up front, the nose offers fruit restrained by astringent notes, a commonality of young fruit brandies. On the palate, significant earthy notes interplay with modest pear character — and you can indeed pick out that slightly citrus Asian character vs. the more traditional flavor of domestic pears. The finish, however, is a bit hot and indistinct. This is clearly a labor of love, but as with many pear brandies, it’s one that could benefit from some tempering by wood. 80 proof. B- / $45

Big Bottom Oregon Gin – 16 botanicals (none named) are used in the production of this New Western gin. It’s got a significant floral character, with a touch of black pepper adding spice. Juniper is present, but modest and restrained, as sweeter notes dominate. On the palate, it’s a gentle gin with ample sweetness enveloping the palate, those floral notes — honeysuckle and some white flowers — quite dominant. Citrus elements come on strong as well, with just a little kick of that pepper hitting on the back end. Fun stuff, and a nice change of pace from juniper-forward bruisers. 91 proof. A- / $30

Big Bottom Oregon Gin Navy Strength – Same gin as the above, but higher in proof. It offers similar notes to the lower-proof product, but it’s plenty racier if that’s your bag. As with many an overproof product, the higher-proof version will immediately fire up the palate, but it also offers a few surprises: a slightly fruitier character, and juniper that’s more immediately evident. Slight caramel notes offer a silky sweetness on the back end. All in all, it’s a solid Navy version of a juniper-restrained gin. 114 proof. A- / $46

Big Bottom Oregon Gin Finished in Oak Whiskey Barrels – Same gin as the first, aged (for 12 months in a new solera system) in used whiskey barrels outfit with new heads made from a mix of Oregon oak and Hungarian oak. The gin takes on a more dessert-like note here, with clear cinnamon notes and some mulled apple cider character. Sweet caramel on the finish takes this gin on a ride between a white spirit and a light, spiced whiskey, with notes of cloves and vanilla in lieu of any significant juniper or floral elements, which are washed away by the wood. Aged gins can be hit and miss, but this is surprisingly fun stuff, perfect for winter cocktails or even sipping straight with dessert. 91 proof. A / $38

bigbottomdistilling.com

Review: Old Pulteney Single Malt Whisky 35 Years Old

OldPultney-1061-flatClients

A rare treat of an old Highland malt, at 35 years old this expression of Old Pulteney is showing just beautifully, with notes of figs and plum pudding, raisiny Port, citrus peel, green banana, and a touch of cinnamon-spiced oatmeal on the back side. Slight salt-sea notes emerge from time to time, but only as hints of its maritime ancestry. The body is perfectly balanced between sweet and savory notes, with ample but well-integrated sherry influence bringing everything into focus.

As the finish fades, the malt tends to fall back to its barley roots, a gentle respite from what has come before. Elegant and refined, it showcases how truly beautiful these sometimes rough-hewn Highland whiskies can be.

85 proof.

A / $700 / oldpulteney.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Tasting the Wines of Marchesi de’Frescobaldi, Late 2015 Releases

Frescobaldi-Giramonte-zoomUnlike the rest of Italy, our friends at Tuscany’s Marchesi de’Frescobaldi never seem to rest. Today we take a look (via online tasting with winemaker Niccolo D’Afflitto) at four recent releases from this legendary producer’s stables, including some of its most renowned bottlings.

2012 Marchesi de’Frescobaldi Pomino Bianco Benefizio Riserva DOC – This is a Tuscan chardonnay, oaked but not overly so due to partial maturation in used barrels. Quite restrained, it evokes gentle fruit flavors and lots of stony minerals, with a moderately buttery finish. The wine ends up somewhere between Old World and New World, straddling these two styles nicely. B+ / $40

2011 Marchesi de’Frescobaldi Mormoreto Toscana IGT – 64% cabernet sauvignon, 26% cabernet franc, 5% petit verdot, and 5% merlot. A bit of an “entry level” Supertuscan, this is a classy wine with dense fruit up front and lengthy forest notes that follow. Dark cherry and blackberry flavors, almost raisin-like at times, attack the palate, then notes of tobacco, mushroom, and forest floor bring up the rear. Savory and dense with a lengthy finish. Quite food friendly. A- / $55

2011 Marchesi de’Frescobaldi Giramonte Toscana IGT – A blend of merlot and sangiovese, proportions unstated. Lush and lively, this is a wine that showcases the best of two grape varieties, offering dense violet florals from the merlot, and bright cherry fruit from the sangiovese. A bit of coffee ground character comes along on the back end. Slightly smoky and dusty at times, the wine layers on a subtle earthiness that adds complexity without making it austere and overly pastoral. Lovely on its own or with a meal. A / $90

2009 Marchesi de’Frescobaldi Ripe Al Convento Di Castelgiocondo Brunello di Montalcino DOCG Riserva – Showing some nice age, this Brunello (100% sangiovese, of course) is an exercise in restraint: Slightly sour cherries, dried rosemary and thyme, and a slight dusting of black pepper. Everything is dialed back, though — almost an echo of another wine. Earthy, mushroomy notes develop as the finish starts to build, with just a dollop of blackberry jam polishing things off on the end. A- / $100

frescobaldi.it

Review: 4 Pearl Vodka Flavors – Lime Basil, Strawberry Basil, Chocolate Hazelnut, and Pumpkin Spice

pearlIntroducing four new flavors from Luxco-owned Pearl Vodka (which recently rebranded all its bottles with a more streamlined design) — two fruity/basil blends, two dessert-focused for winter sipping. Let’s give them all a sample.

All are 70 proof.

Pearl Vodka Lime Basil – Gentler than you’d think. Heavy on candied lime peel, with just a hint of racier, Thai-style basil on the back end. Modest in structure, pure in its flavor elements, and offering a crisp body with a short finish. It’s a fine alternative to Hangar One Kaffir LimeA

Pearl Vodka Strawberry Basil – Somewhat chemical-smelling on the nose, a common problem with strawberry vodkas. There’s no hint of basil in the aroma, but on the palate it offers a heat more akin to black pepper than any kind of herb. A heavily sweetened finish washes that away, though, leaving behind a bit of a medicinal character. B

Pearl Vodka Chocolate Hazelnut – So, Nutella vodka! Nails it on the nose — though it’s heavier on hazelnut than chocolate. The palate isn’t far off, either. Cinnamon is a distinct secondary character but otherwise this vodka exudes lovely hazelnuts dusted with cocoa powder. Some vanilla marshmallow notes emerge on the finish. Dessert-focused vodkas like this are often largely undrinkable, but this is a surprising winner. A-

Pearl Vodka Pumpkin Spice – Far more restrained than I’d expected, with classic brown sugar, cinnamon, allspice, and clove notes. The sweetness is at first dialed back, but it doesn’t take long to start building up on the palate. As it begins to coat the mouth, it leaves behind a saccharine character that eventually becomes too much and hangs around for far too long. B-

each $13 / pearlvodka.com

Review: Michter’s Single Barrel Bourbon 10 Years Old 2015

michters 10-Year-Bourbon 2015

Michter’s latest whiskeys have arrived — single-barrel bottlings of 10 year old and 20 year old bourbons. There’s no production or sourcing information on these limited edition whiskeys (which are not part of the US-1 line), only that they are aged in new oak for 10 (or 20) years, which is, of course, the law for bourbon.

These are actually the first single barrel bourbon releases for 2015, though they were supposed to ship in January. Says Michter’s Master Distiller Willie Pratt, “These two bourbons were set for release at the beginning of this year, but I held them back for a bit more aging. I wanted them to be just right.”

So there we have it. We received the 10 year old expression for review. The $600 20 year, alas, remains elusive.

As for the 10, this is just good, solid, well-made bourbon from front to back. The nose carries a solid caramel punch, with touches of banana and coconut. On the palate, rich and well-integrated notes of vanilla and more caramel take center stage, with some smoky char emerging underneath. The finish is fruity — offering more banana, more coconut, and some chocolate notes, the ultimate effect being something like a nice little ice cream sundae. Altogether it may not be incredibly complex, but it’s so delicious on its own merits that it hardly matters. Definitely worth seeking out.

94.4 proof. Reviewed: Barrel #15J829.

A / $100 / michters.com

Review: Stolichnaya Elit Vodka

elit by Stoli bottlePerhaps the best known of ultra-luxe vodka bottlings, Stoli Elit is oversized, over-designed, and over-hyped — complete with  a limited edition subset of vodkas that are made with water from the Himalayas, the Andes, and other far-flung locales.

Straight-up Stoli Elit is a single-estate vodka that starts with winter wheat, spring wheat, and rye from Stolichnaya’s farm in Tambov, Russia. The spirit is distilled three times and blended with water from Riga, Latvia, then filtered through quartz and birch charcoal before bottling.

The finished spirit is impressive. The nose is gentle and lightly floral, with touches of lemongrass. The body is equally balanced and light on its feet — offering a supple experience that features just a touch of citrus, a hint of baking spice, and a slight kick of black pepper on the finish. The experience couldn’t be quieter and more supple, a perfectly made vodka with nothing to detract from a wholly lovely experience.

While it’s lacking in the viscous punch you expect from most Russian vodkas, it’s so easygoing and pleasant that it’s impossible not to recommend — especially since, while it’s expensive, it’s not obscenely overpriced like some luxe vodkas.

80 proof.

A / $47 / elitbystoli.com