Review: Coravin Model One Wine Preservation System


Since I reviewed the first Coravin wine preservation system in 2013 — the first review of the device ever published #humblebrag — the company has been up to a lot of work. The Coravin Model 1000 is now known as the Coravin Model Eight. A luxe edition called the Coravin Model Two has been released, and now there is a third version: A less expensive system called the Coravin Model One.

The Model One is designed to be millennial-friendly, clad in more Ikea-friendly white and blue plastic instead of black and silver. Other than that, slightly lighter materials, and some very minor design tweaks, I can tell you that after experimenting with both the Model One and the original Model 1000/Model Eight side by side, they are functionally identical.

Both devices work the same way: A needle goes down through the cork, wine comes out, and argon gas goes in. Argon canisters are replaceable (each handles about 3 bottles of wine) at a price of roughly $10 a canister, so figure a bit under $1 per glass for expendables. Both use the same needle (the Model Two has a slightly “faster” needle) and work exactly the same way.

So, if you’re considering a Coravin, should you spend $200 on the Model One or $300 on the Model Eight? Well, the blue and white color scheme isn’t the most attractive, but the Coravin isn’t all that handsome of a device to start with, no matter what color it is. If you’re choosing to keep the device in a drawer instead of on display (and since the Model One doesn’t come with a stand, you pretty much have to), I wouldn’t hesitate to save the hundred bucks and put that toward wine instead of gadgetry.


Tasting Chenin Blanc – Vouvray vs. South Africa, 2016 Releases


Chenin blanc is not a grape that people ooh and ahh over. Typically it’s the cheap wine on the by-the-glass list that you select only because you don’t drink chardonnay and you just don’t trust that New Zealand sauvignon blanc to be dry enough before dinner.

Chenin blanc is best known in its home in the Loire Valley, but it is also the most widely planted grape in South Africa. Once used exclusively to make semi-sweet wines, chenin blanc today is primarily a dry wine style, though the finished product can be quite variable… as we’ll find out in just a moment, as we explore both the Loire’s Vouvray region and South Africa, to see how chenin blanc styles have evolved in both of these areas. (Spoiler: It’s incredibly random.)

2015 Clos du Gaimont Vouvray AOP – A fresh and lively wine, offering notes of pineapple, mango, and coconut, all atop a brisk, moderate-to-highly acidic and vaguely floral base. The finish evokes clementine oranges, with hints of fresh peaches. A / $20

2013 Domaine Vincent Carême Vouvray Le Peu Morier – A very pungent wine, perhaps the opposite of the Paul Buisse above. This one showcases a sour face, with notes of white wine vinegar, green grass, and wilting flowers. The finish is tart and reminiscent of sherry. While there are elements of this wine that are enjoyable due to their uniqueness, on the whole it’s too overpowering for my palate. An extreme example of “old world” winemaking. C+ / $38

2015 Terre Brulee Le Blanc Swartland South Africa – Immediately flabby on the palate, with dominant notes of melon, green pepper, and some baking spice elements. It’s a bit of a hodgepodge of flavors, which might not be so bad, but the lack of any noteworthy acidity takes things out on a muddy note. C- / $16

2015 Indaba Chenin Blanc – A Western Cape wine, and an improvement over the Terre Brulee — better acid, with more interesting notes of grapefruit, mango, and white flowers. Altogether it’s a more classic chenin in structure that feels like it could be a lower-tier Vouvray. B+ / $11

Review: Blood Oath Bourbon Whiskey Pact No. 2 2016

blood oath pact 2

Luxco’s Blood Oath series is officially turning into an annual affair, and Pact No. 2 is here. As promised last year, Pact No. 2 is a different whiskey, but it’s less different than than you might think. This year’s expression is, like Pact No. 1, a blend of three Kentucky bourbons: First, a 7-year old rye-heavy bourbon finished in Port barrels, second, an 11-year old wheated bourbon, and third, an 11-year old rye bourbon. While the overall structure is similar to Pact No. 1, none of those appears to be a repeat of last year’s release, though it did include an (unfinished) 7-year old high rye bourbon.

I really enjoyed Pact No. 2 right from the start. It’s a powerhouse of a bourbon, leading on the nose with somewhat heavy wood overtones, plus notes of lightly scorched sugar and cocoa powder. There’s plenty of spice here to go around, offering notes of cloves, allspice, and ginger, all atop notes of toasty grains.

The palate builds on this with a number of fun elements, starting with a nicely fruity attack that offers notes of red berries, applesauce, and brown butter. As the palate evolves it finds even more of a voice, layering in gingerbread, Christmas-like spiced apple cider, golden raisins, and some notes of citrus peel. The baking spice is deep and penetrating, with that sultry wood reappearing on the back end to make for a somewhat austere and mature finish. All of this put together, this is serious whiskey, blended by someone who really knew what they were doing. Frankly, I find it a tough bourbon to put down.

Yes, Luxco is the company that makes Everclear, but it’s also proving itself to be an impressive force when it comes to sourcing high-end bourbon barrels and blending up an enticing whiskey. This is definitely one to buy.

98.6 proof. 22,500 bottles produced.

A / $100 /

Review: Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2016 Edition


It’s the 15th edition of Old Forester’s Birthday Bourbon, and I’m happy to report this year’s installment is one of the best in recent memory.

But first, a little detail from OldFo on this, a 12 year old bourbon, which is fully in keeping with the distillery’s history:

Each barrel in the Birthday Bourbon selections annually are drawn from the same day of production, this year’s on June 4, 2004, leading to the ‘vintage-dated’ reference. The 2016 release of 93 barrels uniquely matured together on the 5th floor of Warehouse K at the Brown-Forman Distillery in Louisville, KY. The lot was positioned near a window facing west allowing them to be sun kissed, yielding a deeper oak mouthfeel. This warm location provides this year’s release with a deep, rich, oak forward personality.

That “official” description seems awfully backwards to me, and critically it misses what’s best about this whiskey. The 2016 Birthday Bourbon is fresh and fruity, definitively not woody, particularly on the nose, which exudes notes of cloves, spiced gingerbread, and muddled cherries. These engaging aromas come alongside a more gentle, encompassing lacing of barrel notes, which feels a bit winey at times. The palate is quite luscious, offering bright cherry fruit (I was immediately reminded of Baker’s Bourbon), dark chocolate, more cloves, and a hint of licorice. The finish is drying and bittersweet, but not especially influenced by traditional, classic barrel flavors.

All told this is a gem of a whiskey — getting more expensive every year, to be sure, but worth it at least for 2016. Old Forester’s Birthday Bourbon releases are rarely my favorites, but Chris Morris and Co. have come up with a surprising delight that goes against the distillery’s often hoary style and manages to really engage with a fresh and enlightened style.

97 proof. 14,400 bottles produced.

A / $80 /

Review: Cocktail & Sons Switchel and Haymaker’s Punch

cocktail and sons

Two new seasonal mixers made by our friends at New Orleans’ Cocktail & Sons — both based on 18th century cocktail ingredients and built around ginger. Let’s dive in.

Cocktail & Sons Switchel – A citrus syrup made with ginger, Louisiana honey, and apple cider vinegar. Intensely spicy ginger dominates this syrup, with a smattering of lemon trying to push through the best it can. That lingering heat is a showcase of real, natural ginger root, which can be hard to come by in cocktail mixers. The Switchel syrup shines when mixed with aged rum (I tried it with Cruzan Single Barrel), which makes for a refreshing and dazzling two-item cocktail, the ginger serving as a lovely companion with the sweetness of the rum, coaxing out chocolate notes, coconut, and baking spice. It’s almost like a quickie tiki drink, sans the umbrella. A / $15 per 8 oz. bottle

Cocktail & Sons Haymaker’s Punch – Take the Switchel and mix it with lots of red Rooibos tea and you’ve got a long and less intense version of the above that comes in a soda-style 12 oz. bottle, complete with a crown cap. This dulls the ginger quite a bit, though the tea influence isn’t as strong as you might expect. Just a touch fizzy, it can be consumed on its own as a nonalcoholic highball, or you can mix it with booze: 4 oz. of Haymaker’s Punch with 1 1/2 oz. of your favorite spirit and you’ve got a summer sipper that mixes tea and ginger with whatever gets things going. Again it seems tailor-made for rum, though I wasn’t quite as enchanted by it as I was with the stronger Switchel. B+ / $12 per four-pack of 12 oz. bottles

Review: The Exceptional Blend – Blended Scotch Whisky


First there was The Exceptional Grain. Then came The Exceptional Malt. Now, of course, the trilogy is complete: The Exceptional Blend, which combines the best of both the grain and malt worlds.

For those unfamiliar, The Exceptional is a line of small batch Scotch whiskies from Don Sutcliffe, managing director of Craft Distillers, and Willie Phillips, former managing director of the Macallan for 23 years. Together they have sourced a variety of grain and malt whisky barrels and put them all together to make this trio of limited release spirits.

While The Exceptional Grain was composed entirely of grain spirits and The Exceptional Malt was purely single malts, The Exceptional Blend contains a bit of both, and includes grain whisky from North British, Strathclyde, and a 33-year old grain whisky from Cameron Bridge, plus mature malts from from Glenfarclas, Ben Nevis, Balvenie, Kininvie, Glenfiddich, Alt-a’Bhainne, Auchroisk, Glenallachie, Westport, Speyside, and a 30-year-old Macallan. The whisky is finished in first-fill sherry casks before bottling.

The results are impressive and fascinating — this is clearly the best whisky in The Exceptional lineup.

The malt kicks off with an impressively complex nose that includes a fistful of grains, strong aromatic herbal notes including fresh thyme, lavender, and a bit of nutmeg. There’s sweetness mixed in with all of this, gentle citrus-meets-sugar notes that are immediately both austere and enchanting.

On the palate, the whisky feels perhaps a bit simpler than that build-up would indicate, but I prefer to think of it as focused rather than uncomplicated. Sweetened grains kick things off, followed by light notes of dried herbs, melon, and lemon peel. Quite quickly the whisky’s sweetness kicks in, offering almondy nougat notes that burst quickly, followed by touches of gingerbread and Christmas spice. These notes take you through to the finish, which lingers without overstaying its welcome.

Again, it’s the clear winner of the Exceptional line, and a solid blended whisky in its own right.

86 proof. 1200 bottles produced.

A / $120 /

Review: Pasote Tequila


Sonoma-based August Sebastiani’s 3 Badge Beverage Corp. (the new name behind Kirk & Sweeney rums, Uncle Val’s gins, and others) has launched its first tequila: Pasote, which is made by Felipe Camerena in the Los Altos region of Jalisco.

Made in part with rainwater instead of just spring water, it’s made using traditional methods and bottled in antique-style glass. The reposado and anejo are aged in former, American oak bourbon barrels. We got all three expressions for review. Thoughts on each of the bottlings follow.

Each expression is 80 proof.

Pasote Blanco Tequila – Unaged, silver tequila. The nose is heavily peppered, with notes of citrus and a serious, agave undertone. A blast of lemon and green agave invade the palate straight away, building across a moderately oily palate to what emerges as a bold and herb-heavy finish. That finish is lasting as it sticks to the palate, offering a lingering expression of crisp, clean agave, unadulterated by any significant secondary character. B / $49

Pasote Reposado Tequila – Aged six months in oak. This is quite a tequila, taking that intense agave core as discussed above and filtering it through a very gentle, almost subtle filter of brown sugar and creme brulee. This reposado doesn’t reinvent tequila, but the balance between these two components is phenomenal, deftly threading the needle between sweet and savory spice with amazing aplomb — offering light pepper notes, cinnamon, lemon, and butterscotch, all in impressive balance. Reposado tequila can often turn into a middling middle ground between blanco and anejo, but Pasote’s shows how well-crafted this style can be. A / $59

Pasote Anejo Tequila – This anejo spends 18 months in oak, but it’s still decidedly light in color. This expression drinks a lot like a reposado, just pushed further along to the sweeter end of the spectrum. It’s still a very well-crafted tequila, its herbal characters tamped down and its sweetness dialed up. Here the overall palate takes on notes of marshmallow, vanilla, light caramel, and some cinnamon-scented Mexican chocolate notes. The agave may be dialed back, but it’s still present, kicking around primarily on the nose as well as a spicy reminder that hits well into the finish. It’s deftly handled and still light as a feather, but a worthwhile counterpart to some of the industry’s more overbearing anejos. A- / $69