Tasting Report: Wines of Raymond Vineyards

I’d visited Raymond Vineyards many years ago and thought I knew all about this winery. But that was before the French bon vivant Jean-Charles Boisset purchased the place and turned it into a little slice of Vegas in otherwise sleepy Napa Valley.

If you’ve never been to Raymond, it’s time to take a visit — if only to see what the future of wine country is. And that future involves techno music, glitter paint, and mannequins suspended between fermentation tanks. The days of tasting atop a barrel in a barn with a dog are slowly coming to an end.

The photos below speak louder than anything I could write. I will, however, try to delight you with some tasting notes from my time spent wandering through this surrealistic space.

2012 Raymond District Collection Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford – Lush and drinking beautifully; loaded with rich blackberry notes. A- / $85

2012 Raymond Generations – 97% cabernet sauvignon, 3% petit verdot; gentle herbs and lush fruit are beautiful in tandem; cherries and blueberries galore; wonderful length on the finish. A / $125

1986 Raymond Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon – Beautiful truffle/mushroom notes, leathery but alive; still showing acidity, bright berries and cherries. A / $250

And some barrel samples for wines that are probably 6 to 12 months away from release. All are 100% cabernet samples from a single appellation. These notes and ratings are tentative.

2014 Raymond Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford – Super chocolatey, cassis, and vanilla. A sweeter side of new wood is showcased here. A-

2014 Raymond Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville – Ample tannin masks heavy herbs and a monstrous finish. For blending only, I’m sure. A-

2014 Raymond Cabernet Sauvignon St. Helena – The weak link in the trio, an over-ripened, flabby wine with dried herb notes. B

raymondvineyards.com

Review: The Cally 40 Years Old Single Grain Limited Edition 2015

The Cally 40

Not every release in the 2015 Diageo Special Releases is a single malt — this one’s a single grain whisky.

The Cally was made at the Caledonian Distillery in Edinburgh, which was shuttered in 1988. The nickname stuck around, though, and Diageo kept a few barrels on hand to see how well single grain whisky could age into its fourth decade. Distilled in 1974, this is the oldest expression of The Cally ever released and reportedly only the second time Diageo has included a single grain release in the Special Release collection.

Immediately exotic, the nose mixes camphor with intense butterscotch sweetness and vague floral notes — a curious hint of things to come. The body is as powerful as the build-up hints at. The attack is all butterscotch — super-saturated with Demerara sugar — spiked with cinnamon and cloves. The medicinal and austere camphor notes build as that initial sugar rush fades, the whisky taking on a pungent character as it builds to a fiery finish. Here the fruitier elements of the whisky come to the fore — baked (burnt?) apples and nectarines — along with some gentle rosemary and thyme notes. A scent of nutmeg closes the door as The Cally 40 fades away — undoubtedly the best and most unusual single grain whisky I’ve ever experienced.

106.6 proof. 700 bottles released in the U.S.

A / $1200 / malts.com

Review: Indi Distilled Botanical Mixers – Tonic, Lemon Tonic, and Seville Orange

indi

Made in Puerto de la Santa Maria, Spain, Indi lays claim to being the world’s first line of distilled botanical mixers. Made with 100 percent natural ingredients, with no artificial colorings or preservatives — including real quinine bark and local herbs, lemons, and oranges — Indi’s sodas and tonics are clearly labors of love. To produce the mixers, Indi macerates its raw botanicals separately for four weeks, resulting in dense concentrates. These are blended, then distilled, and finally blended with water, sugar, and/or fruit juice depending on the final product being made.

The company currently makes seven different products, most of which are packaged in single-serving bottles and sold in four-packs. We got three of the company’s offerings to check out. Thoughts follow.

Indi Distilled Botanical Mixers Tonic Water – Tons of citrus here to balance out the not insignificant quinine bitterness, leaving behind a crisp orange peel to chew on alongside a very lengthy, astringent finish. It’s in-your-face and bitter as hell — but tempered with a touch of fruit — just about a perfect example of what tonic water should taste like. Excellent with both vodka and gin. A

Indi Distilled Botanical Mixers Lemon Tonic – Ultra-citrusy from the get-go; the aroma is akin to Mountain Dew, with both lemon and juicy lime notes hitting the nose. The body offers again a more indistinct lemon-lime character and it’s significantly sweeter than the straight tonic water. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does put a much different spin on your cocktail. The finish does veer awfully close to a standard lemon-lime soda, though. Considerably better with vodka than gin. A-

Indi Distilled Botanical Mixers Seville Orange – Classic orange soda, but light years ahead of Orange Crush. The flavor of freshly juiced orange is intense and authentic, lightly sweet and full of classic citrus notes. Easily gulpable with modest carbonation and a nicely sweet, almost floral finish, it’s a top-shelf orange soda in a world where I didn’t think such a thing existed. Best on its own rather than as a mixer, actually. A

each $10 per four-pack of 200ml bottles / indidrinks.com

Review: Wines of Sokol Blosser, 2016 Releases

sokol blosser

Oregon’s Sokol Blosser is out with a panoply of new releases, ranging from sparkling stuff to single-block pinot noir.

Let’s taste the lot.

NV Sokol Blosser Evolution Sparkling Wine – An everyday brut sparkler made from grapes unknown, but which goes down without a fight. Notes of nuts and brioche on the nose lead to a very fruit-forward body, loaded with fizzy apple, apricot, and white grape notes. Party wine. B+ / $20

2014 Sokol Blosser Pinot Gris Willamette Valley – Stellar pinot gris, with tropical notes on the nose and melon on the body. They come together with bright acidity, modest sweetness, and a bit of exotic baking spice on the back end. Quaffable by the glassful, but also thought-provoking on its merits. A / $18

2013 Sokol Blosser Pinot Noir Estate Dundee Hills – Not my favorite release from Sokol Blosser, a meaty and somewhat astringent expression that offers dusky notes of Vienna sausages, old cloves, spent wood, and brambly thickets. The fruit is stamped down, almost into oblivion, which is not the usual way Sokol Blosser’s pinot behaves. C+ / $30

2012 Sokol Blosser Pinot Noir Estate Dundee Hills Goosepen Block – A single-block designate of Sokol Blosser’s estate pinot, only 300 cases made. (Note that this is a prior vintage, too.) Here we see Sokol Blosser firing on all cylinders. The nose offers chocolate, raspberry jam, and tea leaf. On the palate, light notes of grilled meats segue into notes of darker fruits, more milk chocolate, and a lightly bittersweet finish. Quite a departure from the previous wine, and a massive upgrade. A- / $65

sokolblosser.com

Review: Angostura White Oak, 5 Years Old, 7 Years Old, 1919, and 1824 Rums

ango

 

While best known for its ubiquitous aromatic bitters, Angostura is a major rum distillery, and it’s been producing spirits in Trinidad & Tobago since 1824.

We tasted five rums spanning a wide range of production from the company. All are 80 proof, with comments on each below. Enjoy!

Angostura White Oak Rum – You’ll find “Angostura Limited” in small type underneath the much larger White Oak banner. This white rum (barrel aged and filtered to white, though no age information is offered) is the number one selling rum in its homeland of Trinidad, and it’s easy to see why. Fresh citrus is prominent on the nose, with crisp lime notes. The palate lacks the raw character that so many white rums exhibit, hitting the tongue with spice and some gentle notes of canned peaches in syrup. The finish is lackluster, flabby, with notes of acetone — but what white rum is a dazzler, anyway? Not widely exported to the U.S., but bottles do show up from time to time. B+ / $15

Angostura Caribbean Rum 5 Years Old – A gold rum with five years of age on it. Caramel and cinnamon on the nose give this a bit of a cinnamon roll character, though the buttery body brings the spice on more strongly — think red hot candies instead of cinnamon toast. The finish is heavier with clove character and lengthy brown butter, but recalls a bit of youthful petrol character as it fades out. All told, it’s a solid though youngish bottling. B+ / $18

Angostura Caribbean Rum 7 Years Old – Though only two years older, this rum is significantly darker in the glass and richer on the nose — with notes of coffee, dense vanilla, and chocolate right up front. These sweet notes lead to a nutty, toffee character as the finish builds, taking you to a big and bold conclusion that offers hints of baking spice while it lingers for quite a while. An impressive sipper, it’s a bold spirit that showcases all the best characteristics of rum at this age level. A / $20

Angostura Caribbean Rum 1919 – This golden-hued rum offers no aging information but it makes up for that with a hugely spicy profile. If you’re a fan of spiced rum, Angostura 1919 will be right up your alley. Toasted coconut, huge vanilla notes, dark brown sugar, cinnamon, and allspice are all present and accounted for — and in a stronger show of force than your typical aged rum. Everything in 1919 seems pumped up to 11, with that unctuous butteriness just oozing on the finish. All told it’s an impressive rum — provided its stylistic flourishes are what you’re looking for. A- / $30

Angostura Caribbean Rum 1824 12 Years Old – A blend of clearly well-aged rums, though unlike the 1919, this one offers an age statement on the bottle. As with the 7 year old, notes of coffee and chocolate are immediately present on the nose, with spicy tobacco notes underneath. The body is intense with those coffee notes, rounded out with roasted nuts, vanilla, and sweet milk chocolate. A classic, well-aged rum, the lengthy finish makes for a perfect late-night sipper, but it works just as well as the key ingredient to spike your favorite rum punch. A / $60  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

angosturarum.com

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