Category Archives: Rated A

Review: Wines of Baglio di Pianetto, 2014 Releases

9 - Ramione_2009Sicily’s Baglio di Pianetto takes the classic grapes of this fiery island and funnels it through the mystique of a French chateau style of production. That’s what they say anyway. The production at this winery (which also has a resort on the premises) is extensive. Today we look at a selection of six wines — two whites and four reds, including two DOC “reserve” wines. Thoughts on everything follow.

2013 Baglio di Pianetto “BDP” Insolia Sicilia DOC – From the higher-end DOC bottling of Baglio di Pianetto comes this 100% insolia, a lovely white that has a lightly peachy nose, flecked with apricots and oranges. Also look for hints of graham cracker. The body follows suit, showing some of that vanilla you find in the Ficiligno, but drinking really wonderfully on its own. Look for a bit more earthiness up front here than with the aforementioned wine, but with a finish that’s both sweet and tart, and more citrus-driven. Equally enjoyable. A / $NA

2013 Baglio di Pianetto Ficiligno Sicilia IGT – A blend of insolia and viognier. What a fun white this is, lush with white peaches, apricots, lemon, and vanilla. It’s a perfectly dialed-back expression of viognier, that overwhelming fruit showing both restraint and mouth-filling gorgeousness. A / $16

2012 Baglio di Pianetto “BDP” Nero d’Avola Sicilia DOC – Not a particularly refined Nero, a bit weedy, a bit barky, and a bit of old fruit. Dusky and brooding, but lacking the oomph of more powerful Neros. Some fun touches of licorice and vanilla emerge on the nose if you give it time. Fine, but more apropos as a food wine. B / $NA

2011 Baglio di Pianetto Ramione Sicilia IGT – This is a blend of merlot and nero d’avola. Softer than you’d think, with a strongly fruity nose of blackberries, touched with a bit of tobacco and leather. A simple wine, with some mild astringency on the finish. Works well with tomoto-based dishes. B+ / $20

2011 Baglio di Pianetto Shymer Sicilia IGT – A blend of syrah and merlot, which sounds like it will be a whole lot better than it ends up being. There’s almost no body or soul on this wine. It drinks like one of those grape-flavored waters you might buy when Aquafina just doesn’t do it. Has the fruit already raced out of this wine, or was there none to begin with? Not worth bothering with. C- / $20

2007 Baglio di Pianetto Cembali Nero d’Avola IGT – This 100% nero d’avola starts off muted and dull, but fruit emerges with some time in glass. Bright cherry and currant notes are fun for a bit, but they quickly turn toward the raisiny, with balsamic notes and some racy oxidized character coming to the forefront — indicative of this wine’s age. B / $20

bagliodipianetto.com

Review: Domaine Carneros 2012 The Famous Gate Pinot Noir, 2010 Brut Cuvee, and 2007 La Reve

1_90627750_3Today it’s a smorgasbord of wines from our friends at Carneros-based Domaine Carneros. Let’s jump right in.

2012 Domaine Carneros The Famous Gate Pinot Noir Carneros – A gorgeous Pinot, with notes of currants, blueberry, brewed tea, cocoa nibs, and touches of violets. Everything’s firing almost perfectly here — it’s so easy-drinking that it’s hard to put down, but the panoply of flavors in the glass make it an exploratory revelation as well. A / $75

2010 Domaine Carneros Estate Brut Cuvee Carneros – 51% Chardonnay, 49% Pinot Noir. Crisp and fruit-forward, this sparkler has an apple-citrus kick with a touch of vanilla on the back end. One of the easiest-sipping sparkling wines you’re likely to find, with an orchard up front and plenty of homey biscuity notes in the back. A / $29

2007 Domaine Carneros La Reve Blanc de Blancs – 100% Chardonnay. A very fine and subtle edition of La Reve, this on with toasty notes that balance the pears, apples, and lemons that dominate the body. The modest fizziness is restrained but pairs well with fruit that grows and grows as the body builds to a seductive head. Let this one rest for a few more years. A- / $99

domainecarneros.com

Review: Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2014 Edition

buffalo trace 2014 BTAC

 

Buffalo Trace’s Antique Collection needs no introduction, I’m sure — this is one of the most well-respected and sought-after annual whiskey collections on the market. Closely allocated and tough to find, you’re best off starting your hunt now. These releases formally hit the market in late September/early October.

Thoughts on the 2014 lineup follow.

Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old – It’s an open secret that Sazerac 18 has been sitting around in a stainless steel vat for years and doesn’t really change (effects of oxidation notwithstanding), making this less of a special release and more of a limited allocation of a very special spirit. Sazzy 18 rarely fails to disappoint. This year is no exception, with the whiskey showing a woody — yet fresh — nose, cherries jubilee up front on the body, and a finish that takes you to places of marzipan, apple pie, and streudel. Watch for apple cider notes to come along after you think the finish has faded away. 90 proof. A

Eagle Rare 17 Year Old Bourbon – This edition of Eagle Rare 17 is a vatting of whiskeys from the second, third, and sixth floors of Buffalo Trace’s Warehouse I and K. Aged “nearly two decades,” according to the company — so as with last year, it may be a bit older than 17 years. This one’s a smooth operator, not quite the burly old guard that it can sometimes present as. Instead, it’s all silky caramels, bittersweet chocolate, Bing cherry, and graham crackers. Some spicier notes of cloves and allspice develop in the finish. 90 proof. A-

George T. Stagg Bourbon – The one you’ve been waiting for. The bruiser of the bunch. The hottest bourbon that isn’t named Pappy. It’s telling that the Stagg is set apart from the rest of the batch in the photo above, I think. This is a monster of a whiskey. Just look at the depth of color compared to the other whiskeys in that lineup — and remember, there are some 18+ year old whiskeys in there! As always, this is the kind of whiskey that, as grandma used to say, would put herr on yer chest, and at 138.1 proof it’s nearly a return to the heady days of 2012 and prior, when the whiskey regularly hit 70% alcohol. Fear not the water on this one — a selection of barrels from warehouses C, H, I, K, L, P, and Q distilled in 1998 (making it 16 years old). You can douse it 1:1, water to whiskey, and still get plenty of its character. And that would include tobacco, (very) dark chocolate, fresh roasted coffee bean, slate, and pencil lead. A smattering of spices arrive in time for the finish — cinnamon and cloves, the usual stuff — which help to season what is, as always, a dark, mammoth, brooding whiskey. This year, Buffalo Trace has just about nailed it. Stagg is always a tough nut to crack — and my palate tends to prefer more nuanced spirits — but the sheer depth of its flavor has me finding myself drawn more to this release than it has in recent years. A-

William Larue Weller Bourbon – A massive blazer, this is the hottest release of Weller in history. This is a 12 year old bourbon from the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 6th floors of warehouses D, K, and L — basically a mutt from all over the place. An initial rush of smoke starts things off with thoughts of log cabins and a touch of mothball. The palate settles down after adding significant amounts of water, ultimately revealing some plum, chocolate, and coconut — but in the end the wood and smoky qualities take hold, pushing everything else out of mind. 140.2 proof. B

Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye – Last year Jim Murray named the 2013 Handy Rye his #1 whiskey in the world. This created a massive run on Handy, despite the fact that no sane person would ever name this cask strength rye — typically 6 years old, as it is again this year — the best whiskey in the world. 2014’s Handy was aged on the fifth floor of warehouse M and arrives at a fairly typical strength for this spirit. This year’s expression exudes classic rye notes — lots of roasted grain character, chewy scorched cereal notes, some caramel, some baking spice, and a lengthy, campfire finish. Over time, some curious notes come forth — I can describe them only as fresh upholstery. Ample water is a must. I like it fine, but it frankly doesn’t hold a candle to the Sazerac 18 — which will probably be a hell of a lot easier to find thanks to Mr. Murray. 129.2 proof. B+

$80 each / greatbourbon.com

Review: Parker’s Heritage Collection Original Batch Wheat Whiskey 13 Years Old (2014)

Parker's Original Batch Bottle Shot

Last year Heaven Hill released the Parker’s Heritage Collection Promise of Hope, a 10 year old bourbon from which $20 of each bottle were donated to ALS research, a sober nod to Heaven Hill Master Distiller Emeritus Parker Beam, who was diagnosed with the disease two years ago. Promise of Hope ended up raising over $300,000 for ALS research (take that, ice bucket people!).

How do you follow that up? This year, Heaven Hill has decided not to release a Parker’s Heritage Collection bourbon at all.

What? Gotcha: The 2014 Parker’s Heritage Collection release is a Wheat Whiskey, technically not a bourbon at all. For this edition of the highly anticipated PHC, Heaven Hill is going back to basics. The bottles on offer are from the very first run of what would later become Bernheim Original Wheat Whiskey — hence “Original Batch” in this expression — only this bottling is considerably older than Bernheim, at 13 years of age to be exact, aged on the top floors of Heaven Hill’s Rickhouse Y, and bottled at barrel strength. The mash is predominantly winter wheat, plus corn and malted barley to round things out. Oh, and this year, $5 from each bottle sold will go to ALS research.

On to the tasting…

The woody nose, studded with vanilla and gentle baking spices, could herald the beginning of any solid bourbon. As with all of the Parker’s Heritage releases, it’s blazing with alcohol, and it can handle substantial water to bring out its true spirit. With some time, this whiskey’s unique and sophisticated nature becomes clear. Silky caramel and honey notes ooze out of this whiskey. Hints of apple pie, a touch of red pepper, and a little gingerbread — veering into cinnamon roll territory at times — dominate the finish. On the whole it’s a gorgeous, refined, and incredibly drinkable whiskey — and despite its lack of any noticeable popcorn or cereal character, most drinkers will readily assume it’s a well-aged bourbon, even after a couple of glasses. (That’s not a complaint, mind you.)

Sadly I don’t have any stock Bernheim on hand to compare this whiskey to, but it’s clear it carries some of the Bernheim DNA while being at heart quite a different animal. That is also not a complaint. As usual, Heaven Hill has crafted another unexpected and unique whiskey that merits strong attention from both casual whiskey drinkers and collectors alike. Grab it now.

127.4 proof as reviewed (individual bottle proof may vary).

A / $90 / bardstownwhiskeysociety.com

Review: Casa Noble Tequila, 2014 Re-Review

casa noble Bottle_Anejo_2014_final_cut

From time to time we like to revisit spirits we’ve spent time with in the past. Management changes. Production practices change. Formulations change. Climate changes. And stuff varies from bottle to bottle even when none of the above changes. Sometimes our reviews are identical. Sometimes they’re wildly different.

Today we look again at Casa Noble, a venerable ultra-premium tequila line that we last reviewed in 2009. Very little seems to have changed on Casa Noble’s end, and from my perspective, very little has changed too. My ratings are all the same, with one slight (yet watershed) upgrade for the masterful anejo.

You’ll note some slight packaging changes (the reposado bottle is no longer blue but is now clear; the anejo is still in its distinctive purple bottle), but otherwise I expect nothing much has been altered behind the scenes of these three tequilas. (Amazingly, prices seem to have fallen a bit in the last few years!) All are of course 100% agave and all are 80 proof.

New thoughts follow.

Casa Noble Crystal (Blanco) – Pungent on the nose, with deep, deep agave notes, white pepper, and cayenne. The body isn’t nearly the agave bomb you might be expecting. It is both sweet and peppery, but not really vegetal at all. Instead you’ll find notes of tart lemon juice, caramel sauce, and a touch of rhubarb. Very well crafted. Everything a blanco should be. A / $35

Casa Noble Reposado – Spends 364 days in French white oak, making this a very well-aged reposado. The nose has that trademark peppery pungency of the blanco, but with an undercurrent of stone fruit — peaches and apricots — to give it some balance. The body is very fruity, slight tropical notes atop lemon and oranges, plus notes of chocolate peppermints and ample wood-driven vanilla. It doesn’t drink nearly as leathery and “old” as my prior comments indicated, but perhaps that’s just my increased experience with tequila over the last five years talking. Still delightful, either way. A / $45

Casa Noble Anejo – Aged “to perfection” for two years in French white oak. Nicely dark, but not overdone. That peppery agave is still front and center on the nose, with more of a caramel/marshmallow character attempting to overtake it. The body shows that it’s a silky dessert sipper all the way. The palate starts with bittersweet chocolate and graham crackers, then hops to burnt caramel and dark brown sugar notes. The fruit is absent save for a little flamed orange peel, which plays nice with the molten chocolate cake character that bubbles on and on on the finish. A benchmark anejo that mixes a racy attack with a silky sweet finish. A+ / $50

casanoble.com  [BUY THEM NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Del Maguey Iberico Mezcal

del maguey Iberico

Del Maguey’s Pechuga Mezcal is legendary in the mezcal world, and justifiably so. For those not in the know, in Spanish, a pechuga is a poultry breast, commonly a chicken breast. Why would you call your mezcal Pechuga? Because it has a chicken breast in it.

How’s that? Del Maguey mezcel is distilled three times, and during the third distillation of Pechuga, a whole chicken breast (bones and all) is suspended in the air within the still. As the distillation progresses (a 24-hour process), the vapors interact with the chicken meat in a strange and incredibly compelling way. How anyone came up with this idea is beyond me, but the proof is in the bottle — Pechuga is easily my favorite of Del Maguey’s increasingly vast lineup of single village mezcals.

What then is Iberico? If you’re up on your gourmet foodstuffs, you’ll recognize the name Jamon Iberico, a ham made of free-range, acorn-fed, black-footed Ibérico pigs from Spain. Using your deduction skills you’ve probably figured out what Iberico Mezcal is by now: In lieu of a chicken breast, it’s made with an Iberico ham hanging in the still. A collaboration between Cooper and chef Jose Andres, it’s an equally bizarre and decidedly non-kosher approach to spirits production.

So, how’s it taste?

As with all mezcals, the nose is smoky, but here that pungent aroma takes on a curious scent of cigar smoke with fleeting undertones of mint chocolate. The body is beautiful. Racy with notes of cracked black pepper, the spicy body is tempered by a melange of flavors that include orange peel, grapefruit, nougat, and vanilla. That smokiness rushes back up on the finish, along with notes of camphor and incense. Complex with a load of flavors, yet extremely easy to sip on for hours, Iberico is nearly the same masterwork that Pechuga is — even though it doesn’t exactly remind you of Iberico ham at all.

Maybe I just need to enjoy a glass or two alongside some pata negra and see if that makes a difference…

100% agave espadin from Santa Catarina Minas, Oaxaca. 98 proof.

A / $250 / mezcal.com

Review: The Arran Malt 17 Years Old and Arran Sherry Premium Single Cask 1997

Arran 17yr

Isle of Arran-based Arran keeps pumping out special releases, with these two new offerings now hitting the market. Thoughts on both follow.

The Arran Malt 17 Years Old – A limited edition bottling, fully matured in ex-sherry casks, this is the second release in a trilogy of single malts leading up to what will be Arran’s first ever official 18 year old expression. Enchanting from the start, with a nose that offers a rich nougat character and ample aged/burnt orange notes. The body folds together those nicely roasted grains with the sherry core in a beautiful way. At 46% abv it’s a touch on the hot side, and a few scant drops of water really helps to open things up and settle down some of the whisky’s more fiery notes. As the spirit opens up, some nice chocolate notes begin to develop, particularly on the finish, alongside notes of cola, sea salt, and marshmallow. A really fun whisky that I easily recommend. 9,000 bottles produced. 92 proof. A / $95

Arran Premium SherryThe Arran Malt Premium Sherry Cask 1997 – Arran had a version of this whisky from the 1996 vintage, now it’s “back in stock” with another one: Again, it’s a cask-strength single cask release, only this time it’s 17 years old, fully matured in a sherry cask (much like the 17 year old reviewed above). This whisky initially presents a lot like the 17 Year Old, but the extra alcohol pumps up the orange character even further, sending the more cereal characteristics into the background. Pure, tart tangerine and orange oil invades the nose and the tongue, with notes of black pepper, cardamom, incense, and toasted marshmallow coming up behind. This is an interesting foil to the 17 Year, offering a lot of similarities but just enough differences to make for a fun side-by-side comparison. Reviewed: Cask #217 (562 bottles produced from this cask). 106.4 proof. A / $125

arranwhisky.com

Review: The Balvenie Single Barrel Sherry Cask 15 Years Old

balvenie sherry cask single barrel

The latest release from Balvenie is this 15 year old expression which has spent its entire life in former sherry casks. It is also a rare single cask release (Balvenie is the only distillery that has an ongoing single cask release of a single age as a part of its range), so you’ll find variation from bottle to bottle. How much variation? We were lucky enough to try this spirit drawn from two different casks — adjacent ones, in fact. The results might surprise you. Read on.

All bottles are 95.6 proof.

The Balvenie Single Barrel Sherry Cask 15 Years Old Cask #4450 – Great balance on this, with supple notes of cinnamon-raisin oatmeal mixing with vibrant citrus notes. The body amps that up further, lending butterscotch and flamed orange peel notes to an already rich and vibrant whisky. This whisky is firing on all cylinders, and as it continues to open up it starts to show gentle smoke notes, a touch of iodine, and a return of roasted grain character (think really good pretzels). The sherry’s what sticks with you the most, however, hanging on for an epic finish. A

The Balvenie Single Barrel Sherry Cask 15 Years Old Cask #4451 – A surprising degree of grain character here, infused with nougat and bitter orange peel. This doesn’t feel like a whisky that’s spent a full 15 years in sherry casks, the wood having more of an impact than you’d expect. The finish is drying, with emerging notes of seaweed and iodine, hemp twine and dusky roots. Interesting but flat, a whisky where the fruit is pulled back a bit too far for a whisky that wears its sherry cask heritage on its sleeve. B

$100 / thebalvenie.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Vizcaya VXOP Cask No. 21 Cuban Formula Rum

vizcaya 21

Don’t get too excited: Vizcaya’s “Cuban Formula” rum is actually made in the Dominican Republic. Don’t let that disappoint you, though; this is a masterfully produced rum that’s brimming with flavor and sophistication.

There’s not a lot of production information about this rum to share. For starters, the “21” on the label is a bit misleading. There’s certainly no actual cask #21 from which this rum is drawn — unless it’s a cask that holds hundreds of thousands of gallons of spirit and is constantly being refilled. The number is there to trick you into thinking it’s a 21 year old product, even though the label doesn’t say anything of the sort. In fact, Vizcaya doesn’t say much at all about its rums except that they’re made from sugar cane and aged in oak barrels, both of which are obvious.

None of that actually matters, though. As noted above, Vizcaya Cask 21 is actually an amazing product that I’m happy to recommend.

The nose is bursting with classic aged rum notes: vanilla, butterscotch, and plenty of cinnamon. The body follows suit perfectly. The rum is almost candylike but its sweetness is tempered with baking spices, smoldering oak notes, and just a hint of fire on the back end. Over time some tertiary notes emerge, including caramel apple, toasted marshmallow, and almond brittle. The finish isn’t particularly long, but there’s so much flavor on the palate that it doesn’t entirely matter. This rum drinks beautifully, and at $40 a bottle, it’s almost an absurd value.

80 proof.

A / $40 / vizcayarum.com

Review: Bluewater Distilling Organic Vodka and Halcyon Gin

bluewater halcyon ginBluewater Distilling in Everett, Washington makes a variety of spirits (including an aquavit!), but it’s best known for two major staples, a gin and a vodka, both organically produced and crafted in a classic copper pot still — not a column still, which is by far the norm for most vodkas and gins.

Thoughts on both of these spirits follow.

Bluewater Organic Vodka – Pot-distilled from organic wheat. Immediately enticing. Classic, old-world nose, with rich light medicinal character and undertones of old wood and wet earth. This intriguing aroma leads you into an even more engaging palate. The body is surprisingly mild and easygoing, yet it’s quite punchy with flavor. It kicks off with notes of toffee and butterscotch, then develops fruit and acidity as it builds on the tongue. Within a few seconds, it’s pummeling the palate with lemongrass and grapefruit, black pepper, and some pine tree/cedar notes. The finish is both silky and sharp, but lacking in the expected astringency. One of those vodkas that’s easy to sip on at length, even at room temperature. 80 proof. A / $27

Bluewater Halcyon Organic Distilled Gin – Note that the “Bluewater” is very small on the bottle here. You’ll most likely find it listed under “Halcyon” instead. The wheat-based distillate on this London Gin style gin is crafted with a classic 24-hour infusion of juniper, orange, lemon, coriander, angelica root, orris root, licorice root, and cassia bark. The intense nose features lots of fruit, modest juniper, and some spongy, earthy notes driven by a few of the root-based ingredients. Unlike with the vodka, there are few surprises on the palate here. Lemon and orange remain strong, and the juniper is a bit more present on the tongue than the initial nosing would indicate. All in all it is stylistically on par with many a UK-crafted gin and a versatile spirit that works in all kinds of classic cocktails. 92 proof. A- / $30

bluewaterdistilling.com