Review: Truly Spiked & Sparkling Water

truly

Well folks, we’re at peak, er… peak something. How do I know? Because in this world of alcohol-spiked oddities including Mexican frescas, whipped cream, and sports drinks, now we have the ultimate in ready-to-drink concoctions: spiked water.

Truly is — much to my surprise — not a malt beverage, but rather gets its alcohol from a cane sugar distillate. Low in calories (100) and sugar (1 gram), these are designed for the “club soda with a twist” set… but who decide they want a splash of the hard stuff in there after all. Four flavors are available, in both bottles and cans.

We tasted a trio of offerings from the available mixed pack. Thoughts follow.

Truly Spiked & Sparkling Colima Lime – A dirty G&T, very fizzy with a bit of lime zest that hits the palate. Surprisingly refreshing, with almost no discernable alcohol character to it. If I was going to drink a “hard seltzer,” this is probably what I’d choose. B+

Truly Spiked & Sparkling Pomegranate – On the nose this has that immediately evident strawberry-sweet berry note, which follows through as a vague candylike character on the palate. This is short-lived, however, eventually giving way to a similarly neutral, ultra-fizzy finish. B-

Truly Spiked & Sparkling Grapefruit & Pomelo – By far the most fragrant of the bunch, with a big floral nose that doesn’t immediately say grapefruit but which eventually kinda-sorta resembles it. The body is more flavorful than the above as well, though it comes across with a sweet-and-sour kind of note that ultimately feels somewhat off-putting. C

$8 per case of 12 oz. cans or bottles / trulyspikedsparkling.com

Review: Wines of JaM Cellars, 2016 Releases

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This new brand of supermarket-friendly wines comes from John Anthony and Michele Truchard — and together they are JaM Cellars. If that isn’t catchy enough, the names of the wines — Toast, Butter, and Jam — and black-plus-one-primary-color labeling are likely to stick with you.

JaM may wear its obviousness on its sleeve — or, on its label at least — but let’s see how it does on the palate.

NV JaM Cellars Toast California Sparkling Brut – Extremely dry, its fruit takes its sweet time to make an appearance, eventually coming forward with simple notes of apple, lightly browned butter and sage, and — indeed — notes of toasted bread. The finish is simple and short, nearly devoid of the sweetness I expected to find despite the Brut indication on the label. A credible, yet very simple, California sparkler. B / $25

2015 JaM Cellars Butter Chardonnay California – Buttery, yes, but more restrained than you’d think. Simple fruit and brown butter is spiked with notes of allspice, plus a touch of grapefruit peel. The finish is a bit chewy, with some unfortunate green bean character on the back end. Fair enough for a Tuesday evening, though. B- / $16

2014 JaM Cellars Jam Cabernet Sauvignon California – Again the name doesn’t lie. Completely overblown with chocolate syrup, overripe plums, and juice currants, this sugar bomb hits the palate with a vengeance and never lets go. Frankly I couldn’t get through half a glass… but what are you expecting, anyway? D- / $20

jamcellars.com

Review: Courvoisier VS, VSOP, and XO Cognac

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Courvoisier is revamping the packaging of its VS, VSOP, and XO expressions, with the VSOP getting the biggest switch, moving from its old, iconic, and unwieldy bottle design (called the Josephine) to a more stylish, modern look (see above). Changes to the VS and XO aren’t as extreme. We took the opportunity to review all of the above in their latest incarnations. Thoughts follow.

 

All are 80 proof.

Courvoisier VS Cognac – Aged from three to seven years old. A fairly garden variety Cognac, this VS is a showcase of caramel and vanilla, with just a hint of apple and raisin fruit bubbling up toward the back end. Easy to enjoy, but difficult to truly love, it’s fine for a sidecar but just doesn’t have enough going on to merit serious attention. The finish sees some more raw, ethyl alcohol notes pushing through, as well. B- / $31

Courvoisier VSOP Cognac – No specific aging information supplied, but reportedly under 10 years old. Bolder and a bit tannic, it’s a little rough at first, but eventually it settles into a groove that showcases raisins, chocolate, caramel sauce, and heavy baking spices — maybe a bit too much, as the cloves tend to dominate before the raisiny finish makes a reprise. More exciting than the VS, but still a bit unbalanced. B / $41

Courvoisier XO Cognac – From eaux de vie 11 to 25 years old. On the nose, it’s immediately heavy on almond/marzipan notes, then dried fruits, baking spice, and toasty wood. On the palate, it’s immediately sweet with slightly winey notes, with cherry overtones — bold, but far from overwhelming, and not incredibly complex. A little menthol creeps in on the finish, along with a touch of pepper plus some vaguely soapy notes. All told it’s a perfectly credible cognac, though it doesn’t drink as particularly old or austere. I think it might be the only XO I’ve tried that I’d have no qualms about using to mix a Sidecar. B+ / $125

courvoisier.com

Tasting Riesling Two Ways: 2014 Blue Fish vs. 2015 Relax

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Riesling gets a bad rap, because many drinkers associate it only with sticky-sweet wines that are suitable only for the dessert course or the cheese plate. Remember: Riesling comes in all shapes and sizes, from tooth-strippingly sweet to nearly bone dry. The two German rieslings we review below are both closer to the center of the spectrum, but both do a good job of showcasing the two faces of riesling that you’re likely to encounter today.

2014 Blue Fish Riesling Pfalz – This is on the border between dry and medium dry, a crisp and refreshing riesling that offers just the lightest hint of tropical fruit, plus a touch of lemon curd, particularly evident on the rather acidic finish. Aside from some light touches of herbs and a squeeze of tangerine, it’s a straightforward but wholly approachable wine. B+ / $10

2015 Relax Riesling Mosel – Semi-sweet, but not unpalatably so, with notes of lemon, pineapple, and fresh honey syrup. The sweetness builds on the finish, but a modest acidity helps to temper the finale, at least to a degree. Overall, it manages to be quite fresh, though squarely focused on the sweet experience. B- / $10

Review: Tequila Siete Leguas (2016)

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Tequila Siete Leguas — then billed as 7 Leguas, before a label change — was an early review on Drinkhacker way back in 2008. I’ve felt odd about it for a long while, because Siete Leguas seems to be so beloved in bars, and it regularly appears on top shelf pour lists among the tequilarati. My original comments on the anejo were quite positive, but I rated the blanco and reposado expressions as lackluster. Was I naive? It’s been eight years and much in tequiladom has changed. Let’s take a fresh look at Siete Leguas — established in 1952, harvested in the Highlands, and named for Pancho Villa’s horse — and see how it fares today.

All three are 80 proof.

Tequila Siete Leguas Blanco – Surprisingly thin. I could never really embrace this blanco, which starts off slow, with a simplistic, agave-forward but decidedly flat nose, and doesn’t go very far from there. On the palate, the tequila lacks any real bite or peppery notes, offering the essence of green beans and bell peppers instead. The pure vegetal notes feel like they’re trying to burst forward, the way an unripe fruit holds promise, but they’re kept in check and dialed much too far back. My original comments now seem overly optimistic. B- / $40

Tequila Siete Leguas Reposado – (Still) aged 8 month in white oak barrels. There’s a surprising amount of red pepper on this one, giving some much-needed spice and punch to a tequila that is, in its silver version, quite dull around the edges. Black pepper creeps in on the nose, along with a healthy punch of vanilla. That vanilla also adds sweetness to the body, but the vegetal core still manages to push through those added flavors. There’s more of a sense of balance (and intrigue) in this expression, but it’s still got a ways to go. B+ / $45

Tequila Siete Leguas Anejo – 24 months of age on this one. For my money, this is the essential expression of Siete Leguas, which takes those youthful agave notes, spicy pepper, and supple vanilla, and whips them all into a cohesive and engaging whole. There are hints of toasted marshmallow, flamed orange peel, some golden raisins, and fresh cigars. These flavors congeal impressively into a bold but approachable body with a lengthy and lightly peppery (and slightly minty) finish. It’s also a solid value for an anejo of this caliber. A- / $50

tequilasieteleguas.com

Review: 2011 Marina Cvetic Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC

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A companion red to Cvetic’s Abruzzo-based white, this is a 100% Montepulciano d’Abruzzo from the same region. It’s a big, burly wine with powerful balsamic notes up front, leading quickly to an astringent, almost sour finish. Notes of sour cherry, strong tea, licorice, and bitters give the wine some depth, and some soul, but on the whole this wine is already fading and showcases a serious need to be paired with an appropriate type of food to find some level of balance. Tasted twice; first bottle was corked.

B- / $19 / masciarelliwine.com

Review: Beers of Riegele, 2016 Releases

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Who is Riegele? Riegele is a 630 year old, family owned Bavarian brewery located in Augsburg, Germany which won the 2016 German Craft Beer of the Year, 2015 German Craft Brewery of the Year, World Beer Cup, and many other awards. Now imported into the U.S., Riegele is probably best known for collaborating with Sierra Nevada on its Oktoberfest release last year.

The brews below are all imports direct from Bavaria. Thoughts follow. Prices are all estimates.

Commerzienrat Riegele Privat – A biscuity, malty Dortmunder style beer, Privat drinks clean and refreshing, a stellar example of bready German lager at its best. There’s just a hint of tropical fruit here to lift up the malt, a brisk, moderate body, and a simple finish that keeps the focus squarely on the grain. Lightly creamy at times but otherwise uncomplicated. 5.2% abv. B+ / $2 (11.2 oz)

Riegele Speziator Doppelbock Hell – This Helles Bock offers a super-fruity attack that reminds one of caramel apples and syrupy, liquid malt extract. Long and sweet on the finish, it adds in notes of honey and more of that overripe fruit character. Seems innocuous, not at all like it’s… 8.5% abv. B- / $7 (50cl)

Riegele’s Augustus Weizendoppelbock – A heavy-duty doppelbock, this is my least favorite of the bunch. All the elements of the Hell are plumped up here, along with an extremely malty backbone that ventures into notes of toasted bread and wet twine. The lack of any discernible bitterness gives this both a heaviness and long-simmering, overblown sweetness that keeps this from finding true balance. 8% abv. C+ / $5 (50cl)

riegele.de

Review: Slow Hand Six Woods Malt Whiskey

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The Greenbar Collective in Los Angeles is home to Slow Hand, a white whiskey and this, an aged whiskey made of 100% malted barley. The company calls it “a new kind of whiskey that… has never been tasted before,” and the production description doesn’t falter on that front. Says Greenbar: “After fermenting and distilling a 100% malt mash, we age this whiskey to taste in 1,000 and 2,000 gallon French oak vats with house-toasted cubes of hickory, mulberry, red oak, hard maple, and grape woods.”

For how long? “Between 10 minutes and when it tastes good,” per the label. Oh, and it’s organic.

So, hickory cube whiskey, anyone?

It is, to be sure, an unusual spirit. The nose is heavily smoky, intense not just with traditional young oak notes but also notes of forest floor, charcoal, menthol, dark chocolate, and balsamic. It’s quite overwhelming at first, but as the initially overbearing wood aromas start to settle down, some of the more unusual secondary notes really start to gain steam — and add intrigue.

The palate is also very wood-forward at first, but this too can be tempered by time and air to showcase notes of butterscotch, Madeira wine, and coconut. Sure, it’s all filtered through the lens of intense wood influence, but these curiosities — plus a coffee-dusted finish — add some nuance. I’m considerably less thrilled about the appearance of the whiskey over time, which turns cloudy in the glass and leaves significant deposits — much more than a typical brown spirit. So… drink up fast before it settles out.

84 proof.

B- / $45 / greenbar.biz

Review: Attems 2015 Pinot Grigio and 2014 Pinot Grigio Ramato

 

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Two wines from Attems, located in the Venezia region of Italy. Both in fact are made from the same grape — pinot grigio — but one is made in the traditional dry white style, the other as a ramato, or orange style.

Let’s taste both.

2015 Attems Pinot Grigio – Surprisingly buttery, to the point where this comes across like a baby chardonnay. Floral notes emerge over a time, but oaky vanilla lingers on the finish, coating the palate. B- / $15

2014 Attems Pinot Grigio Ramato – Orange wine is essentially a white wine made in the style of red, with the skins. Here it’s used to create a curious combo, fresh and fruity and amply acidic up front, then stepping into herbal territory, with notes of rosemary, thyme, and sage. These characteristics become particularly pronounced as the wine warms up, leading to a rather intense and dusky finish. A- / $19

attems.it

Tasting the Wines of Amalaya and Colome, 2016 Releases

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Amalaya and Colome are both based in Salta, Argentina — and both are owned by California’s Hess Family Wines. Today we look at two wines from each, a torrontes and a malbec, all delightfully different despite being neighbors, both geographically and business-wise.

2015 Amalaya Torrontes/Riesling Salta – 85% torrontes and 15% riesling. The riesling is a huge help here, and a big influence on the wine, giving it both tightly perfumed aromatics and some apricot/peach notes reminiscent of viognier. The flatter torrontes benefits from this, lifting it up into a more festive, zippy wine. B+ / $10

2015 Amalaya Malbec Salta – A blend of 85% malbec, 10% tannat, and 5% syrah. It’s a very dry wine, dusty at times before exhibiting notes of tree bark, chicory, and licorice overlaying its lightly balsamic, blackberry core. Modest body, but the finish is quite drying, slightly pruny, and a little thin. B / $12

2015 Colome Torrontes – Quite lemony, with a pinch of rosemary in the mix. The finish diverges toward a more heavily herbal character, including notes of juniper, though its acidity is high enough to at least keep this in check to some degree. B- / $12

2013 Colome Malbec Estate – What a breath of fresh air this wine is. Malbec can be so overwhelming, but Colome’s expression is full of fruit but tempered with a sprinkle of licorice, savory herbs, cloves, and graphite. Some mushroom evolves on the nose; give it time and some lively floral notes emerge, too. The finish is dry and a bit leathery, which actually makes for a balanced and engaging experience. A lovely and unexpectedly special wine — one to stock up on. A / $20

amalaya.com
bodegacolome.com

Review: Jameson The Cooper’s Croze Irish Whiskey

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Wood is important in whiskey, and that’s why with this new expression, Jameson is highlighting the power of wood by turning its Head Cooper, Ger Buckley, loose in the warehouse. The goal, “to showcase the diversity of barrels at our Midleton distillery and the profound influence that wood yields. With knowledge passed down through 5 generations of his family, Ger selects, repairs, and maintains our treasured casks.” The croze (rhymes with rose), by the way, is the tool used to make the groove where the head of the barrel is positioned in order to seal it.

For this release, Buckley has collected a variety of whiskies aged in virgin American oak, seasoned bourbon, and Iberian (Spanish) sherry barrels. There’s no age statement or any other production information, but that wood treatment is wild enough on its own.

This is a drier expression of Irish, one of the least fruit- and sweetness-forward that I’ve encountered in recent memory. The nose gives up just a little — hazelnuts, dried thyme, and barrel char. A touch of sherry after some air gets to it. On the palate, there’s more of that roasted nut character, scorching notes of toasted wood staves, and some emerging vanilla at last as the woodier notes begin to fade. The sweetness remains elusive, and even the finish is drying, with notes of red pepper and cloves, and more dried savory herbal notes that tend to linger for far too long.

Even though the wood program is, to say the least, unique with this whiskey, I was expecting at least lip-service to traditional Irish in The Cooper’s Croze. What I got was something entirely different. The character is more like a young American whiskey, malt-heavy, with a heavy, heavy kick of new oak, rather unlike anything from the Emerald Isle. That wild departure may be a good thing, depending on your point of view, but for me, the heavy influence of barrel char was a real turnoff, and my suspicion is that the rest of you out there will have a similar experience.

86 proof.

B- / $60 / jamesonwhiskey.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Smirnoff Ice Electric Mandarin and Berry

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Leave it to Smirnoff to invent a whole new category of booze. As it did with Smirnoff Ice, now the company as it it again with Smirnoff Ice Electric. Available at first in two flavors, Ice Electric is a non-carbonated beverage that comes in a resealable, 16-ounce plastic bottle. It looks like a Gatorade because it’s supposed to look like one, the idea being that you get hydration and a little buzz in a package that you can still take to the beach and sip on from time to time. The alcohol inside is non-carbonated malt liquor, which shouldn’t come as a surprise.

As with a real Gatorade, these are beverages better identified by color rather than ingredient, designed not to dazzle an audience but to liven up outdoor festivities. Do people care whether or not their fruity malt beverages are fizzy? I’m not sure… but I’m willing to at least give Ice Electric a try.

Both are 5% abv.

Smirnoff Ice Electric Mandarin – Tastes largely as expected, like orange Kool-Aid with a slightly bitter edge from the alcohol. Only semi-sweet, it is fortunately restrained on the sugar front, letting a lemon-lime character take hold on the finish. B-

Smirnoff Ice Electric Berry – The “blue” flavor. A general raspberry/strawberry mix, slightly sweeter but more artificial tasting than the Mandarin, and a bit funkier on the finish. It’s not really offensive, but like the Mandarin, not entirely memorable, either. C-

each $8 per 15.9 oz. bottle / smirnoff.com