Category Archives: Rated B-

Review: Alibi American Whiskey

alibi 120x300 Review: Alibi American WhiskeyHere’s something you don’t see much of any more: blended whiskey. This isn’t bourbon, or artisanal rye, or anything micro. It’s a budget whiskey, blended from who knows what (including, in this case, both aged corn whiskey and neutral grain spirit) and bottled on the cheap.

There’s no standing on ceremony here. If you like very sweet, uncomplicated whiskey, Alibi does the trick. The nose doesn’t have too much to say, just brown sugar, and maybe a bit of wood. On the tongue, the sweetness doesn’t work too hard to keep itself under wraps. Here it’s not so much a brown sugar character as it is a big butterscotch and Bit O Honey experience. That sweetness goes a long way toward masking the alcohol — which is often the idea with blended whiskeys — leaving behind a finish that is mostly sweet tea, some marshmallow, and a little bit of grain on the back end.

I expect this isn’t the kind of whiskey that most Drinkhacker readers are typically interested in, but for what it aspires to be (an affordable mixer), it manages to get the job done reasonably well.

90 proof.

B- / $24 / alibiwhiskey.com

Review: Winemaker Judit Llop’s New Wines from Priorat and Monsant

mas de subira 79x300 Review: Winemaker Judit Llops New Wines from Priorat and MonsantOne of the new guard winemakers of Spain, Judit Llop is in charge of a variety of wines from the Priorat and Monsant region, both in the northeasternmost region of Spain. I didn’t get to meet Llop on her most recent visit here, but she was kind enough to send along her newest wines, which includes two new labels: Mas de Subirà from Priorat and Garbó from Montsant.

Thoughts follow.

2012 Garbó Rosat Montsant – The first Priorat rose I’ve ever had, this is a racy rose with a lot going on. It starts with big strawberry notes, then quickly segues into floral character. A few vegetal notes on the back end mar an otherwise racy little wine. B / $16

2009 Morlanda Crianca Priorat – Fragrant and floral, with modest fruit notes. This is a wine that’s all about balance, a well structured sipper with a complex mess of flavors that work really well together. After the more flowery notes fade, I get light balsamic vinegar notes, fresh cedar, rosemary, all wrapped around a plum and cherry core. Really lovely wine. 60% Garnacha, 30% Cariñena, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. A- / $44

2010 Mas de Subira Priorat – Initially a little off-putting, overwhelming with violet, seaweed, and roasted meat notes. Things settle down a bit with time, but not much. The rough-hewn, charcoal-infused body is no match for some delicate floral notes that come across, almost, on the back end, but which are drowned out by licorice and wood notes. B- / $22

2011 Garbó Negre Montsant – Fresh, plenty of bright cherry fruit on this wine, fresh but not overpowering thanks to plenty of acidity up front. Not a terrible amount of nuance — some floral notes — but difficult not to enjoy. 50% Syrah, 30% Tempranillo, 20% Merlot. B+ / $18

heredadcollection.com

Review: Skyy Infusions Moscato Vodka

SKYY INFUSIONS MOSCATO GRAPE Hi Res 74x300 Review: Skyy Infusions Moscato VodkaDriven by the club crowd, Moscato is the hottest wine grape on the planet, with sales of Moscato wine up 73% in 2012. Naturally, now it’s making its way into other products in the industry, and perhaps the splashiest arrival is in Skyy’s new Moscato-flavored vodka.

As a flavoring agent goes, Moscato’s a pretty easy one: Just squeeze some grape juice into the vodka and you should be good to go.

Sure enough, Skyy Moscato comes across like the real deal. The nose is tropical and ultra-fruity, a cross between pineapple and tangerine in character. On the tongue, more of the same. Here the vodka character is more pronounced, with a somewhat tough back-end that’s common in flavored vodkas, a kind of rough, charcoal-like character. It’s not unpleasant, but it’s not like drinking a glass of Moscato, either.

As flavored vodkas go, Skyy Moscato is a serviceable product but also one that could do double duty in cocktail recipes that call for orange-flavored or pineapple-flavored vodka (or any number of other citrus vodkas, too, now that I think of it). Hard to tell if this is going to be a hit with the club crowd — as sweet as it is, it’s nowhere near as sweet as actual Moscato is — but kudos to Skyy for hopping on a trend whole hog like this.

70 proof.

B- / $18 / skyy.com

Review: 2010 Pina Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons

pina napa valley 142x300 Review: 2010 Pina Napa Valley Cabernet SauvignonsWe’ve long been fans of Pina, one of Napa’s undersung wineries. This year, the winery has again provided a solid slate of four single-vineyard Cabernets for our tasting pleasure. While the 2010 crop initially appears uneven (at least at this point), you will find some tasty gems in store for you.

2010 Pina Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley D’Adamo Vineyard – A very mild wine for Pina. Some tobacco on the nose, slightly green on the body. Light body. Clear Cabernet character in the form of strong blackcurrant, but not enough power to back it up. B / $75

2010 Pina Cabernet Sauvignon Yountville Wolff Vineyard – Big wood on this, pencil shavings and coal dust on the nose. Restrained fruit and some greenery follow. Again, a lighter body, though more tart and less jammy than the D’Adamo bottling. B+ / $85

2010 Pina Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain Buckeye Vineyard – A bit sweaty on the nose. As you drink it reveals very tough, almost unripe plums, green pepper, and heavy tobacco on the finish. Never really comes together. B- / $85

2010 Pina Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford Firehouse Vineyard – Easily the big hit in this collection, a huge and plum-filled Cabernet that brings it all home. Wood is modest, the currants of ripe, and the silky tannins mingle with light chocolate notes on the finish to really build to a powerful finale. Total redemption for some wines that otherwise don’t quite get there this vintage. This was a barrel tasting highlight a few years ago… Pina knew it already! A / $85

pinanapavalley.com

Review: Whiskeys of Fog’s End Distillery

Fogs End White Dog 300 2 128x300 Review: Whiskeys of Fogs End DistilleryDown in Gonzales, California — where, based on my travels, there’s plenty of fog — Fog’s End Distillery makes unique craft whiskeys, of a sort. These are all made, as the company’s owner Craig Pakish explains, with the “no cook, sour mash” method. But there’s a twist: While corn and rye are both used in various products, all of Fog’s End’s whiskeys include sugar in the mash. In fact, all of these spirits are half sugar, half grain.

What does that make these products? To its credit, Fog’s End does not call any of them “whiskey,” but I’m at a loss as to how to describe them as well. Only one of the products is aged. Most of them are straight off the still.

Anyway, arguments over semantics and monikers aside, here’s what you’ll find if you crack into one of Fog’s End’s inimitable spirits.

Fog’s End Distillery California MoonShine – “Made right on the left coast,” this 50% corn/50% sugar whiskey is moonshine through and through. And how. Intense popcorn notes on the nose lead to a pure, overpowering white lightning. Notes of coal, honeycomb, and fresh linens can be found on the back end, but getting there is a hell of a ride. 100 proof. B- / $30

Fog’s End White Dog – Made from a mash of 50% rye and 50% sugar, its much, much softer than the MoonShine, almost innocuous with a very mild body. The sugar is more than evident, with a sort of maple syrup character in the way it all comes together. Notes of apples and cherries add nuance. Altogether it interesting stuff for a white whiskey (of sorts). Use as an alternative to vodka. 80 proof. B / $34

Fog’s End Monterey Rye – Quite a misleading name, this is actually the white dog (50% rye, 50% sugar), aged for an unstated time and then bottled at a higher 90 proof. Definitely a step up from the white dog in complexity, the wood influence adds a significant caramel character and the extra alcohol gives it some heft. Still very sweet, but with more of a sense of balance. Some notes of cloves and cinnamon on the back end, but like the white dog, it leaves quite the sugary finish. B+ / $43

Fog’s End Primo Agua Ardiente – Literally “cousin’s fire water.” 50% corn and 50% sugar-based white whiskey, spiked with chili peppers, unaged but with a light yellow tint to it. Very spicy, but not overpowering the way some pepper-spiked spirits can be. The heat sticks in the back of throat, which has the secondary effect of drowning out pretty much everything else in the spirit. Fun for parties. 80 proof. B- / $34

fogsenddistillery.com

Review: Summer White Wines from Chile, 2013 Releases

Meli Riesling Bottleshot 2 73x300 Review: Summer White Wines from Chile, 2013 ReleasesChile isn’t just a solid spot for Cabernet, it also makes some affordable and interesting white wines — which are almost unilaterally very inexpensive. Here’s a look at three white wines from the country, all designed with summer in mind. (The results are hit and miss.)

2012 Echeverria Classic Collection Unwooded Chardonnay - Maybe should have stuck with some wood. Some greenness here, and a little muddiness there. Beyond that… not a whole lot to report. Modest, tart apple notes make of the middle of the wine before heading into unripe territory. Not overwhelmingly satisfying. C- / $12

2012 Cono Sur Bicicleta Viognier Colchagua – Initially approaches with big peach and apricot notes, but it settles down with just a few minutes in the glass. From here the wine takes on a distinctly pineapple character, backed with marshmallows and vanilla. A little more like a New Zealand Chardonnay than anything else, which isn’t necessarily bad, but may not be what you’re expecting. B+ / $10

2011 Meli Riesling – Initially skunky and a little off-putting, this Riesling eventually settles down to reveal thick honey and floral characteristics, alongside a healthy dose of olive and greenery. Not a typical region for Riesling and it shows. B- / $13

Review: The English Whisky Co. Classic and Peated Single Malts

The English Whisky Co Classic Bottle 104x300 Review: The English Whisky Co. Classic and Peated Single MaltsSingle malt whisky: It’s not just for Scotland any more. The English Whisky Company makes Scotch-style whisky in Norfolk County in good old England. And why not? Located further south, the company says it’s warmer and drier there, which means these single malts mature more quickly.

The English Whisky Co. — aka St. George’s Distillery, no relation to California’s St. George Spirits — is the first English distillery to sell its products publicly in 100 years. In addition to these “Classic” bottlings, you might encounter various “Chapters,” special whisky releases with different finishes or other aging protocols. Those might be ones to snap up, but these new, more basic bottlings are likely to be the ones you encounter.

Both are 92 proof. Thoughts follow.

The English Whisky Co. Classic Single Malt Whisky – A young whisky, lots of grain here. Some citrus, almonds, and toasted marshmallow. The finish brings out a marine element, quite salty and drying, with a substantial grain influence. More grain, fresh cut barley, hits you again on the back end. Overall: A very pleasant, but modest and simple, little whisky. B- / $NA

The English Whisky Co. Peated Single Malt Whisky – A peated version of the above. This actually works quite well. The peat is very mild and restrained, a lightly salty/briny experience with a dusting of coal embers behind it. The finish is simple and a bit green, those nutty elements of the Classic bottling coming more to the forefront. On the whole, however, fans of more modestly peated whisky will find plenty to like here. B / $NA

englishwhisky.co.uk

Review: Long Island Spirits Vodka and Liqueurs Complete Lineup

LiV espresso vodka 77x300 Review: Long Island Spirits Vodka and Liqueurs Complete LineupWe’ve covered Long Island Spirits’ straight vodka before. But recently we received a fresh bottle… along with everything else Long Island makes. Yowza.

That primarily includes a long line of liqueurs bottled under the Sorbetta brand. These are simple, natural liqueurs available only in 375ml bottles. They’re all crafted from LiV Vodka (of course), fresh fruit, and sugar.

We’re also taking a look at Long Island’s coffee-flavored vodka.

To complicate things further, Long Island also makes three whiskies, which are in our queue to be reviewed separately. Stay tuned.

Thoughts follow.

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Review: O Wines Chardonnay and Red Blend

o wines red 162x300 Review: O Wines Chardonnay and Red BlendThis Columbia Valley (Washington) winery recently changed ownership (it’s now part of the Ste. Michelle empire) and is now making a bigger push into the market. Only two wines are offered; the latest releases of both are reviewed below.

Also of note: O also has a huge scholarship program that any wine-friendly families with looking for college support should look into. (Only for female highschool seniors.) Bonus points for doing something good for our students!

2011 O Wines Chardonnay Columbia Valley – Lemony, with some herbal character, atypical of Chardonnay. A light body winds toward an odd cookie (Fig Newtons?) character on the back end, which is fine until an ultimately somewhat weedy finish. B- / $14

2010 O Wines Red Wine – A blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah. Chewy, with lots going on. Dark fruit, some bittersweet chocolate, even cherry character in there. Mellows quickly as it’s exposed to air, leaving behind a relatively straightforward and somewhat bland wine which is perfectly harmless, yet not entirely inspired. Tasted twice; first bottle was clearly off. B- / $16

owines.com

Review: FEW Spirits American Gin and Rye Whiskey

Evanston, Illinois-based FEW Spirits makes old-timey spirits and even bottles them in old-timey decanters. Today we take a crack at two of the company’s bottlings — the “American” gin and an aged rye whiskey.

Thoughts follow.

few gin 249x300 Review: FEW Spirits American Gin and Rye WhiskeyFEW Spirits American Gin – Big and malty, this is a far different experience than most dry gins you’ve likely encountered. Many call FEW’s gin closer to a genever, and that’s a fair descriptor. I think it’s more like a flavored white whiskey, intensely grain-focused and a little funky. Atop that, you get some gin-like character. Clear lemon oil from the second you crack open the bottle, for starters. Hints of vanilla on the finish. But by and large this offers beer-like malt and hops character throughout the body, overpowering the more subtle botanical elements in the whisk… er, gin. If you told me there was no juniper in this at all (you can catch it if you hunt for it, but then you start to wonder if it’s your imagination), I wouldn’t be surprised one bit. 80 proof. Reviewed: Batch #2-2-13, bottle #91. B- / $40

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Review: MacMurray Ranch 2013 Releases

MacMurray Ranch 2011 R. River Valley Sonoma County Pinot Noir 750ml 88x300 Review: MacMurray Ranch 2013 ReleasesTwo new releases from Russian River-based MacMurray Ranch. Some thoughts:

2010 MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir Reserve Russian River Valley – Juicy, with tons of strawberry character. Overly jammy, actually bursting with character closer to Jolly Ranchers than anything else. Surprising in its lack of restraint, this is the kind of approach I expect from Zinfandel, not a Russian River Pinot. Drinkable, but not entirely fulfilling. B- / $37

2011 MacMurray Ranch Chardonnay Russian River Valley – A restrained Chardonnay that’s done a tour in oak, but not an overly long one. Modest lemon and apple notes play with a bit of vanilla. Sizable body, with a chewy, apple pie-like finish. Fine, but somewhat flabby on the finish. B / $20

Review: Wines for Dummies

wines for dummies 282x300 Review: Wines for DummiesSurely you’ve known there was Wine for Dummies. Now there are Wines for Dummies. Actual wines, made for dummies to drink.

Don’t act so shocked. You knew this was coming. In fact it’s a pretty good idea: Package up cheap wine in a familiar package so utter novices can get their feet wet with the stuff. At $10 a bottle, it’s a harmless — if inelegant (and, well, far from “discriminating”) — way to explore the world of vino.

To even consider drinking these wines you really do need to be an utter, rank novice. None of them are particularly good, and the iconic black+yellow+red/green labels (complete with pronunciation guides — “kee-yahn-tee“) are not something you’re going to bring to Easter brunch. Instead, they are purely for investigative purposes. Try the wines, then hide the bottles at the bottom of the recycling bin so the garbage guys don’t judge you.

That said, from a business standpoint, how great an idea is this! It’s genius, really… but why stop at wines? Where’s my Microwave for Dummies? My TV for Dummies? My Car for Dummies? If nothing else, the Dummies people should be dominating the entire grocery store. Who needs to think about what to put on their salad when they could be using Dressing for Dummies!?

Ah, progress. Thoughts on the wines follow.

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Review: White and Rose Wines of Cline, 2013 Releases

cline 300x231 Review: White and Rose Wines of Cline, 2013 ReleasesIf you’re driving to Sonoma, Cline is always worth a stop, not just because it’s one of the first wineries you encounter as you drive into the area. We got our hands on four affordable, summer-friendly whites (one’s a rose). Thoughts follow.

2012 Cline Cool Climate Pinot Gris Sonoma Coast – Crisp and refreshing, with lots of fruit. Very slightly pink, something you see in a few Pinot Gris wines, particularly those produced in Alsace. Lovely pear notes here, plus a little peach, with a bit of a creamy, nougaty back end. Think marshmallows. Very nice. A / $13

2011 Cline Marsanne Roussanne Sonoma Coast - This Rhone blend is classically structured with both peach and apricot notes, backed with an aromatic perfume character. The backbone hints at tree bark and rhubarb. Nice complexity and a fresh, easy complexion. A- / $22

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Review: That Boutique-y Whisky Company Arran, Tobermory, and Tormore

tobermory that boutique y whisky company whisky 136x300 Review: That Boutique y Whisky Company Arran, Tobermory, and TormoreToday we look at a few more independently-bottled malts from That Boutique-y Whisky Company, courtesy of Master of Malt. All three of these are recent arrivals from Batch 1. Again, all are limited edition single malts bottled without age statements in 500ml bottles (and wacky labels). Thoughts follow.

That Boutique-y Whisky Company Arran Batch 1 – Beautiful nose on this Island whisky, fresh with toasted cereals and touches of heather. A much heavier grain influence than the typical single malt, but that’s not a slight. This Arran offers a richness and depth that’s common to Arran, with a touch of saltwater and seaweed on the quite lasting finish. Fresh and with a good balance of sweet and savory, it’s a solid whisky at a fairly reasonable price. 98.2 proof. A- / $62 (500ml) (Batch 1 sold out)

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Review: 2010 Mira Pinot Noir Napa Valley Stanly Ranch-Carneros

mira pinot noir 300x300 Review: 2010 Mira Pinot Noir Napa Valley Stanly Ranch CarnerosAn unusual Pinot (especially one from the Carneros area), very fruity, but also very tannic. This wine reminds me more of some Syrahs than anything I’ve encountered recently in the Pinot world, and that’s… OK. The big body is something I can get my arms around, but the heavy fruit — juicy and over-ripe — is the more jarring element of the wine. With time exposed to air it reveals more charms, but Mira’s sense of balance remains elusive.

B- / $42 / miranapa.com

Review: Starr Hill Grateful Pale Ale and Red Roostarr Coffee Cream Stout

Two new brews from our friends at Starr Hill

starr hill grateful 300x278 Review: Starr Hill Grateful Pale Ale and Red Roostarr Coffee Cream StoutStarr Hill Grateful Pale Ale – Straightforward, delicious, and crisp with modest citrus character — and not overly bitter (just 26 IBUs). This classic pale ale offers a bounty of hops, backed with just a touch of smoky wood chip character. Nothing earth-shattering, but not every beer needs to be to be memorable. 4.7% abv. A- / $NA per 12 oz. bottle

Starr Hill Red Roostarr Coffee Cream Stout – Surprisingly modest for a cream stout, with restrained coffee character. Malt is much more at the forefront, with some caramel lacing. Moderately big body, but not a knockout that will be particularly overwhelming. Somewhat muddy on the finish, too, with a weird blend of bitterness and sweetened coffee notes. 5.6% abv. B- / $NA per 22 oz. bottle

starrhill.com

Review: Jefferson’s Bourbon and Jefferson’s Reserve

jeffersons bourbon 225x300 Review: Jeffersons Bourbon and Jeffersons ReserveToday we’re filling a glaring hole in our coverage. While we reviewed one special edition of Jefferson’s Bourbon (which is no longer available, actually) four years ago, we’ve been silent on the line’s other expressions.

Today we start correcting that, with reviews of Jefferson’s entry-level Bourbon and Jefferson’s Reserve, the two most commonly available expressions from Jefferson’s. While Jefferson’s is traditionally thought of as a wheated line, that’s not always the case. These expressions don’t reveal their mashbills, but neither are reportedly wheated at all. (The mash is said to be 30% rye.) If you want to find wheat in your Jefferson’s, you’ll likely need to look toward the older and rarer expressions… which come from different distillery.

Thoughts follow.

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Review: 2011 Chardonnays of Francis Ford Coppola

francis coppola directors chardonnay 95x300 Review: 2011 Chardonnays of Francis Ford CoppolaFrancis Ford Coppola has become an icon in Northern California’s wine country, but why does a man this important — whose Oscars and Palme d’Or can be seen firsthand at the pool-equipped day resort/tasting room he runs in Sonoma County — need no fewer than five Chardonnays? (In truth there are at least seven.)

While you puzzle over that one, we were tasting the 2011 vintages of these wines. Thoughts follow.

2011 Francis Ford Coppola Chardonnay Director’s Cut Russian River Valley – Surprisingly sweet, with lychee and mango notes up top, some lemon underneath. Modestly buttery body. The finish is a touch bittersweet. Altogether curious, but not overly balanced. B / $21

2011 Francis Ford Coppola Chardonnay Votre Sante California – “Burgundian style” Chardonnay, which is a little flabby and muted on the fruit notes. Some vanilla notes creep into what is otherwise a predominantly butter and wood affair, although a touch of lemon on the nose elevates things a bit. B- / $14

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Review: Wines of Portugal’s Alentejo Region

Alente White 66x300 Review: Wines of Portugals Alentejo RegionThe Portuguese don’t sit around sipping Vintage Port all day. For everyday drinking, they turn to some simple and very affordable wines. Increasingly, these wines have been coming to the U.S., letting us discover new grapes, like Antao Vaz, and new regions, like Alentejo, where these three wines hail from.

Alentejo covers most of the southern half of the country and encompasses a wide range of varietals and styles. Thoughts follow.

2010 Alente Vinho Branco Antao Vaz/Arinto DOC Alentejo – A white blend of Antao Vaz (60%) and Arinto (40%) grapes, the former being the most commonly grown white grape in the Alentejo region. Lots of herbal notes on the front of this wine, with a big body featuring restrained apple notes coming along behind. The finish is mildly bitter and lasting. Altogether it’s an interesting change from the usual fare, but an overall sense of balance just isn’t here. B- / $12

2009 Mariana Alentejo - A blend of 40% Aragonez, 30% Alicante Bouschet, 20% Trincadeira, and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. Rocky. Intensely herbal and funky earth on the nose. Not nearly that powerful on the body, which is super tart and almost jammy on the back end, though that creeping, decaying herb character comes along after a short while. Not a winner. D / $14

2009 Vinha do Mouro Tinto Estremoz Alentejo – A marginal improvement. Big barnyard notes, with a raisiny core. Some coffee notes, particularly on the finish. Ends up somewhat bittersweet. C- / $15

Review: 2007 Banfi Brunello and 2009 Sartori Amarone

2007 Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino 86x300 Review: 2007 Banfi Brunello and 2009 Sartori Amarone2007 marks the first year that Banfi’s new Horizon Winery got up and running, featuring new a fermenting system that uses oak cores with stainless steel caps to produce wine. The newly released Brunello, the first wine to come out of this winery, is reviewed below, along with a hot new Amarone from Sartori, one of Banfi’s labels. Thoughts follow.

2007 Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino – Brick red in color, this Brunello looks very old (it’s not) and almost oxidized (it shouldn’t be) after pouring. Initially a bit hoary and funky, things settle down with exposure to air. In the end we get lots of wood, a dense and tannic core, and notes of balsamic, licorice, and currants. Not altogether balanced. B- / $55 castellobanfi.com

2009 Sartori Amarone della Valpolicella – A classically structured Amarone, raisiny but full of fruit up front, with notes of tobacco and touched with strawberry jam. Tart and fresh (particularly on the finish), it’s not as heavy-duty as many Amarones, which makes it more easygoing when sipping on its own. B+ / $40 banfivintners.com