Review: XXIV Karat Grand Cuvee and Rose — Sparkling Wine with Gold Flake

karat bottles

What, sipping Cristal ain’t baller enough for you? Kick back some XXIV Karat (that’s 24 Karat if you ain’t down with Roman numerals), a sparkling wine that is infused with “indugent 24-karat gold leaf.”

Yeah, Goldschlager wrote this playbook, and El Cartel Tequila tore it up. Gold flake in spirits is becoming common these days. Gold flake in wine is something I’ve yet to see before.

But here we are.

XXIV Karat takes Mendocino-sourced grapes (varietals are not disclosed) and adds real gold flake to the bottles. (For extra fun, the sample bottles we received actually light up thanks to a battery-powered bulb in the base.) The wines are also bottled without vintages, but let’s be frank: If you’re buying one of these, you’re getting it exclusively for the gold flake concept.

It seems almost silly to consider how such a novelty might taste, but we’re gonna do it anyway. Here goes.

XXIV Karat Grand Cuvee Sparkling Wine – Surprisingly pleasant at first, this wine starts off with apple notes but devolves into extreme sweetness in short order. What emerges is akin to a combination of applesauce and Splenda, with a palate-busting finish — but did we mention there’s gold in here? C- / $30

XXIV Karat Rose Sparkling Wine – Pink stuff! (And gold.) The gold leaf effect is not nearly as interesting in the pinkish slurry, but the wine is at least more palatable. Fresh strawberries mingle with plenty of vanilla-focused sweetness, but here that sugary rush is dialed back enough to let the fruit shine through, at least somewhat. B- / $30

xxivkarat.com

Review: 2012 Frank Family Vineyards Pinot Noir Carneros

Frank Family Napa Valley Pinot NoirA lighthearted and light-bodied Pinot from Frank Family, this Carneros offering features plenty of jammy fruit — strawberry and cherry intermingled — along with notes of tea leaf, cinnamon, and vanilla candies. A bit flabby in the body, it’s a bit hamstrung by those jammy elements that unfortunately push it too far into fruit juice territory.

B- / $35 / frankfamilyvineyards.com

Review: VEEV 2.0 and VitaFrute Cocktails

VeeV_StraightOn_NewBottle-LogoFix_typefooter_NOshadow_webRemember, VeeV, the “acai spirit” that rode the superfruit craze in the late zeroes, launching in 2008 as “the only açai spirit on the market?” I figured you didn’t, and that’s probably why VeeV — now an even louder VEEV — is relaunching, reformulating, and re-hoping you will get on the bandwagon of endorsing a speciously healthier alternative to drinking straight vodka. No longer labeled “acai spirit,” it’s now “neutral spirit with a blend of acai and other natural flavors.” That makes it a flavored vodka in my book — particularly since the proof level has risen from 60 proof in 2008 to 70 proof today.

But wait, there’s more! VEEV, nee VeeV, is also launching a collection of pre-made, bottled cocktails, called VitaFrute, which are of course made with VEEV, natural fruit juices, and (sometimes) agave nectar — and they’re under 125 calories per 3 oz. serving. (At first glance, the front label looks like it says 12.5 calories… now that’d be a neat trick.) And we tried all of this stuff! Thoughts follow.

VEEV (2014 Edition) – The new tagline for VEEV is “Born in Brazil, handcrafted in America.” From the nose alone, you might think it was handcrafted in a candy factory. Punchy with the nose of a typical cherry or fruit punch-like vodka, the new VEEV is closer than ever before to a typical fruit-doctored hooch. The body melds cherry with notes of blueberry, with a candylike finish. VEEV manages to keep things just this side of super-saccharine cough syrup, but there’s no doubt it’s still a sugar bomb in vodka’s clothing. If this is good for you, well, good luck selling your significant other on that one. 70 proof. B / $25

vita fruteVitaFrute Cocktails Lemonade – The simplest of the VitaFrute collection – VEEV, lemon, agave — this spiked lemonade has pulpy bits floating in the mix, so you know you’re getting something legit here. The beverage is unfortunately heavy on the agave — sweet to the point of being almost syrupy — and light on the lemons. Some rebalancing is in order to bring the tartness level up to code. What’s there is pretty spot on, though. Not boozy at all, and with a little doctoring something you could even serve to guests. 30 proof. B / $12

VitaFrute Cocktails Margarita – Includes tequila, VEEV, lemon, lime, and agave. You can smell intense caramel notes up front. As this warms up in the glass those become stronger — almost taking on a burnt sugar character with touches of cinnamon. This isn’t so much a margarita as it is a wacky after-dinner drink that hints at lime notes from time to time. 30 proof. C- / $12

VitaFrute Cocktails Cosmopolitan – Includes VEEV, cranberry juice, and “a hint of citrus.” Tastes like VEEV and cranberry juice with a hint of citrus. Mercifully less sweet than the above, this straightforward blend is something you could easily whip up on your own, but the lazy might enjoy this pre-mixed version of any old cosmo you might otherwise spend 4 bucks on at your favorite Holiday Inn happy hour. Unremarkable but largely palatable, with tart cranberries, restrained sweetness, and a squeeze of naval orange — though its caramel hints on the finish give it a cloying finish. 30 proof. B- / $12

VitaFrute Cocktails Coconut Colada  – Includes VEEV, coconut water, and pineapple juice. Pina Colada-lite, this premixed cocktail sacrifices that agave sweetness for the tropical notes of pineapple and watery coconut. Not disagreeable — if you’re in a Hawaii mood, anyway — if you don’t mind it sticking around on the roof of your mouth for the better part of the next half hour. 30 proof. B / $12

veevlife.com

Review: Blue Chair Bay Coconut Spiced Rum Cream

blue chair bay coconut cream

Somehow we never managed to review Blue Chair Bay Rum — a product rolled out by country star Kenny Chesney — when it launched last year, but today we did land a sample of a new limited edition line extension: Blue Chair Bay Coconut Spiced Rum Cream.

Now that sounds like a lot of pressure to put on a poor, defenseless rum, and this milky, eggnoggy-looking product doesn’t exactly shriek with high hopes when poured into a glass. For heaven’s sake at least dust it with some nutmeg so people don’t think you’re drinking milk, mmkay?

The nose is gooey and unctuous, somewhat off-putting in the way that only eggnog can be — a lot like the milk left in the bottom of a bowl of sugary cereal. Distinct banana notes are prevalent, with touches of cinnamon. The body has more where that came from. The powerful cotton candy sugar notes hit you first, then banana. Coconut is more of a hint on the finish, as is a vague indication of cinnamon. Until then, I would have assumed this was a banana cream rum if I didn’t already know any better. Either way, it’s the overwhelming sweetness that sticks with you, seemingly for hours, over any of the fruit or spice elements. Be ready for some serious toothbrushing lest the cavity creeps give you the once over later on.

That said, this is probably good enough to use for a quickie, down-and-dirty Pina Colada if you’re out of the other raw ingredients. I wouldn’t make a habit of it, though.

30 proof.

B- / $22 / bluechairbayrum.com

Review: Sons of Liberty Pumpkin Spice Flavored Whiskey

sons of liberty Pumpkins with award

Pumpkin spice apparently knows no bounds. Now here it, in our whiskey!

Sons of Liberty is a craft distiller out of Rhode Island, focusing on American single malts as well as seasonal, flavored whiskies. In addition to a hop-flavored whiskey there’s this pumpkin one, which is focused on fall.

The base of the spirit is SoL’s single malt, a young NAS spirit, which is flavored with juice made from thousands of pounds of roasted, pressed pumpkins, plus a touch of traditional holiday spices — cloves, allspice, cinnamon, vanilla, and orange. When bottled, it is a deep, reddish brown, the color of very old brandy.

If you’re expecting a Starbucks-class sugar bomb, walk away. This is not a sweetened whiskey, but is quite literally a blend of young American malt with actual pumpkin juice and a bit of stuff from the spice rack. The nose is coffeelike, with a dusting of cloves, tea leaf, tobacco (cigars, really), and roasted grains. The pumpkin is much more evident on the body, where roasted gourds make a distinct — and unique — appearance. The combination of pure pumpkin and young whiskey makes for a bizarre experience in the mouth, with those vegetal squash notes waging war with brash, young malt character. Cinnamon comes along at the end, but it’s that coffee note that hits hardest on the finish, making for a reprise that feels a lot like you’re scooping out the dregs of the coffee maker at the office and taking a big bite out of sludge that’s in there.

This is an overwhelming style of whiskey but it’s wholly unique and worth experiencing, even if just to experience once what a madman can do with a copper still and a few tons of holiday squash.

80 proof. Reviewed: Batch #1.

B- / $40 / solspirits.com

Review: Platinum 7X Vodka

platinum vodkaAs the name implies, this low-cost vodka is seven times distilled, from American corn. There’s lots of sweetness up front on the nose alongside some raw alcohol notes, and little else of note. On the palate, sugar masks any impurities — or anything else of note — and the spirit finishes with little impact. Over time some light leather (or perhaps cardboard) notes emerge, but on the whole it’s completely harmless. Not a bad buy if you don’t mind a plastic bottle.

B- / $12 / platinum7x.com

Review: Menage a Trois Vodka, Complete Lineup

Menage a Trois Vodka Berry Martini HI Res Glamour Photo (1)

Menage a Trois is known for its cheap wines, but the company now also makes cheap vodka. (!)

Three expressions — one straight, two flavored — are on offer. All are distilled from corn and brought down to proof with “pristine California water.” The catch with the flavored vodkas: They’re all “triple flavored” with three different botanicals. Three! Get it!? Sure ya do.

Some thoughts follow. All are 80 proof.

Menage a Trois Vodka – Quite neutral, a touch sugary on the nose but the body is quite plain, with touches of marshmallow, a hint of popcorn, and some odd peanut notes that emerge on the finish. Otherwise, not a whole lot to it. Probably fine for making cosmos or punch. B

Menage a Trois Citrus Vodka – Infused with lemon, lime, and orange. Lime, lemon, orange — in that order. Extremely bright and quite sweet — but the finish takes things to an astringent, chewed-up-aspirin note. B-

Menage a Trois Berry Vodka – Infused with raspberries, cranberries, and pomegranate. So… healthy? Intensely cranberry, with raspberry notes building strongly on a finish that recalls cough syrup — but, I mean, really really drinkable cough syrup. B-

each $16 / menageatroisvodka.com

Review: Kennedy Irish Whiskey “Spirit Drink” Complete Lineup

kennedy irish

Irish whiskey is all the rage right now — it’s the fastest growing spirit category there is — and there’s a mad rush going on in Ireland to build stills, increase production, and otherwise squeeze every dollar out of this market before everyone moves on to something else, probably rum.

Kennedy is a new launch of Irish Whiskey — er, “Spirit Drink.” I’m still trying to sort all this out, so bear with me. Here’s how the Kennedy label breaks out.

Upon a sticker stylized like an old Celtic helmet it reads KENNEDY in big letters, then ORIGINAL underneath. In delicate italics beneath that: Spirit Drink. Then in even smaller italics: “Oak Filtered & Hand Crafted using.” Then, larger block letters: “Whiskey with natural flavor & caramel.”

OK, so points for truth in labeling, I think, but points off for confusing the hell out of your consumer along the way. What is “oak filtered,” exactly? Check the back label and you’ll see that “Kennedy’s Spirit is a delicate fusion of the finest Celtic whiskies and malt to insure a unique, challenging and august drinking experience. Kennedy’s Spirit, handcrafted in West Cord, Ireland, is infused with Irish and Bourbon oak using a proprietary infusion process and steeped in malt through an artisan and near-forgotten technique.”

So, yeah.

Your guess is as good as mind about what all that means, but basically my deduction is this is a mix of various Irish whiskeys and grain spirits, somehow pressure treated with oak to artificially age it more quickly. Caramel is added liberally, based on the color, though your guess is as good as mine as to what the natural flavors referenced here are.

And that’s just the “original.” There are four flavored versions of the spirit available, too. Or, rather, more flavored.

So, with that out of the way, let’s taste them all!

Kennedy Original – A slight sugar character on the nose, with a malty, cereal character to it. Touches of honey and cinnamon dust the body, which is otherwise a soft caramel, lightly woody, mostly watery character to it. The overall impact is one of Irish whiskey that’s already been liberally doused with water. It goes down easy enough, but the finish is weak and a touch astringent, leaving behind a touch of hospital character as it fades. 80 proof. C+

Kennedy Spiced – Infused with visible, solid spices (including anise and cinnamon) floating around in the bottle. Tons of cinnamon on the nose. The body has an essence more akin to vanilla blended with dried apples — with that anise making a strong showing as a somewhat weird secondary note. I would have dropped the licorice components and pumped up the cloves, but that’s just me. At least there’s more going on here, even if it doesn’t come together the way you might hope. 70 proof. B-

Kennedy Honeyed – Infused with vanilla and honey. Contains visible, fine sediment (but not big chunks like in the Spiced expression). It’s more hazelnut than honey on the nose, but the finish builds to more of an earthy honey character. Minimal whiskey character, though. 70 proof. B-

Kennedy Limed – Green, lime whiskey? Why not. Again, light sediment from flavoring involving vanilla and lime juice. Not as bad as you are expecting, but a bit like drinking a slug of Rose’s Lime Juice straight. Sweeter than most of the other whiskeys in this lineup, a necessity to offset the sour lime flavors. The color is beyond off-putting. Clearly this is designed exclusively as a mixer… but with what? When the label copy calls the product “intiguing,” you know something ain’t right. C-

Kennedy Chilied – Bright red, it is flavored with chili pepper and paprika(!). Wow, this is intensely hot — far hotter than your typical “pepper vodka.” I can see this doing brisk business as frat kids make bets with each other and buy shots to dare each other to drink. It’s a fiery, habanero-style burn that singes the lips and sticks in the throat for minutes. A hint of honey sweetness helps temper the burn. Discriminating it ain’t, but daredevils should go for it. B

each about $17 / westcorkdistillers.com

Bordeaux Review: 2010 Chateau de Viaud-Lalande & 2012 Chateau du Bois Chantant

Château Viaud LalandeWhen’s the last time you ordered a bottle of Bordeaux with dinner? The folks in France’s ancient wine region realize the answer to this is probably never for most people, so they’re out to change things and freshen up their image.

Today’s Bordeaux (motto: “It’s not that expensive!”) is embracing fruit and lower-cost wines. Sure, Mouton and Lafite and Petrus are still around, but the Bordeaux Wine Council would like you to consider some alternatives that you won’t make you choose between drinking wine and paying the mortgage this month.

We checked out two recent releases to see what this more affordable side of Bordeaux was like. Thoughts follow.

2010 Chateau de Viaud-Lalande Lalande-de-Pomerol – 70% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc. Surprisingly fruit forward, with lots of violet, floral character. As it ages in the glass, notes of balsamic come to the fore along with gentle lumber and leather notes. Drinks a lot like a New World merlot, almost textbook. Nice little number and very food friendly. A- / $31

2012 Chateau du Bois Chantant – 79% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc – Not nearly as fun as the Viaud-Lalande. This wine offers dull fruit — indistinct berries, mainly — light wood tones, some vegetal character, and a thin finish. Slightly weedy on the finish, it’s best with food and in small quantities. (2012 is not considered a great year for Bordeaux.) B- / $17

“Dark” Wine Roundup: 2012 Menage a Trois Midnight and 2012 Gnarly Head Authentic Black

Teeth not stained enough for ya? Try Midnight, a new “dark red” wine from Menage a Trois, or Authentic Black, Gnarly Head’s take on the theme of vinified darkness that suddenly seems to be all the rage in the wine world right now. Which “dark red” wine should earn your late night affections? Read on.

bottle_midnight2012 Menage a Trois Midnight Dark Red Blend California – Composed of 44% Merlot, 42% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Petite Sirah, and 3% Petit Verdot, there’s nothing really unusual about the makeup of Menage a Trois Midnight, though it’s certainly completely opaque. like many a deep red wine There’s no real information about why the wine is so dark. I expect the addition of Petite Sirah, well known for its deep color, is the primary culprit. Midnight is fine, if undistinguished red. Violet notes do just fine alongside red berries and plum notes, with a touch of chocolate underpinning things. Slightly sweet and quite unctuous, the wine has a silkiness that makes it work best either with dessert or before dinner. B+ / $12

gnarly head authentic black2012 Gnarly Head Authentic Black Lodi – No blend information available except that this is “Petite Sirah” based. Again, that makes sense, and this wine is even darker in color than Midnight. Jammy to the point of being syrupy, the body is dark currents, Port-like chocolate syrup, and touches of pepper jelly. The finish comes across as impossibly sweet, taking this wine just a step too far into the world of dessert wines. B- / $12