Review: Decadent Saint Sangrias and Wine Concentrates

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Decadent Saint is a company run by Michael Hasler, an enologist from Australia whose letter to me in impeccable calligraphy introduced a unique product: concentrates made from wine intended to be diluted into sangria and other fanciful beverages.

These are all natural products, packaged in swing tops and designed to be mixed on the fly. Directions generally suggest adding one part mix to 3 to 5 parts water, sparkling water, or sparkling wine — each option will give the finished drink a different tone. Some bottlings can be served either on ice or warm.

We tried all four of Decadent Saints’ offerings. Each is bottled at 20.5% abv as a concentrate, so expect a much lighter finished product once they’re watered down.

Decadent Saint White Sangria – White wine, fruit, and spices. Very heavy with peaches and apricots — even with water it comes across at first like a mimosa. Some light citrus ekes through late in the game, with mango heavier on the finish. This is a simple concoction, but it’s really quite lovely and overflowing with an abundance of fruit. I like it just fine as a still beverage (no sparkling water or wine), but it works well both ways. Reviewed twice: Batch #7 and #8. A

Decadent Saint Red Sangria – Red wine, fruit, and spices. Heavy with red berries, with raspberry especially prominent. Citrus, mango, and even some banana notes make a showing later in the game. It’s a bit sweeter than I expect from sangria — this drinks a bit more like a wine cooler than a sangria — but those who like their sangria on the fruity side will probably gravitate heavily to this concoction. Water is fine, but sparkling wine gives this a much-needed kick. Reviewed: Batch #3. B+

Decadent Saint Fire or Ice Sangria – Another red sangria — also billed as containing red wine, fruit, and spices — with a twist. “Drink hot or cold,” hence the name, so it could work as either a chilled sangria or a holiday glogg. I tried it at a bit below room temperature but can totally see the appeal as a hot beverage, its plummy/raisiny core and a healthy slug of cinnamon and nutmeg giving it a distinct holiday feel. Sparkling wine helps to cut through some of the sweetness here, which is amped up above that of the white sangria, but with less of that classic apple/berry/citrus character one expects in a standard sangria. Reviewed: Batch #9. B

Decadent Saint Rocky Mountain Rescue – Here we find Hasler going straight up loco. This is a blend of red wine, dark chocolate, decaf coffee, berries, and spices. The taste is, perhaps unsurprisingly, exactly what you are expecting: a nutty, mocha-heavy coffee experience with a finish that leans toward dried berries and jam. There’s more raisin and cinnamon on the somewhat gummy palate, particularly on the back end, and lengthy, lingering notes of gingerbread and milky coffee. I like all the flavors in this bottle… I’m just not really enchanted by them all mixed together. Reviewed: Batch #6. B-

each $20 per 750ml bottle / whatwelove.com

Review: Bayou Rum Silver and Select

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Louisiana Spirits in Lacassine claims to be the largest privately-owned rum distillery in the U.S. Here they churn out a total of four spirits, distilled from local cane sugar and molasses using a copper pot still. Today we look at two of them, representing the core of the line.

Both are 80 proof.

Bayou Rum Silver – A credible silver, though its pot still funk comes through in spades. Gooey caramel and vanilla on the nose give way to notes of mushroom, petrol, and some charcoal. The simple-syrupy sweetness grows with time in glass, though the finish still tugs at the back of the throat with some roasted vegetable notes. Fair enough on the whole, but best as a mixer. B / $22

Bayou Rum Select – Same recipe, but rested in American oak for an unstated amount of time. The nose is duskier than the Silver but still moderately to heavily sweet, with hints of cinnamon and cloves plus an undercurrent of rancio. Dusty lumberyard notes emerge with time, but these are much more evident on the palate, which is surprisingly wood-heavy from the start. The sweetness takes on an oxidized, almost Madeira-like tone here, with winey-raisiny notes emerging; still, they battle mightily with the relatively heavy wood character, which soldiers on to a relatively tannic, tough finish. Reviewed: Batch #1503. B- / $31

bayourum.com

Review: Strongbow Hard Apple Ciders

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Heineken-owned Strongbow is a staple of the apple cider scene, particularly in England, where the brand originated some 54 years ago. Most production of the beverage still takes place in England, but the samples we’re reviewing today were actually produced in Belgium. (The company also makes cider in Australia.)

Strongbow comes in numerous varieties; today we look at four.

Strongbow Hard Apple Cider Gold Apple – This is an iconic cider, and probably what a lot of people think of when they think of cider. Fresh apple notes, a moderate level of sweetness, no vegetal undertones, and a crisp and lightly bubble finish are all on point — but it’s the little hint of cinnamon, just barely there on the finish, that makes this cider such an easy-drinking standout. Nothing fancy, but that’s often how cider is at its best. 5% abv. A-

Strongbow Hard Apple Cider Honey – This is very similar to the Gold Apple, but slightly sweeter and with less of a clear apple character to it. (It doesn’t taste of honey at all, by the way.) With very little in the way of fruit going on, it’s harder to recommend, but those looking for a simply sweet and fizzy refreshment may find it up their alley. 5% abv. B

Strongbow Hard Apple Cider Ginger – Something akin to a cider and a ginger ale, mixed. It’s not particularly heavy on the ginger component, and apple notes are the most enduring element in the mix, particularly on the finish. Nothing at all off-putting here, however — it works as a nice change of pace vs. the original flavor. 4.5% abv. B

Strongbow Hard Apple Cider Red Berries – This is the most wine-coolerish of the bunch, a quite sweet and strawberry-scented sipper than oozes, as the name suggests, red berry notes. The finish is exceptionally long, with sweet-and-sour notes… and wholly harmless. 4.5% abv. B-

$14 per 12-pack / theheinekencompany.com

Review: Truly Spiked & Sparkling Water

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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

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