Single 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
We’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.
This 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
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.
FEW 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
Two 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
Surely 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.
If 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
Today 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)
An 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
Two new brews from our friends at Starr Hill
Starr 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
Today 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.
Francis 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
The 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
2007 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
Stony Hill Vineyard is located in Napa Valley’s Spring Mountain AVA, where it specializes in white wines, particularly its award-winning Chardonnay. We sampled three of its latest releases for the 2013 drinking season. Thoughts follow.
2010 Stony Hill Chardonnay Napa Valley – Lemon, honeysuckle, and intriguing woody notes on the nose lead to a complex body, moderate in mouthfeel with light acidity. Here you find lots of orange and lemon notes, some honey — an almost Sauternes hint — midway through the finish. Don’t worry, it’s not a sugar bomb: The conclusion is dry and inviting, the honey character building on the nose as it warms in the glass. A real knockout. A / $42
Lately we’ve received a whole bunch of “stocking stuffer” sized gadgets suitable for wine and beer fanatics. Rather than review them individually, we’re rounding them up here in a mega-gizmo post. Thoughts follow.
Hermetus Bottle Opener & Resealer – Sometimes you don’t want to drink that entire half-liter of beer, but if you’ve pried off the crown cap, what do you do next? The Hermetus is several gadgets in one, but the most noteworthy is that it reseals beer bottles. Just slide the lip of the bottle through the aluminum groove as far as you can: The groove pushes it against a rubber pad and seals it tight. Turn it upside down, shake it up, no worries — the beer won’t come out. It works on both U.S. and Euro bottles, and it includes a standard opener as well as a claw-like opener designed to help with stubborn twist-offs, too. Instructions engraved on the reverse remind you of all of this in case you’ve had too much. A / $9 kaufmann-mercantile.com
Indio: Not from India, but from Mexico. Born south of the border in 1893, Indio only made it to the U.S. in 2012, courtesy of owner Heineken (which makes Tecate, Dos Equis, Sol, and a ton of other familiar beers in the same brewery). Now that Indio’s here, how’s it taste?
This curious, darker Mexican lager is at first appealing. The body is brisk, mildly bitter but nutty and lightly earthy — corn husks, perhaps? Things go along well enough until the finish, which gets progressively more and more bitter — too much so, really. This finish is not so much hoppy as it is weedy and vegetal, almost acrid in some bottles that I encountered. Quality seems to be erratic and the beer, overall, is just so-so.
B- / $8 per 6-pack / facebook.com/IndioBeer
Not getting enough froot in your diet? Now you can up your intake with one of the nuttiest vodka flavors to hit the market yet: Three Olives’ “Loopy” Vodka.
Designed specifically to taste (and look) like a certain breakfast cereal, Loopy is unmistakable when you crack open the bottle. The aroma of sugared, berry-flavored cereal is dead-on uncanny as you pour out a glass. Whoever concocted this flavor (it’s natural, people!) deserves a medal.
Bacon salt rim? Boring. How about a basil rim on your cocktail? Or fennel?
Fresh Origins, a micro-greens and edible flowers creator, is launching Herb and Flower Crystals, a sort of freeze-dried herb-meets-sugar idea that results in colorful, exotic, and wholly unique crystals that can be used as cocktail garnishes. Two sizes of the crunchy crystals are available, a coarse grind that is mainly intended as a flavoring ingredient for culinary recipes, and a finer grain that can stick to the rim of a moistened cocktail glass.
We recently wrote about one of Mettler’s wines in our roundup of Lodi’s biggest names. The company recently sent a pair of additional bottlings to consider. Thoughts follow.
2010 Mettler Petite Sirah Estate Grown – Tons of fruit, jammy like a big Zinfandel. Light smoky notes and a huge body. This is a very sweet wine that rushes the palate with freshly-smashed blueberry and blackberry character, yet it’s surprisingly easy to drink. Not a terribly nuanced wine, but it worked fairly well both on its own and with a hearty meal. B / $25
2010 Mettler Old Vine Zinfandel Epicenter Lodi – A strange Zin. On the nose, traditional notes of blackberry, pepper, and black tea. But on the body, a much different picture emerges: these characteristics take on a stranger, much more exotic consistency. The tea notes come on strong, playing with some hefty wood character. The spice brings on a kind of sour rhubarb note that sweetens up after some exposure to air… but never quite enough. B- / $20