Category Archives: Rated B-

Review: Blue Flame Spirits Washington Rye and Wheat Whiskeys

blue flame washington rye 525x916 Review: Blue Flame Spirits Washington Rye and Wheat Whiskeys

Blue Flame is a craft distillery based in Prosser, Washington. The company focuses on hyper-local distilling: Both of these products are made from ingredients sourced from within 45 miles of the distillery, including grain from the distillery’s own farm and the barrels (made from local wood and custom designed by distillery owner Brian Morton) in which they’re aged. We’ll talk more about what’s in the bottle in the two reviews below. Both spirits are 80 proof, no age statements offered.

Blue Flame Spirits Washington Wheat Whiskey - 100% local wheat — a rare mashbill in today’s world. Initially young and brash, this youthful endeavor starts off without revealing many of its charms. Heavy granary notes start the show, clean but full of cereal character. Over time, the whiskey builds to offer restrained notes of banana, butterscotch, and caramel. Light toasted almond notes atop the cereal-driven body can be found on the finish. A curiosity. B- / $36

Blue Flame Spirits Washington Rye Whiskey – 100% local rye (rare, but not quite as rare as the 100% wheat). This rye is sweeter than the wheat, with a more interesting collection of flavors to explore on the whole. As with the wheat, the rye starts with young cereal notes, but here they quickly build and evolve into a new direction. A light smokiness on the nose offers a touch of nuance for the nostrils. The body features toasted marshmallow, hazelnut, and some light chocolate, all atop a more racy grain underpinning. The finish brings all of this together into a rough sort of dessert with a surprisingly enjoyable and easy-drinking balance. B+ / $33

blueflamespirits.com

Review: 4 Imported Sakes from SakeOne

WinterWarriorKO 91x300 Review: 4 Imported Sakes from SakeOneOregon-based SakeOne is America’s largest producer of sake, and it’s one of its biggest importers of Japanese sakes, too. Recently the company added two new imported sakes to its lineup. We tasted them both (plus two previously available expressions), and have some opinions to share.

Here are thoughts on the four new products, which should all have fairly broad, national distribution.

Kasumi Tsuru Kimoto Extra Dry Sake – A dry style, with fresh melon and light almond notes on the nose. Some earthiness adds curiosity (particularly on the nose), but the fruit is solid, with a big cantelope finish. Refreshing and easy to drink, with plenty to explore. B / $30

SakeMoto Junmai Sake – A bit more rustic, with some bite on the back end that you don’t get in more refined sakes. Still, at this price you’re getting a surprising level of quality: mushroom layered with melon and some floral notes, with a fresh, honeydew-infused finish. B- / $11

Murai Family Nigori Genshu Sake – Undiluted (genshu) sake bottled at 19.9% alcohol. Unfiltered also, which makes it creamy and cloudy, an increasingly popular style. Big nose, bigger body. Melon meets roasted nuts, with a palate that features tapioca, sweet mango, and cotton candy. Easy to love. B+ / $25

Yoshinogawa Winter Warrior (pictured) – Nigata (snow based) style sake, this sake has perhaps the most fruit of the bunch, as well as the best balance. Tropical notes with melon, lightly floral aromatics, and a lightly oily body that is still refreshing and clean, this is my favorite sipper of the lineup. A- / $27

sakeone.com

Review: Wines of Menage a Trois, 2013 Releases

folie a deux 82x300 Review: Wines of Menage a Trois, 2013 ReleasesMenage a Trois is a second, low-cost label produced by Napa-based Folie a Deux. These aren’t the world’s most challenging bottlings, but they’re by and large good enough for everyday drinking. Here’s how the current batch of releases measure up.

2012 Menage a Trois Sauvignon Blanc California – Unsurprising Sauv Blanc. Huge grapefruit and pepe du chat notes on the nose, more citrus on the palate, sour lemon, and a touch of green pepper. Highly acidic on a light body. Very simple and in some ways refreshing with the right kind of food, though hardly a showstopper. B-

2011 Menage a Trois Pinot Gris California – Quite sweet, surprisingly so for this style of wine. Pineapple and mango on the front give the impression of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, with candied/canned peaches coming up behind. A simple wine, as expected, but dialed a bit too far forward with the sweetness. B

2011 Menage a Trois Cabernet Sauvignon North Coast California – A simple wine, with notes of menthol and green pepper on the nose. Medium body, with understated notes of plum and cassis jam, blueberries, and spice. Short finish fades quickly. B

2011 Menage a Trois Merlot California – Menthol-driven berries, raspberry primarily. Notes of black tea and licorice add a little complexity, but overall this is a sweet little number driven by almost over-ripe fruit than its other elements. B

2011 Menage a Trois Malbec Mendoza Argentina - A plummy, slightly jammy Malbec, missing the intensity, earth, and black pepper that characterizes the bolder blends. This drinks rather easy, almost like Merlot or a milder Syrah, though the green pepper finish keeps things interesting without becoming bitter (well, almost). B

each $11 to $12 / menageatroiswines.com

Review: TOPO Vodka, Gin, and Carolina Whiskey

topo piedmont gin 208x300 Review: TOPO Vodka, Gin, and Carolina WhiskeyTop of the Hill Distillery, affectionately “TOPO,” promises its spirits are “100 miles from grain to glass.” That’d be more comforting if I was closer to North Carolina, where TOPO is based. Good luck finding these farther afield. Fortunately, I was able to sample the full lineup of three unaged spirits from way out here in California. Thoughts on these organic spirits follow.

TOPO Vodka – Made from organic Carolina wheat. Whew, pungent on the nose, redolent of a typical white whiskey, with lots of grain aromas filling the nostrils. On the tongue, it belies that funky nose with a brisk sweetness, almost marshmallow-like in character, with a pungent medicinal character underneath. Kind of a strange combination. There’s a lot going on here, and those that like their vodka on the more rustic side will find plenty to enjoy. On the other hand, if you’re looking for balance and refinement, TOPO’s definitely got some growing up to do. 80 proof. B- / $29

TOPO Piedmont Gin – Also an organic wheat spirit. Piedmont, I’m guessing, refers not to Italy but to a big swath of area that runs along the eastern seaboard and crosses straight through central North Carolina. (Now you know!) But whatever the nomenclature, it’s an American style gin flavored with ample juniper, cardamom, coriander, star anise, and organic cucumber. On the nose there’s ample juniper, so much so that you might think TOPO Gin is going to be a one-trick pony. Take a sip and you’re in for a surprise: The juniper fades. Sweet licorice notes, floral snippets, and hints of orange peel arise in its wake. What’s most surprising is the kind of candied flower finish. Either that, or that my tasting notes bear no resemblance to those of TOPO’s. 92 proof. A- / $29

TOPO Carolina Whiskey – Like the above, this is young whiskey based on organic Carolina wheat. It has a lot in common with the vodka, too, as you might expect. It is, however, considerably more pungent (distilled fewer times and likely more pot-distilled spirit than in the vodka, I’d guess), full of deep grain and traditional fuel-driven notes on the nose. The body is of greater interest, loaded with chewy sweetness, plus plenty of cereal notes. The effect is not unlike a good granola bar, breakfast and dessert all in one package. It’s not overblown, but surprisingly well balanced among its various characteristics. As white whiskeys go — which is often a Bad News Bears situation — it’s one of the better ones around. 84 proof. B+ / $22

topodistillery.com

Review: Chinaco Tequila

AD Chinaco blanco 215x300 Review: Chinaco TequilaAn oddity in the tequila world, Chinaco — one of the first, if not the very first, 100% agave tequila released in the U.S. — is produced not in Jalisco (where the vast majority of tequila hails from) but in Tamaulipas, a state to the east which borders on the gulf of Mexico. This terroir gives Chinaco a considerably different character than most Jalisco tequilas — in fact, it is the only licensed distillery in Tamaulipas altogether.

Everything in Tamaulipas is a little different. The soil is a mix of types, quite different from the clay you will find in Jalisco, and the distillery’s location, less than 50 miles from the Ocean, offers uniqueness, too. Even the agave growing elevation — ranging from 500 to 5000 feet — spans what would be considered both highland and lowland growing areas in Jalisco. Agave used in Chinaco is all organic.

So, how does Chinaco taste? Thoughts follow.

All expressions are 80 proof.

Chinaco Blanco Tequila – Huge vegetation on the nose, pure agave through and through. The body is funky and tough, a push through the weeds and swamp water to a finish of tobacco, tar, and earthy tree roots. Touches of lemongrass and juniper add complexity, but ground it firmly as one of the more unique blanco tequila experiences. B- / $41

Chinaco Reposado Tequila – Aged for 11 months in white oak barrels not from Bourbon country but from France and England, some former Scotch casks. Still has loads of agave on the nose, but it is mercifully tempered by sweet vanilla notes from its time in barrel. The reposado’s got spice, fire, and burnt sugar notes, but it’s the racy agave — still earthy and prickly — that commands your attention. The peppery finish is long and complex. Altogether a solid and quite interesting reposado that keeps the sweetness at an appropriate level. A- / $48

Chinaco Anejo Tequila – Aged for 30 months in the same barrels as the reposado, plus some bourbon barrels, as well. Heady with alcohol notes, this anejo is again a racy and peppery spirit, only with an extra level of sweetness atop it. Clear wood character takes hold on this tequila, which is somewhat at odds with the butterscotch-meets-peppered-bacon character that lies beneath. I like the increased vanilla and creme brulee notes in the body here, but the deep wood character — rough and dusty at times — doesn’t play well with the other notes in the spirit, throwing it a bit out of balance. B+ / $59

chinacotequila.com

Review: Mama Walker’s “Breakfast” Liqueurs

Mama Walker Group 237x300 Review: Mama Walkers Breakfast LiqueursBreakfast at the real Mama Walker’s house (presuming there is one), must have been quite an affair. Donuts, blueberry pancakes, bacon… all that’s missing is the scrambled eggs and OJ.

Presumably a scrambled egg liqueur is forthcoming from this brand, which exists exclusively to sell these “breakfast” themed liqueurs. At 70 proof, I’m not sure what makes them liqueurs vs. flavored vodkas, but that’s what’s on the label. Make your own call. You can surely use them interchangeably.

As for what’s inside, well, you’re in for something unique, to say the least. When we received our sample box, one of the bottles inside had broken and completely leaked out. The smell lingered in the house for days.

Thoughts follow.

Mama Walker’s Glazed Donut Liqueur – The nose is more like cotton candy or burnt marshmallows than donuts. I’ve smelled this before in Smirnoff’s Iced Cake vodka. They are probably spiked with the same stuff. This liqueur adds a maple syrup kick and more vanilla. The finish is ultra-sweet but also hard-edged, with a sharp, alcoholic kick. C-

Mama Walker’s Blueberry Pancake Liqueur – Extremely pungent, with a nose that is more blueberry muffin than blueberry pancake. It smells just like the muffins my mother used to make out of the Betty Crocker box, the one with the little tin of canned blueberries in it. (Do they still sell that?) Drinking this is like alcoholic nostalgia, filled with all the pros and cons that could come with a boozed-up version of your youth. My head’s spinning, but the taste — much like the nose; big, canned blueberries, bread, and a lingering, maple syrup (again) finish — isn’t half bad. B-

Mama Walker’s Maple Bacon Liqueur – Bacon flavor is always dicey in spirits, but here it kinda works. I guess the secret is to add plenty of sugary syrup to it. The bacon is (mercifully) understated next to the syrup, which Mama Walker must go through by the tanker load considering how prevalent it is in all of its products. Still, the bacon notes are distinctly there, a smoky/meaty character that has no real equal in the food world and which translates embarrassingly well to this spirit. I have zero idea how I’d use this in day to day cocktailcrafting (maple bacon margaritas, anyone?), but I’m curious to try. B

(There are recipes on the Mama Walker’s website (see below) for all of these. Tread at your own risk.)

each $13 / mamawalker.com

Review: Hornitos Lime Shot Tequila

I was surprisehornitos lime shot 165x300 Review: Hornitos Lime Shot Tequilad to see Hornitos — one of the most respected names in mainstream tequila — releasing a flavored product like this, clearly aimed at the party-crowd shot market. At the same time, I was intrigued. If anyone was going to do a good job with a “lime shot” tequila, it ought to be Hornitos.

The tequila, a very pale green/gold in color, doesn’t require a whole lot of explanation. It’s a 100% agave tequila, kicked with a touch of natural lime flavor. (The website says there’s salt added too, completing the trifecta.)

The nose offers quite a bit of lime, with a modest agave underpinning. More Meyer lemon than lime, at first blush, but close enough. The agave notes build over time as you let it settle in the glass, the overall effect becoming more “tequila-like.”

The body offers more of the above, but with more sweetness than sourness in the mix. Lime is abundant, something like a lime candy, but I don’t get any salt. What I also don’t get: Much tequila. What’s there is mild, a simple plata with just a touch of vanilla to give the sugary character some interest. Other than that, you won’t be able to pick out much more given all the lime flavoring.

If the idea was to recreate a bar shot, where you really don’t taste anything but lime juice, mission accomplished. But honestly, I’m still scratching my head just trying to figure out what the point of this is. Are limes that hard to cut up?

70 proof.

B- / $18 / hornitostequila.com

Review: Mina Real Mezcal Silver

mezcal mina real bot high 141x300 Review: Mina Real Mezcal SilverOaxaca-based Mina Real is 100% agave mezcal that is made with a hybrid modern and historical technique. Per the company: it is “made from agave that has been steam-roasted in low pressure brick kilns in order to highlight the plants’ bright highland flavor and floral bouquet without the layers of smoke traditionally found with wood-roasted mezcal agave.”

And yet Mina Real is still smoky. The nose offers an aroma of barbeque pits, sweetened up with a touch of honey. On the tongue, this sweetness is even stronger than you’d expect, with a mouth-coating viscosity that layers your tongue and throat with jammy liquid. It’s got a deep flavor of blood oranges, strawberries, and some green pepper/green bean notes — all laced with lightly smoky touches. I’m not sure it comes together the way the distillery may have hoped, but it’s definitely a mezcal for newcomers who aren’t thrilled by smoke to try — though that uncharacteristic sugariness may be ultimately misleading.

A reposado bottling (pictured) also exists, but we have not seen it for review.

84 proof.

B- / $30 / haas-brothers.com

Review: Dry Sodas

DRY Soda 5 can lockup 300x185 Review: Dry SodasDry Soda is a company making a business out of soda with no high fructose corn syrup, less sweetness, lower carbonation, and an overall healthier approach to drinking the stuff. Its products all famously have just four ingredients — water sugar, natural flavors, and phosphoric acid. A 12 oz. can typically hits between 45 and 65 calories. Nine versions are available. We tasted five for review.

All take a little getting used to, but damn if you don’t feel like a better person for drinking on instead of popping open a Mountain Dew.

Thoughts follow.

Dry Vanilla Bean Soda – Mild, not really flavorful enough. Vanilla tastes authentic, but there’s just not enough of it. The overall impact is a slight cream soda character, though not nearly as mouth-filling. B-

Dry Blood Orange Soda – There’s enough fruit flavor here to give it a little more oomph over the comparably dulled Vanilla Bean Soda. It comes off a bit like an upscale orange crush that’s been left with ice to melt, but that’s not an entirely bad thing. B

Dry Apple Soda – A success. Solid apple on the nose and on the palate. Good carbonation level, which balances the apple, offering just a touch of vanilla on the back end. B+

Dry Ginger Soda – My favorite, a simpler spin on ginger ale, with a modest bite but clear ginger notes, touched with a little citrus character. I’d have no trouble mixing with this or drinking it straight. A-

Dry Cucumber Soda – An oddity, just as it sounds. Mild cuke notes, with a kind of lime kick to it. Relatively refreshing, but just not as enjoyable as some of the others in the series. B-

$15 per 12-pack of 12 oz. cans / drysoda.com

Review: Aga Vie Esprit D’Agave

aga vie 143x300 Review: Aga Vie Esprit DAgaveWhat is it about the French and tequila? First Given blends tequila with lime juice and grape juice in Cognac, France, and now there’s Aga Vie, a commingling of blanco tequila and Cognac that have been (re-)distilled together into one oddball spirit. (This distillation removes whatever color is left behind, namely from the Cognac.)

Describing Aga Vie leads terms that are exactly as you’d expect: The nose is sweet like tequila, and the body offers an agave punch plus some of that brandied sweetness. To dig into the details, when you first get a whiff of Aga Vie, imagine not blanco but reposado tequila (there’s some wood in there), with a little honey thrown into the mix. On the palate, things get weird. The tequila’s there — though it’s not particularly definable beyond indistinct agave notes — but it’s considerably overpowered by the sweetness of the Cognac. Aga Vie doesn’t delineate the proportions of tequila to brandy in this spirit, and it’s hard to tell whether a little expensive Cognac goes a long way in a lot of cheaper tequila or whether it’s the other way around, but either way the mixture will be confusing to anyone who’s accustomed to drinking either of the two. The vanilla notes from the Cognac make you feel like you’re drinking an older tequila stock at first, but the impression soon fades as a hefty sweetness takes hold on your throat. The spirit ends with a mouth-coating candy-like character that is hard to shake and which, all things considered, is the only part of the experience that isn’t particularly satisfying.

The natural question you might ask next is: But why? Why would you take perfectly good tequila and Cognac and blend them together? The official story on the Aga Vie website evokes the French occupation of Mexico (a brief period in the country’s history), but I doubt anyone was mixing up tequila and Cognac during those years. Whether we should be doing that now is left as an exercise for the reader.

B- / $45 / agavie.com

Review: Wines of Domaines Paul Mas, 2011 Vintage

Paul Mas Estate Malbec without hills 200x300 Review: Wines of Domaines Paul Mas, 2011 VintageDomaines Paul Mas hails from France’s Languedoc region, the largest winemaking region in the world, where a nearly infinite variety of wines can be found. Languedoc wines are also often very inexpensive, as the price tags on the three wines tasted below will confirm.

2011 Paul Mas Estate Pinot Noir Saint Hilaire Vineyard – The nose offers roasted meats and overripe plum notes. The body is similar, but quite earthy, a little musty even. The finish tries to come back with some jamminess, but never quite pulls it all together. B- / $12

2011 Paul Mas Estate Coteaux du Languedoc Clos des Mures – A dusty, undercooked wine (mostly Syrah), something you’d get as the “house red” at your local bistro. Ultimately harmless, but so unmemorable with its brambly undertones and chunky, unrefined finish. C- / $15

2011 Paul Mas Estate Malbec Gardemiel Vineyard – Easily the best of the lot, though this surprisingly easygoing Malbec doesn’t exactly make a statement on the palate. Pleasant and fruity with muted cherry and light tobacco notes, the body comes on late and leaves early. A simple, gulp-it-back wine to go with everyday food, it’s hard not to like but far from loveable. B+ / $13

paulmas.com

Review: Magic Hat deVEILed and Seance

Yes, even more new beers from Magic Hat, these two mercifully devoid of flowers and odd vegetables being used as flavoring agents. Alas, neither of them really floated our proverbial boat.MHT DEVEILED 12oz3D 2013 106x300 Review: Magic Hat deVEILed and Seance

Magic Hat deVEILed - An amber ale. Muddy and indistinct, with loads upon loads of malt that drown out the hops. Twigs and earth are the primary characteristics here, with a bit of tobacco and ash. Not much under the veil, alas. Not my style. 5.2% abv. C-

Magic Hat Seance – A dark saison. Slightly smoky up front, with a rich, bittersweet chocolate note that comes on after. Malt and hops are more in balance here, but it’s still skewed heavily toward the former. The promised fruit doesn’t really materialize except for a whiff of dates in the end. 4.4% abv. B-

$NA / magichat.net

Review: Wines of Balverne, 2013 Releases

balverne pinot noir 279x300 Review: Wines of Balverne, 2013 ReleasesBalverne was a well-known wine brand in the 1980s, making estate wines on its Russian River Valley property since 1972. The vineyard changed hands in 1992 and winemaking stopped, the grapes instead being sold to other winemakers. Now Balverne is back, beginning again in 2005 under the name Windsor Oaks — and now as its original moniker, Balverne.

How do the new Balverne wines stack up? Here’s a look at the new lineup.

2012 Balverne Rose of Sangiovese Chalk Hill – I never find much love in Sangiovese roses. A little green and brambly, which is a shame considering the otherwise intriguing strawberry notes that are hinted at on the nose. Short finish. B- / $20

2012 Balverne Chardonnay Unoaked Russian River Valley – Light grapefruit on the nose, more apple on the body. Lightly brambly, particularly on the finish, which feels a little gritty. A relatively easy Chardonnay, but not an earth-shaker. B / $25

2012 Balverne Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley – Very tart, lots of very fresh grapefruit character, with a touch of lemon. For lovers of heavily acidic wines, this one does the job, even throwing in a touch of salted caramel when the finish comes ’round. A- / $25

2010 Balverne Pinot Noir Russian River Valley – Modest Pinot Noir, with notes of black tea and raspberry jam. Good overall character, but a little flabby on the body, which could use a bump of extra tartness. B / $35

balverne.com

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