Review: Blue Nectar Tequila

blue nectar special reserve

Blue Nectar is a new brand producing three varieties of tequila from the Lowlands of Mexico. The three expressions are not the traditional trio you might be familiar with in the tequilaverse, but let’s not spoil the surprise.

All expressions are 80 proof. Thoughts follow.

Blue Nectar Tequila Silver – Intense bell pepper, jalapeno, and red chilis on the nose lead to a racy and spicy initial rush. This manages to settle down quickly to reveal some surprising layers of sweetness — light butterscotch and a bit of vanilla. You can’t keep that vegetal/pepper character down for long. It makes an overwhelming encore on this enigmatic — and slightly off-putting — spirit. B / $37

Blue Nectar Tequila Reposado – Claimed to be “a unique blend of reposado and limited production extra anejo” tequilas, which puts this into a category of bizarre tequila recursion. Is Blue Nectar Reposado somehow blended with itself? No matter. The addition of some three-year anejo aside, this is a well-made reposado, offering a pleasing mix of rich agave, silky caramel, and gummy vanilla notes. Both the savory and sweet sides of this spirit are in balance here, giving it a punchy, peppery counterbalance to its sweeter side. Lots to like. A- / $40

Blue Nectar Tequila Special Reserve – You might presume this is a fancy name for Blue Nectar’s Anejo. You’d be wrong. It is actually reposado “tequila infused with natural spice flavor.” Said spices are not revealed, but they do include “vanilla, nutmeg, and orange peel, plus a hint of agave nectar.” The overall impact is a bit weird and hard to pin down. It’s a very light, almost fruity spirit, with notes of orange juice, banana, vanilla ice cream, and a dusting of agave spice on the back. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a bad product. In fact, it’s pleasant enough, but it’s harmless to the point of being nearly inconsequential. I’m not sure what Blue Nectar did to this spirit, but it ultimately did a bit of a disservice to the raw material. B- / $45

bluenectartequila.com

Review: Rougaroux Rum Complete Lineup

Rougaroux-Praline

Thibodaux, Louisiana is home to Donner-Peltier Distillers, which is in turn home to the Rougaroux collection, as well as a number of other spirits (all of which we’ll be reviewing in due course). Up first is this trio of rums, which offer a distinctly Cajun perspective on this venerable spirit. Plastic beads not included. Read on for more.

Rougaroux Sugarshine Rum – A “rum moonshine,” this overproof, white spirit is made from local sugar cane. The nose is funky and fuel-like, more white whiskey than any white rum you’re likely to be familiar with. Things settle down on the tongue, fortunately, revealing some simple sugar notes. At this proof level, though, that sweetness is laced with an overpowering level of raw alcohol, providing a flood of hospital notes that the “sugarshine” can barely hold a candle to. 101 proof. B- / $21

Rougaroux Full Moon Dark Rum – Blackstrap molasses and raw sugar cane are used to make a white rum, which is aged in white oak barrels for an unstated amount of time. No caramel color or other agent is added. The results are curious. Rougaroux’s petrol character doesn’t slip away here. It’s big on the nose, pushing all but the faintest hint of molasses out of the picture. The body has plenty more of those fuel notes to go around, though they’re rounded out by some brown sugar character, vanilla, and sugary breakfast cereal notes. Tough on the back end — my hunch is that this has seen some time in new oak barrels (not used whiskey barrels), which would explain the very dark color, and that raw lumber has simply had its way with this spirit. 80 proof. B / $21

Rougaroux 13 Pennies Praline Rum – I love pralines. (I’m Texan, so it’s long A.) It would be un-American not to enjoy a good pecan-and-sugar confection from time to time. What then to make of 13 Pennies “Praline” rum? The NOLA staple isn’t at all detectable here. Though it is made with local pecans and Louisiana’s famous cane syrup, the nose is more akin to almonds or Amaretto. Presumably that’s due to the rum base interfering with the flavoring  ingredients. The attack is a bit vague and, again, grainy, with a nuttiness — again, more almond than pecan — coming to bear as the finish starts to build. Said finish is only moderate in its sweetness, that nutty character building to head before fading into a vague astringency. 80 proof. B- / $21

dpdspirits.com

Review: Wines of Pina Napa Valley, 2014 Releases

pina napa valleyEvery year we anticipate a shipment of wines from Pina Napa Valley for review, and every year that shipment seems to get larger. For 2014 the winery has offered a whopping six wines for review — five from different regions of Napa — upon which we’re happily ready to offer our commentary.

2012 Pina Napa Valley Chardonnay Low Vineyard Oak Knoll District – My first encounter with Pina’s Chardonnay. In fact, I didn’t even know they made a Chardonnay. This is a rather textbook Chardonnay, imbued with a big, meaty character, dense fig and pear notes, vanilla, and a touch of salted caramel. The body is missing the certain creaminess that you need with bold Chardonnays like this, and it fares better as it warms up a bit. B- / $34

2011 Pina Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon D’Adamo Vineyard Napa Valley – Bold, classic Napa Cab. The nose is full of currants, dark chocolate, and violets. On the body, sweeter than expected, with more of a blackberry jam character touched with black tea, gooseberries, and a bit of coffee bean, which adds just a hint of bitterness on the back end. A- / $80

2011 Pina Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Wolff Vineyard Yountville – A milder, fatter-bodied Cab, this wine offers a juicy nose of blackberry jam, currants, and light black pepper notes. The body is ripe and lush — it’s as close to a summer-worthy Cabernet as you can get without putting an animal on the label — with a long, almost fruit-juice finish. One of Pina’s simpler wines, but highly enjoyable on its own merits. A- / $85

2011 Pina Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Ames Vineyard Oakville – A simpler expression of Pina. Relatively tannic and on the green side, this wine dials down the jam in favor of notes from the earthier side of things, including mushroom, celery, cracked pepper, and saddle leather. Very dry and restrained, it offers only minimal fruit but packs in ample elegance. Drink now. B+ / $90

2011 Pina Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Buckeye Vineyard Howell Mountain – Racy and dense, this is a classic mountain Cab, loaded with intense blackberry, currant, and plum notes, alongside touches of blueberry, black tea, licorice, and leather. Lots going on, but this is a wine firing on all cylinders, dark as could be but masking a brooding and authentic soul. A / $90

2011 Pina Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Firehouse Vineyard Rutherford – The greenest and most vegetal of this vintage, the Firehouse Vineyard bottling comes off as almost astringent at first, offering plenty of tannin and oak notes but only a dusting of fruit. There’s just not much life in this wine, and without food it comes off as already past its prime. B- / $90

pinanapavalley.com

Review: Jim Beam Signature Craft Harvest Bourbon Collection – Soft Red Wheat and Rolled Oat

jim beam harvest

Discontent to let Buffalo Trace have all the fun with experimental whiskeys, Jim Beam has been hard at work with its annual Signature Craft releases to show how little changes can have a big impact on a finished spirit.

Now it’s pushing boundaries even further, with a series of six Bourbons called the Harvest Bourbon Collection (technically a sub-group of Signature Craft). The spin on this project is that these six whiskeys each incorporate one unusual grain into the mashbill. They’re all still Bourbon — made with at least 51% corn and some amount of malted barley — but in each whiskey that extra grain is used in a significant amount in the mash (though in undisclosed and variable proportions). All six expressions were aged 11 years before bottling at 90 proof.

The six expressions include: Soft Red Wheat, Brown Rice, Rolled Oat, Triticale, High Rye, and Six Row Barley. The first two on that list arrive in September 2014. The other four will ship through 2015.

Some of these are more unusual than others on that list, of course. Wheat, rye, and barley are all common whiskey components, though here Beam is using different strains or proportions. Triticale is a hybrid of wheat and rye, which leaves two big oddities on the list: Rolled Oat and, especially, Brown Rice. Both are common supermarket grains that are nonetheless bizarre to find in a whiskey. Color me curious on how these things turn out.

For now, we’ve got our hands on two of the six: Soft Red Wheat and Rolled Oat. Without further ado, here’s how they turned out.

JB_SC_Harvest_WheatJim Beam Signature Craft Harvest Bourbon Collection Soft Red Wheat – Made with Kentucky and Indiana wheat, a common ingredient in Bourbons like Maker’s Mark. This initially struck me with a slightly funky, sweaty nose, but I let it settle down and things started to clarify, revealing a more straightforward wood character, with hints of earthiness. This is well-aged whiskey and it shows from the start. On the palate, hints of cherry (not unusual for Beam products) and ample, almost overpowering oak character. Even with a healthy amount of water you can’t push that wood character down, a fact which I chalk up more to the aging regimen than to wheat being in the mashbill. Surprisingly tough to muddle through. B-

Jim Beam Signature Craft Harvest Bourbon Collection Rolled Oat – I’ve had a few whiskeys that incorporate oats and I always find them fascinating, at least for a diversion. Here Beam has produced a whiskey with a distinct sweetness on the nose, almost like baking spices with cinnamon and cloves, with rich wood notes underneath. On the palate, again it is quite hot on the tongue, and water helps to bring out the unique charms of the spirit. This is a far different whiskey than the Red Wheat expression, a much softer, gentler, and more engaging spirit on the whole. Cinnamon sugar notes play well with a caramel/dulce de leche base, with that woody nose melting into a pulpier, piney character on the palate. All of this plays well together, giving the Rolled Oat expression a balance that the Red Wheat doesn’t have. Perhaps it was simply better able to stand up to the aging regimen? Either way, it’s a winner. A-

This is a fun start to an interesting lineup. Hopefully we’ll have reviews of the other four expressions for you in the Harvest Collection soon!

each $50 (375ml) / jimbeam.com

Tasting the White Wines of Lodi, California

Lodi is located up and east from Napa/Sonoma. The source of some of California’s less expensive wines, it’s nonetheless and “up and coming” region that has more of a pedigree than, say, California’s industrial Central Valley. Known for its heavy Zinfandel production, Lodi is also home to a prodigious amount of white wine. In a recent live tasting event, which was led by Camron King, Executive Director of the Lodi Winegrape Commission, and Susan Tipton of Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards, we focused exclusively on those whites, sampling five wines made from different varietals, all from Lodi grapes.

Thoughts on all five wines tasted follow.

2013 Borra Vineyards Artist Series Nuvola Gewürztraminer – A very fruity example of Gewurztraminer, with lemon and peaches up front, revealing a light honey sweetness as it starts to evolve in the glass. The finish is crisp and clean, with more fruit than the fragrant perfume notes that are typical of Gewurz. A fave here. B+ / $19

2013 Bokisch Vineyards Garnacha Blanca Vista Luna Vineyard – A bit on the weedy side, this white offers tropical notes up front before fading into a strongly grassy character, along with a somewhat meaty edge on the finish. Strange balance, not my favorite. C+ / $18

2013 Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards Viognier – Made by Lodi’s only all-white-wine winery. This Viognier is restrained in a way that many Viogniers are not, with more mild apricot and peach notes and an earthiness backing them up. Again, that big, chewy body takes over and fades into some funkier, meatier notes on the finish. Better balance on the whole, though, and something to try even if you don’t consider yourself a Viognier fan. B- / $23

2013 Heritage Oak Winery Sauvignon Blanc – Very perfumy on the nose, with notes of lemongrass and pepe du chat… and also an edge of tree bark atypical of Sauvignon Blanc. Clean on the body, with lots of fresh lemon character and a grassy, herbal finish. B+ / $18

2012 Uvaggio Moscato Secco – Not overwhelmingly sweet as you might have feared, this Moscato is plenty fragrant and perfumed, but dials back that unctuous juicy orange character almost to an afterthought. Dry and clean, this is the rare moscato that you might consider drinking with your main course rather than dessert. B / $14

lodiwine.com

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Review: Ingenium Dry Gin

IngeniumGin

Portland, Maine-based New England Distilling presents this avant garde “new western” gin, made from a triple pot-distilled mash of 2-row barley with a bit of rye added. Botanicals include juniper, lime zest, lemongrass, bay leaf, mace, and rose petals — plus some other oddities.

That description alone gives you plenty to think about. Pour a glass and you get plenty to write about, too.

Let’s start with the mashbill. That barley base creates a very white whiskey-like experience on the nose, malty and full of cereal, with some evergreen notes bringing up the rear. The botanicals barely peek through, unable to push past that granary-fueled base.

The palate offers more interest, though it’s inconsistent. Here some floral notes make for an odd but somewhat successful balance with the malted milk-like body. Curious but somewhat compelling. As the finish arrives, the clear lime and mint notes — about the only things even remotely traditional in this gin — offer some hint that this might work in a cocktail, but on the whole it’s so weird that it’s a struggle to see where it would feel truly at home.

94 proof.

B- / $40 / newenglanddistilling.com

Review: Wines of CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs, 2014 Releases

Crossbarn_By_Paul_Hobbs_Pinot_Noir_Sonoma_Coast_2011_Bottle-900x900Once called “the Steve Jobs of wine,” Paul Hobbs is a NorCal bigshot that makes wines under his own label as well as importing stuff he really likes. CrossBarn is his new, lower-cost label.

We sampled three wines (two Pinots, one Chardonnay) under the CrossBarn label. Thoughts follow.

2013 CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs Chardonnay Sonoma Coast – Virtually unoaked (80% fermented in tank, 20% in neutral French oak), this wine presents a citrusy but quite herbal nose, with a body offering spiced apples and Meyer lemon, plus some apricot on the finish. Easy to love. A- / $18

2012 CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir Sonoma County – A slightly thin, somewhat meaty example of the varietal. The body’s light blueberry fruit is indistinct, muddied by the savoriness that makes it feel a bit like old fruit juice. B- / $35

2012 CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir Anderson Valley – A much more refined Pinot. It starts with some Port-like notes on the nose, and plenty of macerated cherries. The body isn’t exactly dense with fruit, but it has lots of life and only a hint of vanilla and some woody bramble character by way of terroir. A solid, easy-to-love wine. B+ / $35

crossbarnwinery.com

Review: McAfee’s Benchmark Peach Liqueur

Benchmark No 8 Bourbon Peach 70prf 750ml Glass

This has been sitting on the shelf of a local store for a bit and at a price of $13, I thought it was worth dropping the coin to give it a spin. Benchmark Peach is marketed as an offshoot of the venerable Benchmark whiskey brand, but it’s not a flavored whiskey: It’s a liqueur.

To borrow a phrase: It’s just peachy. Very peachy. It certainly lives up to tasting like a peach liqueur with a hint of whiskey rather than the other way around. This could be quite handy for mixers and cocktail recipes: perhaps for a peach-mint julep, fuzzy navel (we still have those, right?), or a bellini. However, as a standalone product it’s almost too overpowering. There are other varietals in the series (Brown Sugar and Egg Nog were also on the shelves), and reviews of these will be coming in due time.

The packaging might cause a bit of confusion and high expectations for Benchmark loyalists expecting the usual Benchmark juice with a hint of peach. It may be unfair to compare, but the association is inevitable, and bourbon drinkers may find themselves a bit disappointed. As flavored whiskeyish products go, it’s not the best available on the market, but it is certainly far from the worst.

70 proof.

B / $13 / greatbourbon.com

Review: The Glenlivet Nadurra Oloroso

The-Glenlivet-Nadurra-Oloroso-bottle-2

The Glenlivet Nadurra — “natural” in Gaelic — is a member of the Glenlivet’s core range of expressions, named in part because it spends its entire life in ex-bourbon casks (with no finishing), isn’t filtered or colored, and is bottled at its “natural” cask strength. Now, Nadurra is getting its first permanent line extension, with Nadurra Oloroso.

As the name implies, this whisky spends its entire life in Oloroso Sherry casks, the first major Glenlivet release in decades to be aged this way. Unlike the “regular” Nadurra, though, it is bottled without an age statement and at a somewhat lower alcohol level: 96 proof.

More Nadurras are coming, as the Glenlivet Nadurra sub-range is about to blow up. Says the company: “Each expression in The Glenlivet Nàdurra range is crafted in small batches using traditional production methods and is matured exclusively in a different cask-type, showcasing the versatility and flawless quality of The Glenlivet spirit. Unlike most modern whiskies, the range is bottled without chill-filtration, which offers the additional complexity, body, and texture of a whisky that has just been drawn from the cask.”

All that aside: Nadurra Oloroso is a considerable departure from standard Nadurra expression. The nose offers lots of grain and cereal notes — it’s clearly younger (probably much younger) than the 16 years of age on the regular Nadurra — with just a touch of orange oil and apple pie spice atop the cereal notes.

On the body, that granary character is strong, but not overpowering, with notes of sherried fruit (naturally), plus unripe banana, burnt matches, tar, and overcooked meat. What emerges from this melange is a sense that the whiskey is simultaneously too young and spent too long in sherry barrels… that perhaps a finishing was more in order with this release than a lengthy sojourn in Sherry casks. The lower proof level also leads me to believe that this whisky isn’t even bottled at cask strength — 96 proof can’t be the way it came out of the barrel — to which I have to ask: Why was this given the Nadurra name to begin with?

Weird. Discuss amongst yourselves.

96 proof. Travel retail only (for now).

B- / $75 / theglenlivet.com

Review: Bacardi Mango Fusion

Bacardi Mango_Fusion_BottleFusion, you say? Turns out all you need are mangos and oranges and they fuse together to power your car.

Ahem, well, Bacardi’s latest flavored rum is this, “Mango fused with Orange” and bottled at 70 proof.

The nose of this concoction lands in a weird zone among tropical, citrus, and cough syrup, sharp and indistinct, but impossibly fruity. The body is a bit more merciful. Initially quite mild, it soon punches you with that same trio of flavors. Lots going on, but it’s the oily orange marmalade character that spreads itself on the thickest. The finish is sweet as candy, the only real indication that this is rum, not vodka. Fair enough as a mixer if you’ve got a sweet tooth.

B- / $12 / bacardi.com