Category Archives: Rated B-

Review: Wines of Artesa, 2012 Releases

artesa winery 300x187 Review: Wines of Artesa, 2012 ReleasesArtesa operates an iconic winery in Carneros (photo at right), one which is well worth a visit if you’re in the area. Recently the winery released its slate of wines for 2012. Three of these, representing the primary varietals of the area, are reviewed below. Continue reading

Review: Scotch Malt Whisky Society December 2012 Outturn

The SMWS has released its second outturn for December, including four bottlings of whisky — three single malts and a single grain whisky. Thoughts follow on what is an extremely varied batch of spirits.

SMWS Cask 3.184 – 15 year old Bowmore from Islay – A well-balanced Bowmore, with sugar and spice in good balance with the peat. Think cinnamon toast over open coals, apple strudel, sherried mushrooms, and a touch of campfire. Long finish, lots of depth, but surprisingly drinkable at cask strength — 61% alcohol. Distilled 1996, 122.0 proof, 60 bottles allocated for U.S. A- / $115

SMWS Cask 48.26 – 23 year old Balmenach from Speyside – My first experience with Balmenach, a strange and unique Speyside whisky. Perfumed candy is my best attempt at describing it. Take a vanilla milkshake and stir in some jasmine, incense, and a melange of assorted potpourri and you have something approaching this whisky. The finish is a little weird, almost saccharine, with distinct cereal and wood barrel notes. Surprisingly pale. Not my cup of tea… which is, in a way, what this whisky resembles in more ways than one. Distilled 1988, 101.0 proof, 120 bottles allocated for U.S. B- / $115

SMWS Cask 125.51 – 9 year old Glenmorangie from the Highlands – A racy dram. Big peppery character up front mellows into marshmallow tones, with baking spices mixed in. Long and smooth, this drinks like a 15 year old malt instead of a mere 9er. Golden and fresh in the way that Glenmorangie can often be, with lots of citrus fruit, lemon, graham crackers, and toffee, it’s the whisky in this batch that I revisited more than any of the others. Distilled 2001, 114.8 proof, 150 bottles allocated for U.S. A- / $90

SMWS Cask G9.1 – 11 year old grain whisky from Loch Lomond in the lower Highlands – A brand made famous by its appearance in Tintin — it’s Captain Haddock’s whisky of choice. Definitely “grainy,” it’s got a light and gently herbal/nutty nose that turns toward the earth when you take a sip. The body is chewy, with intense wood, heather, and young grain notes. Not bad for a grain spirit, but the somewhat mushy and unfocused body just doesn’t compare to the real deal. Distilled 2000, 115.6 proof, 48 bottles allocated for U.S. B / $100

Looking for the Green Fairy with an Sampler Pack

absinthe kit 300x300 Looking for the Green Fairy with an Sampler PackInterested in absinthe but don’t know where to start? With bottle prices that can top $100 a pop, it’s tough to justify the price for a bottle if you aren’t exactly sure what you’re getting in to.

Germany-based attempts to correct that with its collection of miniatures — 50ml bottles of absinthe available for about $10 a bottle, well within “experimental” range. Continue reading

Review: 2010 Four Vines Zinfandel Lineup

Think you know Four Vines Zinfandel? This isn’t that Four Vines. That Four Vines sold its name to Purple Wine Corp. The old Four Vines is now called Cypher. The new Four Vines, well, it’s making pretty good Zinfandel in the footsteps of the original owner of the name. Here’s how the new 2010 bottlings of its all-over-California wine production shakes out.

2010 Four Vines Zinfandel “The Sophisticate” Sonoma County - Some smokiness on the nose, plenty of juicy fruit on the palate. Some spicy notes in the palate, plus a touch of cedar box, raisin, and a touch of wood oil round out a food-friendly bottling. B+ / $23

2010 Four Vines Zinfandel “Maverick” Amador County – Very spicy, with a big, extracted fruit character. Not a complex wine, with a moderate to light body that’s packed to the gills with flavors of juicy raisins, pepper, and fresh garden herbs, alongside hefty acidity. B- / $18

2010 Four Vines Zinfandel “Biker” Paso RoblesDense, chocolates and currants, incredibly rich. Amazing depth offers fruit that doesn’t quit — black cherry on the finish, plus brewed tea and cinnamon. Lots to enjoy in this one. A- / $23


Review: Wines of Chile’s Neyen, Ritual, and Primus

Huneeus Vintners manages a portfolio of wines from around the globe. Three of its South American Portfolio wines, all from Chile, were just released in new vintages. We tasted them all!

2008 Neyen Espiritu de Apalta Colchagua Valley – 80% Carmenere, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. Inky deep maroon. Big plum character, with ample cinnamon, dark chocolate, and vanilla notes. Big body with a lasting, yet balanced, finish. Deep and rich, it stands up well to a big meal while also working enjoyably as a winter sipper. A / $50

2011 Ritual Pinot Noir Casablanca Valley - Ample fruit, with a bit of a thin body. Lots of jammy strawberry and cherry here. Easygoing, with a short, lightly vegetal finish. B- / $20

2010 Primus The Blend Colchagua Valley – A rich blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, Syrah and Merlot. Quite compelling, it’s got plenty of fruit despite an ample density. Almost salty up front, the plums and cedar wood in the middle give it ample complexity and drinkability. B+ / $20

Review: Campbeltown Loch Blended Scotch Whisky

campbeltown loch 225x300 Review: Campbeltown Loch Blended Scotch WhiskySpringbank produces this simple blend — no age statement, but it’s 5 years old — including some of its own, highly-prized Campbeltown whisky, Longrow and, of course, Springbank. 40% malt and 60% grain whisky, it’s an ultra-pale, and lightly fragrant dram.

Quite innocuous, this is basically a drinkable, non-offensive whisky. Light campfire notes on the nose, the body offers light smoke, touches of honey, and floral notes. None of this is particularly heavy. The cereal notes — Honeycomb, perhaps — on the finish are the strongest component in the blend, and even that is on the mild side.

It’s not a particularly memorable whisky, but the price won’t much impact your wallet either, so there’s no harm keeping a bottle of it around for guests you deem unworthy of the single malts.

80 proof.

B- / $25 / [BUY IT HERE]

Review: Crown Royal Maple Finished Canadian Whisky

crown royal maple finished 255x300 Review: Crown Royal Maple Finished Canadian Whisky“Finished” has a particular meaning in the world of whisky, normally implying that a whisky has been moved from one type of barrel to another, usually a different type of wood or, more commonly, a barrel that once held another spirit or wine. “Maple finished” has actually been done before: Woodford Reserve made a maple-finished limited release Bourbon in 2010.

That’s not what Crown Royal Maple Finished Canadian Whisky is.

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Review: PunZone Vodka, Lemoncino, and Originale Liqueur

Ppunzone vodka and liqueurs 300x234 Review: PunZone Vodka, Lemoncino, and Originale LiqueurunZone (accent on the e) is a new Italian brand that produces vodka and a pair of spirits, all organically. The vodka is actually the newest part of the equation. The liqueurs are old family recipes — blends of vodka, sangria, and fruit essences. We tasted all three spirits. Thoughts follow.

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Review: Hum Botanical Spirit Liqueur

Hum Botanical Spirit liqueur 146x300 Review: Hum Botanical Spirit LiqueurA unique liqueur on the market today, Hum has been available for a few years, but I rarely see it on cocktail menus. It’s made from pot-distilled rum and infused with fair trade hibiscus, ginger root, green cardamom, and kaffir lime. Sounds simple. It is anything but.

This is a complicated liqueur. The color and consistency are Robitussin maroon. The nose, intensely floral, features an undercurrent of raisins and wild cherries. The body is a powerhouse: The floral elements build and build until (mercifully) the ginger root takes over, cutting the sweetness with that unmistakable bite. Cardamom is clear, but it’s not as powerful as I was expecting — perhaps being “green” makes a difference.

Hum is frankly difficult to process; there’s so much going on in this spirit that “balance” is an utter impossibility. The ginger element really grows on you though, which really surprised me. Use in cocktails, one drop at a time.

70 proof.


Review: 2009/2010 Zinfandels of Ravenswood

It’s been three years since we’ve sat down with Ravenswood and its surprisingly exhaustive lineup of Zinfandels. Best known for its sub-$10 Vintners Blend, the winery produces a wide range of Zins, including seven single-vineyard designates. We got our hands on two of the “Old Vine” wines from 2010 and four of the single vineyard wines from 2009 to see how things were shaping up for the winery. Thoughts follow. Continue reading

Review: Tequila Regional Blanco

tequila regional 199x300 Review: Tequila Regional BlancoTequila Regional (“Ray-he-o-nahl”) is the product of a sort of agave collective of farmers in Mexico; 36 farms from 7 counties are represented. This is a rare 100% agave tequila that’s sourced from both highlands and lowlands agave, then blended into the final bottling.

Blanco, reposado, and anejo bottlings are on the market. We sampled only the blanco.

Racy on the nose, but not overwhelming. Notes of sausages on the grill, mustard, charcoal and smoke. On the palate, it’s more of same, a very rich and savory tequila with an unusual level of smokiness. Sweetness is an afterthought, but it’s there. You’d be forgiven for thinking this was a milder mezcal, though there’s not so much savoriness that non-mezcal fans will mind.

Overall it’s a journeyman tequila that doesn’t really distinguish itself, though it’s certainly drinkable, particularly at this price.

B- / $20 /

Review: Tallarico Vodka

tallarico vodka 107x300 Review: Tallarico VodkaTallarico is the brainchild of Giancarlo Tallarico, a Beverly Hills-based entrepreneur with his eyes on his own vodka (and a $45 price tag). Distilled from common rye and white winter wheat, this vodka (tagline: “Imbibe Elegantly.”) comes in a monolithic and mostly opaque, black decanter that fades to clear at the bottom.

On the nose, it’s a classic blend of Old World and New — lightly medicinal, but with hints of something spicy and sweet beneath.

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Review: The Maltman Glenlossie 19 Years Old

maltman glenlossie 19 years old 76x300 Review: The Maltman Glenlossie 19 Years OldThe Maltman is a brand owned by Glasgow-based Meadowside Blending, a private bottler of spirits a la Chieftain’s and Murray McDavid.

This new release is a 19 year old Glenlossie, a Speyside whisky with some odd character to it. The nose is, to put it lightly, on the strange side. Band-Aid, creosote, and plastic notes tend to drown out the honey and light cereal notes underneath, and it’s a bit daunting from the start. Take a sip and those off notes fade, revealing that honey character, touches of heather and barley fields, almonds and a growing citrus character on the finish. That disconcerting hospital character blows off of the nose slowly, but not quickly enough.

331 bottles made. 86 proof.

B- / $110 /

The Pisco of Chile: Control C and Espiritu de Elqui Reviewed

Chile celebrates its Independence Day on September 18, and this year the country took the opportunity to revive the battle its been locked in with Peru over who originated — or makes better — the South American spirit of Pisco.

Distilled from grapes, Pisco is essentially unaged (usually) brandy, though in Chile they are more apt to drop their Pisco in an oak barrel for a few months or years than they are in Pisco.

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Review: Sparkle Donkey Tequila

Sparkle Donkey tequila 300x300 Review: Sparkle Donkey TequilaIt’s one of the most fanciful product names we’ve encountered in a while, but once of the most apt, too: Sparkle Donkey Tequila features an armor-clad donkey on its label. “El Burro Esparkalo.”

Brought to us by the makers of Bakon Vodka, Sparkle Donkey is a 100% agave tequila with a legit heritage — extra-long fermentation, volcanic water used for blending, and so on. Here’s how the two initial expressions stack up. Both are 80 proof. Continue reading

Review: Tecate Michelada

tecate michelada 122x300 Review: Tecate MicheladaThe Michelada is one of those drinks with a million variations (The New York Times has a lengthy discussion about it here), but the essence of it is beer and spice — and often tomato juice.

Tecate has now released a pre-mixed Michelada, the first of its kind in the U.S. This one is of the non-tomato juice variety. It is a relatively simple blend of Tecate beer, natural lime flavor, and spices.

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Review: Ransom Spirits Whippersnapper Oregon Spirit Whiskey

Ransom Spirits Whippersnapper 189x300 Review: Ransom Spirits Whippersnapper Oregon Spirit WhiskeyOregon-based Ransom Spirits makes Whippersnapper in a way that defies easy comparison. I’ll let the company do the heavy lifting with this official description.

The first part is made from barley that is malted in the Pacific Northwest, and unmalted barley grown in the Willamette valley of Oregon. This barley is ground, mashed, fermented and distilled on location at the distillery in Sheridan, Oregon. The second part is made by using a base of Kentucky corn whitedog, which we obsessively re-distill in an alembic pot still. Extremely selective cuts are made at the condenser, and only the “heart of the hearts” is kept for aging and bottling. The remainder is discarded.

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Review: Shellback Silver Rum and Spiced Rum

This new rum brand — named after a term used to describe a savvy sailor — is produced in Barbados, with its eyes set on the premium segment of the market. Both of these initial expressions are 80 proof.

Shellback Silver Rum – Aged 12 months in Bourbon barrels and filtered to white. Huge vanilla on the nose, with some petrol undertones. Very sweet — I called it “cotton candy” during my first encounter — with a long, sugary finish. It does echo back that edge of bitterness in the finish, but as the rum aerates it takes on a more complex cookie dough character — chocolate chips included. B+

Shellback Spiced Rum – Per the company, “Shellback Spiced has no added sugar and features a combination of all natural spices from around the world including: cinnamon bark oil from Sri Lanka and Ceylon; ginger oil from China and Africa; clove oil from Madagascar and India; nutmeg from Indonesia; cassia from Vietnam and China; vanilla from Madagascar and allspice from the Caribbean.” Rougher than I had hoped, with the spiciness coming across dry and dusty, like when you touch ground cinnamon directly to your tongue. This is clearly intentional — the absence of sugar is a badge of honor for Shellback in this spirit — but it doesn’t do the spirit any favors, finishing things off not with refreshing spiciness but rather a bit of astringency. B-

each $17 /

Shellback rum silver and spiced Review: Shellback Silver Rum and Spiced Rum

Review: Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2012 Edition

There are a few things you can count on in the whiskey world, and one of them is the annual release of Buffalo Trace’s always-anticipated Antique Collection, a compilation of five very old and very rare American whiskeys that pretty much sell out immediately once they land on store shelves. (I’ve seen bars where these whiskeys are locked up behind iron grates.)

Here’s how the five whiskeys of the 2012 Collection stack up.

Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old – Big rye on the nose, with some honeysuckle in the mix. The body is sweet, with touches of tobacco. More wood develops with time in the glass, and a splash of water. Lots of tannin on the finish, all that time in wood leaving behind a lot of dusty sawdust character. Water helps. 90 proof (as always). 90 proof. B+

Eagle Rare 17 Year Old Bourbon – Very sweet, almost no woodiness for a 17-year-old Bourbon. Quite a bit of citrus under the caramel notes, I don’t get the “dry and delicate” character that the distillery describes in its official notes, but rather a classic whiskey with just a touch of tawny port character on the finish. Scarily drinkable though less complex than I might like. 90 proof. A-

George T. Stagg Bourbon – Chocolate and coffee notes a-plenty in this classic heater — 142.8 proof this year. Plenty of wood on the mid-palate, but it’s not overly hoary like the 2011 edition. A warming, sweet finish brings everything together. Make no mistake, this is hot, old whiskey — 17 years old for the 2012 bottling — but complex, burly, and quite delicious. A-

William Larue Weller Bourbon –At “just” 123.4 proof, this year’s Weller is a lower-proof baby compared to previous renditions. Less exciting on the nose, this wheated Bourbon is mild, ultimately exhibiting some licorice and nutty, tree-bark flavors. Tannic and drying on the finish, even with water. 12 years old. B

Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye – Definitely my least favorite of this year’s collection. The nose is innocuous, hinting at dark cherry character alongside cinnamon and some cocoa notes. The body, however, veers into somewhat overpowering astringency. Though just 6 years old, the woodiness is pungent and overbearing, leaving behind an oily, sawdust-driven finish that hangs around for a long, long time. It opens up with time in glass, but the overall effect just doesn’t come together the way it should. 132.4 proof. B-

about $70 each /

Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2012 Review: Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2012 Edition

Review: 2010 Cryptic Red Wine California

An all-over-Cali blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, and Zinfandel (the varietals are scrambled on the label — get it?), this new budget vino from the Purple Wine Co. empire is an easy drinker with the jammy, overripe character that should be all-too familiar to the on-sale wine drinker. Heavy maraschino cherry, plum jam, and strawberry notes, with a semi-sweet finish. Reasonably palatable, despite the dessert-like composition.

B- / $18 /

cryptic wine Review: 2010 Cryptic Red Wine California