Category Archives: Rated B

Review: Stone Coffee Milk Stout

stone coffee milk stout 207x300 Review: Stone Coffee Milk StoutIt’s breakfast for happy hour with Stone’s latest, a limited edition beer that was previous bottled as a pilot project called Gallagher’s After Dinner Stout. Stone tinkered and reformulated Brian Gallagher’s brew to bring it to the masses, and here it is, a stout brewed with milk sugar lactose and coffee beans from San Diego’s Ryan Bros. Magnum hops and mild ale malt are the other primary components of the beer.

It’s a gentler expression of stout, made creamy, slightly sweet, and studded with ample (but not overwhelming) coffee bean character. The name is apt. If you take your coffee with plenty of milk and sugar in order to knock the bitterness of the coffee back, this beer’s for you, balancing a sweetness up front with stronger coffee and hops notes in the back. As it warms up and develops in the glass and on the palate, some interesting licorice notes emerge in the back of the mouth. All told this is not a style of beer I gravitate to in general, but in this format I find it easy enough to enjoy as these days start to chill down.

4.2% abv.

B / $11 per six-pack / stonebrewing.com

Review: Menage a Trois Vodka, Complete Lineup

Menage a Trois Vodka Berry Martini HI Res Glamour Photo 1 525x787 Review: Menage a Trois Vodka, Complete Lineup

Menage a Trois is known for its cheap wines, but the company now also makes cheap vodka. (!)

Three expressions — one straight, two flavored — are on offer. All are distilled from corn and brought down to proof with “pristine California water.” The catch with the flavored vodkas: They’re all “triple flavored” with three different botanicals. Three! Get it!? Sure ya do.

Some thoughts follow. All are 80 proof.

Menage a Trois Vodka – Quite neutral, a touch sugary on the nose but the body is quite plain, with touches of marshmallow, a hint of popcorn, and some odd peanut notes that emerge on the finish. Otherwise, not a whole lot to it. Probably fine for making cosmos or punch. B

Menage a Trois Citrus Vodka – Infused with lemon, lime, and orange. Lime, lemon, orange — in that order. Extremely bright and quite sweet — but the finish takes things to an astringent, chewed-up-aspirin note. B-

Menage a Trois Berry Vodka – Infused with raspberries, cranberries, and pomegranate. So… healthy? Intensely cranberry, with raspberry notes building strongly on a finish that recalls cough syrup — but, I mean, really really drinkable cough syrup. B-

each $16 / menageatroisvodka.com

Review: Michter’s US-1 Small Batch Bourbon, Rye, and Unblended American Whiskey

To clarify my earlier commentary on the company: Michter’s is an old name that’s reviving its distillery operations — but while that’s getting going, the company is bottling contract-produced spirits under its own label. Label copy on this series of US-1 — aka US*1 — whiskeys is decidedly vague. The bourbon reviewed below, for example, is “made from the highest quality American corn and matured to the peak of perfection in a hand-selected charred white oak barrel… it is then further mellowed by our signature filtration.”

Curious.

We’ve reviewed Michter’s before, and no matter how secretive it may be about its sourcing, the company makes a pretty solid product. (More to the point: It tells someone else to make a solid product, and they do.) The three spirits reviewed below comprise three of the four entry-level spirits from Michter’s (the Sour Mash fourth is covered in the review linked above), so we’re finally rounding out the company’s basic offerings. As for the older stock, we’ll just have to bide our time for it.

Thoughts follow.

Michter’s US-1 Small Batch Bourbon - Aged in new oak for an indeterminate time. A bold and aggressive whiskey. Intensity from the get-go on the nose: Butterscotch, over-ripe banana, creme brulee, and cinnamon. The body takes all that and runs with it, adding brisk oak elements, apple pie notes, dried figs, and a touch of red hot candies. That bit of heat doesn’t last. The finish is seductive and supple, offering a wonderful balance between dusty wood and brown sugar sweetness. An excellent buy, the dearth of data on the spirit notwithstanding. Reviewed: Batch #14C123. 91.4 proof. A / $40

Michter’s US-1 Single Barrel Straight Rye – Aged 36 months-plus in new oak; otherwise no mashbill information is offered. Clear, spicy rye notes on the nose, with a dusting of sawdust. As the body develops, you get lots of caramel apple, more intense wood, and some bitter chocolate notes. While the nose offers tons of promise, frankly I was hoping for more on the palate. What comes across is a rather straightforward whiskey that masks its more interesting elements in lumber. Drinkable and mixable, but short on character. Reviews: Batch #14C118. 84.8 proof. B / $40

Michter’s US-1 Small Batch Unblended American Whiskey – This one’s the most mysterious of the bunch — a mystery grain whiskey that is aged (for a mysterious amount of time) not in new oak but in used bourbon barrels. The nose is immediately curious — gingerbread, molasses, and some lumber, but also tinned apples and cinnamon. The body is sweet with milk chocolate and maple notes, I’m thinking a distilled version of Sunday breakfast with some Nestle’s Quik on the menu. This isn’t a bad whiskey but it is a curious one, playing its identity cards close to the vest. Wheat whiskey, perhaps? Why not just say so? No batch information. 83.4 proof. B+ / $40

michters.com

Review: Kennedy Irish Whiskey “Spirit Drink” Complete Lineup

kennedy irish Review: Kennedy Irish Whiskey Spirit Drink Complete Lineup

Irish whiskey is all the rage right now — it’s the fastest growing spirit category there is — and there’s a mad rush going on in Ireland to build stills, increase production, and otherwise squeeze every dollar out of this market before everyone moves on to something else, probably rum.

Kennedy is a new launch of Irish Whiskey — er, “Spirit Drink.” I’m still trying to sort all this out, so bear with me. Here’s how the Kennedy label breaks out.

Upon a sticker stylized like an old Celtic helmet it reads KENNEDY in big letters, then ORIGINAL underneath. In delicate italics beneath that: Spirit Drink. Then in even smaller italics: “Oak Filtered & Hand Crafted using.” Then, larger block letters: “Whiskey with natural flavor & caramel.”

OK, so points for truth in labeling, I think, but points off for confusing the hell out of your consumer along the way. What is “oak filtered,” exactly? Check the back label and you’ll see that “Kennedy’s Spirit is a delicate fusion of the finest Celtic whiskies and malt to insure a unique, challenging and august drinking experience. Kennedy’s Spirit, handcrafted in West Cord, Ireland, is infused with Irish and Bourbon oak using a proprietary infusion process and steeped in malt through an artisan and near-forgotten technique.”

So, yeah.

Your guess is as good as mind about what all that means, but basically my deduction is this is a mix of various Irish whiskeys and grain spirits, somehow pressure treated with oak to artificially age it more quickly. Caramel is added liberally, based on the color, though your guess is as good as mine as to what the natural flavors referenced here are.

And that’s just the “original.” There are four flavored versions of the spirit available, too. Or, rather, more flavored.

So, with that out of the way, let’s taste them all!

Kennedy Original – A slight sugar character on the nose, with a malty, cereal character to it. Touches of honey and cinnamon dust the body, which is otherwise a soft caramel, lightly woody, mostly watery character to it. The overall impact is one of Irish whiskey that’s already been liberally doused with water. It goes down easy enough, but the finish is weak and a touch astringent, leaving behind a touch of hospital character as it fades. 80 proof. C+

Kennedy Spiced – Infused with visible, solid spices (including anise and cinnamon) floating around in the bottle. Tons of cinnamon on the nose. The body has an essence more akin to vanilla blended with dried apples — with that anise making a strong showing as a somewhat weird secondary note. I would have dropped the licorice components and pumped up the cloves, but that’s just me. At least there’s more going on here, even if it doesn’t come together the way you might hope. 70 proof. B-

Kennedy Honeyed – Infused with vanilla and honey. Contains visible, fine sediment (but not big chunks like in the Spiced expression). It’s more hazelnut than honey on the nose, but the finish builds to more of an earthy honey character. Minimal whiskey character, though. 70 proof. B-

Kennedy Limed – Green, lime whiskey? Why not. Again, light sediment from flavoring involving vanilla and lime juice. Not as bad as you are expecting, but a bit like drinking a slug of Rose’s Lime Juice straight. Sweeter than most of the other whiskeys in this lineup, a necessity to offset the sour lime flavors. The color is beyond off-putting. Clearly this is designed exclusively as a mixer… but with what? When the label copy calls the product “intiguing,” you know something ain’t right. C-

Kennedy Chilied – Bright red, it is flavored with chili pepper and paprika(!). Wow, this is intensely hot — far hotter than your typical “pepper vodka.” I can see this doing brisk business as frat kids make bets with each other and buy shots to dare each other to drink. It’s a fiery, habanero-style burn that singes the lips and sticks in the throat for minutes. A hint of honey sweetness helps temper the burn. Discriminating it ain’t, but daredevils should go for it. B

each about $17 / westcorkdistillers.com

Review: Uisce Beatha Irish Whiskey

uisce beatha real irish whiskey 525x442 Review: Uisce Beatha Irish Whiskey

It’s a brave product marketer who chooses “Uisce Beatha” for his new whiskey’s official name. But Uisce Beatha is a name that’s steeped in history. The term is Gaelic for “water of life.” Uisce (pronounced ISH-kah) is of course where the word “whiskey” originated.

Uisce Beatha — “Real Irish Whiskey” — is the latest launch from ROK Stars, a spirits company founded by celebrity hairstylist and Patron Tequila founder Jon Paul DeJoria. The focus with this spirit is clearly on quality (though not on maturity, which we’ll get to). Uisce Beatha is a blend of single malt and grain whiskeys, aged for four-plus years in ex-Bourbon barrels.

In experiencing the whiskey, baking spices kickstart the nose, while toasty cereal lingers in the background. The body is immediately maltier than expected, bringing up notes of honey, simple syrup, and graham crackers before more of that chewy cereal character hits the palate. As it develops in the glass, some citrus character comes to the fore — more of a clementine orange note than an orange peel character, fresher rather than bittersweet or pungent. The finish sticks with youthful grain, much like a young single malt, offering notes of heather and fresh cut barley. All in all it’s a well-made spirit that lets its raw materials shine, but Irish drinkers who crave the sweeter palate of the typical Irish whiskey might find Uisce Beatha a bit young and undercooked for extended exploration.

B / $40 / rokstars.com

Review: 2013 Burbank Ranch Arneis and Grenache Rose

burbank ranch Grenache Rose 225x300 Review: 2013 Burbank Ranch Arneis and Grenache RoseTwo new releases from Paso Roble’s Burbank Ranch Winery. Thoughts follow.

2013 Burbank Ranch Arneis Little Rascal Paso Robles – Densely herbal and laden with notes of lemon peel, with overtones of marshmallow fluff. The strong notes of sage and rosemary carry over into the finish — which is lasting and lightly bitter. C / $29

2013 Burbank Ranch Grenache Rose Picnic Meadow Paso Robles – Fresh strawberry on the nose, with a side of herbal notes. Floral elements (perfumy rose petals, mainly) take hold on the midpalate, digging on to the end, where a bitter edge becomes evident. B / $24

burbankranch.com

Review: Roca Patron Tequila

Roca Patron Reposado 525x494 Review: Roca Patron Tequila

Quien es mas rico? No es Patron. Es Roca Patron.

If standard Patron isn’t ritzy enough for you, now there’s Roca Patron, an artisanal version of the tequila classic. What’s a roca? And how is this different from the regular bottling? In Patron’s words:

Roca Patrón starts with a tahona, a giant two-ton stone wheel hand-carved from volcanic rock (roca) that slowly crushes the cooked agave to break the bonds of fiber and release the rich agave juice. From here, both the juice and the agave fiber are placed together into wooden fermentation vats for 72 hours, and then distilled in small-capacity copper pot stills. Only a handful of the more than 150 working tequila distilleries in Mexico still utilize the tahona process.

While Roca Patrón is the company’s first line of tequilas crafted exclusively from the tahona process, the process itself is nothing new to Patrón. From the brand’s very beginning, every tequila in the Patrón portfolio has included tahona tequila in the blend. The core line of Patrón tequilas, and Gran Patrón Platinum and Gran Patrón Burdeos, are created from a combination of tahona tequila and tequilas produced from the more modern roller mill process. Patrón has also recently introduced a tahona-only extra añejo, Gran Patrón Piedra.

The aged variants are rested in single-use American bourbon barrels – Roca Patrón Reposado for five months, Roca Patrón Añejo for 14 months; this differs from the core Patrón line, which are aged in a blend of new and used oak barrels. The Patrón master distiller determined that the ideal flavor characteristics of Roca Patrón Silver came through at 45 percent alcohol (90 proof). Similarly, Roca Patrón Reposado is optimal at 84 proof, and Roca Patrón Añejo at 88 proof.

We tried the blanco, reposado, and anejo expressions. Thoughts follow:

Roca Patron Blanco Tequila – Silver, unaged. Classically herbal on the nose, grassy with lemon/lime overtones. Surprisingly similar on the palate. This is more vegetal than standard Patron — or, more accurately, my memory of the last time I had Patron — with more bite, more acidic tang, and a clear focus on fresh herbs. A lot of this is likely due to the 45% alcohol that Roca Blanco is bottled at. A fully capable but decidedly simplistic blanco; you’ll find more nuance and depth of flavor in other bottlings on the market. 90 proof. B+ / $70

Roca Patron Reposado Tequila – Aged 5 months. The nose is quiet, with a crisp focus on lemon — think lemon meringue pie — and agave in the distant background. The body is silky as all get out. This is the kind of tequila people will invariably describe as “smooth” as they knock it back a handle at a time. It’s got just the right consistency, melding the bite of agave with more lemony citrus, vanilla custard, a dusting of cinnamon, and a touch of woody lumberyard notes. The finish fades from sweet and soothing to drying and clean with a twist of lime, a nifty little trick and one that will sure have happy drinkers ordering a second shot at the bar. Firing on all cylinders. 84 proof. A / $80

Roca Patron Anejo Tequila – Aged 14 months. Exotic nose. Lots of agave hanging in there at first, bringing aromas of rosemary and sage to mingle with some burnt marshmallow and anise notes. But after a sip or two you clearly see the impact of wood just having its way with this spirit. 14 months isn’t all that old for a solid anejo, but here the astringent wood barrel notes nonetheless overpower both the agave notes and the sweetness you’d normally see from barrel aging. Instead of that classically anejo silky caramel character we get a slug of raw lumberyard that dominates the spirit and never lets up. A disappointment considering the promise of the reposado. 88 proof. B / $90

All in all: A mixed bag, but I can think of nothing but this when the bottle’s in front of me.

patrontequila.com

Review: Fall 2014 Pumpkin Beer Blowout

October is here, and that means everyone and his sister is putting pumpkin into beer in honor of the arrival of autumn. For some, pumpkin brews are something they wait for urgently all year long. For others, a pumpkin beer is something you enjoy precisely once and quietly wait for the season to pass. For me, I’m somewhere in the middle… mainly because it depends on what’s inside the specific bottle.

Here’s a look at four new pumpkin beers vying for your gourdly attention this fall.

Magic Hat Wilhelm Scream Pumpkin Ale – If you aren’t familiar with the Wilhelm Scream, you can read all about it here. I expect that will not alter your enjoyment of Magic Hat’s first ever pumpkin beer in any way, though. This ale drinks with burly, brown, fall-friendly flavors, only one of which is a dusting of pumpkin. Cloves and cinnamon, ginger, and some earthier notes tend to dominate. Overall it’s quite dry, with chewy, nougaty maltiness pushing through to the finish. 5.4% abv. B / $9 per 6-pack

Red Hook Out of Your Gourd Pumpkin Porter – A spiced dark ale made with maple syrup, this is a very dark and brooding brew, quite the opposite of the relatively light bodied Wilhelm Scream. Deeply malty, the maple syrup adds a viscosity to the beer that coats the mouth like a barrel-aged porter. The clove character is on point here, but any sense of pumpkin is pushed well into the background. For fans of traditional, British-style dark brews. 5.8% abv. B / $10 per 6-pack

Alaskan Brewing Co. Pumpkin Porter – Quite bitter, but almost gooey with raw malt syrup notes. The malt overpowers anything else in the beer — including brown sugar and burnt pumpkin notes that don’t quite integrate with the rest of the beer. Difficult balance, with a finish that is not at all refreshing. Save for winter. 7% abv. C+ / $1.60 per bottle

21st Amendment/Elysian He Said Baltic-Style Porter – Collaborative brew project. An epic alco-bomb (and a lager, by the way) with a nose further from anything autumnal than the rest of the lineup here. Lots of malt, wood and cardboard notes, wet earth, mushroom, and some green vegetable notes. No pumpkin character to speak of. 8.2% abv. C / $9 per 4-pack (cans)

Tasting Report: Rosso Montefalco and Montefalco Sagrantino, 2014 Releases

2003MontefalcoRosso btl 91x300 Tasting Report: Rosso Montefalco and Montefalco Sagrantino, 2014 ReleasesWelcome to Montefalco, “the balcony of Umbria” in the backyard of Tuscany. Montefalco is a relatively little-known wine region in the U.S., known primarily as the birthplace and home of Sagrantino, a grape that thrives in the hills of this area. Sagrantino (from “sacrament,” called thusly because dried Sagrantino grapes have been used by monks to produce raisin-based wines for centuries) makes for a massive, classically Italian wine. It is said that Sagrantino wines have some of the highest levels of tannins in any commercially produced wine in the world, so feel free to open these well before you drink them and watch them evolve in the glass.

A recent virtual tasting put on by the Consorzio Tutela Vini Montefalco and broadcast from the heart of Montefalco let us Americans sample a collection of eight recent vintages — four pure Sagrantino bottlings and four Montefalco Rosso bottlings. (Montefalco Rosso is a blend that typically includes heavy Sangiovese and a smaller proportion of Sagrantino, among other international varietals.)

Thoughts on the eight wines — exhibiting some remarkably similar DNA while showing off unique flourishes here and there — which were sampled follow.

2010 Le Cimate Montefalco Rosso DOC – 60% Sangiovese, 15% Merlot, 15% Sangrantino, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. A touch of barnyard on the nose doesn’t mar an otherwise fun, fruity Rosso. Bright cherry and strawberry notes attack up front, with more earthy elements taking hold on the back end. Shortish, drying finish. B / $20

2010 Arnaldo Caprai Montefalco Rosso DOC – 70% Sangiovese, 15% Sagrantino, 15% Merlot. Firing on all cylinders, this Rosso features a well-balanced body that keeps baking spices, dried fruits, tobacco, and fresh cherries all in check. Long finish, with the herbal notes rising to the top. Quite food friendly. A- / $22

2010 Antonelli Montefalco Rosso DOC – 65% Sangiovese, 15% Sangrantino, 10% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. Sedate and undemanding, this lightly vegetal Rosso drinks without much fuss, a steady wine that brings fennel, licorice, rosemary, and thyme to the forefront. Very compacted fruit on the back end, as the wine plays everything close to the vest. B / $18

2010 Tenute Lunelli Ziggurat Montefalco Rosso DOC – 70% Sangiovese, 15% Sagrantino, 15% Cabernet/Merlot.Dry but balanced with fruit, this wine features notes of violet mingled with its blackberry core. Vanilla and strawberry notes emerge over time. This one’s well balanced and easy to enjoy either on its own or with a meal. A- / $15

2008 Scacciadiavoli Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG – Initially very austere and restrained. Intense herbal character, almost bitter with tree bark and root notes. Given significant time the wine opens up to reveal blackberry notes, plums, and a little brown sugar — but its huge bramble and balsamic character dominates through the finish. Hearty as all get out. B+ / $40

2009 Tenuta Bellafonte Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG – Immediately more fruit up front, with some barnyard notes in the background. In the glass, the wine develops more of a fruit punch character to it, with plum and cran-apple flavors evolving. The finish shows tannin, but is nowhere near as overwhelming as the Scacciadiavoli. B / $50

2010 Romanelli Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG - Quite an enchanting nose — floral and fruity. Clear floral notes on the palate, with notes of violets and strawberry. The chewy, tannic finish takes things more to licorice than balsamic. B+ / $37

2009 Perticaia Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG – Heady aromas of blueberry and some baking spice. The sweetest wine of the bunch by a longshot, which is a huge help in cutting through the tannin, which grows on the back end as the wine develops on the palate. Notes of eucalyptus leaf and menthol find their way into the finish. B+ / $40

consorziomontefalco.it

Review: Warsteiner Premium Dunkel

warsteiner dunkel 101x300 Review: Warsteiner Premium DunkelOktoberfest is nigh, and that means Oktober-centric brews are hitting the market in force. First out of the gate is this dunkel from Warsteiner, a Munich-style lager brewed in Warstein, Germany. It’s actually a year-round brew but is aimed toward fall/winter drinking.

Roasted malt defines this beer, giving it a toasty, almost smoky character up front. Sweetness builds from there, with the beer developing a juicy. syrupy quality to it, with plum-flavored overtones. The finish is lasting but heavy on mouth-coating jam, with just a touch of bitter hops to add complexity.

Overall, it’s a decent enough beer but nothing I’d go out of my way to experience — even if there are big pretzels, oompah bands, and dancing girls.

4.8% abv.

B / $10 per six-pack / warsteiner.us

Review: Jura Brooklyn Scotch Whisky

Jura Brooklyn white background 525x837 Review: Jura Brooklyn Scotch Whisky

Scotch distillers continue to take oddball twists and turns. For Jura, its latest adventure brought it from the Isle of Jura and landed it in Brooklyn, New York. Jura Brooklyn is a dramatic bespoke single malt with a bizarre provenance. Here’s the deets:

In 2013, Jura brought together 12 respected Brooklyn artisans to co-collaborate on Kings County’s first single malt Scotch whisky. As the rule-breaker of the Scotch whisky world, Jura was long intrigued by Brooklyn, a geography that similarly defies convention. Jura’s rogue of a Master Distiller, Mr. Willie Tait, traveled across the Atlantic to the streets of Williamsburg, Park Slope, Bushwick and every neighborhood in between, with one objective: to craft a world-class single malt Scotch, chosen by and for the people of Brooklyn.

Tait met with his hand-picked team (Bedford Cheese Shop, Brooklyn Winery, The Richardson, Post Office, Fine & Raw, New York City Food Truck Association, BAM, Brooklyn Brewery, Noorman’s Kil, Vimbly, Buttermilk Channel and Brooklyn Magazine) in New York’s famed borough, armed with six different cask samples each reflecting the distinctive flavors of Brooklyn’s heritage (such as BBQ, Egg Cream and Artisanal Chocolate). During a series of blending sessions held in Brooklyn, the collaborators tasted different whisky marriages paired with fried chicken, artisanal cheese and fine chocolates, finally arriving at a whisky by Brooklyn, for Brooklyn.

Jura Brooklyn has been aged up to 16 years in American White Oak Bourbon, Amoroso Sherry and Pinot Noir casks.

In tasting Brooklyn, it seems the borough likes it nice and mild. Jura’s new creation is quiet on the nose. Lightly smoky, it exhibits simple cereal notes with the lightest hints of coffee bean. Aromas fade quickly, leaving behind just smoky wisps like an extinguished candle. On the palate, the sherry cask elements become clearer, while the smokier elements take on a more maritime tone, laced with seaweed and iodine. The finish is short, with a focus on honeyed shortbread, ash, and a hint of sweaty dog. Sadly it stands in the shadow of more flavorful, richer competitors… maybe a bit like Brooklyn itself. (Sorry, Brooklynites! Don’t throw things!)

84 proof.

B / $80 / jurawhisky.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Wines of Benessere, 2014 Releases

Benessere is a small, family-owned vineyard and winery in St. Helena, where it focuses heavily on estate-grown grapes. Specifically, Italian varietals and Zinfandel dominate the bill. Today we look at a selection of five wines from the company. Thoughts follow.

2013 Benessere Rosato di Sangiovese Estate St. Helena Vineyard – Let this rose warm a bit before tucking into it. Straight from the fridge you’ll find it overbearing with astringency and hospital notes. With some air and warmth it reveals lots of strawberry, lychee, green banana, and mandarin orange notes. The finish is off, but it still works well enough. B / $18

2012 Benessere Sangiovese Estate St. Helena Vineyard – Lush and exciting, this is an easy-drinking wine that’s stuffed with sangiovese’s signature cherry notes, but also vanilla notes, wet earth, and gentle tannins to give it structure. A- / $32

2012 Benessere Zinfandel Collins Holystone St. Helena Vineyard – An old vine Zin, this wine initially attacks the palate with overwhelming sweetness, but eventually it settles into a highly drinkable rhythm, lush with jammy plums and raspberries, tempered with chocolate sauce notes, but it pulls out enough refinement enough to work with a hearty meal. B+ / $35

2012 Benessere Zinfandel Black Glass Estate St. Helena Vineyard – A more vegetal showing of Zin, its fruit demolished by a thin body that has a weedy, earthy funk to it. B- / $35

2012 Benessere Moscato di Canelli Napa Valley “Scintillare” – Standard-grade sweet moscato, orange oil studded with some hospital notes. Lots of honey, short finish. B / $25 (375ml)

benesserevineyards.com

Review: Taken and Complicated Wines, 2014 Releases

Complicated 2013 HI Res Bottle Lineup 188x300 Review: Taken and Complicated Wines, 2014 ReleasesWhat’s Liam Neeson’s favorite wine? Taken!

Taken Wine Co. is a five year old winery that bottles under two labels — Taken and Complicated. Part of the Trinchero empire, these are most affordable wines designed to be crowd pleasers. Thoughts follow.

2011 Taken Red Wine Napa Valley - 60% cabernet, 40% merlot. A soft and ready-to-go red that balances fruity plums and currants with touches of leather, chocolate, and hints of balsamic. Well balanced and supple. Probably not called “Complicated” because it’s anything but. B+ / $30

2012 Complicated Chardonnay Sonoma County – Slightly floral on the nose, with hints of sugar cookies and almonds. The body plays up the sweet side of things — apple butter and brown sugar — but notes of sage and pine add curiosity. The incredibly long finish is surprisingly sugary, which isn’t the way I’d like to see this wine end up, but give it time to warm up a bit and things settle down. B / $18

2012 Complicated Red Wine Central Coast – A mash-up of grenache, syrah, and carignane. Quite drinkable, full of fruit but far from jammy. Restrained, even, showing notes of tea leaf where you’d otherwise find chocolate syrup. Nice balance between raspberry (lots), strawberry, and even some citrus notes. An easy, affordable drinker. A- / $20

takenwine.com

Review: Laphroaig Cairdeas Amontillado Edition 2014

Laphroaig Cairdeas Amontillado 2014 525x700 Review: Laphroaig Cairdeas Amontillado Edition 2014

Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado” is a literary classic, but even die-hard sherry drinkers don’t knock back much of this expression of sherry, which lies between the pale, dry fino and the well-regarded oloroso — the latter of which finds its spent casks used heavily as whisky finishing barrels.

For its 2014 release of the Laphroaig Cairdeas limited-edition whisky, the Islay classic turns to amontillado sherry casks for finishing — the first time I’ve encountered such a spirit. The base spirit is 8 year old Laphroaig from bourbon casks that then finds its way into amontillado hogsheads for one additional year. A lovely shade of amber, here’s how it shakes out.

Laphroaig Amontillado starts with a classic oily and peaty Laphroaig nose, tempered with Christmas spice and cedar wood — a promising start. But on the palate, it’s surprisingly mild — more easygoing and, dare I say, simplistic than almost any other Laphroaig expression I’ve had. Primary components of the body include classic sweet-peat Laphroaig, tempered with ground coffee, menthol, and campfire smoke. Yes, the expected citrusy sherry notes are there, but they’re surprisingly understated, driven into the background. While all in all the whisky’s components work well together, they ultimately just lie a bit flat, unfortunately failing to add up to a powerfully compelling whole.

102.8 proof.

B / $75 / laphroaig.com

Review: 2012 Bluxome Street Winery Pinot Noir and Chardonnay

bluxome street 279x300 Review: 2012 Bluxome Street Winery Pinot Noir and ChardonnayWebster Marquez has been a winemaker for such estates as C. Donatiello and Williams Selyem. For his next act, what does he do? He opens a winery in the heart of San Francisco. Focused on vintages made from Sonoma County fruit — specifically the Russian River Valley — Marquez is off to a fun start. Thoughts on two reserve-class wines from his 2012 vintage follow.

2012 Bluxome Street Winery Russian River Valley Pinot Noir “South of the Slot” – Named for the SOMA district, south of the San Francisco cable car “slot,” where Bluxome Street is based. Bright and very fruity, with forward strawberry and cherry fruit right from the start. Light notes of tobacco, anise, and vanilla add touches of complexity to what is otherwise a very fresh and enjoyable, summery red. A- / $45

2012 Bluxome Street Winery Russian River Valley Chardonnay Teac-Mor Vineyard – Fairly typical California Chardonnay, light tropical notes countered by a curiously meaty character. Think pineapple and ham spears. Notes of white pepper emerge, particularly as the wine warms up and its fruitier elements start to show more clearly. B / $38

bluxomewinery.com

Review: 2012 Rioja Wines of deAlto Amo

deAlto Amo Tinto 88x300 Review: 2012 Rioja Wines of deAlto AmoHere are two budget bottlings from deAlto (aka deAlto Amo), a Rioja-based producer.

2012 deAlto Amo Riojo Blanco DOCa – 75% viura, 25% chardonnay. Lifeless, almost watery, with just a smattering of apple and vanilla to give it some level of substance. There are hints of pineapple on the nose, but otherwise it’s a forgettable experience. C- / $10

2012 deAlto Amo Rioja Tinto DOCa – 70% tempranillo, 30% garnacha. Light smoky elements here, atop a brambly, lightly pruny core. Notes of tree bark, pencil shavings, and some dense currants and raisin notes. Plenty of tannins to go around, but it drinks well enough as a budget bottling. Mostly harmless. B / $10

bodegasdealto.com

Review: Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Bourbon Round Fourteen

We’re near the end of Buffalo Trace’s exhaustive (and exhausting) Single Oak Project, a series of 192 bourbons all made in a slightly different style — an attempt to find the whole grail of whiskeydom. With this round, we’ve got 168 down, 24 to go. Home stretch!

Need a primer on the Project? Here’s our past coverage to date:

Round One (including all the basics of the approach to this series)
Round Two
Round Three
Round Four
Round Five
Round Six
Round Seven
Round Eight
Round Nine
Round Ten
Round Eleven
Round Twelve
Round Thirteen

Round 14 features whiskeys all aged in barrels made from the bottom half of the tree, put in barrel at 125 proof, and aged in a wooden-floor warehouse. Variables include char level, stave seasoning, wood grain, and of course recipe (rye vs. wheat). We’ve seen iterations on these variables in the past; at this point, the project is mainly about cleaning up what’s left in the lineup.

Two whiskeys — the classically structured Barrel #2 and the Stagg-like Barrel #34 stood out in an otherwise fair but unremarkable field. Nothing in this round was particularly unlikable, except perhaps the unbalanced Barrel #172. The overall winners so far (based on popular vote) are Barrel #82 and #83. I graded them both at a B+.

Complete thoughts on round 14 follow.

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #2 – Classic, with lots of depth of flavor. Touches of sandalwood, honey, and walnuts all meld together into a well-integrated, creamy, and lightly spiced (yet lengthy) finish. It goes down almost too easy, offering all the classic bourbon notes with every sip. Easily the best of this round. A (rye, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, wooden ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #12 – Foresty — with eucalyptus and solid oak notes. The hearty body melds chewy wood with some modest fruit notes. A bit ashy on the finish. B (rye, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, tight grain, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #34 – Bold up front, with a rich, chocolaty nose. It all follows through to the body, with a rounded, almost malty character that pushes through to a racy, brown sugar-infused finish studded with cloves, cinnamon, and cayenne. A (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, wooden ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #44 – Dessert time! Marshmallows and light nuts on the nose. The body is all silky caramel and nougat, until some wood-driven astringency arrives on the finish. Slow start, but it builds to a delightful middle and an agreeable, balanced end. A- (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, tight grain, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #66 – Blazing with heat and big wood character, it’s hard to catch much nuance on the nose. The body however reveals some surprises: Spicy rye character at its core, with touches of baking spices blended with red pepper. Big and bold, it’s loaded with lumberyard notes that really hang on. B+ (rye, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, average grain, wooden ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #76 – Racy with both baking spices and more savory ones — think red pepper, thyme, sage, and pine needles. Lots going on here that’s unusual for bourbon, but it’s not a whiskey without some charms — so Old World in its austerity, herbaciousness, and restraint. B+ (rye, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, average grain, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #98 – Indistinct, alcohol-redolent nose, but the body is bursting with fruit. Orange and cherry notes play with dark brown sugar tones, and some cinnamon red hots on the finish. A fine whiskey; too bad the nose isn’t there to finish the job. B+ (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, average grain, wooden ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #108 – Intriguing on the nose, this whiskey strongly exudes cherry cola notes, with underpinnings of oak. The body is moderate and a bit more scattered. The cherry’s not here, but the cola notes are big, along with some tea leaf, heavy charred wood, licorice, cardamom, and a touch of cloves. B+ (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, average grain, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #130 – Unusual notes of lemon and wood here — think Pledge, but in a way you might drink — at least on the nose. The body is more indistinct in its citrus focus, drinking hot while offering ample notes of wood oil and cloves on the back end. B (rye, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, coarse grain, wooden ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #140 – Traditional: vanilla, caramel, wood. This could be any rack bourbon, but it’s classy and refined — a darker, woodier, coal-fired, more cigars-in-the-back-room bourbon than most of the comparably fruity expressions you get in the SOP. B+ (rye, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, coarse grain, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #162 – Mild menthol on the nose leads in to a very easygoing palate. The body on this one is liquid caramel from front to back, spiked with cloves. Strangely, a bit of barnyard character emerges on the nose after some time in the glass, dulling what is otherwise a pleasant, anywhiskey experience. B (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, coarse grain, wooden ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #172 – Not an incredible level of character here. The nose is filled more with raw alcohol than anything else, the body is a fiery experience that finishes with smoke and brimstone. Not the Project’s best. B- (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, coarse grain, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

$46 each (375ml bottle) / singleoakproject.com

Review: Wines of Baglio di Pianetto, 2014 Releases

9 Ramione 2009 212x300 Review: Wines of Baglio di Pianetto, 2014 ReleasesSicily’s Baglio di Pianetto takes the classic grapes of this fiery island and funnels it through the mystique of a French chateau style of production. That’s what they say anyway. The production at this winery (which also has a resort on the premises) is extensive. Today we look at a selection of six wines — two whites and four reds, including two DOC “reserve” wines. Thoughts on everything follow.

2013 Baglio di Pianetto “BDP” Insolia Sicilia DOC – From the higher-end DOC bottling of Baglio di Pianetto comes this 100% insolia, a lovely white that has a lightly peachy nose, flecked with apricots and oranges. Also look for hints of graham cracker. The body follows suit, showing some of that vanilla you find in the Ficiligno, but drinking really wonderfully on its own. Look for a bit more earthiness up front here than with the aforementioned wine, but with a finish that’s both sweet and tart, and more citrus-driven. Equally enjoyable. A / $NA

2013 Baglio di Pianetto Ficiligno Sicilia IGT – A blend of insolia and viognier. What a fun white this is, lush with white peaches, apricots, lemon, and vanilla. It’s a perfectly dialed-back expression of viognier, that overwhelming fruit showing both restraint and mouth-filling gorgeousness. A / $16

2012 Baglio di Pianetto “BDP” Nero d’Avola Sicilia DOC – Not a particularly refined Nero, a bit weedy, a bit barky, and a bit of old fruit. Dusky and brooding, but lacking the oomph of more powerful Neros. Some fun touches of licorice and vanilla emerge on the nose if you give it time. Fine, but more apropos as a food wine. B / $NA

2011 Baglio di Pianetto Ramione Sicilia IGT – This is a blend of merlot and nero d’avola. Softer than you’d think, with a strongly fruity nose of blackberries, touched with a bit of tobacco and leather. A simple wine, with some mild astringency on the finish. Works well with tomoto-based dishes. B+ / $20

2011 Baglio di Pianetto Shymer Sicilia IGT – A blend of syrah and merlot, which sounds like it will be a whole lot better than it ends up being. There’s almost no body or soul on this wine. It drinks like one of those grape-flavored waters you might buy when Aquafina just doesn’t do it. Has the fruit already raced out of this wine, or was there none to begin with? Not worth bothering with. C- / $20

2007 Baglio di Pianetto Cembali Nero d’Avola IGT – This 100% nero d’avola starts off muted and dull, but fruit emerges with some time in glass. Bright cherry and currant notes are fun for a bit, but they quickly turn toward the raisiny, with balsamic notes and some racy oxidized character coming to the forefront — indicative of this wine’s age. B / $20

bagliodipianetto.com

Review: Captain Morgan 1671 Commemorative Blend Spiced Rum

Captain Morgan 1671 525x787 Review: Captain Morgan 1671 Commemorative Blend Spiced Rum

Captain Morgan has been on a tear with new releases and special bottlings over the last few years. 1671 is its latest expression, a fancified version of the Cap’n that still comes in at just 20 bucks.

Captain Morgan 1671 is a St. Croix-based distillate that is crafted with a unique blend of spices and is finished “through Spanish Oak.” Unique or not, don’t go looking for any reinvention of Captain Morgan’s well-worn wheel here, as this rum sticks close to the standard Captain Morgan character.

The nose is appropriately cinnamon-focused, tempered with orange and caramel notes. Vanilla and cinnamon are present on the body, with some fruit finally picking up the rear. Orange notes hit first, with a surprising cherry character coming along in the finish. But that odd addition alone isn’t enough to make 1671 come across as particularly revolutionary. In fact, the 35% alcohol level of this rum does it a real disservice, leaving it feeling a bit watery at times.

1671 is a perfectly serviceable spiced rum, but it is unfortunately distinguished from standard Captain Morgain more by its fanciful bottle than anything unique going on inside of it. At this price, however, die-hard Cap’n fans will likely find enough to enjoy to merit giving it a place on the back bar.

70 proof.

B / $20 / captainmorgan.com

Review: Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2014 Edition

buffalo trace 2014 BTAC 525x420 Review: Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2014 Edition

 

Buffalo Trace’s Antique Collection needs no introduction, I’m sure — this is one of the most well-respected and sought-after annual whiskey collections on the market. Closely allocated and tough to find, you’re best off starting your hunt now. These releases formally hit the market in late September/early October.

Thoughts on the 2014 lineup follow.

Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old – It’s an open secret that Sazerac 18 has been sitting around in a stainless steel vat for years and doesn’t really change (effects of oxidation notwithstanding), making this less of a special release and more of a limited allocation of a very special spirit. Sazzy 18 rarely fails to disappoint. This year is no exception, with the whiskey showing a woody — yet fresh — nose, cherries jubilee up front on the body, and a finish that takes you to places of marzipan, apple pie, and streudel. Watch for apple cider notes to come along after you think the finish has faded away. 90 proof. A

Eagle Rare 17 Year Old Bourbon – This edition of Eagle Rare 17 is a vatting of whiskeys from the second, third, and sixth floors of Buffalo Trace’s Warehouse I and K. Aged “nearly two decades,” according to the company — so as with last year, it may be a bit older than 17 years. This one’s a smooth operator, not quite the burly old guard that it can sometimes present as. Instead, it’s all silky caramels, bittersweet chocolate, Bing cherry, and graham crackers. Some spicier notes of cloves and allspice develop in the finish. 90 proof. A-

George T. Stagg Bourbon – The one you’ve been waiting for. The bruiser of the bunch. The hottest bourbon that isn’t named Pappy. It’s telling that the Stagg is set apart from the rest of the batch in the photo above, I think. This is a monster of a whiskey. Just look at the depth of color compared to the other whiskeys in that lineup — and remember, there are some 18+ year old whiskeys in there! As always, this is the kind of whiskey that, as grandma used to say, would put herr on yer chest, and at 138.1 proof it’s nearly a return to the heady days of 2012 and prior, when the whiskey regularly hit 70% alcohol. Fear not the water on this one — a selection of barrels from warehouses C, H, I, K, L, P, and Q distilled in 1998 (making it 16 years old). You can douse it 1:1, water to whiskey, and still get plenty of its character. And that would include tobacco, (very) dark chocolate, fresh roasted coffee bean, slate, and pencil lead. A smattering of spices arrive in time for the finish — cinnamon and cloves, the usual stuff — which help to season what is, as always, a dark, mammoth, brooding whiskey. This year, Buffalo Trace has just about nailed it. Stagg is always a tough nut to crack — and my palate tends to prefer more nuanced spirits — but the sheer depth of its flavor has me finding myself drawn more to this release than it has in recent years. A-

William Larue Weller Bourbon – A massive blazer, this is the hottest release of Weller in history. This is a 12 year old bourbon from the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 6th floors of warehouses D, K, and L — basically a mutt from all over the place. An initial rush of smoke starts things off with thoughts of log cabins and a touch of mothball. The palate settles down after adding significant amounts of water, ultimately revealing some plum, chocolate, and coconut — but in the end the wood and smoky qualities take hold, pushing everything else out of mind. 140.2 proof. B

Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye – Last year Jim Murray named the 2013 Handy Rye his #1 whiskey in the world. This created a massive run on Handy, despite the fact that no sane person would ever name this cask strength rye — typically 6 years old, as it is again this year — the best whiskey in the world. 2014’s Handy was aged on the fifth floor of warehouse M and arrives at a fairly typical strength for this spirit. This year’s expression exudes classic rye notes — lots of roasted grain character, chewy scorched cereal notes, some caramel, some baking spice, and a lengthy, campfire finish. Over time, some curious notes come forth — I can describe them only as fresh upholstery. Ample water is a must. I like it fine, but it frankly doesn’t hold a candle to the Sazerac 18 — which will probably be a hell of a lot easier to find thanks to Mr. Murray. 129.2 proof. B+

$80 each / greatbourbon.com