Tasting the Wines of Chile’s Ritual, 2016 Releases

ritualHeaded up by well-known winemaker Rodrigo Soto, Chile’s Ritual is a new label that is producing sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, and — uncommon for Chile — pinot noir.

Soto recently took to a web chat with wine writers to prove that he was making what’s been called Chile’s best pinot noir — and for under 20 bucks a bottle. In between tales of the wild world of Chilean winemaking, we tasted through three brand new releases.

Thoughts follow.

2015 Ritual Sauvignon Blanc Casablanca Valley – A dry rendition of sauvignon blanc, lots of minerals and tight aromatics, including savory herbs and very light, white florals. Pale a ghost, the wine is clean and crisp, but the finish comes off as a bit astringent. B / $18

2015 Ritual Chardonnay Casablanca Valley – Balanced and restrained, with just a touch of butter and spice atop an otherwise fruity and juicy wine that’s loaded with apple and lemon notes. Some caramel emerges with time, but the finish showcases sweet and ultra-ripe fruit, lasting for quite a while. B+ / $20

2015 Ritual Pinot Noir Casablanca Valley – Very dry at first, almost dusty. Give it some time and fruit develops in the glass, a gentle plum/strawberry combo tempered by a dusting of cloves, slate dust, and mushroom. The “best pinot in Chile” may be pushing things, but it turns out to be remarkably drinkable, even with spicy and exotic foods. B+ / $20

ritualwines.com

Tasting Report: Wines of Alpha Omega

I’ve been a fan of Alpha Omega — especially its white wines — for years (the entire operation isn’t quite 10 years old), and have always wondered why I never see these wines at stores or on wine lists. Mystery resolved: During a recent visit to this hot winery, our host informed us that 90 percent of the winery’s production goes direct to consumers, either through the tasting room or the wine club.

During our visit, we tasted through a range of Alpha Omega’s current releases. Thoughts follow.

2013 Alpha Omega Sauvignon Blanc – Beautiful tropical notes here, lemon and figs. Lots of aromatics alongside a stony slate character. Great balance. A- / $40

2014 Alpha Omega Chardonnay Unoaked 2013 – Unoaked, gentle and elegant. Fresh apples and a touch of citrus make this easy to drink. A- / $44

2013 Alpha Omega Chardonnay – The oaked version of the above (30% new oak, with light/medium toast), born from the Newton pedigree of AO’s winemaker. A touch of mint works nicely with the vanilla here, but the overall impact is one of restraint, with surprising acidity on the finish. A- / $72

2014 Alpha Omega Pinot Noir Russian River Hop Kiln – Dense pinot, with dark cherry and red fruit notes. Fairly closed off at this point. B / $86

2012 Alpha Omega Proprietary Red – 61% cabernet sauvignon, 32% merlot, 7% cabernet franc. Big chocolate and salted caramel notes here, with touches of licorice. Some sweetness and cinnamon on the finish. B+ / $96

2012 Alpha Omega Cabernet Sauvignon – Blended with 5% petit verdot. Major density here, with tobacco, red fruits, and blackberry. Chocolate hits on the lengthy finish. A- / $96

2013 Alpha Omega Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer Missouri Hopper Oakville – A single vineyard, 100% cabernet bottling, one of the components of AO’s top-shelf Era bottling. Big meaty notes of bacon and beef jerky, dense as hell, showcasing mixed herbs and tight tannins. Give this one lots of time. A- / $NA

2013 Alpha Omega Petit Verdot & Cab Franc – Curious name but see if you can guess what’s in this one? (52% petit verdot, 48% cabernet franc.) Starts off a bit shut down, but it slowly opens to reveal gentle strawberry and black tea notes. Exotic but enchanting. A- / $98

aowinery.com

Review: Vikre Vodka, Gin, and Aquavit Lineup

vikre spruce white bkgrdDuluth, Minnesota, on the shores of Lake Superior, is the home of Vikre Distillery, which takes a localvore approach to making a wide range of (mostly white) spirits, using local grains, herbs, and water from the lake next door to make its craft spirits. The six spirits below — 1 vodka, 3 gins, and 2 aquavits — represent the bulk (but not all) of Vikre’s production. Who’s ready to take the plunge into the production from this neighbor from the Great White North?

Join us.

Vikre Lake Superior Vodka – Distilled from malted barley. Very mild, clean, and fresh. The nose is gentle but hints at hospital notes. On the palate, light sweetness starts things off, but the overall impression is surprisingly clean and pure. Only on the finish do some secondary notes start to emerge… a dusting of bee pollen, some thyme and rosemary, and a pinch of cinnamon. Surprisingly well done and nearly perfect in its balance. 80 proof. A / $35

Vikre Boreal Juniper Gin – Purportedly a traditional dry gin, including standard (local) botanicals plus rhubarb. One whiff and this is anything but traditional — quite sweet on the nose, at offers heavily fruity notes and an intensely floral/rose petal undercarriage. The body hones in on that sweet-and-sour rhubarb, confectioner’s sugar, a mild slug of juniper, and chocolate notes on the finish. I know what you’re thinking: What a random collection of flavors. And so am I. Calling this a “Juniper Gin” leaves me a bit bewildered. 90 proof. C / $35

Vikre Boreal Spruce Gin – Spruce is the primary botanical here, as you might expect. The overall impact is a lot closer to a traditional gin than the Juniper Gin above, though again it carries with it a sweetness that is unexpected. Piney notes mingle with brown sugar and, again, more indistinct florals and perfume notes. Here, the balance is a bit more appropriate, as the spruce character is brought up to where it needs to be, and the sweeter elements are dialed back. Still, it’s an unconventional gin that will need the right audience. 90 proof. B / $35

Vikre Boreal Cedar Gin – This one was fun because I’m allergic to live cedar, so I was excited to see if I would break out in hives from drinking a gin flavored with cedar wood (along with wild sumac and currants). I didn’t, and I wasn’t in love with the gin, either. The nose is much different than the two above gins — musty and mushroomy on the nose, with a medicinal note and some evergreen beneath that. Again, the body is quite sweet — the currants are distinct — with a slurry of notes that include ripe banana, fresh rosemary, and some nutty characteristics. Pumped up evergreen on the body tends again to give this a more balanced structure, but the overall character is, again, a little out there. 90 proof. B / $35

Vikre Ovrevann Aquavit – It’s actually Øvrevann Aquavit, but I have no idea if that’s going to render properly online. Caraway, cardamom, and orange peel are infused into this traditionally-focused aquavit, which is a more savory, herbal meditation on gin. Appropriately Old World, it layers exotic, caraway-driven, Middle-Eastern-bazaar notes with touches of licorice, juicy citrus, seaweed, and light sandalwood notes. Credible on its own, but it probably works best as a substitute for gin, cutting a profile that was probably along the lines of what Bombay Sapphire East was going for. 88 proof. B / $35

Vikre Voyageur Aquavit Cognac Cask Finished – The above aquavit, finished (for an indeterminate time, but long enough to give the spirit a gentle yellow hue) in used Cognac casks. I like the combination a lot. The nose features a fruitiness that Ovrevann doesn’t have, plus a touch of barrel char that adds mystique. This leads to stronger licorice notes on the nose, plus notes of cloves, raisins (a clear Cognac contributor), menthol and spearmint, and a lingering, herbal finish. The Cognac balances out the sweet and savory notes in the spirit, giving this a well-rounded yet entirely unique character that’s worth exploring. 86 proof. A- / $57

vikredistillery.com

Review: Redemption Aged Barrel Proof Straight Rye – 7, 8, and 10 Years Old

redemption 8 years oldIn our recent coverage of Redemption, I mentioned some rare, older, cask strength whiskeys that the company was releasing. We unexpectedly received samples of all three — all of which are 95 percent rye and 5 percent malted barley, aged 7, 8, or 10 years in oak — and all “honey barrel” picks of the best of the best. It’s all MGP stock, but it’s very rare to find the company’s whiskeys at this age on the market any more, much less at cask strength.

Let’s take a dive into all three.

Redemption Aged Barrel Proof Straight Rye 7 Years Old – Fruit and herbs both dominate the nose, with a juicy apple character tempered by ample baking spice. This continues straight through to the palate, which is warming and quite full of those apple pie notes, plus notes of brown sugar and scorched butter. Water helps, but those apples won’t be ignored. Tempered a bit, the spirit evolves clearer notes of cinnamon along with some savory herbs, with a touch of apple butter-meets-butterscotch on the finish. 122.6 proof. B / $80

Redemption Aged Barrel Proof Straight Rye 8 Years Old – It’s just one year older, but what a different profile it cuts. A clearer and stronger wood influence leads the way toward some bold caramel and vanilla notes, both on the nose and on the palate. That savory herbal character appears again on the back end, particularly toward the finish. Water really brings out the best in this whiskey, both its sultry, cinnamon-stick dessert tones and its gossamer-thin savory elements. The complex interplay between the two on that lingering finish really makes the experience wonderfully worthwhile. Definitively, this is the expression to seek out. 121.5 proof. A / $90  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Redemption Aged Barrel Proof Straight Rye 10 Years Old – This batch was made from only six barrels of whiskey. Again things take a curious turn, as at the age of 10 this whiskey heads to new territory. Reminiscent of older bourbons, this rye pushes both its substantial barrel influence and some notes of menthol and tobacco, characters uncommon in rye whiskeys. Though considerably lower in proof, it comes across just as racily, and water is once again a huge help in coaxing out more flavor. A quite savory whiskey at heart, it presents a huge, mouth-filling body that offers notes of licorice, tree bark, and cloves. The finish isn’t as long or as satisfying as the 8 year old — here it comes across more as a study of age — but it offers some compelling notes in its own right. 110.1 proof. B+ / $130

redemptionrye.com

Tasting: Tempranillo Wines of California, 2016 Releases

quinta cruz s

When one thinks of California wine grapes, tempranillo doesn’t exactly spring to mind. Turns out though, that tempranillo — which is most notable for its viticulture in Spain — is grown all over the state. To prove it, we tested six tempranillo wines, each from a different region of California, with some interesting results.

Thoughts follow.

2013 Castoro Cellars Tempranillo Whale Rock Vineyard Reserve – Grown in western Paso Robles. Chocolatey, with notes of cloves. Ample plum notes add a fruity character, while the herbal character on the finish gives it a bittersweet conclusion. B+ / $17

2013 Lee Family Farm Tempranillo Arroyo Seco – Arroyo Seco is part of Monterey County. Menthol meets notes of fresh thyme, sage, and — strangely — lime zest take this in some oddball (though not entirely unlikable) directions. The finish reminds me of a creme de cassis more than a table wine. B- / $18

2012 Quinta Cruz Tempranillo San Antonio Valley Pierce Ranch – From the Santa Cruz region. The plum and berry fruit is restrained here, the wine already showing some age with balsamic and oxidized notes. Some mild spice notes lead to a body that is slightly bitter, with a short finish. B / $18

2013 St. Amant Tempranillo Amador County “The Road Less Traveled” – A dense wine from the Sierra foothills, atypical in this roundup but a fantastic reminder of what solid tempranillo can be — featuring dark plums, blackberries, and black tea leaf character all bound up in an unctuous and juicy body. The long, spot-on finish recalls some lightly herbal and tea-driven character. A- / $23

2011 Terroir Coquerel Tempranillo Calistoga Napa Valley – Dusty and dry up front, here we see tempranillo showing as more austere and Old World in style. Raspberry, tea leaf, and some bramble notes mingle in a moderately acidic and tart package. It’s the only wine in this package that makes me think of Rioja, where tempranillo is basically a religion. A- / $42

2012 Matchbook Tempranillo Dunnigan Hills – From Yolo County in the Sacramento Valley. A tad watery, but with heavy, extracted fruit notes. Some coffee notes add a little complexity, but the somewhat off, herbal finish doesn’t overly engage. B- / $15

Review: Khortytsa Platinum Vodka

khortytsaIts distillery built in 2003, Khortytsa is a Ukrainian vodka that is now pushing 6.4 million cases of spirit each year, according to the company. Distilled from unspecified grains, Khortytsa is filtered through schungite (“a unique natural mineral”), birch and alder-tree charcoal, and quartz sand from the Crystal Mountains of the Urals near Yekaterinburg, Russia.

Khortytsa is a fine, if unremarkable vodka expression. The nose is appropriately astringent with subtle caramel notes, the body is medicinal at first but also layered with moderate sweetness. This takes the form of a bit of vanilla sugar and a squeeze of citrus, but it’s otherwise largely indistinct.

“Ultimate Perfection,” as the label states, may be pushing things a bit far, but at this price, Khortytsa certainly isn’t a letdown. It’s fine for the well.

B / $15 / khor.com

Review: Marlee’s Green Tea Whiskey

marleesTea-flavored whiskey is nothing new, but Marlee’s, produced in the Miami area, is rye whiskey flavored with green tea, a unique combination. Also in the bottle: Mexican agave nectar, miscellaneous natural flavors, and caramel color.

Now the south is the home of sweet (black) tea, and the home of whiskey. The two have come together in exciting ways in the past, so it makes sense that an upstart would like to try something new. Using gunpowder green tea immediately sounds odd — why mess with a proven combination? Well, what if green tea is even better with whiskey than the usual stuff?

Let’s give it a shot.

Oddly, most prevalent on the nose are the agave notes from the sweetening nectar — herbal with citrus overtones — plus a bit of a vanilla whiskey kick underneath. On the palate, it’s quite sweet as expected, but the tea hits with surprising power. It’s not just any old tea, but green tea, that nicely herbal, slightly minty, slightly peppery spin on the stuff. Immediately it clashes with the whiskey, as both elements struggle to dominate the blend. Some rye-driven clove notes come along late in the game, but the finish makes a 180 and hangs on to the sweet agave, with vague notes of lemon.

Tea-flavored anything is always sweet, but Marlee’s is just a bit overblown for my palate, and the green tea simply doesn’t meld as I would have liked with the rye. Nothing too offensive, though, and it’s a spirit that works well enough as a diversion.

29.9 proof.

B / $19 / whiskeyt.com

Review: Wines of Avant, 2016 Releases

 

avant wines

Avant is a new budget label from the folks at Kendall-Jackson, with a trio of basic California-sourced wines comprising the initial production run. While a lot of this comes across exactly as you expect it will, there’s at least one modest surprise in the bunch.

Thoughts follow.

2014 Avant Sauvignon Blanc California – Undistinguished and a bit boring, this plain jane sauv blanc offers notes of canned peaches and pineapple, brown sugar, and fruit leather. It works passably with a food, where the more saccharine notes are lost, but on its own it’s a study in plainness. C- / $13

2014 Avant Chardonnay California – A surprisingly fresh and drinkable chardonnay. The muted oak isn’t exactly refined, but the notes of butter-sauteed apples and a touch of citrus give this wine more complexity than you would expect given its price tag. The marshmallow notes on the finish aren’t a surprise, but they aren’t a bad complement, either. B / $13

2013 Avant Red Blend California – Mystery grapes from a mysterious place — what could go wrong? While you might expect a jammy fruit bomb, Avant’s red is more restrained than most wines of this pedigree, though the simple notes of maraschino cherry, strawberry, and brown sugar don’t cry out for in-depth analysis. Probably perfect for making sangria. B- / $17

avant.kj.com

Review: Score Vodka

score_medium

The grain in Ukraine falls mainly on the vodka producers, one of which is the maker of this new spirit, Score Vodka.

Score is distilled from organic winter wheat, distilled seven times, and run through a “unique milk-based filtration,” which sounds pretty crazy but, hey, it’s Ukraine, amirite?

The vodka itself is clean and very lightly oily, an interesting balance between old world and new world styles. The attack is lightly sweet — cotton candy through a lemonade filter. On the tongue, a little rush of sugar gets things going, then a big, astringent, hospital note hits hard, largely washing all of that sweetness away. The finish arrives quickly and is quite bittersweet, an interesting melding of the two styles that come before it.

One comment must be reserved for the bizarre closure, which is not a traditional screwcap but rather, is a plastic top that, when twisted, causes a controlled-pour spout to emerge directly from the top of the cap. Twist it the other way and the spout descends back down. A little flap of plastic works as a rudimentary cover for the affair (which, improbably, is actually watertight). Wild stuff, but exactly what you’d expect from Eastern Europe, I guess.

80 proof.

B / $NA / scorevodka.com

Review: Troegs Perpetual IPA and Blizzard of Hops Winter IPA

Troegs_Family

I had the good fortune of visiting the Troegs brewery, in Hershey, Pennsylvania, last summer. (You should go, too — the cafe is amazing.) Recently the company sent a couple of new releases to Drinkhacker HQ for us to formally review. Let’s give these a go!

Troegs Perpetual IPA – Initially rather dusty and mushroomy, the hefty bitterness brings this into stylistic focus after a time. The finish remains entrenched in notes of leather and tobacco, with layers of malt and even bitter chocolate and coffee on the finish. A curious spin on the IPA, but what do you expect from a brewery out of Hershey, PA? 7.5% abv. B / $10 per six-pack

Troegs Blizzard of Hops Winter IPA – What sounds like a curious combination — IPA with traditional “winter beer” spices — is in reality something a little more straightforward. Blizzard of Hops is really a fairly straightforward IPA, bringing pine and citrus notes into a core that seems just a touch scented with cloves. Perfectly palatable, winter, summer, or fall. 6.4% abv. B+ / $9 per six-pack

troegs.com