Review: Beaujolais Wines of Georges DuBoeuf, 2015 Vintage

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Georges DuBoeuf is an icon of France’s Beaujolais, and every year around this time the winery’s new releases hit the market. Today we look at six of them, including two offerings from DuBoeuf’s Domaine selection — smaller producers owned by the winery and still bottled under their own labels.

2015 Georges DuBoeuf Macon-Villages – Brisk and acidic, this wine is loaded with lemon and grapefruit notes, delving from there into a lightly herbal character, plus some light notes of brown sugar. The finish is heavy with slate notes, and lightly bittersweet, which dials back the impact of the finish a bit. B+ / $20

2015 Georges DuBoeuf Pouilly-Fuisse – Lovely fruit and light mineral notes find balance here atop a moderate to bold body that offers distinct buttery notes. Relatively California-esque in style, it builds to a vanilla-scented crescendo. The finish is a bit too brooding making it a bit overpowering on its own, but it does stand up well to food. B / $35

2015 Georges DuBoeuf Beaujolais-Villages – The focus is squarely on fruit here, but it’s dialed back unlike, say, a Beaujolais Nouveau’s brash and overpowering jamminess. Light cherry and currant meld with fresher, juicier strawberry notes, dusted with a bit of lavender and a touch of orange peel. A solid wine at a great value. A- / $13

2015 Georges DuBoeuf Fleurie – Youthful, with a simple structure that focuses on dried plums, violets, and overtones of saddle leather. The body is fine but nothing special, round and a bit flabby with a gumminess that tends to stick to the sides of the mouth. B- / $22

2015 Emile Beranger Pouilly-Fuisse – A fine Pouilly-Fuisse, offering ample minerality, to the point of light saltiness, plus overtones of melon and hints of roasted meats. Notes of slate and bouqeut garni alternate on the finish, which give the wine an uncommon complexity. B+ / $40

2015 Domaine les Chenevieres Macon-Villages – A gorgeous wine, loaded with notes of lemon, quince, and tangerine, and layered with alternating notes of brown butter, baking spice, and a hint of woody vanilla. A perfectly balanced body kicks out floral notes and a touch of white pepper from time to time, all beautiful accompaniments to the fruit-forward main event. Beautiful on its own but a standout with lighter fare. A / $22

duboeuf.com

Review: Magic Hat Belgo Sutra Quadrupel (2016)

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Magic Hat’s latest limited/seasonal is the latest installment of its monster of a Belgian-style dark ale, a quadrupel that is brewed with figs and dates to really pump up the intensity of the brew. The results are fascinating, if not entirely approachable at first. The beer drinks with sweet and bitter in relative balance, but the gummy body tends to overwhelm the palate. The eastern fruit character comes through clearly, but the finish sticks to the mouth and refuses to let go. Those looking for a Port-like dessert experience have found it here; for me, it can often run too far afield.

Belgo Sutra sales benefit the Vermont non-profit and HIV testing center Vermont CARES.

8.2% abv. Now available in bottles.

B / $NA per 22 oz. bottle / magichat.net

Review: Gary Farrell 2014 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir Russian River Valley

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Iconic Russian River winery Gary Farrell is out with its 2014 vintage wines, a chardonnay and a pinot noir. These are both the entry-level bottlings; single vineyard options abound if you want to go upscale. Let’s taste!

2014 Gary Farrell Chardonnay Russian River Valley – A gorgeous chardonnay, rich and full of fruit, with just the right amount of wood exposure to give it depth and body. Fresh apple finds a nice counterpart in big lemon notes, which add acidity and intrigue. The finish is round and lasting and just a touch herbaceous, which gives the wine balance while elevating it above the usual fare. Really, really well done. A / $35

2014 Gary Farrell Pinot Noir Russian River Valley – Surprisingly thin for a Russian River pinot, but with time in glass its simple cherry (both fresh and dried) notes become more forceful, tart and moderately acidic. The finish isn’t particularly engaging but finds some interesting companions in light notes of dried herbs, some licorice, and a touch of cocoa nibs. B / $45

garyfarrellwinery.com

Review: Decadent Saint Sangrias and Wine Concentrates

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Decadent Saint is a company run by Michael Hasler, an enologist from Australia whose letter to me in impeccable calligraphy introduced a unique product: concentrates made from wine intended to be diluted into sangria and other fanciful beverages.

These are all natural products, packaged in swing tops and designed to be mixed on the fly. Directions generally suggest adding one part mix to 3 to 5 parts water, sparkling water, or sparkling wine — each option will give the finished drink a different tone. Some bottlings can be served either on ice or warm.

We tried all four of Decadent Saints’ offerings. Each is bottled at 20.5% abv as a concentrate, so expect a much lighter finished product once they’re watered down.

Decadent Saint White Sangria – White wine, fruit, and spices. Very heavy with peaches and apricots — even with water it comes across at first like a mimosa. Some light citrus ekes through late in the game, with mango heavier on the finish. This is a simple concoction, but it’s really quite lovely and overflowing with an abundance of fruit. I like it just fine as a still beverage (no sparkling water or wine), but it works well both ways. Reviewed twice: Batch #7 and #8. A

Decadent Saint Red Sangria – Red wine, fruit, and spices. Heavy with red berries, with raspberry especially prominent. Citrus, mango, and even some banana notes make a showing later in the game. It’s a bit sweeter than I expect from sangria — this drinks a bit more like a wine cooler than a sangria — but those who like their sangria on the fruity side will probably gravitate heavily to this concoction. Water is fine, but sparkling wine gives this a much-needed kick. Reviewed: Batch #3. B+

Decadent Saint Fire or Ice Sangria – Another red sangria — also billed as containing red wine, fruit, and spices — with a twist. “Drink hot or cold,” hence the name, so it could work as either a chilled sangria or a holiday glogg. I tried it at a bit below room temperature but can totally see the appeal as a hot beverage, its plummy/raisiny core and a healthy slug of cinnamon and nutmeg giving it a distinct holiday feel. Sparkling wine helps to cut through some of the sweetness here, which is amped up above that of the white sangria, but with less of that classic apple/berry/citrus character one expects in a standard sangria. Reviewed: Batch #9. B

Decadent Saint Rocky Mountain Rescue – Here we find Hasler going straight up loco. This is a blend of red wine, dark chocolate, decaf coffee, berries, and spices. The taste is, perhaps unsurprisingly, exactly what you are expecting: a nutty, mocha-heavy coffee experience with a finish that leans toward dried berries and jam. There’s more raisin and cinnamon on the somewhat gummy palate, particularly on the back end, and lengthy, lingering notes of gingerbread and milky coffee. I like all the flavors in this bottle… I’m just not really enchanted by them all mixed together. Reviewed: Batch #6. B-

each $20 per 750ml bottle / whatwelove.com

Review: Ohishi Brandy Cask and Sherry Single Cask Whisky

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The southern Japanese island of Kyushu is home to the Kuma River, and it’s here that the Ohishi distillery, founded in 1872, turns rice into whiskey. Much like Kikori, Ohishi eschews the traditional barley for something that Japan knows well: rice, which is partially malted before fermentation. This ain’t Uncle Ben’s, mind you: Says GRC Imports, which is now bringing Ohishi into the country, “In addition to mochi rice from Kumamoto, they also use gohyakumanishi which is grown with an organic farming method that involves koi carp to control weeds in paddy fields.”

Sounds fancy!

Today we look at two of the company’s newly imported expressions, both NAS offerings.

Ohishi Brandy Cask Regular Whisky – This is a vatting of a small number of casks that were formerly used for brandy (unknown which or from where) for an indeterminate amount of time — though based on the pale color, not for long at all. This is a light and fragrant spirit, with a nose reminscent of very dry sherry, filtered through a bit of sugar and anise. The palate features marzipan notes, the lightest touch of sweet caramel, and another wispy hint of licorice on the back end. This expression has a much lighter touch than Kikori, with a milder body, less sweetness, and less of a distinct fruit character. While some of the aromatics invite a comparison to sake, it isn’t nearly as direct a connection as it is with Kikori. 83.2 proof. B / $75

Ohishi Sherry Single Cask Whisky Cask #1257 (pictured) – This is a single cask release from a first-fill sherry butt, a brilliant copper in color and a dramatic departure from the light gold of the Brandy Cask release. Nutty and a bit chocolatey on the nose, it offers a big oloroso sherry aroma — lighter on the citrus and heavier on the baking spice. The body pushes forward with the motif, striking the palate immediately with notes of spiced and roasted nuts, coffee, and dates. After a time, it moves on as the finish develops, showing a somewhat more exotic, eastern characters of incense and spice bazaars. All told, it’s really engaging stuff that takes what we’ve come to expect from a heavily sherried profile and totally makes it its own. 86.6 proof. 506 bottles made. A- / $75

grcimports.com

Review: Wines of Mark Ryan Winery, 2016 Releases

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Today our minds and palates turn northward, to Washington state, where Mark Ryan Winery has recently put out its fall releases. Let’s take a spin through three of them, all members of its lower-cost Board Track Racers series.

2015 Mark Ryan Winery Board Track Racers “The Vincent” Chardonnay Columbia Valley – A pretty, unoaked chardonnay, loaded with notes of pear, red apples, and light honey notes. Florals emerge as the wine opens up and gets warmer, the finish coming across as particularly (and perhaps a bit overly) perfumed. Hints of lemon peel and grapefruit round out the finish. B+ / $15

2014 Mark Ryan Winery Board Track Racers “The Vincent” Red Wine Columbia Valley – A blend of unknown red varietals, but which tastes cabernet-heavy. This is a simple wine — “pizza wine,” if you must — which offers ample earth, some clove notes, and a dark fruit core, featuring blackberry and currants. The dusty, wood-influenced finish is lackluster, but innocuous. B / $20

2014 Mark Ryan Winery Board Track Racers “The Chief” Columbia Valley – A blend of 85% cabernet sauvignon, 10% merlot, and 5% petit verdot (per the label; the website has cab franc listed too). This is a more upscale blend, with violets and other mixed florals making a strong showing against a backdrop of black and some red berries. Initially a little dusty, the fruit opens up with time in air, but the finish echoes licorice. B+ / $28

markryanwinery.com

Review: Bayou Rum Silver and Select

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Louisiana Spirits in Lacassine claims to be the largest privately-owned rum distillery in the U.S. Here they churn out a total of four spirits, distilled from local cane sugar and molasses using a copper pot still. Today we look at two of them, representing the core of the line.

Both are 80 proof.

Bayou Rum Silver – A credible silver, though its pot still funk comes through in spades. Gooey caramel and vanilla on the nose give way to notes of mushroom, petrol, and some charcoal. The simple-syrupy sweetness grows with time in glass, though the finish still tugs at the back of the throat with some roasted vegetable notes. Fair enough on the whole, but best as a mixer. B / $22

Bayou Rum Select – Same recipe, but rested in American oak for an unstated amount of time. The nose is duskier than the Silver but still moderately to heavily sweet, with hints of cinnamon and cloves plus an undercurrent of rancio. Dusty lumberyard notes emerge with time, but these are much more evident on the palate, which is surprisingly wood-heavy from the start. The sweetness takes on an oxidized, almost Madeira-like tone here, with winey-raisiny notes emerging; still, they battle mightily with the relatively heavy wood character, which soldiers on to a relatively tannic, tough finish. Reviewed: Batch #1503. B- / $31

bayourum.com

Review: Nikka Miyagikyo Single Malt and Nikka Yoichi Single Malt

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Japanese single malt whisky fans, the end is here. Age statements are vanishing faster than polar ice, and in their stead are arriving a series of NAS releases to replace them. Nikka is the latest distillery to do the deed, replacing a variety of the age-stated whiskies from its Miyagikyo and Yoichi distilleries, which are long since sold out, with these no-age versions, the new reality for Japanese whisky for the foreseeable future.

Both are 90 proof and aged in a variety of cask types, including bourbon and sherry barrels.

Nikka Miyagikyo Single Malt – Miyagikyo is based in Sendai, fairly north on the main island of Japan. This lightly peated malt is simple but pleasant and easygoing. The nose offers some wispy smoke plus gentle grain, along with hints of fruity apricot (plus some more pungent dried apricot). The palate largely follows suit, adding on more citrus, torched banana, and nougat, all laced throughout with salty, smoky seaweed notes. There is a great balance here between sweet and savory, but the whisky lacks much in the way of depth to back that up, giving way to a relatively short, though perfectly pleasant, finish. B+ / $80

yoichi_750ml_exportNikka Yoichi Single Malt – From Hokkaido, a distillery on an island to the north of the Japanese mainland. This is a somewhat more heavily peated whisky, its smoky character rather more blatant and hamfisted from start to finish. Wood smoke dominates the nose, some black pepper character hidden in there somewhere. On the palate, again the muddy smoke notes tend to dominate, dominating some light bubblegum character, hints of citrus and green apple, plus less fleshed-out granary notes. A little Madeira on the finish. Overall, this is a straightforward, peated whisky that just doesn’t seem to have had enough time to develop, both to temper its more raw smoke elements and to build up the fruit to create a more nuanced core. Fair enough, but it’s just too immature to command this kind of price. B / $80

nikka.com

Review: Langley’s No. 8 London Dry Gin

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Langley’s is a brand of gin newly available in the U.S., thanks to Terlato, which is importing it. No “New Western” business here. This is a classic London Dry style of gin that will strip the enamel off your teeth with the pungency of juniper.

But first, some background.

Made in small batches from 100% English grain, Langley’s No. 8 takes its name from the century-old Langley’s Distillery, a contract distiller that never before had allowed its name to appear on a spirit brand. Distilled in “Connie,” a small copper pot still nicknamed after the master distiller’s mother, the classic flavor of Langley’s No. 8 comes from a mixture of eight botanicals, including juniper berries from Macedonia, coriander seeds from Bulgaria, sweet orange peel and sweet lemon peel from Spain, cassia bark from Indonesia, and ground nutmeg from Sri Lanka. The last two ingredients are a secret! The result is aromatic notes of spicy juniper, zesty citrus and a smooth, rounded finish.

And the number 8? The makers tested every alcohol percentage between 40% and 45% to determine which would give the right balance of alcohol without being overpowering, ensuring that the true flavors came through. After testing 12 different samples with a team of experts and a consumer panel prepared in 10 different cocktails, they decided the 8th batch was the finest, and so, Langley’s No. 8.

It’s no joke on the juniper, which kicks off with a huge slug of the evergreen character. The nose takes things head-on into that deeply herbal, juniper-driven territory but it does manage to find room for hints of grapefruit and lemon, plus a touch of black pepper. The palate surprises with a hint of sweetness up front before quickly returning to that bold and racy juniper blast, which dominates things until a smattering of secondary characteristics finally bubble up. Think cinnamon, some earthy notes driven by the coriander, and again a hint of pepper.

Fans of traditional and juniper-heavy gins will get a kick out of this; for my tastes, though, it is a bit monochromatic with the juniper just about destroying everything in its path.

83.4 proof.

B / $42 / langleysgin.com

Review: Strongbow Hard Apple Ciders

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Heineken-owned Strongbow is a staple of the apple cider scene, particularly in England, where the brand originated some 54 years ago. Most production of the beverage still takes place in England, but the samples we’re reviewing today were actually produced in Belgium. (The company also makes cider in Australia.)

Strongbow comes in numerous varieties; today we look at four.

Strongbow Hard Apple Cider Gold Apple – This is an iconic cider, and probably what a lot of people think of when they think of cider. Fresh apple notes, a moderate level of sweetness, no vegetal undertones, and a crisp and lightly bubble finish are all on point — but it’s the little hint of cinnamon, just barely there on the finish, that makes this cider such an easy-drinking standout. Nothing fancy, but that’s often how cider is at its best. 5% abv. A-

Strongbow Hard Apple Cider Honey – This is very similar to the Gold Apple, but slightly sweeter and with less of a clear apple character to it. (It doesn’t taste of honey at all, by the way.) With very little in the way of fruit going on, it’s harder to recommend, but those looking for a simply sweet and fizzy refreshment may find it up their alley. 5% abv. B

Strongbow Hard Apple Cider Ginger – Something akin to a cider and a ginger ale, mixed. It’s not particularly heavy on the ginger component, and apple notes are the most enduring element in the mix, particularly on the finish. Nothing at all off-putting here, however — it works as a nice change of pace vs. the original flavor. 4.5% abv. B

Strongbow Hard Apple Cider Red Berries – This is the most wine-coolerish of the bunch, a quite sweet and strawberry-scented sipper than oozes, as the name suggests, red berry notes. The finish is exceptionally long, with sweet-and-sour notes… and wholly harmless. 4.5% abv. B-

$14 per 12-pack / theheinekencompany.com

Review: Smirnoff Red, White & Berry Vodka

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This limited edition seasonal was technically released for the summer and the Fourth of July, but it fell through the cracks and finally resurfaced here at Drinkhacker HQ. (Don’t worry, there’s plenty still available, even though it’s November.)

This flavored vodka packs three different elements into a single bottle: cherry, citrus, and blue raspberry. That is a damn lot of sweetness packed into one red, white, and blue-clad bottle, and even nosing it can be daunting. Powerfully aromatic with cherry notes foremost, it avoids smelling like cough syrup thanks to the deft and careful application of sugar.

The palate finds both cherry and orange notes the most prominent; they work fairly well together as fruity companions, and the flavors are reasonably authentic, though they veer heavily into the candy-coated world. The finish is lingering and quite sweet, but surprisingly not unpleasant. While it’s hardly the pinnacle of sophistication, I could totally see this working in a cocktail, punch, or even a simple highball with a mixer.

60 proof.

B / $15 / smirnoff.com

Review: Wines of JaM Cellars, 2016 Releases

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This new brand of supermarket-friendly wines comes from John Anthony and Michele Truchard — and together they are JaM Cellars. If that isn’t catchy enough, the names of the wines — Toast, Butter, and Jam — and black-plus-one-primary-color labeling are likely to stick with you.

JaM may wear its obviousness on its sleeve — or, on its label at least — but let’s see how it does on the palate.

NV JaM Cellars Toast California Sparkling Brut – Extremely dry, its fruit takes its sweet time to make an appearance, eventually coming forward with simple notes of apple, lightly browned butter and sage, and — indeed — notes of toasted bread. The finish is simple and short, nearly devoid of the sweetness I expected to find despite the Brut indication on the label. A credible, yet very simple, California sparkler. B / $25

2015 JaM Cellars Butter Chardonnay California – Buttery, yes, but more restrained than you’d think. Simple fruit and brown butter is spiked with notes of allspice, plus a touch of grapefruit peel. The finish is a bit chewy, with some unfortunate green bean character on the back end. Fair enough for a Tuesday evening, though. B- / $16

2014 JaM Cellars Jam Cabernet Sauvignon California – Again the name doesn’t lie. Completely overblown with chocolate syrup, overripe plums, and juice currants, this sugar bomb hits the palate with a vengeance and never lets go. Frankly I couldn’t get through half a glass… but what are you expecting, anyway? D- / $20

jamcellars.com