Review: The Exclusive Malts Batch #9 – Deanston 1997, Ben Nevis 1996, Glen Keith 1996, Glen Garioch 1995, Allt-A-Bhainne 1995, Cambus 1988


It’s another outturn from indie bottlers The Exclusive Malts, with a series of eight single cask releases from a wide range of distilleries. Today we look at six of them. So, without further ado, let’s get on to the tasting!

The Exclusive Malts Deanston 1997 17 Years Old – A “midlands” distillery near Glasgow, Deanston doesn’t often get much notice, but this vanilla-heavy number is a solid sipper. It’s a low-key malt with ample roasted grain notes, a touch of citrus peel, and some oily leather/furniture polish notes on the back end — but the sweet vanilla character, tempered with some walnut notes, tends to take over the whole affair from beginning to end. 104.6 proof. B+ / $140

The Exclusive Malts Ben Nevis 1996 17 Years Old – Highland malt, matured completely in a refill sherry cask. Here you’ll find more red fruits than citrus on the nose — almost strawberry at times, which is an exotic surprise, with a touch of lemon mixed in. There’s lots going on on the body — fresh mixed fruits, cinnamon, toffee notes, a bit of well toasted bread. Some coconut emerges on the finish, giving this a tropical touch. Lots of fun and highly worthwhile. 102.4 proof. A / $140

The Exclusive Malts Glen Keith 1996 19 Years Old – Speyside’s Glen Keith was shuttered from the late ’90s to 2013, when it reopened to make malt exclusively for blending. This is some of the last stock from that prior production run and a final chance to try Glen Keith as a single malt. It’s fairly traditional on the nose, with sizable cereal, some apple, and moderate wood influence. On the palate, it drinks on the hot side, with sweetened grains — think breakfast cereal — heavy on the tongue. Ultimately it’s a bit simplistic, particularly for a whisky of this age, though it’s completely serviceable. 100.2 proof. B / $155

The Exclusive Malts Glen Garioch 1995 19 Years Old – This is Highland malt aged in a rum cask from Guyana, a rarity you don’t often see in Scotch. Racy and spicy on the nose, the initial impression is one of a heavily sherried whisky, loaded with citrus and laced with cloves. The body is highly spiced, almost fiery at times, with tropical notes, rounded malt, and a bit of chocolate. Straightforward, a little hot thanks to the higher-than-expected proof, but a joy from start to finish. Wish I had more to tinker with. 112.6 proof. A- / $150

The Exclusive Malts Allt-A-Bhainne 1993 22 Years Old – This Speyside distillery is primarily used to make malts for Chivas blends, and it almost never shows up as a single malt. This well-aged number is the lightest shade of gold, with floral and grain-heavy notes up front, plus hints of baking spice and burnt sugar. Touches of petrol emerge with time. On the palate the whisky is initially sweet and innocuous, but some less savory components quickly come around — notes of coal, burnt paper, gravel, and ash. The finish is a bit rubbery, and short. Ultimately lackluster. 101.4 proof. B- / $160

The Exclusive Malts Cambus Single Grain 1988 26 Years Old – Cambus was a Lowlands grain whisky distillery that was shuttered in 1993. This is a darkish whisky, exotic on the nose with tropical fruits, irises, ripe banana, and coconut notes. On the palate, it’s intensely sweet — with amaretto notes and more ripe banana before venturing toward notes of watermelon, cherry, and rhubarb all mixed together. The finish is exceptionally sweet, almost cloying. All in all, this is a somewhat bizarre whisky that nonetheless merits consideration because it is so very unique. Not sure it’s a daily dram, however. 96.2 proof. B / $180

Review: Wines of Stonestreet, 2015 Releases

STONESTREETStonestreet is a high-elevation vineyard and winery in California’s Alexander Valley — all three of the wines below are made from 100% estate fruit. Let’s taste.

2014 Stonestreet Sauvignon Blanc Alexander Valley – Not especially Californian in makeup, but rather quite tropical with melon, mango, pineapple, and standard citrus fruit notes, with a quite sweet — coconut custard and sugar buns — underpinning. The finish is lightly bitter with slight ammonia notes, but by and large it’s a fine example of a New Zealand-style sauvignon blanc. Just, you know, not from NZ. B / $35

2013 Stonestreet Chardonnay Alexander Valley – Big, California style chardonnay — with vanilla, oak, and brown butter to burn. Some lychee notes develop on the body, then a lemon sweet-and-sour note hits on the back end. Candylike at times, but not overblown. Much more cleansing than most chardonnays, thanks to that touch of citrus on the finish. B+ / $40

2011 Stonestreet Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley – A stylish cab, with a dense layer of fresh herbs and a currant backbone. It layers in notes of vanilla and charcoal atop modest tannins. Drying on the finish. Easy to enjoy alone or with a meal, and it probably has a few years to continue maturing in bottle before it hits its peak. B+ / $45

Review: Jose Cuervo Tradicional Tequila (2015)

jose-cuervo-tradicional-reposado-tequilaCuervo’s cheapest 100% agave tequila — Cuervo Tradicional — has been with us for a few years now, but we’re only just now getting around to reviewing the original — the reposado bottling. We first looked at Tradicional Silver four years ago, now we’re hitting it up for a second review, plus a first review of the Tradicional Reposado.

Let’s dig in. Both tequilas are 80 proof.

Jose Cuervo Tradicional Silver Tequila – This is a clean and well-crafted tequila, with moderate herbal, agave notes on the nose. Hints of cinnamon and cloves emerge if you give it time. On the body, the tequila is quite simple, with some citrus and more clove emerging over time. The finish is agave-focused, lightly bitter, and moderate in length. Well made and perfectly fine as a mixer, but it’s a little plain on its own for serious sipping. B / $19

Jose Cuervo Tradicional Reposado Tequila – Aged two months in oak, the legal minimum to call a tequila a reposado. Very pale yellow in color. A blend of caramel and agave starts things off on the nose, with a decent balance between the two notes. On the tongue, it’s significantly sweeter than the Silver, which helps to balance out the spirit’s herbal character. We’re left with some citrus, and a bit of cotton candy on the back end — oddly that pairs pretty nicely with this reposado’s herbal core. Again, this is hardly a special occasion tequila, but for under 20 bucks — and at the same price as the Silver — it’s hard not to think of this for your frozen margarita machine. B+ / $19

Review: Carpano Dry and Carpano Bianco Vermouth

Carpano Bianco HRes FrontThe company that makes Punt e Mes and Carpano Antica also makes some more pedestrian vermouths, including these two white styles — both made from ancient, secret recipes.

Let’s try both!

Carpano Dry Vermouth – Classically dry, sourly winey nose, with notes of dried, savory herbs (absinthe notes are described in the tasting notes, but your mileage may vary). Light on the palate, with some bitterness lingering on the finish. Simple and versatile, but much better as a companion with gin than with vodka. 18% abv. B / $22 (1 liter)

Carpano Bianco Vermouth – Carpano’s sweet white vermouth (made from wine using trebbiano, cortese, and chardonnay grapes) is restrained on the nose, with similar herbal and “old wine” notes as the dry vermouth. The body pairs up these bitter and winey elements with a layer of sweetness, which works to elevate this vermouth considerably, particularly when drinking it solo. Again, it’s a relatively simple vermouth, but it works well with both vodka or gin — though somewhat better with gin, particularly more floral styles. 14.9% abv. B+ / $22 (1 liter)

Review: Expresiones de Corazon Barrel-Aged Tequila (Blanco, Buffalo Trace Reposado & Van Winkle Anejo) 2015

Corazón_OldRip_Añejo_Bottle_NoStripBack in 2013, Corazon Tequila had the curious idea to take fresh tequila and age it in high-end bourbon barrels rather than the typical Jack and Jim barrels. With five tequilas aged in a variety of casks — including Sazerac 18, George Stagg, and Old Rip Van Winkle — the project was an exercise in pushing 100% agave tequila even further upmarket.

In 2015, Corazon is back at it, but with a more limited approach. Just three expressions — one of each tequila variety — are being offered this time out. Stagg and Sazerac are out this time around.

The barrel’s not the only twist here. There have also been some upgrades to the agave harvest itself. Says Corazon:

Using 100 percent blue agave from the highlands of Jalisco, the brix for Expresiones del Corazon was measured to determine sugar levels before harvest, rather than a traditional clear cut.  Two sets of agave were harvested, one with a lower sugar content and flavored a little drier, and one with a higher sugar content considered a little sweeter for agave, resulting in more floral notes. The result was a harmonization of the two sets of agave in the amazing Blanco, which was then used as the base for the other Expresiones del Corazon.

We were pretty high on the 2013 bottlings. Let’s look at the 2015s, all 80 proof and poured from individually numbered bottles.

Expresiones de Corazon Artisanal Edition Small-Batch Distilled Blanco – Again, this is unaged tequila that sees no barrel time at all, so it’s a bit strange that it’s part of this collection — and with such a lengthy name, too! Nonetheless, let’s look at this base spirit for the rest of the collection. Unlike 2013’s release, this expression comes across on the nose as relatively mild — and quite fruity, with lemon-heavy notes and a dash of pepper. On the palate, the tequila is very soft, almost to the point of simplicity. Dry and lightly sweet, it’s as harmless a blanco as they come. B / $60

Expresiones de Corazon Buffalo Trace Reposado – Aged in ex-Buffalo Trace Bourbon barrels, no time stated. Last edition was 10.5 months. This version is just as strangely pale in the color department, but it’s loaded with aroma and flavor — quite intense vanilla notes, some black pepper, toasted marshmallow, and a gentle herbal, slightly earthy backing that’s driven by the agave. Mild, but quite pleasant. B+ / $70

Expresiones de Corazon Old Rip Van Winkle Anejo – Aged in Old Rip Van Winkle Bourbon barrels, time unstated (2013’s was 23 months). Again, this is the palest anejo you’ll ever see. Racier on the nose, it’s got baking spices, tree bark, and some apple cider notes. This leads to quite a full body which folds together salted caramel, gingerbread, and gentle agave notes into a cohesive and well integrated whole. The collection of flavors are a lot like those in the 2013 edition, but here they’re more in balance and, in the end, they lead to a much more worthwhile spirit. A- / $80

Tasting: Schiava Wines of Alto Adige – Abbazia di Novacella, Cantina Andriano, Nals Margreid

Cantina Andriano BocadoSchiava is a grape also known as Trollinger — and it’s one of the more heavily grown red wine grapes in Germany. It also finds a home in the north of Italy, where it is turned into this exotic and odd wine. Let’s take a look at three 100% Schiava wines from Italy’s Alto Adige region.

2014 Abbazia di Novacella Schiava Alto Adige DOC – A classic, slightly sour, young Italian red. Notes of thyme and nutmeg dust a tart cherry core, with a finish of leather, tobacco leaf, and gentian. Mild finish. Pairs well with food. B / $16

2013 Nals Margreid Galea Schiava Alto Adige DOC – Jammy, and reminiscent of rapidly fading Beaujolais Nouveau, with a gamy and balsamic-heavy undertone. Of minor interest only. C+ / $18

2013 Cantina Andriano “Bocado” Schiava Alto Adige DOC – Both sweet and tart, with strawberry and some cherry notes. Approachable, though the heavy acidity makes it somewhat off-putting at times. On the finish, a dusting of baking spices add a bit more complexity. B- / $21

Review: Wines of Barton & Guestier, 2015 Releases

barton g_cotesdurhone_passeport_NVBarton & Guestier is France’s oldest wine merchant company, but it’s also a wine producer, too. B&G makes a wide range of wine varieties, including wines from Bordeaux, the Loire, Provence, and the Rhone Valley under a number of labels. Today we look at a couple of new wines and a couple of older labels. Thoughts follow.

2014 Barton & Guestier Vouvray – This low-alcohol, 100% chenin blanc wine has quite a bit of sweetness to it, so arrive with your palate forewarned. Crisp apple is backed with notes of peaches, lychee, and pineapple, with some restrained florals particularly evident on the nose. Simple all around, but easy to enjoy. Summer wine. B / $10

2014 La Villa Barton Cotes de Provence Rose – 45% grenache, 30% syrah, 25% cinsault. Surprisingly dry, this wine cuts a profile of gentle florals, some melon notes, and some tart grapefruit on the finish. Simple and featuring a short finish, this one’s best ice cold. B / $20

2014 Barton & Guestier Cotes-du-Rhone – 50% grenache, 30% syrah, 20% carignan. This is a meaty, traditionally styled wine from the Rhone Valley that offers an earthy, leathery core that complements some simple but lively, strawberry-focused fruit elements. Simple and easy-drinking, but well structured and balanced between its two primary elements; particularly appealing at this price. B+ / $11

NV Barton & Guestier 290th Heritage Rhone Blend – Technically a non-vintage wine. 80% syrah, 20% grenache. Surprisingly restrained, with a leathery, tobacco-laden core that is dotted with some light fruit notes, cigar smoke, and a touch of sea salt. Dried blueberries and some chocolate on the finish add some nuance, but overall this wine is dialed way back. B / $20

Review: Wines of Francis Ford Coppola, 2015 Releases

VendettaIt’s a bumper crop of new releases from Coppola. Here’s a look at something old and something new from this always-busy operation.

2014 Francis Ford Coppola Sauvignon Blanc Diamond Collection Yellow Label – A workmanlike, even gentlemanly, sauvignon blanc. Quite sweet, with marshmallow notes, lemon juice, and creamy orange Dreamsicle notes. Simple but with a lightly herbal edge to the finish, it’s classic yet cheap summer wine (if the bright yellow label didn’t cue you in). B / $16

2014 Francis Ford Coppola Pinot Grigio Diamond Collection Emerald Label – A rather tropical pinot grigio, melding mango and banana notes into a festive shell. Simple, lightweight, lightly sweet, and rather refreshing, but better as an aperitif than with food. B+ / $12

2013 Francis Ford Coppola Claret Diamond Collection Black Label – Surprisingly on point, the 2013 claret — a Bordeaux style blend that nonetheless reads “California Cabernet Sauvignon” on the back label — has youth and austerity, both in moderation. Bright red strawberries and raspberries seize the day — there’s not too much currant character here — with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar and tea leaf (sweet tea, maybe?) lingering on the finish. Mostly dry but with a short, quick finish, this is as gentle an entry to this style of wine. B+ / $21

2014 Francis Ford Coppola Sofia Rose Monterey County – Pleasant, summery, and refreshing, this rose of syrah and pinot noir is an easy sipper with strawberry and blackberry notes, atop a fresh apple juice core. Probably the best thing you’ll find under the Sofia sub-label. A- / $19

2014 Francis Ford Coppola Pinot Noir Director’s Sonoma Coast – (Not the same as “Director’s Cut.”) Not a bad effort here, and it evolves to show more charm in the glass as it gets some air. Cherry up front, with some dusky brewed tea and cracked pepper notes. Nice balance, with a lightly bitter kick on the finish. B+ / $21

2013 Francis Ford Coppola Zinfandel Director’s Cut Dry Creek Valley – A reserved and quite tannic zinfandel, this wine features muted bramble notes, leather, and mild currants. Quite drying on the finish, with a licorice kick. B- / $17

2013 Francis Ford Coppola Vendetta – The new kid on the block. A cab-merlot blend, packaged in the oh-so-trendy paper-wrapped bottle. An often horrifying wine, doctored and pumped up (IMHO) with artificial sweeteners. Chocolate and cinnamon notes mingle with a cloying sweetness that positively coats the palate. Was the vendetta against me? D / $21

Review: Michter’s US-1 Toasted Barrel Finish Bourbon 2015

Michter's 2015 Toasted Bourbon

Michter’s has developed a bit of a cult following in the bourbon world, and its Toasted Barrel Finish Bourbon is definitely its most famous major release. This limited edition annual release is always in short supply, and it’s made by taking Michter’s US-1 Kentucky Straight Bourbon and finishing it in barrels that are seasoned for 18 months, which are toasted, not charred. There’s no age information on either the original barreling time or the finishing, but given that there’s no information on where this whiskey came from to begin with, it’s unlikely anyone really cares.

This release is one of Michter’s most intensely woody and pungent expressions. Never mind the “toast”: This is barrel char front and center, with a heavy earthiness and ample tobacco/smoke on the nose. That’s a rough and brutish way to start things off, but the body is more refined than you would think. Notes of cherry pits, charred herbs, and licorice hit up front, then a soothing fruit component wallows up behind. There’s a lingering barrel char character that really sticks with you — and it’s probably why people go so gaga over this bourbon: It tastes super-old, with the kind of intense wood influence that you usually only see with extremely well-aged stuff.

But what Michter’s Toasted Barrel doesn’t have is the maturity and nuance that is supposed to come along with very old bourbons. Instead, it comes across like a bit of a shortcut, which is kind of a bummer.

91.4 proof. Reviewed: Bottle #154/667.

B / $53 /

Review: Wild Ginger Original Alcoholic Ginger Beer

Can RenderingNashville-brewed Wild Ginger isn’t the first alcoholic ginger beer on the market, but it’s a solid selection nonetheless if you’re looking for a Dark & Stormy with a bigger kick — or simply (and more likely) a pre-mixed ginger cocktail of sorts straight from the can.

Wild Ginger is on the sweet side from the start, offering some marshmallow character that mixes with the gingery bite to offer a character that starts off like a standard ginger ale but quickly elevates into a proper ginger beer experience. The finish isn’t racy hot, though. Rather, it fades away quickly, leaving behind something of an oatmeal-like “malt beverage” overtone. It’s not offensive, but it does put a modest damper on things when they should be hitting their highest high.

4% abv.

B / $9 per six-pack of cans /