Category Archives: Rated B

Review: Cabernets of Louis M. Martini, 2014 Releases

Louis M. Martini 2011 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauv 750ml 87x300 Review: Cabernets of Louis M. Martini, 2014 ReleasesNo need for a lot of throat-clearing here. Check out these three new Cabs from both Napa and Sonoma, all made by Louis M. Martini.

2011 Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley Sonoma County – Textbook Sonoma Cab, milder on the palate than Napa’s fruit bombs, but with plenty of earthy mushroom notes, leather, balsamic vinegar, and hints of blueberry on the nose. Breathe deep for hints of the garden — some thyme and peppermint on the back end — and watch for some Christmas spice on the palate’s finish. Imminently drinkable, it’s a fun yet modest wine. A- / $35

2011 Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – A benchmark Napa cab from Martini, with a mix of floral, currant, pepper, and light leather notes on the nose, followed by a solid slug of blackberries, black cherries, and just hints of earth that are laced into the palate. Light on its feet but full of nuance, this wine shows restraint while offering a plenty ample body and a spot-on finish. One of Martini’s finest cabs in years and dirt cheap. A / $22

2012 Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County – A simple, almost rustic, “burger” wine (which is exactly how I drank it). A little weedy up front, with some notes of sweet pepper, an interesting counterpart to the relatively sweet and cinnamon-infused body, which offers some tropical and brown sugar notes. Perfectly serviceable, if short of awe-inspiring. B / $14

louismartini.com

Review: Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Warehouse Floor Experiments

Buffalo Trace Warehouse Floor Experiment 525x385 Review: Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Warehouse Floor Experiments

More tinkering in the form of experimental whiskeys from the mad scientists at Buffalo Trace. This is one of the company’s most interesting and telling ones to date: Three 12-year-old, rye-heavy bourbons each aged on a different floor of Buffalo Trace’s massive Warehouse K (floors 1, 5, and 9). Warehouse K is built of brick, with wooden floors (because that seems to matter, too).

The same Bourbon, in the same building, just aged on a different floor. Why on earth would the aging floor matter? Simple, as any middle school science student can tell you: Heat rises. The lower floors are relatively cool. The top floors are scorching hot. This impacts aging in a direct and profound way — in part, because water and alcohol evaporate at different temperatures. (That said, all three of these whiskeys are bottled at 90 proof to make comparisons considerably easier.)

And so, how do these compare side by side by side? Let’s take a look…

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection 12 Year Old Bourbon – Floor #1 – Aged on the bottom floor. Some funky notes of olives and green pepper hit the nose at first, with plenty of sweet stuff riding on its coattails. The palate is sharp and fiery, with elements of burnt butter, cayenne, and ample sawdust in contrast to its toffee notes. Balance is a mess, flavors hitting you from every which way. C

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection 12 Year Old Bourbon – Floor #5 – Aged right in the middle, but is it the Goldilocks of the group? It’s not as different as you might expect, those olive notes still hanging on, but to a much less powerful degree. Floor #5 settles down much more fully and quickly, revealing more of a rounded butter toffee note that’s fused with a melange of cloves, candied pineapple, and lumberyard notes. It’s still a bit rough around the edges, but overall more palatable and approachable than Floor #1. B

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection 12 Year Old Bourbon – Floor #9 – From the hot top floor, where some of BT’s blue chip Bourbons, like George T. Stagg, are sourced. This is clearly the best of the bunch, featuring toasted marshmallows and more gentle wood notes on the nose, followed by a body that is lush with brown sugar sweetness, cinnamon and cloves, vanilla caramels, and cake frosting. Gorgeous in structure, and radically different than the other two installments in this series. Grab it if you find it! A

each $46 (375ml) / buffalotracedistillery.com

Review: NV Zardetto Prosecco DOC Treviso Brut

Zardetto Prosecco Image 91x300 Review: NV Zardetto Prosecco DOC Treviso BrutThis nonvintage Prosecco is a bit chewy and bready — more so than is typical of the style — with notes of  lemon confit, peaches, and white flowers. A shortish finish doesn’t make the very best companion for the bigger body, and while it’s enjoyable enough (particularly at this price level), it could use more power throughout.

B / $14 / zardettoprosecco.com

Review: Tomatin Single Malts: 12, 14, 15, and 18 Years Old — Plus 1988 Vintage

tomatin 525x225 Review: Tomatin Single Malts: 12, 14, 15, and 18 Years Old    Plus 1988 Vintage

Highlands-based Tomatin offers a classic experience of Scotland in a glass — even though it is actually owned by Japan’s Takara Shuzo company.

Tomatin is shaking up the brand of late, introducing a new 14 Year Old expression and a 1988 Vintage expression to the core line (while the latter lasts, I presume), while discontinuing both the 15 and 30 Year Old expressions. (That said, we have a review of the 15 below.) The 12 Year is also getting a proof upgrade.

The only member of the new five-expression Tomatin lineup we don’t have reviewed here is Legacy, Tomatin’s entry-level, no-age-statement bottling.

Thoughts on everything else, though, follow.

Tomatin 12 Years Old Sherry Cask Finish – Finished in Oloroso sherry casks, this 12 year old whisky noses like a more mature spirit, balancing its cereal notes with some light smokiness and iodine character. On the palate, the chewy malt is balanced with notes of heather and more of those smoky wisps, with a burnt orange peel character coming along on the finish in the back of the throat. I’d love more fruit here, but Tomatin 12 is so well-balanced — despite its simplicity — that it’d almost be a shame to change anything. 86 proof (recently upgraded from 80 proof). A- / $30

Tomatin 14 Years Old Port Wood Finish – The higher alcohol level dulls the nose on this whisky, finished in Tawny Port pipes for about a year. After a time, the nose takes on an intensely woody, cedar box, tobacco leaf character. The body also has lots of wood bark, plus dark chocolate, coffee, and some cinnamon. Again, the fruit is held in check, and the expected raisiny sweetness from Port finishing never materializes. Not bad, though. 92 proof. B+ / $55

Tomatin 15 Years Old – This whisky is on the verge of being discontinued, so grab it while you can. The only whisky in this lineup that has a full maturation in ex-Bourbon casks, with no finishing. It’s markedly lighter in color than the other whiskys in this roundup, by a good margin. Hospital notes are strong on the nose here, with tons of cereal coming forth on the body, plus undercurrents of marshmallow, banana, and a bit of smokiness on the back end. More of a journeyman whisky than even the 12 Year Old. Perfectly serviceable, but I can understand the phase-out. 86 proof. B / $45

Tomatin 18 Years Old Oloroso Sherry Finish – Finished in sherry casks. A little sweaty on the nose, with more of that iodine character than the other Tomatin expressions. The body is pure sherry, though. This is a well-matured whisky with a big body and a chewy fruitiness to it. Lots of fresh plums, macerated apricots, and juicy oranges to go around, with a bit of sandalwood on the finish. Big whisky, with lots to like once the odd nose blows away, revealing more of a honey character. Amazing value for an 18 year old whisky. 92 proof. A- / $60

Tomatin 1988 Vintage Batch #1 – Matured in both Bourbon and Port barrels, this first batch of Tomatin 1988 (roughly 25-26 years old, by my count) is available in a selection of 2500 bottles. Surprisingly austere and malty on the nose, with a floral element to it. The body’s got an air of oatmeal cookies, buttery toffee, and indistinct flowers, with a bit of a vegetal note on the finish. I got no Port character here at all, rather mainly a rich maltiness that tends to overpower everything. I’d like to see more complexity at this price level. 92 proof. B+ / $250

tomatin.com

Review: 2012 Pacific Rim Riesling and Vin de Glaciere

pacific rim riesling Review: 2012 Pacific Rim Riesling and Vin de GlaciereBased in Washington’s Columbia Valley, Pacific Rim is obsessively focused on Riesling. In fact, that’s all they make, in nearly a dozen varieties. Today we look at two of the winery’s single vineyard bottlings, both made from organic grapes.

2012 Pacific Rim Riesling Organic - Not your typical, high-acid, new world Riesling! Initially quite sweet, this honeyed wine reveals layers of pineapple and melon after settling down and warming up a bit. Ultimately that sugary core never quite fades, but the fruit flavors eventually meld together as a whole. B / $16

2012 Pacific Rim Riesling Vin de Glaciere Organic – A bit weedy on the nose, but all fruity sweetness on the body. Honey, fresh apples, figs, and light brown sugar. It all comes together easily, with a touch of nuttiness on the finish. A- / $16 (375ml)

rieslingrules.com

Review: 2011 Franciscan Estate Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon

Franciscan CabSauv BottleImage 100x300 Review: 2011 Franciscan Estate Merlot and Cabernet SauvignonThe ubiquitous Franciscan’s 2011 general-release red wines are hitting the market now. Thoughts follow on the merlot and cabernet sauvignon.

2011 Franciscan Estate Merlot Napa Valley – Strongly herbal nose, unusual for merlot, with notes of root beer and licorice. The body is fruitier with currants and blackberry notes, but also adds hints of licorice, coffee, and dark chocolate. This could easily be mistaken for a journeyman Cabernet. As it stands here, it’s fine, if nothing special. B / $21

2011 Franciscan Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – A simple and simplistic Cab, featuring a tart and raspberry-driven core that’s wrapped up with vanilla, chocolate syrup, and essence of wood. Astringency on the finish is indicative of its youth, pointing to wine that’s a bit rustic, but filled with life. B / $28

franciscan.com

Tasting the Wines of Charles Krug, 2014

Napa’s Charles Krug — now managed by the Peter Mondavi family — is an icon of California. Krug (the man) was a Prussian journalist who emigrated to the San Francisco area in the 1840s and eventually started dabbling in winemaking before opening his first winery in 1861.

In 2011 his namesake company marked its 150th vintage. And the company is still expanding, launching its inaugural vintage of a new Howell Mountain Cabernet, reviewed below. With a focus on “old world” wine stylings, it’s the oldest winery in Napa and the home of arguably the oldest winemaker in the country: Peter Mondavi, Sr., who turns 100 this year.

Thoughts on four upcoming wines, a 2013 white and three big reds from the 2011 vintage, all tasted online with Peter Mondavi, Jr. and winemaker Stacy Clark both in attendance,  follow.

2013 Charles Krug Estate Sauvignon Blanc Limited Release – Only the third vintage of this wine, which is not the same as its general release. (The easy way to tell the difference is this one comes in a Burgundy-style bottle; the general release comes in a Bordeaux-style bottle. The Limited Edition is also twice the price.) Heavily acidic and tart, with intense grapefruit and lemon notes, this is classic Sauvignon Blanc with an extreme level of intensity. Long, biting finish. A- / $35

2011 Charles Krug Merlot Napa Valley – 84% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Petite Sirah, 2% Malbec, 1% Petit Verdot. Some interesting layers of coffee bean, licorice, vanilla, and cinnamon in this one, with a fragrant, coffeehouse nose. The body is lacking in presence, unfortunately, which dulls the fruit and the finish. B / $25

2011 Charles Krug Family Reserve “Generations” Napa Valley – 87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petit Verdot, 4% Malbec, 3% Merlot. Beautifully floral nose on this, violets and an undercurrent of brambly blackberries. The body is driven as much by cigar box, licorice, and some rocky soil notes as it is that blackberry core. A quiet wine (at 13.9% abv) that still exudes lots of character. A- / $50

2011 Charles Krug Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain Napa Valley – The inaugural release of this wine, a blend of 95% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Petit Verdot, and 2% Malbec. Bigger, bolder, and racier… and yet just 13.7% abv. A chewier mouthfeel leads to notes of mint, chocolate bars, almonds, and vanilla cream. The fruit is somewhat understated — more plum than currants — with a rounded finish. Fun wine, and a bit atypical of what you see on Howell Mountain in general. A- / $75

charleskrug.com

Review: Firemans Brew Blonde Beer, Brunette Beer, and Redhead Ale

FB 3bottles.dry  525x645 Review: Firemans Brew Blonde Beer, Brunette Beer, and Redhead Ale

We last encountered Firemans Brew five long years ago — we mistakenly gave them an unattributed apostrophe back then — so with summer upon us, a fresh look is in order. The company still makes three hair-color-themed beers, though the “Brewnette” has been reformulated with a newish name (a straightforward “Brunette”) and less alcohol.

Fresh thoughts on the So-Cal based “The Original Firemans Brew” follow.

Firemans Brew Blonde Beer – A classic pilsner lager. A big body elevates this over your typical “baseball game” brew, with a chewy, sourdough bread core studded with a touch of pine and a hint of brown sugar. Some caramel notes emerge on the finish, but mostly it’s a crisp and clean slugger from start to finish. 5% abv. A-

Firemans Brew Brunette Beer – A burly double bock, with considerably more alcohol than the other brews in this lineup. Lots of malt on this one builds up layered notes of coffee, chocolate, and chicory, atop a sultry, creamy base. Built for fans of bigger bodied brews. 8% abv. B+

Firemans Brew Redhead Ale – A red amber ale that will offend no one, this malty, woodsy beer is built with a moderate body and a chewy, almost nutty character on the palate. The finish comes along with strong notes of fresh-baked bread and a touch of fresh coffee notes. Harmless. 5.5% abv. B

firemansbrew.com

Review: Deschutes Brewery Pine Mountain, Armory, & Cinder Cone Beers

deschutes armory 525x375 Review: Deschutes Brewery Pine Mountain, Armory, & Cinder Cone Beers

Three new brews from Bend, Oregon-based Deschutes are hitting the market — all three on a year-round basis.

Deschutes Brewery Pine Mountain Pilsner – A surprisingly malty pilsner, Pine Mountain has a big, bready body, with notes of peanuts, peaches, banana, and honey. The finish takes on an earthy, somewhat mushroomy character. There’s fruit here — those peaches are stronger than you might expect — but the heavy maltiness dulls this beer’s crisp finish a bit. 5.2% abv. B+

Deschutes Brewery Armory XPA – “Experimental Pale Ale,” made with five kinds of hops. Initially woodsy and piney, as it warms up it reveals a surprisingly sweet and orangey character, almost like citrus jellies on the finish. There’s good balance between the two, but the sweetness becomes a little wearisome after a pint or so. 5.9% abv. B+

Deschutes Brewery Cinder Cone Red Ale – A traditional red ale, this dark brew offers tons of richness, including notes from the forest, brown/burnt sugar notes, and plenty of bitter root character, particularly on the finish. A bit muddy, even chalky, this drinks like a burlier winter brew. Named after rocky lava formations… makes sense. 5.3% abv. B

each $4 per 22 oz. bottle / deschutesbrewery.com

Review: High West A Midwinter Nights Dram and The Barreled Boulevardier

We’re finally getting around to reviewing High West’s latest products, a new rye and a second barrel-aged-and-bottled cocktail. These have both been around for a few months, so please forgive our tardiness!

high west midwinters night dram 136x300 Review: High West A Midwinter Nights Dram and The Barreled BoulevardierHigh West A Midwinter Nights Dram – Never mind the typo (it should be “Night’s,” no?) and never mind that I’m reviewing a clearly holiday-themed spirit in mid-June. Wow, this rye whiskey finished in French oak and ex-Port barrels is cherries cherries cherries from start to finish. The nose features macerated cherry fruit, steeped in vanilla and a touch of dusty wood. On the tongue, a powerful brandied cherry character emerges, with notes of ginger, vanilla cream, rhubarb, and fruitcake. OK, maybe I’m imagining the fruitcake, but the festive name of this spirit couldn’t be more appropriate. Initially a bit off-putting with its incredible fruitiness, the whiskey eventually settles down into something that’s quite enjoyable and wholly unique. Reviewed: “Act 1, Scene 1313″ of this “limited engagement.” 98.6 proof. A- / $80

high west Boulevardier 750 bottle 173x300 Review: High West A Midwinter Nights Dram and The Barreled BoulevardierHigh West The Barreled Boulevardier – A Boulevardier cocktail is composed of 1/3 bourbon, 1/3 sweet vermouth, and 1/3 Campari. Here, High West uses Vya vermouth and Gran Classico in lieu of Campari, then ages the combination in ex Bourbon barrels. Here, some ice helps to bring this to proper cocktail temperatures and to add a little meltwater to the mix. The result is an interesting mix of cocoa powder, red cherries, honey syrup, and a bitter, spicy kick on the finish. It’s a strong drink, one which benefits from slow sips and lots of reflection, as the bitter aftertaste it leads can be hard to shake. For a segment of the populace in love with the Negroni, this will probably have them endlessly abuzz. 72 proof. B / $55

highwest.com

Tasting the Wines of Hourglass Vineyard, 2014 Releases

I recently had the opportunity to attend a live event with Napa-based Hourglass Vineyard’s owner Jeff Smith and its new winemaker Tony Biagi. Before tasting through four of the winery’s current releases, the duo discussed the changes involved with switching winemakers, including their new approach to winemaking and their return to higher-acidity, more elegant winemaking as they retreat from the traditional opulence of Napa. As well, the winery has a new focus on blending (and seemingly a love affair with Petit Verdot). Thoughts on all four wines follow.

2013 Hourglass Sauvignon Blanc Estate – Quite acidic, with pineapple and lemon balanced by touches of ammonia. Fresh, with lots of mineral notes, and touches of peach rising on the finish. There’s a bit of coconut in there, too. Solid. B+ / $40

2012 Hourglass Blueline Estate Merlot Napa Valley – 91% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Petit Verdot. Mint, chocolate, and a layering of raspberry, blackberry, and dried raisin character. Not as racy or acidic as I’d hoped for, the mint character really overpowering things on the back end. The finish goes out with more of a whimper than a bang. B / $75

2012 Hourglass Blueline Estate Malbec Napa Valley – 75% Malbec, 25% Petit Verdot. Again, heavy on the mint character, which plays well with the heavy chocolate and strawberry notes in this wine. Again the body isn’t as racy or as acidic as I’d expected, but here the flavors complement one another more completely. Give this one time to open up and some violet character emerges. Not exactly the Malbec you might be expecting, but worthwhile. B+ / $75

2012 Hourglass Blueline Estate Cabernet Franc Napa Valley – 83% Cabernet Franc, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petit Verdot. Easily the darkest of these wines, both in color and in body. Dark chocolate, licorice, floral notes, and strawberry jam all come together in one powerhouse of a whole. This is the most “old school” (meaning: late-’90s) wine from this collection, a more dense and chewy wine with a lengthy finish — that mint returning for an encore. Probably my favorite wine of the bunch, but you’ll pay for the privilege, to be sure! A- / $135

hourglasswines.com

Review: Starr Hill Whiter Shade of Pale Ale, Soul Shine, and Little Red Roostarr

SH  WhiterShade 22oz Bottle thumb Review: Starr Hill Whiter Shade of Pale Ale, Soul Shine, and Little Red RoostarrThree new brews from Starr Hill, arriving just in time for summer barbecues. Thoughts follow.

Starr Hill Whiter Shade of Pale Ale White IPA – A hybrid of Belgian wheat beer and India Pale Ale, a bit like one of my current favorite brews, Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’. Made with wheat and two-row malt along with Cascade, Simcoe, Columbus, and Falconer’s Flight hops, it’s a nicely hoppy beer that still exercises some restraint with its bitterness (45 IBUs). The attack starts moderately big hop notes along with some orange fruit, quickly leading to a very pleasant and rounded body. Chewy on the palate, the wheat component makes for a more breadlike IPA than you may be accustomed to, but this is ultimately quite fulfilling and satisfying. The finish is soft and easy, more soothing than bracing like a classic IPA. All in all, an excellent brew. 7.5% abv. A / $10 per 22 oz. bottle

Starr Hill Soul Shine Belgian-Style Pale Ale – An “Americanized” Belgian ale, which means adding American hops (Falconer’s Flight, Cascade, Simcoe, and Columbus) and bringing it down to 5.2% abv. Though it’s specifically designed for lighter, summer drinking, the beer feels a bit watery, and super fizzy to boot. Relatively flavorless up front, I pick up very basic citrus notes interwoven with baked bread character. The body is short and quickly fades, however, leaving behind a minerally taste reminiscent of beer-spiked Perrier. Not my favorite in this batch. 5.2% abv. B- / $NA per six-pack

Starr Hill Little Red Roostarr Coffee Cream Stout – The odd man out in this otherwise summery collection of brews, Little Red Roostarr is an inky milk stout that offers the coffee ground and bittersweet chocolate notes you’d expect from this style, with a very modest hop character (East Kent Goldings) to it. What’s lacking is the “cream” component: Red Roostarr is fairly thin in the body, which ultimately takes the beer to a lackluster finish that has more chewy graininess in it than I care to see in a beer of this style. 5.8% abv. B / $7 per 22 oz. bottle

starrhill.com

Review: Wines of Chloe, 2014 Releases

chloe wines 170x300 Review: Wines of Chloe, 2014 ReleasesChloe is yet another wine brand designed to appeal to the I-need-a-cutely-named-wine-with-a-cute-bottle-to-take-to-the-dinner-party crowd. Not to be confused with Chloe Wines (a Seattle importer), the Chloe Wine Collection is a new offshoot of The Wine Group, a California-based mega-bottler.

Chloe is starting up with three wines — two California bottlings and an Italian white. Thoughts on each follow.

2013 Chloe Pinot Grigio Valdadige Italy DOC – Mild on the nose, and steely. Tropical notes emerge, namely pineapple, with melon notes emerging on the finish. Easy to enjoy as an aperitif, and works well with food too. A- / $17

2012 Chloe Chardonnay Sonoma County - Big and buttery, almost to a fault. The nose starts off with something akin to butterscotch or cake frosting, before finally settling down into a brown sugar, vanilla extract, oak barrel character. Restrained pineapple notes emerge, but a weirdly herbal, almost astringent, finish wipes them all away. C+ / $17

2011 Chloe Red No. 249 North Coast California – A blend of Syrah, Merlot, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, and Petit Verdot from the Northern California region. Fruity but not overblown. Big strawberry notes. A touch of blackberry. Some rhubarb. Long, semi-sweet finish, with butterscotch candy notes on the finish. B / $17

chloewinecollection.com

Review: Six Ciders from Tieton Cider Works

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It’s time for a gaggle of apple ciders from Tieton Cider Works, based in Tieton, Washington. TCW makes at least 10 different products. Here we review a half dozen, all spins on the classic apple cider formula, and arranged from dryest to sweetest. Enjoy.

Tieton Cider Works Tieton Blend Cider Dry – English style cider, bone dry with barely a hint of sweetness. This is a tough one for those more accustomed to fruitier, sweeter ciders, and even after putting on my dryest of dry white wine hats, I couldn’t cut through it. Herbs and minerals abound here, but the overall effect is like a weak sauvignon blanc. 7% abv. C

Tieton Cider Works Yakima Valley Dry Hopped Cider Dry – Dry cider blended with local hops. Cider plus beer is known as a “snakebite,” but I’ve never seen anyone actually drink one. Here, the sweet, sour, and bitter are combine to create an initially off-putting concoction, but over time your palate adjusts and reveals a complex and unique brew. The sour apple notes remain the heaviest component, the hops largely blowing off to show themselves primarily as a hint on the finish. 6.9% abv. C+

Tieton Cider Works Wild Washington Apple Cider Semi-Dry – Aptly described, with tart and sweet elements. Lots of mineral notes here, along with an earthy (“wild,” perhaps) pungency on the nose. This is a cider for those who are OK with sweeter stuff, but who might want to experience a somewhat dryer beverage from time to time. 7% abv. B

Tieton Cider Works Apricot Cider Semi-Dry – Blended with apricots, naturally. Quite fruity, with strong overtones of fresh and dried apricots. Seems sweeter than “semi-dry” would indicate, with a biting acidity on the finish. The simplest, but perhaps the best, of the bunch. 6.9% abv. B+

Tieton Cider Works Apple Cherry Cider Semi-Sweet – Plenty of cherry flavor up front here, so much so that it almost drinks like pomegranate/cherry juice. Heavy sour notes on the finish abate over time, leaving behind the essence of fruit, with an almost mineral edge to it. Not bad. 6.9% abv. B

Tieton Cider Works Blossom Nectar Cider Sweet – Includes apple blossoms in the mix. Quite sweet, and indeed very floral, with a pleasant balance between tart apple and the perfumy, rose-scented blossoms. The perfume does take on a “grandma’s house” note over time, particularly as it warms up, but hey, you’re drinking cider, so stop moaning. 7% abv. B+

$42.60 as a mixed six-pack of 500ml bottles (one of each of the above) / tietonciderworks.com

Review: Wines of Belle Ambiance, 2014 Releases

belle ambiance 200x300 Review: Wines of Belle Ambiance, 2014 ReleasesA new brand from DFV/Delicato, Belle Ambiance has a rock bottom price combined with appealing, upscale packaging that’s certain to drive some sales. Launching out of the gate with a collection of six wines, we tried three for review. Not entirely sure I’m buying the “family vineyards” claim on the label, given that all of these wines carry generic “California” designations, but, hey, it’s what’s inside that counts, no?

2013 Belle Ambiance Pinot Grigio California – On the sweet side, with lots of mango notes, plus some lemon and a touch of melon. The lasting finish offers some light herbal notes, before recalling that tropical punch up front. Fine, but best with food. B / $8

2012 Belle Ambiance Chardonnay California – Straightforward, big butter/vanilla notes, with a lemon chaser. Long finish, with quite sweet marshmallow notes picking up on the back end. Not bad, but needs some refinements. B- / $8

2012 Belle Ambiance Pinot Noir California – Gentle, simple stuff. Light cherry and strawberry notes lead to a quietly sweet body, with light tea leaf notes on the finish. Oh so pleasant, almost harmless. B+ / $8

belleambiancevineyards.com

Review: Tawny Ports of Croft, Fonseca, and Taylor Fladgate, 2014 Releases

1964 Single Harvest Tawny 2 525x802 Review: Tawny Ports of Croft, Fonseca, and Taylor Fladgate, 2014 Releases

Even seasoned wine enthusiasts often get confused over the world of Port, and who can blame them? Bottled both in vintage-dated and non-vintage but “xx years old” varieties (and in ruby, tawny, white, and other versions), the topic quickly gets complicated — when all you want to do is enjoy something sweet with dessert.

What’s the difference between ruby and tawny, the two major types of nonvintage Port? As Taylor Fladgate wine director David Guimaraens says, “Most people are familiar with the dark purple, ‘ruby’ Ports which range from very basic up to the storied Vintage Ports.  Rubies are aged in bottles, so they keep their fresh red fruit flavors.  On the other hand, Tawny Ports are aged in wooden casks, so they have more interchange with the air around them.  This process evolves their color to a ‘tawny’ amber color, and changes their flavors from predominantly fruity to predominantly nutty.”

Guimaraens’ comments aside, I’d still characterize most tawny Ports as extremely fruity, but more chocolatey and coffee-like than rubies. These notes come across more distinctly in older bottlings, though. Young tawny can often be just as fruity as a typical ruby.

What does “10 years old” or “20 years old” mean in these Ports? Well, contrary to what you might expect, it doesn’t mean that in 2004 or 1994, Port was dumped into a barrel and a decade or two later was prepped for bottling. Ports with age statements like this are blends of a variety of years, and the number on the label is somewhat meaningless. Most tawnys are a blend of solera-style old stock and young stock, and the years noted on the label are a sort of moving target that the blender is supposed to aim for. There’s nothing requiring any sort of accuracy here, and in many cases no way of even knowing how old the wine is in any given bottle. But a 20 year old should at least taste older than a 10 year old, even if both of those numbers are fudged a bit.

The exception of course is when a vintage does actually appear on the label. That’s the case with the last tawny on the list below, a 1964 single-vintage Tawny Port from Taylor Fladgate. What that means is exactly what it sounds like: This Port was made exclusively from grapes picked in ’64. Yes, 50 years ago. They’ve been mellowing out in barrel ever since, and aren’t blended with other vintages. And unlike non-vintage Tawny, this stuff won’t be around forever, so snap it up while you can.

Croft, Fonseca, and Taylor Fladgate are all sub-brands of Taylor’s, a mega-Port operation whose CEO, Adrian Bridge, we’ve met on several occasions. He’s a swell guy, and we’re excited to offer notes on several Tawny Ports in current release, as well as the exceptional 1964. Thoughts follow.

NV Croft Aged Tawny Porto 10 Years Old (bottled in 2010) – Bright raspberry and sour cherry notes, just the right amount of vinegar to balance out some very focused fruit flavors. I’ve always thought of Croft as the fruitiest of vintage Ports, and here it produces a tawny that is closer to the ruby style of Port than most others you’ll encounter. Very easy drinking and versatile. A- / $28

NV Fonseca Aged Tawny Port 10 Years Old – Jammier, with more chocolate notes, and a lightly minty finish. Long, bold, and lightly creamy on the palate, this is a tawny with a little more oomph and more sourness on the back end. B+ / $23

NV Taylor Fladgate Tawny Port 10 Years Old – Somewhere between the fruitiness of Croft and the power of Fonseca lies Taylor Fladgate’s 10 year Tawny, an inviting wine with ample fruit at the core, but with bittersweet edges of licorice, chicory, and coffee bean. These characteristics, plus some chocolate notes, tend to overtake the fruit on the finish, but the body, on the whole, is surprisingly delicate. Complex, yet a bit immature. B+ / $23

NV Fonseca Aged Tawny Port 20 Years Old – Plenty of fruit and body here, but the chocolate notes are pumped up, and the fruit takes on more of a classic, Port-like raisin character. At 20, some of the more rustic elements of the Fonseca 10 Year Tawny are rounded out, giving this Port a slightly more refined construction, albeit one with plenty of lasting sweetness. A- / $40

NV Taylor Fladgate Tawny Port 20 Years Old – Lots of intensity here, with an almost bruising sour cherry and tart raisin character that overpowers some of this Port’s more delicate coffee and chocolate notes. The finish is lasting and almost punishing in its mouth-puckering character. This is a step back from the 10 year. B / $40

1964 Taylor Fladgate Single Harvest Tawny Port (pictured) – Wow, this is how tawny should be experienced. Drawn from a single vintage that’s 50 years old, this tawny is showing well rounded notes of cinnamon, raisin, and allspice… layered with cedar wood, chocolate, and coffee bean notes. The finish is long and sweetly sour — ending on a note of Cherries Jubilee that has the perfect balance of fruity and winey flavors. Lovely. A / $300

taylor.pt

Review: American Born Moonshine

ABM 3 Bottles on white 525x511 Review: American Born Moonshine

Moonshine continues to grow as a category, and this Nashville-based producer, founded in 2012, is getting its first products on the market in its home state, plus four others. Featuring mason jar bottles with a custom pouring system built into the lid, the company aims to class up an (often intentionally) unsexy industry.

Purportedly made from a 200 year old recipe, American Born Moonshine uses a 100% corn mash that’s sweetened with sugar. Two flavored (and lower-proof) versions are also on the market. We tasted them all, straight out of mini Mason jars.

Thoughts follow.

American Born Moonshine Original White Lightning – Unaged and overproof, this moonshine is the legit stuff. Popcorn and cane sugar on the nose, it’s got a surprising level of refinement lacking from most moonshines, presenting some measure of balance from the start. On the tongue, the popcorn fades to reveal more sweetness, almost like that from grape juice, plus notes of toasted marshmallow, marzipan, and nougat. Sippable on its own, but more intriguing as a mixer, and one of the best white corn whiskeys you’ll find on the market right now. 103 proof. A-

American Born Moonshine Apple Pie – One of the most popular of flavors for moonshines these days, American Born’s apple pie flavored ‘shine is heavier on tart apple notes and lighter on those traditional apple spice characters like cinnamon and cloves. The nose hints at more, but the juicy body is more akin to cider than pie. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s not exactly what’s on the label — and who wants a glass of juice when they could be eating pie? 83 proof. B

American Born Moonshine Dixie Sweet Tea – Tea flavoring has been fading from the vodka world for a while, but here it shows its face again. In fact, the company claims this is the first sweet tea-flavored moonshine on the market. ABM’s rendition is sweet first, tea second, though both components come through in spades. The slightly corny finish adds an interesting spin, but I can’t say I prefer it to a more straightforward tea-flavored vodka. As with its compatriots, it’s easily enjoyable on the whole. 83 proof. A-

each $25 / americanbornmoonshine.com

Review: 79 Caramel Spirit

79 gold caramel spirit 514x1200 Review: 79 Caramel Spirit

79 is the atomic number for gold. It’s also the proof level for the spirit that bears the numerical name of 79. Perhaps, it’s also a veiled reference to its owner, rapper Rich Dollaz.

The spirit begins by distilling a mash from Idaho wheat and then flavoring it with caramel and vanilla. Bearing a whole gaggle of alternative names, you might find this liqueur listed under 79, 79 Gold, 79Gold, Au 79, 79 Gold Au Wheat, or some combination of the above. Frankly I’m not sure what to call the stuff, or even whether it’s a flavored vodka or a liqueur. I’m going to hedge and call it both.

Light gold in color with visible cloudiness swirling in the bottle, 79 offers a nose of caramel candies and cake frosting. The body is sweet as expected, offering a moderately rich spirit, offering the expected notes of pancake syrup, sugar cookie batter, and melted caramels. There’s an undercurrent of smokiness here, though not really enough to give 79 any kind of special nuance. 79 offers interesting possibilities as a dessert drink mixer, but at 79 proof it’s probably a bit on the powerful side for most drinkers looking for something to splash into their coffee. Use with appropriate levels of caution.

Now available in Atlanta.

B / $NA / 79caramel.com

Review: Old Pulteney Navigator Single Malt Whisky

old pulteney navigator 525x649 Review: Old Pulteney Navigator Single Malt Whisky

Old Pulteney, “The Maritime Malt,” is based in the remote region of Wick in the far north of Scotland’s Highlands. It recently added this whisky to its lineup, a limited edition single malt with no age statement.

Navigator is aged in bourbon and sherry casks, but otherwise little is known about it. The nose doesn’t really scream age. It offers ample cereal character, with the sherry component evident underneath. Big and malty, it doesn’t pull any punches, raising the ante with some light sea salt and iodine notes.

On the body, few surprises await. The cereal is punchy and fresh, the hallmark of a young spirit. Smoky elements add some complexity, and some fruit builds on the finish — orange peel, coconut, touches of unripe banana and cherry — but these just don’t last. It’s back to smoked grains for the denouement, with a hot, lingering aftermath.

As with the similarly-ageless and recently-launched Talisker Storm, Navigator is largely defined by its lack of anything truly unique or exciting to say. Its youth is born right on its sleeve (if not on the bottle), the mild sherry notes largely serving to mask some of the raw granary feeling going on. Oh well.

92 proof.

B / $47 / oldpulteney.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Vodka DSP CA 162 – Straight and Flavored

vodka dsp 162 straight 525x347 Review: Vodka DSP CA 162   Straight and Flavored

In 2010, California-based Craft Distillers sold its highly-regarded Hangar One Vodka line to Proximo Spirits. (You may not have even realized this, but now you know.) At the time, Craft signed a strict non-compete agreeing not to make vodka for three years. Well, the three years are up, and Craft is now back at work with some vodkas which incorporate flavors that might sound a bit familiar.

No frills here, and that’s by design to keep the focus on what’s in the bottle; the brand name refers to an old federal designation for the distillery. The scientifically-named spirits are distilled in the company’s copper cognac still from a wheat base, and the flavored vodkas are made with real macerated fruits. They’re filtered, but these spirits do still have a slight yellow tint to them. All of the botanicals are grown in the rare-fruit orchards of John Kirkpatrick in the San Joaquin Valley.

Each vodka is 80 proof. Thoughts follow.

Vodka DSP CA 162 Straight - This vodka takes the wheat-base spirit and blends it with vodka made from wine grapes (riesling and viognier). You can smell the pot still character right from the start. Mineral notes play with a bit of grainy character, marshmallow, and nougat on the nose. The body is silky with a pungent character common to grape-based vodkas, balanced by modest sweetness and, curiously, some stronger cereal notes on the finish. You’re left with a character that is, surprisingly, not unlike a white whiskey or a blanche cognac. B

Vodka DSP CA 162 Citrus Hystrix – Flavored with Malaysian limes and their leaves. Brisk lime character on the nose, like candied lime peel. Bracing on the body, with crisp lime balanced with the right amount of sweetness. The lasting finish really brings out the leaf component, with just the right of grassiness poured over the tart body. The old Kaffir Lime vodka was always the most popular Hangar One flavor (at least in my experience in the field), and the company hasn’t strayed far from a successful formula. Big win here. A

Vodka DSP CA 162 Citrus Medica var. Sarcodactylis – Flavored with Buddha’s Hand citrons. The aromatics are somewhat muddier than my memory of the crisp Hangar One Buddha’s Hand, but otherwise it’s very aromatic and unusual — almost perfumed — on the nose. The body has a creaminess to it — like lemon meringue pie — with a vaguely tropical character going on. Herbal notes or rosemary and sage emerge over time, particularly on the nose. A-

Vodka DSP CA 162 Citrus Reticulata var. Sunshine – Flavored with tangerine and tangelo. A pretty orange nose recalls mild mandarines, but the body pumps it up with a brightness that almost hits a Tang-like quality. Sweet but not sugary, this is probably the most “modern” vodka in the lineup, but it’s also the most approachable on its own. Cosmo lovers would be calling this vodka all night long, but I doubt many cosmopolitan drinkers could pronounce the name. A-

each $38 / craftdistillers.com