It’s been seven years since we looked at Milagro’s core line of three tequilas, and that early review is certainly showing its age. It’s time for an update of this readily available and largely affordable Highland tequila. Here’s a look at the standard lineup as of 2015.
All expressions are 100% agave and 80 proof.
Milagro Tequila Silver – An unaged blanco. Vegetal agave, with some sweetness on the nose. The body is relatively lightweight and heavy on sugary character, which leads to a very gentle experience. Notes of tinned peaches, some tobacco, and burnt marshmallow make an appearance, but they don’t add much nuance to an otherwise simplistic experience. Best for mixing. B- / $22
Milagro Tequila Reposado – Aged in oak for three to six months. It’s a very slight improvement over the silver, still sweet, with its agave rounded out with some notes of sandalwood, cinnamon, and dusky cloves. Some raw lumber character develops as the tequila sees time with air. Still not a challenging tequila, but also worthwhile as a mixer. B- / $28
Milagro Tequila Anejo – Aged in oak for 14 to 24 months. Easily the best of the lot, with a better balance of sugar and agave. The lumber has smoothed out as well, adding stronger vanilla notes to the spirit along with some light milk chocolate character and a bit of bitter root essence on the finish. This one’s also the most mellow of the bunch, but it’s still very light bodied and a little thin. Again, it’s harmless tequila, a solid mixer, and a pleasant enough sipper in its own right. B / $35
This ultra-affordable malbec from Mendoza’s Bodega Septima offers notes of grilled mushroom, licorice, and bitter root, but over time dark fruits — blackberry and currant — rise to the fore. Somewhat dusky all around, with a balsamic edge on the finish. Best with food.
B / $11 / aveniubrands.com
Fathers & Daughters is a brand new winery operating out of Anderson Valley. Its first two wines, a sauvignon blanc and a pinot noir, come from the Ferrington Vineyard. Thoughts follow.
2013 Fathers & Daughters Sauvignon Blanc Anderson Valley Ferrington Vineyard – Minerally and herbal, this grassy sauvignon blanc offers a restrained edge of coconut and pineapple and a relatively simple structure. The finish is not particularly remarkable as the acidity begins to fade by this point, but it pairs well enough with food. B / $25
2012 Fathers & Daughters Pinot Noir Ella’s Reserve Inaugural Release Anderson Valley Ferrington Vineyard – A nearly killer pinot, flush with cherry, strawberry, and raspberry, tempered with slightly bitter/sour rhubarb notes, plus a sprinkling of baking spices and licorice root. Lots going on, but such beautiful balance, with a long finish (though maybe a bit tart in the end). A- / $42
Orsianna is made by the family of Fred Tocchini, who operates the San Francisco Wine Trading Company. (We reviewed their single-barrel bottling of Four Roses a few months back.) Now we’re taking a peak into what Tocchini and co. can do with wine, including some fresh whites and some lightly aged reds.
2013 Orsianna Sauvignon Blanc Mendocino County – Apple and melon-focused, and a bit gooey on the palate with creme brulee notes and some toasted marshmallow character. That’s far from the norm for sauvignon blanc, but the gentle sweetness here gives it an “everywine” character that works fine both on its own and with food. Don’t be surprised if your date asks if it’s chardonnay. B+ / $15
2013 Orsianna Chardonnay Mendocino County – Fairly traditional chardonnay, nougaty and nutty, with buttery vanilla dampening the fruit component. This is a chardonnay-lover’s chardonnay, chewy and rich with an almost dessert-like character to it at times. Just a hint of acid on the finish gives it a little spark. B / $17
2010 Orsianna Merlot Sonoma County – A well-crafted and still-youthful wine, despite the 2010 vintage date. Fresh strawberry up front, some violet florals, then a long, soothing fade-out. The fruit is the focus from start to finish with this wine, but the violet edge gives it more to chew on. A- / $20
2009 Orsianna Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino County – Well aged and starting to show a little balsamic character which finds some pleasant companion in its notes of cloves, ginger root, and licorice root. Forceful and a bit astringent at times. Drink now. B+ / $20
sfwtc.com / orsianna.com
Ledaig — pronounced, seemingly impossibly, as “letch-igg” — is produced at Tobermory, the only distillery on the Isle of Mull, which is a bit north of Islay on the western Scottish coast.
Ledaig has a lot in common with Islay, namely the use of peated malt, but it cuts a much different figure than your typical Islay peat bombs. Primarily that is because this 18 year old malt is finished with sherry casks, a practice that is not unknown in Islay but which isn’t all that common.
From the color of Ledaig 18 alone, it appears the finish is much deeper and longer than most sherry-finished Islay whiskies, as well, and here we really see the best of both worlds — smoky peat meeting sweet sherry.
The nose starts off a bit rocky and rustic — smoky, but almost brutish at times with rubbery notes. The sherry influence is much more present on the palate, which hits hard with an intense bittersweet orange flavor before diving into anise, cloves, gravel, and forest floor notes. The smokiness returns with a vengeance for the lengthy, hot, and smoldering finish — with more of that rubbery character, plus notes of iodine and kippers.
Peat freaks will get a kick out of this whisky, though it really tires you out as it runs you from smoke to sweet and back again.
B / $98 / tobermorydistillery.com
The venerable house of Johnnie Walker is always good for something different once in a while. This year we see the launch of the new Select Casks limited release series which will run for the next few years and showcase different woods used as finishing barrels.
First out of the gate is Rye Cask Finish. This blend starts with Cardhu malt plus a variety of grain whiskies which are aged for 10 years in first-fill ex-bourbon barrels. It is then finished in ex-rye whiskey casks for one month before bottling.
I compared Rye Cask to Black Label, the closest analogue in the Walker stable, though it’s a bit older at 12 years of age. It’s a quite a different spirit, so clear your expectations before you dive in.
The nose is big with burnt marshmallow, dark caramel, toasted grains, and some medicinal, iodine-laden, kippered fish notes coming along in time. The seaside elements are mild, though, as the more woody/spicy/grainy character takes center stage. On the palate, it’s got heavy toasted notes, almost coming across as burnt bread at times, and ample barrel char. Again, light smoke comes across more as wood fire than peat smoke, but a gentle sweetness driven by raisins, cinnamon bread, and molasses notes more than compensates.
This whisky is bold and a little brutish, and it tends to be all over the place from start to finish. It’s initially a bit off-putting, but you’ll find it’s got quite a number of charms, provided you stick with it and give it a chance to breathe.
B / $45 / johnniewalker.com
Tormaresca is part of the Antinori empire and is based in Puglia, “the heel” of Italy. We don’t get a lot of Puglian wines here, and we certainly don’t get many blends that include negroamaro, a dark red grape native to this area.
Neprica gets its name from the three grapes in this blend — 40% negroamaro, 30% primitivo, and 30% cabernet sauvignon.
It’s a curious concoction but a very drinkable little red wine. They call this “pizza wine” where I’m from — lightly jammy, lots of fruit, but with plenty of body to enjoy alongside a hearty, possibly spicy meal. Fresh red berries, milk chocolate, and a touch of vanilla give this a New World flavor, but the lightest dusting of dried herbs add some needed balance.
B / $12 / tormaresca.it
It’s still hot enough outside for cold white wine. Here are two new releases from Franciscan worth a look.
2014 Franciscan Equilibrium – A blend of sauvignon blanc (72%), chardonnay (17%), and muscat (11%). If you don’t like that perfume of muscat, don’t bother applying — it shows through clearly even though it’s the lowest proportion of this blend. The rest is baked apples, brown sugar, and white flowers. A bit much at times. Serve well chilled. B / $16
2014 Franciscan Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley – Crisp, and lightly tropical, this simple sauvignon blanc has overtones of fresh grasses and more of those white flowers. Some honeydew notes emerge on the lightly sweet finish. I’d love to see a bit more acidity, but all told, it’s a solid example of the varietal. B+ / $18
I know you’ve been dying to get your hands on a new Madeira, amirite? OK, so this fortified wine is not the world’s hottest category, but the market leader, Blandy’s, is still innovating with the release of Alvada, a five year old blend of 50% Bual and 50% Malmsey grapes.
What’s Alvada? Per Blandy’s: “Alvada is … derived from the Madeiran word ‘levada.’ A levada is a granite channel that one finds all over the island. Exclusive to the Island of Madeira and critical to the grapes and all agriculture on the island, levadas help move water throughout the island to irrigate farmland. These levadas are still used to this very day and in total span more than 1,350 miles altogether.”
Deep coffee brown in color, with classic Madeira overtones on the nose — acidity, well-tanned leather, and prune notes. The body tells a bit of a different story, though — light for a Madeira, and quite fruity, showcasing macerated raisins and sour cherries that mingle with the nutty notes and oxidized wine characters. The finish is also light but keeps the focus on the fruitier elements. Definitely a starter Madeira, but a finer example of how enjoyable this wine style can be even at a very young age.
B / $18 (500ml) / blandy.com
If nothing else, give Virus Vodka the award for packaging of the year. An Erlenmeyer flask? Genius, even if its footprint does take up more than its fair share of shelf space.
Virus is bottled in North Charleston, South Carolina, but aside from a goofy story about ancient vampire/zombie/werewolf viruses, there’s not really any information available on how it’s made. Six-times distilled, they say, from what? Who knows. (Presumably that means grain neutral spirits are the beginnings of the spirit, but that’s just an assumption.)
The vodka has a simple, basic structure. The nose: Sweet, with marshmallow and vanilla notes and a touch of ethyl alcohol underpinning. The body is equally sweet, just this side of “sugary,” with notes of over-ripe banana, coconut, and vanilla ice cream. The finish is, as expected, on the sweet side, but it fades quickly and relatively cleanly.
Ultimately, it’s fine as a mixer. Not a contender for straight sipping. And doesn’t taste like zombies.
B / $20 / virusvodka.com