Review: Wines of Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve, 2016 Releases

KJVR_13MerlotFour new wines in the KJ stable have recently been released, all in the Vintner’s Reserve line, the second (from the bottom) level in the five tiers that Kendall-Jackson produces.

Thoughts on these wines, all reds, follow.

2013 Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Merlot Sonoma County – As inoffensive a wine as anyone could hope for, this simple merlot showcases blackberry and blueberry, with a modestly tannic core. Some vanilla comes to the forefront alongside a nice bite of bitterness and a gentle denouement. It’s a perfectly drinkable pizza ‘n’ pasta wine… but it tastes like it could be any varietal. B / $19

2014 Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Syrah Santa Barbara County – Musty and smoky, even a syrah lover like me had some trouble pushing past the funk here. Once inside, the sour cherry core offers few real pleasures, and the bittersweet finish comes across as lackluster and cheap. C / $17

2013 Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County – The nose is bright with currants and blackberries, but the body is flat and almost watery, with zero finish. Harmless currants and black pepper stud the caramel-focused body for very brief time it spends on the palate, and the finish offers a slug of tannin that quickly fades. Improves with some air, but this isn’t a wine that should merit decanting. B- / $24

2013 Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Summation Red Wine Blend California – A mystery blend that includes merlot, zinfandel, syrah, and other grapes. Lush, almost opulent, a big surprise in an otherwise lackluster lineup. Big currants and blueberry dominate, while soft tannins lead the way to some baking spice and vanilla notes on the finish. Excellent balance with a lush and rounded finish and an easy approachability. Buy this one; it’s a huge value. A- / $17

kj.com

Review: Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Rye Whiskey

JD Single Barrel Rye BottleIt’s no secret that Jack Daniel’s has been working on its rye for the better half of the decade. The company has been putting out works in progress since the beginning. “Unaged Rye” came in 2012; a brash “Rested Rye” hit in 2014. Now, in 2016, the finished product is finally here.

My math pegs this about 3 1/2 years old. The mash hasn’t changed — 70 percent rye, 18 percent corn and 12 percent malted barley — and the rye undergoes the same charcoal filtration as all expressions of JD (and other Tennessee-based whiskies). It is worth noting that this final release has a significantly higher abv than either of the preview bottlings — and it is, curiously, a single barrel product.

On the nose, the new rye offers nutty, roasted grains at first, backed up with sweet caramel, some chocolate, menthol, and a little red pepper. Over time, a bit of that characteristic JD charcoal emerges. The big baking spice aromas of a typical rye aren’t immediately evident, but the nose isn’t atypical, at least, of a younger, rye-heavy bourbon.

The palate paints a somewhat different picture, offering a nutty character at first, fading into more grain with a fairly heavy toast. Dark caramel, licorice, some barrel char — elements of a fairly young but relatively indistinct whiskey — are all strong on the somewhat racy body. But the whiskey, at this age, remains a bit shapeless, offering a variety of muddled, barrel-driven flavor components but little to distinguish it from a young bourbon or blended whiskey.

That said, I found the spirit enjoyable and worth a look, though it adds little to the growing universe of rye. It’s clearly a young product — and probably still quite a bit ahead of its time — that will fare best as a mixer in a more intense cocktail.

Fans of Old No. 7 will wonder what the fuss is about.

94 proof.

B / $50 / jackdaniels.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Deschutes Brewery Hop Henge Experimental IPA (2015)

Hop Henge 22ozDeschutes’ Hop Henge continues its run of being “just OK,” with this year’s special edition — well, late 2015’s special edition — of its “experimental IPA” incorporating Mandarin Bavaria and Centennial hops (among others). Bitterness is ratcheted quite a bit down from last year to just 66 IBUs, the overall impact of all this being, well, not all that much.

There’s a citrus note here that west coast IPA fans will find familiar, but a burlier character forest floor character quickly takes hold. Notes of mushroom and licorice persevere, then a familiar piney character becomes evident. Here, though, it has more of a solvent note than I’d like. The finish is clean but, unfortunately, just a bit watery.

As always, this is a fun beer to try, but it just doesn’t add much to the IPAverse.

8.9% abv.

B / $6 per 22 oz. bottle / deschutesbrewery.com

Review: Spirit of America Handcrafted Bourbon Whiskey

spirit of americaThe flag-emblazoned eagle and red-white-and-blue color scheme aside, Spirit of America doesn’t come across like a pioneering bourbon. Even the promise that it is “handcrafted” obscures the fact that this is MGP-produced juice.

Turns out though that there’s something unique under the hood here: Spirit of America isn’t just a wheated bourbon, it’s the first to be commercially released based on a new MGP recipe.

That recipe is 51% corn, 45% wheat, and 4% malted barley, and this bottling is aged for two years (per the fine print). The finished product is blended and bottled by the Hobson & Roberts Distilling Company in Indianapolis.

Let’s give it a taste.

On the nose, the whiskey is surprisingly muted, particularly for a two year old. Perhaps it’s all that wheat talking, but the expected overtones of popcorn and toasted bread don’t manifest here. While light a grain character appears in time, it takes a back seat to gentle vanilla and caramel, though some light acetone notes later in the game belie its youth.

The body is, again, much more gentle than a two year old whiskey has any right to be. Very light on the tongue, indistinct caramel notes kick things off, followed by notes of cinnamon apples, and just a hint of vanilla cream soda. The experience is short and quick, with the cinnamon leading fast into the finish, which is (ultimately) on the hot side.

While early expectations might be low, just about everything about the actual spirit of Spirit of America is surprising. This young wheated bourbon doesn’t have a whole lot of nuance to it, but it’s much more drinkable (and mixable) than you may expect.

$1 from every bottle purchased is donated to the Hope for the Warriors charity.

86 proof.

B / $38 / soaspirits.com

Review: Wines of Silver Palm, 2016 Releases

silver palmThis new brand is another Jackson Family creation, focusing on the sub-$20 segment with wines heralding from the North Coast and Central Coast regions. Thoughts on four of the current offerings from this winery follow.

2014 Silver Palm Chardonnay North Coast – A garden-variety chardonnay, with heavy apricot notes that are heavily buried in brown butter and oak notes. Some lemon character midway along adds a touch of something brighter, but the sugar bun sweetness on the finish comes across as overblown. B- / $15

2014 Silver Palm Pinot Noir Central Coast – A simple wine with modest ambitions, this pinot noir features gentle cherry cola, very light herbs, and not a whole lot else. The wine goes well enough with a light meal, but on its own the almost watery character drives it to only minor inspiration. B / $18

2013 Silver Palm Cabernet Sauvignon North Coast – Surprisingly capable, this North Coast cab offers notes of cracked black pepper, blackberry, and a touch of violets. Just a hint of cocoa nibs gives the wine just a bit of sweetness and fun. I was surprised how enjoyable this was, considering the price point. A- / $19

2013 Silver Palm Merlot North Coast – A quite fruity wine, with notes of blackberry and tar at the forefront. The floral notes of merlot are largely lacking here, but what remains is a fairly straightforward expression of California at its most generic. B / $18

silverpalmwines.com

Review: Coppersea New York Corn Whisky, Green Malt Rye, and Excelsior Bourbon

coppersea

Coppersea, based in upstate New York, has been on a real tear lately with a flood of new (and very young) whiskey releases, running the gamut of American styles. Today we’re looking at three of them.

Thoughts follow.

Coppersea New York Corn Whisky – 80% corn, 20% malted barley, aged at least six months in a variety of second-fill bourbon, brandy, rye, and wine barrels. Powerful with grain and popcorn notes, with overtones of coal fire and sawdust. Green and weedy on the finish, with intense maltiness. Meant to be a throwback to ye olde days, but it has very little charm. 96 proof. C- / $70

Coppersea New York Green Malt Rye – 100% Hudson Valley rye malt (malted on Coppersea’s own malt floor), aged 7 months in new oak barrels. The nose is loaded with exotic incense, anise, and Asian spices, some menthol, and a slight rubber character. On the palate things settle down fairly nicely into a quite spicy groove. The base grain doesn’t stray far from the tongue, but it’s tempered by notes of cloves and rose petals. On the finish another flick of anise finds a companion in more toasty grain notes. 90 proof. B / $94 (375ml)

Coppersea New York Excelsior Bourbon – 55% corn, 35% rye, 10% malted barley, aged under one year in new American white oak barrels. Very grainy (though not terribly corny) on the nose, the whiskey offers lengthy barrel char aromas as well. On the palate, there’s surprisingly little going on, including some emerging sweetness that comes across on a slightly chalky texture with hints of graham crackers and sugar cookies. Again there’s the wood influence and youthful grains on the finish, with some gentle sweetness to temper the experience. 96 proof. B- / $110

Update 4/22/2016: Several errors regarding Coppersea’s production methods have been corrected in this post.

coppersea.com

Review: Cannonborough Beverage Co. Sodas and Mixers

cannonborough

Charleston-based Cannonborough Beverage Co. started making its fresh fruit sodas in 2012, where they are sold for drinking soda and for use as cocktail mixers. These all-natural sodas come in 750ml bottles (the crown caps can be a problem unless you’re preparing drinks for a party or a punch bowl), and can be purchased online from the company.

We tasted all three varieties of the Cannonborough lineup. Thoughts follow.

Cannonborough Beverage Co. Grapefruit Elderflower – Sweet elderflower hits the nose, and with a sip the grapefruit quickly takes over. The sugar-meets-flower notes of the elderflower do battle here, with sweetness shining brightly for a second, before the sour grapefruit finishes things off. My clear favorite of the bunch, I’d love to mix with this versatile product. A-

Cannonborough Beverage Co. Honey Basil – Herbal and sweet on the nose, but the earthy, spicier basil notes run the show on the palate. Seemingly built for mixing with gin, it’s a combination that works very well — as a sweeter alternative to a gin and tonic. Less fun on its own, though. B+

Cannonborough Beverage Co. Ginger Beer – A complex mixer compared the relatively straightforward remainder of the lineup, made with ginger, habanero, vanilla, and cloves. Quite foamy, and much sweeter smelling than I was expecting. Sweet citrus notes — sugared lemon/lime, primarily — hit the palate first, with the racy ginger — crushed bits of ginger root are readily visible in the liquid — providing a fiery, bracing finish. A bit scattered. B

each $10 per 750ml bottle / cannonbevco.com