Review: Wines of Esporao, 2015 Releases

esporaoThree new offerings from Portugal’s Esporao, new releases from the company’s Reserva line as well as its Quinta dos Murcas Reserva offering. Some thoughts follow.

2011 Esporao Reserva Red DOC Alentejo – Made from a blend of traditional Portuguese grapes, including aragonez, trincadeira, cabernet sauvignon, and alicante bouchet. Incredibly dense, this wine starts with licorice notes and jumps straight down an earthy, leathery hole. The wine simply doesn’t let up, finishing dry as dust, with a raisiny character and a tannic, brambly back-end. B- / $25

2013 Esporao Reserva White DOC Alentejo –  A blend of antão vaz, roupeiro, perrum, and semillon. Bold, buttery, and honeyed, this wine is packed with ultra-ripe fruit — rich and sweet like a Sauternes — but without the unctuous body. That sweetness makes it a bit much for food, but the pushy fruitiness is fun enough in its own right. B / $20

2010 Esporao Quinta dos Murcas Reserva DOC Douro – This blend of old vine tinta roriz, tinta amarela, tinta barroca , touriga nacional, touriga francesa, and sousão is a cut above the other wines in this roundup. Simple red berry and currant notes slide their way into more complexity — tea leaf, coffee bean, and some savory herbs — but all wrapped up in a rounded, mature body. There’s the slightest hint of vinegary oxidation on the very back end, which lends a touch of austerity and maturity to what might otherwise be a too-simple wine. It’s working surprisingly well right about now. A- / $40

esporao.com

Review: Newcastle Scotch Ale

newcastle ScotchAle_01Newcastle is embarking on an experimental collection of collaborative beers, made with a number of old-school European breweries. First out of the gate is this one, Newcastle Scotch Ale, made in the company’s sister brewery, Caledonian, in Scotland. Fittingly, it’s a Scotch Ale. Here’s how it tastes.

Malty up front, the burly brew offers licorice notes that fade into chocolate character after a time. There is some coffee-licked bitterness in the middle, while the finish melds both the cocoa notes and that syrupy maltiness into a rounded, warming finish. Initially a bit off-putting, this brew grows on you as its chewy, Christmassy characteristics become more present — and more inviting over time.

6.4% abv.

B / $8 per six-pack / newcastlebrown.com

Review: Urban Remedy Detox Juices

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Some time ago, I wrote about my experience on a three-day juice cleanse with Urban Remedy products. Recently the company contacted us to inquire if we would be interested in covering a handful of its products that are suitable for post-holiday revelry — detoxification, curing hangovers, and the like. It’s a happy new year, so why not?

The four juices below are all designed for getting you back up and running after some hard living, and what with all the New Year’s Resolutions out there, what better time is there than the present to dig into the stuff? (You might also check out the company’s tiny detoxifying tinctures, alcohol-based essences that you can mix into your juice or drink in a single, painful shot.) Since we last encountered Urban Remedy, the company has switched from glass bottles to plastic and now says that its fresh, cold-pressed juices will last for seven days in the fridge instead of just three.

Here are some detailed thoughts on each of the four juices we sampled. Get in there and detox! Or, you know, don’t.

Urban Remedy Soothe – Made from cucumber, celery, apple, spinach, parsley, ginger, and lemon. The celery hits first and hardest, but the ginger and lemon are effective at masking the intensely vegetal flavor. The result isn’t exactly refreshing, but for a muddy-looking green juice, it’s about as close as it gets. B

Urban Remedy Clean – Cucumber, celery, spinach, parsley, kale, burdock root, dandelion green, and lemon. Not much sweet stuff in this one, and yeah, it’s very “green,” with only that hint of lemon to brighten up a juice that is heavy on spinach and parsley notes. With 230% of my daily Vitamin A, 130% of Vitamin C, 25% of calcium, and 30% of iron, thank god this is really, really healthy. C+

Urban Remedy After Party – Carrot, apple, beet root, ginger, and lemon. There’s a nice balance between sweet and savory here, the carrot and beet offer garden freshness while the apple and lemon give it a more palatable body. Apple juice ain’t exactly healthy — there’s 34 grams of sugar in this — but I presume the other ingredients more than compensate. B+

Urban Remedy Boost – Turmeric, lemon, stevia. Minimalist faux lemonade, with a spicy edge. The color approaches Sunny Delight, but the flavor recalls a Moroccan bazaar. Best in smallish sips, lest the turmeric really start to grind away at your throat. B

juices not sold separately; cleanse programs run about $75 per day (for 6 pints of juice) / urbanremedy.com

Review: Flora Springs 2013 Chardonnay and 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon

flora springs 2012_napa_valley_cabernet_sauvignon_bottleWe’ve covered Flora Springs on a number of occasions — this is our third roundup this year alone. Here’s some new releases to get the new year going for ya.

2013 Flora Springs Chardonnay Napa Valley – Very traditional — with heavy oak influence bringing tons of vanilla custard to the table — with just a touch of lemon peel coming forward on the front of the palate. The body is almost oily in texture, the finish loaded with sweetness that makes for an underwhelming experience either solo or with food. Overwhelmingly average in today’s wine world. C / $24

2012 Flora Springs Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – Traditional and straightforward, with a big plum attack and a sweetish currant finish. Not much in the way of secondary notes, except a slug of vanilla on the back side. Fine, if unchallenging. B / $40

florasprings.com

Review: Pampelonne Sangria

pampellonePampelonne’s new sangria comes in a can instead of a bottle for a reason. This new brand, made with French wines as a base, is lightly sparkling, which gives sangria a neat, new dimension. Available in 250ml mini-cans, these two varieties — one red, one (very pale) rose — are bottled at an easy-to-guzzle 6% abv. Thoughts follow.

Pampelonne Red Sangria – Made with grenache, syrah, and merlot. Pleasant, clearly made with a light-bodied wine. Notes of lemon peel and orange rind are present but not overdone. The fruit in the wine balances well with the added fruit, giving it a fresh but simple composition that seems tailor-made for summertime. B

Pampelonne Rose Lime – 100% Loire muscadet. A pretty pink color… but the nose says something else. Woody and a little funky, there’s a pungency here that just doesn’t seem right. The body offers a muted, artificial-tasting lime note, with a kind of woody element to the back end. While the Sangria is fresh and breezy, the Rose Lime isn’t nearly as fun. C

each $5 (250ml) / enjoypampelonne.com

Review: Woodchuck Hopsation Hard Cider

woodchuck ciderVermont-based Woodchuck makes well over a dozen ciders. Recently we received this sample of Hopsation, a traditional apple cider that is infused with Cascade hops. As someone who’s hardly a cider fanatic, Hopsation is a surprisingly drinkable concoction. Some of that bitterness from a dosing of hops is just what that overly sweet-and-sour cider character needs, tempering things into a more balanced brew. While it’s not traditionally, overwhelmingly bitter in the way an IPA might be, it does have enough of a foresty/citrusy kick to elevate it above more typical, sugary, cidery fare.

5% abv.

B / $8 per six-pack / woodchuck.com

Review: Ballast Point Old Grove Gin and Barrel Rested Gin

Ballast_Point_Old_Grove_BR_HR (2)

Ballast Point is a beer and spirits producer in San Diego, where the company churns out a dazzling array of products. Old Grove Gin is made with juniper, rose petals, coriander, and a total of nine other (unspecified) botanicals. Available in a straight and barrel-aged version, we tasted both. Thoughts follow.

Ballast Point Old Grove California Small Batch Gin – Pretty and elegant on the nose, this gin features a heavily floral but balanced nose that offers instant intrigue. The body is very light, gentle, and a touch sweet. Flowery at first, it segues into notes of butterscotch, honeycomb, and vanilla, before eventually — finally — just hinting at juniper. The finish is warming and a little astringent, like a good vodka. I’d say this is more of a vodka drinker’s gin, and it mixes quite well in tall drinks. A bit simplistic, but hard not to enjoy. 88 proof. B / $26

Ballast Point Old Grove Barrel Rested California Small Batch Gin – With this expression, Old Grove spends 50 days in charred oak barrels before bottling. The interesting nose recalls aquavit, a sweet mix of vanilla and caraway seeds. The body takes the aforementioned notes in the unaged gin and punches them up with touches of salted caramel, a little licorice, and some dusty wood character. The finish brings out more of a dark chocolate character, with evergreen notes in the distant background. As with the straight gin, this really doesn’t drink much like a gin at all, instead coming across more like a lightly aged whiskey. Is that a good thing or a bad? You decide — just don’t try making a martini out of it. 88 proof. B+ / $35

ballastpoint.com

Review: Ice Fox Vodka

IceFox 750mlThis new vodka is made in Treasure Island, in San Francisco Bay off the coast of the city, where there are probably no foxes and definitely no ice — rather, a portion of profits from the sale of Ice Fox vodka are donated “to protect the shrinking population of the Arctic foxes that inspired the product.”

Triple-distilled from American corn, this is straightforward stuff. The nose is lightly sweet and a touch fruity, but more traditional hospital notes dominate. The palate is fairly harmless, lightly sweet with milk chocolate notes, a touch of honey, and brown butter. The body is far from overwhelming, just a modest, simple spirit with a short finish that whisks away, leaving behind nothing much at all. Fine for mixing, but not exciting enough for a straight sipper.

Update January 2015: I tried a sample from a different batch of Ice Fox and had moderately different tasting notes, including strong notes of citrus peel and cinnamon bark. Still plenty of hospital character to go around, but with a considerably more rustic, less sweet secondary character. In other words: Your mileage may vary.

80 proof.

B / $20 / icefoxvodka.com

Review: Hanson of Sonoma Organic Vodka

Hanson

Hanson of Sonoma — based in, of course, Sonoma, California — distills its vodkas from the most abundant product around these parts: grapes. Using a massive 50-plate column still, it runs its spirits through seven filtering systems before bottling them in snazzy, artisan-looking bottles (all of which are signed and numbered).

Hanson of Sonoma is sold in six expressions (one straight, five flavored with organic infusions — no syrups or concentrates). We tried five of the six vodkas available — all but the boysenberry version.

All expressions are 80 proof, and all are from batch #0123.

Hanson of Sonoma Vodka – Shockingly fruity. I would have thought this was a flavored vodka, it’s so full of mixed berries — strawberry, blueberry, and hints of citrus. Super light bodied and refreshing, it’s like a distilled pink lemonade. An easy mixing vodka with fruit-centric cocktails. Not a martini vodka. A-

Hanson of Sonoma Mandarin Flavored Vodka – Sweet orange on the nose — the essence of orange Chuckles. The body’s got more grip to it, a medicinal character that overtakes the citrus notes quickly. As the orange fades into the background, a drying, neutral finish takes hold. Fine for your cosmos, I’m sure, but the original, unflavored expression would do the job just as well. B+

Hanson of Sonoma Ginger Flavored Vodka – Very mild ginger on the nose — it could easily be mistaken for lemon or maybe grapefruit. That said, it’s the berry notes of the straight expression of the vodka that come through the clearest, particularly on the palate, though this expression is much drier than the Original. B

Hanson of Sonoma Cucumber Vodka – Another sweeter vodka style, which is a little jarring next to the light cucumber notes here. In fact, the nose has more of a lime zest character to it, while the body is clearer on the vegetal cucumber notes. It eventually comes together on the finish with some crisp spa-water essence, but it’s never distinct enough to merit crafting a cocktail around it. B

Hanson of Sonoma Espresso Flavored Vodka – The big finish always goes to coffee. This is the only non-clear expression of Hanson of Sonoma. Notes of a very dark espresso roast on the nose. The body is pungent, almost bitter with heavily-charred espresso beans. Imagine the darkest, blackest cup of coffee you’ve ever had, then filter that through the lens of a fruity vodka. This one was by far my least favorite expression of the bunch, particularly thanks to its tannic, chalky finish. C-

hansonofsonoma.com

Review: Wines of Sojourn, 2012 Vintage

Sojourner_PN_2011These three new releases hail from Santa Rosa-based Sojourn. The wines themselves are made from grapes sourced all the Northern California wine country. Thoughts follow.

2012 Sojourn Chardonnay Durell Vineyard Sonoma Coast – Big and buttery on the nose, and the body largely follows suit. Subtle notes of melon, tropical fruits, and tart gooseberry percolate on the tongue — but it’s that almost overbearing wood-and-vanilla character that sticks with you on the finish, and for a long while after. B / $48

2012 Sojourn Pinot Noir Wohler Vineyard Russian River Valley – A lush, rounded Pinot, typical of what you see from the Russian River. Lush cherry and raspberry get a lick of black pepper, some fruit-infused tea, and hints of lychee on the back end. Dangerously drinkable. A- / $48

2012 Sojourn Pinot Noir Ridgetop Vineyard Sonoma Coast – Quite a strange expression of Pinot, dense to the point of being almost raisiny on the nose, with some overtones of lavender and wet earth. The body is equally punchy, taking an almost Port-like body and lacing it with vegetal character and more of that wet earth. Needs more acidity — or perhaps just some more bottle time — to bring out the fruit in the grapes. B+ / $59

2012 Sojourn Pinot Noir Sangiacamo Vineyard Sonoma Coast – A fresh, classic Pinot, this one’s firing almost perfectly. Fresh cherry mingles with touches of black pepper, while the finish sweetens things up a tad with notes of strawberry. Perfect balance with just the right mix of acidity and oomph. Hard to put down. A / $54

sojourncellars.com