Review: 2013 Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG

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Avignonesi’s latest 100% Sangiovese wine from the Montepulciano is very dry, almost dusty at times, with more balsamic on the body than I’d expect for a wine of this age. Pleasant enough with food but somewhat thin on its own, the core of dark cherries and blackberries is powerful enough at the start, but eventually it gives way to tobacco, coal dust, and some heavier, green notes.

B / $29 / avignonesi.it

Review: Broadside 2014 Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon

broadside

Here’s a pair of new releases from Broadside, based in Paso Robles.

2014 Broadside Chardonnay Central Coast Wild Ferment – This classic California chardonnay has heavy notes of brown butter, but dials back the overbearing wood character. Some mild notes of figs and pears take up the slack with a dash of vanilla extract on the back end. It’s a little flabby and gummy around the edges, but it’s good enough as an aperitif. B / $18

2014 Broadside Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles – With a nose that offers notes of bramble and tar, you might expect Broadside’s cab to knock you out with tannin on the palate. Not so. The wine is a surprisingly soft expression of cabernet, offering notes of gentle red fruit, baking spice, slate, and touches of vanilla. The finish is a bit herbal, but quite nicely balanced. A- / $18

broadsidewine.com

Review: Wines of Francis Ford Coppola, Late 2016 Releases

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A septet of new releases from our friends at FFC. Quality on this round is literally all over the place…

2014 Francis Ford Coppola Sofia Blanc de Blancs Monterey County – The cellophane wrapper should connote luxury, but to me it always comes across as scary. This wine — vintage blanc de blancs! — smells like fizzy chardonnay, which is basically what it really is. Notes of bubble gum and vanilla candy aren’t wildly inappropriate against the backdrop of a gummy, foamy body, but it hardly makes for a nuanced drinking experience. C+ / $15

2015 Francis Ford Coppola Rosso & Bianco Pinot Grigio – A simple pinot grigio on the whole, though notes of marzipan and parmesan cheese take things in an unexpected, somewhat rustic direction. Gentle with citrus and apple fruit, lightly acidic, and mildly perfumed, it’s got a bit of everything, which is both good and bad, but which helps to acquit the wine appropriately for what’s intended to be an everyday table wine. B+ / $9

2015 Francis Ford Coppola Diamond Collection Pinot Grigio – A fruit-heavy style of pinot grigio, with notes of lychee, mango, and pistachio, with a finish that echoes notes of nougat. Quite sweet, but approachable. B / $12

2014 Francis Ford Coppola Votre Sante Chardonnay California – The label is perhaps meant to remind one of Burgundy, but the palate instead screams “Central Valley.” This is some questionable chardonnay, doctored up and over-oaked to within an inch of its life, offering a nose of sweet honey and a palate that pinballs between candy and canned vegetables. Throughout all of this: An overlay of liquid oak. Ugh. D / $10

2014 Francis Ford Coppola Diamond Collection Pavilion Chardonnay – The fine print on the back details that this is a Santa Lucia Highlands wine, and its elevated appellation (over the California-only appellation of the Votre Sante) shows bright apple fruit with light vanilla notes, brown butter, and fresh cream. There’s a lovely balance here that many of the wines in this roundup are lacking, and a freshness on the finish that is almost inspiring. A- / $20

2015 Francis Ford Coppola Sofia Rose Monterey County – This is the still rose from the Sofia sub-label, a strawberry-hued and -flavored oddity that won’t inspire or excite. Underneath those sweet berries there’s a somewhat muddy character, lingering on the finish side by side with some increasingly candy-like notes. C / $15

2013 Francis Ford Coppola Pitagora Red Wine Blend Sonoma County – The sole red wine in this collection, Pitagora is a blend of syrah, petit verdot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and petite sirah, but it feels closest in tone to a rustic Italian wine, full of dried herbs, cherries, and olive notes. Very dry, with an undercurrent of balsamic. B / $26

francisfordcoppolawinery.com

Review: Hermitage Brewing Company Sour Cherry Sour Ale

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The name doesn’t lie. This orange-pink, wine-barrel-aged, ultra-fizzy sour from San Jose’s Hermitage Brewing is overwhelming with cherry notes up front, intensely sour from start to finish. The ale takes a turn for the earthy late in the game, which isn’t a poor match for the up-front cherry character, but the monumental sourness of the entire experience is quite overpowering. The lingering sour cherry mixes with notes of graphite, dried herbs, and slate on the finish. Stylistically, you know already if this is for you.

6.5% abv. Winter 2015-16 release.

B / $30 (750ml bottle) / hermitagebrewing.com

Review: Captain Morgan Jack-O’Blast

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You know how you have those neighbors that go all out at Halloween? They put their decorations up in September. Everyone gets dressed up, even the dog. They give out the full size Snickers. You know the type.

Well, I had no idea, but Captain Morgan is that family. This new limited edition expression follows in the footsteps of Captain Morgan Cannon Blast, which was designed as a Jagermeister-like shot and bottled in a faux cannonball. Jack-o-Blast, as you can see from the photo above, is bottled in a faux pumpkin! And it looks legit! It doesn’t really matter what this stuff tastes like. You can put the bottle on your dining table as a credible centerpiece for the Halloween season.

Anyhoo, there is actual liquid inside the bottle, which is described as “pumpkin spiced rum.” At 30% alcohol, it’s lower-proof than Cannon Blast even, which is likely part of why the color is so light and golden hued. On the nose, imagine a liquified pumpkin pie, heavy with cloves, ginger, and vanilla — the hallmarks of a classic pumpkin pie. The palate isn’t quite as crystal clear. It drinks foremost with cola notes, from start to finish, the herbal elements adding a layer on top of that. Quite sweet from start to finish, it manages to keep from being overblown with sugar. In fact, while that sweetness hangs in there, it’s the cloves that linger longest on the finish, though its the aroma that makes the biggest and most lingering pumpkin-like impression.

Prototypical “pumpkin everything” fans will probably enjoy this beverage a bit more than I did… but I expect more of it will end up in coffee and on ice cream than it does in shot glasses.

60 proof.

B / $15 / captainmorgan.com

Review: Sonoma Cider The Wimble

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This new limited edition cider from Sonoma Cider is billed as a Rhubarb Gose, a spin on the classic, slightly salty, semi-sour beer style. Sonoma’s gose-cider (gosider?) is made from organic apples, organic red rhubarb, and sea salt, coming together with a lick of sugar and salt up front, quickly fading to a light sour character. It’s hard to identify the flavor specifically as rhubarb; perhaps the sea salt mutes that specific flavor. That aside, the finish is dry and surprisingly refreshing, which is probably the only time I’ve said that about rhubarb anything.

5.5% abv.

B / $9 per 4-pack / sonomacider.com

Review: Baileys Pumpkin Spice

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Fall is here, and that must mean it’s time for… special edition flavored liqueurs!

Today’s comes from Baileys, which takes its iffy history with limited edition flavors and adds to it that biggest of crowd pleasers: pumpkin spice. Of course, pumpkin spice never really means much in the way of pumpkins, but “nutmeg/cinnamon/ginger/clove spice” just doesn’t have the same ring, does it?

Baileys is always most appropriate as a fall/winter spirit, and this is at least a credible use of the pumpkin spice motif. The spices are reasonably accurate and make for a natural companion to the creamy-vanilla-whiskey notes of the Baileys, but as with all things pumpkin spice and all things Baileys, this can quickly become far too much of a good thing.

Baileys Pumpkin Spice is ultimately a bit overwhelming, no surprise, all of this coming to a head on a finish that lingers for what feels like hours, thoroughly coating the palate with an unctuous character that feels like a pile of holiday cookies that have been liquefied and poured into your mouth.

But hey, maybe that’s your thing.

34 proof.

B / $19 / baileys.com

Review: Johnnie Walker Blue Label (2016)

Johnnie Walker Blue Label Bottle

It’s been a solid six years since we spent any serious time with Johnnie Walker’s flagship bottling, Blue Label. The House of Walker doesn’t talk much about whether or how the recipe for Blue Label has evolved over the years, but in 2010 it was said that there were nine single malts in the blend, while today reports peg the total number at roughly 16 — so it’s likely some things have changed.

Tasting 2010 and 2016 vintage Blue Label side by side reveals some evolutionary changes, though nothing overwhelmingly dramatic. Today, the 2010 offers well-rounded notes of heavy sherry, almonds, some mint, and a dense, malty core. In comparison, the 2016 release shows itself as more aromatic, with a younger overall vibe and some clear aromas of petrol and rubber right off the bat.

The body however plays to many of the same elements as the older bottling — lots of nuts and roasted malts, a more restrained sherry component, and mixed herbal notes. As with the nose, the finish diverges from the 2010 more considerably. While the older bottling is lightly sweet and lingering, the 2016 comes off as a bit ashy and charcoal-smoked. It’s still respectable, austere, and complex — thanks largely to its bold and burly body, the whisky’s most consistent element throughout the years.

Blue Label has always presented itself as a mixed bag, but its current direction feels misguided to me. (For the record, I’d give the 2010 an upgrade to an A- from my earlier review.)

80 proof.

B / $225 / johnniewalker.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Tasting the Wines of Amalaya and Colome, 2016 Releases

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Amalaya and Colome are both based in Salta, Argentina — and both are owned by California’s Hess Family Wines. Today we look at two wines from each, a torrontes and a malbec, all delightfully different despite being neighbors, both geographically and business-wise.

2015 Amalaya Torrontes/Riesling Salta – 85% torrontes and 15% riesling. The riesling is a huge help here, and a big influence on the wine, giving it both tightly perfumed aromatics and some apricot/peach notes reminiscent of viognier. The flatter torrontes benefits from this, lifting it up into a more festive, zippy wine. B+ / $10

2015 Amalaya Malbec Salta – A blend of 85% malbec, 10% tannat, and 5% syrah. It’s a very dry wine, dusty at times before exhibiting notes of tree bark, chicory, and licorice overlaying its lightly balsamic, blackberry core. Modest body, but the finish is quite drying, slightly pruny, and a little thin. B / $12

2015 Colome Torrontes – Quite lemony, with a pinch of rosemary in the mix. The finish diverges toward a more heavily herbal character, including notes of juniper, though its acidity is high enough to at least keep this in check to some degree. B- / $12

2013 Colome Malbec Estate – What a breath of fresh air this wine is. Malbec can be so overwhelming, but Colome’s expression is full of fruit but tempered with a sprinkle of licorice, savory herbs, cloves, and graphite. Some mushroom evolves on the nose; give it time and some lively floral notes emerge, too. The finish is dry and a bit leathery, which actually makes for a balanced and engaging experience. A lovely and unexpectedly special wine — one to stock up on. A / $20

amalaya.com
bodegacolome.com

Review: Dogfish Head Flesh & Blood IPA

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I guess the flesh is the hops. The blood is in the juice: This is an IPA flavored with orange peel, lemon flesh, and blood orange juice.

A shandy it’s not, mind you, though what it actually is is difficult to describe. Tart citrus juice tones down the piney bitterness of the IPA, without adding any real sweetness. The effect is initially a bit jarring, making the beer at firm seem like it might be some kind of hybrid sour, though ultimately the impact of the added fruit isn’t enough to completely deviate from the IPA at the core.

Bitter-sour through and through, it’s a bit grapefruit-like at times, but showcases lemon-peel at others. While it shows clearer blood orange notes toward the end, the finish is otherwise muddy and, frankly, somewhat confusing.

7.5% abv.

B / $11 per four-pack / dogfish.com

Review: Ardbeg 10 Years Old, Uigeadail, and Corryvreckan

Ardbeg Trio Image (low- res)

At 200 years of age, Ardbeg is one of the most venerable of Scotch whisky distilleries, and it’s an icon of Islay, where peat has long been the currency of whiskymaking.

While we’ve reviewed many of Ardbeg’s annual, limited edition Committee releases, we’ve somehow never taken our pen to the core range, which spans three expressions. Finally, the time was ripe to review them all, and it just happened to coincide with Ardbeg’s release of a VR experience that lets fans who can’t get to Islay experience a virtual visit there, however brief. Three short but immersive experiences, delivered via VR headset, let you wander through the distillery, hike out to the Uigeadail loch, and even visit the Corryvreckan whirlpool north of Islay (the lattermost being the most disorienting of the trio). The Ardbeg VR experience will be available only at key events for now, but watch for a lighter, web-based version to arrive later this year — which may be all the better to experience, because you can do so with a glass of Ardbeg 10 in hand.

Thoughts on “the big three” follow.

Ardbeg 10 Years Old – The essential Ardbeg, and the only one of this bunch with an age statement, all 10 of those years having been spent in ex-bourbon casks. The classic Ardbeg bottling, and one of the most heavily peated entry-level whiskies from all of Scotland. Ten years are just about right for taming Ardbeg’s fire, though the nose is still moderately heavy with straight, smoky peat notes, though also lightly briny but distinctly maritime in its tone. The body follows in lockstep, adding to the burning embers of driftwood notes of iodine, orange peel, coriander, and ginger. Beautifully balanced despite the heavy peat influence, it remains one of the most essential Islay whiskies — and an essential whisky that is required drinking for anyone who wants to form a base understanding of single malts. 92 proof. A / $45  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Ardbeg Uigeadail – Named for Ardbeg’s own loch, Uigeadail — if you hike the 3 miles to get there from the distillery, you’ll find a lockbox containing whisky and glassware, gratis. Uigeadail is quite different from the 10 Year Old because it is blended from both bourbon and sherry casks, including some older stock. The sherry influence alone makes for a vastly different experience, starting with the nose, which dampens the smokiness with notes of roasted nuts, citrus, and an earthy, leathery character that simply feels like history. The palate offers a rather different experience, which adds to the curiosity and interest, melding smoke with notes of well-roasted meats, walnut shells, pipe tobacco, and cloves. The finish is lengthy and brooding — aided by the considerably higher alcohol level — a lingering reminder of how this Ardbeg may be an entirely different beast, yet just as good as the 10. 108.4 proof. A / $60  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Ardbeg Corryvreckan – Corry is unusual in that it is a blend of whiskies aged in bourbon casks and in new French oak — the latter of which is rarely utilized in Scotch. While beloved by its fans, this is admittedly my least favorite of the trio, a bold and brooding Islay. For me, it simply takes things too far, the new oak damaging the seductive soul that’s inherent in the great Ardbeg expressions. The peat is doubled up here but it’s done in a rather brutish fashion, giving it a tarry, ashy character that finishes on salty licorice and heavy iodine notes. Peat freaks will absolutely love it — the finish lingering for what feels like hours — but a nuanced whisky it simply isn’t. 114.2 proof. B  / $80  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

ardbeg.com

Review: Diageo Orphan Barrel Project Whoop & Holler American Whiskey 28 Years Old

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For this ninth release in Diageo’s Orphan Barrel Project, the company has turned to George Dickel, of all places, where it has unearthed a 28 year old expression of this Tennessee classic. Produced at Cascade Hollow in Tullahoma, it is made from Dickel’s standard mash of 84% corn, 8% rye, and 8% malted barley, and is put through the sugar maple charcoal mellowing process that is standard for Tennessee whiskeys.

At a whopping 28 years old, Whoop & Holler is the oldest whiskey in the Orphan Barrel Project releases to date. Considering Dickel just released its own 17 year old expression (which was already starting to feel a bit tired), this makes for a fine little comparison.

Things start off promising. The nose is sweet with notes of honey, orange peel, and a touch of brown sugar. The aroma is quite fresh on the whole, surprisingly youthful considering its age.

On the palate, more surprises await. This ought to be a wood bomb, but in reality the oak is dialed down, at least at first, as if the barrel gave up everything it had to the whiskey, then just decided to take a long break. Sweetness hits before any oak elements, a light butterscotch fading into notes of pencil shavings. Hints of eucalyptus and clove emerge, but these are fleeting.

And then, like that, it’s completely gone. Whoop & Holler fades away faster than Johnny Manziel, finally unleashing more of its charcoal-laden, wood-heavy side as the finish arrives. But this finish is short and unremarkable, drying up into nothing and proving itself a tragic dead end for an otherwise promising whiskey.

Bottom line: Needs less whoop, more holler.

84 proof.

B / $175 / orphanbarrel.com