Review: Cascade Ice Zero-Calorie Mixers

cascade iceMixers are getting a bad rap of late, what with all the added sugar and extra calories they add to your glass. Here’s a new brand of no-cal, flavored, sparkling waters: Cascade Ice Zero-Calorie Sparkling Water. They all contain pear juice — but not enough to give the drinks a single calorie, about 1% — and are sweetened with sucralose, sometimes to within an inch of their lives.

31 flavors are now available. We tasted five, all of which are some shade of pink or purple. Can you really mix with these? You be the judge. (Oddly, Cascade Ice didn’t send us their actual mixers like Margarita and Mojito flavors, so you’ll just have to read about these fruit-centric ones instead.

Cascade Ice Blueberry Watermelon – Impossibly sweet, with essence of watermelon Jolly Rancher. C-

Cascade Ice Strawberry Banana – Veers more toward the banana side of things, with a sweet-tart finish. Also impossibly sweet. C

Cascade Ice Cranberry Pomegranate – Incredibly sweet, but more of a classic cocktail mixer than the other flavors here. Tastes much like any cran-whatever mixer. Used sparingly, could be acceptable in a low-cal cosmo. C+

Cascade Ice McIntosh Apple – That’s a pretty specific type of apple, ain’t it, Cascade Ice? The resulting beverage is slightly caramelly, with a touch of crisp apple coming along on the finish. Less sweet than many of those above, but still overpowering. C+

Cascade Ice Huckleberry Blackberry – Who’s your huckleberry? This easy winner in the Cascade Ice lineup, which balances the sugar with tart berry notes — though which berries are a bit tough to place. This is the only one among the group that I could drink straight, and which, used sparingly, would make for the most interesting cocktail companion with its nodes toward creme de cassis. B

each about $2.50 (17.2 oz.) / cascadeicewater.com [BUY IT FROM AMAZON]

Review: Hochstadter’s Slow & Low Rock and Rye

Slow & Low Bottle Shot

Rock & Rye is coming back into vogue as a cocktail, and that’s probably just fine with the folks at Hochstadter’s, who are bottling a premade version of the cocktail called Slow & Low Rock and Rye. (The producer is the same company behind St. Germain, among other recent classics.)

Hochstadter’s takes rye whiskey and flavors it — strongly — with orange and honey (plus a bit of lemon, grapefruit, and horeshound), then bottles the concoction along with plenty of rock candy syrup, which knocks the sweetness into the stratosphere. We sampled a bottle to see what the fuss was all about a century or so ago…

The nose starts off surprisingly perfumed, then that orange peel character starts to push its way to the front. Sharp and sweet, it is punctuated by the earthier honey notes beneath the fruit. The palate is heavy, very heavy, on fruit. Tasted blind (literally blind) I doubt I would be able to peg this as based on whiskey at all, much less rye. Ignore the bottle and you could be drinking a special bottling of Grand Marnier, or perhaps a flavored rum. That’s a long way of saying that the characteristic sweet-and-spice of rye whiskey is largely absent here. What you do get are some vanilla overtones, but these aren’t distinctly whiskeylike. That honeyed orange element is just too powerful to mess with.

Mind you, that’s not a slight. Slow & Low is a flavored whiskey-slash-cocktail in a bottle, and as such the flavor component of that really should shine. That said, Slow & Low is quite the powerhouse, and it’s a bit overwhelming on its own — much more so than any Old Fashioned you’d encounter in a bar or mix up at home. Try it with plenty of ice and maybe a splash of water (or soda) to mellow things out a bit and make it . Also: Mind the extremely wide-mouth bottle. It pours fast!

84 proof.

B / $24 / drinkslowandlow.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Austerity 2013 Pinot Noir and Chardonnay

austerity winesTwo new bottlings from Austerity, a Monterey County-based operation. Thoughts follow.

2013 Austerity Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands – Classic SoCal Point structure, rich with cherry jam and strawberry preserves. But the flabby body and overly sweetened finish mar an initially appealing character. Notes of tea leaf and coffee bean add a touch of mystery, at least. B / $17

2013 Austerity Chardonnay Arroyo Seco – An unfortunate misfire. The nose smells just fine, typical of California Chardonnay with buttery, woody, fruit. The body starts off with brisk apple and vanilla notes, but this quickly takes a turn into less delightful character, with notes of canned fruit, sugar syrup, and aluminum foil. Meh. C / $17

cecchettiwineco.com

Review: 2012 Boneshaker Zinfandel Lodi

boneshakerBig Zin fans rejoice: Boneshaker easily lives up to its name. This punchy, Lodi-grown Zinfandel (produced by Hahn Family Wines) is thorny with notes of dark chocolate, coffee beans, and a melange of stewed prunes and raisins. And that, basically, is it. With a lasting and rustic, slightly dirty finish, it’s a BBQ-friendly wine that sticks to the ribs. And, at 15% alcohol by volume, the wine’s tagline — “Feel it.” — is one to take to heart.

B /$20 / hahnfamilywines.com

Review: VEEV 2.0 and VitaFrute Cocktails

VeeV_StraightOn_NewBottle-LogoFix_typefooter_NOshadow_webRemember, VeeV, the “acai spirit” that rode the superfruit craze in the late zeroes, launching in 2008 as “the only açai spirit on the market?” I figured you didn’t, and that’s probably why VeeV — now an even louder VEEV — is relaunching, reformulating, and re-hoping you will get on the bandwagon of endorsing a speciously healthier alternative to drinking straight vodka. No longer labeled “acai spirit,” it’s now “neutral spirit with a blend of acai and other natural flavors.” That makes it a flavored vodka in my book — particularly since the proof level has risen from 60 proof in 2008 to 70 proof today.

But wait, there’s more! VEEV, nee VeeV, is also launching a collection of pre-made, bottled cocktails, called VitaFrute, which are of course made with VEEV, natural fruit juices, and (sometimes) agave nectar — and they’re under 125 calories per 3 oz. serving. (At first glance, the front label looks like it says 12.5 calories… now that’d be a neat trick.) And we tried all of this stuff! Thoughts follow.

VEEV (2014 Edition) – The new tagline for VEEV is “Born in Brazil, handcrafted in America.” From the nose alone, you might think it was handcrafted in a candy factory. Punchy with the nose of a typical cherry or fruit punch-like vodka, the new VEEV is closer than ever before to a typical fruit-doctored hooch. The body melds cherry with notes of blueberry, with a candylike finish. VEEV manages to keep things just this side of super-saccharine cough syrup, but there’s no doubt it’s still a sugar bomb in vodka’s clothing. If this is good for you, well, good luck selling your significant other on that one. 70 proof. B / $25

vita fruteVitaFrute Cocktails Lemonade – The simplest of the VitaFrute collection – VEEV, lemon, agave — this spiked lemonade has pulpy bits floating in the mix, so you know you’re getting something legit here. The beverage is unfortunately heavy on the agave — sweet to the point of being almost syrupy — and light on the lemons. Some rebalancing is in order to bring the tartness level up to code. What’s there is pretty spot on, though. Not boozy at all, and with a little doctoring something you could even serve to guests. 30 proof. B / $12

VitaFrute Cocktails Margarita – Includes tequila, VEEV, lemon, lime, and agave. You can smell intense caramel notes up front. As this warms up in the glass those become stronger — almost taking on a burnt sugar character with touches of cinnamon. This isn’t so much a margarita as it is a wacky after-dinner drink that hints at lime notes from time to time. 30 proof. C- / $12

VitaFrute Cocktails Cosmopolitan – Includes VEEV, cranberry juice, and “a hint of citrus.” Tastes like VEEV and cranberry juice with a hint of citrus. Mercifully less sweet than the above, this straightforward blend is something you could easily whip up on your own, but the lazy might enjoy this pre-mixed version of any old cosmo you might otherwise spend 4 bucks on at your favorite Holiday Inn happy hour. Unremarkable but largely palatable, with tart cranberries, restrained sweetness, and a squeeze of naval orange — though its caramel hints on the finish give it a cloying finish. 30 proof. B- / $12

VitaFrute Cocktails Coconut Colada  – Includes VEEV, coconut water, and pineapple juice. Pina Colada-lite, this premixed cocktail sacrifices that agave sweetness for the tropical notes of pineapple and watery coconut. Not disagreeable — if you’re in a Hawaii mood, anyway — if you don’t mind it sticking around on the roof of your mouth for the better part of the next half hour. 30 proof. B / $12

veevlife.com

Review: 2013 Achaval Ferrer Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon

achaval ferrer CMendoza-20132013 releases from Achaval Ferrer, based in Mendoza, are here. We tasted the Malbec and the Cab from this major Argentinian producer.

2013 Achaval Ferrer Malbec Mendoza – Overpowering, and not in a good way. Intense notes of menthol cigarette smoke, backed by a heavily balsamic vinegar character. Mouth-puckering with heavy acidity and a vegetal underpinning, this is not Malbec at its finest. D+ / $19

2013 Achaval Ferrer Cabernet Sauvignon Mendoza – Starts off dusty and tannic, but with time it opens up to reveal a surprisingly capable, if simple, expression of Cabernet. Light plum on the nose leads to a dense, leathery, raspberry/blackberry-driven body. Lightly vinegary on the finish, but this works well enough, particularly with food. (I even had a good experience with it alongside grilled salmon.) B / $20

achaval-ferrer.com

Tasting the Wines of Chateau du Moulin-a-Vent

An icon of the Beaujolais, Moulin-a-Vent’s estate began producing wines as early as the 1700s. Today the estate has 30 hectares of land under vine, separated into 91 different plots — many of which are used to make single-plot releases showcasing a specific terroir. Ownership changed with the 2009 vintage — and some of these wines are just now hitting the market.

Beaujolais is of course the home of Gamay (red wines) and Chardonnay (whites, which are comparatively rare). Moulin-a-Vent only grows Gamay. Its Pouilly-Fuisse is made with non-estate fruit.

We recently looked at eight different wines from this famed chateau, in three different categories:

First are the CMV wines, which feature a much different art deco-style label and are made from non-estate fruit.

CMV Couvent Des Thorins Brand2012 CMV Moulin-a-Vent Pouilly-Fuisse Vielle Vignes - A rather vegetal white wine, it shows lemony notes at first before delving into a rather intense green vegetable note that builds on the finish. This eases up a bit with some warmth, but the slightly bitter character is sustained for quite awhile. B / $15

2012 CMV Moulin-a-Vent Couvent des Thorins – Classically Old World on the nose, with lots of vinegary acid, rhubarb, and licorice root notes. The body is equally heavy on the acid, brash and mouth-searing with its simplistic cherry-like construction and fiery finish. C- / $15

Up next, these are blends from all many of Chateau du Moulin-a-Vent’s plots. They comprise the most common expressions from the chateau. Here’s a look at a vertical of three recent vintages of the wine.

2011 Chateau du Moulin-a-Vent – Engaging nose, with gentle fruit, some smoke, some mint. The body is ripe without being overly fruity or lush, a gentler expression of gamay with a core of simple plums, touches of vanilla, and notes of pumpkin spice on the back end. Easy to enjoy. B+ / $20

2010 Chateau du Moulin-a-Vent – More earth here, particularly on the dusty, mushroomy nose. The body offers balance between the savory earth elements and fruit, presenting a significantly different profile than the fruitier 2011. Fans of bigger, more wintry, and more food-appropriate wines will probably prefer this style. B+ / $20

2009 Chateau du Moulin-a-Vent – Well past its prime. Again, showing lots of oxidation and acidity like the Thorins reviewed above, with a somewhat skunky, burnt nose and a body that attacks the tongue with vinegar notes. This was an exemplary vintage in Beaujolais, so it appears time has really had its way with this wine. C- / $20

Finally come the terroir-driven, plot-specific releases from Chateau du Moulin-a-Vent. Each is released with its specific plot noted on the label.

2009 Chateau du Moulin-a-Vent Clos de Londres - It fares better than the standard 2009 bottling above, but not by much. Again, it’s well past its prime, showing strong vinegar chateau du moulin-a-vent 11 Croix des Verillats Bottlenotes, but offering pleasant enough cranberry, raspberry, and blackberry character after the intense acid starts to fade. C+ / $NA

2011 Chateau du Moulin-a-Vent Champ de Cour – Ample earth and licorice notes, backed by restrained, austere fruit — raspberries and blackberries. The finish features tobacco notes, blackberry jam, and a return to some of that woody, earthy funk. An interesting wine with shades of the 2010 standard bottling. B+ / $34

2011 Chateau du Moulin-a-Vent Croix des Verillats – Notes of ripe cheese on the nose start things off in a weird way, but the highly fruity, almost jelly-like body, pairs with it in an unexpected way. This is an austere wine that drinks like an older expression of Moulin-a-Vent, but offers a worthwhile complexity and depth to it. B+ / $32

chateaudumoulinavent.com

Review: 2013 Galerie Naissance and Equitem Sauvignon Blancs

galerie Naissance+Equitem Beauty ShotInspired by her upbringing in Spain (and particularly its cuisine), winemaker Laura Diaz Munoz brings the racy stylings of the Spanish table to the Northern California wine scene. Two new Sauvignon Blancs have just arrived from this Oakville-based operation. Thoughts follow.

2013 Galerie Naissance Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley – No “re” in this “naissance,” I guess. What’s left is a a wine that’s somewhat chalky on the palate, with notes of green apple, honeysuckle, and sour lime zest. A crisp, summery wine, it’s got plenty of pucker with that telltale Sauvignon Blanc pepe du chat. B / $30

2013 Galerie Equitem Sauvignon Blanc Knights Valley – A sweeter expression of Sauvignon Blanc, with notes approaching figs, lemon-lime soda, and sweetened grapefruit. More body, with a chewier, more substantial palate. A- / $30

galeriewines.com

Review: 2013 Bodvar of Sweden No. 5 Rose Cotes de Provence

sweden wineRest easy: Sweden isn’t producing wine (or at least, it isn’t exporting any to our soils). This is a French Cotes de Provence created by a new, boutique wine company from our friends to the northeast: Bodvár of Sweden – House of Rosés.

The brainchild of Bodvar Hafström, the Bodvar brand includes sales of cigars, brandy, and now wine. No. 5 (no word on what happened to Nos. 1 through 4) is a rose of Grenache and Cinsault that hails from Saint-Tropez in the Provence region. Somewhat atypical of the typical wines from this region, it offers a nose ripe with mixed fruit, but it also has a sharpness to it, a strong tang — both touched with citrus juice and grated peel. The body is both lush with notes of peaches and apricots, with a dusting of dried herbs on the finish. This herbal quality grows as the wine develops and warms. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it, as it robs some of the sweetness from an otherwise well-made wine, but at least it has me thinking.

B / $24 / bodvarofsweden.com

Review: Stone Coffee Milk Stout

stone coffee milk stoutIt’s breakfast for happy hour with Stone’s latest, a limited edition beer that was previous bottled as a pilot project called Gallagher’s After Dinner Stout. Stone tinkered and reformulated Brian Gallagher’s brew to bring it to the masses, and here it is, a stout brewed with milk sugar lactose and coffee beans from San Diego’s Ryan Bros. Magnum hops and mild ale malt are the other primary components of the beer.

It’s a gentler expression of stout, made creamy, slightly sweet, and studded with ample (but not overwhelming) coffee bean character. The name is apt. If you take your coffee with plenty of milk and sugar in order to knock the bitterness of the coffee back, this beer’s for you, balancing a sweetness up front with stronger coffee and hops notes in the back. As it warms up and develops in the glass and on the palate, some interesting licorice notes emerge in the back of the mouth. All told this is not a style of beer I gravitate to in general, but in this format I find it easy enough to enjoy as these days start to chill down.

4.2% abv.

B / $11 per six-pack / stonebrewing.com