An unusual red made from 100% Refosco grapes indigenous to the Friuli region just north of Venice. The nose is slightly perfumy, with blueberry underpinnings. n the body, ample smoke and earth notes are backed up cherry and spice character. A moderate to big body, with lots going on. Surprisingly complex — if not wholly balanced — for a value wine.
B / $12 / angoris.com
Our friends at Justin have taken a big step into a new world of wine that’s completely foreign to them: Rose.
This rose of Cabernet Sauvignon is made from Paso Robles fruit, and the beefy backbone shows. A heavy shade of peach, the wine features a moderately floral nose followed by a palate that features citrus notes, crisp apple, and a touch of apricot on the back end. At first a bit incongruous, the wine develops some balance — oddly — as it warms up a bit. While rose is normally at its best straight from the fridge, this is one that works better when it’s not quite so chilly.
B / $20 / justinwine.com
Wild strawberries, really?
Flavor #11 from Skyy is indeed made with real, wild strawberries, according to the company, a flavored vodka inspired by one of the most popular cocktail flavorings around. (Skyy says the strawberry is “more complex” than you’d think.)
That may indeed be the case. Skyy Strawberry has a solid fruity nose, and on the tongue it is initially sweet and relatively authentic, though perhaps more akin to a vague “mixed berry” character than I’d prefer. That sweetness fades fast, though, leaving behind a rather burly, somewhat raw alcoholic feel. Unlike many of Skyy’s infusions — arguably the best line of flavored vodkas on the market — this one ends with a fairly rough finish. Better with a mixer, where that finish can be mitigated.
B / $16 / skyy.com
Columbus, Ohio-based Middle West Spirits produces a variety of vodkas and whiskeys, but these two, pronounced Oh-Why-Oh, are the base products from which everything else is drawn.
OYO Vodka – Made from local red winter wheat, this (purported) 34-times column distilled vodka has lots of character. On the nose, there are lots of caramel and grain notes — making this much more akin to a white whiskey than a vodka — and a minimum of medicinal character. On the tongue the vodka’s roots come out, with a modestly astringent backbone and a warming, grain-forward body. There’s some citrus in there followed by more caramel, coming together to give this vodka a bit of a caramel apple feel in the end. However, a sense of mustiness on the finish, almost like sweat, dulls the overall experience a bit. 80 proof. Kosher. Reviewed: Batch #028. B / $33
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Francis Ford Coppola has become an icon in Northern California’s wine country, but why does a man this important — whose Oscars and Palme d’Or can be seen firsthand at the pool-equipped day resort/tasting room he runs in Sonoma County — need no fewer than five Chardonnays? (In truth there are at least seven.)
While you puzzle over that one, we were tasting the 2011 vintages of these wines. Thoughts follow.
2011 Francis Ford Coppola Chardonnay Director’s Cut Russian River Valley – Surprisingly sweet, with lychee and mango notes up top, some lemon underneath. Modestly buttery body. The finish is a touch bittersweet. Altogether curious, but not overly balanced. B / $21
2011 Francis Ford Coppola Chardonnay Votre Sante California – “Burgundian style” Chardonnay, which is a little flabby and muted on the fruit notes. Some vanilla notes creep into what is otherwise a predominantly butter and wood affair, although a touch of lemon on the nose elevates things a bit. B- / $14
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Long Beach-based Beachwood Brewing — perhaps best known for its two SoCal BBQ restaurants and their ultra-high-end beer menus — has just released Thrillseeker, its first bottled IPA. The company suggests drinking it young and fresh, and keeping it refrigerated while you’re waiting.
The brew offers a big head, and is full gold in color. This is a classic, bracing IPA loaded with bitter hops character (and 99+ IBUs). The huge hoppiness — dry-hopped with Simcoe and Chinook hops — includes some evergreen notes and a touch of orange peel. Drying and brisk, this is a huge IPA that hopheads will love. I find the balance a touch off, a little muddy and lacking that strong citrus oil character that marks (and balances) a great IPA. Overall a nice ride, though.
B / $8 per 22 oz. bottle / www.beachwoodbbq.com
Caledonia Spirits in Hardwick, Vermont primarily markets its products in the Northeast and uses honey in just about everything it makes, from honey mead to vodka and gin. We tasted both those spirits, plus an elderberry cordial from the company. Thoughts follow.
By the by: Mind the beeswax seal on the vodka and gin (they use this stuff in everything!). It’s extremely pungent and can be smelled from a mile away once the plastic wrap is taken off.
Caledonia Spirits Barr Hill Vodka – Made from raw Vermont honey, and it shows. Distinct — but richly earthy — honey notes pervade the nose, a common trait among vodkas distilled from honey. This one’s pungent enough to come across like a flavored vodka, intense with that almost nougaty, caramel flavor. Barr Hill has far too much residual character in it for the most common places where vodka finds itself, but for fans of honey, this may make for an interesting sipper. 80 proof. Reviewed: Batch #20 reviewed. B / $33 (375ml)
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A beverage with a name like Wild Shot doesn’t exactly wear subtlety on its sleeve, and this unaged mezcal — complete with, or rather extremely proud of, the worm at the bottom of the bottle — doesn’t really hold back. Country musician Toby Keith is the man behind this celebrezcal, and you can click the official link below if you’d like to see the man with a gusano between his teeth.
Made from 100% green agave, Wild Shot pours clean and offers a rich and straightforward smokiness on the nose, far more savory than sweet. On the body it’s more of the same — mesquite fire smoke, with a sweeter finish that offers some caramel and just a hint of citrus fruit. Very simple and straightforward, it’s a fine mezcal that novices will undoubtedly enjoy, but which lacks the depth that true mezcal fans will want.
But hey, at least you get to eat the worm.
B / $43 / wildshot.com
We so rarely get to check out the whiskeys of France that when one arrives it’s always greeted with a bit of mystery and awe.
Even among French whiskeys, Brenne is something completely unique. It starts as single malt, with barley harvested on the distillery’s own farm in the Cognac region of France. It is double distilled in alembic stills, then aged first in new French limousin oak, before being finished in ex-Cognac barrels. No age statement, but the company says the typical bottle is 7 years old — 5 years in new oak, 2 in the Cognac barrels.
Brenne’s releases are all single-barrel releases, and while I have just sampled one — barrel 261 — they are said to vary widely from one barrel to the next (in part owing to the variations amongst the Cognac finishing casks).
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This monster of a wine hails from Sicily and is made with its traditional grape, Nero d’Avola (65%), blended with Syrah (35%). Results are intense. The nose is biting and quite raisiny, hinting at Port-like characteristics. On the body, tons of deep fruit notes, leather, tobacco, and a long, tannic finish. A good match with a rich meal, but a little daunting on its own.
B / $30 / dalmin.it
The giant “Musque” on the label of this wine may throw you at first, but the body will do you one worse. A 100% unoaked Chardonnay made entirely from the Musque Clone No. 809, this is an aromatic and perfumy wine loaded with muscat-like flavors (hence the name of the clone). Big orange, honey, wildflower, and some nutty notes pervade the nose. The body backs those characteristics up and is quite sweet, nothing like the buttery, applesaucy Chardonnays you’re likely accustomed to. This is a vibrant fruit bomb that is so unusual it will wholly challenge your expectations of what Chardonnay can be. That, of course, is both a good thing and a bad.
B / $16 / crewwines.com
Pre-mixed cocktails aren’t often a high-end affair, but Organic Mixology is trying to change that with a new line of ready-to-drink cocktails, courtesy of Natalie Bovis, “The Liquid Muse.”
Made with certified organic ingredients, no artificial flavors/colors/preservatives, lightweight glass bottles, and packaged in 75% post-consumer recycled cases (whew!), this is high-end, eco-friendly cocktailery, complete with a Sanskrit “Om” trinket attached to the bottle’s neck.
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Curious: A blonde ale from Newcastle.
The latest in Newcastle’s limited edition beer series will be available from now through July 2013. Naturally, it’s Newcastle’s most “summery” brew, though it’s still got a big mouthfeel and lots of heft to it.
Nicely grainy, almost biscuity with distinct toast notes, this very light pale ale doesn’t stray far from the basics. Hops are muted, leaving both bitterness and sweetness as relative afterthoughts. Really just a hint of dessert on the back-end, a somewhat cookie-like character that adds just a touch of sugar to an otherwise sedate brew. Altogether it’s fine and moderately refreshing (and quite low in alcohol, which is good for summertime drinking), though hardly complex.
Also note the bikini-clad gal on the label, an addition, per Newcastle, intended “to sell more beer.”
B / $8 per six-pack / newcastlebrown.com
Gary Farrell is based on Sonoma’s Russian River Valley, but it makes wines with fruit from all over California. Russian River, however, remains the focus. The 2010 bottlings are now hitting the market. We tasted through a solid sampling of five of them. Thoughts follow.
2010 Gary Farrell Chardonnay Russian River Valley Westside Farms – A crisp but modestly oaked California Chardonnay, made in the classic style with a buttery and nutty body, but balanced with a decent amount of acid on the back end. Some lemon notes add character, even if the depth is about average. B+ /$38
2010 Gary Farrell Pinot Noir Carneros Ramal Vineyard – Very light, easy (not bright) cherry notes. Fresh, lots of acid, short and crisp finish. Some light black tea notes come along on the outro. A- / $50
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Ghost Pines is a label produced by Louis Martini, which is itself a subsidiary of the Gallo empire. These two new releases are single-varietal wines, blended from grapes harvested from both Sonoma and Napa counties. Thoughts follow.
2010 Ghost Pines Merlot – Made from 29% Napa County and 71% Sonoma County grapes. An easy-drinking Merlot, it offers a moderate to light body, pleasant with black cherry notes, and a surprisingly vibrant (and lightly sweet) chocolate finish. Simple, maybe overly so. B+ / $20
2010 Ghost Pines Cabernet Sauvignon – Made from 70% Napa County and 30% Sonoma County fruit, this straightforward Cabernet doesn’t take a lot of chances, but at $23 a bottle it doesn’t really need to. Light menthol notes play with a somewhat woody core that offers ample plum and raspberry character to balance it out. Modest finish, some tannin there too. Fades out fast. B / $23
Stony Hill Vineyard is located in Napa Valley’s Spring Mountain AVA, where it specializes in white wines, particularly its award-winning Chardonnay. We sampled three of its latest releases for the 2013 drinking season. Thoughts follow.
2010 Stony Hill Chardonnay Napa Valley – Lemon, honeysuckle, and intriguing woody notes on the nose lead to a complex body, moderate in mouthfeel with light acidity. Here you find lots of orange and lemon notes, some honey — an almost Sauternes hint — midway through the finish. Don’t worry, it’s not a sugar bomb: The conclusion is dry and inviting, the honey character building on the nose as it warms in the glass. A real knockout. A / $42
Continue reading “Review: White Wines of Stony Hill, 2013 Releases” »
Why brewers keep putting apricots in their beers I’ll never know. If asked to choose a fruit to eat, the apricot will invariably be the last on my list. Fresh or dried. Meh.
Aprihop is Dogfish Head’s IPA, brewed using the fruit that dare not speak its name and finished with whole leaf hops. Up front it’s got solid bitterness, with lots of heavy apricot notes on top. Almost overwhelming, these fruity bits blow off after a few minutes and leave behind a more gentle fruitiness.
Still, the sizable hop character and the somewhat sickly sweet apricot notes never quite mesh. The finish is long and ultimately turns sour, coating the mouth. The only cure is another slug, which brings enough bitterness to wash it away. Rinse and repeat.
B / $3 per bottle / dogfish.com
In its minimalist, narrow, aluminum bottle, the immediate assumption is that this is water for your bike ride, not a kooky liqueur — based on vodka and flavored with caramel.
Available in three flavors (including chocolate and “silk”), Lovoka (la-vah-cah) is an incredibly popular South African “vodka liqueur” that recently expanded distribution internationally. It’s now also being made under license in Fairfield, California (noteworthy as the home of the closest Chick-fil-A to San Francisco), the base for its U.S. distribution. While the dessert theme may throw you, be advised these are not cream-based liqueurs. The caramel (the first to be sold in the U.S. and the only one we tasted) is the color of light whiskey. Which is to say, caramel colored.
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Forget acai and yumberries. Cheribundi is doubling down on good old fashioned cherries as a juice and a cocktail mixer. We sampled a flotilla of cherry juice-based concoctions. Thoughts follow.
Cheribundi Cherry Juice – 100% juice (mostly cherry, with a bit of apple juice added for sweetness), so you better prepare your palate for the tart rush of authentic, smashed cherries. (The company says there are 50 cherries in an 8 oz. mini-bottle. Sour-sweet, authentic, and a big rush of fruit. Use sparingly as a mixer. 130 calories. A- / $12 for four 8 oz. bottles
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Hibiscus flowers are the improbable Next Big Thing in spirits flavoring, and now Absolut is getting into the business with this new vodka, continuing the succession of equally improbably-spelled liquors.
Absolut Hibiskus is infused not just with hibiscus flower but also with pomegranate, a wise choice that gives this vodka some much-needed sweetness. Absolut’s flavored vodkas, bottled at 80 proof, tend to be a bit burly and rough around the edges, making their flavor components somewhat difficult to perceive well.
Continue reading “Review: Absolut Hibiskus Vodka” »