Category Archives: Rated B

Review: Wild Turkey Spiced

Wild Turkey Spiced Bottle Shot 525x1101 Review: Wild Turkey Spiced

Spiced rum? Old news. Spiced whiskey is the future, bringing all the goodies of the baking cabinet to Kentucky’s finest.

Wild Turkey is the latest to get into this game, bringing the traditional islandesque spices you’ll find adorning Captain Morgan and the rest of his crew to the world of Bourbon. There’s not a lot of information about the underlying Bourbon here — it’s standard Wild Turkey, but bottled at 86 proof with no age statement to be found (not surprising, of course). There’s not a lot of information about the spiced, either — only “spice and other natural flavors” are noted on the label — but a cursory taste reveals cinnamon and cloves, plus more vanilla than you’d expect from a Bourbon of this pedigree.

In fact, the nose is all vanilla, all the time — it’s so thick it comes across as a little bit synthetic, a common problem in vanilla-infused spirits. The palate offers more to play with, a baking spice character that, for once, doesn’t bury its base spirit in sugar. Here the cinnamon/clove mix is evident — maybe even a little ginger in there? — but Wild Turkey’s deep wood character doesn’t get drowned out. It’s with you from start to finish, both imbuing the front of the palate with some depth and providing a long, lightly smoky/bacony finish that reminds you you’re drinking whiskey and not rum.

Sure, this isn’t a product I’d likely sip straight, but i can see myriad opportunities to work with it in punches, holiday cocktails, and hot drinks. Worth a shot at this price.

B / $23 / wildturkeybourbon.com

Review: Wines of Menage a Trois, 2013 Releases

folie a deux 82x300 Review: Wines of Menage a Trois, 2013 ReleasesMenage a Trois is a second, low-cost label produced by Napa-based Folie a Deux. These aren’t the world’s most challenging bottlings, but they’re by and large good enough for everyday drinking. Here’s how the current batch of releases measure up.

2012 Menage a Trois Sauvignon Blanc California – Unsurprising Sauv Blanc. Huge grapefruit and pepe du chat notes on the nose, more citrus on the palate, sour lemon, and a touch of green pepper. Highly acidic on a light body. Very simple and in some ways refreshing with the right kind of food, though hardly a showstopper. B-

2011 Menage a Trois Pinot Gris California – Quite sweet, surprisingly so for this style of wine. Pineapple and mango on the front give the impression of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, with candied/canned peaches coming up behind. A simple wine, as expected, but dialed a bit too far forward with the sweetness. B

2011 Menage a Trois Cabernet Sauvignon North Coast California – A simple wine, with notes of menthol and green pepper on the nose. Medium body, with understated notes of plum and cassis jam, blueberries, and spice. Short finish fades quickly. B

2011 Menage a Trois Merlot California – Menthol-driven berries, raspberry primarily. Notes of black tea and licorice add a little complexity, but overall this is a sweet little number driven by almost over-ripe fruit than its other elements. B

2011 Menage a Trois Malbec Mendoza Argentina - A plummy, slightly jammy Malbec, missing the intensity, earth, and black pepper that characterizes the bolder blends. This drinks rather easy, almost like Merlot or a milder Syrah, though the green pepper finish keeps things interesting without becoming bitter (well, almost). B

each $11 to $12 / menageatroiswines.com

Review: Greenhook Ginsmiths Beach Plum Gin Liqueur

greenhooks plum 240x300 Review: Greenhook Ginsmiths Beach Plum Gin LiqueurWho knew they grew plums on the beach? This is the first commercial “beach plum gin” liqueur, and I have to imagine the reason for that is that making a liqueur out of beach plum gins didn’t occur to anyone. The beach plums in question hail from Long Island, and their juice is blended with Greenhook’s dry gin and organic turbinado sugar to create this strange curiosity.

I’m reminded immediately of sloe gin with this spirit, which Greenhook calls an inspiration. The color, a shade of cranberry cocktail, is a touch lighter than most sloe gin, but otherwise it’s a close approximation.

On the nose, things start to shift. If you didn’t know it was plum-based, you might guess at any number of ingredients based on the aromas coming forth from the glass. Watermelon, cassis, and cherry all have a home here, atop a gently sweet core. On the tongue, there’s sweet and sour in equal proportions. The initial rush is intensely cherry-like, almost akin to a kirsch. Sweet and tangy at first, you’re expecting things to stay sweet, but they quickly veer off-course. The finish is funky, almost with a cough syrup sourness to it, and a bitter edge. Mix away, but sipping straight probably isn’t in the cards.

What a curious little liqueur this is. While the balance seems off, there’s plenty going on that’s worth exploring. Try it in lieu of sloe gin, or any cherry flavored liqueur in your favorite cocktail recipe.

60 proof.

B / $50 / greenhookgin.com

Review: Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Wheated Bourbon Entry Proof Experiments

Wheat Mash Enrty Proof Family 2 300x159 Review: Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection   Wheated Bourbon Entry Proof ExperimentsBuffalo Trace, no stranger to experimentation, recently released this intriguing series of bourbons as part of its Experimental Collection. The idea: Vary entry proof from very low (90) to fairly high (125), and keep the barrels otherwise exactly the same.

Entry proof, for those not familiar with the lingo, is the term that describes the alcohol level of a whiskey when it goes into the barrel for the first time. Generally whiskey is not barreled at the alcohol level that came off the still. It is rather watered down, often to between 105 and 125 proof, before it’s sealed up to rest for years.

With this series of whiskeys, the white dog came off the still at 130 proof. The recipe is a wheated mashbill, which was then split into four parts, one barreled at 90 proof, one at 105, one at 115, and finally one at 125 proof. All four spent 11 years, 7 months in barrel. When bottled, they were all brought down to 90 proof.

How are they different, and which is best? Here’s what I had to say…

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Wheated 90 Entry Proof - Pleasant and mellow, it has a brisk level of heat on the nose, but not overwhelming. The body is moderately woody, with ample vanilla character. Applesauce and cinnamon build to an easy, lasting, and sweet conclusion, with just a lightly woody/sawdusty kicker. A-

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Wheated 105 Entry Proof - Much less on the nose here, just wisps of lumber and alcoholic heat. The body: Completely dead, just nothing going on in this at all. Hints of coconut and milk chocolate, but otherwise this could be almost any kind of whiskey. A snooze. C+

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Wheated 115 Entry Proof - Nose of butterscotch, some wood. Comes across as hotter as you take in the nose, but reveals banana notes, brown sugar, caramel, and more. On the body, quite unique, with a sweetness that’s spiked with lots of cloves and deep wood character. Still, it’s not overcooked, offering lots of depth in both its fruit and more savory characters. If I was buying one of these, I’d pick this one. A

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Wheated 125 Entry Proof - Racy and spicy, with notes of cinnamon and raisins, both on the nose and in the body. Opens up as you sip it, but wood-driven characteristics take hold over the fruit, leaving behind a slightly bitter, hoary finish. Not unenjoyable, but more difficult than it needs to be. B

Fun stuff, but it might say more about barrel variability than it does about the merits of different entry proofs.

each $46 per 375ml bottle / buffalotrace.com

Review: Mama Walker’s “Breakfast” Liqueurs

Mama Walker Group 237x300 Review: Mama Walkers Breakfast LiqueursBreakfast at the real Mama Walker’s house (presuming there is one), must have been quite an affair. Donuts, blueberry pancakes, bacon… all that’s missing is the scrambled eggs and OJ.

Presumably a scrambled egg liqueur is forthcoming from this brand, which exists exclusively to sell these “breakfast” themed liqueurs. At 70 proof, I’m not sure what makes them liqueurs vs. flavored vodkas, but that’s what’s on the label. Make your own call. You can surely use them interchangeably.

As for what’s inside, well, you’re in for something unique, to say the least. When we received our sample box, one of the bottles inside had broken and completely leaked out. The smell lingered in the house for days.

Thoughts follow.

Mama Walker’s Glazed Donut Liqueur – The nose is more like cotton candy or burnt marshmallows than donuts. I’ve smelled this before in Smirnoff’s Iced Cake vodka. They are probably spiked with the same stuff. This liqueur adds a maple syrup kick and more vanilla. The finish is ultra-sweet but also hard-edged, with a sharp, alcoholic kick. C-

Mama Walker’s Blueberry Pancake Liqueur – Extremely pungent, with a nose that is more blueberry muffin than blueberry pancake. It smells just like the muffins my mother used to make out of the Betty Crocker box, the one with the little tin of canned blueberries in it. (Do they still sell that?) Drinking this is like alcoholic nostalgia, filled with all the pros and cons that could come with a boozed-up version of your youth. My head’s spinning, but the taste — much like the nose; big, canned blueberries, bread, and a lingering, maple syrup (again) finish — isn’t half bad. B-

Mama Walker’s Maple Bacon Liqueur – Bacon flavor is always dicey in spirits, but here it kinda works. I guess the secret is to add plenty of sugary syrup to it. The bacon is (mercifully) understated next to the syrup, which Mama Walker must go through by the tanker load considering how prevalent it is in all of its products. Still, the bacon notes are distinctly there, a smoky/meaty character that has no real equal in the food world and which translates embarrassingly well to this spirit. I have zero idea how I’d use this in day to day cocktailcrafting (maple bacon margaritas, anyone?), but I’m curious to try. B

(There are recipes on the Mama Walker’s website (see below) for all of these. Tread at your own risk.)

each $13 / mamawalker.com

Review: Dry Sodas

DRY Soda 5 can lockup 300x185 Review: Dry SodasDry Soda is a company making a business out of soda with no high fructose corn syrup, less sweetness, lower carbonation, and an overall healthier approach to drinking the stuff. Its products all famously have just four ingredients — water sugar, natural flavors, and phosphoric acid. A 12 oz. can typically hits between 45 and 65 calories. Nine versions are available. We tasted five for review.

All take a little getting used to, but damn if you don’t feel like a better person for drinking on instead of popping open a Mountain Dew.

Thoughts follow.

Dry Vanilla Bean Soda – Mild, not really flavorful enough. Vanilla tastes authentic, but there’s just not enough of it. The overall impact is a slight cream soda character, though not nearly as mouth-filling. B-

Dry Blood Orange Soda – There’s enough fruit flavor here to give it a little more oomph over the comparably dulled Vanilla Bean Soda. It comes off a bit like an upscale orange crush that’s been left with ice to melt, but that’s not an entirely bad thing. B

Dry Apple Soda – A success. Solid apple on the nose and on the palate. Good carbonation level, which balances the apple, offering just a touch of vanilla on the back end. B+

Dry Ginger Soda – My favorite, a simpler spin on ginger ale, with a modest bite but clear ginger notes, touched with a little citrus character. I’d have no trouble mixing with this or drinking it straight. A-

Dry Cucumber Soda – An oddity, just as it sounds. Mild cuke notes, with a kind of lime kick to it. Relatively refreshing, but just not as enjoyable as some of the others in the series. B-

$15 per 12-pack of 12 oz. cans / drysoda.com

Review: Wines of MacMurray Ranch, 2013 Releases

MacMurray Ranch 2011 R. River Valley Sonoma County Pinot Noir 750ml 88x300 Review: Wines of MacMurray Ranch, 2013 ReleasesWe just covered MacMurray Ranch a few months ago, now three more bottlings are hitting the market. Thoughts follow.

2012 MacMurray Ranch Pinot Gris Russian River Valley – Lots of green beans on the initial nose, but this fades a bit as the wine warms up. It ultimately reveals lemon, some pineapple, and some mango notes, with a brisk acidity to back it up. Touches of cinnamon and vanilla behind that. It’s an easy drinking wine, but the overall body is a bit too forward, and the balance slightly akimbo. B / $20

2011 MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir Russian River Valley – A pleasant and very light Pinot, with pleasant and simple raspberry aromas and flavors at the core. Cherries, fruit punch, just a hint of tobacco. Incredibly easy drinking, almost to the point where it comes across as watery. B+ / $28

2011 MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir Central Coast - Easy to drink, difficult to describe much about why. This is a strawberry-light wine, sweet and easy and full of life, but not a lot of nuance. Some green olive and mild cedar character is evident, but otherwise it’s berry-land all the way. That’s not a bad thing, though, particularly at 20 bones. B+ / $20

macmurrayranch.com

Review: Macchu Pisco (Original)

Macchu Pisco Bottle Shot 86x300 Review: Macchu Pisco (Original)We’re stepping back here. In 2011 we reviewed Macchu Pisco’s “La Diablata” bottling, which is made from a blend of grapes in the “acholado” style. This is the Peruvian company’s original pisco, a single-varietal bottling made from Quebranta grapes.

It’s a solid pisco, mild but traditional with plenty of musky funk on the nose. Breathe deep for leather and tar notes, olive pits, and kerosene. On the palate, the fire is there, but restrained, held back by more notes of tree bark, licorice, forest floor, olives, and a bit of honeyed sweetness. All in all it’s got classic pisco structure, though it could really use a little more zip, a bit more life in it, and more acidity in the finish.

Overall, though, it’s a good introduction to the spirit for the uninitiated.

80 proof.

B / $23 / macchupisco.com

 

Review: Canadian Mist Flavors – Peach, Cinnamon, Maple

canadian mist Cinnamon Mist 105x300 Review: Canadian Mist Flavors   Peach, Cinnamon, MapleCanadian Mist is well known for its very affordable, basic blended whisky, so it makes sense that it would leap into the flavored whisky business along with so many others. CM arrives with a whole new line of ultra-cheap flavored spirits (“Canadian Mist” is actually hard to find on the label), each of which blends various flavored liqueurs with a Canadian Mist base. Here’s how three members of the group (all but Vanilla Mist) shake out. (Spoiler: Far better than I was expecting.)

Each is 70 proof, with caramel color added.

Canadian Mist Peach Mist – Can you out-SoCo Southern Comfort? This mix of peach liqueur and Canadian Mist is a credible knockoff, packing less sweetness and more of a whisky kick than the standard Southern Comfort bottling, and it lacks all that astringency. Surprisingly easygoing, this fruity number offers modest, not overpowering peach on the nose, backed up with vanilla notes. That vanilla is what really hits you on the body, where the peach character takes more of a back seat along with the mild, almost honeyed character of the Canadian Mist. Not much to it, but there doesn’t really need to be. There’s plenty of balance in the spirit as it stands. It doesn’t do a whole lot, but what it does, it does well enough to recommend. B+

Canadian Mist Cinnamon Mist – Cinnamon liqueur, of course, blended with CM. The description on the bottle is a little disarming… “hot cinnamon & sweet cream vanilla that has a smooth finish of warm brown spice.” Warm brown spice? Errr… maybe it’s a Canadian thing. Very mild bite here. As with the peach whisky, this is understated with relatively easy cinnamon character, more than a hint but less than a mouthful. It’s definitely more pleasant than most cinnamon-flavored spirits, which are spiked to within an inch of their life and specifically designed to burn your tonsils off. Lots of vanilla on the back end, though the balance isn’t quite as well-done as the Peach Mist. Still, it’s one of the better cinnamon whiskys on the market. B

Cinnamon Mist Maple Mist – This one has far more of the sweet stuff than the two above. On the nose and on the tongue, all you get is maple syrup coating the mouth. That’d be great if I was having pancakes, but in the after hours it’s just far too much. Punchy and heavy with (authentic) maple syrup, the body is enormous and the finish is overwhelming. That’s not entirely CM’s fault, all maple-flavored spirits (at least the ones I’ve tried) end up this way. But that doesn’t make it right. C-

each $10 / canadianmist.com

Review: Deadhead Rum

deadhead rum 199x300 Review: Deadhead RumNo getting around this crazy bottle: It’s in the form of a shrunken head, complete with (real) twine sealing shut the eyes and mouth. (Don’t worry, in actuality it’s just a plastic shell around a glass bottle.)

Inside the skull you’ll find six-year-old rum sourced from Mexico (near Veracruz).

This is a very, very sweet rum, with tons of brown/burnt sugar and marshmallow evident on the nose. The body keeps bringing on the sweet stuff, caramel, chocolate-covered-bananas, mocha with whipped cream… the list goes on and on. As a straight sipper, it’s all a bit much, even for rum, though you do grow accustomed to the sweetness as you work your way through a glass.

Overall, it’s a fine spirit — probably a better mixer than straight — though not entirely distinguished by anything particularly out of the ordinary. Except for the shrunken head bottle, that is.

80 proof.

B / $30 / deadheadrum.com

Review: Papa’s Pilar Rum

papas pilar rum 300x180 Review: Papas Pilar Rum“Inspired by Ernest Hemingway,” the new Papa’s Pilar Rum brand is a blend of rums from, well, just about everywhere. Casks are sourced from the Caribbean, Central America, and the U.S.A., blended up solera style in Bourbon and Port casks, then finished in Spanish sherry casks. The rum is available in “dark” and “blonde” varieties, which we’ll discuss in detail in a moment.

As for the name: “Papa’s Pilar is meant to rekindle a sense of adventure in us all and replace the Hawaiian shirts and umbrella drinks with which rum has become associated. ‘Papa’ as Ernest Hemingway was known, was possibly the world’s greatest adventurer.  Papa’s Pilar was crafted to be near that same adventure, accompanying rum enthusiasts as they sink their teeth into life.  Named for his muse and one true constant, Pilar is the vessel that allowed America’s literary giant to reach beyond the shoreline, feast on life and remind us to never be a spectator.”

Thoughts on both expressions follow.

Now available in Northern California.

Papa’s Pilar Blonde Rum – A blend of column-distilled rums aged 3 to 7 years old. Blonde is a good descriptor of the color — it’s just vaguely off-white. There’s instant butterscotch on the nose, with cotton candy backing it up. The body features more of the same, plus some coconut and a little bit of funk. The finish brings out those coffee-like sherry notes quite clearly along with a husky, dusky finish. Lots going on here, but I’m not in love with the balance. 84 proof. B / $30

Papa’s Pilar Dark Rum – A blend of pot- and column-distilled rums up to 24 years old. Quite a different animal, with cola and root beer notes that provide a much different experience than the typical dark rum. These soft drink notes come across as well in the body, along with coffee, chocolate, and some amaro character. Cola’s the biggie, though, and it comes through from start to finish, hanging around for ages as it fades away. Again, a really weird, weird rum. Dare I suggest mixing it… with Coke? 86 proof. B / $40

papaspilar.com

Review: Zone 8 Honey Lemon Tea

bottle honey bg 133x300 Review: Zone 8 Honey Lemon TeaZone 8 is an Illinois-based company looking to bring high-end bottled tea to the masses. It launched on Kickstarter this summer, and though it didn’t meet its funding goals, its future seems unclear.

The company is making one expression — Honey Lemon — at present, with seven potential ones to come.

This is a blend of black tea, white clover honey, and organic lemon juice. It’s a product that expresses itself piece by piece rather than all at once. The attack is very sweet, with distinct honey notes. The tea — dense and earthly — follows, then comes the lemon. The citrus has a bit of an orange character to it — almost like Meyer lemon. Sweetness returns, almost as a hint, for the finish. It’s easy to like, though I think it’s a bit over-flavored; I’d like the tea component to shine through a bit more clearly.

135 calories per 12 oz. bottle.

B / not yet available / drinkzone8.com

Review: Wines of Balverne, 2013 Releases

balverne pinot noir 279x300 Review: Wines of Balverne, 2013 ReleasesBalverne was a well-known wine brand in the 1980s, making estate wines on its Russian River Valley property since 1972. The vineyard changed hands in 1992 and winemaking stopped, the grapes instead being sold to other winemakers. Now Balverne is back, beginning again in 2005 under the name Windsor Oaks — and now as its original moniker, Balverne.

How do the new Balverne wines stack up? Here’s a look at the new lineup.

2012 Balverne Rose of Sangiovese Chalk Hill – I never find much love in Sangiovese roses. A little green and brambly, which is a shame considering the otherwise intriguing strawberry notes that are hinted at on the nose. Short finish. B- / $20

2012 Balverne Chardonnay Unoaked Russian River Valley – Light grapefruit on the nose, more apple on the body. Lightly brambly, particularly on the finish, which feels a little gritty. A relatively easy Chardonnay, but not an earth-shaker. B / $25

2012 Balverne Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley – Very tart, lots of very fresh grapefruit character, with a touch of lemon. For lovers of heavily acidic wines, this one does the job, even throwing in a touch of salted caramel when the finish comes ’round. A- / $25

2010 Balverne Pinot Noir Russian River Valley – Modest Pinot Noir, with notes of black tea and raspberry jam. Good overall character, but a little flabby on the body, which could use a bump of extra tartness. B / $35

balverne.com

Review: Below Deck Ginger Rum

Portlanbelow deck ginger 214x300 Review: Below Deck Ginger Rumd’s Eastside Distilling, which makes the awesome Double Barrel Bourbon, recently launched a line of four naturally-flavored rums. We got a look at one of them — intriguingly spiked with ginger.

Lightly gold colored, the rum has a mild ginger nose, with a bit of soapy quality atop it. Notes of green pepper and olive are in the mix if you go hunting, olfactorily speaking, anyway.

The body is initially innocuous. First it’s just a mildly sweet, slightly apple-tinged rum. Not much to report. Then the ginger hits. Hard, actually. That big bite comes on strong after a few seconds, really gripping the back of your throat and settling in for a good 20 seconds. Finally this fades, leaving behind a bit more of that green pepper character, a counterpoint to the otherwise mild sweetness that is present throughout this experience. Then, take another sip and start all over. Wheeee!

Definitely a mixer.

70 proof.

B / $20 / eastsidedistilling.com

Review: Fernet-Vallet and Amargo-Vallet Liqueurs

VALLET liqueurs 139x300 Review: Fernet Vallet and Amargo Vallet LiqueursTurns out they actually make amari in Mexico. These two bitter liqueurs have their origins in 1860s, when Henri Valley left France for Mexico, staying behind to make booze even after the era of French colonialism faded away. The spirits are still made, in Hidalgo, according to the original, 150-year-old recipe.

Thoughts follow.

Fernet-Vallet Aperitivo-Liqueur – Made from aromatic plants, roots and spices including cinnamon, clove, Quassia wood, gentian root, and cardamom. Impossibly dark. Pretty cinnamon/allspice nose. On the palate, extremely bitter — considerably more so than Fernet Branca — and very wood-focused, with dark cloves coming more into the forefront. Over time, the intensity of this amaro grows on you, but those looking for more of a bittersweet experience instead of just a straight-up bitter one might be disappointed. Overall, I was hoping for more complexity than simple, bruising bitterness. 70 proof. B / $25

Amargo-Vallet Bark of Angostura Aperitivo-Liqueur – Even darker, with a purple tint. Made from Angostura bark and macerated cherries, plus spices. The fruit here makes things much more interesting, with a kind of cherry cola character that offsets the wild bitterness driven by the Angostura root. The bitterness builds and builds as the sweetness in the body fades, leaving behind an intense yet enjoyable bitter finish, full of roots, coffee grounds, and the essence of earth. 90 proof. A- / $27

haas-brothers.com

Review: Flora Springs 2012 Sauvignon Blanc and 2010 Trilogy

flora springs trilogy 70x300 Review: Flora Springs 2012 Sauvignon Blanc and 2010 TrilogyOne of the old guard, reliable names of California wine country, Flora Springs has been putting out quality wine since the ’70s. New vintages of two of its signature bottlings are just now hitting the market. We got to try them. Thoughts follow.

2012 Flora Springs Sauvignon Blanc Oakville Napa Valley Soliloquy Vineyard – Extremely sour and heavy in acid. Challenging even for a Sauvignon Blanc lover, with notes of grapefruit, lemon oil, and a healthy slug of pepe du chat. A little pineapple on the finish adds nuance. B / $25

2010 Flora Springs Trilogy Napa Valley – 83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 4% Malbec, and 1% Cabernet Franc — not exactly the “trilogy” of grapes that the name refers to, but who’s counting, eh? A modest wine, with mild chocolate notes, some wood, and a nicely herbal backbone — licorice, some tobacco, some cedar plank character. It’s easily drinkable but missing out on weight in the body. B+ / $75

florasprings.com

Review: Sombra Mezcal

sombra mezcal 175x300 Review: Sombra MezcalSombra is Oaxaca-area mezcal (from the village of San Juan Del Rio, specifically), made from organic espadin agave grown at 8000 feet.

An unaged mezcal, Sombra offers immediate and heavy smoke on the nose, more barbecue than forest fire. There’s a strong undercurrent of sweetness as well — almost a tangy apple, or perhaps applewood smoke, at least.

At 90 proof, the extra alcohol is immediately evident on the body, creating an instant level of fire that goes along with the smoke. There’s ample fruit: Again, apples, but also cherries and some banana, particularly on the finish, which offers very ripe banana, caramel, and popcorn notes. These are some interesting flavors in a mezcal, but it doesn’t all come together perfectly, never quite melding the savory and the sweet in a way that truly great mezcals manage to do.

Still, a quite drinkable little potion.

B / $34 / sombraoaxaca.com

Review: Winemaker Judit Llop’s New Wines from Priorat and Monsant

mas de subira 79x300 Review: Winemaker Judit Llops New Wines from Priorat and MonsantOne of the new guard winemakers of Spain, Judit Llop is in charge of a variety of wines from the Priorat and Monsant region, both in the northeasternmost region of Spain. I didn’t get to meet Llop on her most recent visit here, but she was kind enough to send along her newest wines, which includes two new labels: Mas de Subirà from Priorat and Garbó from Montsant.

Thoughts follow.

2012 Garbó Rosat Montsant – The first Priorat rose I’ve ever had, this is a racy rose with a lot going on. It starts with big strawberry notes, then quickly segues into floral character. A few vegetal notes on the back end mar an otherwise racy little wine. B / $16

2009 Morlanda Crianca Priorat – Fragrant and floral, with modest fruit notes. This is a wine that’s all about balance, a well structured sipper with a complex mess of flavors that work really well together. After the more flowery notes fade, I get light balsamic vinegar notes, fresh cedar, rosemary, all wrapped around a plum and cherry core. Really lovely wine. 60% Garnacha, 30% Cariñena, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. A- / $44

2010 Mas de Subira Priorat – Initially a little off-putting, overwhelming with violet, seaweed, and roasted meat notes. Things settle down a bit with time, but not much. The rough-hewn, charcoal-infused body is no match for some delicate floral notes that come across, almost, on the back end, but which are drowned out by licorice and wood notes. B- / $22

2011 Garbó Negre Montsant – Fresh, plenty of bright cherry fruit on this wine, fresh but not overpowering thanks to plenty of acidity up front. Not a terrible amount of nuance — some floral notes — but difficult not to enjoy. 50% Syrah, 30% Tempranillo, 20% Merlot. B+ / $18

heredadcollection.com

Review: Samuel Adams Little White Rye and Blueberry Hill Lager

samuel adams Little White Rye Hi Res 79x300 Review: Samuel Adams Little White Rye and Blueberry Hill LagerTwo new entries into Sam Adams’ “craft brew” lineup. No introduction needed, really. These beers speak pretty well for themselves.

Samuel Adams Little White Rye – A white witbier. Spicy, with clear citrus and coriander notes. That burly, Asian-inflected character builds more and more until that hefty herbal character — namely the sage used in the brew — hits the forefront. Quite a powerhouse, and far from the semi-sweet refresher you might be expecting from a late summer seasonal. (Hence the name, of course.) 5.3% abv. B

Samuel Adams Blueberry Hill Lager – I thought I would hate this. It’s lager with blueberries, of course. Turns out it is surprisingly drinkable, at least for one bottle. The blueberry is strong on the nose and on the finish, but the middle part is a rich and creamy, unfiltered lager with plenty of heft. Refreshing and fun, especially on a hot day, but one is probably plenty. 5.5% abv. B+

samueladams.com

Review: 2010 Pina Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons

pina napa valley 142x300 Review: 2010 Pina Napa Valley Cabernet SauvignonsWe’ve long been fans of Pina, one of Napa’s undersung wineries. This year, the winery has again provided a solid slate of four single-vineyard Cabernets for our tasting pleasure. While the 2010 crop initially appears uneven (at least at this point), you will find some tasty gems in store for you.

2010 Pina Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley D’Adamo Vineyard – A very mild wine for Pina. Some tobacco on the nose, slightly green on the body. Light body. Clear Cabernet character in the form of strong blackcurrant, but not enough power to back it up. B / $75

2010 Pina Cabernet Sauvignon Yountville Wolff Vineyard – Big wood on this, pencil shavings and coal dust on the nose. Restrained fruit and some greenery follow. Again, a lighter body, though more tart and less jammy than the D’Adamo bottling. B+ / $85

2010 Pina Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain Buckeye Vineyard – A bit sweaty on the nose. As you drink it reveals very tough, almost unripe plums, green pepper, and heavy tobacco on the finish. Never really comes together. B- / $85

2010 Pina Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford Firehouse Vineyard – Easily the big hit in this collection, a huge and plum-filled Cabernet that brings it all home. Wood is modest, the currants of ripe, and the silky tannins mingle with light chocolate notes on the finish to really build to a powerful finale. Total redemption for some wines that otherwise don’t quite get there this vintage. This was a barrel tasting highlight a few years ago… Pina knew it already! A / $85

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