A great value on an old Gran Reserva Rioja from Bordon. Surprisingly fresh for a wine nearly a decade old. Just showing the first hints of oxidation, and then only after substantial time in glass. On the nose, dark cherries, black tea, and some earth. The modest body offers fresh berries, light vinegar notes, and more tea leaf. A great food wine.
B+ / $25 / francoespanolas.com
You don’t have to drop $100,000 on an enormous seven-foot sculpture to get a bottle of Chivas 18: You can buy it, sans artwork, straight up.
Chivas, a bit of a grande dame in the whisky world, is far from the shoddy, workday blend common with lesser blends. Particularly at older ages — including this 18-year-old blend that includes 20 single malts — Chivas can be as regal as its name indicates.
Continue reading “Review: Chivas Regal 18 Years Old Blended Scotch Whisky” »
Old Sugar Distillery in Wisconsin is home to a number of spirits (including this rum), but none is more unusual than Queen Jennie, a whiskey made of 100% Wisconsin sorghum.
Sorghum isn’t made into whiskey the same way corn or rye might be. Rather, the grassy sorghum (most typically used as animal feed) is squeezed much like sugar cane into a syrup. This syrup, when fermented, serves the basis for a “whiskey” much in the way that molasses is turned into rum. (In fact, labeling Queen Jennie a whiskey instead of something else is now a matter of some debate.) It is finished in small Minnesota oak barrels, but no age statement is offered.
Continue reading “Review: Queen Jennie Sorghum Whiskey” »
Rob Theakston recently had the opportunity to be front and center for the opening of Jim Beam’s Global Innovation Center this sprint, which culminated in the launch of Jim Beam’s first Signature Craft Bourbon. Rob previewed Signature Craft 12 Year Old, and now its formal arrival on the market is nigh. Launching for sale in August, Signature Craft will be a regular part of (and in fact the senior member of) the Jim Beam lineup.
Now production bottles are making their way to reviewers, along with the line’s first special edition….
Basically I think that Rob’s thoughts on Jim Beam Signature Craft 12 Years Old are spot on. Classic Bourbon structure, it’s got vanilla to spare and a good slug of wood — but not too much — on the nose. The body is perfectly integrated, featuring chocolate and cinnamon beneath the vanilla/woody core. And there’s real austerity here, a wine-like character that you just don’t encounter in younger whiskeys and which is a product of picking really great barrels that have been mellowing for over a decade. The finish is more sweet than spicy, but it’s long and soothing. 86 proof. I agree with Rob’s rating: A / $40
But wait, there’s more! Beam’s plan is to take Signature Craft and use it as the basis for a series of annually-released special editions. The first will launch in August alongside Signature Craft: Jim Beam Signature Craft Rare Spanish Brandy. This is the Signature Craft 12 Year Old that’s finished not in the traditional way of mellowing in Spanish brandy barrels but actually by pouring some Spanish brandy into the whiskey. That’s unusual, but does it pan out? Yeah, well enough, but it’s a bit of a distraction from the charms of the straight Signature Craft. The brandy adds more sweetness, along with heavy notes of raisins and dates, sending this whiskey’s flavor profile in a whole new direction. It’s still tasty, but more than a little disarming. I’ll keep sipping on it, but the original’s got it handily beat. 86 proof. B+ / $40
Chile is rising as a source of great Cabernet Sauvignon, made all the better by its generally quite affordable pricing. These three Cabs come from the blue chip regions of Chile, and each cuts a very different profile on the palate. Thoughts follow.
2009 Tabali Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva Maipo Valley – Black- and blueberry notes pervade, with a bittersweet but quite pleasant (and food-friendly) finish. Some perfume dances in and out, both on the nose and the palate, leaving a lasting impression on the tongue. Needs some time in glass before gulping it down. B+ / $15
Continue reading “Tasting New Cabernets of Chile, 2013 Releases” »
Seattle-based Captive Spirits makes one product and one product alone: gin. Big Gin, actually.
Crafted in the London Dry style 100 gallons at a time and is imbued with nine botanicals: juniper, coriander, orange peel, grains of paradise, angelica, cassia, cardamon, orris root, and Tasmanian pepper berry. Altogether it’s a fairly traditional botanical bill, with only a couple of twists in store.
Continue reading “Review: Captive Spirits Big Gin” »
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
Continue reading “Review: Wines of Gary Farrell, 2010 Vintages” »
2007 marks the first year that Banfi’s new Horizon Winery got up and running, featuring new a fermenting system that uses oak cores with stainless steel caps to produce wine. The newly released Brunello, the first wine to come out of this winery, is reviewed below, along with a hot new Amarone from Sartori, one of Banfi’s labels. Thoughts follow.
2007 Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino – Brick red in color, this Brunello looks very old (it’s not) and almost oxidized (it shouldn’t be) after pouring. Initially a bit hoary and funky, things settle down with exposure to air. In the end we get lots of wood, a dense and tannic core, and notes of balsamic, licorice, and currants. Not altogether balanced. B- / $55 castellobanfi.com
2009 Sartori Amarone della Valpolicella – A classically structured Amarone, raisiny but full of fruit up front, with notes of tobacco and touched with strawberry jam. Tart and fresh (particularly on the finish), it’s not as heavy-duty as many Amarones, which makes it more easygoing when sipping on its own. B+ / $40 banfivintners.com
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
How about some bubbles? Here are two delightful new Proseccos to try out.
2011 Bellenda Prosecco Superiore Conegliano Valdobbiadene – Slightly musty on the nose, this Prosecco makes up for that with a tart and fruity body that packs in plenty of flavor. Notes of peaches and light strawberry notes mingle with the simpler apple and citrus character. Pleasant, but the finish brings back a touch of that musty character that mars an otherwise vibrant wine. B+ / $16
NV Carpene Malvolti Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene Extra Dry DOCG (pictured) – Fizzier than most Proseccos, but full of fruit character. Big apple notes at the forefront, with a touch of figs and a hint of caramel. Smooth and rich, evening out as the bubbles start to settle down. Quite good. A- / $15
Lately we’ve received a whole bunch of “stocking stuffer” sized gadgets suitable for wine and beer fanatics. Rather than review them individually, we’re rounding them up here in a mega-gizmo post. Thoughts follow.
Hermetus Bottle Opener & Resealer – Sometimes you don’t want to drink that entire half-liter of beer, but if you’ve pried off the crown cap, what do you do next? The Hermetus is several gadgets in one, but the most noteworthy is that it reseals beer bottles. Just slide the lip of the bottle through the aluminum groove as far as you can: The groove pushes it against a rubber pad and seals it tight. Turn it upside down, shake it up, no worries — the beer won’t come out. It works on both U.S. and Euro bottles, and it includes a standard opener as well as a claw-like opener designed to help with stubborn twist-offs, too. Instructions engraved on the reverse remind you of all of this in case you’ve had too much. A / $9 kaufmann-mercantile.com
Continue reading “Wine & Beer Gadget Roundup” »
Rum is a spirit imbued with exoticism. It comes from places in tour guides like Barbados. Panama. Martinique.
Pink Pigeon puts all of that to shame. It is born in Mauritius, which I guarantee you will never find on a map. It’s here: A speck of an island over 1000 miles off the southeast coast of Africa — out there beyond Madagascar.
Continue reading “Review: The Pink Pigeon Original Rum” »
Washington state’s Dry Fly Distilling recently launched a line of specialty whiskeys (and an aged gin) called the Creel Collection. These exotic spirits offer no age statements and are available only in half-size bottles. We sampled two of the five offerings. Thoughts follow.
Dry Fly Distilling Straight Triticale Whiskey – Triticale isn’t a very sexy name that rolls off the tongue, but this rye/wheat hybrid developed in Scotland in the 1800s is as unique a whiskey as you’re likely to find. The nose is young — grainy and rustic, but far from rough. Those grain notes evolve in the glass to release some fruit flavors on the body — cherry notes, some apple — plus a touch of wood. All the while that graininess hangs on, leaving a bit of cereal on the finish and just a touch of spice, sweetening up as you sip on. 88 proof. B+ / $36 (375ml)
Continue reading “Review: Dry Fly Distilling Triticale Whiskey and Port Finish Wheat Whiskey” »
Targeting a clearly younger, more modern, and cost-conscious drinker, Naked Rebel is a new brand that’s offering two wines at launch. One is quite good. Thoughts on both follow.
NV Pink Panda – “Sparkling grape wine with natural flavors.” Say what? There’s really no telling whats in this ultra-fruity concoction — it is reportedly a demi-sec rose of Alexander Valley Pinot — considering how full of strawberry and heavy rose-petal-perfume notes it is. In the quest to come across as playful, those “natural flavors” (a term typically reserved for wines heavily spiked with fruit juice) basically just come across as brutish and juvenile. Not really drinkable beyond a few sips. D / $18
2007 Naked Rebel California Red Wine – Don’t try to sift through the white-on-black-all-caps on the back of the bottle. This blend of Syrah and Oakville Cabernet is fairly delish without the verbiage. Touches of smoke on the nose lead to a plummy, Cab-heavy body that is heavy on the fruit. Now six years old, its tannins have faded enough to make things well integrated and reasonably balanced, though the relatively light body has trouble offering up much in the way of secondary notes. B+ / $20
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
Continue reading “Review: Cheribundi Cherry Juice Mixers” »
Harvest Spirits Farm Distillery, in Valatie, New York, focuses like so many other operations in this region on using local fruits to produce artisinal, farm-to-bottle spirits. The lineup below represents a full farmers’ market of goodies. Thoughts on the bulk of Harvest Spirits’ production follow.
Continue reading “Review: Harvest Spirits Core Vodkas, Liqueurs, and Brandies” »
For those beer drinkers who can’t get enough hops, there’s nothing worse than opening an India Pale Ale and finding out that the bottle you just bought is several months old. Unlike some beer styles that can improve and mature with age, IPAs and other hop-forward beers are notorious for dropping off quickly because the hop qualities are one of the first aspects of a beer to fade. Unfortunately, not every brewery utilizes bottle dating to inform consumers about how old the beer they are buying actually is, which is a blight that most people have been burned by.
Continue reading “Review: Stone Enjoy By 4.20.13” »
Bacon salt rim? Boring. How about a basil rim on your cocktail? Or fennel?
Fresh Origins, a micro-greens and edible flowers creator, is launching Herb and Flower Crystals, a sort of freeze-dried herb-meets-sugar idea that results in colorful, exotic, and wholly unique crystals that can be used as cocktail garnishes. Two sizes of the crunchy crystals are available, a coarse grind that is mainly intended as a flavoring ingredient for culinary recipes, and a finer grain that can stick to the rim of a moistened cocktail glass.
Continue reading “Review: Fresh Origins Herb Crystals and Flower Crystals” »
If tequila is the cuestion is mezcal the antser?
Bad jokes aside, but when faced with a tequila that’s bottled in an upside-down question mark, the wordplay comes fast and furious.
This Highlands tequila is, of course, 100% blue agave and all expressions are bottled at 80 proof.
Tequila Cuestion Blanco – Old school silver, with lots of agave on the nose. Lemon and lime notes follow. Moving to the palate you’ll find touches of lemon on the body, with lots of fresh agave and a variety of citrus notes on the back end. This tequila starts out with a lot of burn but give it some time in the glass to open up and the citrus starts to develop nicely. A nice alternative to some of the ultra-sweet tequilas out there, even if it is on the simple side in the end. A- / $38
Continue reading “Review: Tequila Cuestion” »
It’s the last great frontier for alcohol: Frozen dessert treats.
Booze is tricky in frozen desserts because it lowers the freezing temperature of whatever you add it to. A bottle of vodka in the freezer doesn’t freeze, even at 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Add it to ice cream the wrong way and you get more of a slush than a dense cream.
Continue reading “Alcohol + Ice Cream = Book Reviews” »