Category Archives: Rated B+

Review: BridgePort Brewing Trilogy 2 and Hop Czar Topaz Copper IPA

bridgeport Topaz Czar Bottle 225x300 Review: BridgePort Brewing Trilogy 2 and Hop Czar Topaz Copper IPA“Oregon’s Oldest Craft Brewery” is back with two new installments in its Trilogy and Hop Czar series of beers. (Find reviews of the first edition of each one here.) Trilogy is a series of three beers celebrating BridgePort’s 30 years in business. Hop Czar is a series of single-hop IPAs.

Thoughts on both beers follow.

BridgePort Brewing Trilogy 2 Aussie Salute IPA – An American IPA made with Cenetennial and Chinook hops, which is then dry-hopped with Australian Galaxy and Ella hops. If you like your beer like you like your ex-wives — extremely bitter — you’ll thrill to BridgePort’s 2nd installment of its Trilogy series. What it lacks in fruit it makes up for with notes of cedar wood and fresh mushrooms. This IPA is nearly overpowering thanks to its bitter edginess; it’s a brooding and almost chewy brew that is at first daunting but which slides toward enjoyability as you finish the bottle. I’m a fan, I think. 5.8% abv. A-

BridgePort Brewing Hop Czar Topaz Copper IPA – IPA made with Topaz hops exclusively. This is a “copper IPA,”  offering a muddier experience than you might expect, but laced with notes of sherry, mulled wine, and darker fruits. The finish meanders toward the earth, with touches of muddy grass and cedar wood. Plenty bitter, but it’s easily manageable even by IPA standards. Lots of unusual character here for an IPA, but that does make it an intriguing, quaffable brew. 6.5% abv. B+

about $8 per six-pack / bridgeportbrew.com

Review: 2013 Hahn Winery Pinot Gris and 2012 Hahn Chardonnay

hahn pinot gris 13 bottle 98x300 Review: 2013 Hahn Winery Pinot Gris and 2012 Hahn ChardonnayHahn’s Pinot Noir has a good reputation, but it also produces some very affordable whites, both sourced from the Monterey area. Thoughts follow.

2013 Hahn Winery Pinot Gris Monterey – Quite tropical on the nose, but the body is restrained, coming off with buttery notes up front and reserving its mango-pineapple character for the finish. Hints of bacon fat and pine needles on the nose. Simple, but on the mark. B+ / $14

2012 Hahn Winery Chardonnay Monterey – Buttery and unctuous, a rather typical Californiafied version of this grape. Restrained pear and gentle lemon notes round out the palate, but otherwise it is a simple wine with a monstrous body and a somewhat short, slightly herbal finish. B / $14

hahnestates.com

Review: Whiskies of Lost Distillery – Auchnagie, Stratheden, and Gerston

lost distillery gerston 525x721 Review: Whiskies of Lost Distillery   Auchnagie, Stratheden, and Gerston

This is one of the niftiest ideas to come out of the whisky world in years. As the Lost Distillery Company reminds us, some 100 Scottish distilleries were shut down or destroyed in the last century, which means most of us will never know what their spirits tasted like. Until now, as they say.

What Lost Distillery does is concoct recreations of these “silent stills,” some of which have been nothing but ash for 100 years. By doing a lot of research about the stills used, the type of barley, the water, the wood, and more, the company sources malts and mixes up a spirit which — in their mind — is a faithful recreation of the original. (All are vattings of various single malt whiskies, technically “blended malts.”)

No, they don’t have stashes of whisky made in the 1800s to compare their version to (you can check out the Shackleton bottlings if you’re interested in a taste-alike approach to recreating old whisky), but are rather using history as a guide.

Lost Distillery launched with three recreations, and the company has copious historical information about all three of the whiskies on its well-researched website. What I can offer, however, is notes on how the spirits they’ve created taste.

Note: All three of these bottlings are available in “Deluxe” and “Vintage” editions, the Vintage versions being limited edition, one-off bottlings. We’re only looking at the Deluxe versions today — which, to make things even more confusing for you, don’t say “Deluxe” anywhere on the bottle.

Lost Distillery Auchnagie – Auchnagie was around from 1812-1911 in the southern Highlands. Here we have a whisky with a fairly typical Highlands construction: Lots of heather and grain, ample citrus, and a healthy backing of dense wood and smoky notes on the nose. The body plays up the orange and lemon notes, almost hinting at grapefruit on the finish. Sweet to start, the cereal character becomes stronger as the whisky develops on the palate, leading to a finish that is a bit on the hot side but which offers a bold afterimage rather than a gentle fade-away. Reviewed: Batch i. 92 proof. A-

Lost Distillery Stratheden – Stratheden existed from 1829-1926 in the Lowlands. This recreation offers a gentle experience, with nicely mellowed cereal notes, light chocolate and caramel, and a light squirt of orange oil. A mild peatiness emerges with time, lending a smoldering note to the spirit that is reminiscent of  toasted bread. It’s a straightforward and somewhat simple dram, but not nearly as rustic as I’d expected. Warming but a bit short, the finish vanishes just in time for you to reach for another sip. Reviewed: Batch ii. 92 proof. B+

Lost Distillery Gerston - Gerston existed in two incarnations, from 1796-1882 and 1886-1914, based in the far north of the Scottish mainland (part of the Highlands). Elusive nose, with more of a raw alcohol character than the Stratheden, but with much of its cereal character to offer. This is a bolder, pushier, and more forward whisky, punctuated with notes of bitter orange, roasted grains, licorice, and diesel fire. As the finish fades, watch for sea salt and seaweed notes to develop. This is a less refined and less purely enjoyable spirit on its own merits, but my hunch is its a more authentic recreation of the spirits of the era. Reviewed: Batch 1.1X. 92 proof. B

each $65 / lost-distillery.com

Review: Kilchoman Loch Gorm Second Release and 100% Islay Fourth Release

Islay-based Kilchoman may be one of the youngest distilleries in Scotland, but somehow it cranks out more different spirits than just about everyone else in the business. (Mainly because it’s presenting itself as a bit of a “work in progress,” so Kilchoman’s releases tend to be annual updates.)

Today we consider two of the main Kilchoman expressions, Loch Gorm and 100% Islay, in their 2014 editions.

Loch Gorm 2014 BC 249x300 Review: Kilchoman Loch Gorm Second Release and 100% Islay Fourth ReleaseKilchoman Loch Gorm Second Release – Distilled in 2008-09, bottled in March 2014. Fully matured in oloroso sherry butts (and five years old), this is the only all-sherry-matured release from Kilchoman. On the whole it’s a much more compelling whisky than the Loch Gorm First Release, which had a finishing round in a different type of sherry cask and which couldn’t find a balance between the peat and the sweet. With this second release, things have settled down nicely, with the overall impact being one of smoked, grilled citrus fruit. The nose is well-peated without being overpowering, while the body is packed with notes of tangerine and pears, singed with smoke. Miraculously it’s all exquisitely balanced, so harmonious that it’s hard to believe this is just another iteration of last year’s Loch Gorm, which boasted none of these qualities. I take back what I said about sherry being better as a finish for Kilchoman. Can’t wait for 2015′s expression. 92 proof. 17,100 bottles produced. A / $95

Kilchoman 100 Islay 4th Edition 250x300 Review: Kilchoman Loch Gorm Second Release and 100% Islay Fourth ReleaseKilchoman 100% Islay Fourth Release – Distilled in 2009-10, bottled in May 2014. It’s round #4 for this all-Islay release (where everything from growing the barley to bottling is done on the distillery property). Lightly peated, this release is vatted from 32 five-year-old barrels and 8 four-year-old barrels, all of them first-fill Bourbon barrels. The combination of five-year and four-year whiskies is about on par with last year’s Third Release. Up front this whisky offers lots of smoke — creosote and coal fires and a bit of burnt paper. The fruit doesn’t arise until you’re will into your third sip, where some banana and pear notes start to emerge on the finish. Over time in the glass, it develops the character of orange marmalade, tinged through and through with those wisps of smoke. Mild fruitiness aside, it’s a slow burner. Not a palate-buster, but redolent with the character of a just-extinguished birthday candle. The lightly fruity finish adds complexity, but it never brings the whole package together in quite the way the prior installments of the 100% Islay expression have managed to do. 100 proof. B+ / $110

kilchomandistillery.com

Review: Innis & Gunn Original, Rum Aged, and Toasted Oak IPA

Rum Aged US 330ml lo 86x300 Review: Innis & Gunn Original, Rum Aged, and Toasted Oak IPAFounded in Scotland in 2002, Innis & Gunn has built a reputation around its Scottish Ale and a host of other beer expressions, all of which are aged in oak barrels. (It’s now the most popular British beer in Canada.)

As the story goes, the company’s barrel-aged beers came about almost as an accident, when the beers were aged simply to flavor casks that would then be used by William Grant to make an ale cask-aged whiskey. Turns out the beer itself tasted pretty good, so they decided to sell it too rather than dump it out.

Innis & Gunn recently added a third beer to its core range of U.S. products, all of which we consider today.

Innis & Gunn Original – Ex-bourbon barrel aged for 77 days. This light amber Scottish Ale starts off be showing its chewy maltiness before quickly leaping into a rabbit hole full of fruit. Pears, applesauce, and vanilla ice cream all come together as the long, malty finish develops. An unusual and lively beer that lacks the heaviness that so many barrel-aged beers have. 6.6% abv. B

Innis & Gunn Rum Aged – Aged with oak rum barrel chips for 57 days. A much darker, redder beer, technically a Wee Heavy, it nonetheless offers a similar character on the whole. Malty and sweet, with tons of fruit — including all of the characteristics of the Original plus some cherry and strawberry character, almost as an aftertaste. 6.8% abv. B

Innis & Gun Toasted Oak India Pale Ale – This newest addition to the lineup is a barrel-aged IPA, which spends 41 days in bourbon casks. Despite being an IPA, it’s got the lowest alcohol level of the bunch. Not as hoppy as you’d expect, it hangs on to that trademark fruitiness with all its life, eventually letting in a little something extra by way of a modest slug of hops. That gives this beer a little more balance and a slight herbal edge that works well with all the fruit. 5.6% abv. B+

$NA per 11.2 oz bottle / innisandgunn.com

Review: Wines of Pina Napa Valley, 2014 Releases

pina napa valley 142x300 Review: Wines of Pina Napa Valley, 2014 ReleasesEvery year we anticipate a shipment of wines from Pina Napa Valley for review, and every year that shipment seems to get larger. For 2014 the winery has offered a whopping six wines for review — five from different regions of Napa — upon which we’re happily ready to offer our commentary.

2012 Pina Napa Valley Chardonnay Low Vineyard Oak Knoll District – My first encounter with Pina’s Chardonnay. In fact, I didn’t even know they made a Chardonnay. This is a rather textbook Chardonnay, imbued with a big, meaty character, dense fig and pear notes, vanilla, and a touch of salted caramel. The body is missing the certain creaminess that you need with bold Chardonnays like this, and it fares better as it warms up a bit. B- / $34

2011 Pina Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon D’Adamo Vineyard Napa Valley – Bold, classic Napa Cab. The nose is full of currants, dark chocolate, and violets. On the body, sweeter than expected, with more of a blackberry jam character touched with black tea, gooseberries, and a bit of coffee bean, which adds just a hint of bitterness on the back end. A- / $80

2011 Pina Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Wolff Vineyard Yountville – A milder, fatter-bodied Cab, this wine offers a juicy nose of blackberry jam, currants, and light black pepper notes. The body is ripe and lush — it’s as close to a summer-worthy Cabernet as you can get without putting an animal on the label — with a long, almost fruit-juice finish. One of Pina’s simpler wines, but highly enjoyable on its own merits. A- / $85

2011 Pina Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Ames Vineyard Oakville – A simpler expression of Pina. Relatively tannic and on the green side, this wine dials down the jam in favor of notes from the earthier side of things, including mushroom, celery, cracked pepper, and saddle leather. Very dry and restrained, it offers only minimal fruit but packs in ample elegance. Drink now. B+ / $90

2011 Pina Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Buckeye Vineyard Howell Mountain – Racy and dense, this is a classic mountain Cab, loaded with intense blackberry, currant, and plum notes, alongside touches of blueberry, black tea, licorice, and leather. Lots going on, but this is a wine firing on all cylinders, dark as could be but masking a brooding and authentic soul. A / $90

2011 Pina Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Firehouse Vineyard Rutherford – The greenest and most vegetal of this vintage, the Firehouse Vineyard bottling comes off as almost astringent at first, offering plenty of tannin and oak notes but only a dusting of fruit. There’s just not much life in this wine, and without food it comes off as already past its prime. B- / $90

pinanapavalley.com

Review: 2011 Brancaia TRE Rosso Toscana IGT

Brancaia 2011 Toscana IGT Tre Red Blend 750ml 80x300 Review: 2011 Brancaia TRE Rosso Toscana IGTHere’s a very simple wine, one of the most gentle Italian reds I’ve ever encountered. This blend of Sangiovese (80%), Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon is named for both the three varietals and the three vineyards it is sourced from.

The nose nods at both cherries and milk chocolate, but the body is pure fruit. Almost maraschino cherry, even strawberry in character, the fruit is balanced with notes of brewed tea and touches of vanilla. Some wood overtones come along on the finish… but it’s never able to muscle the fruit out of the picture.

B+ / $23 / brancaia.com

Review: Talisker 27 Years Old Limited Edition 2013

Talisker1985 bottlebox High Res 525x742 Review: Talisker 27 Years Old Limited Edition 2013

The final whisky in the 2013 Diageo Special Releases series comes from venerable Talisker on the Isle of Skye. It’s a 1985-distilled spirit aged exclusively in American refill casks, so this whisky’s considerable age should be the main focus here rather than any finishing it encounters.

Sure enough: This is classic Talisker, a peaty, green-tinted malt loaded with aromas of wood smoke and seaweed, with just hints of citrus fruit. The body’s got ample peat, but it’s not overwhelming, with just a bit of vegetable character to it — green bean and green tomatoes, perhaps. Lots of salt splashes you on the finish, showing off this maritime spirit’s true colors.

Final analysis: Very enjoyable, but it never ventures far from its roots.

112.2 proof. 3,000 bottles produced.

B+ / $815 / malts.com

Review: The 50 by 50 Pinot Noir and Rose

The 50 by 50 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 175x300 Review: The 50 by 50 Pinot Noir and RoseAre we not men? We are Pinot!

(Sorry.)

Devo founding member Gerald Casale is the man behind the new wine label The 50 by 50, which is named for a never-built home that doesn’t exist on a property that’s wedged between the Atlas Peak AVA and Wild Horse AVA in Napa County. (How very Devo, no?)

The 23-acre estate is planted with Bordeaux varietals, but those don’t seem to be ready to turn into wine yet, so for now Casale is offering two wines from the Sonoma Coast, both from Pinot Noir grapes. (Watch for the Bordeaux style estate wines in 2019 or so.) Meanwhile, thoughts on the current releases follow.

2013 The 50 by 50 Rose of Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast – Big strawberry and raspberry notes on this rose, right up front and lasting well into the finish. This high fruit, high acid wine is an iconic summer sipper, offering hints of tropical fruits and melon as the wine fades from the tongue. B+ / $20

2012 The 50 by 50 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast – A simple but totally enjoyable expression of Pinot Noir, offering tart cherry notes up front, tempered with touches of coffee, tree bark, dark chocolate, and a bit of cloves. Drink this one slightly chilled; at room temperature it comes across as a bit thin. My wine snob wife was a much bigger fan. B+ / $30

thefiftybyfifty.com

Review: Sierra Nevada Beer Camp West Coast Double IPA (Unreleased)

sierra nevada beer camp 96x300 Review: Sierra Nevada Beer Camp West Coast Double IPA (Unreleased)Who likes beer fests? Sierra Nevada’s got a huge one coming up this summer, a seven-city traveling beer festival that’s called Beer Camp Across America and which will feature more than 700 total breweries in total.

As an “invitation” to the festival, we received this 24 oz. monster bottle of Sierra’s Beer Camp West Coast Double IPA. You can’t buy it in stores, but presumably you’ll be able to try it at the event if you sojourn to an installment near you. (See schedule below.)

Beer Camp is a Double IPA, thick and syrupy and overall a very “big” beer. However, the hops in this brew are dialed back to let the malt shine through. While it’s got plenty of bitterness, particularly on the finish, it’s the almost marmalade-like sweetness up front that makes this brew so curious — and so memorable. Shipped out in 24 oz. bottles, I didn’t make it through half before turning to something a little less palate-busting. But for that first round with Brew Camp, I was taken to some interesting places… a campfire, a carnival, a backyard BBQ. When you try it, maybe you’ll go to those locales too… before moving on to the next table for a taste of something else.

8.5% abv.

Here’s the schedule. Have fun!

• Sat, July 19: Northwest Edition at Sierra Nevada Hop Field in Chico, CA, 12-5 p.m.
• Sun, July 20: Southwest Edition at Embarcadero North in San Diego, CA, 1-6 p.m.
• Fri, July 25: Rocky Mountain Edition at Civic Center Park in Denver, CO, 5-10 p.m.
• Sun, July 27: Midwest Edition at Navy Pier in Chicago, IL, 12-5 p.m.
• Fri, August 1: New England Edition at Thompson’s Point in Portland, ME, 5-10 p.m.
• Sat, August 2: Mid-Atlantic Edition at Penn Treaty Park in Philadelphia, PA, 12-5 p.m.
• Sun, August 3: Southeast Edition in Mills River, NC, 1-6 p.m.

B+ / $NA / sierranevada.com

Review: Port Ellen 34 Years Old Limited Edition 2013

Port Ellen 34yo 2013 High Res 525x742 Review: Port Ellen 34 Years Old Limited Edition 2013

Whisky #7/9 from the Diageo 2013 Special Release series comes from Port Ellen, Islay’s cult distillery which was shuttered way back in 1983. This spirit was produced in 1978, just five years before the stills were mothballed. Aged in American and European oak, it’s one of the oldest whiskies ever to be bottled from this distillery.

Port Ellen is always heavily peated, and this expression is no exception. The nose is rich with barbecue smoke, salty, with citrus overtones. The body’s a big burner, rich with barbecue sauce, both sweet and peppery. Water is of considerable benefit here, but that serves mainly to tame the beastly body rather than coaxing out additional character. In Port Ellen 34 the smoke never lets up, but it does find a few companions in notes of orange pulp, rosemary, and honeycomb. Surprisingly restrained, this is a decidedly simple example of Port Ellen — plenty tasty, but not a powerhouse of complexity.

110 proof. 2,958 bottles produced.

B+ / $2,570 / malts.com

4 Cremant d’Alsace Wines Reviewed, 2014 Releases

gustave lorentz cremant 4 Cremant dAlsace Wines Reviewed, 2014 ReleasesThis sparkling wine made in the mountains between France and Germany is always a great option when you want high-quality sparkling wine at a reasonable cost. Cremant d’Alsace is made from a variety of grapes – riesling, pinot blanc, pinot noir, pinot gris, auxerrois blanc, and chardonnay are allowed — but pinot blanc and noir are the most common. Stylistically floral and fruity, it is typically dry and not as heavily carbonated as Champagne.

Recently we received four nonvintage Cremants (vintage Cremant is a rarity) from a range of producers in Alsace for review. Thoughts on each follow.

NV Gustave Lorentz Cremant d’Alsace Rose – 100% pinot noir. Lots of fruit, almost sour at times with notes of table grapes, sour apple, and juicy plums. Modest carbonation is offset with secondary notes of fresh herbs — lavender and rosemary — and the scent of violets. Really fun. A- / $25

NV Baron de Hoen Cremant d’Alsace Brut – 100% pinot blanc. The nose of fresh apples is wonderfully inviting, and the modest level of fizziness makes it quite approachable, even as a sipper with food. Some very light, white-flower floral notes emerge as the wine warms a bit, adding complexity. A- / $16

NV Willm Cremant d’Alsace Brut Blanc de Blancs - 100% pinot blanc. Not a typo in the name there, by the way. A perfectly acceptable Cremant from a less well-known producer, this is less fruity on the nose; it’s more floral, but harder to peg down. The body offers steely minerals, some more white flowers, and a lighter dusting of fruit in the form of grapefruit, pears, and lychee. Lots of acid on the finish. B+ / $10

NV Lucien Albrecht Cremant d’Alsace Brut Rose – 100% pinot noir. A rose version of Albrecht’s popular blanc de blancs. Less refined than other selections on this list, it’s got more of a sour character to it, with a mild earthiness up front. This fades into gentle red plum notes, some raspberry, and figs. Fizzier than the others on this list, also. Just so-so balance with some herbal notes that make the finish a bit strange. B / $15

Review: Stone Smoked Porter with Chipotle Peppers

stone chipotle 224x300 Review: Stone Smoked Porter with Chipotle PeppersNo guessing about this one. The recipe’s right there in the name.

With this limited edition (summertime) beer, Stone brews up its year-round, peat-smoked porter, made with Magnum and Mt. Hood hops, then adds Mexican chipotle peppers to the bill.

The results are impressive. The nose is big and malty, with notes of leather and hints of smokiness and dark chocolate. The body takes that ball and runs with it, offering up-front notes of whiskey barrel, old wood, and malt, then brings forward a gentle heat. Think jalapeno, but fleeting, just a hit of fire, then it fades away just as fast as it arrived. The beer finishes with a modest bitterness, its hops finally showing their face.

While it’s more of a “just for fun” one-off rather than something you’d drink every day, the spiciness and smoke work very well in a beer like this. Amazing with BBQ.

5.9% abv. Recommended drinking time: within 120 days of bottling.

B+ / $8 per 22 oz. bottle / stonebrewing.com

Review: Convalmore 36 Years Old Limited Edition 2013

Conva 36 bb 2013 High Res 525x736 Review: Convalmore 36 Years Old Limited Edition 2013

Diageo 2013 Special Release #3 of 9 is a very rare offering from Convalmore, a Speyside distillery closed in 1985. Distilled in 1977, this is only the third release to come from Convalmore in the Special Release series.

The beautiful amber color is instantly mouth-wetting, but the nose is elusive. After the alcohol vapors fade, you get notes of sherry, well-aged wood, and old furniture leather. There are hints of menthol and a touch of iodine, too.

The body is hefty on those wood characteristics. The fruit has faded considerably here, leaving behind a rather dusty spirit that offers notes of coconut husk, cedar closet, and well-oxidized sherry. The finish returns us to the lumberyard, with just a few touches of that previously encountered iodine character. Sadly, it all ends too soon.

While Convalmore 36 is far from a whisky that’s faded away completely, it is one that is on its way. My advice to Diageo is to get whatever’s left and lingering around out of barrels and into bottles, posthaste.

116 proof. 2,980 bottles produced.

B+ / $1,020 / malts.com

Review: 2012 Castello Banfi Rosso di Montalcino and Belnero

 Review: 2012 Castello Banfi Rosso di Montalcino and BelneroDrinking Tuscan wine doesn’t have to mean choosing between ultra-luxe bottlings and rank rotgut. These two 2012 vintage wines from Castello Banfi show that there’s a middle ground, with premium presentations of classic wines that manage to come in at under 30 bucks a bottle. Thoughts follow.

2012 Castello Banfi Rosso di Montalcino – A simple sangiovese, full of slightly dried cherry notes, tobacco leaf, cedar closet, and a touch of mushroom on the back end. Modest body, with a short, lightly acidic finish. A simple wine, it’s best with a hearty meal. B / $25

2012 Castello Banfi Belnero IGT - A blend of predominantly Sangiovese and a smattering of (unnamed) French varietals, aged one year in oak barriques. The nose is studded with tobacco leaf, cloves, and forest floor, the body featuring restrained fruit notes and a healthy slug of wood. A more brooding, dense with smokiness and touches of coffee. B+ / $28

castellobanfi.com

Tasting the White Wines of Lodi, California

Lodi is located up and east from Napa/Sonoma. The source of some of California’s less expensive wines, it’s nonetheless and “up and coming” region that has more of a pedigree than, say, California’s industrial Central Valley. Known for its heavy Zinfandel production, Lodi is also home to a prodigious amount of white wine. In a recent live tasting event, which was led by Camron King, Executive Director of the Lodi Winegrape Commission, and Susan Tipton of Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards, we focused exclusively on those whites, sampling five wines made from different varietals, all from Lodi grapes.

Thoughts on all five wines tasted follow.

2013 Borra Vineyards Artist Series Nuvola Gewürztraminer - A very fruity example of Gewurztraminer, with lemon and peaches up front, revealing a light honey sweetness as it starts to evolve in the glass. The finish is crisp and clean, with more fruit than the fragrant perfume notes that are typical of Gewurz. A fave here. B+ / $19

2013 Bokisch Vineyards Garnacha Blanca Vista Luna Vineyard – A bit on the weedy side, this white offers tropical notes up front before fading into a strongly grassy character, along with a somewhat meaty edge on the finish. Strange balance, not my favorite. C+ / $18

2013 Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards Viognier – Made by Lodi’s only all-white-wine winery. This Viognier is restrained in a way that many Viogniers are not, with more mild apricot and peach notes and an earthiness backing them up. Again, that big, chewy body takes over and fades into some funkier, meatier notes on the finish. Better balance on the whole, though, and something to try even if you don’t consider yourself a Viognier fan. B- / $23

2013 Heritage Oak Winery Sauvignon Blanc – Very perfumy on the nose, with notes of lemongrass and pepe du chat… and also an edge of tree bark atypical of Sauvignon Blanc. Clean on the body, with lots of fresh lemon character and a grassy, herbal finish. B+ / $18

2012 Uvaggio Moscato Secco – Not overwhelmingly sweet as you might have feared, this Moscato is plenty fragrant and perfumed, but dials back that unctuous juicy orange character almost to an afterthought. Dry and clean, this is the rare moscato that you might consider drinking with your main course rather than dessert. B / $14

lodiwine.com

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Review: Kavalan Whisky Lineup 2014

kavalan 300x300 Review: Kavalan Whisky Lineup 2014Kavalan is the best-known Taiwanese whisky distiller (at least in the U.S.), rapidly increasing its footprint from a single bottling just a few years ago (which we reviewed) to a total of nine on the market now. At least five of these whiskies, all single malts, are available in the U.S., and today we take a fresh look at this five-bottle lineup, which includes two standard-proof bottlings and three from the cask-strength Solist line.

Kavalan doesn’t bottle its spirits with age statements, but it does rely on some exotic barrel treatments to create some truly unique spirits.

Thoughts on the five-whisky lineup follow.

Kavalan Single Malt Whisky – I get strong apple notes up front this time around, followed by healthy citrus character. Otherwise my notes mimic those I had in 2011. The palate drips with honey, balanced with modest toast-and-cereal notes, vanilla, and and touches of nougat. The finish brings a pleasant bit of fruit to the forefront before fading away. Straightforward, a bit rustic, and quite simple, it drinks like a young single malt Scotch, modest yet full of life. 80 proof. B+ / $73  (prior rating: A-)

Kavalan Single Malt Whisky Concertmaster Port Cask Finish – Look for the unmistakeable jade-green bottle. Finished in a variety of Port casks, this whisky has a bolder, fruitier nose that hints at raisins and Christmas spice. The body brings it all home, with lush fruit notes — plum and plump raisins, hints of fresh cherries, all lightly touched with cinnamon and morsels of cereal. The finish keeps it going for the long haul — lasting with ample spice notes. It’s drinking well in the summer but would be perfect for Christmastime. 80 proof. A- / $89

Kavalan Single Malt Whisky Solist Ex-Bourbon Cask - A rather muted nose, hard to parse out from the aroma, though eventually it reveals notes of apple and red berries, with a slight iodine kick to it. The body is something else entirely, punchy with raw alcohol that masks a citrus kick alongside notes of vanilla and peaches — maybe even a touch of coconut. The finish is on the short side — mostly fire, a touch of sawdust, and a vanilla-soaked marshmallow that fades away just a bit too fast. Try water. 114 proof. B+ / $170

Kavalan Single Malt Whisky Solist Sherry Cask – Matured fully in oloroso sherry casks; a dark tea-brown in color. What an unusual spirit… the nose offers notes of dried figs and prunes, with a well-aged sherry character to it. The body is intense, a bruising collection of Madeira notes, rum-soaked raisins, burnt orange peel, and cocoa bean. Slightly bittersweet on the finish in the way that old sherry can be, it’s a digestif style whisky with plenty of depth and originality. 114 proof. A- / $180

Kavalan Single Malt Whisky Solist Vinho Barrique – Matured fully in ex-American red wine barrels that have been re-charred. Deep amber, about the same as the prior whisky, this spirit offers a dense and deep nose, offering exotic notes of ginger, chocolate cake, and salted caramel. The body brings out those chocolate notes, touched with a surprising licorice note and some extra spices — lemon pepper, cloves, and a healthy slug of wood. Wild and, again, exotic stuff. 114 proof. A- / $157

kavalanwhisky.com

Review: Bittermilk Mixers No. 1, 2, and 3

bittermilk no 3 525x525 Review: Bittermilk Mixers No. 1, 2, and 3

OK, yes, there are dozens of pre-packaged cocktail mixers on the market. And yes, most of them claim to be ultra-premium-better-than-you-can-make-yourself products. And — yes — most of them are passable at best, swill at worst.

Well, finally, here’s one that isn’t. Bittermilk is a Charleston, South Carolina operation that is making truly high-end mixers that even I would not hesitate to serve to my guests.

The secret is right there on the label and in the bottle: Very high-quality, mostly organic ingredients that take original spins on some classic recipes — the Old Fashioned, the Tom Collins, and the Whiskey Sour.

Bittermilk mixers have no alcohol, so bring your high-end hooch when you’re mixing something up. They may look small, but remember that each pint-sized bottle is good for about a dozen cocktails, depending on how tall you make ‘em. At a little over a dollar per cocktail, that’s not a bad deal. Hell, you’ll spend more on a couple of limes these days!

Thoughts on each of the three current Bittermilk offerings follow.

Bittermilk No. 1 Bourbon Barrel Aged Old Fashioned – Made with burnt cane sugar, orange peel, gentian root, and cinchona bark, then aged in Willett Bourbon barrels. I made versions with Rittenhouse 100 Proof Rye and with Four Roses Yellow Label Bourbon. This one comes in a significantly smaller vial than the others, since you mix it 1:4 with your spirit, vs. 1:1 with the others. Sweet up front, with ample sugar in the mix (I’d err toward 1:5 or 1:6 proportions on this one), the burnt-ness of the sugar becomes apparent only as the finish starts to build. It’s here that you start to pick up the bitter edge of the mixer, too — grated roots and bark and a quinine character — though the citrus character, essential to an Old Fashioned, never quite arrives in full. Ultimately, it’s the bitterness that sticks with you the longest, lasting long after the sweetness has faded. A completely capable Old Fashioned — though the barrel aging isn’t immediately evident, and it’s more fun to drink an Old Fashioned with actual fruit muddled into it. Much better with rye (as specified on the label). A- / $15 (8.5 oz.)

Bittermilk No. 2 Tom Collins with Elderflowers & Hops – Made with lemon juice, sugar, elderflower & elderberry, and Centennial hops. I made versions with Ketel One Vodka and Greenhook Ginsmiths Gin (the bottle specifies either spirit). The weirdest of the bunch. With vodka, the hops add a level of funkiness here, and lots of it. Up front there’s a solid sweet-and-sour character, but that initially light bitter hops element brings a bit of discord to the finish, growing as it develops on the palate. It finishes almost like a shandy. With gin, this is a much better combination, those aromatics firing just about perfectly with the citrus and the elderflower, which comes through more clearly alongside the brightness of the gin. Here the hops play a very muted role, adding just a hint of bitterness on the back end rather than the lingering power you get with vodka. On the whole it’s a success, but it’s my least favorite of the bunch. Use gin, and a bit more than is called for. B+ / $15 (17 oz.)

Bittermilk No. 3 Smoked Honey Whiskey Sour – Made with lemon juice, Bourbon barrel-smoked honey, sugar, and orange peel. I made this one with Four Roses Yellow Label Bourbon. Shockingly delicious. It doesn’t reveal much on the nose, but the body is stuffed full of a melange of sweet and savory notes — bracing lemon, silky honey, and just a touch of smokiness on the back end. If you’re not a smoke fan, be not afraid. The effect here is subtle and well integrated into what reveals itself to be a lovely concoction. The lemon hangs along til the finish, where everything comes together into a fully realized whole. Sure, the whiskey sour is hardly the world’s most elevated cocktail, but in Bittermilk’s hands it’s one you’d have no problem gulping right down… maybe two. A / $15 (17 oz.)

bittermilk.com

Review: Wines of CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs, 2014 Releases

Crossbarn By Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 2011 Bottle 900x900 300x300 Review: Wines of CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs, 2014 ReleasesOnce called “the Steve Jobs of wine,” Paul Hobbs is a NorCal bigshot that makes wines under his own label as well as importing stuff he really likes. CrossBarn is his new, lower-cost label.

We sampled three wines (two Pinots, one Chardonnay) under the CrossBarn label. Thoughts follow.

2013 CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs Chardonnay Sonoma Coast – Virtually unoaked (80% fermented in tank, 20% in neutral French oak), this wine presents a citrusy but quite herbal nose, with a body offering spiced apples and Meyer lemon, plus some apricot on the finish. Easy to love. A- / $18

2012 CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir Sonoma County – A slightly thin, somewhat meaty example of the varietal. The body’s light blueberry fruit is indistinct, muddied by the savoriness that makes it feel a bit like old fruit juice. B- / $35

2012 CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir Anderson Valley – A much more refined Pinot. It starts with some Port-like notes on the nose, and plenty of macerated cherries. The body isn’t exactly dense with fruit, but it has lots of life and only a hint of vanilla and some woody bramble character by way of terroir. A solid, easy-to-love wine. B+ / $35

crossbarnwinery.com

Review: 2013 Charles & Charles Rose Columbia Valley

charles and charles rose 89x300 Review: 2013 Charles & Charles Rose Columbia ValleyThis Washington state rose, part of the Trinchero empire, is made from a blend of 86% syrah, 6% cinsault, 4% grenache, 2% counoise, and 2% mourvedre. Restrained, this wine has some herbal notes on the nose — rosemary, perhaps — with the fruit creeping out a bit slowly on the palate. Strawberries, for sure, and fresh cherries are readily available on this simple sipper. A smattering of earthier notes — more tree bark than mushroom — back things up.

B+ / $12 / bielerandsmith.com