Category Archives: Rated B+

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

 

Review: Wigle Rye Whiskey Deep Cut and Barrel-Rested Ginever

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based Wigle (aka Pittsburgh Distilling Company) is an up-and-coming craft distiller that makes loads of products including, in a page taken from the Tuthilltown/Hudson Distillery playbook, a wide range of different whiskeys — seven of them at current count.

Today we look at two of the company’s products, a rye and an aged “ginever,” both curiosities that you’ll only find from a true craft operation.

Thoughts follow.

Organic Rye Deep Cut 375 5 300x300 Review: Wigle Rye Whiskey Deep Cut and Barrel Rested GineverWigle Organic Rye Whiskey Deep Cut – Called “Deep Cut,” per the company, because of the “bold cuts taken on this Whiskey to create our most assertively Rye-forward, spiciest Whiskey.” I presume that means they leave more heads and tails in the still with this than the do with other products. Whatever the case, the description is apt. A small-batch product, it’s made from local, organic grains. Aging time varies from bottle to bottle, but is set at about a year in 10- to 15-gallon casks.

Deep orange in color, it looks like an intense Bourbon. At full cask strength — nearly 60% abv — it’s a fireball in the glass. The nose is intense with roasted grains, wood smoke, and tar. Sipping it at full proof doesn’t reveal a lot — I don’t often balk at cask strength whiskey, but this one’s just too much to parse without water. Adding a healthy slug of H2O is a huge help, revealing a gentler smokiness that’s balanced by deep cereal notes, lush allspice and cinnamon. There’s a brutish core to this whiskey that is somehow balanced by its celebration of the underlying grain. It is fire and earth, both at once. Though when push comes to shove, fire is winning. 117.5 proof. Reviewed: Batch DCK#3, aged 14 months. B+ / $61

Aged Ginever 750 300x300 Review: Wigle Rye Whiskey Deep Cut and Barrel Rested GineverWigle Organic Barrel-Rested Ginever – This aged gin (nothing really to do with genever) is made from a pot-distilled mash of local and organic wheat, rye, and malted barley (don’t call it ginwhiskey!), the white spirit is infused with a collection of botanicals, including juniper berries, cardamom, cubeb, and lavender (among other undisclosed agents). The resulting spirit is aged for an unstated length of time. Racy nose, offering a complex collection of aromas in the world of dried herbs, licorice, modest juniper, dried apricots, and raw wood notes. It’s muddy, but vaguely enticing, too.

The body is equally weird. It starts out almost bitter, with a quinine and licorice/root beer character to it. Sweetness emerges quickly to wash this away, and here the vanilla notes driven by the barrel aging start to take hold. The finish is both fruity and floral, offering a fresh apricot note flicked with honeysuckle, brown sugar crystals, and cardamom spice. Some cinnamon and nutmeg come across on the finish.

Weirdly lovable, it’s like a gin and whiskey mix, maybe with a dash of amaro in it. Endless cocktail possibilities. 94 proof. Reviewed: Batch #1. A- / $50

wiglewhiskey.com

Review: 2012 Avalon Cabernet Sauvignon California

Avalon.CAB .2012 128x300 Review: 2012 Avalon Cabernet Sauvignon CaliforniaHow good can an “everyday” Cabernet Sauvignon that costs 12 bucks possibly be? Not bad at all, actually.

Avalon, courtesy of Purple Wine Co., is a very straightforward wine, but it avoids the problems of being overly sweetened and overly alcoholic (at 13.8% abv). Instead what we get is a slightly peppery, slightly chocolatey wine with blueberry notes coming across strong on the forefront. The finish brings out more of a blueberry cobbler character, with just a hint of baking spices. For 12 bucks, it’s a solid double.

B+ / $12 / avalonwinery.com

Review: Deschutes Brewery Twilight Summer Ale (2014)

twilight bottle 88x300 Review: Deschutes Brewery Twilight Summer Ale (2014)We last encountered Deschutes’ summer seasonal way back in 2010. Time for an update!

This warm-weather sipper toes the line between malty and hoppy, using Amarillo hops to bolster what might otherwise become a bit muddy on the palate. Up front the American Blonde-style ale offers some light notes of roasted apples and hazelnut, eventually fading as the hoppier elements come through. Some citrus peel on the finish adds balance and nuance to the somewhat chewy mid-palate, but the overall impact is on the milder side, just as you’d expect from a summer brew.

5% abv. Available through September.

B+ / $9 per six-pack / deschutesbrewery.com

Review: Tomatin Single Malts: 12, 14, 15, and 18 Years Old — Plus 1988 Vintage

tomatin 525x225 Review: Tomatin Single Malts: 12, 14, 15, and 18 Years Old    Plus 1988 Vintage

Highlands-based Tomatin offers a classic experience of Scotland in a glass — even though it is actually owned by Japan’s Takara Shuzo company.

Tomatin is shaking up the brand of late, introducing a new 14 Year Old expression and a 1988 Vintage expression to the core line (while the latter lasts, I presume), while discontinuing both the 15 and 30 Year Old expressions. (That said, we have a review of the 15 below.) The 12 Year is also getting a proof upgrade.

The only member of the new five-expression Tomatin lineup we don’t have reviewed here is Legacy, Tomatin’s entry-level, no-age-statement bottling.

Thoughts on everything else, though, follow.

Tomatin 12 Years Old Sherry Cask Finish - Finished in Oloroso sherry casks, this 12 year old whisky noses like a more mature spirit, balancing its cereal notes with some light smokiness and iodine character. On the palate, the chewy malt is balanced with notes of heather and more of those smoky wisps, with a burnt orange peel character coming along on the finish in the back of the throat. I’d love more fruit here, but Tomatin 12 is so well-balanced — despite its simplicity — that it’d almost be a shame to change anything. 86 proof (recently upgraded from 80 proof). A- / $30

Tomatin 14 Years Old Port Wood Finish – The higher alcohol level dulls the nose on this whisky, finished in Tawny Port pipes for about a year. After a time, the nose takes on an intensely woody, cedar box, tobacco leaf character. The body also has lots of wood bark, plus dark chocolate, coffee, and some cinnamon. Again, the fruit is held in check, and the expected raisiny sweetness from Port finishing never materializes. Not bad, though. 92 proof. B+ / $55

Tomatin 15 Years Old – This whisky is on the verge of being discontinued, so grab it while you can. The only whisky in this lineup that has a full maturation in ex-Bourbon casks, with no finishing. It’s markedly lighter in color than the other whiskys in this roundup, by a good margin. Hospital notes are strong on the nose here, with tons of cereal coming forth on the body, plus undercurrents of marshmallow, banana, and a bit of smokiness on the back end. More of a journeyman whisky than even the 12 Year Old. Perfectly serviceable, but I can understand the phase-out. 86 proof. B / $45

Tomatin 18 Years Old Oloroso Sherry Finish – Finished in sherry casks. A little sweaty on the nose, with more of that iodine character than the other Tomatin expressions. The body is pure sherry, though. This is a well-matured whisky with a big body and a chewy fruitiness to it. Lots of fresh plums, macerated apricots, and juicy oranges to go around, with a bit of sandalwood on the finish. Big whisky, with lots to like once the odd nose blows away, revealing more of a honey character. Amazing value for an 18 year old whisky. 92 proof. A- / $60

Tomatin 1988 Vintage Batch #1 – Matured in both Bourbon and Port barrels, this first batch of Tomatin 1988 (roughly 25-26 years old, by my count) is available in a selection of 2500 bottles. Surprisingly austere and malty on the nose, with a floral element to it. The body’s got an air of oatmeal cookies, buttery toffee, and indistinct flowers, with a bit of a vegetal note on the finish. I got no Port character here at all, rather mainly a rich maltiness that tends to overpower everything. I’d like to see more complexity at this price level. 92 proof. B+ / $250

tomatin.com

Review: New England Distilling Gunpowder Rye

 Review: New England Distilling Gunpowder Rye

Based in Portland, Maine, craft distillery New England Distilling is likely the easternmost distilling operation in the United States (correct me if I’m wrong). It’s a producer of several spirits, including this increasingly popular and available rye.

We’ve got more NED reviews in the works, but meanwhile take a gander at Gunpowder, reportedly “inspired by” a 150 year old “Maryland style” family recipe. Made only from local grains — just rye and 2-row barley (70% rye, 30% barley), no corn — and spending less than two years in American oak barrels, it’s a young craft rye like few others we’ve encountered.

Aptly named, Gunpowder Rye is very pungent on the nose. Loaded with notes of menthol, fresh cut grains, black and red pepper, and — dare I say — the racy essence of gunpowder, this isn’t a shy spirit. The body is brash and loaded with power. “Smooth” is a word that no one will use to describe this rye, its raw and biting character worn right on its sleeve. Gut-punching pepper, roasted grains, and flamed orange peel come across before a fiery finish grips your throat and doesn’t let go. Mercifully, at the very end, a wash of brown sugar sweetness comes across, letting you off the hook a little.

Rye often gets stereotyped as a “spicy” whiskey when in reality many ryes can be quite fruity and easygoing. This is one whiskey that lives up to the stereotype completely.

87 proof. Reviewed: Batch #4.

B+ / $39 / newenglanddistilling.com