Category Archives: Rated B+

Tasting the Wines of Hourglass Vineyard, 2014 Releases

I recently had the opportunity to attend a live event with Napa-based Hourglass Vineyard’s owner Jeff Smith and its new winemaker Tony Biagi. Before tasting through four of the winery’s current releases, the duo discussed the changes involved with switching winemakers, including their new approach to winemaking and their return to higher-acidity, more elegant winemaking as they retreat from the traditional opulence of Napa. As well, the winery has a new focus on blending (and seemingly a love affair with Petit Verdot). Thoughts on all four wines follow.

2013 Hourglass Sauvignon Blanc Estate – Quite acidic, with pineapple and lemon balanced by touches of ammonia. Fresh, with lots of mineral notes, and touches of peach rising on the finish. There’s a bit of coconut in there, too. Solid. B+ / $40

2012 Hourglass Blueline Estate Merlot Napa Valley - 91% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Petit Verdot. Mint, chocolate, and a layering of raspberry, blackberry, and dried raisin character. Not as racy or acidic as I’d hoped for, the mint character really overpowering things on the back end. The finish goes out with more of a whimper than a bang. B / $75

2012 Hourglass Blueline Estate Malbec Napa Valley - 75% Malbec, 25% Petit Verdot. Again, heavy on the mint character, which plays well with the heavy chocolate and strawberry notes in this wine. Again the body isn’t as racy or as acidic as I’d expected, but here the flavors complement one another more completely. Give this one time to open up and some violet character emerges. Not exactly the Malbec you might be expecting, but worthwhile. B+ / $75

2012 Hourglass Blueline Estate Cabernet Franc Napa Valley - 83% Cabernet Franc, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petit Verdot. Easily the darkest of these wines, both in color and in body. Dark chocolate, licorice, floral notes, and strawberry jam all come together in one powerhouse of a whole. This is the most “old school” (meaning: late-’90s) wine from this collection, a more dense and chewy wine with a lengthy finish — that mint returning for an encore. Probably my favorite wine of the bunch, but you’ll pay for the privilege, to be sure! A- / $135

hourglasswines.com

Review: Phraya Deep Matured Gold Rum

Phraya Rum 300 277x300 Review: Phraya Deep Matured Gold Rum“Luxury” rum from Thailand. If the gold-clad bottle doesn’t tip you off, the emphasis is squarely on “luxury.” The name phraya means “high ranking” in Thai, and the rum is aged at least seven years before bottling.

As with Tanduay, another Asian rum, it’s an exotic spirit. The nose has a cachaca-like intensity, filled with dark brown sugar, papaya, coconut husk, and a rubbery undertone. The body is a bit more traditional, offering caramels and butterscotch, and a slightly winey, sherried character to it. Cedar box is evident, alongside some broader coconut character. There are hints of wood — touches of pine — on the finish, along with some not inconsiderable astringency.

On the whole, this is a fun and quite unique rum (if for nothing more than its provenance alone), but probably not something I’ll be dying to tipple on nightly. At $40 a bottle it’s also a really tough sell in a market when some very rare and masterful competitors are available for $10 less. Rum lovers, give it a sample before you dive in.

80 proof.

B+ / $40 / phrayarum.com

Review: 2 Wines from the International Wine of the Month Club

2005 Casa Silva Carmenère Microterroir de Los Lingues 86x300 Review: 2 Wines from the International Wine of the Month ClubWine of the Month Clubs are legion, but if you want to get started with one that offers a pretty broad range of unusual (yet well curated) wines, perhaps you could do worse than one of the originals, the International Wine of the Month Club. The focus here is on imported wines, with selections coming in from across the globe. (Domestics also show up in the distribution, though.)

Three programs are available ranging in price from $33 to $70 a month, all providing two bottles a month (you choose red, white, or one of each). Prices quoted below are for additional bottle reorders from the club if you’re already a member or are indicative of market pricing.

We sampled two of the club’s recent offerings. While every wine it sends you is going to be different, of course, they are probably indicative of what you can expect in general. Thoughts on follow.

2012 Luma Inzolia-Chardonnay Terre Siciliane – 60% Inzolia, 40% Chardonnay from Sicily. Easily mistaken for a California Chardonnay at first, with butter and vanilla notes on the nose and up front on the palate. As the wine’s body evolves, acidity builds and some baking spices emerge. It’s well balanced between the two, a solid sipper that goes well with food, too. B+ / $19

2005 Casa Silva Carmenère Microterroir de Los Lingues  – Chilean Carmenere, from 2005, you say? Not a typo. Wow, this just has no business being on the market today. Well past its prime, the nose is all vegetal green pepper and old sofa cushions. The body fares just as badly, a sweaty, very green wine with a mushroomy finish. Some time opens things up a bit, but by then the wine diverges heavily into the barnyard. I’m chalking it up to a misfire. D- / $40

winemonthclub.com

Review: Husky Vodka

HUSKY 2 72x300 Review: Husky VodkaImported from Siberia, this new vodka’s bottle is imprinted with a dog paw pressed into the glass. It’s distilled from (unspecified) grain and distilled five times before bottling. But is this vodka ruff? Er, rough? Ahem. Hey, the company donates $1 from each bottle sold to local dog rescue shelters, so your martinis are helping the canines of the world.

The nose is simple, and more modern than I’d expected. Vanilla marshmallow hits first, followed by the more expected hospital character. The body is a bit more traditional, with a brisk and clean character that offers notes of black pepper, orange peel, and ample medicinal character. Nothing overwhelmingly out of the ordinary here, aside from a little touch of salted caramel on the finish.

80 proof.

B+ / $24 / husky-vodka.com

Review: Six Ciders from Tieton Cider Works

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It’s time for a gaggle of apple ciders from Tieton Cider Works, based in Tieton, Washington. TCW makes at least 10 different products. Here we review a half dozen, all spins on the classic apple cider formula, and arranged from dryest to sweetest. Enjoy.

Tieton Cider Works Tieton Blend Cider Dry – English style cider, bone dry with barely a hint of sweetness. This is a tough one for those more accustomed to fruitier, sweeter ciders, and even after putting on my dryest of dry white wine hats, I couldn’t cut through it. Herbs and minerals abound here, but the overall effect is like a weak sauvignon blanc. 7% abv. C

Tieton Cider Works Yakima Valley Dry Hopped Cider Dry – Dry cider blended with local hops. Cider plus beer is known as a “snakebite,” but I’ve never seen anyone actually drink one. Here, the sweet, sour, and bitter are combine to create an initially off-putting concoction, but over time your palate adjusts and reveals a complex and unique brew. The sour apple notes remain the heaviest component, the hops largely blowing off to show themselves primarily as a hint on the finish. 6.9% abv. C+

Tieton Cider Works Wild Washington Apple Cider Semi-Dry – Aptly described, with tart and sweet elements. Lots of mineral notes here, along with an earthy (“wild,” perhaps) pungency on the nose. This is a cider for those who are OK with sweeter stuff, but who might want to experience a somewhat dryer beverage from time to time. 7% abv. B

Tieton Cider Works Apricot Cider Semi-Dry - Blended with apricots, naturally. Quite fruity, with strong overtones of fresh and dried apricots. Seems sweeter than “semi-dry” would indicate, with a biting acidity on the finish. The simplest, but perhaps the best, of the bunch. 6.9% abv. B+

Tieton Cider Works Apple Cherry Cider Semi-Sweet – Plenty of cherry flavor up front here, so much so that it almost drinks like pomegranate/cherry juice. Heavy sour notes on the finish abate over time, leaving behind the essence of fruit, with an almost mineral edge to it. Not bad. 6.9% abv. B

Tieton Cider Works Blossom Nectar Cider Sweet – Includes apple blossoms in the mix. Quite sweet, and indeed very floral, with a pleasant balance between tart apple and the perfumy, rose-scented blossoms. The perfume does take on a “grandma’s house” note over time, particularly as it warms up, but hey, you’re drinking cider, so stop moaning. 7% abv. B+

$42.60 as a mixed six-pack of 500ml bottles (one of each of the above) / tietonciderworks.com

Review: Wines of Belle Ambiance, 2014 Releases

belle ambiance 200x300 Review: Wines of Belle Ambiance, 2014 ReleasesA new brand from DFV/Delicato, Belle Ambiance has a rock bottom price combined with appealing, upscale packaging that’s certain to drive some sales. Launching out of the gate with a collection of six wines, we tried three for review. Not entirely sure I’m buying the “family vineyards” claim on the label, given that all of these wines carry generic “California” designations, but, hey, it’s what’s inside that counts, no?

2013 Belle Ambiance Pinot Grigio California – On the sweet side, with lots of mango notes, plus some lemon and a touch of melon. The lasting finish offers some light herbal notes, before recalling that tropical punch up front. Fine, but best with food. B / $8

2012 Belle Ambiance Chardonnay California – Straightforward, big butter/vanilla notes, with a lemon chaser. Long finish, with quite sweet marshmallow notes picking up on the back end. Not bad, but needs some refinements. B- / $8

2012 Belle Ambiance Pinot Noir California – Gentle, simple stuff. Light cherry and strawberry notes lead to a quietly sweet body, with light tea leaf notes on the finish. Oh so pleasant, almost harmless. B+ / $8

belleambiancevineyards.com

Review: The Exclusive Malts Batch #4

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Five more tiny-production, very rare, Scotch whiskys are about to arrive on our shores, courtesy of the independent malt whisky bottlers at Exclusive Malts. As always, total bottles produced tend to number in the low hundreds, so if you see something you like, get it now.

The Exclusive Malts Linkwood 1999 14 Years Old – This Speyside distillery is known for providing its casks to blended Scotch producers, and here it turns in a spicy, racy, young-tasting single malt that, on first blush, feels like it would be right at home as a component in Dewar’s or Johnnie Walker. Cereal and heather give way to chewy nougat, finally revealing some restrained apple and banana character. Tough to crack, with a lightly smoky finish. Try some water to coax more out of it. 111.6 proof. B- / $97

The Exclusive Malts North Highland 1996 17 Years Old – A Highlands spirit, matured completely in a refill ex-sherry hogshead. Lots of sherry up front on the nose, of course, but also tar, cigars, and unripe banana. Quite fruity on the palate, it blends orange oil with notes of incense and baking spice, the finish coming across as racy, smoldering, and luscious. Quite fetching. 112.2 proof. A- / $138

The Exclusive Malts Bladnoch 1992 21 Years Old - Lowland whisky from the southwest end of Scotland, aged in an ex-Bourbon hogshead. Malty and grassy on the nose, tinged with lemon oil and a touch of iodine. The body is much fruitier than the nose lets on, a concoction that offers sweet lemonade and sweet(er) tea, with a candy-like nougat character that comes on strong on the finish. More grainy/grassy notes on the back end, also. Well-aged but far from hoary, this malt still has plenty of life left in it, and it drinks hotter than its (relatively) lower proof level would indicate. 96.2 proof. B+ / $170

The Exclusive Malts Glencadam 1991 22 Years Old - Coastal Highlands single malt from an ex-Bourbon hogshead, surprisingly light in color. Pure honey, tempered with touches of smoke. The beautiful nose is complex, adding touches of heather and a hint of granary character. The rounded body is seductive and sweet, pushing the honey notes to the limit. The finish nods at cereal while going out on a smoldering but sweet finale, inviting continued sipping and savoring. There’s not a terribly high level of complexity here, but this Glencadam is so enjoyable it’s hard not to love. 100.8 proof. A / $179

The Exclusive Malts Bowmore 2001 12 Years Old - The only Islay in this release, bottled after 12 years in a refill Sherry butt. Intense smoke and melting wax notes on the nose. Tons of iodine all around. On the palate, it’s an intense dram, blending sweet sherry notes and a Madeirized character with the essence of tire fire. These two characteristics do battle for some time on the tongue. Neither one ends up winning, a shame. 116.8 proof. B- / $138

impexbev.com

Review: Tawny Ports of Croft, Fonseca, and Taylor Fladgate, 2014 Releases

1964 Single Harvest Tawny 2 525x802 Review: Tawny Ports of Croft, Fonseca, and Taylor Fladgate, 2014 Releases

Even seasoned wine enthusiasts often get confused over the world of Port, and who can blame them? Bottled both in vintage-dated and non-vintage but “xx years old” varieties (and in ruby, tawny, white, and other versions), the topic quickly gets complicated — when all you want to do is enjoy something sweet with dessert.

What’s the difference between ruby and tawny, the two major types of nonvintage Port? As Taylor Fladgate wine director David Guimaraens says, “Most people are familiar with the dark purple, ‘ruby’ Ports which range from very basic up to the storied Vintage Ports.  Rubies are aged in bottles, so they keep their fresh red fruit flavors.  On the other hand, Tawny Ports are aged in wooden casks, so they have more interchange with the air around them.  This process evolves their color to a ‘tawny’ amber color, and changes their flavors from predominantly fruity to predominantly nutty.”

Guimaraens’ comments aside, I’d still characterize most tawny Ports as extremely fruity, but more chocolatey and coffee-like than rubies. These notes come across more distinctly in older bottlings, though. Young tawny can often be just as fruity as a typical ruby.

What does “10 years old” or “20 years old” mean in these Ports? Well, contrary to what you might expect, it doesn’t mean that in 2004 or 1994, Port was dumped into a barrel and a decade or two later was prepped for bottling. Ports with age statements like this are blends of a variety of years, and the number on the label is somewhat meaningless. Most tawnys are a blend of solera-style old stock and young stock, and the years noted on the label are a sort of moving target that the blender is supposed to aim for. There’s nothing requiring any sort of accuracy here, and in many cases no way of even knowing how old the wine is in any given bottle. But a 20 year old should at least taste older than a 10 year old, even if both of those numbers are fudged a bit.

The exception of course is when a vintage does actually appear on the label. That’s the case with the last tawny on the list below, a 1964 single-vintage Tawny Port from Taylor Fladgate. What that means is exactly what it sounds like: This Port was made exclusively from grapes picked in ’64. Yes, 50 years ago. They’ve been mellowing out in barrel ever since, and aren’t blended with other vintages. And unlike non-vintage Tawny, this stuff won’t be around forever, so snap it up while you can.

Croft, Fonseca, and Taylor Fladgate are all sub-brands of Taylor’s, a mega-Port operation whose CEO, Adrian Bridge, we’ve met on several occasions. He’s a swell guy, and we’re excited to offer notes on several Tawny Ports in current release, as well as the exceptional 1964. Thoughts follow.

NV Croft Aged Tawny Porto 10 Years Old (bottled in 2010) – Bright raspberry and sour cherry notes, just the right amount of vinegar to balance out some very focused fruit flavors. I’ve always thought of Croft as the fruitiest of vintage Ports, and here it produces a tawny that is closer to the ruby style of Port than most others you’ll encounter. Very easy drinking and versatile. A- / $28

NV Fonseca Aged Tawny Port 10 Years Old – Jammier, with more chocolate notes, and a lightly minty finish. Long, bold, and lightly creamy on the palate, this is a tawny with a little more oomph and more sourness on the back end. B+ / $23

NV Taylor Fladgate Tawny Port 10 Years Old – Somewhere between the fruitiness of Croft and the power of Fonseca lies Taylor Fladgate’s 10 year Tawny, an inviting wine with ample fruit at the core, but with bittersweet edges of licorice, chicory, and coffee bean. These characteristics, plus some chocolate notes, tend to overtake the fruit on the finish, but the body, on the whole, is surprisingly delicate. Complex, yet a bit immature. B+ / $23

NV Fonseca Aged Tawny Port 20 Years Old - Plenty of fruit and body here, but the chocolate notes are pumped up, and the fruit takes on more of a classic, Port-like raisin character. At 20, some of the more rustic elements of the Fonseca 10 Year Tawny are rounded out, giving this Port a slightly more refined construction, albeit one with plenty of lasting sweetness. A- / $40

NV Taylor Fladgate Tawny Port 20 Years Old - Lots of intensity here, with an almost bruising sour cherry and tart raisin character that overpowers some of this Port’s more delicate coffee and chocolate notes. The finish is lasting and almost punishing in its mouth-puckering character. This is a step back from the 10 year. B / $40

1964 Taylor Fladgate Single Harvest Tawny Port (pictured) – Wow, this is how tawny should be experienced. Drawn from a single vintage that’s 50 years old, this tawny is showing well rounded notes of cinnamon, raisin, and allspice… layered with cedar wood, chocolate, and coffee bean notes. The finish is long and sweetly sour — ending on a note of Cherries Jubilee that has the perfect balance of fruity and winey flavors. Lovely. A / $300

taylor.pt

Review: NV Domaine Carneros Cuvee de la Pompadour Brut Rose Napa Valley

domaine carneros brut rose 125x300 Review: NV Domaine Carneros Cuvee de la Pompadour Brut Rose Napa ValleyNamed for Madame de la Pompadour, Louis XV’s lover, this new brut rose from Domaine Carneros is 58% pinot noir and 42% chardonnay.

This is a more powerful sparkler than I’m accustomed to from Domaine Carneros, offering a complex collection of aromas that range from yeasty notes to strawberry to smoked bacon to balsa wood. The body boils this down mainly to the fruit component, with jammier berry and stone fruit notes, atop a fizzy, yeasty core. The finish is a touch sweet, and brings up some very slight, gentle vegetal notes, almost the aroma of char-grilled vegetables. Curious stuff.

B+ / $36 / domainecarneros.com

Review: Four Roses Yellow Label Bourbon

FOUR ROSES yellow label 367x1200 Review: Four Roses Yellow Label Bourbon

Officially known only as “Four Roses Bourbon,” Yellow Label — called thusly for reasons you can surely fit together on your own — is the company’s entry level product. It’s also one of its most venerable. “Yellow Label” bottlings have been on the market since probably the 1930s and 1940s. (The distillery has seen massive ups and down since then… and Yellow Label perseveres.)

We’ve reviewed I-don’t-know-how-many single barrel and small batch expressions of Four Roses, but never the stalwart (and super-cheap) Yellow, bottled with no age statement and blended from up to all 10 of the company’s mashbill combinations (depending on supply and the season). Finally we’re getting around to it. Without further ado…

It’s initially a bit brash on the nose, with plenty of youthful exuberance. Strong vanilla (think extract, not wafers), knotty lumberyard, and hints of dark chocolate emerge, once the booziness blows off. On the palate, it’s quite sweet, which works hard to counterbalance the woodier notes that emerge. Think cinnamon sugar, chocolate-covered caramels, and just the lightest touch of honey-doused cornbread. As big blends go, it’s hard to find a lot of fault here aside from a bit of roughness up front.

Overall, it’s nowhere near as nuanced as many single barrel offerings, but for barely over $1 a shot (based on the bottle price), it’ll do the trick. Also makes a supreme base for cocktails.

80 proof.

B+ / $18 / fourrosesbourbon.com

Review: Young Ribera del Duero Wines from Garcia Figuero and Protos

Tinto Figuero 4 Month 109x300 Review: Young Ribera del Duero Wines from Garcia Figuero and ProtosSpanish wines are known for being released well-aged, with some Rioja reservas spending 8 to 10 years in barrel and bottle before hitting the market… and sometimes longer.

But not all Spanish wines are aged for such a long time. In fact, the Ribera del Duero has two lesser-known classifications, in addition to the older crianza and reserva bottlings, which are intended to be consumed young. Known as barrica and roble wines, these Riberas are released within a year of harvest, both spending between three to eight months in oak — though, by Spanish law, they are not required to spend any time in barrel at all. Basically: It’s prison rules wine, letting a winemaker do just about anything he wants to craft the best wine he can, without having to worry about Spain’s arcane aging and labeling requirements.

Both wines are made from 100% tempranillo (aka tinto fino) grapes — but otherwise couldn’t be more different. Thoughts follow…

2012 Garcia Figuero Roble Ribera del Duero - This “roble” wine spends only four months in new oak barrels (3/4 American, 1/4 French), then four more months in bottle before release. (The wine is also officially known as “Four Months in Barrel” in English — hence the big “4″ on the label.) The nose is intense with bramble, dense wood, and meaty sausage notes. On the body, there’s more fruit than expected, but these thick blackberry jam notes are punched down by licorice, bitter roots, tobacco leaf, and tar characteristics. Chewy and more than a little tough. C+ / $20

2011 Protos Tinto Fino - This wine spends a full year in 60% French, 40% American oak barrels. The difference between the Figuero is remarkable, with the Protos showing a much more refined character on the nose and body. Aromas of blackberry and violets pervade, and the body is moderate to lush, with fresh fruit, some peppery notes, and a touch of floral character. This is a young wine that is sometimes a bit brash, but on the whole it’s finding its balance, with ample structure and smoothed out tannins. B+ / $15

Review: Founders Brewing All Day IPA Session Ale

founders all day ipa 300x179 Review: Founders Brewing All Day IPA Session AleAnother entry into the growing category of sessionable (aka lower alcohol) IPAs, Founders Brewing’s All Day IPA clocks in at just 4.7% abv.

Hailing from Grand Rapids, Michigan, the beer is now available in 15-packs of 12 oz. cans, a way, I suppose, to make up for the lower alcohol level.

The abv is just 0.2% higher than Stone’s recently-released competitor, Go To IPA, but the upgrade is worth it. Here, Founders offers up a rich and authentic IPA, full of piney, hoppy flavors. Lemon and orange notes kick up alongside the rustic, forestlike body, but the finish is plenty big and bracing. Sure, a higher-abv IPA offers a slightly cleaner, crisper conclusion, but Founders’ lower-abv rendition is perfectly credible and, I expect, to many drinkers it will be nearly as good as the real deal.

B+ / $NA (same price as the old 12-pack, we’re told) / foundersbrewing.com

Review: 2bar Spirits Bourbon

2bar bourbon 525x656 Review: 2bar Spirits Bourbon

Seattle-based 2bar Spirits has extended its line of craft hooch with a new, “100% local” bourbon. Regarding its creation, distiller Nathan Kaiser says, “I can’t disclose exact percentages, but it has significantly more malt, and much less wheat than a typical wheated bourbon mashbill.  Barrel entry proof is significantly lower than normal, between 113 and 116 proof.  Our barrels are currently all 15 gallons with a #3 char.  This batch was aged for just over 9 months.” The mash is 95% Washington grain and 5% Oregon grain.

That’s a lot of unusual characteristics for a bourbon, so how does it come across in the finished product?

Pretty darn good for a young craft spirit. The nose is young and a bit grainy, which is to be expected from a spirit of this age (or lack thereof). Along with the cereal, there are ample notes of brown butter, vanilla, and cherries, plus a healthy slug of wood. The body isn’t too far off base: A healthy amount of cereal and popcorn finds balance in toffee notes, butterscotch, and a dusting of Asian spices. The finish is heavy with lumberyard notes, but not overwhelming with sawdust like many small barrel spirits can be. On the whole: Solid craft Bourbon, and much better than most entries into this burgeoning field.

Reviewed: Batch #4. 100 proof.

B+ / $50 / 2barspirits.com

Review: 7 Sirens White Rum

 Review: 7 Sirens White RumIf there’s anything I hate, it’s putting numbers into words in place of letters. It’s called “7 Sirens,” but it’s written “S7rens” on the bottle. Ugh. Ssevenrens? I’m ill.

What I do like, however, is good rum, and 7 Sirens is solid stuff.

This new brand is made in Trinidad. It’s two years old, filtered to white. Classic design for a white, really.

The nose is sharp, with a mix of hospital notes and vegetal tones. Hints of sweetness, but more like raw sugar cane. The body is more complex than the nose would indicate, a blend of sugar syrup, vanilla, caramels, and bitter root notes, particularly on the finish. It’s a relatively burly, almost smoky, rum that brings on plenty of body and complexity. Not the best choice for sipping straight, but it adds something to cocktails than many rums lack.

80 proof.

B+ / $29 / 7sirens.com

Review: SW4 London Dry Gin

sw4 gin 92x300 Review: SW4 London Dry GinNamed for its place of origin in Clapham, South London, SW4 is an independently-produced gin made of 5-times distilled neutral grain spirits, which is re-distilled in a pot still with its botanicals. The botanical list includes most of the classics, with a few minor twists. The full list includes juniper, savory, orris, angelica, cinnamon, cassia, licorice, coriander, nutmeg, orange, lemon, and almond.

There’s a big burst of lemon and juniper right when you pour a shot out of the bottle. The juniper hangs around the longest, forcing the citrus notes into the background. The body is quite sharp, the polar opposite of so many modern gins, which turn to floral notes and a gentle sweetness to become more palatable to a modern, sweet-toothed crowd. You’ll get none of that here. SW4 is old school, juniper-forward stuff, dense with pine forest notes, almost to a fault. Balance is a tricky issue with SW4. I catch some of the nutmeg, cinnamon, and licorice notes here, but those botanicals are fleeting and soon overpowered by a strong, forest-fueled finish.

Nothing at all wrong with this approach, just be ready for a gin that doesn’t pull any punches

80 proof.

B+ / $30 / sw4gin.com

Review: Solana Tequila

Solana image 148x300 Review: Solana TequilaSolana is a new 100% agave budget tequila from the Los Altos de Jalisco region. Triple distilled, it certainly looks a lot more expensive than it is, with an upscale presentation. Available only in a silver/blanco expression (for now), we got a sneak peek at this new brand.

Lots of fresh agave, black and red pepper, and lemon notes on the sharp nose. The body follows in stride, bright with acidity and bold with spice. The substantial agave notes are well-integrated into a lightly sweet, mildly citrusy body. The finish is clean but racy, offering plenty of crispness. The sweet-meets-lemon kicker recalls a glass of lemonade with a cayenne rim.

Totally solid.

80 proof.

B+ / $22 / no website

Review: Knappogue Castle 12, 14, and 16 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskeys

knappogue castle 16 years old 507x1200 Review: Knappogue Castle 12, 14, and 16 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskeys

While most Irish whiskeys are some mix of grain and malt spirits, Knappogue Castle specializes in single malts exclusively. Recently the brand shifted from vintage-dated spirits to more standard age statements, with 12, 14, and 16 year old expressions now making up the core. We’ve reviewed the 12 and 14 in the past, but take fresh looks at them both, alongside the 16, with this review.

Knappogue Castle 12 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey – This whiskey undergoes a standard aging regimen in ex-bourbon casks. Heavily malty on the nose, with clear notes of marzipan and coconut. The body offers lots of interesting, fresh apple notes, backed up with more malty cereal mash and a bit of swampy/iodine kick on the finish that tends to muck things up a bit. I enjoyed this quite a bit less this time around than I have in previous iterations, the finish veering too far into the cereal box and throwing things out of balance. 80 proof. B / $42

Knappogue Castle 14 Year Old Twin Wood Single Malt Irish Whiskey – Oloroso sherry finished for about 3 months. There’s plenty going on here, and the 14 year old cuts a much different picture than the 12. The nose is sharp with sherry and orange oil notes, and more of those almond/marzipan characteristics underneath. On the palate, there’s toasted marshmallow, roasted nuts, banana, coconut, and more citrus at the back end. The extra alcohol provides some heat, but the Knappogue can handle it. Unlike my prior encounter, I’m finding this expression more balanced and cohesive, but my overall opinion is about the same. 92 proof. B+ / $60

Knappogue Castle 16 Year Old Twin Wood Single Malt Irish Whiskey - A numbered release which, like the 14 year old, spends time finishing in sherry casks — this time for nearly two years. Clearly darker in color than both the 12 and the 14, this spirit still has that malty Knappogue DNA running through it, moderated with orange notes, more marshmallow, and some tree bark. Chewy on the body, with (surprisingly) more pronounced malt character than the 14, alongside clearer banana and coconut notes. The 16 year old opens up more with time in the glass, smoothing out some of those crunchy cereal box notes with sherry and a bit of seawater. Still, it’s not quite hitting its stride in the balance department, but it’s getting there. 80 proof. B+ / $100

knappoguewhiskey.com

Review: Alaska Brewing Company Icy Bay IPA (2014) and Jalapeno IPA

alaskan jalpeno ipa Review: Alaska Brewing Company Icy Bay IPA (2014) and Jalapeno IPATwo new brews from Alaskan Brewing — or rather, one new experiment from the “Pilot Series,” and one revamp of one of the company’s year-round offerings.

No need to beat around the bottle. Thoughts follow!

Alaskan Brewing Company Icy Bay IPA (2014 edition) - Alaskan recently updated the 2007 recipe for this staple by adding additional hops — Bravo and Calypso — to its original phalanx of Cascade, Summit, and Apollo hops. The IBU level is also higher (now 65), too. Results are fine, if short of breathtaking. The beer takes on a muddiness that might be the result of a surfeit of hops, and it’s missing the bracing crispness and citrus notes of the best IPAs. That’s a bummer, because the other notes in this beer — green pepper, tree bark, licorice touches — are intriguing. They just need something else to back them up. 6.2% abv. B / $8 per six-pack

Alaskan Jalapeno Imperial IPA – What you’re expecting: IPA brewed with jalapeno peppers. While this is a solid IPA, featuring a citrus-forward body with notes of mint, root beer, dried herbs, and plenty of hoppy bitterness, what I don’t get at all is any sense of jalapeno heat. It may be driving some of the mild green pepper and onion notes that you get, just barely, on the finish of the beer, but these are quite mild and not spicy in the slightest. Interesting (and unusual) flavors for an Imperial IPA, but where’s the heat? 8.5% abv. B+ / $8 per 22 oz. bottle

alaskanbeer.com

Review: Italian Wines from The Order of Malta, 2014 Releases

bottiglia monterone 82x300 Review: Italian Wines from The Order of Malta, 2014 ReleasesThe Order of Malta. The Knights of the White Cross. There’s a whole lot of mystery from the get-go with this collection of Italian wines, all of which bear the distinct white-on-red, stylized, squared-off cross on their labels… but which reveal nothing about what that insignia means.

What’s it all about? The Sovereign Order of Malta is an ancient Catholic Religious Order that continues today to provide global relief efforts to areas affected by natural disasters. There are different chapters of The Order around the world. One of the things the organization does is make wine. For the first time, wines from The Order of Malta are now becoming available in the United States, courtesy of Fritz Cellars (Clay Fritz was a member of The Order for a number of years before deciding to import the wines).

I wasn’t able to attend a formal tasting with Fritz, but I did receive a number of the newly imported wines for review. Thoughts follow.

2012 Rocca Bernarda Ribolla Gialla Friuli DOC – Ribolla Gialla is an indigenous grape to Italy, and at first this white wine drinks like an indistinct blend, fruity and moderately acidic, but a bit touch to parse. As it warms, notes of honeydew and white flowers develop, adding some mystery to an inexpensive and drinkable wine. B+ / $27

2012 Castello di Magione Monterone Grechetto Colli del Trasimeno DOC – A brilliant gold wine with massive fruitiness all around. The nose is rich with apples, pears, apricots, and bright honeysuckle notes. The body is tart and rich with all of the above, but also laced with buttery vanilla. The finish is zippy and alive, like a lemon meringue pie. Good stuff.  Amazing value. A- / $25

2008 Castello di Magione Morcinaia Vendemmia – An Umbrian blend made from Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Gamay. It’s the Sangiovese that pops the brightest, with bright cherry notes at play with some earthy, slightly herbal character (Gamay, maybe?). Solid body, but nothing mind-blowing. The finish is a bit tart for my tastes, but it works well with food. B / $40

2012 Castello di Magione Sangiovese Umbria – A brisk, classic (albeit young) Sangiovese. Floral notes on the nose interplay with cherry fruit, while a brambly character brings nuance to the body. Some dried herbal notes hang around on the finish. Very food friendly and well-crafted considering the price. A- / $25

fritzwinery.com

Review: Bandit Chardonnay and Merlot

Bandit Merlot 1L HI Res Bottle Shot 131x300 Review: Bandit Chardonnay and MerlotYou’ve seen these brightly colored Tetra Pak wine canisters before, and probably never gave them a second thought. Wine in a plastic-and-cardboard box? Where’s the romance of that?

Sure, Bandit isn’t aiming to replace Screaming Eagle in your cellar, but these extremely inexpensive wines do serve a purpose, besides being cheap. The containers are less wasteful, and they don’t have that nagging problem of shattering into a million pieces if you drop them. Available in five varieties, these non-vintage wines are available seemingly everywhere.

So, I finally tasted a couple of them. Thoughts follow.

NV Bandit Chardonnay California – Surprisingly good. The oak influence is minimal, leaving the bright fruit plenty of room to shine. Pretty apple notes are happy with quiet vanilla, mango, and lemon juice, giving this wine a bit of an apple pie character. The finish is a tad steely, but otherwise it excels in its simplicity. B+

NV Bandit Merlot California – About as expected. Quite sweet, with pumped up fruit notes. These seem to be masking a sort of green skunkiness, which creeps forth after time in the glass. It’s far from undrinkable, but just too candylike for serious drinking. C-

$9 per 1-liter container ($5 for 500ml) / banditwines.com