Review: RedTerra Vodka

redterra vodkaQuick: What’s a spirit made from agave? Tequila? Yes. Mezcal? Yes. Vodka? Yes!

RedTerra is an agave-based vodka, which is made especially discordant due to the heavy Russian imagery — red, black, and an eagle — used on the bottle label. But RedTerra starts with 100% real blue agave harvested in the Jalisco Highlands. It’s then traditionally (for vodka, anyway) column distilled and bottled in Portland, Oregon. (The reason it comes out as vodka and not tequila is largely the proof to which the liquid is distilled; it’s the same reason you can turn rye or wheat into either vodka or whiskey.)

The traces of agave in the finished product are fleeting, but they are there: On the nose this comes across with modest but spicy herbal overtones — a bit of eucalyptus and cayenne, then a rush of ethyl alcohol heat. On the palate, it’s gently sweet, showing a little brown sugar at first, then some more herbal hints as the body evolves on the tongue. This ends up showing itself as a dusting of nutmeg and some brown butter. Again, a hint of cayenne heat on the back — and a finish that definitely recalls the vodka’s agave origins.

If nothing else, it’s different — and accessible to both the casual vodka drinker and the tequila fan looking for something that pairs a little better with vermouth.

80 proof.

B+ / $40 /

Review: The Glenlivet Nadurra Peated Whisky Cask Finish

glenlivet Nadurra Peated High ResGlenlivet’s third Nadurra (Gaelic for “natural”) expression is here (released yesterday) — and it’s Glenlivet’s first peated whisky in over 100 years.

For those unfamiliar with this line — which now includes three Nadurra bottlings, all permanent extensions to the Glenlivet stable — the goal is to bring whisky back to its roots, through cask strength releases with no additives or chill filtration.

Note that Nadurra #3 is not peated whisky but rather standard Glenlivet whisky that is aged in bourbon casks (no age is stated), then finished in casks that formerly held heavily peated whisky (again, no time is stated). So, bourbon barrel-aged malt, finished in used, peated malt casks. If you recall, Balvenie did this same thing a few years ago, to much acclaim.

Intense peat on the nose, with ample salt water and iodine character. Some fruit up front — banana and apples — plays nicely with nougat and almond notes. The body pumps up banana and apple, more nuts — walnut and almond — with a finish that plays to light chocolate character, coconut, some spearmint, and nuts. What’s not overdone here is the peat — which is incredibly present on the nose, but which doesn’t come across as strenuously on the body.

With some water — this is cask strength remember —  the fruitier elements come more to the forefront, giving the smoke a sweeter character to it. There’s more chocolate and more citrus here — two flavors that work well together — while the peat takes a nice position in the back seat. The finish is quite drying, though, leaving behind notes of ash rather than fruit.

Overall, it’s a nice extension for Glenlivet, taking it squarely out of its comfort zone and into some new and interesting territory.

123 proof. Reviewed: First production run, Batch PW0715.

B+ / $85 /

Review: Wines of Orsianna, 2015 Releases


Orsianna is made by the family of Fred Tocchini, who operates the San Francisco Wine Trading Company. (We reviewed their single-barrel bottling of Four Roses a few months back.) Now we’re taking a peak into what Tocchini and co. can do with wine, including some fresh whites and some lightly aged reds.

2013 Orsianna Sauvignon Blanc Mendocino County – Apple and melon-focused, and a bit gooey on the palate with creme brulee notes and some toasted marshmallow character. That’s far from the norm for sauvignon blanc, but the gentle sweetness here gives it an “everywine” character that works fine both on its own and with food. Don’t be surprised if your date asks if it’s chardonnay. B+ / $15

2013 Orsianna Chardonnay Mendocino County – Fairly traditional chardonnay, nougaty and nutty, with buttery vanilla dampening the fruit component. This is a chardonnay-lover’s chardonnay, chewy and rich with an almost dessert-like character to it at times. Just a hint of acid on the finish gives it a little spark. B / $17

2010 Orsianna Merlot Sonoma County – A well-crafted and still-youthful wine, despite the 2010 vintage date. Fresh strawberry up front, some violet florals, then a long, soothing fade-out. The fruit is the focus from start to finish with this wine, but the violet edge gives it more to chew on. A- / $20

2009 Orsianna Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino County – Well aged and starting to show a little balsamic character which finds some pleasant companion in its notes of cloves, ginger root, and licorice root. Forceful and a bit astringent at times. Drink now. B+ / $20 /

Book Review: Experimental Homebrewing

91MiyOQmJzLBurnt out on brewing pilsners, lagers, and IPAs? Check out Drew Beechum and Denny Conn’s book Experimental Homebrewing, an oversized tome that uses as its apparent thesis that anything in your kitchen can be used to make beer.

Cilantro? Mushrooms? Peanut butter? You’ll need to get up earlier in the morning than that to stump this duo. There’s bacon beer in here. And beer made with a cut up chicken.

That said, most of Experimental Homebrewing is devoted to using more traditional ingredients in interesting ways to create more avant garde and hybrid styles of beers. Often a small amount of a slightly exotic ingredient — like pepper or chiles — will be called for to take things on a minor detour.

If you’re interested in pushing the homebrew boundaries — and really believe that the sky is the limit — this book is a must-read.


Review: Speyburn Arranta Casks

speyburn arrantaOne of the biggest bargains in single malts is out with a new, limited edition, U.S.-only release: Speyburn Arranta Casks. This is a no-age-statement single malt that is aged entirely in first-fill ex-bourbon casks. I don’t know what kind of barrels standard Speyburn 10 uses for aging, but presumably some refill casks are in the mix. Upshot: Arranta (meaning ‘bold’, ‘daring,’ and ‘intrepid’ in Gaelic) should have a stronger barrel influence and a bolder wood profile.

The results are nice and in keeping with the Speyburn style. On the nose, ample malt up front, plus some citrus peel character and a little nutmeg. The palate adds to the above, folding in ample vanilla plus walnut and almond notes, a touch of milk chocolate, and some surprising tobacco touches that give it a spicy/herbal kick on the finish. There’s lots going on here, and Arranta is fun to kick around on a lazy evening as you explore its charms.

It could stand a bit more cohesion on the finish but I’d have no trouble tippling on this as an everyday dram — and it’s different enough to merit sustained exploration.

92 proof.

B+ / $40 /

Review: Franciscan Equilibrium and Sauvignon Blanc, 2014 Vintage

franciscan Equilibrium non vintage bottle shotIt’s still hot enough outside for cold white wine. Here are two new releases from Franciscan worth a look.

2014 Franciscan Equilibrium – A blend of sauvignon blanc (72%), chardonnay (17%), and muscat (11%). If you don’t like that perfume of muscat, don’t bother applying — it shows through clearly even though it’s the lowest proportion of this blend. The rest is baked apples, brown sugar, and white flowers. A bit much at times. Serve well chilled. B / $16

2014 Franciscan Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley – Crisp, and lightly tropical, this simple sauvignon blanc has overtones of fresh grasses and more of those white flowers. Some honeydew notes emerge on the lightly sweet finish. I’d love to see a bit more acidity, but all told, it’s a solid example of the varietal. B+ / $18

Scenes from Jordan Winery’s Harvest Lunch

If you’re a fan of Jordan, you need to make a point to get out to the winery during harvest season, when the winery puts on its annual series of harvest lunches, beautiful buffet spreads that pair well with Jordan’s signature chardonnay and cabernet.

I recently attended lunch here — the final harvest lunch of the season (and, owing to another early harvest, after picking had long since been completed) — and was amazed with the meal and the wines.

Here’s a brief report of the wines poured, and some pics of the experience.

2013 Jordan Chardonnay – fresh and flavorful, with strong apple and light brown sugar notes; crisp and pretty / A-

2008 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon – opulent and loaded with violets, currants, and some raspberry; seductive earthiness leads to a long and silky finish / A

2011 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon – youthful at present and quite tight; predominantly herbal, with some dark chocolate notes / B+

Review: The Antiquary 21 Years Old Blended Scotch Whisky

antiquary-21_0Made by Tomatin, Antiquary is “the rare old blend,” a hodgepodge of whiskies from all over Scotland (including a touch of Islay in it) that seems to want to out-walk Johnnie Walker.

The 21 year old expression (gold label bottling; there are others) is a malty whisky that’s mellow with notes of fresh barley and thick oatmeal, a touch of cinnamon, a bit of apple fruit, and a solid vanilla caramel character. A very slight touch of peat smoke is evident, more on the palate than the nose. Nothing shocking here; if you’re at all familiar with blended scotch you’ll find The Antiquary a fine example of the style, taking minimal chances while providing an easy-drinking, well-rounded whisky with just the slightest amount of edge on it – a real tour of the region.

86 proof.


Review: Sandra Lee Cocktail Time Margarita – Key Lime and Strawberry

Sandra Lee is a celebrity chef (my wife knew who she was anyway) who’s branching out of cookbooks and into… margies!

These ready-to-drink margarita cocktails are targeted at the higher shelf consumer, as they’re made with real fruit, cane sugar, and “premium blue agave tequila and triple sec liqueur”? I’m not entirely sure if that means the tequila is 100% agave, but let’s assume maybe.

Two flavors exist — lime and strawberry — and we tried them both. Either way, you can’t argue with the price. At less than $3 a serving, it’s hard not to consider packing one of these for your next beach outing.

Sandra Lee Cocktail Time Margarita Key Lime – A classic margarita. Not at all bad, a completely credible margarita, featuring moderate sweetness (not too sweet), tart lime (not too tart), and a touch of bite (though it could use quite a bit more). At 13% alcohol, this is a pretty tame margarita, but an extra ounce of your favorite silver tequila should bring it completely up to snuff. Straight from the bottle, however, it’s perfectly acceptable for an afternoon poolside. Once of the better margaritas-in-a-bottle out there. B+

Sandra Lee Cocktail Time Margarita Strawberry – Naturally, this is the strawberry margarita version. Very, very fruity, first on the nose, then on the palate. Lots and lots of sweetness here dulls the rest of the cocktail with its melted Jolly Rancher character, and again an extra shot of blanco offers an improvement. Probably better as a frozen drink (though I didn’t try it that way). B-

each $16 per 750ml bottle /