Category Archives: Rated B+

Review: Shock Top Ghost Pepper Wheat Experimental Beer

Earlier this year, Shock Top didn’t release its experimental Campfire Wheat Beer, a balls-out brew meant to taste like s’mores. Like Campfire, Ghost Pepper Wheat is destined for service at beer festivals only, so you’ll have to keep tabs on Shock Top’s website or Facebook page to figure out where it can be found.

Fortunately, unlike Campfire, Ghost Pepper Wheat is a far more successful (if less ambitious) experiment. An unfiltered wheat beer brewed with ghost pepper chiles — the hottest chile pepper in the world — plus a touch of blue agave and citrus peel, it’s a bit of a spin on tradition, combining the cereal notes of a wheat beer with the crispness of a Mexican lager.

The inclusion of the ghost pepper is of course the unique part of the draw here, and unlike many pepper-infused beers, Ghost Pepper Wheat doesn’t overplay this aspect of the beer. In fact, the spiciness is just barely present — just a hint on the tongue and the cheeks, so little that there can’t be more than a few drops of ghost pepper extract in an entire batch of this beer. In fact, it’s so mild that it’s one of the few times I’ve encountered a spicy beer (generally a bad idea in my book) where I actually thought it could use more heat.

Aside from the spiciness (or lack thereof), the beer is worthwhile. The citrus peel element is noticeable, but not overdone, giving the wheat beer base a little balance. Could you get the same effect by dropping a squeeze of orange and a dash of Tabasco into your standard grade Shock Top? Probably, but where’s the fun in that?

5.2% abv.

B+ / not for sale / shocktopbeer.com

Review: Hudson Whiskey Maple Cask Rye

hudson maple cask rye 525x786 Review: Hudson Whiskey Maple Cask Rye

Aka Hudson Maple Rye, this limited edition bottling is the latest from New York’s Tuthilltown Spirits, one of the original and most iconic craft distillers in the U.S.

Hudson Maple Cask Rye is born from a deal the company has with a nearby maple syrup maker: They send old bourbon barrels to the syrup guys, who age syrup in them. Hudson then takes the old syrup-infused barrels back, and they then put new-make rye (a 100% rye mash) in them, for “a little under four years.” The result is this whiskey, as true a “maple aged” spirit as you’re going to find, aged in maple syrup barrels rather than simply spiked with syrup or, bleccch, artificial flavors.

Hudson’s Maple Rye offers a lush combination of flavors you won’t readily find in other spirits. The nose is all rye: The grain notes are toasty and very present, crisp and chewy with dense cereal notes. On the body, things open up: Sweet and spice and everything rye, with those grainy characters fading into sultry maple tones. This is far from overdone, a frequent problem with other “maple” spirits, but is rather a subtle and natural companion to the chewy savoriness that the rye lends to this whiskey. Secondary notes include raisins, plum pudding, orange peel, nutmeg, and hints of the underlying oak used for the barrels. The maple is there — always there — but it’s kept in check, understated and balanced.

Altogether this is fun stuff, my sole complaint being that the underlying spirit is just too young (a frequent issue I have with Hudson’s whiskeys). With another couple of years in these barrels, I wager this stuff would really have started to sing.

92 proof.

B+ / $40 (375ml) / hudsonwhiskey.com

Review: Wolfgang Puck Wines, 2013 Releases

Wolfgang Puck Cabernet Bottleshot 116x300 Review: Wolfgang Puck Wines, 2013 ReleasesCelebrity chefs are plowing their way into the wine world (makes sense), and Wolfgang Puck is the latest with his own house wine that you can serve at your house. Made by DFV Wines (better known as Delicato), the two Puck wines we tried are easygoing and pleasant, but far from challenging or complex. Thoughts follow.

2010 Wolfgang Puck Red Blend Master Lot Reserve California – A bright and fresh red, thick with strawberry and raspberry, but with sweetness kept in check. The nose offers hints of tobacco smoke and leather, but the body pushes the fruit through to the finish. It’s a nice combination, but a simple one. B+ / $10

2011 Wolfgang Puck Cabernet Sauvignon Master Lot Reserve California - Dense with plum and currant, the fruit is countered by just a touch of earthiness, and some chocolate character. Pleasant, but again, simple as can be. B / $12

wolfgangpuck.com

Review: Wines of Mossback, 2013 Releases

Mossback2012ChardHiRes 93x300 Review: Wines of Mossback, 2013 ReleasesThe latest label from the Crew Wine Company, Mossback arrives with four California-focused varietals and price points around the $20 range. We tried two bottlings. Thoughts follow.

2012 Mossback Chardonnay Russian River Valley – Muted nose, some melon, some lemon oil notes, and a little buttery wood to smooth it all out. On the body, the buttery notes dominate, but they aren’t overly aggressive. In time, a mellow apple and lemon character slowly rises to the surface. Not overwhelmingly “Chard-like” nor ambitious in its fruit level, but a solid, food-friendly experience. B+ / $18

2010 Mossback Cabernet Sauvignon Chalk Hill - Simple yet pretty Cabernet, with a lightly herbal nose that’s backed by a body with a bit more vegetation on it. The fruit is more black currant than blackberry, with a finish that hints at cedar and rosemary. As with the Chardonnay, it’s a solid choice with a meal. B+ / $25

crewwines.com

Review: Sipsmith London Dry Gin

Sipsmith London Dry Gin 109x300 Review: Sipsmith London Dry Gin“The first copper distillery in London for 200 years.” That’s a big deal, and Sipsmith’s London Dry Gin — one of the few London Drys that can claim to actually be from London (the other main one being Beefeater) — stands up to its own self-generated hype.

Sipsmith starts with a barley base and is flavored with 10 botanicals, including Macedonian juniper, Seville orange peel, Spanish lemon peel, Italian orris root, Spanish licorice root, Belgian angelica root, Madagascan cinnamon, Chinese cassia, Spanish almonds, and Bulgarian coriander. Altogether a fairly classic London Dry style botanical bill, with the addition of licorice and two types of cinnamon. Batches are made 400 bottles at a time.

As London Dry gins go, Sipsmith is a quieter, sweeter example. The nose is mild, with the citrus notes easily overwhelming the juniper. The latter is more present on the body, but even there it’s kept in check by cinnamon sugar, some woody root notes, and, surprisingly, those almonds. The finish is more sweet than tart, and the spirit drinks far more sedately than its slightly overproof alcohol level would indicate. 

Worth a try, particularly in more fanciful gin-based cocktails.

83.2 proof.

B+ / $34 / wilsondaniels.com

Tasting the Wines of Hardy’s Australia, 2013 Releases

Nottage Hill Pinot Noir Non Vintage 82x300 Tasting the Wines of Hardys Australia, 2013 ReleasesAustralia’s Hardy’s may be a big producer that competes with the “critter wines” of the world, but considering its wines are this affordable, it keeps quality surprisingly high. Here’s a look at five recently released Hardy’s vintages — bottled under both the William Hardy and Nottage Hill label. Thoughts follow.

2011 William Hardy Chardonnay South Australia – On the nose it’s simplistic, with a rather rough, wood-driven nose and some alcoholic vapor character. The body offers some very sweet honey notes, with apricots, lemon-lime, and some mango character on the finish. As it aerates, the sweetness — which is initially almost sickly — mellows out, taking any wood character with it. What’s left is a basic, quite tropical Chardonnay that wears its fruit on its sleeve. B / $20

2011 William Hardy Shiraz South Australia - Surprisingly drinkable, this fresh and fruity wine keeps the sugar dialed back enough to make for an easily sippable potion either solo or at mealtime. The nose is lightly brooding and a touchy meaty, while the body is pure strawberry and raspberry. An approachable midweek sipper. B+ / $15

2012 Hardy’s Nottage Hill Chardonnay South Eastern Australia - Again, alcoholic vapors up front, with a buttery character that veers on movie theater popcorn, but the body offers fresh peaches and pineapple. Quite sweet, it’s got a creamy character to it that complements the tropical notes, almost like a sherbet. This becomes a bit much over time, making this fine for a glass, but somewhat overwhelming for a refill. B / $8

2012 Hardy’s Nottage Hill Pinot Noir South Eastern Australia - A harmless red, somewhat sweet and not immediately characteristic of the grape. Tart raspberries up front, with a kind of coffee and cocoa bean character underneath. Easy, silky finish. B+ / $14

2012 Hardy’s Nottage Hill Shiraz South Eastern Australia - A slight pepper character on the nose is the only thing that tips you off that this is Shiraz, but the overall craftsmanship of this wine shows off a modestly structured wine, ripe with berry fruit and dense with sweetness. The finish brings along some cedar box character, a surprising touch in an otherwise straightforward bottling. B+ / $13

hardyswines.com

Review: Wines of Alto Adige, 2013 Releases

Nals Margreid Galea Schiava 106x300 Review: Wines of Alto Adige, 2013 ReleasesThe Alto Adige region in the far north of Italy (how far north? two-thirds of its inhabitants speak German) is best known for its most famous son: Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio. But there’s a huge diversity of grape varietals grown in this mountainous area — over 20 of them, despite the fact that its size is a third that of Napa Valley.

Thoughts on three newly released Alto Adige wines — stylistically all over the map — follow.

2011 St. Paul’s Lagrein Alto Adige – A grape that’s vinified virtually nowhere but in Alto Adige, Lagrein can be very complex but is often a somewhat mushroomy, skunky wine  that is quickly forgotten. That’s largely the case here: St. Paul’s 2011 Lagrein has ample green pepper on the nose, with a muddy, tar-laden, and slightly prune-driven body. Gamy finish. C- / $25

2011 Nals Margreid Galea Schiava Alto Adige - Another odd grape, Schiava is indiginous to Italy and Germany. Very light and clear in color, this wine is simple but full of strawberry notes. The wine develops some mushroom notes on the nose as it aerates, but the body remains brisk and tart. The overall effect is unusual, but the wine remains fresh and easy to enjoy. B+ / $20

2012 Tiefenbrunner Gewurztraminer Alto Adige – A slightly tough number, this perfumy wine offers a bit of astringency on the nose, and some rubbing alcohol character as you sip on it. Fortunately, some Viognier-like fruit — peaches and apricots — balance things out, but the fruit character fades over time as its left to its own devices in the glass. B- / $17

Review: Maurin Dry, White, and Red Vermouth

Maurin White Bottle shot 115x300 Review: Maurin Dry, White, and Red VermouthVermouth is a beverage on the return, and Anchor Distilling has joined forces with old Maurin (you’ve seen the iconic green devil posters at better French cafes in your neighborhood) to recreate the vermouths once made by Auguste Maurin, back in 1884.

The two companies adapted Maurin’s traditional recipe for these new vermouths, which are available in three styles. Per the company’s press release, “The Maurin Dry, White and Red Vermouths are fortified wines blended from various regions across France, then infused with coriander, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, Maurin’s absinthe and other traditional herbs and spices.” We tasted the trio, and thoughts follow.

Each is bottled at 17% abv.

Maurin Dry Vermouth – Fragrant with notes of incense, coriander, and cloves. Ample spice on the palate, with a light astrignency and a drying finish. Over time the wine develops a holiday character, as the cinnamon and nutmeg warm up, giving it a mulled wine sensibility. But the bittersweet finish leaves no doubt that you’re drinking vermouth, not glogg. Pairs better with gin over vodka. A-

Maurin White Vermouth - Much like the Dry, but with a richer body and sweeter from start to finish. The bitter conclusion is absent here, as the vermouth takes on a more peachy/mango character as it fades from view. (This has the side effect of dulling some of the spice character, but that’s really just a different approach.) Overall, as a mixer I find I have a preference for the dry — and I’m not alone, which is why sweet white vermouths are relatively rare in comparison to the other two varieties — but if I was drinking vermouth straight (people do this), I’d easily pick the White. Better with vodka; gin demolishes what spice it has left. B+

Maurin Red Vermouth - Aka “sweet vermouth.” Indeed it’s quite red in color, and the spice is thick on the nose, very much offering a mulled wine character, with cloves easily the strongest component. On the palate, there’s gingerbread, anise, and brandied raisins bobbing in and out. Classic gluhwein flavors, but with refinement (and lower alcohol levels), it’s sweet but not overly so, offering a bit of fruit punch without quite making you think about that cartoon guy in the Hawaiian outfit. Acquits itself well in a Manhattan. A-

each $19 / anchordistilling.com

Review: Big House Bourbon and Big House Tupelo Honey

big house bourbon 153x300 Review: Big House Bourbon and Big House Tupelo HoneyUnderdog Spirits, in Livermore, California, brings you these two spirits, crafted to order by LDI. For the base bourbon, the 60% corn, 35% rye, 5% malted barley mashbill is aged for 6 years before bottling. Thoughts follow.

Big House Straight Bourbon Whiskey – At first blush, there’s quite a harsh nose here; I get some mint notes, but there’s also quite a bit of astringency that takes a long while to blow off. Eventually it does, leaving behind a somewhat racy, spicy, but curiously unstructured aroma. The body is fortunately more traditional, with huge vanilla caramel notes and ample sweetness. The short, lightly woody finish offers hints of roasted coffee beans. All in all it’s nothing shocking, but at this price (and 90 proof at that) it probably needn’t be. 90 proof. B / $17

Big House Tupelo Honey – The honey-flavored version of same. The much lighter color makes you think this will be heavy on the honey, but that’s not the case. It’s lighter primarily because it’s considerably lower in proof — 70 proof vs. Big House’s 90 proof. The honey is in fact dialed back, way back. The syrupy goodness is almost non-evident on the nose, and on the body it feels just barely there, added with an eyedropper perhaps. This approach works quite well with Big House, adding a more interesting sweetness that goes partway in correcting the above’s candy-focused character, but it’s so dialed down that you never get the sickly sweetness you can encounter with many other renditions of this whiskey classic.  As honey-flavored whiskeys go, Big House pulls this one off surprisingly well. B+ / $20

bighousebourbon.com

Review: Anchor Distilling White Christmas White Whiskey

Anchor White Christmas 497x1200 Review: Anchor Distilling White Christmas White Whiskey

Here’s a first: A limited edition white whiskey, created by San Francisco’s Anchor Distilling exclusively for the 2013 holiday season.

It’s a neat idea. Every year Anchor’s brewing arm cooks up a special — and always unique — Christmas Ale. 2013′s White Christmas whiskey is distilled from the 2012 Christmas Ale, hence the whiskey’s subtitle, “The Spirit of Christmas Past.”

Twice distilled and unaged, the beer’s spicier elements come through clearly — so much so that you might do a double take and think you’re drinking gin. Orange peel, juniper berries, cloves, and cardamom notes are all present, but they’re atop an earthy, mushroomy core. The nose is light, the body rich but not overwhelming — and without the overwhelmingly hoary funkiness that’s so common with white dog. Sure, white whiskeys don’t often dazzle with nuance or depth, but as the category goes, this is one of the more unique, worthwhile, and drinkable white whiskeys I’ve encountered in recent months.

90 proof. Available in California only.

B+ / $50 / anchordistilling.com

Review: Cruzan Velvet Cinn Horchata and Rum Liqueur

 Review: Cruzan Velvet Cinn Horchata and Rum LiqueurWould you believe there is more than one horchata-plus-rum liqueur on the market? It’s true.

Velvet Cinn is Cruzan’s spin on a spiked version of the classic Mexican rice-meets-almond-meets-cinnamon beverage. The almondy nuttiness comes through clearly on the nose here, along with cinnamon notes. The body is very sweet and cinnamon-fueled, with an authentic-feeling sweet cream finish. The texture isn’t particularly viscous, but it does coat the mouth and leave a lingering impression for some time after you sip it.

What’s missing? The rum. I really don’t get any of it. But perhaps that’s ultimately not necessary. As a spirit based on horchata goes, Velvet Cinn comes across as authentic and engaging, and fans of this sweet treat will probably swoon over Cruzan’s lightly alcoholic rendition. If you need more of a kick, I suppose you can always just add more rum.

Produced in Deerfield, Illinois. Naturally and artificially flavored. 30 proof.

B+ / $18 / cruzanrum.com

Review: Le Grand Courtage Sparkling Wine, Brut and Rose

LGC Bottle Fam Portrait 231x300 Review: Le Grand Courtage Sparkling Wine, Brut and RoseLook closer: Le Grand Courtage (“the great courtship”) is sparkling wine made in Burgundy, not Champagne, which means it’s made from different grapes… and priced at about $20 a bottle. Thoughts follow.

NV Le Grand Courtage Grande Cuvee Blanc de Blancs Brut - A blend of Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Colombard, and Ugni Blanc. Lots of tart, green apple character here, with lemon peel also evident on the nose. The body is heavy on the aforementioned fruit, but it also has an interesting bakery character to it akin to cream puffs, with touches of yeast. The mellow conclusion takes things to a simple and easy finish. Altogether a solid choice for a nice, restrained aperitif. B+ / $20 (also available as a 187ml mini)

NV Le Grand Courtage Grande Cuvee Brut Rose - A pink blend of Chardonnay, Ugni Blanc, and Gamay. Fresh and fruity, with clear strawberry notes on the nose. A bracing and lasting acidity comes along quickly on the palate, offering some floral elements — almost green and grassy at times. The finish is clean and inviting, that strawberry element lingering, along with some rose petal notes. Lovely and difficult to put down; even works well with spicy meals. A- / $22

legrandcourtage.com

Review: 2013 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau

GD Beaujolais Nouveau 2013 08 13 Review: 2013 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais NouveauHey guys, it’s turkey day! But the end of November also means one thing for wine fans: The release of Beaujolais Nouveau, the first wines to come from the just-finished 2013 harvest. As usual, Duboeuf is first out of the gate, and these bottlings should be on store shelves right now if you need a last-minute holiday tipple.

2013′s Nouveau is surprisingly better than the usual simplistic and rustic fare that is the hallmark of this style of wine. That’s not to say 2013′s release isn’t simplistic or rustic — it’s both — but it does have some nuance and refinement that is often lacking in Beaujolais Nouveau.

The nose is full of the usual strawberry candy notes, but there’s also an herbal edge to it that adds intrigue. The body is less aggressively sweet than usual, too, offering some balance and tart acid on the finish. The flavor profile is simple, with a basic fruit compote character, but notes of orange peel on the finish give this something to at least talk about while the turkey is still roasting.

B+ / $8 / duboeuf.com

Review: Batch 206 Vodkas, Gin, and Moonshine

BATCH206 VODKA BOTTLE 114x300 Review: Batch 206 Vodkas, Gin, and MoonshineSeattle-based Batch 206 is a craft distillery focused on hyperlocal raw materials — just about all of its source materials are from the Pacific Northwest. The company cooks up its goodies in a variety of stills, including a unique hybrid pot/column still, and most are filtered heavily through coconut husk charcoal before bottling. Thoughts on four of the company’s primary spirits follow.

Batch 206 Vodka – Hand-crafted and micro-batched it may be, this vodka, crafted from red winter wheat and malted barley, is one of the sweetest I’ve seen. Lush with honey notes up front, it isn’t until you’re well into tasting that the more traditional medicinality comes forth. You’ll have to push past lots of marshmallow notes to get to this vodka’s core… but it’s there, if you go a-huntin’. 80 proof. B / $25

Batch 206 Counter Gin – A modern American gin. The core is seemingly based on 206′s vodka as a base. It’s then flavored, per the company, with “juniper berries from Albania, whole cucumbers from Seattle’s Pike Place Market, tarragon and verbena leaves from Provence, lavender flowers from Sequim, Washington, and orange peel from Seville, Spain, along with Floridian Meyer lemon peel and English orris root as minor constituents.” The fresh nose is driven by the orange peel and juniper, but neither is overdone. These are also big on the body, and some floral characteristics come along next, slightly earthy (the verbena?) notes overwhelming the lavender, which can be a real downer in a gin. The finish is long, slightly sweet (just like the vodka), with some spiciness evident as well. I’d love to see this gin with a little black pepper in it to pump that component up a bit. Meanwhile, try it in a sweeter cocktail. 80 proof. B+ / $25

Batch 206 See 7 Stars Moonshine – Old-school white whiskey, crafted from a mash of Columbia Basin corn and Washington malted barley. Sweet, distinct caramel notes on the nose. The body’s got ample popcorn and plenty of peppery heat, thanks to its higher, heftier proof level and finishes with hints of sugar. Not terribly overwhelming, but not overly complex, either. This is a credible white dog driven by its constituent grain components. Treat appropriately. 100 proof. B / $28

Batch 206 Mad Mint Vodka – Peppermint-infused, overproof vodka, sweetened with local beet sugar. (The mint is Washington-grown, too.) The nose is a perfect recreation of an Andes mint — chocolate and mint, sandwiched together. It’s almost enough fun just to smell it. Of course, the body can’t compare… it’s half alcohol, after all. It’s got the essence of mint and a touch of cocoa here, injected with plenty of raw power. It grows on you wickedly… I presume driving the name of the spirit. Not exactly refined, but it is fun stuff. 100 proof. A- / $27

batch206.com

Review: Firefly White Lightning Moonshine and Apple Pie Moonshine

Firefly Moonshine Rocks 525x349 Review: Firefly White Lightning Moonshine and Apple Pie Moonshine

I’m a big fan of Firefly’s tea-flavored vodka, probably the best on the market. Recently the distillery, based in Wadmalaw Island, South Carolina, branched out into moonshine — unaged “raw corn whiskey,” available unflavored or in one of five different flavored versions. We got both the pure stuff and one of the flavors. Thoughts — surprising thoughts — follow. 

Firefly White Lightning Moonshine – Popcorn nose, almost buttery. From the sharp nose you might think you’re in for a rough and rustic body, but that’s not the case. This White Lightning is surprisingly silky, presumably sweetened but not overdone, this is spicy (over 100 proof) but flavorful, driven by its corn origins but mellowed out with a glazing of sugar. That’s not a slight. This may be moonshine, but it tempers its frontier heritage with a sweetness that’s wholly appropriate. 100.7 proof. B+

Firefly Apple Pie Moonshine – I’ve had apple pie-flavored spirits before, but this is the first time I’ve had one that gets all the components of the dessert in one little shot. It’s all here: apples, cinnamon, caramel, and pie crust. As with Firefly’s masterful tea-flavored vodka, this proves how flavored spirits can be crafted with intelligence, and without being crammed full of as much sugar as possible. This is sweet, but an apple pie is also sweet. Like a well-made pie, Firefly has figured out the balance of the equation (low alcohol doesn’t hurt here), and I have to give them props on that count. 60.3 proof. A

each $20 / fireflymoonshine.com

Review: BarSol Pisco – Quebranta & Italia

barsol pisco 191x300 Review: BarSol Pisco   Quebranta & ItaliaPisco is a spirit on the rise, and Peru’s BarSol makes a huge range of them — seven varieties at present. Below we look at two single-grape varieties, a quebranta and an italia, which are probably the two most common pisco grapes grown. Thoughts on each follow. Both are 80 proof.

BarSol Primero Quebranta Pisco – 100% quebranta grapes, BarSol’s entry-level Pisco. Fresh nose, with notes of powdered milk, and some pine needles. Piney on the tongue, with some lemon notes in the mid-palate. Altogether this is mild on the pisco spectrum, with a short finish that is reminiscent of pear. Overall it’s a solid choice for a mixing pisco, offering classic pisco character without being overwhelming with the brash and young funkiness that’s typical of this spirit. B+ / $20

BarSol Selecto Italia Pisco - 100% italia grapes, a step up in price. Much bigger on the nose. Big citrus notes, some evergreen aromas, but more of it than the quebranta. On the palate, the body is much more viscous than the quebranta, with a honey bent to it. Racier all around, spicy, with a longer finish and a certain chewiness to it. A good choice if you’re looking for less neutrality in your spirit and more indigenous character, without a whole lot of funk. A- / $35

barsolpisco.com

Tasting the Wines of Emiliana’s Coyam

Chile’s Emiliana produces wines under a number of labels, but few are as popular as Coyam, an organic and biodynamic wine that’s blended from up to six indigenous grapes.

The neat thing about Coyam is that the blend varies — sometimes wildly — from year to year, and resident winemaker Noelia Orts recently traveled to San Francisco to explain how the wine was made and, intriguingly, to showcase the six component varietal wines in their primitive, barrel-sample form. The idea: Taste how these very different wines, when sampled separately, combine to form a unique whole.

Tasting the 2013 barrel samples was eye-opening. The syrah was far from finished, dense and undercooked, while the carmenere offered good acidity. I was most taken by the mourvedre, which had impressive balance and fruit already. While we didn’t get to start blending the wines directly — what a mess that would have been at a restaurant — the experience did aid in the understanding of how complicated blends are made.

Over lunch at San Francisco’s Hakkasan, we turned to tasting the finished wines, a range of vintages dating back to 2001. (Also sampled in brief was Emiliana’s Ge, one of the most prized “cult” wines of Chile.) Thoughts on those finished wines follow.

2001 Coyam – 36% merlot, 21% carmenere, 21% cabernet sauvignon, 18% syrah, 4% mourvedre. Aging but still lively, lots of wood, quite tannic on the finish. B+ / $NA

2007 Coyam – 38% syrah, 21% cabernet sauvignon, 21% carmenere, 17% merlot, 2% petit verdot, 1% mourvedre. A big Chilean vintage, some floral elements, with a bit of licorice on the back end. Complex, somewhat Burgundian in style, with a nutty finish. B+ / $45

2009 Coyam - 41% syrah, 29% carmenere, 20% merlot, 7% cabernet sauvignon, 2% mourvedre, 1% petit verdot. Fresh, some mint, with big berry notes and a rush of wood. Slightly huskier than the 2010. A- / $30

2010 Coyam - 38% syrah, 27% carmenere, 21% merlot, 12% cabernet sauvignon, 1% mourvedre, 1% petit verdot. Some jam, growing in balance as it evolves. Fresh fruit, with blackberry and spice. A- / $30

2012 Coyam (barrel sample) – 46% syrah, 21% carmenere, 16% cabernet sauvignon, 5% mourvedre, 2% mablec. Quite a different recipe, with no merlot. A bit muddy as it develops, somewhat pruny, with leather notes. B- / $TBD

2010 Ge - 48% carmenere, 38% syrah, 14% cabernet sauvignon. Revelatory. Chocolate, licorice, and incredible depth, featuring touches of almonds and cinnamon. I could drink this all day. A+ / $75

emiliana.cl

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Review: Frank Family Vineyards Zinfandel and Chardonnay, 2013 Releases

Frank Family Napa Valley Zinfandel 200x300 Review: Frank Family Vineyards Zinfandel and Chardonnay, 2013 ReleasesNapa-based Frank Family Vineyards has just released two new bottlings, a Zinfandel and a Chardonnay. We spent time with both. Thoughts follow.

2011 Frank Family Vineyards Zinfandel Napa Valley – Earthy and smoky on the nose, at first blush this feels like it will be a bruiser. The body however reveals a far fruitier core, tempered however by some mushroom, leather, and balsamic character. Atypical of Zinfandel, it does reveal more of its varietal character at the back end with some blackberry jam-on-burnt toast notes. 89% Zin, 11% Petite Sirah. B / $37

2012 Frank Family Vineyards Chardonnay Carneros – Bright gold, with a modest, tropical nose. More classic California character on the palate, where the lightly buttery body exhibits toasty oak notes, with plenty of pineapple and mango coming up behind. Traditional, but with less wood and more fruit than your typical Carneros Chardonnay. B+ / $35

frankfamilyvineyards.com

Review: Magnum Exotics Coffee

magnum exotics 147x300 Review: Magnum Exotics CoffeeMagnum Exotics recently debuted its new line of coffees in California, with a national expansion on the way. The company behind these products is a major private label coffee supplier, but this is its first original brand being marketed directly to the public. Thoughts on two of these offerings follow.

Magnum Exotics Organic Fogcutter Dark Roast – Relatively mild, in fact I was surprised to see this described as a dark roast. Fruity, with a touch of cocoa bean on the back end. I enjoyed this brew quite a lot more than I expected. While I normally drink coffee with a touch of sugar, the fruity character in Fogcutter gives it enough balance for me to forgo any sweetener at all. A-

Magnum Exotics Kona Blend Medium Roast – A simple coffee, lightly nutty with a little cocoa bean element to it. Moderate bitterness and mild acidity offer interest to the palate, but the somewhat thin body seems to ask for cream. B+

each $10 per 10-12 oz. bag / magnumexoticscoffee.com

Review: Ivanabitch Vodka Complete Lineup

ivanabitch 62x300 Review: Ivanabitch Vodka Complete LineupMade in the Netherlands, the Ivanabitch people have gone out of their way — way out of their way — to simultaneously give Ivanabitch an Old World back story (it involves a “half-mad” Russian in the 1600s named Dmitri Ivanabitch) and a hip/fresh look with a modern (or at least ’80s) bottle design and a name, well, that has “bitch” in it. (It’s tough to believe, but some people actually think this mad Russian story is true.)

This “vodka with attitude,” as the slogan goes, is made from an unspecified mash, distilled five times, and charcoal filtered. The straight vodka is 80 proof. The flavored versions are 70 proof each. Thoughts follow.

Ivanabitch Vodka – Instant sugar rush on the nose. Sweet on the palate, too, with notes of caramels and butterscotch. Simple and uncomplicated, and, er, did I mention how sweet it is? I’m not sure I’d call this vodka with “attitude,” but I guess “vodka with sugar” doesn’t really roll off the tongue. An easy mixer. Skip it straight. B

Ivanabitch Cherry Vodka - Surprisingly easy and straight-up with a cherry candy nose and body. Almost a cherry cola kick to it, with some hints of strawberry. Not at all bad, this would be a decent mixer in any number of beach-tinis. Alt Singapore Sling, maybe? B+

Ivanabitch Blackberry Vodka - Harsh on the nose, medicinal. The body is vague and indistinct. Blackberry? Blueberry? Tastes more like a mixed cobbler dipped in rubbing alcohol. The finish finally brings along some blackberry character, but it’s a long time coming. C

Ivanabitch Dutch Apple Vodka - Apple Jolly Ranchers on the nose. Sweet and sour and easily identifiable. The body’s tailor-made for classic(?) Appletinis, but surprisingly it’s not overwhelmingly sweet, featuring a touch of Granny Smith tang to balance things out. I’d drink it. B+

Ivanabitch Coconut Vodka - Unlike the rest of the vodkas in the lineup, this one is slightly tinged a pale yellow. Smells like Malibu, sweet and coconutty and might-as-well-be-on-the-beach. Very sweet, which masks any sense of alcohol. But the coconut character is solid, infused with just a hint of peanut character. Not bad, but I’d rather have rum. B

Ivanabitch Peach Vodka - Bigger peach notes on the body than the nose, but both are reasonably authentic, though more in the vein of canned peaches in syrup than a fresh peach. SoCo fans will probably find this to their liking, but it’s one of those flavors where I struggle to figure out how to use it. B-

Ivanabitch Lemmon Vodka - A complicated story on the back of the bottle references “Lemmon Island,” which does not exist. What does exist: Sugar! There’s plenty of that here, along with intense lemon oil/lemon custard notes, with a long, sweet finish. Lemon drops, anyone? Just add ice, I guess. B

Ivanabitch Red Berry Vodka - Much like the Blackberry vodka, this one has less sweetness and more vaguery — though the strawberry and chocolate notes here are a little more easygoing. The finish heads into strawberry shortcake character, as that familiar sweetness comes on more strongly in the end. Harmless. B

Ivanabitch Orange Vodka – Not triple sec, but you’d never know it from the taste. Hefty Valencia oranges on the nose and palate, with a lightly bittersweet orange peel character on the finish. Surprisingly light and easygoing, it’s a quick Cosmo shortcut if you’re out of orange liqueur. B+

Ivanabitch Vanilla Vodka - Also translucent, a slightly darker brown than the Coconut flavor. Overwhelming birthday cake on the nose, a powerhouse that punches you in the gut on the palate. And yet, it manages to turn bitter on the finish. A weak entry. C-

Ivanabitch Tobacco Vodka – Already much maligned as “the end of flavored vodkas,” I figure if “Electricity Flavored Vodka” can exist, why not Tobacco? (Note: there’s no tobacco or nicotine in the vodka.) This is funky stuff. The nose is of fresh leaves, not burning ones or smoking cigarettes. The body, however, is something altogether different. Sort of vanilla, sort of cinnamon, very very sweet, and overwhelmingly off-putting with a funky, sweaty, indescribable finish. By the nose I thought I was in for a unique, even passable, treat. You don’t need to sip it for long to realize that’s not the case. D

Ivanabitch Menthol Tobacco Vodka – Of course there’s a menthol version! The nose is familiar, not terrible distinctive vs. the standard Tobacco version. It is, perhaps, even more powerful though. The body isn’t quite as bad. The addition of mint to the cauldron of flavors here improves things a bit, though that isn’t saying much. After the vanilla and Sweet-N-Low portion of the spirit wears off, you’re left with a vague peppermint character on the back of the throat. It’s hard to shake. In a bad way, I mean. D+

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