Review: Gordon & MacPhail Glenburgie 10 Years Old

glenburgieGlenburgie isn’t a name one encounters too often on this side of the world, but this Speyside distillery has been operating since 1824. An all new distillery was built in 2004, and Pernod Ricard acquired the operation in 2005.

The vast majority of Glenburgie ends up in Ballatine’s blended whisky, but Gordon & MacPhail bottles a small number of expressions, primarily this 10 year old, as single malts.

Glenburgie 10 is a soft and classic sherry barrel-aged expression of the Scottish Highlands, kicking things off with classic nose of honey and nougat notes, layered with a modest level of citrus and cinnamon spice. The body offers a chewy-sweet malt character foremost, with the fruit taking a back seat. It’s more pie crust than baked apples, with a greenish undercurrent. The finish offers some lightly medicinal elements, plus notes of cloves, coconut, and a touch of brine.

Definitively worth a try.

80 proof.

B+ / $55 / gordonandmacphail.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Tasting the Wines of Lodi Native, 2013 Vintage

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Lodi is an area that most California wine fans are familiar with, especially if they enjoy a glass of Zin once in a while. 40 percent of all Zinfandel grown in California comes from this region, and it has the highest proportion of old vine Zin in the state – with some active, still-producing vines dating back to the 1880s.

But Lodi isn’t often thought of when it comes to high-end or natural winemaking. Many of the wines here are unabashedly manipulated and doctored, attempts to make them palatable while keeping prices low.

Lodi Native is an altogether different idea. The project got its start in 2012, when a half-dozen winemakers got it in their head to try natural winemaking in Lodi. This wasn’t a terribly popular idea, but these folks charged ahead nonetheless, putting together a series of six single-vineyard Zinfandels from all around Lodi with the intent of showcasing Lodi’s terroir. These wines are all natural, with only sulfur dioxide added – the wines have all native yeasts, no inoculation, no acidification, no oak chips or similar, no water, and so on. These are predominantly Old Vine Zins meant to showcase exactly what that means.

2012’s wines were a hit – though this is not really designed as a commercial project; rather it’s primarily an educational opportunity – and the group is back with a second round. Recently I had the opportunity to taste the 2013 vintage of Lodi Native wines — complete with discussion with all of the winemakers — and here are my thoughts on the lot.

2013 Lodi Native Stampede Vineyard Fields Family Wines – Smells a bit corky (as do all of these wines, actually… all a little funky on the nose), with lots of earth and vegetal notes. Give the body time and fruit finally emerges. B

2013 Lodi Native Wegat Vineyard Maley Brothers – Lots of dense berry fruit here, massive in body, with classic chocolate notes. Quite sweet, very much in line with Lodi Zin. B+

2013 Lodi Native Trulux Vineyard McCay Cellars – An earthier expression, with herbal notes and a sultry body. Restrained and balanced. B+

2013 Lodi Native Marian’s Vineyard St. Amant – The big winner of the group, with amazingly ripe and juicy blueberry notes. Balanced with wood character on the long finish, a real delight. A

2013 Lodi Native Schmiedt Ranch Macchia – Lots of red fruit, tea leaf, and some baking spices. Long and lightly sweet finish. A-

2013 Lodi Native Soucie Vineyard m2 Wines – Classically dense, extracted Zinfandel, almost loke a dessert wine. Intense, but quite enjoyable with loads of flavor. A-

$180 for the case of six wines / lodinative.com

Review: Smirnoff Peppermint Twist

Smirnoff Peppermint Twist Bottle Shot (HIRES)Ho ho ho! What’s Santa want next to the fireplace? Not another peppermint candy but rather a peppermint-flavored vodka. Smirnoff Peppermint Twist isn’t just a mint-flavored spirit, it’s all wrapped up and ready for your holiday partying.

Let’s give this flavored vodka a holiday-centric spin, shall we?

The nose is all candy canes, and that’s not just the bottle wrap telegraphing things: fresh peppermint, with subtle sweetness underpinning the racy spice. The body’s a smooth operator, offering sweet peppermint candy with a gentle warmth to it. It’s simple and uncomplicated — which is probably what you want from a bottle designed to look like a holiday candy. The finish is quite lasting and appropriately evocative of wintertime. Peppermint flavored spirits aren’t a tough nut to crack, to be honest, but with Peppermint Twist, Smirnoff’s got as good a handle on it as anyone.

P.S. Don’t miss the scratch-and-sniff bottle wrap!

60 proof.

B+ / $15 / smirnoff.com

Tasting the Wines of Gil Family Estates – 2015 Releases

Juan Gil SilverEstablished in 1916 in the Jumilla region of Spain by Juan Gil Jiménez, the Gil Family Estates empire now spans four generations of winemakers. Today, Gil Family Estates operates nine bodegas in eight different appelations, with a continued goal of producing high-end wines at a good value.

We recently tasted five different bottlings from Gil Family Estates, representing its holdings from across the country. Thoughts follow.

2013 Juan Gil Jumilla – 100% Monastrell (Mourvedre) from the home vineyard in Jumilla, in the southeast of Spain. A very chocolate-driven wine, the lush berry fruit goes on and on, layering in an almost chocolate syrup character with a seductive, lengthy finish. A really beautiful wine, and one that makes me wonder why more people aren’t toying with 100% Mourvedre wines. A- / $17

2013 Can Blau Monsant – 40% Mazuelo, 40% Syrah, 25% Garnacha. The Monstant region surrounds Priorat in the northeast of Spain, near Barcelona, and this wine is made in a similar style, though it’s not nearly as dense and rooty. A touch of balsamic gives the fruit — blackberry and some blueberry — an edge, along with chocolate notes that come along on the finish. Nice density, and quite food friendly. B+ / $17

2013 Tridente Tempranillo – 100% Tempranillo from western Spain, near the Portuguese border. A dark and dense wine, it features leathery and peppery notes atop a darkly fruity, almost raisiny core. Heavy tannin and dusty coal notes pervade. B+ / $17

2013 Atteca Old Vines – 100% Garnacha from Calatayud in northeast Spain. Intense fruit here drives the show, bright strawberry and cherry, with light touches of cola and root beer on the finish. One of the most fruit-forward wines in this collection, with a bright, New World structure. B+ / $17

2014 Laya Almansa – 70% Garnacha Tintorera, 30% Monastrell. From Almansa in the southeast of Spain. A bit of a bummer after some high-quality wines preceding it, with this dense wine loaded with cassis and ultimately prune character, before settling into a chocolate candy-meets-raisin routine. Saccharine and simplistic, it’s easy enough at first, but over time it becomes off-putting. C+ / $9

gilfamily.es

The Glenrothes Retrospective: 2001, 1994, 1991, 1985 and 25 Years Old Single Malt

vintage1985After our recent trip to The Glenrothes in Scotland, we were sent home with a collection of bottlings representing the company’s whisky production back to the early 1980s. Let’s take a walk into the past with a look back at five Glenrothes expressions, most of which are no longer in production but which you can still find somewhere on the market these days.

All whiskies are 86 proof. Prices are all based on 2015 sales.

The Glenrothes 2001 Single Malt – A fresh look at a whisky (an exuberant 11 years old, bottled in 2012) we’ve seen before. Nice malt backbone, and very, very gentle. An everyday dram at its heart, it nonetheless offers nuance and complexity in the form of coconut, red fruit, allspice, and light chocolate notes — but by and large it lets the grain-driven malt notes do the talking. A solid, easy-drinker. B+ / $53

The Glenrothes 1994 Single Malt – 11 years old, bottled in 2006. More citrus driven than the typical Glenrothes, here we see sherry having its way with the spirit, imbuing it with notes of orange peel, cloves, and some darker stuff underneath — licorice, burnt coconut, and some dark chocolate. Engaging, if considerably more fruit forward than the typical Glenrothes. B+ / $100

The Glenrothes 1991 Single Malt – 13 years old, bottled in 2005. Nicely sherried, with some more savory notes here — featuring roasted meats, dried herbs, and some charred wood. Solid fruit elements (lots of lemon) emerge alongside just a hint of sea spray. Dried fruits and a touch of incense emerge on the finish, making for a complex and nicely balanced dram. A- / $225

The Glenrothes 1985 Single Malt – 19 years old, bottled in 2005. Medicinal on the nose, which is a real surprise. This fades with time, however, leading to a quite delightful palate.  The body is nutty — again, a departure for Glenrothes — with secondary notes of leather, dried plum, and cloves. At first a bit closed off, this really grew on me over time. Worthwhile. A- / $200

The Glenrothes 25 Years Old Limited Release Single Malt – A rarity for Glenrothes — age statemented rather than vintage dated. That said, this was bottled in 2007, making it the equivalent of a “Glenrothes 1982,” if anyone cares to check my math. Again, a departure: The nose offers notes of almonds, beef jerky, camphor, and orange peel, all in a thick melange. On the tongue, the citrus is tempered by bready notes, more roasted nuts, and a long, slightly smoky, caramel-fueled finish. Once again, give this some time before you judge this dram. It needs more than a few minutes to properly open up and show all its charms. When it does, get ready for the fireworks. A- / $380

theglenrothes.com

Review: Lovell Bros. Georgia Sour Mash Whiskeys

lovell bros Georgia Sour Mash WhiskeyAs the story goes, this line of “sour mash whiskeys” — basically liquor made from corn that’s cut with a little malted barley — got its start in Mt. Airy, Georgia thanks to Carlos Lovell, the son of a son of a son of a moonshiner who finally decided to take the 150-year-old family business legit. Lovell Bros. was officially launched in 2012 — when Carlos was 84 years old.

What you’re looking at is fancy moonshine, though Carlos would probably bristle at that term. Both of these products — one straight white dog, one lightly aged — are the real deal and incredible bargains alike.

Let’s taste.

Lovell Bros. Georgia Sour Mash (White Whiskey) – Rustic on the nose, this unaged whiskey feels like it’s going to be a moon-shiny heat bomb, but those aromas of grain and petrol lead to some surprising places. Namely, there’s lots of fruit on the palate of this white spirit, apples and peaches and coconut — before some gentle notes of roasted grains wash over the lot. The finish is warming and lengthy with hints of chocolate, soothing and coming across as anything but the firewater you might expect. As good a white whiskey as you’re going to find on the market today. 95 proof. Reviewed: Batch #2. A- / $23

Lovell Bros. Georgia Sour Mash Whiskey – Take the above and age it for an unstated amount of time in old Jack Daniel’s barrels and you have this, distinguished by the brown color and the addition of the word “whiskey” to the name. A surprising degree of lumberyard wafts across the nose, washing back much of the inherent grain character present in the white dog. Some baking spice and vanilla notes mingle with the wood, too. But as with the white whiskey, the body again tells a different tale than the nose. Here we find stronger baking spices, more baked apples than fresh ones, and a woodsy, frontier character that arrives almost with a smoky note. Very young, but surprisingly easy to sip on — and with none of the lingering heat of the white dog. 86 proof. Reviewed: Batch #5. B+ / $23

lovellbroswhiskey.com

Review: Warsteiner Winter Special Edition

WEIHNACHT_INT_USA_Winter_Special_EditionWarsteiner has never been my favorite brew, but with Winter Special Edition, I’ve found both a Warsteiner variety I can enjoy — and a “winter brew” release that actually works well.

This Munich Dunkel style lager offers ample malt up front but keeps things from turning overtly sweet and cloying. In lieu of that rock candy syrup character that can so often muck up the works, the beer offers notes of apples, caramel, and just a smattering of baking spice notes — restrained but present, and just festive enough, like when your boss dresses as Santa at the company Christmas party. The hops are quiet but show through enough to add a playful bitterness to the finish.

5.6% abv.

B+ / $8 per six-pack of 11.2-oz bottles / warsteiner.us

Review: 2015 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau

GD_Nouveau_FY16_BS_MainLabel_FINALThe freshest of the freshest wine is now in a supermarket near you. Georges Duboeuf’s 2015 Beaujolais Nouveau is here, and for once it’s actually worth seeking out.

This ultra-young wine offers a nose of ripe strawberries and candied fruit notes, as always, but finds balance on the body in the form of some chocolate, fresh herb notes, and much less sweetness than this wine typically exhibits. Lately I’ve found myself becoming heavily attuned to sweetness in wines these days, and Bojo Nouveau is often a serious offender in that category. Surprisingly, the wine manages to keep the sugar in check with the 2015 vintage, which is definitely a boon for an oft-maligned category — and for you, the holiday drinker.

Even the bottle design is better than usual!

B+ / $8 / duboeuf.com

Tasting the Wines of Angela Velenosi, 2015 Releases

velenosiAngela Velenosi works the Le Marche region of Italy, east of Tuscany, to produce a fantastic assortment of wines bottled under the Velenosi Vini banner (also look for “Villa Angela” on the label). I couldn’t attend a lunch with her to taste through her wines, but she was kind enough to send a collection of eight of them for me to try on my own.

Thoughts follow.

NV Velenosi Passerina Vino Spumante Brut – Want an alternative to Prosecco? Check out Velenosi’s sparkler made from Passerina grapes. Notes of honey and banana liven up a creamy but crisp lemon/apple core, giving this wine a character that’s a bit closer to Alsatian Cremant than its Italian cousins. Perfectly palatable. B+ / $16

2014 Velenosi Falerio Pecorino DOC – Pecorino? Not just a delightful cheese, but also a wine, it turns out. Similar to Pinot Grigio, but with a more herbal, almost vegetal character on the finish. Tropical notes up front make this a nice summertime sipper, but the greener elements call for a food pairing. Simple but fully approachable. B / $9

2014 Velenosi Verdicchio Classico Dei Castilli di Jesi DOC – A well-crafted Verdicchio, with bright acidity and notes of lemon zest, peaches, and subtle grapefruit notes. Very cleansing and refreshing, it’s a more refined alternative to Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc. A- / $15

2013 Velenosi Lacrima di Morro d’Alba DOC – 100% Lacrima di Morro d’Alba grapes, a variety I had heretofore been unfamiliar with. Quite sweet, with a vegetal/herbal undertone. The palate is almost candylike with strawberry notes, an7d surprisingly creamy — almost unctuous. On the finish, balsamic notes arise to wash much of that away, creating a bit of a conflict of balance. C+ / $13

2013 Velenosi Rosso Piceno Superiore DOC – 70% Montepulciano, 30% Sangiovese. Simple, but pretty, with bright cherry notes laced through with tobacco and a little tar. Lightly leathery and a bit herbal, with a gently sweet character on the back end. B / $15

2010 Velenosi Rosso Piceno Superiore DOC – 70% Montepulciano, 30% Sangiovese — an older bottling. What a difference a few years makes; this wine is showing layers of berries, vanilla, and a touch of marshmallow cream. Tart cherry notes stretch out the slightly syrupy finish. B+ / $15

2011 Velenosi Ludi Offida Rosso DOCG – 50% Montepulciano, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot. Extremely dense, loaded with notes of prunes, licorice candy, dark chocolate, and some balsamic. Massive, densely alcoholic and featuring a “big meal”-friendly, satiny body. Give this one time — decant it if you can — and a big glass to quaff from. Drinks like a much more expensive wine (and the bottle has the heft to back that up). A- / $35

NV Velenosi Visciole – A blend of Lacrima di Morro d’Alba and syrup from sugar-soaked sour cherries. Pretty wacky, but it grows on you, believe it or not. The cherries-in-syrup character is by far the main event here, though at 13.5% abv there’s plenty of wine in the mix to give this a slightly elevated edge. This isn’t something I could drink every day, but it’d play beautifully at the next Italian wedding you throw. B / $22 (500ml)

velenosivini.com

Review: William Grant New Releases 2015 – Girvan No. 4, 25 Years Old, 30 Years Old, Kininvie 23 Years Old, Annasach 25 Years Old, and Ghosted Reserve 21 Years Old

william grant (1)

William Grant is the home of Glenfiddich and Balvenie, two of the biggest name in single malt whisky. But lately the Grants have been pushing some of their lesser-known offerings, including new bottlings from lesser known malt shops like Kininvie, single grain whisky from Girvan, and limited edition blends. Over a recent lunch, the company walked me through an array of these new launches, most of which are already hitting store shelves.

Here’s a look at everything tasted.

Girvan Single Grain No. 4 Apps – The entry-level offering from Girvan is a NAS single grain, named for the still it is produced in. Aged in bourbon casks, this lovely grain whisky offers ample vanilla notes, plus melon and candylike citrus character. 85.2 proof. A- / $50

Girvan Single Grain 25 Years Old – Like No. 4, this is made primarily from a wheat mash. Beautiful in the glass, it is dark and deep whisky that presents a big butterscotch and toffee bomb, turning to cocoa powder on the back end. Gentle grain notes wash over a lovely experience. 85.2 proof. A / $330

Girvan Single Grain 30 Years Old – 30 years ago, Girvan was making whisky mainly from corn, not wheat. The results are staggeringly different from the 25 year old, where sweetness takes a back seat to much stronger grain character from the start. Delicate fruit notes – lemon peel and some melon — collide with popcorn and heavier wood character. A real surprise. 85.2 proof. B+ / $500

william grant (2)Kininvie 23 Years Old – Tucked in next to Balvenie and Glenfiddich is Kininvie, a smaller distillery mainly being used to make blending malt. Now William Grant is realizing what they’ve been sitting on, releasing as a limited edition a 23 year old single malt expression (the second batch of Kininvie ever made) aged in 80% bourbon casks and 20% sherry casks. Very floral on the nose, it offers a mix of flowers and restrained sweetness, with some coconut notes. But the experience is as light as a feather on the palate. The finish is long, engaging, and sultry at times. 85.2 proof. A / $150 (375ml bottles only)

William Grant Rare Cask Reserves The Annasach Reserve 25 Years Old Batch #1 – This is a blended malt (no grain whisky) made from old William Grant stocks. The catch? Some 40 single malts go into this blend, and none are owned by William Grant itself; all are acquisitions from other distilleries. Slightly musty and mushroomy, it offers notes of leather, vegetables, roasted nuts, and breakfast cereal. Deep and complex, it’s one to savor and explore, despite some vaguely odd notes. Exclusive to BevMo. 792 bottles made. 80 proof. B+ / $280

William Grant Rare Cask Reserves Ghosted Reserve 21 Years Old – This one-off release is a blend of malt and grain whisky from three defunct distilleries, Ladyburn, Dumbarton, and Inverleven, most of which have been closed for decades. The nose is restrained, ultimately revealing toffee and some nutty elements. The palate plays up grain, citrus, and nougat, with a touch of smokiness. Very Old World in construction. 80 proof. B+ / $TBD 

williamgrantusa.com