Category Archives: Rated C-

Review: Bee d’Vine Honey Wine

BeeDvine Brut 750 HIGH 200x300 Review: Bee dVine Honey WineYou can make wine from just about anything, but honey wine has a long and rich history, dating back some 2000 years to Africa, where the honey seems to flow freely.

If you’ve ever had mead at a Renaissance festival (or your crazy uncle’s house), you basically know what you’re in for. Honey wine is essentially the same thing. Depending on who you ask, the addition of water to dilute the alcohol level is what separates mead from the lighter, gentler “honey wine.”

Bee d’Vine is a product made by The Honey Wine Company, based in San Francisco, California. The company’s fermented honey drink is blended in two varieties — a dry Brut and a sweeter Demi-Sec version. (Those terms are typically used with sparkling wines, but Dee d’Vine is still, not fizzy.) They were produced in 2013, but regulations prevent the inclusion of vintage dates on non-grape wines.

How you enjoy them will depend on your tolerance level for exotic oddities in your gullet. Thoughts follow.

Also of note: The company supports farming and environmental initiatives in California and in Ethiopia, the birthplace of honey wine.

(Updated 11/23 with factual corrections to The Honey Wine Co.’s location and its charitable initiatives.)

Bee d’Vine Brut Honey Wine – A dusty, earthy nose offers a dusting of familiar honey character but the overwhelming character is one of low-grade white wine, a muddy mix of old apples, earth, simple florals, and industrial elements. It’s pleasant enough at first — particularly when ice cold — but you have to be utterly nuts about honey to polish off a full glass once the more raw components take hold. D+ / $43

Bee d’Vine Demi-Sec Honey Wine – A semi-sweet expression of this wine, and probably more in keeping with what you’d be expecting of a product made out of honey. The nose is similar to the Brut — earthy and a bit musty, with honey overtones. The body blends its honey character with something akin to orangey Muscat wine, leading to a finish that is at first sweet but which quickly fades to an unwieldy combination of syrup and mud. C- / $43

beedvine.com

Review: XXIV Karat Grand Cuvee and Rose — Sparkling Wine with Gold Flake

karat bottles 525x679 Review: XXIV Karat Grand Cuvee and Rose    Sparkling Wine with Gold Flake

What, sipping Cristal ain’t baller enough for you? Kick back some XXIV Karat (that’s 24 Karat if you ain’t down with Roman numerals), a sparkling wine that is infused with “indugent 24-karat gold leaf.”

Yeah, Goldschlager wrote this playbook, and El Cartel Tequila tore it up. Gold flake in spirits is becoming common these days. Gold flake in wine is something I’ve yet to see before.

But here we are.

XXIV Karat takes Mendocino-sourced grapes (varietals are not disclosed) and adds real gold flake to the bottles. (For extra fun, the sample bottles we received actually light up thanks to a battery-powered bulb in the base.) The wines are also bottled without vintages, but let’s be frank: If you’re buying one of these, you’re getting it exclusively for the gold flake concept.

It seems almost silly to consider how such a novelty might taste, but we’re gonna do it anyway. Here goes.

XXIV Karat Grand Cuvee Sparkling Wine – Surprisingly pleasant at first, this wine starts off with apple notes but devolves into extreme sweetness in short order. What emerges is akin to a combination of applesauce and Splenda, with a palate-busting finish — but did we mention there’s gold in here? C- / $30

XXIV Karat Rose Sparkling Wine – Pink stuff! (And gold.) The gold leaf effect is not nearly as interesting in the pinkish slurry, but the wine is at least more palatable. Fresh strawberries mingle with plenty of vanilla-focused sweetness, but here that sugary rush is dialed back enough to let the fruit shine through, at least somewhat. B- / $30

xxivkarat.com

Review: VEEV 2.0 and VitaFrute Cocktails

VeeV StraightOn NewBottle LogoFix typefooter NOshadow web Review: VEEV 2.0 and VitaFrute CocktailsRemember, VeeV, the “acai spirit” that rode the superfruit craze in the late zeroes, launching in 2008 as “the only açai spirit on the market?” I figured you didn’t, and that’s probably why VeeV — now an even louder VEEV — is relaunching, reformulating, and re-hoping you will get on the bandwagon of endorsing a speciously healthier alternative to drinking straight vodka. No longer labeled “acai spirit,” it’s now “neutral spirit with a blend of acai and other natural flavors.” That makes it a flavored vodka in my book — particularly since the proof level has risen from 60 proof in 2008 to 70 proof today.

But wait, there’s more! VEEV, nee VeeV, is also launching a collection of pre-made, bottled cocktails, called VitaFrute, which are of course made with VEEV, natural fruit juices, and (sometimes) agave nectar — and they’re under 125 calories per 3 oz. serving. (At first glance, the front label looks like it says 12.5 calories… now that’d be a neat trick.) And we tried all of this stuff! Thoughts follow.

VEEV (2014 Edition) – The new tagline for VEEV is “Born in Brazil, handcrafted in America.” From the nose alone, you might think it was handcrafted in a candy factory. Punchy with the nose of a typical cherry or fruit punch-like vodka, the new VEEV is closer than ever before to a typical fruit-doctored hooch. The body melds cherry with notes of blueberry, with a candylike finish. VEEV manages to keep things just this side of super-saccharine cough syrup, but there’s no doubt it’s still a sugar bomb in vodka’s clothing. If this is good for you, well, good luck selling your significant other on that one. 70 proof. B / $25

vita frute 300x240 Review: VEEV 2.0 and VitaFrute CocktailsVitaFrute Cocktails Lemonade – The simplest of the VitaFrute collection – VEEV, lemon, agave — this spiked lemonade has pulpy bits floating in the mix, so you know you’re getting something legit here. The beverage is unfortunately heavy on the agave — sweet to the point of being almost syrupy — and light on the lemons. Some rebalancing is in order to bring the tartness level up to code. What’s there is pretty spot on, though. Not boozy at all, and with a little doctoring something you could even serve to guests. 30 proof. B / $12

VitaFrute Cocktails Margarita – Includes tequila, VEEV, lemon, lime, and agave. You can smell intense caramel notes up front. As this warms up in the glass those become stronger — almost taking on a burnt sugar character with touches of cinnamon. This isn’t so much a margarita as it is a wacky after-dinner drink that hints at lime notes from time to time. 30 proof. C- / $12

VitaFrute Cocktails Cosmopolitan – Includes VEEV, cranberry juice, and “a hint of citrus.” Tastes like VEEV and cranberry juice with a hint of citrus. Mercifully less sweet than the above, this straightforward blend is something you could easily whip up on your own, but the lazy might enjoy this pre-mixed version of any old cosmo you might otherwise spend 4 bucks on at your favorite Holiday Inn happy hour. Unremarkable but largely palatable, with tart cranberries, restrained sweetness, and a squeeze of naval orange — though its caramel hints on the finish give it a cloying finish. 30 proof. B- / $12

VitaFrute Cocktails Coconut Colada  – Includes VEEV, coconut water, and pineapple juice. Pina Colada-lite, this premixed cocktail sacrifices that agave sweetness for the tropical notes of pineapple and watery coconut. Not disagreeable — if you’re in a Hawaii mood, anyway — if you don’t mind it sticking around on the roof of your mouth for the better part of the next half hour. 30 proof. B / $12

veevlife.com

Tasting the Wines of Chateau du Moulin-a-Vent

An icon of the Beaujolais, Moulin-a-Vent’s estate began producing wines as early as the 1700s. Today the estate has 30 hectares of land under vine, separated into 91 different plots — many of which are used to make single-plot releases showcasing a specific terroir. Ownership changed with the 2009 vintage — and some of these wines are just now hitting the market.

Beaujolais is of course the home of Gamay (red wines) and Chardonnay (whites, which are comparatively rare). Moulin-a-Vent only grows Gamay. Its Pouilly-Fuisse is made with non-estate fruit.

We recently looked at eight different wines from this famed chateau, in three different categories:

First are the CMV wines, which feature a much different art deco-style label and are made from non-estate fruit.

CMV Couvent Des Thorins Brand 300x273 Tasting the Wines of Chateau du Moulin a Vent2012 CMV Moulin-a-Vent Pouilly-Fuisse Vielle Vignes - A rather vegetal white wine, it shows lemony notes at first before delving into a rather intense green vegetable note that builds on the finish. This eases up a bit with some warmth, but the slightly bitter character is sustained for quite awhile. B / $15

2012 CMV Moulin-a-Vent Couvent des Thorins – Classically Old World on the nose, with lots of vinegary acid, rhubarb, and licorice root notes. The body is equally heavy on the acid, brash and mouth-searing with its simplistic cherry-like construction and fiery finish. C- / $15

Up next, these are blends from all many of Chateau du Moulin-a-Vent’s plots. They comprise the most common expressions from the chateau. Here’s a look at a vertical of three recent vintages of the wine.

2011 Chateau du Moulin-a-Vent – Engaging nose, with gentle fruit, some smoke, some mint. The body is ripe without being overly fruity or lush, a gentler expression of gamay with a core of simple plums, touches of vanilla, and notes of pumpkin spice on the back end. Easy to enjoy. B+ / $20

2010 Chateau du Moulin-a-Vent – More earth here, particularly on the dusty, mushroomy nose. The body offers balance between the savory earth elements and fruit, presenting a significantly different profile than the fruitier 2011. Fans of bigger, more wintry, and more food-appropriate wines will probably prefer this style. B+ / $20

2009 Chateau du Moulin-a-Vent – Well past its prime. Again, showing lots of oxidation and acidity like the Thorins reviewed above, with a somewhat skunky, burnt nose and a body that attacks the tongue with vinegar notes. This was an exemplary vintage in Beaujolais, so it appears time has really had its way with this wine. C- / $20

Finally come the terroir-driven, plot-specific releases from Chateau du Moulin-a-Vent. Each is released with its specific plot noted on the label.

2009 Chateau du Moulin-a-Vent Clos de Londres - It fares better than the standard 2009 bottling above, but not by much. Again, it’s well past its prime, showing strong vinegar chateau du moulin a vent 11 Croix des Verillats Bottle 83x300 Tasting the Wines of Chateau du Moulin a Ventnotes, but offering pleasant enough cranberry, raspberry, and blackberry character after the intense acid starts to fade. C+ / $NA

2011 Chateau du Moulin-a-Vent Champ de Cour – Ample earth and licorice notes, backed by restrained, austere fruit — raspberries and blackberries. The finish features tobacco notes, blackberry jam, and a return to some of that woody, earthy funk. An interesting wine with shades of the 2010 standard bottling. B+ / $34

2011 Chateau du Moulin-a-Vent Croix des Verillats – Notes of ripe cheese on the nose start things off in a weird way, but the highly fruity, almost jelly-like body, pairs with it in an unexpected way. This is an austere wine that drinks like an older expression of Moulin-a-Vent, but offers a worthwhile complexity and depth to it. B+ / $32

chateaudumoulinavent.com

Review: Kennedy Irish Whiskey “Spirit Drink” Complete Lineup

kennedy irish Review: Kennedy Irish Whiskey Spirit Drink Complete Lineup

Irish whiskey is all the rage right now — it’s the fastest growing spirit category there is — and there’s a mad rush going on in Ireland to build stills, increase production, and otherwise squeeze every dollar out of this market before everyone moves on to something else, probably rum.

Kennedy is a new launch of Irish Whiskey — er, “Spirit Drink.” I’m still trying to sort all this out, so bear with me. Here’s how the Kennedy label breaks out.

Upon a sticker stylized like an old Celtic helmet it reads KENNEDY in big letters, then ORIGINAL underneath. In delicate italics beneath that: Spirit Drink. Then in even smaller italics: “Oak Filtered & Hand Crafted using.” Then, larger block letters: “Whiskey with natural flavor & caramel.”

OK, so points for truth in labeling, I think, but points off for confusing the hell out of your consumer along the way. What is “oak filtered,” exactly? Check the back label and you’ll see that “Kennedy’s Spirit is a delicate fusion of the finest Celtic whiskies and malt to insure a unique, challenging and august drinking experience. Kennedy’s Spirit, handcrafted in West Cord, Ireland, is infused with Irish and Bourbon oak using a proprietary infusion process and steeped in malt through an artisan and near-forgotten technique.”

So, yeah.

Your guess is as good as mind about what all that means, but basically my deduction is this is a mix of various Irish whiskeys and grain spirits, somehow pressure treated with oak to artificially age it more quickly. Caramel is added liberally, based on the color, though your guess is as good as mine as to what the natural flavors referenced here are.

And that’s just the “original.” There are four flavored versions of the spirit available, too. Or, rather, more flavored.

So, with that out of the way, let’s taste them all!

Kennedy Original – A slight sugar character on the nose, with a malty, cereal character to it. Touches of honey and cinnamon dust the body, which is otherwise a soft caramel, lightly woody, mostly watery character to it. The overall impact is one of Irish whiskey that’s already been liberally doused with water. It goes down easy enough, but the finish is weak and a touch astringent, leaving behind a touch of hospital character as it fades. 80 proof. C+

Kennedy Spiced – Infused with visible, solid spices (including anise and cinnamon) floating around in the bottle. Tons of cinnamon on the nose. The body has an essence more akin to vanilla blended with dried apples — with that anise making a strong showing as a somewhat weird secondary note. I would have dropped the licorice components and pumped up the cloves, but that’s just me. At least there’s more going on here, even if it doesn’t come together the way you might hope. 70 proof. B-

Kennedy Honeyed – Infused with vanilla and honey. Contains visible, fine sediment (but not big chunks like in the Spiced expression). It’s more hazelnut than honey on the nose, but the finish builds to more of an earthy honey character. Minimal whiskey character, though. 70 proof. B-

Kennedy Limed – Green, lime whiskey? Why not. Again, light sediment from flavoring involving vanilla and lime juice. Not as bad as you are expecting, but a bit like drinking a slug of Rose’s Lime Juice straight. Sweeter than most of the other whiskeys in this lineup, a necessity to offset the sour lime flavors. The color is beyond off-putting. Clearly this is designed exclusively as a mixer… but with what? When the label copy calls the product “intiguing,” you know something ain’t right. C-

Kennedy Chilied – Bright red, it is flavored with chili pepper and paprika(!). Wow, this is intensely hot — far hotter than your typical “pepper vodka.” I can see this doing brisk business as frat kids make bets with each other and buy shots to dare each other to drink. It’s a fiery, habanero-style burn that singes the lips and sticks in the throat for minutes. A hint of honey sweetness helps temper the burn. Discriminating it ain’t, but daredevils should go for it. B

each about $17 / westcorkdistillers.com

Review: LA1 Louisiana Whiskey

LA1 Whiskey Bottle Image Review: LA1 Louisiana WhiskeyOur final review of three product lines from Louisiana-based Donner-Peltier Distillers, we at last turn to what is something of a flagship for the company, LA1 Louisiana Whiskey.

LA1 is made from corn, barley, rye, and — most curiously — local rice. There’s no information on proportions in the mashbill or the aging regimen, but it’s clearly a young spirit. In fact, it’s the first aged whiskey produced in Louisiana since Prohibition, hence the name.

Those conversant with the recent spate of young craft whiskeys will find this a familiar experience. The body is huge with young corn and fresh wood notes, the hallmark of limited time in small barrels. There’s ample smokiness and bitter root notes, but it’s just so tough to shake that wood. Even water doesn’t do this whiskey much service. While it does help to coax out a few light fruit notes of golden raisins and lemon peel, the water actually makes the overall wood character even more powerful — and tougher to muscle through.

94 proof. Reviewed: Batch #3, bottle #461/500.

C- / $45 / dpdspirits.com

Review: 2012 Rioja Wines of deAlto Amo

deAlto Amo Tinto 88x300 Review: 2012 Rioja Wines of deAlto AmoHere are two budget bottlings from deAlto (aka deAlto Amo), a Rioja-based producer.

2012 deAlto Amo Riojo Blanco DOCa – 75% viura, 25% chardonnay. Lifeless, almost watery, with just a smattering of apple and vanilla to give it some level of substance. There are hints of pineapple on the nose, but otherwise it’s a forgettable experience. C- / $10

2012 deAlto Amo Rioja Tinto DOCa – 70% tempranillo, 30% garnacha. Light smoky elements here, atop a brambly, lightly pruny core. Notes of tree bark, pencil shavings, and some dense currants and raisin notes. Plenty of tannins to go around, but it drinks well enough as a budget bottling. Mostly harmless. B / $10

bodegasdealto.com

Review: Wines of Baglio di Pianetto, 2014 Releases

9 Ramione 2009 212x300 Review: Wines of Baglio di Pianetto, 2014 ReleasesSicily’s Baglio di Pianetto takes the classic grapes of this fiery island and funnels it through the mystique of a French chateau style of production. That’s what they say anyway. The production at this winery (which also has a resort on the premises) is extensive. Today we look at a selection of six wines — two whites and four reds, including two DOC “reserve” wines. Thoughts on everything follow.

2013 Baglio di Pianetto “BDP” Insolia Sicilia DOC – From the higher-end DOC bottling of Baglio di Pianetto comes this 100% insolia, a lovely white that has a lightly peachy nose, flecked with apricots and oranges. Also look for hints of graham cracker. The body follows suit, showing some of that vanilla you find in the Ficiligno, but drinking really wonderfully on its own. Look for a bit more earthiness up front here than with the aforementioned wine, but with a finish that’s both sweet and tart, and more citrus-driven. Equally enjoyable. A / $NA

2013 Baglio di Pianetto Ficiligno Sicilia IGT – A blend of insolia and viognier. What a fun white this is, lush with white peaches, apricots, lemon, and vanilla. It’s a perfectly dialed-back expression of viognier, that overwhelming fruit showing both restraint and mouth-filling gorgeousness. A / $16

2012 Baglio di Pianetto “BDP” Nero d’Avola Sicilia DOC – Not a particularly refined Nero, a bit weedy, a bit barky, and a bit of old fruit. Dusky and brooding, but lacking the oomph of more powerful Neros. Some fun touches of licorice and vanilla emerge on the nose if you give it time. Fine, but more apropos as a food wine. B / $NA

2011 Baglio di Pianetto Ramione Sicilia IGT – This is a blend of merlot and nero d’avola. Softer than you’d think, with a strongly fruity nose of blackberries, touched with a bit of tobacco and leather. A simple wine, with some mild astringency on the finish. Works well with tomoto-based dishes. B+ / $20

2011 Baglio di Pianetto Shymer Sicilia IGT – A blend of syrah and merlot, which sounds like it will be a whole lot better than it ends up being. There’s almost no body or soul on this wine. It drinks like one of those grape-flavored waters you might buy when Aquafina just doesn’t do it. Has the fruit already raced out of this wine, or was there none to begin with? Not worth bothering with. C- / $20

2007 Baglio di Pianetto Cembali Nero d’Avola IGT – This 100% nero d’avola starts off muted and dull, but fruit emerges with some time in glass. Bright cherry and currant notes are fun for a bit, but they quickly turn toward the raisiny, with balsamic notes and some racy oxidized character coming to the forefront — indicative of this wine’s age. B / $20

bagliodipianetto.com

Review: Newfoundland Screech Rum, Spiced Rum, and Honey Rum

screech spiced rum Review: Newfoundland Screech Rum, Spiced Rum, and Honey RumWho woulda thought they’d name a rum after this guy?

In all seriousness… Back in the old days (like, yesteryear), Newfoundland-based sailors drank a lot of rum. They got their rotgut from Jamaica, and it didn’t even have a name. As the story goes, decades later an American WWII G.I. drank a slug of the unwatered-down rum while visiting and upon swallowing he gave off a howl of pain. The noise was described as “The Screech,” and the rum finally had its name.

Today, Screech Rum is still a partly Canadian product, sourced in the Caribbean as always and bottled in Newfoundland. A straight expression is available, along with a spiced rum and one flavored version. Thoughts on all three follow.

Newfoundland Screech Rum – Aged Jamaican rum, no age statement, with caramel color added (it’s quite dark in coloration). The nose is quite funky, with notes of well-burnt/almost-blackened sugar, charcoal, and beef jerky. On the tongue, things sweeten up, but it’s still easy to see how Screech got its name. Though this expression is far from barrel proof, it’s got a healthy amount of hogo to it, its overpowering burnt sugar notes somewhat balanced by some, well, non-burnt sugar. Not much fruit here, just secondary character of ash and smoldering lumber, and a dusky finish that lasts for ages. Definitely for fans of more rustic (yet aged) rum styles. 80 proof. B- / $17

Newfoundland Screech Spiced Rum – This is wholly different stock, made from Demerara rum from Guyana, aged 4 to 8 years. Spiced, with no sugar added. This is a compelling spiced rum. Again that burnt sugar character is strongest, with light vanilla and cinnamon notes coming up behind — almost French toast-like at times. Unlike the straight version, here at least those secondary elements stand a fighting chance. The smoldering finish of the straight rum fades as the spiced element grabs hold, giving this rum a considerably better balance on the whole — though it. 70 proof. B+ / $18

Newfoundland Screech Honey Rum – Why should whiskey have all the fun? Here’s a new idea: rum flavored with honey. This starts with the same aged Jamaican rum as above, then receives “natural honey flavor.” Coulda fooled me. The overall impact is more of a lemon-flavored rum, or some kind of lemon-honey amalgam. Either way, the rum is largely lost and the finished product comes off like some kind of liquified throat lozenge. 70 proof. C- / $18

screechrum.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

Review: Kinky Blue Liqueur

Kinky Blue original 72x300 Review: Kinky Blue LiqueurBarely a year ago, Kinky, a hot pink Alize knockoff, first crossed our desk. Now, the club-friendly concoction is out with a second version, Kinky Blue. Which is not pink, but blue.

Again, this is technically not a liqueur but a flavored vodka, 5x distilled and flavored with blue things — “tropical and wild berry flavors,” according to the bottle.

The nose, however, is not nearly so distinct. Deep whiffs reveal almost nothing — it could be any berry-flavored vodka… raspberry? Schnozzberry? The body is equally vague. Many a flavored vodka has this same bittersweet note of Kool-Aid powder and tonic water, though few are quite this blue. There is a hint of pineapple on the finish that brings on a touch of interest, but it’s a long way to go for flavors that are done better in other, less silly spirits.

34 proof.

C- / $20 / kinkyliqueur.com

Review: Sugar Island Spiced Rum and Coconut Rum

sugar island spiced rum 102x300 Review: Sugar Island Spiced Rum and Coconut RumMade from Caribbean cane sugar and bottled in California, Sugar Island is a new kid on the flavored and spiced rum block. (The company is not making an unflavored or aged variety.) Here’s how these new offerings measure up against the competition.

Sugar Island Spiced Rum – Very strong and pungent on the nose. The character is indistinct, with somewhat harsh, rubbery notes. On the palate, heavy burnt sugar notes overwhelm with unclear, clove-and-cinnamon character backing it up. A lengthy finish brings out not more sweetness but more of that rubbery, industrial character. Caramel added. 92 proof. C-

Sugar Island Coconut Rum – Tons of sweetness on the nose. Coconut is a secondary characteristic, overpowered by simple syrup. The body is heavy, full of gravity, with a powerfully sweet finish that offers a touch of mango character to it. Not at all difficult, but it’s a sugar bomb with few parallels in this category. 42 proof. B-

each $19 / sugarislandrum.com

Review: New Rioja from Zaco and Pomal

Vina Pomal Reserva NV HR 179x300 Review: New Rioja from Zaco and PomalTwo new Spanish Riojas — both quite young, a twist over the typical Rioja you’ll encounter, which can often be six to eight years old — or more — by the time they hit the shelf. How do these young guns measure up? Here we go…

2011 Vina Zaco Rioja Tempranillo – Especially young for Rioja, and it shows. Raw, almost pruny notes on the nose lead to a rather plain and unrefined body. Tar and stewy stone fruit notes are prominent, with a slightly sickly sweet finish. C- / $15

2009 Vina Pomal Rioja Reserva – Better, but still a clearly young and somewhat fruit-funky wine. Underripe fruit on the nose opens up over time, giving way to a strawberry/blueberry character laced with black tea and a touch of leather. Best with food, but fair enough on its own. B / $21

Review: Pasita and Rompope Liqueurs of Puebla, Mexico

rompope santa ines vainilla Review: Pasita and Rompope Liqueurs of Puebla, MexicoA friend of mine is an American expatriate living in Puebla, Mexico, and on a recent trip to the U.S. she brought me a few minis of Puebla’s unofficial liqueurs — Pasita and Rompope — the likes of which we don’t much see in these parts. I told her I’d review them, more for kicks and completionism than because I expect you to run to your nearest importer to try to track down bottles for yourselves. Thoughts follow. (Prices and website links are not available.)

Reljac Licor de Pasita – A very traditional, dark brown raisin-based liqueur. Originally I thought this might be a super-sweet coffee liqueur, but over time the raisin character evolves in the glass. While not particularly alcoholic, it’s incredibly dense, offering cappucino notes that give way to chocolate, licorice, prune, and of course raisin notes. The finish stays with you for, well, forever. In Mexico the liqueur is served with a cube of cheese as a garnish, which once you drink la pasita makes more sense than you’d think. 30 proof. B-

Santa Ines Rompope VainillaRompope is essentially an eggnog, tinted yellow due to the use of copious yolk in the recipe. This vanilla-flavored version of the liqueur is sweet and eggy and authentically mouth-coating, everything you’d want in an eggnog, and that’s coming from a guy who basically hates the stuff. 18 proof. B

Santa Ines Rompope Piñon – This version is flavored with pine nuts and colored Pepto pink. I don’t think the pine nuts add much here, giving the nose a somewhat sweaty, vegetal character to it, and the body is even sweeter, with more of a bubblegum character (though maybe that’s the off-putting color playing tricks on me) than a nutty one. 18 proof. C-

Review: Guinness Red Harvest Stout

guinness rhs 144x300 Review: Guinness Red Harvest StoutNot quite a red ale and not quite a stout, the seasonal Guinness Red Harvest Stout looks far more enticing than it tastes. The reddish-coffee brown beer pours with a thick, Old World head, but from the start something is off. The nose is weak, with light roasted grain notes atop thin malt. The body fares worse, watery (canned at just 4.1% abv) and vegetal at times, with wispy malt and notes of decidedly weak coffee. This is a beer that looks like it’ll be a great fireside brew but drinks like a dull and watery mainstream beer. An unfortunate misfire.

C- / $8.50 per four-pack of 14.9-oz. nitrogenated cans / guinness.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: Baileys Vanilla Cinnamon Liqueur

baileys vanilla cinnamon 112x300 Review: Baileys Vanilla Cinnamon LiqueurThe newest addition to the Baileyverse doesn’t take many pains to hide what’s inside. As the name suggests, this is good old Baileys Irish Cream, plus vanilla, plus cinnamon.

Well, Baileys on its own is full of dessert-like flavor, so adding more stuff from the baking cabinet into the mix doesn’t seem entirely called for. Sure enough, Baileys Vanilla Cinnamon falls prey to that very issue. Adding vanilla and cinnamon to a liqueur that’s already very sugary pushes it almost into madness. One sip and a flood of flavors hit your palate, like eating a handful of random Halloween candy all at once. The finish — heavy on the vanilla — sticks with you for the better part of 10 minutes… and that’s just on a single sip.

I am happy to sip on a regular glass of Baileys Irish Cream if it’s offered to me — admittedly this is a rare occurrence — but with Baileys Vanilla Cinnamon, things have gone just a bit too far.

Stick with the classics.

34 proof.

C- / $21 / baileys.com

Review: 2012 Wines of Portugal’s Monte Velho

MV Red 2012 173x300 Review: 2012 Wines of Portugals Monte VelhoThis brand, from Portugal’s Esporao is now 40 years old. With a focus on ultra-cheap blends both red and white, Monte Velho’s packaging has been redesigned with a focus on environmentalism (the bottles are amazingly lightweight, at least when empty), while keeping costs to a bare minimum.

That said, quality remains uninspiring. Thoughts on the 2012 bottlings follow.

2012 Esporao Monte Velho Alentejano White – A white blend of 40% antao vaz, 40% roupeiro, and 20% perrum grapes. Exotic, honey-laden nose. The first notes on the palate are tropical, but things are less enticing later, followed by notes of cedar wood, canned peaches, and twine fiber. Somewhat astringent on the finish. C- / $10

2012 Esporao Monte Velho Alentejano Red –  A red blend of 40% aragonez, 35% trincadeira, 20% touriga nacional, and 5% syrah. A little dusty, surprisingly dry. The nose has a bit of barnyard on it, and some prunes. The body is more of the mushroom/leather variety, with a finish that offers modest currant character. B- / $10

esporao.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+

ivanabitch.com

Review: Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Double Malt Selections

Woodford Reserve Masters Collection Straight and Classic Malt 525x722 Review: Woodford Reserve Masters Collection Double Malt Selections

Every year around this time our friends at Woodford Reserve release a special, and sometimes experimental, whiskey release. And for 2013, Woodford is taking things to the Old World, bottling two single 100% malted barley whiskeys… made in Kentucky.

You’re reading that right: These are the first “fully matured whiskies crafted from malt in Kentucky since Prohibition.”

Woodford doesn’t offer any age information (or data on where the barley is from), but the two whiskeys are different in one respect: the aging regimen. The Woodford Classic Malt is aged in used Bourbon barrels (which would be typical of the way things are done in Scotland), and the Woodford Straight Malt is aged in new oak barrels (typical of the way Bourbon is aged). In other words, the Classic Malt should taste more like a Scotch, while the Straight Malt should have a unique, hybrid, more wood-driven Bourbon-like character to it. But do they?

Both are 90.4 proof. Thoughts follow.

Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Classic Malt Whiskey – A pale blonde in color, this can’t be more than four or five years old. The nose is mild and uninspiring, with a moderate wood character atop some big bread and cereal notes. The body is at first appealing, with a fun vanilla cookie character, but this very quickly fades into an overwhelming maltiness alongside some overcooked fruits, all studded with the brashness of white dog, which gives the whiskey a moderate bite. The overall impact is not compelling, and not terribly satisfying. I’ll be honest that this is far from my favorite thing that Woodford has ever done, and in Scotland this would be regarded as an immature spirit that’s not nearly ready for release, much less one which you could get someone to pay $100 for. C-

Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Straight Malt Whiskey – A considerably darker, sherry-colored spirit. The new oak does this spirit a favor at first, but only to an extent. Here, you’ll find plenty of malt character on the nose, and the body backs that up. But again, it’s simply undercooked, with a mess of underdeveloped flavors that recall stewed prunes, charred marshmallows, dried apricots, and asparagus. As with the Classic Malt, it’s very malty, with that white dog burn coming on strong in the finsh. I’m not sure whether I like this more or less than the Classic Malt, but I know I don’t like it much. The bigger body offers some help in one sense by giving the whiskey more power, but on the other hand that only serves to amplify the fact that here you have a bunch of underdeveloped flavors that just don’t work well together. C-

Kudos to Woodford for thinking outside the box, but I think it’s safe to chalk this one up as an experiment that just didn’t work out — and evidence as to why corn is king in Kentucky, not barley.

On sale November 2013.

$100 each / woodfordreserve.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]