The Symington family is a titan of Port-making — producing Dow, Graham, Cockburn, Warre, and more — but it also produces plenty of table wine, right in the same region where Port grapes are cultivated: The Douro of northern Portugal.
Made using traditional Portuguese grapes, these wines are rustic and often simple. Let’s explore a pair of P+S’s budget-friendly bottlings.
2013 Dow Vale do Bomfin Douro DOC – 40% tomta barroca, 30% touriga franca, 20% touriga nacional, and 10% tinta roriz. A rather pungent, overly-fruity wine, it immediately comes across as unfortunately cheap, overloaded with notes of both strawberry candy and burnt tea leaves. A little of this would go a long way, ideally in a sangria. C- / $13
2012 Prats & Symington Prazo de Roriz Douro DOC – A mutt of a wine: 30% tinta roriz, 25% tinta barroca, 15% touriga nacional, 15% touriga franca, 10% tinta amarela, 2% tinto cão, and 2% sousão. Fresh and fruity, the wine begins with cherry and strawberry notes, layered with black pepper and some dried, savory spices. The finish is lightly tannic, with flecks of vanilla bean. For a budget bottle, it’s a nice value. B+ / $16
Produced by the same parent company that owns the Tullibardine single malt distillery, this young blend drinks right about where you’d expect, considering its sub-$20 pedigree and obvious youth.
The nose is initially a little odd — hot, but — and stick with me for this — with a funky yet crystal-clear tomato sauce character. It isn’t exactly off-putting, but it does seems wildly out of place. On the palate, things at least settle down a little. Notes of iodine, burnt sugar, licorice, and mothballs alternately arise over the course of a session, none making much of an impact. The finish is laden with camphor and vague vegetal notes.
Generally safe to pass unless the rock bottom price tag is appealing.
C- / $16 / highlandqueen.com
Novelty cocktail books are a dime a dozen, but Scott Deitche’s focus on the drinks of private eyes, gangsters, and other “in the shadows” types at least offers the promise of something new — of cocktail stories that we haven’t heard many times before.
Alas, this slim tome unfortunately is a bit of a random walk through the world of noir. What did Al Capone like to drink? Where did gangsters hang out in Dallas, Texas? It’s all here, sort of, in ultra-digestible bite-sized chunks, bouncing from one topic to the next without a whole lot of logic involved.
So much of the book is written in abrupt jags that it’s hard to see what Deitche’s point is with any of this. A few paragraphs on GoodFellas comes across like a drunken friend chatting you up with, “Hey, hey… remember in that movie, when they walk through the restaurant and sit down in the lounge? That was cool.”
Deitche isn’t a cocktail/spirits writer — he mainly covers organized crime — but numerous noir-inspired recipes are included as sidebars, though none are anything you won’t likely have seen before. If you want to figure out how to stock your home bar like a gangster, well, Deitche has you covered there, too. Turns out it looks a lot like the back bar of my local dive. Who knew?
C- / $16 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]
Avant is a new budget label from the folks at Kendall-Jackson, with a trio of basic California-sourced wines comprising the initial production run. While a lot of this comes across exactly as you expect it will, there’s at least one modest surprise in the bunch.
2014 Avant Sauvignon Blanc California – Undistinguished and a bit boring, this plain jane sauv blanc offers notes of canned peaches and pineapple, brown sugar, and fruit leather. It works passably with a food, where the more saccharine notes are lost, but on its own it’s a study in plainness. C- / $13
2014 Avant Chardonnay California – A surprisingly fresh and drinkable chardonnay. The muted oak isn’t exactly refined, but the notes of butter-sauteed apples and a touch of citrus give this wine more complexity than you would expect given its price tag. The marshmallow notes on the finish aren’t a surprise, but they aren’t a bad complement, either. B / $13
2013 Avant Red Blend California – Mystery grapes from a mysterious place — what could go wrong? While you might expect a jammy fruit bomb, Avant’s red is more restrained than most wines of this pedigree, though the simple notes of maraschino cherry, strawberry, and brown sugar don’t cry out for in-depth analysis. Probably perfect for making sangria. B- / $17
Sicily is heavily pushing the newly-launched “Sicilia DOC” label, and rightly so — it’s the place to go for wines made from Nero D’Avola grapes, as close to a official wine for this region as you’ll find.
The official group behind the Sicilia DOC sent us two current releases bearing the new AVA on the label. Thoughts follow.
2014 Mandrarossa Nero D’Avola Sicilia DOC – Heavy earth and tobacco on the nose gives one the expectation of a dark and brooding wine, but the body on this oddity is tart cherries, Jolly Ranchers, and red rope licorice. Complex in all the wrong ways, it smells exotic but drinks cheaply. C- / $10
2013 Morgante Nero D’Avola Vendemmia Sicilia DOC – Far better realized than the Mandarossa, this is a classic Nero, with dense tannins, dried herbs, and black cherry notes. As it opens up it reveals notes of cola, and the tannin on the finish smooths out with touches of chocolate. A nice and complicated little wine. B+ / $14
SakeOne doesn’t just make interesting sakes in its Oregon home base, it also imports them — lots of them, in fact. In May 2014, SakeOne began importing the Hakutsuru line, which is Japan’s biggest export sake. All four of these sakes come from Hakutsuru collection. Let’s dive in, reader-san!
Hakutsuru Draft Sake – Draft sake is aged for 1 month at 41 degrees Fahrenheit before bottling and is unpasteurized. Dry, fresh, and uncomplicated, this is a basic, crystal clear sake with light notes of melon and (heavier) solvent character. Overall, its uninspired entry-level stuff that I’d recommend primarily for use as a mixer. C- / $3 per 180ml bottle
Hakutsuru Tanrei Junmai – A basic junmai sake but nonetheless a step up from the Draft, featuring clearer and stronger melon character, a creamier body, and mild hospital notes on the finish. Definitely easier to sip on, this is your basic sushi bar sake, dry with just a bare hint of sweetness. B- / $4 per 180ml bottle
Hakutsuru Superior Jumnai Ginjo – Stepping up the quality ladder is this junmai ginjo, which is made with more of the rice grain polished away before it hits the brewery. Big, fresh melon notes are punchy on the nose, but the body is oddly more astringent than the Tanrei bottling. Enjoyable at first, it ultimately gets a bit hoary on the finish, with a slightly sour milk character. B- / $8 per 300ml bottle
Hakutsuru Sho-Une Junmai Dai Ginjo – Junmai daiginjo is one of the highest levels of sake production, with considerably more of the rice grain polished away before it is brewed, but otherwise made in the same style as all junmai sake. Here the melon notes take on a deeper and much more brooding character, featuring some mushroom notes plus various herbs. B+ / $11 per 300ml bottle
I can’t blame ’em for trying. The secret of Guinness’s success has long been the nitrogen that is pumped into the beer as it is poured, giving the brew a rich, creamy, and unmistakable body that is beloved the world over.
While Guinness has been innovating with other beer styles, it hasn’t done much with nitrogen — until now. The big idea: Why not nitrogenate a west-coast style IPA and see what happens? Sealed in cans with a nitro-ball widget the way canned Guinness Stout is, the result is Guinness Nitro IPA.
What could possibly go wrong?
Well, quite a bit. This is somewhat off-putting at first… and at the end, for that matter. The nose doesn’t really scream IPA but rather lager, with more malt than hops influencing the aroma. The body is of course something altogether different, a creamy mouth-filling experience that recalls Dublin far more immediately than it does California. The flavor elements aren’t quite right, either. Rather than bracing hops and piney resins, there’s apples, strong cereal notes, and muddy mushroom notes that linger on the finish. Yes, some hops have been thrown in to add bitterness, but not much — or rather, not nearly enough.
Guinness has been doing some really neat stuff lately, but this experiment is really just a noble failure. I doubt that fans of either IPAs or Guinness proper will enjoy this much.
C- / $8 per six pack of 11.2 oz cans / guinness.com