Category Archives: Rated C-

Review: Refine Zero Calorie Mixers

Refine says it aims to “refine” the skinny cocktail with these zero-calorie mixers. Flavored with stevia, they’re available in 32 oz. bottles in three flavors.

Refine Margarita Mix – Bright yellow, looks supernatural. Tastes very tart, with lots of intense lemon/lime soda character, but with a chalkiness that recalls Crystal Light granules (thanks, I’m sure, to all the citric acid in the mix). Could be worse. B-

Refine Mojito Mix – Unthrilling, this mostly clear mixer doesn’t really recall fresh lime or mint, just a vague sweetness that could be mistaken for a flat 7-Up. Could be better. C-

Refine Cosmopolitan Mix – The bright pink color is misleading, but this mixer has surprisingly more lime character than the mojito does. After that, a touch of strawberry or raspberry, more Jolly Rancher than fresh fruit. Not unpalatable, but the chemical aftertaste is rough on this one. C

each $9 per 32 oz. bottle / refinemixers.com

refine mixers Review: Refine Zero Calorie Mixers

Roundup: Sparkling Moscato on the Rise

Moscato continues to prove how popular this grape has become when used as a low-alcohol, fruit-forward, and sweet alternative to other sparkling wines. These Moscatos show just how inexpensive and far-flung this wine is, hailing from eastern Europe and Australia, while not exactly proving how great it can be.

NV Esti Exclusiv Rose Moscato – Hailing from Moldova, this Moscato is from the same company that makes Exclusiv Vodka. The peach-colored wine lacks finesse. The fruit flavors are present — apples, mixed red berries — but come across like canned fruit, with a huge dose of perfumy flower petals atop  them. The finish is on the sour side. 10% abv. C- / $7

NV Jacob’s Creek Sparkling Moscato Australia – Not a bad representation of Moscato. Oranges and peaches, with a sweet but not overbearing presence. Finish is clean and refreshing, not cloying, while leaving behind some bracing sweetness. 9% abv. B+ / $6

NV Jacob’s Creek Sparkling Moscato Rose Australia – A rose similar to the Exclusiv, it’s cloying and smells of musty perfume, but with heavier and more saccharine sweetness on the finish. 9% abv. D+ / $7

esti exclusiv rose moscat Roundup: Sparkling Moscato on the Rise

Review: Dr. McGillicuddy’s “Intense” Schnapps

I am starting to question this “Doctor’s” medical credentials. Apple Pie Schnapps? Hmmm, color me suspicious.

Designed as “party shots,” Dr. McGillicuddy’s offers a range of traditionally flavored Schnapps… plus these four new modern additions. We braved our way into the quartet (in this order) with as open a mind as possible.

All are 42 proof.

Dr. McGillicuddy’s Apple Pie Intense Schnapps – Color me impressed. It really smells and tastes of fresh apple pie. Light and sweet, plenty of apple and cinnamon notes, and no burn at all. “Intense” it isn’t; rather it’s quite mild. I’ve actually tried apple pie flavored liqueurs before, and this one is easily the best one I’ve had to date. A-

Dr. McGillicuddy’s Wild Grape Intense Schnapps – Looks just like grape Kool-Aid. But on the tongue, it’s incredibly muddy. This is wild, but hardly grape. Flavors of burnt sugar and chemicals dominate. D

Dr. McGillicuddy’s Root Beer Intense Schnapps – Authentic root beer nose. The body, very sweet, like a can of A&W, and almost refreshing. The finish is a bit on the cloying side, but otherwise root beer nuts will find this a winner. B

Dr. McGillicuddy’s Ice Mint Intense Schnapps – Smells awfully minty, with promise. Sadly, tastes like toothpaste. C-

each $10 / drmcgillicuddy.com

Dr. McGillicuddys Schnapps Review: Dr. McGillicuddys Intense Schnapps

Review: Natural Merchants Organic Lorenz “Symphony” Wines

Natural Merchants Selections imports over 100 wines from all over Europe, all of which are organic. We tried the importer’s Symphony wines from Germany, a white and a red. Thoughts follow.

2010 Lorenz Symphony Riesling is a blend of 85% Riesling and 15% Rivaner, all organic, from Germany’s Rheinhessen. A bit on the lightly sweet side, the wine offers distinct pineapple notes, with a long, lemon-fueled finish. Pleasant and fruity, with a long finish. B+

2010 Lorenz Symphony Red Wine is a blend of 90% Dornfelder and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, all also organic and from Germany’s Rheinhessen. This doesn’t go very far in convincing me that Germany should have nothing to do with red wine, a rather plain and unconvincing red with a character something like Jolly Ranchers left to melt in the sun. Watermelon, over-ripe cherry, and strawberries polish things off. C-

each $17 / naturalmerchants.com

Symphony Duo Review: Natural Merchants Organic Lorenz Symphony Wines

 

Review: Wente Heritage Block Series Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon

These two new releases come from Wente’s Heritage Block series of simpler, everyday wines.

2010 Wente Riva Ranch Chardonnay Arroyo Seco Monterey – Traditional in style, with that hugely buttery body, grilled and smoked meats on the nose, and a long, savory finish. B / $20

2009 Wente Charles Wetmore Cabernet Sauvignon Livermore Valley – A youthful, ultra-jammy wine with characteristics of licorice and oak, with lots of raisins and a pruny finish. Not fulfilling. Tastes really inexpensive. C- / $25

wentevineyards.com

 

 

Review: Qream Peach Creme Liqueur

Here is proof that not all musicians are required to lend their name to a cheap Cognac. Pharrell Williams’ creation is Qream, a pair of cream liqueurs flavored with either peaches or strawberries.

I don’t know who out there is clamoring for fruit-flavored cream liqueurs, but here we have it. We tasted only the peach version, and it is exactly what you would expect. The milky-pink-orange color is instantly off-putting, and the nose is surprisingly mute, hinting at almost nothing in the glass below. Take a sip and you get a heavy canned peach character, followed by something akin to rose-petal-heavy perfume in the finish. Cloying and saccharine, it’s a rocky road from there, with a long, lingering, and coating aftertaste that is hard to shake.

Qream is, in comparison to other “artist”-driven drinks, surprisingly understated, but unless you’ve really got Georgia on your mind, the difficult construction of this one makes it a pass. That’s a peaches reference. Sorry.

25 proof. Refrigerate after opening. Keep out of direct sunlight.

C- / $25 / qreamwithaq.com

qream peach creme liqueur Review: Qream Peach Creme Liqueur

Review: Haras Wines

Haras de Pirque, or just “Haras,” hails from Chile’s Maipo Valley, where it produces a series of very affordable wines, inspired by the winery’s love of horses.

Tasted twice. The first round of wines were clearly damaged by heat in shipping.

2010 Haras Sauvignon Blanc Maipo Valley – Tropical nose, with a touch of lemon character. Slight vegetal finish, but otherwise quite drinkable, particularly at this price. B / $10

2010 Haras Chardonnay Maipo Valley – Simple and inoffensive, with a mild body compared to most Chilean Chardonnays. A bit buttery, and a bit of lemon, but not a lot of nuance or, surprisingly, fruit character beyond that. B / $12

2009 Haras Carmenere Maipo Valley – A big licorice thing, funky on the nose with raisin and prune notes. Incredibly over-jammy, with some black pepper, but not really in balance. C- / $12

2008 Haras Cabernet Sauvignon Maipo Valley –  Similar character, but with a slightly better balance than the Carmenere. Just too much fruit.C / $12

2007 Haras Character Cabernet Sauvignon-Carmenere Maipo Valley (pictured) – A blend of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Carmenere, 10% Syrah, and 13% Cabernet Franc. Easily the best red in this crowd, but still intense with prune and cooked fruit character. Mildly better balance than either of the prior two wines, but still has room for improvement. C+ / $20

harasdepirque.com

haras character Review: Haras Wines

Review: Jose Cuervo Low-Cal Margarita/No-Cal Margarita Mixes

Pre-bottled margarita mix is certainly one of the biggest scams perpetrated on the American public since the Flowbee. Really, people, how hard is squeezing out some lime juice and adding a little sweetener, if you’re so inclined?

And yet the just-add-tequila margarita mix remains and, judging by the vast amount of shelf space these mixes command, it remains a top seller.

Now Cuervo is taking things to an extreme: Ripping the calories out of margarita mix with a no-calorie mix and, if you’re too lazy to dump in your own tequila, by offering a sub-100-calorie pre-mixed “Light Margarita” as well.

It’s not our usual bailiwick, but we took a stab at tasting them both.

Jose Cuervo “Zero Calorie” Margarita Mix isn’t terribly surprising: It’s simply a blend of artificial sweetener and some kind of lime essence (sans calories). The flavor is a bit like a diet Sprite that’s gone flat, which could be worse, and if you’re on an extreme diet, well, you probably shouldn’t be drinking margaritas but, if you can’t stop yourself, then I guess this will do in a pinch. Adding tequila (even 100% agave good stuff) actually doesn’t help things at all: It gives the mix a bitter edge and brings out its artificial character. Bottom line: If you want to save calories, skip the mix altogether and just add lime juice the way you’re supposed to. C- / $7 per 1.75-liter bottle

Jose Cuervo Authentic Light Margarita (pictured) – I’m not sure how Cuervo can put the words “authentic” and “light” right next to each other, considering this product certainly has no actual lime juice and is flavored with the same artificial sweetener as the “zero calorie” mix above. This one works better, probably because there is so little alcohol in it. (Cuervo claims it is composed of Cuervo Gold, triple sec, and “a twist of lime.”) And yet somehow this ends up at just 9.95% alcohol. It’s not awful, with real tequila bite, better and more authentic-tasting citrus character, and only a mildly cloying finish. If you need something for a tailgate party in a plastic bottle and there’s a diabetic in the crowd, well, I suppose it will do.* C+ / $15 per 1.75-liter bottle

cuervo.com

Cuervo Authentic Light Margarita Review: Jose Cuervo Low Cal Margarita/No Cal Margarita Mixes

 

* Drinkhacker does not offer medical advice and has no idea if this stuff is diabetic-friendly.

 

Tasting Report: Red Wines of Chile

Recently I had the opportunity to attend a live, online tasting event featuring the red wines of Chile. While Chile is primarily known as Cabernet country, I was surprised to find that it is home to several other widely-planted grapes. Its Pinot Noirs shocked me with their sophistication and quality. Its Syrahs, however, were another story…

Eight wines were tasted. Here’s how they shook out.

2009 Valdivieso Reserva Pinot Noir – A solid Pinot. Bright cherry fruit, tart with good acid. Light body, solid flavor, exactly what a good, new world-style Pinot should be. A- / $17

2009 Vina Casablanca Nimbus Estate Pinot Noir - Bolder, with a fuller body but just as much fruit as the Valdivieso. Some lightly smoky and tobacco notes. Also enjoyable, though the finish is a little too herbal to stand up to the fruit in the wine. B+ / $20

2009 Veramonte Ritual Pinot Noir Casablanca Valley - Similar tone to the Nimbus, perhaps a little smoother and more refined. Balanced, with interesting eucalyptus and evergreen notes in the finish. A- / $20

2008 Cono Sur Ocio Pinot Noir Casablanca Valley – Intense and jammy, rich, Zinfandel-like body combined with tart, black cherry character. Disarming, and imminently drinkable, but the massively tart and slightly bitter finish gives it a rough conclusion. B+ / $65

2009 Tamaya Syrah Limari Valley Reserva – The first miss of the evening, a Syrah with off menthol notes, skunky earth, and burned wood. Off finish. D+ / $18

2006 Loma Larga Syrah Bk-Bl Casablanca Valley – Bitter green pepper notes, overwhelming bitterness in the finish. Earthy to a fault. Unpleasant. D / $29

2009 Underraga T.H. Syrah Leyda Valley - Better, showing a little of what Chilean Syrah can be: Dark black fruit with intense herbal notes. Still, the balance is wrong and the finish is off, but the intensity marks a good effort. C+ / $25

2009 Hacienda Araucano Reserva Syrah Francois Lurton Lolol Valley – Dark chocolate character meats bitter, earth, and meat notes. Tolerable, but far too intense, with a bracing (not in a good way) finish. C- / $13

Review: 3 Ribera del Duero Wines

These wines hail from the northern, central portion of Spain and are composed exclusively of Tempranillo grapes. Yet, like many varietals and regions, Ribera del Duero comprises a huge range of wine styles — though all are surprisingly light in alcohol (under 14%). Here’s how three vintages of RdD stack up.

2007 Bodegas y Vinedos Neo Vivir, Vivir – To live, to live! Vinedos Neo’s Ribera is a young, funky, and a bit skunky wine that exudes barnyard tones. Meaty and medium-bodied, it has a sharp finish that doesn’t help matters. Not my favorite of this batch. C- / $10

2003 Penafiel Ribera del Duero Miros de Ribera Reserva – Straightforward, spicy, and racy, a big food wine with a lush, lustrous body. It has an edge to it, which gives it a bit of a tough finish, but the big bramble, stone, and dark plum fruit flavors, it’s worth the journey. B+ / $25 (est.)

2003 Valdubon Crianza Ribero del Duero (pictured) – Valdubon shows how big Tempranillo can get, with this inky, licorice-inflected wine that recalls Italy’s Amarone wine. Silky, with a lasting finish, there’s a tart cherry body, notes of menthol, and cedar. A fun wine, tastes like it’s an alcohol bomb but actually pulls just 13.5%. A bargain. A- / $20

2003 Valdubon Crianza ribera del duero Review: 3 Ribera del Duero Wines

Review: Warsteiner Premium Verum Beer

A fairly staid German pilsner (or pilsener, as the Germans call it), Warsteiner has been a survivor for some 250 years. It’s a little hard to believe considering how plain this beer is. A light gold brew, Warsteiner Premium Verum comes across as immediately bitter and not terribly fresh. Preserved, almost with some bitter lemon peel, and the kind of old, dried herbs you’d find buried in the back of your spice rack. The finish is lasting and, frankly, not really pleasant, but you’ll drink a bit more to wash the aftertaste out and keep things moving along, I suppose.

C- / $10 per six-pack / warsteiner.com

warsteiner Review: Warsteiner Premium Verum Beer

Review: 2008 Michael-David Winery Earthquake Wines

earthquake wine Review: 2008 Michael David Winery Earthquake WinesWe’ve reviewed Michael-David’s wines in the past, with its Incognito line. Earthquake is another of label of wines sourced from Lodi, California.

Quality is all over the place.

2008 Earthquake Zinfandel Lodi is a miss. Very, very young, it’s almost prunelike, syrupy and with chocolate notes — but Russell Stover, not Lindt. Out of balance in almost every way. C- / $19

2008 Earthquake Zinfandel Cabernet Sauvignon is a great improvement over the Zin. There’s no mistaking its youth, but the balance of fruit and wood is much improved here, giving this a distinct (yet inexpensive and easygoing) Cabernet character. Plummy and with more of those cocoa notes, but with a richer and more velvety body. A good value, vs. the overpriced Zinfandel. B / $21

lodivineyards.com

Review: Yorkville Cellars Mendocino 2006 Wines

Mendocino’s Yorkville Cellars is a unique little oddball in the wine world. It produces classic Bordeaux varietals (plus Carmenere), but it’s based in Mendocino, known mainly for Zinfandel production (which Yorkville doesn’t make).

Then, it doesn’t blend those varietals: It bottles them separately. In fact, Yorkville says is Rennie Vineyard is the only place in the world where these six grapes are grown together and vinified separately.

How do they stack up? We tasted all six (sold as a set) from the 2006 vintage. Here we go:

2006 Yorkville Cellars Malbec Rennie Vineyard Yorkville Highlands – Intense licorice character, with a huge oak backing. A little out of whack, which is common for California Malbecs. Drink it with a big meal. B

2006 Yorkville Cellars Cabernet Franc Rennie Vineyard Yorkville Highlands – Awfully jammy and up-front for Cab Franc, with a simply structured but very extracted body. Night and day vs. the Malbec. Almost like a Zinfandel. B+

2006 Yorkville Cellars Petit Verdot Rennie Vineyard Yorkville Highlands – Surprisingly full of character. Unbelievably purple. A flash of pepper plays nicely with the hugely cherry body. Moderate and tart finish, with a decent balance on it. Very unusual. B+

2006 Yorkville Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Rennie Vineyard Yorkville Highlands – Lovely on first blush, but the body retreats to jammy fruit too easily, and there doesn’t seem to have been enough time in cask spent here. Might cool down with some bottle time, but I’m not certain. Decent but not a knockout. B

2006 Yorkville Cellars Merlot Rennie Vineyard Yorkville Highlands – Tough and incredibly herbal. Gets easier with time in the glass, but it’s still chalky and uncharacteristic of good Merlot. C+

2006 Yorkville Cellars Carmenere Rennie Vineyard Yorkville Highlands – Not a fan. Extremely tart to the point of astringency. Ultra-fruity, with sweet jam and candy notes, it goes way too far into the berry world for easy drinking. C-

$200 for case of six wines / yorkvillecellars.com

yorkville cellars six wines 525x276 Review: Yorkville Cellars Mendocino 2006 Wines

Review: Ursus Vodka

Everyone needs a gimmick, but the vodka industry, where product is legion, needs it more than anyone.

Ursus Vodka, which hails from the Netherlands and is distilled “from grain,” is a budget brand with a trick: Like Coors Light’s newer bottles, the bears on the label turn from white to blue when it’s chilled. (It does take a bit of chilling: The label turns blue in the freezer, but not in the refrigerator.)

In addition to a standard vodka, there are three flavored versions, two of which I sampled for review.

Ursus Vodka (unflavored) is a standard 80 proof, basically unremarkable in any way. Strongly medicinal on the nose and moderately harsh on the palate, it’s lightly sweet but with a lot of bite and a rough finish. Probably suited only for mixing bulk drinks. C-

Ursus Blue Raspberry Vodka is the color of that stuff they disinfect combs in at the cleaners, which is probably how it will be used: To add blueness to a cocktail when no blue curacao is available. Sweet but not horribly so, it’s a cross between real raspberry and cough syrup that may be satisfying to ultra sweet tooths. The finish coats the mouth in a slightly disturbing way. 60 proof. C-

Ursus Green Apple Vodka is the Scope to Blue Raspberry’s comb disinfecting liquid, color-wise anyway. Scope flavor would be an improvement, actually. The nose has no apple character at all; it’s more akin to some kind of industrial cleaning fluid. A touch of Apple-flavored Kool-Aid in the body does very little for this spirit, which is almost unbearable to actually drink, harsh and offensive. I hate to be quite  blunt, but it’s one of the worst products I’ve sampled in the history of this blog. 60 proof. F

each $11 / no website

Review: El Jimador “New Mix” Tequila Cocktails

“New Mix” is not a slogan stuck on the can of El Jimador’s ready-to-drink tequila cocktails. It’s the actual name of the product: New Mix.

Hugely popular in Mexico, New Mix now comes in five flavors. We’ve had the first three flavors sitting in the fridge literally for months, and finally we are getting around to cracking them open to see what all the fuss is about. (We’re still not sure.)

Each is 5 percent alcohol and is made with actual tequila. The drinks are lightly carbonated.

Thoughts in each follow.

El Jimador New Mix Margarita looks like a lemon-lime soda, and frankly tastes like it too. The fizzy concoction is solid soft drink up front, then you get that tequila bite in the finish. There’s not much of it, but it’s noticeable. That said, this tastes almost nothing like a margarita (with none of the flavor of triple sec that it claims to have), but a lot more like a Seven-and-Tequila, but I guess that wouldn’t look as good on the label. C

El Jimador New Mix Paloma – A paloma is traditionally a grapefruit juice and tequila cocktail, and this rendition does at least smell like grapefruit when you crack open the can. The flavor is a little funkier than that, though — less grapefruit and more of a canned fruit salad. Less tequila bite than the margarita New Mix, which in this case is not a great thing. C-

El Jimador New Mix Spicy Mango Margarita – It’s not an orange crush in that can, it’s a spicy mango margarita! El Jimador radically overreaches here, pulling off something that is more reminiscent of Red Bull than anything that bears resemblance to spice, mango, or margarita. No idea where this one came from or why it exists. D

eljimador.com


Review: The Bitter Truth Bitters Lineup

Hey Mr. Sheriff, there’s a new gun in town in the bitters category. Called The Bitter Truth (get it?), this brand hails from Germany and now spans eight types of bitters.

The house style is, how shall we put it, bitter. Strong on the bitterness, less of a focus on the fruit or other components of the mix. In fact, The Bitter Truth’s lineup is stronger in the bitterness category than any other bitters brand I’ve tried; I recommend a relatively light hand when mixing drinks with these, but while the overall line has some winners and losers, in the right concentration they can all be pretty good.

We tried six of the eight bottles in the lineup. Comments follow.

The Bitter Truth Aromatic Bitters – Very strong, with a root beer attack and a very bitter finish. Angostura is sweeter and easier going, while Fee’s Aromatic has more of a soda pop feel to it. Angostura remains my clear favorite here. B

The Bitter Truth Creole Bitters – A direct alternative to Peychaud’s bitters, and quite similar if you can get the quantity right. Again, they’re considerably more bitter, however, with a sort of burnt aftertaste. B

The Bitter Truth Orange Bitters – Comparable to Fee’s Orange, with a big orange peel character and a strong, bitter finish. B+

The Bitter Truth Lemon Bitters – The biggest departure from the competition: Fee’s is hugely sweet, while The Bitter Truth has an intense citrus peel bitterness. This would be incredibly different in a cocktail — and I actually prefer this one to Fee’s. B+

The Bitter Truth Grapefruit Bitters – Bitter Truth’s version has virtually no grapefruit character to it at all and is mostly forgettable. Fee’s has a good balance of fruit with a bitter edge. C-

The Bitter Truth Xocolatl Mole Bitters – Alas, I have no other chocolate bitters for comparison. Interesting hints of chocolate and cinnamon on first blush, then quickly overpowered by a bitter conclusion. Interesting, but not sure where or how I’d use this one. B-

the-bitter-truth.com

the bitter truth bitters Review: The Bitter Truth Bitters Lineup

Review: Hennessy Black Cognac

First let’s cover the color: Hennessy Black, a spinoff of standard Hennessy cognac designed as a cocktail ingredient, is not black. It’s a dark gold color, much like any cognac you’re likely to encounter.

A blend of up to 45 eaux-de-vie, Hennessy Black is aged five years and dropped into a wholly opaque bottle designed to evoke the night.

The palate of this cognac is, to put it bluntly, rough. It has that back-of-the-throat bite that reminds me of young armagnac, though there is more fruit on the front of the palate. Fortunately, the sweeter notes that are there has good flavor, with citrus and perfumed cedar moderate in the mix.

But Hennessy Black suffers from its youth. The wood notes are rustic and have a turpentine character that really mars the finish. Not overly sweet like many young cognacs, it suffers from being too far on the other side of the fence. Stick with standard Hennessy.

UPDATE: At the behest of fellow drinks writer Camper English, I tried Hennessy Black with Coke, and it does indeed make for a better mixer than a straight spirit. The Coke is particularly effective at masking Black’s rougher flavors, and its sweetness is more prominent in the mix. That said, I shudder for the hangover young club-goers will have after a night of drinking these…

80 proof.

C- / $40 / hennessyblack.com

Hennessy Black Review: Hennessy Black Cognac

Review: Coruba Mango and Coconut Flavored Rums

Coruba is Jamaican rum (imported to New Zealand and sold from there). These two new bottlings are flavored rums that have been considerably doctored not just with flavoring agents but lightened down to just 42 proof.

Coruba Mango Rum is an intensely sweet experience, and mango is really only hinted at in the finish. It’s so sugary that there’s no real hint off fruit, just sweetness with a touch of tropicality. Probably fine in any number of rum-and-juice cocktails, but not a winner on its own. C-

Coruba Coconut Rum is more successful, a decent competitor to Malibu with a more delicately flavored spirit than Coruba’s mango concoction. Here the coconut is more muted and the resulting spirit much less sweet, with a mellower, earthy finish. In fact, this rum can be safely sipped solo, though it would clearly find a better home in a tropical beach drink. B

$16 each / coruba.co.nz

Review: Big House Red and Monthaven Chardonnay 3L Box Wines

Boxed wine continues to tiptoe toward improvement, with the folks at Octavin offering some decent wines in considerably more handsome packaging. These three-liter boxes fit more easily into your fridge but still promise to store your vino without it breaking down for up to six weeks.

2008 Monthaven Chardonnay is not a big success. Thin and lightly oaky, it’s chardonnay-lite, with a tepid body, some random tropical fruit character, and a sort of meat-like finish. The Central Coast wine will do in a pinch, but it’s not something to cozy up with alongside your sweetie as you gaze at the sunset. Think party wine. Frat party wine. C-

2008 Big House Red is surprisingly a far bigger hit, actually. A blend of just about everything (see the review of the 2007 Big House Red for a sampling) from all over California, this one comes across far more successfully than its pedigree would imply. Balanced, with mild spiciness, light acid, and a solid core of fruit, it’s even got complexity through smoky wood notes in the mix. Pushing an A-, but still on the upper edge of B+

$22 per 3L box / octavinhomewinebar.com

Review: AMP Energy Juice

You’ve undoubtedly heard the radio commercials by now. AMP is billed as “the spark that ignites and kick-starts the day,” 100 percent juice with added caffeine and other pick-me-ups. Basically a way to drink Red Bull in the morning without the embarassment.

AMP comes in two flavors, both featuring 100% juice plus taurine, guarana, caffeine, lycopene, and some of your standard vitamins (C, E, Niacin, B6, B5, and Pantothenic Acid).

AMP Orange is actually a mix of orange and white grape juice and it’s clear from the first sip that it’s not all orange. In fact, it’s pretty watery, and doesn’t really taste very orange-like. It’s not unpleasant, but the effect is more of an “orange drink” than real juice — though at least it’s easy to knock down. B

AMP Mixed Berry may surprise you, as it’s also made up of… orange and white grape juice, plus artificial and natural flavors. It’s tart and saccharine tasting, much less palatable than the orange version — and mixed berry only in the sense that there are vague fruit flavors mixed into the bottle. C-

Your pick-me-up mileage may vary.

about $3 per 12-oz. bottle / ampenergy.com