Category Archives: Rated C-

Review: Scotch Malt Whisky Society October 2012 Outturn

Five whiskys this month from the SMWS. Thoughts follow on each.

SMWS Cask 5.35 – 12 year old Auchentoshan from the Lowlands – Big orange flower and honey on the nose. Very light smokiness on the finish. Youthful and fresh, it shows off its grain base but in a modest and understated way. The sweeter body and light touches of hay and fresh bread give this an almost breakfasty feel. Fun stuff, but pricey for 12 year old Auchie. Distilled 1999, 109.4 proof, allocation n/a. B+ / $105

SMWS Cask 26.84 – 21 year old Clynelish from the Highlands – Burned out. Old wood and hospital notes, a whisky that’s been in barrel too long (or in a barrel that had faded too much). Things settle down with some air, but the finish is still rough, hot, and coal-filled. Distilled 1990, 98.2 proof, allocation n/a. C- / $145

SMWS Cask 33.113 – 8 year old Ardbeg from Islay – Less smoke on the nose than I was expecting, but rest assured, it comes along later in the game. Sharp and wintry, this malt offers mulled spices and a long finish that smolders like a dying fire. Amazingly restrained, but so warming (at cask strength you won’t miss the heat) that you are overwhelmed with flavor anyway. Great balance, and worthwhile if you’re into Ardbeg. Distilled 2003, 120.8 proof, allocation n/a. A- / $85

SMWS Cask 85.23 – 12 year old Glen Elgin from Speyside – Hot stuff from a refill sherry butt. The first blush is all Orange Julius, creamy citrus and a chewy sweet finish. Touches of pine needles on the nose, and classic Christmas cake character. On the mid-palate, some graininess evolves — indicative of this whisky’s youth — with a finish that builds with malt and burly wood characteristics. The balance is good, not great. Would have loved to experienced this whisky in 2018. Distilled 1999, 118.8 proof, allocation n/a. B+ / $105

SMWS Cask 93.47 – 9 year old Glen Scotia from Campbeltown – Sugar and peat come together in this coastal dram, a young and brash smoke bomb that could easily be confused with young Laphroaig thanks to that barbecue smoke finish. There’s a certain inflection here that’s almost minty — again, those juniper and pine needle characters come along, this time very late in the finish. A somewhat simple peated style, again the price is a concern. Distilled 2002, 119.4 proof, allocation n/a. B+ / $90

october 2012 smws Review: Scotch Malt Whisky Society October 2012 Outturn

Review: Prevu Sparkling Liqueur

Blackberries, currants, and raspberries, all steeped in vodka and Cognac and given a light sparkling fizz — every component organic — what could go wrong?

The intriguing Prevu, made in the Cognac region, is a super-sweet concoction ready-made for the Alize set, where a touch of Cognac and a whole lot of fruit flavor rules the roost.

The berry components are heavy on the jam character, massively sugar-infused and ready for spreading on toast if only it were a bit thicker. Sip long enough and you do get all the fruit elements, the oily texture backed up with a fizzy topper. The carbonation isn’t heavy and it fades after 20 minutes or so, so drink fast if you want to get the bubbles.

Prevu is mainly promoted as a straight drink (on the rocks), but with its gooey aftertaste, I’d have trouble finishing a full glass. Consider instead as an alternative to Chambord in cocktails if you’re in a pinch.

C- / $30 /

 Review: Prevu Sparkling Liqueur


Review: Jellybean Wines

This new brand is attempting to muscle its way into the mass-market wine space (Yellow Tail, Cupcake, Barefoot, you know the ones), choosing to head to the ever-popular “desserts” branding strategy for its identity. Jellybean wines come from just about everywhere. We reviewed two of the company’s offerings, with predictable results.

2011 Jellybean Berry Smooth Red Wine Blend – A Spanish red blend. Deep blueberry notes, as candied as they get. Impossibly sweet and, I guess, smooth in a way, but more in the way that Kool-Aid is smooth. Incredibly simple. D+

2010 Jellybean Candy-Apple Red Cabernet Sauvignon California – Another wine that lives up to its name, with flavors reminiscent of a cinnamon red hot (and no apple to speak of). Marginally better, but cloyingly sweet. C-

each $13 /

Review: Southern Comfort Bold Black Cherry

This is one of those reviews that I simply haven’t had the strength to write. I opened the bottle when it arrived, quickly put it back on the counter, and there it’s sat for more than two months.

As the name implies, SoCo Cherry adds black cherry flavor to the classic peach Southern Comfort recipe, to utterly cryptic effect. Original SoCo may be an acquired taste, but this stuff has a flavor that I can’t imagine anyone readily acquiring. The nose and the palate are both incredibly and unfortunately along the lines of cough syrup, with overpowering, saccharine sweetness. It overpowers the original character of the SoCo and leaves behind a mouth-coating and not entirely pleasant medicinal flavor — whether sipping straight or mixing with Coke (as the company suggests).

SoCo continues to muck with line extensions, but none have been very successful to date. The best I can recommend: SoCo 100, the overproof version of the original spirit.

70 proof. Naturally flavored with caramel color added.

C- / $17 /

southern comfort cherry Review: Southern Comfort Bold Black Cherry

Review: Ye Ol’ Grog Distillery Grogs and Vodka

Ye Ol’ Grog Distillery (aka Ye Ole Grog Distillery) is a St. Helens, Oregon-based outfit specializing in, well, grog. Many enamored with the lives of pirates have probably invoked he word grog in some fashion or another… but don’t really know what it is. So, what is it?

In the old days, grog mainly meant rum watered down either with regular water or some form of beer. Served aboard ships, it was intended to make the rum last longer during those lengthy voyages… and keep the crew from getting completely sloshed. The term has of course evolved since then. There are grogs that are basically spiced rums, grogs that are mixes of juice and booze, and grogs that mean pretty much anything in the alcoholic spirits category. And now there is this “grog.”

Ye Ol’ Grog Distillery’s product begins with grain neutral spirit feed stock that is “treated with a weathered, time-proven, natural process” that comes out of Russia. This is distilled in a pot still and used as a base for the three products below. What are they? For purposes of classification, one is a vodka (and is called such), and the two grogs fly closest to flavored vodka by virtue of their process of creation. I don’t know if names really matter, though. Feel free to just call ‘em “grog!”

Ye Ol’ Grog Distillery Dog Watch Vodka – This is essentially a re-distilled version of the above described base spirit, unfiltered, unflavored, and bottled at 80 proof. Put simply, this is unlike any vodka you’ve ever had. Everything about it screams unaged rum or even pisco: Hard-edged with a bitter body, gasoline notes, and a tough finish. A thinner version of a rhum agricole in flavor, this didn’t thrill me on its own, but I could see it working as a substitute for white rum in a handful of coctails. C / $25

Ye Ol’ Grog Distillery Good Morning Glory Grog – This spirit is sweetened with blue agave nectar, flavored with four (unlisted) natural flavors, and bottled at 70 proof. Wow, this is a different experience than the above. The nose: cinnamon and buttered popcorn. On the palate, overwhelming sweetness, which makes that cinnamon and popcorn taste more like Hot Tamales and popcorn Jelly Belly candies. Ultra-sweet, it’s difficult to handle much of this straight. C- / $25

Ye Ol’ Grog Distillery Dutch Harbor Breeze – This spirit is flavored with six flavors, sweetened with agave nectar, aged in charred oak barrels and with cinnamon (sticks in the barrel, I presume) for an unspecified length of time, then bottled at 100 proof. There’s so much going on with this that one barely knows where to start. Intense cinnamon and licorice notes on the nose are just the start. On the tongue those flavors are ramped up massively, turning into a burn-heavy root beer with a smoky, woody kick to it. This intense fruitcake-in-a-glass has more charm than its compadres, but the body is so powerful that it puts everything else to shame, even something as intense as Fernet Branca. As a dash of flavor in a cocktail this could offer a splash of something exotic. On its own, however, it’s just too wild to be overly dangerous. C+ / $30

Review: Four SakeOne Sakes

We’ve got a sake primer, courtesy of SakeOne and Momokawa, for you right here — and this week the Oregon-based sake empire sent us four samples for our consideration, particularly as cocktail ingredients. There’s a whole bunch of recipes involving these sakes available here. We won’t reprint them all but encourage you to pick up a bottle of one of the below — they’re very affordable — and experiment all you’d like. Just remember: Sake is at its best when it’s very fresh.

Comments below are based on the unadulterated stuff.

Momokawa Organic Medium Rich Junmai Ginjo Sake (re-reviewed) – A sake with a moderate body, quite a tart and sweet little number, rich with malty notes, melons, pears, and an easy earthiness. Quite drinkable, but the finish fades too quickly. 14.5% abv. A- / $13

SakeOne G “joy” Junmai Ginjo Genshu Sake – As much as I like the Organic, this sake is immediately bigger and bolder, which creates a stronger and rather immediate impression. Filled with big, stewed fruit character, it comes with a powerfully sour finish that is almost overwhelming. Likeable, but less easy-drinking than the Organic. 18% abv. B+ / $20

Moonstone Asian Pear Sake – The pear is right there on the nose, almost candy-like. That continues into the body, where you’ll find a Starburst-like sweetness that plays, not entirely harmoniously, with the melon tones of the sake underneath. 12% abv. C+ / $12

Moonstone Plum Sake – Lightly pink, very bright fruit on the nose. Drinking this you’d have no idea this was sake at all. The sweetness is reminiscent of a white zinfandel or a fruit-based wine, with a thick, syrupy finish reminiscent of an (admittedly better-tasting) cough syrup. Not my favorite of this bunch. 7% abv. C- / $10

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 /

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 /

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 /

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



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 /

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

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 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.

Update 10/2014: More recent encounters with Warsteiner have been far more positive, offering up a less motley collection of malt and roasted nuts, fire-toasted grains, and a touch of bitter citrus peel on the finish. Quintessentially German, with a lasting, malty finish that rolls around on the tongue for quite a while. Updated rating: B

C- / $10 per six-pack /

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

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 /

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