Review: High West Valley Tan Utah Whiskey

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Don’t look now, but you can actually get an (aged) whiskey that is really made at High West’s Utah location instead of brought in on a truck from someone else. Is that a good thing? While High West makes some lovely unaged whiskeys, its biggest home-grown barrel-aged product, Valley Tan, is clearly still a work in progress. The spirit is made from a mash of wheat, oat, and malted barley, and is blended from barrels aged from 1 to 6 years.

Heavily malted, granary notes kick things off. The nose is loaded with fresh, grassy cereal and lightly-smoky notes of dried hay, plus a significant amount of barnyard character. On the palate, it’s more of the same, though a touch of sweet breakfast cereal and hints of dried apple cut some of the harsher notes. That said, the finish is a bit pungent and offers some diesel notes — neither of which is entirely in line with what I’m looking for in a “sippin'” whiskey.

87 proof. Reviewed: Batch #3.

C / $59 / highwest.com

Review: Barbed Wire 2014 Red Wine Blend and Cabernet Sauvignon

barbed-wire

Trinchero’s latest brand is Barbed Wire, a budget offering from California’s North Coast (a region that encompasses pretty much anywhere on the northern half of the state). Nonetheless, Barbed Wire is trying to push quality higher, despite the reasonable price tag. We tried two releases from the 2014 vintage.

2014 Barbed Wire Red Wine Blend North Coast – This is a blend of cabernet sauvignon from Alexander Valley and merlot from Napa Valley. A rather innocuous wine, this blend offers a dusty, fruit-restrained attack with notes that focus on leather, tar, and bushy brambles. The finish brings out some black and blue berries, but remains quite dry and short, fading away within seconds. B- / $11

2014 Barbed Wire Cabernet Sauvignon North Coast – This is a lackluster cabernet, flabby with an unctuous, mouth-coating character and dialed back when it comes to fruit. Over time some engaging blackberry notes come to the fore, plus a dusting of juicy currants, but it’s awfully late in the game, after a generalized, gooey sweetness and vague forest floor notes have already taken hold. C / $11

tfewines.com

Review: Truly Spiked & Sparkling Water

truly

Well folks, we’re at peak, er… peak something. How do I know? Because in this world of alcohol-spiked oddities including Mexican frescas, whipped cream, and sports drinks, now we have the ultimate in ready-to-drink concoctions: spiked water.

Truly is — much to my surprise — not a malt beverage, but rather gets its alcohol from a cane sugar distillate. Low in calories (100) and sugar (1 gram), these are designed for the “club soda with a twist” set… but who decide they want a splash of the hard stuff in there after all. Four flavors are available, in both bottles and cans.

We tasted a trio of offerings from the available mixed pack. Thoughts follow.

Truly Spiked & Sparkling Colima Lime – A dirty G&T, very fizzy with a bit of lime zest that hits the palate. Surprisingly refreshing, with almost no discernable alcohol character to it. If I was going to drink a “hard seltzer,” this is probably what I’d choose. B+

Truly Spiked & Sparkling Pomegranate – On the nose this has that immediately evident strawberry-sweet berry note, which follows through as a vague candylike character on the palate. This is short-lived, however, eventually giving way to a similarly neutral, ultra-fizzy finish. B-

Truly Spiked & Sparkling Grapefruit & Pomelo – By far the most fragrant of the bunch, with a big floral nose that doesn’t immediately say grapefruit but which eventually kinda-sorta resembles it. The body is more flavorful than the above as well, though it comes across with a sweet-and-sour kind of note that ultimately feels somewhat off-putting. C

$8 per case of 12 oz. cans or bottles / trulyspikedsparkling.com

Review: Wines of Portugal, 2014 Quinto Elemento and Fiuza

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Portugal is more than just Port and vinho verde. Here’s a look at two bottlings from off the beaten path, both hailing from the Tejo region, near the Spanish border to the far east of the country.

2014 Quinto Elemento Arinto Reserva Vinho Branco Tejo – Made from the arinto grape, this racy white offers a lightly tropical/pineapple core studded with lots of aromatics and perfume notes, to the point of mild astringency. The finish mixes in notes of sweet peaches with honeysuckle and roses, the florals becoming particularly pronounced as the wine warms up a bit. B / $8

2014 Fiuza Premium Alicante Bouchet Tejo – A funky, vegetal red with barnyard and vague smoke overtones. Alicante bouchet isn’t the world’s most beloved grape, and its iffy nose leads to an almost bizarre body, which takes notes of prune and rhubarb and folds in tobacco and tar character. Highly acidic, but the wacky flavor profile takes some real getting used to. C / $13

Review: Wines of Francis Ford Coppola, Late 2016 Releases

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A septet of new releases from our friends at FFC. Quality on this round is literally all over the place…

2014 Francis Ford Coppola Sofia Blanc de Blancs Monterey County – The cellophane wrapper should connote luxury, but to me it always comes across as scary. This wine — vintage blanc de blancs! — smells like fizzy chardonnay, which is basically what it really is. Notes of bubble gum and vanilla candy aren’t wildly inappropriate against the backdrop of a gummy, foamy body, but it hardly makes for a nuanced drinking experience. C+ / $15

2015 Francis Ford Coppola Rosso & Bianco Pinot Grigio – A simple pinot grigio on the whole, though notes of marzipan and parmesan cheese take things in an unexpected, somewhat rustic direction. Gentle with citrus and apple fruit, lightly acidic, and mildly perfumed, it’s got a bit of everything, which is both good and bad, but which helps to acquit the wine appropriately for what’s intended to be an everyday table wine. B+ / $9

2015 Francis Ford Coppola Diamond Collection Pinot Grigio – A fruit-heavy style of pinot grigio, with notes of lychee, mango, and pistachio, with a finish that echoes notes of nougat. Quite sweet, but approachable. B / $12

2014 Francis Ford Coppola Votre Sante Chardonnay California – The label is perhaps meant to remind one of Burgundy, but the palate instead screams “Central Valley.” This is some questionable chardonnay, doctored up and over-oaked to within an inch of its life, offering a nose of sweet honey and a palate that pinballs between candy and canned vegetables. Throughout all of this: An overlay of liquid oak. Ugh. D / $10

2014 Francis Ford Coppola Diamond Collection Pavilion Chardonnay – The fine print on the back details that this is a Santa Lucia Highlands wine, and its elevated appellation (over the California-only appellation of the Votre Sante) shows bright apple fruit with light vanilla notes, brown butter, and fresh cream. There’s a lovely balance here that many of the wines in this roundup are lacking, and a freshness on the finish that is almost inspiring. A- / $20

2015 Francis Ford Coppola Sofia Rose Monterey County – This is the still rose from the Sofia sub-label, a strawberry-hued and -flavored oddity that won’t inspire or excite. Underneath those sweet berries there’s a somewhat muddy character, lingering on the finish side by side with some increasingly candy-like notes. C / $15

2013 Francis Ford Coppola Pitagora Red Wine Blend Sonoma County – The sole red wine in this collection, Pitagora is a blend of syrah, petit verdot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and petite sirah, but it feels closest in tone to a rustic Italian wine, full of dried herbs, cherries, and olive notes. Very dry, with an undercurrent of balsamic. B / $26

francisfordcoppolawinery.com

Review: Gosling’s Gold Seal Bermuda Gold Rum

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Gosling’s is well-known for its flagship Gosling’s Black Seal Rum, but it actually has quite a family of products on offer, including our highly-rated Gosling’s Old Rum and this, Gosling’s Gold Seal.

Launched in January in its native Bermuda, Gosling’s Gold Seal is an amber rum that replaces its old Gosling’s Gold Rum and builds on Black Seal’s pinniped theme. It is now expanding nationally. We received this bottle from none other than Malclom Gosling, Jr., himself, so of course we’re taking it for a spin!

The nose is heavy with sugary notes — marshmallow and light brown sugar with a touch of molasses-driven gingersnap. On the palate, there’s fruit at first, tropical pineapple and coconut, before the overwhelming sweetness of this rum comes round to bear down on your taste buds. Simple syrup, more of that marshmallow note, and some maple syrup character, particularly strong on the back end. The finish is lasting, yet saccharine.

You don’t have to dig too deeply into the archives to see I like a bit of sweetness in my rum, but Gold Seal just takes it too far, coming across as a bit doctored, and just unnecessarily sugary.

80 proof.

C / $18 / goslingsrum.com

Review: Wines of Noble Vines, 2016 Releases

Like Cameron Hughes before it, Noble Vines eschews fun names in favor of a simple three-digit number to identify its various bottlings. (Unlike Hughes, however, Noble Vines’ numbers indicate rootstock, vineyard blocks, or both.)

Sourcing grapes largely from two vineyards, one in Lodi, one in Monterey, the company currently produces six low-cost wines. We review three below. Thoughts follow.

2014 Noble Vines 242 Sauvignon Blanc San Bernabe Monterey California – A bit odd for a sauvignon blanc, with clear notes of brown sugar and cinnamon. The finish dials back the sweetness and offers a squeeze of lemon, but lacks the acidity you want in a great sauvignon blanc. B- / $9

2014 Noble Vines 446 Chardonnay San Bernabe Monterey California – Oaked to within an inch of its life, this ultra-buttery Chardonnay almost feels retro in an era when wines are embracing acid over this kind of wood treatment. The end result is flabby, with notes of melon to offset the heavy vanilla and raw oak character. C / $9

2013 Noble Vines 667 Pinot Noir Monterey California – Another flabby experience, the fruit here overshadowed by notes of marshmallow and vanilla ice cream. A sort of brambly blueberry note emerges in the finish, but the heavy sweetness endures. B- / $11

noblevines.com

Review: Rums of Rhum Clement – Canne Bleue, Select Barrel, 6 Years Old, 10 Years Old, and Coconut Liqueur (2016)

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Rhum Clement is perhaps Martinique’s most distinguished producer of sugarcane-based rhum agricole, but it’s been 8 years since we’ve checked in with the distillery in earnest. After some rebranding and shuffling of products, the lineup still looks fairly familiar. While we didn’t get to check out Clement’s very top-end rums this time, this roundup comprises a fairly comprehensive look at the company’s most widely available products.

Thoughts follow on the four rums and one rum-based liqueur tasted.

Rhum Clement Canne Bleue – White rhum agricole made from a single varietal of sugarcane. Intense on the nose with petrol and rubber notes, you could be forgiven for assuming this is cachaca. Overripe fruit and a range of vegetal notes fill the palate, leading to a hot, almost overwhelming finish. This one actually says it’s “intense” on the front label, in all caps and italics, so I guess I have no one to blame here but myself. 100 proof. C / $30

Rhum Clement Rhum Vieux Agricole Select Barrel – This is three year old rum aged in French oak, denoted as such on the back label. Lot of heavy vegetal notes remain on the body here, as yet untamed by the rum’s time in wood. Vague aromas of coffee give way to heavy mushroom and green vegetable notes, the funkier notes lingering on the body before an interesting apple character arises on the finish. It’s nothing extraordinary, but it works as a worthwhile mixer. 80 proof. B / $30  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Rhum Clement Tres Vieux Rhum Agricole 6 Years Old – Notes of coffee, tobacco, and baking spice on the nose give this rum the impression of significant age from the get-go. On the tongue, silky brown sugar leads to winey notes, complemented by a touch of smoke. The finish showcases the rum’s more savory side, hinting at both well-tanned leather, charcoal notes, and coconut husks. Balanced, without overblown sugars, it’s an excellent rum that’s still at the beginning of its life. 88 proof. A- / $55

Rhum Clement Tres Vieux Rhum Agricole 10 Years Old – Bolder coffee notes on the nose here than in the 6 year old, but otherwise the aroma is a close cousin to its progenitor. On the palate, there’s quite a bit less sweetness here than on the 6 year, that brown sugar note taking a back seat to a stronger brandy and oxidized wine character, complemented by notes of roasted nuts, more coffee, and Spanish sherry. More brooding and more intense, it’s a provocative rum that showcases austerity over sweetness, making for a more intriguing sipper. 88 proof. A- / $70

Rhum Clement Mahina Coco Coconut Liqueur – Made from white rhum and chunks of macerated coconut. Slightly tropical, with clear and powerful coconut notes, it’s a richer and more engaging version of Malibu, with notes of banana and, especially, pineapple emerging on the finish. Keep this on hand for upscale pina coladas. 36 proof. A- / $24

rhumclementusa.com

Review: Wines of Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve, 2016 Releases

KJVR_13MerlotFour new wines in the KJ stable have recently been released, all in the Vintner’s Reserve line, the second (from the bottom) level in the five tiers that Kendall-Jackson produces.

Thoughts on these wines, all reds, follow.

2013 Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Merlot Sonoma County – As inoffensive a wine as anyone could hope for, this simple merlot showcases blackberry and blueberry, with a modestly tannic core. Some vanilla comes to the forefront alongside a nice bite of bitterness and a gentle denouement. It’s a perfectly drinkable pizza ‘n’ pasta wine… but it tastes like it could be any varietal. B / $19

2014 Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Syrah Santa Barbara County – Musty and smoky, even a syrah lover like me had some trouble pushing past the funk here. Once inside, the sour cherry core offers few real pleasures, and the bittersweet finish comes across as lackluster and cheap. C / $17

2013 Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County – The nose is bright with currants and blackberries, but the body is flat and almost watery, with zero finish. Harmless currants and black pepper stud the caramel-focused body for very brief time it spends on the palate, and the finish offers a slug of tannin that quickly fades. Improves with some air, but this isn’t a wine that should merit decanting. B- / $24

2013 Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Summation Red Wine Blend California – A mystery blend that includes merlot, zinfandel, syrah, and other grapes. Lush, almost opulent, a big surprise in an otherwise lackluster lineup. Big currants and blueberry dominate, while soft tannins lead the way to some baking spice and vanilla notes on the finish. Excellent balance with a lush and rounded finish and an easy approachability. Buy this one; it’s a huge value. A- / $17

kj.com

Tasting Affordable Bordeaux, 2016 Releases

grand-vin-de-reignac-2006Bordeaux means money, pure and simple. Or is it? There’s plenty of affordable Bordeaux out there, and while quality can be hit and miss, if you take the time to sift through the market, you can find some gems.

Here’s a sampling of five affordable Bordeaux wines — two whites and three reds. Affordabordeaux? No?

Starting with white wines…

2013 Chateau La Freynelle Bordeaux Blanc – Sauvignon blanc, semillon, and muscadelle compose this awfully tart white, a sour apple-infused wine with ammonia overtones. The finish offers fruit with just a touch of tropical character, but by and large it’s a bit too tart for easy enjoyment. C / $12

2014 Augey Bordeaux Blanc – 75% sauvignon blanc and 25% semillon. Not bad, a fresh but simple wine showcasing lemon and some apple fruit, with floral notes on the finish. Just a hint of sweetness gives it easy drinkability without veering into plonk. B+ / $9

And now the reds…

2009 Domaine de Montalon Bordeaux Superieur – A classically funky wine that exhibits everything people dislike about Bordeaux wines: mushrooms galore, forest floor, old dirt… this is rustic stuff that would be more interesting if the body wasn’t so thin to the point of wateriness. A miss. C- / $17

2013 Chateau Genins Bordeaux – Pungent, with a slightly sour character that recalls unripe blackberries and balsamic vinegar. The short and tart finish fades as quickly as it arrives. C / $11

2012 Grand Vin de Reignac Bordeaux Superieur – Merlot heavy. Easily the best red of the bunch (but also the most expensive), a full-bodied sipper with dark currants and notes of dark chocolate, moderate tannins, some black pepper, and a lengthy, silky finish. Nothing fancy, really, but exactly what an inexpensive Bordeaux ought to taste like. B+ / $25

Review: Warsteiner Grapefruit Special Edition

WARSTEINER Grapefruit Special Edition bottleA 50:50 blend of Warsteiner Pilsener and “grapefruit flavored drink” is what makes up this special edition concoction — marketed, oddly, as a special edition for winter drinking.

The results are largely as expected: lightly sweetened but largely sour citrus notes come in up front, followed by malty, somewhat musty, German beer character. Both manage to endure on the finish, giving the brew a strange schizophrenia, albeit one that isn’t wholly unpleasant. Sweet, sour, earthy… it’s got everything. For better or worse.

2.5% abv.

Update: Now arriving on shelves in April 2016.

C / $9 per six-pack / warsteiner.us

Review: Owl’s Brew Tea-Infused Mixers

owls brewTea and booze? They mix, and surprisingly well — in fact, if you look at any number of classic punch recipes, you’ll see that tea is a popular ingredient.

Owl’s Brew is a line of various bottled teas designed as cocktail mixers, each with a flavor or sweetener added (sometimes minor, sometimes a lot). The mixers are designed to be used in a 2:1 ratio of mixer to booze. Which booze? Well, it depends — two that we reviewed (seven varieties are currently available) are designed for The Famous Grouse or The Black Grouse specifically. Others offer a wide variety of spirits you can pair with.

Either way, once you open them, you better drink up quick. They’re good for only two weeks in the fridge after that. Maybe using these for punch is a better idea than expected.

Thoughts on the three varieties tested follow.

Owl’s Brew The Famous Mint Tea – Peppermint tea with lemon; designed for The Famous Grouse Scotch. This is a surprisingly good combination. The malt and honey flavors of the whisky really come through, as does the lemon and gentle tea notes. What’s lacking, by and large, is oddly the peppermint. It’s a vague afterthought that barely peeks through but comes on a touch stronger on the finish, along with some light chocolate notes. B+

Owl’s Brew The Smoky Earl – Lapsang souchang and Earl Grey tea plus honey; designed for The Black Grouse Scotch. Distinctly smoky, with notes of cherries, some tropical fruit, and salted caramel. Again, some light chocolate character emerges as the cocktail fades. B

Owl’s Brew White and Vine – White tea, pomegranate, lemon peel, and watermelon; designed for vodka, gin, tequila, or wheat beer. My least favorite of this bunch, both intensely fruity and herbal at the same time, making for a bit of a cacophonous experience. It’s the watermelon that is the most jarring component here — not quite Jolly Rancher but simply too strange a component in this conflagration. No spirit combo worked well; vodka did nothing to cut the fruit and gin swayed things too herbal. Tequila is your best bet, but try just a splash of Owl’s Brew instead of the suggested 2:1 ratio. C

$17 per 32 oz. bottle / theowlsbrew.com