Category Archives: Rated C

Review: Alex Elman Wines

Sometimes the wines we get aren’t our favorites. But we review them anyway, especially when the story behind them is so lovely.

This line of inexpensive whites and reds from Argentina are created by a young, blind winemaker (Alex Elman, of course) and are produced sustainably (and affordably). The inaugural releases arrive this month on U.S. shelves.

2010 Alex Elman Torrontes Mendoza – Nice, lemony nose, but the body is green, weedy, and unripe. C

2010 Alex Elman Chardonnay Mendoza – Overly buttery, which saps the fruit (evident in the nose) from the palate. Some melon and more lemon charms here, but nothing that will bowl you over. C+

2009 Alex Elman Cabernet Sauvignon Mendoza – Thin and a little weedy, lots of meat and smoke character. Not great. D+

2009 Alex Elman Malbec Mendoza – My favorite of the bunch, which is fitting considering Malbec is essentially Argentina’s national grape. This one has real fruit character, plummy and slightly jammy. Easygoing finish and, at last, balanced. B+

$13 each /

alex elman collection wine Review: Alex Elman Wines

Review: Manso & Contreras Spanish Brandy de Jerez

Spanish brandy is not a product most drinkers have a familiarity with — nor does it resemble French brandy in any shape or form.

Hailing from Jerez, Spain, Manso & Contreras comes from a distillery that has been making brandy since the 1800s. While it’s a new brand — Manso is a native Cuban who lives now in San Diego — it’s an old recipe, distilled from the Airen grape and aged in former sherry barrels using the solera style where it spends a minimum of three years before bottling at 80 proof.

The results are striking and unusual: Manso & Contreras is a lot like a highly alcoholic Maderia, nutty and full of tea and coffee notes. That is mixed with a whole lot of intense sherry notes, pungent herbs, and funky old wine character. While this is more interesting than it might sound, the finish is the tough part: medicinal, bordering on brutal.

Spanish brandy is nothing if not unique, but I have to say it is not really my bag.

C / $69 /

manso and contreras brandy Review: Manso & Contreras Spanish Brandy de Jerez

Tasting Report: Discover 2009 Beaujolais – Blanc et Rouge

Beaujolais is home to more than just Beaujolais Nouveau, it’s also home to more upscale reds and whites, primarily made with the Gamay and Chardonnay grapes. These light, very affordable wines are often served chilled or even with ice — even the reds.

We sat down with the folks at Discover Beaujolais to taste through four 2009 releases of these non-Nouveau wines. Just remember: Don’t call it Burgundy! (“Bojo” is located just to the south of that famed wine region.)

2009 Chateau du Chatelard Beaujolais Blanc – Inviting melon nose, but very green and a little bitter on the palate. Finish is a little meaty. C / $15

2009 Jean-Paul Brun, Terres Dorees, Beaujolais Chardonnay – A much greater success with crisp acidity and lots of fresh fig, pear, and apple fruit. Creamy body coats the mouth as you go, but the acidity loosens it up. A winner. A- / $15

2009 Christophe Pacalet Beaujolais-Villages – Licorice is big on the nose, and the body screams cinnamon, allspice, and exotic Eastern spices. Huge and daunting, and no match whatsoever for the thin body. C+ / $12

2009 Chateau du Chatelard Moulin-a-Vent – Old-vine Gamay, a little rounder than the Pacalet but still full of spice. The body is bigger at least and can hold up to some of the punch here, but it’s still a big of a palate buster. Pruny finish. B- / $19

discover beaujolais Tasting Report: Discover 2009 Beaujolais   Blanc et Rouge

Review: Hannah Nicole Wines

Contra Costa County in the San Francisco Bay Area includes Oakland… as well as, apparently, a good number of vineyards. Hannah Nicole, in “the shadows of Mount Diablo,” is a relative newcomer to the business. We tasted four of the winery’s recent releases.

2009 Hannah Nicole Sauvignon Blanc Reserve Contra Costa County – 12.5% Viognier in this bizarre wine does little to improve it: Unusual for Sauvignon Blanc, it is barrel aged, which adds an unfortunate wood/vanilla/butter character to what is normally a crisp and lively wine. Here the wine is wholly out of balance and doesn’t work at all, not with food or alone. D / $22

2009 Hannah Nicole Viognier Contra Costa County – Very mild Viognier, an easygoing expression of the grape — actually 90% Viognier and 10% Sauvignon Blanc Musque. Mild perfume character plays nicely with the easygoing peach and apricot flavors in the wine. Simple, not bad. B+ / $18

2007 Hannah Nicole Merlot Reserve Contra Costa County – Unripe, dusty, and overly harsh on the palate. Has a Zin-like jamminess that is at odds with the silky smoothness that defines good Merlot. C / $29

2007 Hannah Nicole Meritage Contra Costa County – 49% Merlot, 34% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Petit Verdot, 4% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Malbec. A classic Bordeaux blend. More successful than the Merlot Reserve, but unremarkable. On the jammy side, but has enough character to it in the form of plum, cocoa, and herbal notes to make it of moderate interest. B- / $29

Review: PreToxx Hangover Remedy

PreToxx — now reformulated and repackaged since our 2009 review and featuring a capital T instead of a lowercase one — still has one great thing going for it: It’s a pill, so choking it down is easy.

Designed to be consumed before you drink, one PreToxx pill contains the following: Vitamins B1, B6, B12, and C, Prickly Pear Extract, Milk Thistle (these two are the new elements), and N-Acetyl L-Cysteine, a popular hangover remedy ingredient.

The directions indicate you should take two to four of these pills before you start drinking — and take one pill a day to “support a healthy liver.”

I tried PreToxx and found that generally I felt fine the next day, if a bit sluggish. The problem was more immediately after I took it. There’s no good way to explain it, but I felt weird while I was out. A little foggy in the head, with a funny taste in my mouth. I tried it twice with similar results each time.

Was this an allergy? A weird reaction to something in the supplement? Or something coincidental and unrelated? I’m not sure. Your mileage will certainly vary, but for me, the odd side effects outweighed any benefit received the following day.

C / $20 for 60 pills / [BUY IT HERE]

pretoxx Review: PreToxx Hangover Remedy

Review: Stolichnaya Stoli Wild Cherri Vodka

It’s an old story but I’ll tell it again: Cherry is the toughest flavor in the universe to pull off in a spirit.

People keep trying, though, and the latest out of the gate is Stoli, with a “Wild Cherri” vodka.

This naturally-flavored concoction (actually from Latvia, not Russia) starts off OK. It smells pretty good, like fresh, dark cherries. And on first sip, it even seems like it’s going to taste pleasant. Then you swallow and all hell breaks loose. Your instinct is to cough — because cherry is inextricably sewn up in the mind with cough syrup — but while that can be suppressed, the grimace cannot. The bite is moderately harsh, and the promise of sweet cherries fades away as a medicinal character overwhelms the fruit. That’s a combination of earthy, herbal Old World vodka and the sad reality of nearly all cherry-flavored spirits; the flavors just don’t come together in the right way, through no fault of their own.

Think of it as shrimp and peanut butter. I love ‘em both, just not at the same time.

75 proof.

C / $26 /

stoli wild cherri Review: Stolichnaya Stoli Wild Cherri Vodka

Review: 2008 and 2009 Monthaven Boxed Wines

Monthaven’s 2008 Chardonnay didn’t exactly impress us.

Today the company is back to try again with its 2009 release, plus two new reds from the 2008 vintage, all served up in convenient 3 liter boxes.

Yes, that’s 9 liters of wine. No, we did not drink it all. (Not possible.)

2009 Monthaven Chardonnay Central Coast is at least better than the 2008. Young and with minimal oaking, it’s pretty easy-drinking, and not overly imbued with any particular character. Apple notes are light and fruity, with a little hint of pineapple and some wood in the finish. Passable. B-

2008 Monthaven Merlot Central Coast is undistinguished in nearly any way. Watery and thin, it tastes unbelievably young and without any body or character beyond very simple cherry fruit. Harmless. C

2008 Monthaven Cabernet Sauvignon Central Coast is the worst of the lot. Incredibly green, it is embarassingly young, racy with the paradox of both unripe berry and raw raspberry juice notes. Tastes extremely cheap. A hard sell, to say the least. D+

$20 per 3L box /

Review: Tranquila Relaxation Shots

Tranquila isn’t the first “relaxation” shot on the market, but it is, to my knowledge, the first one without the word “chill” in the name.

The format is familiar: Little plastic vial holding 2 fluid ounces of super-sweet liquid.

Tranquila is available in two varieties, with quite different formulations (but both with zero calories, sweetened with sucralose). We tasted both.

Tranquila Original includes Vitamins B3, B6, B12, Folate, GABA, N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine, L-Theanine, Rhodiola Rosea Flower Extract, Rhaponticum Carthamoides Extract, and — get ready for this one — Eleutherococcus Senticoccus Root Extract. I have no idea what most of that stuff is, but the idea is to improve overall mood, boost immune system response, and combat stress. The flavor is very tart lemon-lime, quite sweet, and not all that bad. A bit like a flat Mountain Dew with five sugar cubes mixed in. Hard to tell if I felt “calmer” or more immune to anything after consuming the concoction, but it certainly didn’t hurt. C

Tranquila PM has a much different makeup: Vitamin B6, Zinc, Magnesium, Phenibut, L-Theanine, and — the kicker — Melatonin. As you might have guessed by the name and the lattermost ingredient, the idea is not just to improve overall mood, boost immune system response, and combat stress, but to put you to sleep too. The taste is better, less sweet than the Original but still quite tart and lemon-lime in essence. Unlike the Original, Tranquila PM’s effects were powerful and rather immediate. I was crashing  to sleep in about 15 minutes. In fact, I had a hell of a time getting up the next morning: It’s unclear how much melatonin is in each vial, but I was dragging for a couple of hours after waking. Maybe that’s a good thing. Your mileage (and opinion about that) may vary. B

$3 per vial /

Review: Jarritos Mexican Sodas

If you spend as much time in taquerias as I do, you know Jarritos, the colorful sodas that come only in bottles, courtesy of our friends south of the border. Jarritos, like most Mexican sodas, are sweetened with natural sugar. They’re generally lightly carbonated, and they contain no caffeine. Flavors are predominantly a mix of natural and artificial.

The collection is a bit of a hodgepodge, design wise: Some bottles are clear and feature old-school labels. Some have a more modern, cartoony design. Even the bottle size varies: Most Jarritos come in 12.5 oz. bottles, but not all. In general, expect to get about 160 to 200 calories per bottle of the stuff.

We tried all 11 flavors in the current Jarritos lineup (that’s about 500 grams of sugar, folks) and weigh in with our opinion on each one.

Jarritos. Mexico. Culture. Get to know us.

Pineapple (Pina) – Sounds a bit nasty, but it’s surprisingly good. The pineapple flavor — and especially the color — are hardly authentic, but they both work. It’s neon yellow in color, but on the muted side in the flavor department. Citrusy, with a vaguely tropical bent. More like dried pineapple, or pineapple-flavored candy. Not bad. B+

Mandarin (Mandarina) – Orange soda, through and through, but not as sweet as your traditional Orange Crush, etc. A bit more carbonated than most of the Jarritos line. I’m not a huge orange soda fan, but this isn’t bad at all for the category. B

Lima-Limon – As you can guess by the name, this is a lemon-lime flavor. Heavier on the lime than the lemon, but a little too sweet compared to, say, 7-Up. Gets cloying over time. B

Guava (Guayaba) - Rather startling at first (the pink color may not help here), but it grows on you. Ultimately it presents itself a bit like cotton candy, quite sweet but with a certain something (guava, I suppose) that makes it a bit out of the ordinary. The uniqueness is refreshing. A-

Strawberry (Freya) - Cloying, but the strawberry does come across in the finish at least. More for kids than grown-ups. C+

Fruit Punch (Tutifruti) - Much like the strawberry, extremely sweet, but with a more clearly cherry character. Imagine fizzy maraschino cherry juice. C

Lime (Limon) – Sweeter than than the lemon-lime, and actually less limey. More candy-like, with flavors that are pleasant, but not really authentic in any way. B

Mango – Yeah, it’s mango, but again the flavors are heightened with more of a dried mango character than fresh. Overwhelmingly sweet to the point where the fruit is almost drowned away. Fortunately, the flavor that is there is good, with no artificial aftertaste. B+

Jamaica – OK, now we’re getting into some weird flavors. Jamaica is similar to the somewhat uncommon agua fresca of the same name, flavored with hibiscus flowers. Deep red, the tone is more akin to heavily sweetened tea than flowers, although some floral notes seep in, although it’s not overdone. Still, I expect this is a bit of an acquired taste. B-

Tamarind (Tamarindo) – The plus: This one’s flavored 100% naturally. The minus: With tamarinds. Sure this is another based-on-an-agua fresca concoction, and it’s always a delicious chutney, but I was nonetheless wary at first of tamarind-flavored soda. Turns out I had no need to be. This is actually one of the better installments in the Jarritos universe. The sweetness is kept in check, the tamarind flavor is mild and piquant — and authentic. It totally grows on you, faster than you’d think. I suddenly want another. A-

Toronja (Grapefruit) – For some reason, this bottle is 13.5 oz. instead of the usual 12.5 oz. Naturally flavored, too.Very mild, but on the sweet side. It’s a nice little twist on lemon-lime drinks, offering fresh citrus character with just a touch of grapefruit sourness. I wish it was a bit fizzier, though. A-

about $2 a bottle /

jarritos lineup Review: Jarritos Mexican Sodas

Review: Four Wines from Hogue Cellars

Hogue may be Washington’s best-known winery. We checked out four bottles from the producer, including two from Hogue’s second-label Genesis. Prices are about the same between the two brands.

2008 Genesis Chardonnay Columbia Valley – A fresh, young, and alive Chardonnay. Why is it so fresh? Because it’s completely unoaked, letting the wine highlight a fresh apple, orange-infused core. Nice and simple, a good little pre-dinner wine. A- / $13

2008 Hogue Riesling Columbia Valley – The wine that Hogue is known for. Its Riesling is intense and perfumed, an apricot-laden white with honey overtones. Riesling can be a powerful wine, and here it’s at its boldest. B+ / $11

2008 Hogue Red Table Wine Columbia Valley – A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (41%), Merlot (38%), and Syrah (21%), this wine doesn’t have a whole lot of character, coming across as a bit rough and tumble. Overwhelming and unbalanced. C / $10

2007 Genesis Meritage Columbia Valley – The only wine in this roundup with a cork in it; the rest are screw-capped. Features Merlot (49%), Cabernet Sauvignon (44%), Malbec (6%), and Cabernet Franc (1%). Heavy on the wood, but it opens up with some time in the glass. Sadly, not a ton of character here, with herbal notes up front and some rather vegetal flavors on the back end. B- / $15

hogue riesling Review: Four Wines from Hogue Cellars

Review: Silvertap Wines (From a Keg)

The world of wine has a lot of mystery and ceremony in it: Dusty old bottles. Corkscrews and sniffed enclosures. Fancy labels with cursive on them.

Never mind all that, says Silvertap. This company is putting wine into kegs, much like those that beer is served from, and selling said kegs to restaurants and bars who want to serve affordable wine and don’t want to spend a lot of time opening bottles and figuring out where to store a cellar’s worth of juice. Customers in more casual establishments may be less intimidated by this approach, too. Each keg stores 130 glasses worth of wine.

Silvertap also has an environmental edge: It says that an establishment that serves 3 cases of wine a year will eliminate 2 1/2 tons of trash in that year by switching to its keg system.

But how are the wines? We tried five of the company’s offerings to see how they stack up to traditional offerings. There’s one thing you can’t knock: The price. Each of these sells for about $6 a glass, a serious bargain in a world of $12-per-glass-and-up wines that are often barely drinkable at best.

2009 Silvertap Sauvignon Blanc Sonoma County – Very crisp and clean, with delicious apple and lemon notes and a gorgeously mild, lightly tart finish. A real winner and easy to drink. A

2008 Silvertap Chardonnay Sonoma County – Extremely oaky in style, and very heavy. Buttery body, but with an astringent finish that is only partially masked by some fruity, apricot-toned notes. C

2009 Silvertap Chardonnay California - Silvertap forgoes the Sonoma designation for the more general California one. The results are good: This rendition is better, with less wood and more fruit. A more easy-drinking wine on the whole, but nothing complicated. A little acidic on the finish. B

2008 Silvertap Zinfandel Sonoma County – Not as jammy as you might expect, a rather light bodied and simple Zin, with some curious cocoa notes and a big blueberry finish. Not bad. B+

2008 Silvertap Merlot Sonoma County – Nothing much to report here. Thin at first, with a lightly bitter edge to finish. Not terribly compelling. C+

Review: Conway Family Deep Sea Wines

Under its Deep Sea label, Conway Family Wines produces a passel of products. In our sampling, quality was all over the map, with a couple certainly worth a try.

2009 Deep Sea Sea Flower Dry Rose – Strawberries and perfume in this rose of Grenache (68%) and Syrah (38%), though the finish is a bit thin. As modern roses go, this one is refreshing but on the simple side.  B / $25

2008 Deep Sea Chardonnay Bien Nacido Vineyard Santa Maria Valley – 15 months in oak give this Chardonnay an incredible amount of wood character. It’s like drinking the residue from a wood chipper, it’s so overdone. If you can get past it, you’ll find intense honey and heather notes in there, but the balance is all wrong. It’s too sweet, too smoky, and far too heavy. Not at all for me. D+ / $34

2008 Deep Sea Red Central Coast – A bizarre blend: Syrah 74.3%, Petite Sirah 13.5%, Lagrein 5.8%, Merlot 3.7%, and Mourvèdre 2.6%. Whoa. Ultra-jammy, this is distinctly Syrah-focused with an overwhelming fruitiness and sweetness that it’s a little difficult to really get a handle on. Tastes young and quite simple, but the vegetal notes on the nose — from the Lagrein, perhaps? — don’t serve it well. C / $28

2008 Deep Sea Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills – The best wine in the bunch reviewed here, a classic and almost elegant Pinot Noir, though not as big as most Santa Barbara Pinots tend to be. Light cherry notes on a moderate to light body, with mild earth notes playing backup. Easy to like, though uncomplicated. B+ / $36

deep sea red wine 2008 Review: Conway Family Deep Sea Wines

Book Review: The Quick-Fix Hangover Detox

quick fix hangover detox Book Review: The Quick Fix Hangover DetoxSubtitled “99 Ways to Feel 100 Times Better,” this slim tome (just 99 pages long including the index) is a straightforward list of recipes and advice for correcting the worst part of drinking: the hangover.

The advice is split into three sections – before, during, and after you drink – and the advice varies from simple to obtuse. Lots of this stuff you already know: Drink lots of water. Take B vitamins. Don’t drink too much.

Some of the advice will likely be new to you: Drink a mixture of blended lettuce, broccoli, and spinach. Eat celery to help with nausea. Gin and tonic is a depressant.

Still more of the advice is contrary to what you probably think you know: Don’t take pain relievers in the morning. Caffeine is bad for hangovers.

Even more of the advice you can safely dismiss: Use crystals to help recovery the next day.

Some of the advice isn’t hangover advice at all: Drinking is fattening.

There’s no telling how much of this information is legit, but it mostly sounds OK and the bulk of it comes down to not drinking too much and making sure you eat lots of fruit and vegetables during your recovery. Good advice, I suppose, provided you’ve read this tome and stocked up well before that big night out gets underway.

C / $10 / [BUY IT HERE]

Review: Canadian Mist Black Diamond Whisky

Canadian Mist is known as a smooth, very simple, and, above all else, extremely cheap Canadian whisky. Now the company is trying to expand, broadening its product range and upgrading its image with more premium bottlings.

Canadian Mist Black Diamond is billed — alongside a gold-etched autograph from the distiller — as “a richer, more robust blended Canadian whisky.” Compared to standard Mist, it certainly is that, but frankly I think this is a step back.

In practice, Black Diamond gets its “robust” character from two things: The addition of what seems to be a lot more rye and corn in the mix, and an upgrade in proof level from 80 to 86 proof. Canadian Mist also says the sherry content is upgraded, but I found that altogether absent here.

Black Diamond’s 36-month age statement is the same as its predecessor, and three years just isn’t enough time in barrel for a mash like this. The taste is not especially rye-like but is rather overflowing with brutish corn notes, giving it a young, white dog character that is not altogether pleasant on its own. It’s a fine mixer and still a bargain at $15 a bottle, but I think the original Mist is, ironically, a more polished spirit.

C / $15 /

Canadian Mist Black Diamond Review: Canadian Mist Black Diamond Whisky

AlcoHAWK Personal Breathalyzer Roundup

How drunk are you? No, really? How do you know?

If you’re a regular imbiber, it’s a good idea to test yourself once in awhile to make sure you’re OK to drive. 0.08 percent blood alcohol content (BAC) is the maximum legal level in most states, but knowing if you’re over that threshold can be difficult (particularly as you get closer and closer to it).

Portable blood alcohol testers can be helpful, but many require patience and luck to get them to work properly. Here’s a look at two very different models from AlcoHAWK, one of the leaders in personal breath analyzers.

AlcoHAWK Slim Ultra fits in a pocket and is about the size of a cell phone. The unit works well… when it works. Making that happen requires blowing into the unit for five seconds, turning it on, then waiting for it to count down from 100 to zero, a process that can take several minutes. Then, more often than not, the unit signals that it has an error. You have to repeat the entire process from scratch, then hope for the best. Sometimes you need one reboot, sometimes four. We never got it to work right on the first try, but when we did finally get it going, it offered results exactly in line with the more professional tester (accurate to three decimal places) that we had to compare with. B / $50 [BUY IT HERE] (pictured)

AlcoHAWK One Test is a single-use breath alcohol tester that has pretty limited value no matter what you’ve been up to that evening. It’s a slim tube the size of a cigarette that works only once. To use it, you puncture both ends, then blow into it like a straw. You then wait basically wait until the yellow crystals inside turn green. If the level of greenness crosses the line and red dot on the tube, you’re over 0.05% BAC — and presumably you shouldn’t drive. The accuracy is questionable, and I imagine if you are drunk enough to see a lot of green crystals in here, you know you shouldn’t be driving anywhere. But at least it’s portable. C / $20 for five [BUY IT HERE]

alcohawk slim ultra AlcoHAWK Personal Breathalyzer Roundup

Review: New Germain-Robin Brandies

These Germain-Robin brandies — crafted in California — showed up unannounced, in minimally-marked sample vials, with no additional information about their manufacture or sale. [UPDATE: Notes have been found, and info below has been updated. These are new products.]

They are reviewed here without further knowledge — I’m unclear whether the first brandy is the same as Germain-Robin’s long-running XO, and have no additional information on when these brandies may be available, or at what prices (though neither tastes particularly expensive).

Alcohol levels are both 80 proof.

Germain-Robin Craft-Method Brandy – Rocky, with an Armagnac character to it. Earth and olive characters are strong, with muted fruit below. Seems to lack life, with little more than a big, boozy alcohol character. Opens up with time in the glass, at least a bit. This is a revised blend of the company’s Fine brandy, composed of Colombard, Riesling, and Zinfandel brandies, most five years old, with some 10-year brandy in it. C / $48

Germain-Robin Coast Road Reserve Brandy – Has more character to it at least, with better sweetness and more bracing fruit — candied oranges and a touch of chocolate character. Still roughly made, but considerably more enticing with some rather intriguing raw sugar character in the finish. Composed of old Pinot Noir, Colombard, Grenache, and Ehrenfelser (a Riesling-Sylvaner cross), with eaux up to 15 years old. B / $72

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

Review: Balcones Distilling Baby Blue and Rumble

The uninitiated may think of Texas as the frontier, a place where whiskey is probably as common as water. Not so: In fact, for years, Tito’s has been the state’s only legal distillery.

Now a few upstarts are coming out of the skunkworks, and the state has its first whiskey since Prohibition. Operating out of Waco, Texas, Balcones Distilling doesn’t just make the first whiskey in the state, it also makes, as far as anyone can tell, the only whiskey made from blue corn — in this case, Atole, a Hopi blue corn meal. The distillery’s first two products — Balcones Baby Blue Corn Whisky, and an odd offshoot, Balcones Rumble — are reviewed below.

Balcones Baby Blue Corn Whisky – Wow, intense. Clearly a young corn-based whisky without a lot of time in the barrel. The starchy character (“white dog,” in the parlance) is overpowering on the nose alone, with a huge, grainy body and a finish redolent of petrol. Some sweetness makes this drinkable, but like so many younger whiskies, it isn’t easy going. Why this wasn’t left in the barrel for another three or four years is a mystery to me. Batch BB10-10. 92 proof. C / $45

Balcones Rumble - Perhaps aware that Baby Blue was not made for easy consumption, Balcones created Rumble, not exactly a liqueur (it’s a serious 94 proof) but close enough. Made from Texas wildflower honey, Turbinado sugar, and Mission figs, Rumble looks like whiskey but tastes like something else. That Balcones corniness is apparent on the nose, but it’s a much sweeter spirit on the whole. Only the fig character really comes through, the rest is mainly a sweeter version of Baby Blue. Batch R10-10. C+ / $36

Update 2/2013: Tasted new releases of both of these products, with considerably different notes, especially for Rumble, which (at least now) is far more worthwhile than this review would indicate. Hopefully, new reviews coming soon.

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Review: Old Crow Reserve Bourbon

I get that the words “Old Crow” and “Reserve” don’t immediately make sense together.

Though it was first ever sour mash whiskey, dates back to the 1830s, and counts U.S. Grant among its famous drinkers, it’s still a budget brand, sold by the handle for $10 or less, a simply bourbon that gets the job done and leaves you money leftover for chips.

Aged three years, standard Old Crow can be charitably described as simple. Old Crow Reserve takes the decades-old formula and tweaks it: Add 6 to the proof (now 86 instead of 80), $2 to the price (now about $12), and one year to the aging (4 instead of 3). Result: A slightly different whiskey that nonetheless remains as easy as they come.

Old Crow Reserve, while a big step up from regular ‘Crow, is hardly anything you’ll be sipping straight after a big meal. Clearly a bourbon for the “and Coke” crowd, it’s distinctly caramel on the nose (to the point of tasting artificial), with a cinnamon kick on the body. Very sweet, it has a rough finish that reminds you of how little time this has spent in the barrel, and warns you how you’re likely to feel come the morning if you keep it up, smart guy.

C / $12 /

Old Crow reserve bourbon Review: Old Crow Reserve Bourbon

Review Roundup: 5 White Wines for Summer

Summer is here — officially, now — and that means the white wines will be flowing. Why not take the opportunity to look at five different varietals all primed for warm weather? All of the wines reviewed below are extremely affordable, too. Take a look!

2009 foppiano sauvignon blanc 69x300 Review Roundup: 5 White Wines for Summer2009 Weingut Meinhard Forstreiter “Grooner” Gruner Veltliner Niederosterreich – That’s a lot of words for a wine sold as “Grooner,” one of the cheesiest-looking wines I’ve ever tried yet, bizarrely, a really good one. Atypical for Gruner Veltliner, it’s a fruity, lemon-infused wine with a zippy, buzzy body. So easy to drink, and equally good with food. A- / $12 / (pictured below)

2009 Foppiano Vineyards Estate Bottled Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley – A crisp and light — extremely pale — wine with a really easygoing body. Apricot interplays with minerals but it’s not a very deep experience. B+ / $18 / (pictured at right)

2008 Luna Vineyards Pinot Grigio Napa Valley – Oddly brown in color, with a pleasant melon-inflected nose, but a skunky, rough finish. Not  C+ / $18 /

2009 El Coto de Rioja Blanco – Somewhat simplistic, this wine made from 100% Viura grapes is crisp and easy. A lightly woody finish adds complexity, but only a little. B / $9 /

2009 Trapiche Torrontes Mendoza – An Argentinian oddity, with a Muscat-like character, rich with orange peel. Sadly, it’s so rough that it isn’t all that pleasant, and it clashes with food. Strange finish, too. C / $9 /

2009 grooner Review Roundup: 5 White Wines for Summer