Category Archives: Rated C

Review: Michael Collins Blended Irish Whiskey and Single Malt 10 Year Old

Irish whiskey brand Michael Collins has been on a tear this year — taking advantage of the recent upsurge in popularity of Irish whiskey, no doubt — rebranding, repackaging its spirits (the old bottles were monstrosities), and replacing its old Single Malt whiskey with a new, age-statemented, Single Malt 10 Year Old whiskey.

We re-sampled the original Blend and tasted the new 10 Year Old, too. Both are 80 proof.

Michael Collins “Double Distilled” Blended Irish Whiskey – In theory this is the same whiskey as the prior Blend, but putting the two side by side, there really do appear to be some minor differences — and improvements — here. The color is more amber, less green, and the body seems somewhat more present and full, absent the somewhat vegetal notes (or hay, perhaps) of the version we reviewed in 2008. There’s more sweetness, and more malt, better balance on the whole. The most welcome change is that although the proof levels are the same, there’s less pungent alcohol overall, a problem that really marred the older version. I don’t know if the recipe has changed significantly, but all spirits do change and evolve over time due to the vagaries of production and the mysteries that come along with the aging process (and it’s something to keep in mind when you read older reviews of just about anything). In this case, evolution is a good thing. B+ / $30

Michael Collins Single Malt 10 Years Old Irish Whiskey – Darker in color, a bright orange almost, lots of alcohol on the nose. I sampled this at a recent whisky event and was immediately unimpressed. A formal tasting didn’t change that opinion much: This malt is just unfascinating, with an initial rush of booziness, and a big punch of wood soon after. (Perhaps the quest for an impressive age statement resulted in too much time in oak?) This moves into a kind of cloudy smokiness, with a whopper of a finish that reminds one of deeply charred wood, moss, and intense vegetation. Most of all, this is not in balance. The finish hot, bothersome, and not very inviting. The good news is that returning to the Blend for a sip afterward helps to even this whiskey out. C / $38

michael collins whiskey Review: Michael Collins Blended Irish Whiskey and Single Malt 10 Year Old

Review: Wines of Bodegas Farina

Bodegas Farina is one of the oldest family wineries in Toro, a poorly-known wine region in Spain that’s northwest of Madrid, near Salamanca and the northeast corner of Portugal. (Ribera del Duero is the best-known nearby region, off to the east.)

The bodega makes seven wines, most coming in at relatively low (13-14 percent) alcohol levels due to the early harvesting of grapes. How well does this work out? Notes on three of the wines, all under the Dama de Toro label, follow.

2010 Bodegas Farina Dama de Toro Malvasia – Funky, with lots of off herbal notes. Opens up with continued sipping, but not a lot. Some lemon on the finish, but not enough to add a lot of charm. Made from 100-year-old Malvasia vines. C / $11

2005 Bodegas Farina Dama de Toro Crianza - A simple and unchallenging red, fairly thin body, with mild, muted fruit character: Strawberry, a touch of plum. Really easy-drinking, but can’t stand up to food. Aged eight months; Tinta de Toro with 6% Garnacha. B / $17

2006 Bodegas Farina Gran Dama de Toro – Easily the most complicated of this trinity, with distinct tobacco, cedar, and evergreen notes. Long finish, though it turns a bit toward bitter. Could use more fruit in the body, but overall quite interesting and nice with a complementary meal. Spends 15 months in oak. From 80+ year old vines. 94% Tempranillo with 6% Garnacha. B+ / $45

Review: Don Julio 70 Tequila Anejo Claro

Take an anejo tequila and filter out the color, and what do you have? Don Julio 70, a new — clear — tequila with the character of an anejo.

Don Julio claims that 70 is the world’s first anejo claro, and depending on how you look at it, that’s true: Maestro Dobel does the exact same thing, but it is a blend of reposado, anejo, and extra anejo tequilas, filtered back to white. Technically it would only be considered a reposado if bottled unfiltered. But really this is an old trick that the rum industry mastered long ago. That it is now coming to the tequila world is only a mild surprise.

And so back to Don Julio 70. Composed of 18-month-old anejo tequila, filtered back to silver, I tried it side by side with both Don Julio Blanco (tasting tough and a bit green) and Don Julio Anejo (rich, caramel, cocoa-finished, quite lovely). Don Julio 70 is, surprisingly, a whole different beast. I was expecting something close to the Anejo, but that’s not the case. The nose is distinctly redolent of bananas and light wood, a weird combination of flavors that are not harmonious in the nostrils. The palate is another thing altogether. Here a butterscotch sweetness takes hold, attempted to wrestle with the wood. It fails, and the wood overwhelms everything. It’s quite jarring compared to the smooth richness of the (unaltered) Anejo, yet none of the brash agave notes that the Blanco provides.

I tried it against Dobel just for kicks, and the spirits could not be more different. Dobel adhere’s closely to its agave roots, while punching things up with a bit of sweetness yet keeping it all in balance. DJ70 is like walking into a Pier One store, full of potpourri and more wicker baskets than you can count.

80 proof.

C / $70 /

Don Julio 70 Review: Don Julio 70 Tequila Anejo Claro

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: Bols Sweet Tea Liqueur

Don’t have any sweet tea vodka on hand (that’s odd, because there are nearly a dozen brands of the stuff on the market now)? Now you can easily fake your own, thanks to Bols Sweet Tea Liqueur.

Bols Sweet Tea Liqueur, as the name would imply, is the essence of tea boiled down into a viscous, 48-proof syrup. It’s authentic in color (caramel is added to brown it out), and the nose is pungent: Strong, like tea that’s been seeping for a full day, and sweetened to within an inch of its life. On the palate, overwhelming sweet, and oddly chalky, more like instant Lipton’s than freshly brewed tea. The tea flavor is there, but it comes across as artificial (Bols doesn’t say whether it’s natural or not), and the overwhelmingly sweet finish is cloying.

In a world of gorgeous sweet tea vodkas, this isn’t just depressing — it’s lazy.

C / $11 /

Bols Sweet Tea liqueur Review: Bols Sweet Tea Liqueur

Book Review: Exploring Wine

exploring wine 237x300 Book Review: Exploring WineEvery wine drinker needs one (and only one) book like this: A magnificent, encyclopedia-sized tome that tells you everything you can possibly want to know about wine in a single book. Or tries to, anyway.

As such a subject is basically unmasterable, the goal with a mega-book like this is to be as comprehensive as possible while leaving out the obtuse junk that no one cares about.

My current bookshelf pick, Andre Domine’s Wine, does a good job of this, highlighting every region you could care to investigate, mapping them intricately, and highlighting the best producers in each.

Now comes Exploring Wine‘s third edition, from Steven Kolpan, Brian H. Smith, and Michael A. Weiss, in conjunction with the Culinary Institute of America. It’s a 791-page monster, and yet it feels slight. Various regions and wine styles get a mere paragraph or two in Exploring Wine. Even big areas, like the French Languedoc region, get less than two pages total, not much more than California’s Livermore Valley is granted. It’s strange and inconsistent, to say the least.

Exploring Wine doesn’t dwell much on specific wines or producers, aiming instead for more of a global look at the wine trade (even China and India get some ink), how the wine business works, and, for about a third of the book, discussing how wine pairs with food (not surprising considering the CIA’s involvement in the book). Interesting stuff if you’re trying to open a restaurant and train your teenage staff on how to sell wine, I guess, but it’s not right for a consumer. The front of the book is just too vague, and the back end is too industry-specific. Sorry, guys, I’m sticking with Wine for now.

C / $39 / [BUY IT HERE]

Review: Buffalo Trace 2011 Experimental Collection – 1989, 1991, and 1993 Rediscovered Vintages

Buffalo Trace is a monster distillery, with 150,000 barrels of whiskey in inventory at any given time. 1,500 of those are “experimental” — wild stabs at genius from whomever’s manning the still that day — and every now and again Buffalo Trace sifts through the ricks to see what’s out there. Sometimes they even sell it.

With this round, Buffalo found a few dozen barrels of ancient whiskey — 17 to 21 years old — with unknown provenance, hailing from its acquisition of the Old Charter brand. As Bourbon brand manager Kris Comstock notes, of the barrels, “one was empty, one tasted horrible, and the others tasted very nice.” They bottled the others as three (very) old Bourbons and, considering their age, are selling them for a song. We tried all three.

Buffalo Trace 2011 Experimental Collection 1989 Barrels, Rediscovered - 21 years old. Harsh and rough. Quite bitter on the palate, with notes of sawdust, pinecones, and shelled nuts. Mostly it’s proof that yes, there is such a thing as a whiskey that’s too old. Even water doesn’t help the 1989 much. This is a Bourbon that is tired and well past its prime. C

Buffalo Trace 2011 Experimental Collection 1991 Barrels, Rediscovered - 19 years old. Quite an improvement over the 1989, with bracing sweetness and huge notes of toffee, caramel, and lots of spice — orange peel, cinnamon, nutmeg, and more — in the finish. Shockingly balanced and a real revelation in comparison to the dead ’89. Gorgeous. I’d drink this any day. A

Buffalo Trace 2011 Experimental Collection 1993 Barrels, Rediscovered - 17 years and 7 months old. A hot burner, with a rye kick to it, but ultimately it reveals itself as a great, old Bourbon — full of caramel and finishing with oranges, cinnamon, and lots of warmth. A worthy little brother to the ’91, as well it should be. A-

$47 each per 375ml bottle /

buffalo trace Experimental Rediscovered Barrels Review: Buffalo Trace 2011 Experimental Collection   1989, 1991, and 1993 Rediscovered Vintages

Review: Firefly Skinny Tea Flavored Vodka

How do you cut the calorie level from a flavored vodka? Throttle down the alcohol level and cut out the sugar.

The first idea is probably not a bad thing. The second one is what kills the deal. Firefly Skinny Tea opts for artificial sweetener instead of sugar, and to say that mars the “sweet tea” effect is an understatement. It starts out all right, with a big brewed tea nose and character, but then the artifice comes on, coating the mouth and leaving a cloying finish. I couldn’t shake the aftertaste — literally for several minutes I was tasting this gummy, rubbery gunk that I just couldn’t get out of my mouth. The only solution: Another sip. That’s a vicious cycle you got right there.

With a mixer like lemonade this might be more palatable, but as it stands, it, like so many things in life, it’s a tradeoff that just isn’t worth it. What are you saving for your trouble: In a 1.5-ounce shot, a whopping 27 calories. Kick out a crouton instead and stick with the Firefly classic.

60 proof.

C / $18 /

Fitrefly Skinny Tea vodka Review: Firefly Skinny Tea Flavored Vodka

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 chocolate. 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