Review: 2011 HandCraft Cabernet Sauvignon California

handcraftCheryl Indelicato is the curernt queen of the long-running Indelicato empire, best known for its Delicato wine brand — one which was recently retired and relaunched as Domino. Among a dozen or so wines the family produces is this new bottling, HandCraft, another value project with Indelicato’s personal stamp all over it. A range of four wines is offered. We received the Cabernet only for review.

This simple Cab (75% aged in oak 4-6 months, 25% in stainless) is blended with a bit of Petite Sirah and Sangiovese. Very, very light body. Fruity with dense strawberry character, without a hint of wood to it. Some mint touches are evident on the edges.

The nose does hint at some earthy terroir, but it’s all but absent in the body, where that layered berry fruit takes hold. It’s quite a sweet wine, with a long and somewhat syrupy finish. Definitely a wine that should do well with the value segment, though it’s too blown-out for my tastes.

C / $12 / handcraftwines.com

Review: Cruzan Key Lime Rum and Passion Fruit Rum

cruzan key limeCruzan actually makes some credible flavored rums, but things are starting to change. Most notably: With its new flavors, the sugar level is clearly going up and the alcohol level is demonstrably going down. What was once a low 55 proof has now fallen even further to just 42 proof. These two new expressions don’t really come across like rum as all but rather as liquified candy. Is this what consumers are really looking for?

Cruzan Key Lime Rum – Quite a strong lime kick on the nose, but very restrained body, pumped up with sugar. It’s hard to tell this is rum at all, it tastes more akin to Rose’s Lime Juice. A long, sugary, sticky finish reminds you you’re in candyland. C

Cruzan Passion Fruit Rum – Better. Not nearly as sweet, but not as fruity, either. Passion fruit is one of the great, undersung flavoring agents in cocktails, spirits, and juices, and here it makes a less than powerful appearance. And as with the Key Lime, it’s over-sweetened but slightly more tolerable. C+

each $15 / cruzanrum.com

Review: Magic Hat Blind Faith, HiCu, Elder Betty

blind faithMagic Hat never met an ingredient it couldn’t turn into a beer, and this week we look at three new brews from the company — one a relatively straightforward IPA and two unique concoctions that you’ll no doubt find intriguing, at least to read about.

Magic Hat Blind Faith – This IPA is described as “well balanced,” but I get a strong coffee character from it, with chocolate on the finish. These flavors are a bit unusual for IPA, but they don’t dampen my enthusiasm for an otherwise chewy and rounded beer that has a solid slug of bitterness behind it. 6.2% abv. B+

Magic Hat HiCu – HiCu? Hibiscus and cucumber. Hmmm. A sniff brings out — miraculously — both of those elements, and I’m still trying to figure out whether I like it. It’s got two components that are bizarre to start with in a beer, and which arguably have no business being together, either. Ultimately, it’s the cucumber component that really takes over and doesn’t let go, channeling the spirit of the veggie tray into an otherwise indistinct English Ale. 4.2% abv. C

Magic Hat Elder Betty – You can probably guess that elderberry is the oddball ingredient in this Magic Hat brew. It’s a strange one, a Hefeweizen that only hints at the distinctively fruit on the nose. Take a sip and the unmistakable sweetness attacks you much more strongly, balancing out the biscuity notes of the beer with a tart and fruity finish that, well, tastes like elderberries. Hard not to like but difficult to love. Reviewed from can. 5.5% abv. B

magichat.net

Review: Iceberg Vodka Lineup

iceberg vodkaWe last encountered this Canadian vodka — made with pure iceberg water, it’s said — last year. Now the company has expanded its lineup to include three flavored vodkas. Fresh thoughts on the original plus the three new offerings follow.

Iceberg Vodka – Clean, Euro-styled vodka with a lightly medicinal backbone. Some sweetness develops as you sip — caramel and maybe a little banana, too — but a bit of bite comes back on the end, a touch salty, too. A nice change vs. so many of today’s modern vodkas, which pour on the sugar until you choke. 80 proof. B+

Iceberg IceFusion Cucumber Vodka – Surprisingly, not the first or second cucumber vodka we’ve reviewed. This one’s got authentic cucumber notes on the nose, but quite sweet underneath — a necessity to make a vodka this vegetal more palatable to its obvious target market. That makes it much more drinkable on its own, but quite a bit less serious. That hint of banana from standard Iceberg creeps through in the end. 70 proof. B+

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Review: Long Island Spirits Vodka and Liqueurs Complete Lineup

LiV espresso vodkaWe’ve covered Long Island Spirits’ straight vodka before. But recently we received a fresh bottle… along with everything else Long Island makes. Yowza.

That primarily includes a long line of liqueurs bottled under the Sorbetta brand. These are simple, natural liqueurs available only in 375ml bottles. They’re all crafted from LiV Vodka (of course), fresh fruit, and sugar.

We’re also taking a look at Long Island’s coffee-flavored vodka.

To complicate things further, Long Island also makes three whiskies, which are in our queue to be reviewed separately. Stay tuned.

Thoughts follow.

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Review: Wines for Dummies

wines for dummiesSurely you’ve known there was Wine for Dummies. Now there are Wines for Dummies. Actual wines, made for dummies to drink.

Don’t act so shocked. You knew this was coming. In fact it’s a pretty good idea: Package up cheap wine in a familiar package so utter novices can get their feet wet with the stuff. At $10 a bottle, it’s a harmless — if inelegant (and, well, far from “discriminating”) — way to explore the world of vino.

To even consider drinking these wines you really do need to be an utter, rank novice. None of them are particularly good, and the iconic black+yellow+red/green labels (complete with pronunciation guides — “kee-yahn-tee“) are not something you’re going to bring to Easter brunch. Instead, they are purely for investigative purposes. Try the wines, then hide the bottles at the bottom of the recycling bin so the garbage guys don’t judge you.

That said, from a business standpoint, how great an idea is this! It’s genius, really… but why stop at wines? Where’s my Microwave for Dummies? My TV for Dummies? My Car for Dummies? If nothing else, the Dummies people should be dominating the entire grocery store. Who needs to think about what to put on their salad when they could be using Dressing for Dummies!?

Ah, progress. Thoughts on the wines follow.

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Blind Review: SkinnyGirl Margarita vs. SmarteRita

skinnygirl magarita If you’re unfamiliar with the SkinnyGirl phenomenon, either you don’t go down the booze aisle at your grocery store or you’re a dude. SkinnyGirl is one of the fastest-growing brands in the spirits (and wine) world, and its vast array of “low-cal” alcoholic beverages have ladies’ night positively abuzz.

It was only a matter of time before SkinnyGirl hit the margarita world, and this pre-mixed margie is already drawing competition. One of those competitors is called SmarteRita. It may not roll off the tongue, but really we’re more concerned about how it fares going the other way.

We put the two cocktails head to head to see how they shaped up. Both were tasted blind. Notes follow.

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Mainstream Brewery Spotlight: Anheuser-Busch’s Budweiser Line Reviewed

Discriminating drinkers aren’t immune from the mainstream, and ultra-micro-craft brews aren’t always available when you’re looking for a six pack at your local convenience store. What then about the biggest beer of them all? Today we look at the complete lineup of Budweiser beers, which now includes six different bottlings. Thoughts follow.

As the oldest beer within Anheuser-Busch’s portfolio, Budweiser defines the very meaning of a “brand.” Not only has the Budweiser name produced off-shoots of varying flavors and target demographics, but the beer’s popularity extends beyond what is contained within the bottle. With the iconic Clydesdale mascots and extensive marketing program, even consumers who don’t necessarily like beer are drawn into the fold.

BudweiserJust like its commercials, Budweiser lager is a classic. Anheuser-Busch brews Budweiser and its various siblings with rice, and the impact is readily apparent. The aroma and taste take on a neutral characteristic because of it, but it leans towards sweet as a result of the rest of the malt bill. In contrast to some of the lighter Bud offerings, this original Budweiser exhibits a noticeable graininess in the form of buttery cereal grains that add flavor. While not the focus by any stretch, hop influences creep in the nose and flavor by contributing a light fruitiness and earthy spice. C- / $6.99 per six-pack

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Review: Shock Top Honeycrisp Apple Wheat

Do you like apples, like Will’s blonde friend? If so, you’ll love Shock Top’s latest brew, a Belgian wheat ale brewed with honeycrisp apple cider and spices.

Shock Top Honeycrisp Apple WheatIt smells and tastes exactly how you imagine it will: Tangy apple juice on the front of the palate, then a very lightly bitter, quite sweet finish. Long and lasting, it’s hard not to describe this beer in terms that don’t invoke the word “Mott’s.” I say that out of all the love in my heart, but this is the kind of beer that will require a drinker with a very specific point of view.

5.2% abv.

C / $8 per six-pack / shocktopbeer.com

Review: Ventura Limoncello and Orangecello

Based in Ventura County, California, Ventura makes limoncello year-round from SoCal lemons and produces orangecello from local blood oranges on a seasonal basis. (A limoncello crema is also made.) We sampled the two main products. Thoughts follow.

Both are 58 proof. No artificial colors or flavors added. Continue reading