Category Archives: Rated C+

Review: Cascade Ice Zero-Calorie Mixers

cascade ice 326x1200 Review: Cascade Ice Zero Calorie MixersMixers are getting a bad rap of late, what with all the added sugar and extra calories they add to your glass. Here’s a new brand of no-cal, flavored, sparkling waters: Cascade Ice Zero-Calorie Sparkling Water. They all contain pear juice — but not enough to give the drinks a single calorie, about 1% — and are sweetened with sucralose, sometimes to within an inch of their lives.

31 flavors are now available. We tasted five, all of which are some shade of pink or purple. Can you really mix with these? You be the judge. (Oddly, Cascade Ice didn’t send us their actual mixers like Margarita and Mojito flavors, so you’ll just have to read about these fruit-centric ones instead.

Cascade Ice Blueberry Watermelon – Impossibly sweet, with essence of watermelon Jolly Rancher. C-

Cascade Ice Strawberry Banana – Veers more toward the banana side of things, with a sweet-tart finish. Also impossibly sweet. C

Cascade Ice Cranberry Pomegranate – Incredibly sweet, but more of a classic cocktail mixer than the other flavors here. Tastes much like any cran-whatever mixer. Used sparingly, could be acceptable in a low-cal cosmo. C+

Cascade Ice McIntosh Apple – That’s a pretty specific type of apple, ain’t it, Cascade Ice? The resulting beverage is slightly caramelly, with a touch of crisp apple coming along on the finish. Less sweet than many of those above, but still overpowering. C+

Cascade Ice Huckleberry Blackberry – Who’s your huckleberry? This easy winner in the Cascade Ice lineup, which balances the sugar with tart berry notes — though which berries are a bit tough to place. This is the only one among the group that I could drink straight, and which, used sparingly, would make for the most interesting cocktail companion with its nodes toward creme de cassis. B

each about $2.50 (17.2 oz.) / cascadeicewater.com [BUY IT FROM AMAZON]

Review: Southern Comfort Gingerbread Spice

Southern Comfort Gingerbread Spice 445x1200 Review: Southern Comfort Gingerbread Spice

Southern Comfort seems unstoppable, now that it’s adopted the same playbook as Kahlua, Malibu, Baileys, and any number of other liqueur producers intent on releasing a new flavor every year, typically around the holiday season.

This year it’s an obvious one: Southern Comfort Gingerbread Spice, the go-to crowd pleaser of a flavor that eventually finds its way into just about everything.

The results could have been much worse. The peachy character of SoCo seems to blend pretty well with the gingerbread flavoring, flipping the overall experience into something akin to drinking a peach pie. It’s gingerbread-heavy up front, with overtones of cinnamon, then sweeter as it develops on the palate, those characteristic tinned peaches of SoCo coming through clearly. The finish isn’t particularly lasting; in fact it’s almost watery.

The good news is all of this works together in a surprisingly natural way, lacking the chemical overtones of many a SoCo specialty bottling. That fact that it is bottled at a mere 30 proof — most of the other flavored SoCo’s hit 70 proof — helps to temper things quite a bit. At just 15% alcohol, this liqueur is no more potent than a glass of wine. But at least this you can use to spike the eggnog with.

SoCo Gingerbread Spice (SoCoGiSpi?) is hardly something I’d drink on a regular basis, but if your tastes run toward Southern Comfort’s inimitable charms, you may very well find this expression worth trying this holiday season.

30 proof.

C+ / $12 / southerncomfort.com

Tasting the Wines of Chateau du Moulin-a-Vent

An icon of the Beaujolais, Moulin-a-Vent’s estate began producing wines as early as the 1700s. Today the estate has 30 hectares of land under vine, separated into 91 different plots — many of which are used to make single-plot releases showcasing a specific terroir. Ownership changed with the 2009 vintage — and some of these wines are just now hitting the market.

Beaujolais is of course the home of Gamay (red wines) and Chardonnay (whites, which are comparatively rare). Moulin-a-Vent only grows Gamay. Its Pouilly-Fuisse is made with non-estate fruit.

We recently looked at eight different wines from this famed chateau, in three different categories:

First are the CMV wines, which feature a much different art deco-style label and are made from non-estate fruit.

CMV Couvent Des Thorins Brand 300x273 Tasting the Wines of Chateau du Moulin a Vent2012 CMV Moulin-a-Vent Pouilly-Fuisse Vielle Vignes - A rather vegetal white wine, it shows lemony notes at first before delving into a rather intense green vegetable note that builds on the finish. This eases up a bit with some warmth, but the slightly bitter character is sustained for quite awhile. B / $15

2012 CMV Moulin-a-Vent Couvent des Thorins – Classically Old World on the nose, with lots of vinegary acid, rhubarb, and licorice root notes. The body is equally heavy on the acid, brash and mouth-searing with its simplistic cherry-like construction and fiery finish. C- / $15

Up next, these are blends from all many of Chateau du Moulin-a-Vent’s plots. They comprise the most common expressions from the chateau. Here’s a look at a vertical of three recent vintages of the wine.

2011 Chateau du Moulin-a-Vent – Engaging nose, with gentle fruit, some smoke, some mint. The body is ripe without being overly fruity or lush, a gentler expression of gamay with a core of simple plums, touches of vanilla, and notes of pumpkin spice on the back end. Easy to enjoy. B+ / $20

2010 Chateau du Moulin-a-Vent – More earth here, particularly on the dusty, mushroomy nose. The body offers balance between the savory earth elements and fruit, presenting a significantly different profile than the fruitier 2011. Fans of bigger, more wintry, and more food-appropriate wines will probably prefer this style. B+ / $20

2009 Chateau du Moulin-a-Vent – Well past its prime. Again, showing lots of oxidation and acidity like the Thorins reviewed above, with a somewhat skunky, burnt nose and a body that attacks the tongue with vinegar notes. This was an exemplary vintage in Beaujolais, so it appears time has really had its way with this wine. C- / $20

Finally come the terroir-driven, plot-specific releases from Chateau du Moulin-a-Vent. Each is released with its specific plot noted on the label.

2009 Chateau du Moulin-a-Vent Clos de Londres - It fares better than the standard 2009 bottling above, but not by much. Again, it’s well past its prime, showing strong vinegar chateau du moulin a vent 11 Croix des Verillats Bottle 83x300 Tasting the Wines of Chateau du Moulin a Ventnotes, but offering pleasant enough cranberry, raspberry, and blackberry character after the intense acid starts to fade. C+ / $NA

2011 Chateau du Moulin-a-Vent Champ de Cour – Ample earth and licorice notes, backed by restrained, austere fruit — raspberries and blackberries. The finish features tobacco notes, blackberry jam, and a return to some of that woody, earthy funk. An interesting wine with shades of the 2010 standard bottling. B+ / $34

2011 Chateau du Moulin-a-Vent Croix des Verillats – Notes of ripe cheese on the nose start things off in a weird way, but the highly fruity, almost jelly-like body, pairs with it in an unexpected way. This is an austere wine that drinks like an older expression of Moulin-a-Vent, but offers a worthwhile complexity and depth to it. B+ / $32

chateaudumoulinavent.com

Review: Blue Heron Vodka

blue heron vodka 374x1200 Review: Blue Heron Vodka

As we reviewed earlier, Wilderness Trail Distillery produces Harvest Rum — “the Bourbon drinker’s rum” — in the heart of Kentucky. But did you know they also make a vodka? Naturally, “the Bourbon drinker’s vodka,” Blue Heron.

Made from a 50-50 corn/wheat mash and bottled unfiltered, this is a vodka with a clearly different focus. It’s far from “neutral,” but whether that’s a positive is open for discussion. Thoughts follow.

The nose is immediately woody, almost with a character of twine or hay. Over time, a corny character develops akin to a white whiskey (which, arguably, is what this is). But despite this pastoral setup, the palate initially throws you for a loop. A surprising contrast, it offers a sweet and slightly citrus-focused attack, before settling into a body that blends chewy nougat with a cornmeal mash. It’s interesting up until the end: The finish is a bit astringent, a funky fade-out that melds saccharine sweetness with those initial woody/earthy notes in a most unusual way. Sadly, this juxtaposition doesn’t grow on you over time, but rather becomes less and less engaging as you work your way through it.

100% heron free. 80 proof.

C+ / $28 / wildernesstracedistillery.com

Review: 2013 Charles & Charles Chardonnay Washington State

Charles and Charles 2013 Chardonnay HI Res Bottle 116x300 Review: 2013 Charles & Charles Chardonnay Washington StateRather watery, this Columbia Valley-sourced wine offers vague apple notes and a modest slug of wood that punches a bit of vanilla into what is an otherwise workmanlike wine. Touches of lemon and nougat add a bit of curiosity as the wine develops in the glass, but the bitter edges on the finish reveal some character flaws that are ultimately tough to love.

C+ / $10 / charlessmithwines.com

Book Review: Cocktails for Book Lovers

51fRwA6cjzL. SY344 BO1204203200  215x300 Book Review: Cocktails for Book LoversMeals inspired by literary works and their authors are popular among home chefs. Now author Tessa Smith McGovern is bringing the notion to cocktails.

Cocktails for Book Lovers is a slim volume of 50 original and classic recipes, each paired with an author and a book they’ve written. Some of these are natural matches — Hemingway and a mojito, Fitzgerald and a gin rickey — while some are a little more structurally modern, like Jane Austen’s concoction of gin, Madeira, and orange juice.

I have to say, a number of the recipes in the book simply do not inspire a lot of passion or interest. Poor Dani Shapiro is saddled with a drink that pairs butterscotch schnapps with Sour Apple Pucker. Matthew Quick, author of Silver Linings Playbook, gets a beer margarita for his troubles. While the history lessons provided on each author provide fun, bathroom-friendly snippets of curiosity, there’s not much of a connection between these biographical tidbits and their respective cocktail recipe. It all adds up to a genial enough diversion, but nothing either a book fiend or a cocktail nut will likely slaver over.

C+ / $10 / [BUY IT HERE]

Review: Kennedy Irish Whiskey “Spirit Drink” Complete Lineup

kennedy irish Review: Kennedy Irish Whiskey Spirit Drink Complete Lineup

Irish whiskey is all the rage right now — it’s the fastest growing spirit category there is — and there’s a mad rush going on in Ireland to build stills, increase production, and otherwise squeeze every dollar out of this market before everyone moves on to something else, probably rum.

Kennedy is a new launch of Irish Whiskey — er, “Spirit Drink.” I’m still trying to sort all this out, so bear with me. Here’s how the Kennedy label breaks out.

Upon a sticker stylized like an old Celtic helmet it reads KENNEDY in big letters, then ORIGINAL underneath. In delicate italics beneath that: Spirit Drink. Then in even smaller italics: “Oak Filtered & Hand Crafted using.” Then, larger block letters: “Whiskey with natural flavor & caramel.”

OK, so points for truth in labeling, I think, but points off for confusing the hell out of your consumer along the way. What is “oak filtered,” exactly? Check the back label and you’ll see that “Kennedy’s Spirit is a delicate fusion of the finest Celtic whiskies and malt to insure a unique, challenging and august drinking experience. Kennedy’s Spirit, handcrafted in West Cord, Ireland, is infused with Irish and Bourbon oak using a proprietary infusion process and steeped in malt through an artisan and near-forgotten technique.”

So, yeah.

Your guess is as good as mind about what all that means, but basically my deduction is this is a mix of various Irish whiskeys and grain spirits, somehow pressure treated with oak to artificially age it more quickly. Caramel is added liberally, based on the color, though your guess is as good as mine as to what the natural flavors referenced here are.

And that’s just the “original.” There are four flavored versions of the spirit available, too. Or, rather, more flavored.

So, with that out of the way, let’s taste them all!

Kennedy Original – A slight sugar character on the nose, with a malty, cereal character to it. Touches of honey and cinnamon dust the body, which is otherwise a soft caramel, lightly woody, mostly watery character to it. The overall impact is one of Irish whiskey that’s already been liberally doused with water. It goes down easy enough, but the finish is weak and a touch astringent, leaving behind a touch of hospital character as it fades. 80 proof. C+

Kennedy Spiced – Infused with visible, solid spices (including anise and cinnamon) floating around in the bottle. Tons of cinnamon on the nose. The body has an essence more akin to vanilla blended with dried apples — with that anise making a strong showing as a somewhat weird secondary note. I would have dropped the licorice components and pumped up the cloves, but that’s just me. At least there’s more going on here, even if it doesn’t come together the way you might hope. 70 proof. B-

Kennedy Honeyed – Infused with vanilla and honey. Contains visible, fine sediment (but not big chunks like in the Spiced expression). It’s more hazelnut than honey on the nose, but the finish builds to more of an earthy honey character. Minimal whiskey character, though. 70 proof. B-

Kennedy Limed – Green, lime whiskey? Why not. Again, light sediment from flavoring involving vanilla and lime juice. Not as bad as you are expecting, but a bit like drinking a slug of Rose’s Lime Juice straight. Sweeter than most of the other whiskeys in this lineup, a necessity to offset the sour lime flavors. The color is beyond off-putting. Clearly this is designed exclusively as a mixer… but with what? When the label copy calls the product “intiguing,” you know something ain’t right. C-

Kennedy Chilied – Bright red, it is flavored with chili pepper and paprika(!). Wow, this is intensely hot — far hotter than your typical “pepper vodka.” I can see this doing brisk business as frat kids make bets with each other and buy shots to dare each other to drink. It’s a fiery, habanero-style burn that singes the lips and sticks in the throat for minutes. A hint of honey sweetness helps temper the burn. Discriminating it ain’t, but daredevils should go for it. B

each about $17 / westcorkdistillers.com

Review: GM Titanium

GMTitanium Final Hi Res 525x882 Review: GM Titanium

You’re the maker of one of the most prestigious orange liqueurs on the market. For your next trick, what do you do? Release a heavily spiced, orange-flavored Cognac in a Terminator-hued, club-friendly bottle!

“Red ribbon” Grand Marnier is distinguished from most orange liqueurs because it uses Cognac as the base spirit instead of grain neutral spirits. Caribbean oranges are blended into this base, giving Grand Marnier an intense flavor that’s driven as much by the Cognac as it is by the oranges.

Titanium is a bit of a different animal, featuring, per the company, “a bold combination of Calamansi citrus, black pepper, anise, fennel, clove, and cinnamon spices combined with wild tropical oranges and Cognac.” So, sort of the Captain Morgan version of Grand Marnier, I guess — but, critically, there is no sugar added in Titanium. This is all intended to make the product attractive to men.

GM Titanium seems to be based on a younger Cognac than the red ribbon standby. There’s no reason to use old stock, after all, when you’re dumping a bunch of cloves and pepper into it. The nose is full of spice: cinnamon and licorice notes attempting to push the orange character aside. That’s well and good, I suppose — if you know what you’re getting into. The body, though, is where Titanium falls apart. There’s just no life here, none of the power of Grand Marnier and definitely not enough punchy orange character. Titanium is limp, hobbled by its utter lack of sweetness as it attempts to let its spice bill do the heavy lifting, and it just doesn’t keep up. A good spiced rum know that you have to really pour on the herbs and spices but it needs a full-bodied rum to match it. GM Titanium doesn’t have either: The spices are too understated, and the Cognac is too young and watery to assist in the matter. Anyone that’s ever tried cinnamon toast with just cinnamon — no sugar — realizes the predicament here. It’s not bad. It’s just boring.

Surprisingly, Titanium is bottled at 80 proof, just like standard Grand Marnier. Compared to Grand Marnier, at about $34, it’s also more expensive. GM Titanium may be geared toward men, but I’m going to have to stick with the girly stuff.

C+ / $40 / gmtitanium.com

Review: Fall 2014 Pumpkin Beer Blowout

October is here, and that means everyone and his sister is putting pumpkin into beer in honor of the arrival of autumn. For some, pumpkin brews are something they wait for urgently all year long. For others, a pumpkin beer is something you enjoy precisely once and quietly wait for the season to pass. For me, I’m somewhere in the middle… mainly because it depends on what’s inside the specific bottle.

Here’s a look at four new pumpkin beers vying for your gourdly attention this fall.

Magic Hat Wilhelm Scream Pumpkin Ale – If you aren’t familiar with the Wilhelm Scream, you can read all about it here. I expect that will not alter your enjoyment of Magic Hat’s first ever pumpkin beer in any way, though. This ale drinks with burly, brown, fall-friendly flavors, only one of which is a dusting of pumpkin. Cloves and cinnamon, ginger, and some earthier notes tend to dominate. Overall it’s quite dry, with chewy, nougaty maltiness pushing through to the finish. 5.4% abv. B / $9 per 6-pack

Red Hook Out of Your Gourd Pumpkin Porter – A spiced dark ale made with maple syrup, this is a very dark and brooding brew, quite the opposite of the relatively light bodied Wilhelm Scream. Deeply malty, the maple syrup adds a viscosity to the beer that coats the mouth like a barrel-aged porter. The clove character is on point here, but any sense of pumpkin is pushed well into the background. For fans of traditional, British-style dark brews. 5.8% abv. B / $10 per 6-pack

Alaskan Brewing Co. Pumpkin Porter – Quite bitter, but almost gooey with raw malt syrup notes. The malt overpowers anything else in the beer — including brown sugar and burnt pumpkin notes that don’t quite integrate with the rest of the beer. Difficult balance, with a finish that is not at all refreshing. Save for winter. 7% abv. C+ / $1.60 per bottle

21st Amendment/Elysian He Said Baltic-Style Porter – Collaborative brew project. An epic alco-bomb (and a lager, by the way) with a nose further from anything autumnal than the rest of the lineup here. Lots of malt, wood and cardboard notes, wet earth, mushroom, and some green vegetable notes. No pumpkin character to speak of. 8.2% abv. C / $9 per 4-pack (cans)

Tasting the White Wines of Lodi, California

Lodi is located up and east from Napa/Sonoma. The source of some of California’s less expensive wines, it’s nonetheless and “up and coming” region that has more of a pedigree than, say, California’s industrial Central Valley. Known for its heavy Zinfandel production, Lodi is also home to a prodigious amount of white wine. In a recent live tasting event, which was led by Camron King, Executive Director of the Lodi Winegrape Commission, and Susan Tipton of Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards, we focused exclusively on those whites, sampling five wines made from different varietals, all from Lodi grapes.

Thoughts on all five wines tasted follow.

2013 Borra Vineyards Artist Series Nuvola Gewürztraminer – A very fruity example of Gewurztraminer, with lemon and peaches up front, revealing a light honey sweetness as it starts to evolve in the glass. The finish is crisp and clean, with more fruit than the fragrant perfume notes that are typical of Gewurz. A fave here. B+ / $19

2013 Bokisch Vineyards Garnacha Blanca Vista Luna Vineyard – A bit on the weedy side, this white offers tropical notes up front before fading into a strongly grassy character, along with a somewhat meaty edge on the finish. Strange balance, not my favorite. C+ / $18

2013 Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards Viognier – Made by Lodi’s only all-white-wine winery. This Viognier is restrained in a way that many Viogniers are not, with more mild apricot and peach notes and an earthiness backing them up. Again, that big, chewy body takes over and fades into some funkier, meatier notes on the finish. Better balance on the whole, though, and something to try even if you don’t consider yourself a Viognier fan. B- / $23

2013 Heritage Oak Winery Sauvignon Blanc – Very perfumy on the nose, with notes of lemongrass and pepe du chat… and also an edge of tree bark atypical of Sauvignon Blanc. Clean on the body, with lots of fresh lemon character and a grassy, herbal finish. B+ / $18

2012 Uvaggio Moscato Secco – Not overwhelmingly sweet as you might have feared, this Moscato is plenty fragrant and perfumed, but dials back that unctuous juicy orange character almost to an afterthought. Dry and clean, this is the rare moscato that you might consider drinking with your main course rather than dessert. B / $14

lodiwine.com

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Review: Pinot Blancs from Kuentz-Bas and Elena Walch

alsace kuentz bas 130x300 Review: Pinot Blancs from Kuentz Bas and Elena WalchJust in time for summer come these two white wines from two different regions in western Europe — one northern Italy, one eastern France. Both are made from the Pinot Blanc (aka Pinot Bianco) grape, and side by side they show just how incredibly different these wines can be. Thoughts follow.

2011 Kuentz-Bas Pinot Blanc Tradition Alsace – Simple and fresh, this wine offers a floral nose, with hints of nuts and a touch of forest floor. The body, however, is quite fruit-forward, moderately acidic with notes of lemon, lime, and touches of melon. Clean and simple finish, seasonally perfect, and drinking beautifully at the tender age of three. A- / $15

2013 Elena Walch Pinot Bianco Alto Adige – Much more lemony than the Kuentz-Bas, almost to a fault. The nose on this wine is vividly acidic, almost metallic, and the body is even more so, offering raw lemon juice character backed up by the essence of aluminum cans. Weak finish. C+ / $13

Review: Ty Ku Silver, Black, and Coconut Sake

TY KU Premium Sake Collection Pack 525x367 Review: Ty Ku Silver, Black, and Coconut Sake

One of the bigger names in imported sakes (in addition to a panoply of other spirits like soju and other Asian-inspired liquors), Ty Ku hails from Nara, Japan, where it’s produced in iconic, triangular-base bottles.

Ty Ku produces four sakes (one flavored). Only the white bottling (Ty Ku’s highest-level sake) is not reviewed here. The three bottlings below are also available in a gift pack (pictured) of three 330ml bottles ($39).

Thoughts follow. (Prices are for individual 720ml bottles.)

Ty Ku Sake Junmai (Silver) – Slightly brooding on the nose, with more of a winter squash character to it. Modest honeydew notes emerge on the body, with a very gentle sweetness to it. Initially a touch jarring, it grows on you over time. Drink very cold. B- / $16

Ty Ku Sake Junmai Ginjo (Black) – Gentler, with notes of melon and coconut on the nose. More fruit, with cantaloupe and some pear character, emerges on the palate.  Quite fresh, it’s a classic, if simple, junmai ginjo. B+ / $22

Ty Ku Coconut Sake – A nigori (cloudy) sake produced at junmai quality and flavored with, of course, coconut. Pina colada on the nose, but tempered with melon notes on the body. It’s sweet, but not as sweet as you might expect, with the coconut notes coming off as rich and filling. The finish, however, gets a little mouth-coating after awhile, leaving one running for the water. C+ / $13

trytyku.com

Review: Wines of Chloe, 2014 Releases

chloe wines 170x300 Review: Wines of Chloe, 2014 ReleasesChloe is yet another wine brand designed to appeal to the I-need-a-cutely-named-wine-with-a-cute-bottle-to-take-to-the-dinner-party crowd. Not to be confused with Chloe Wines (a Seattle importer), the Chloe Wine Collection is a new offshoot of The Wine Group, a California-based mega-bottler.

Chloe is starting up with three wines — two California bottlings and an Italian white. Thoughts on each follow.

2013 Chloe Pinot Grigio Valdadige Italy DOC – Mild on the nose, and steely. Tropical notes emerge, namely pineapple, with melon notes emerging on the finish. Easy to enjoy as an aperitif, and works well with food too. A- / $17

2012 Chloe Chardonnay Sonoma County - Big and buttery, almost to a fault. The nose starts off with something akin to butterscotch or cake frosting, before finally settling down into a brown sugar, vanilla extract, oak barrel character. Restrained pineapple notes emerge, but a weirdly herbal, almost astringent, finish wipes them all away. C+ / $17

2011 Chloe Red No. 249 North Coast California – A blend of Syrah, Merlot, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, and Petit Verdot from the Northern California region. Fruity but not overblown. Big strawberry notes. A touch of blackberry. Some rhubarb. Long, semi-sweet finish, with butterscotch candy notes on the finish. B / $17

chloewinecollection.com

Review: Six Ciders from Tieton Cider Works

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It’s time for a gaggle of apple ciders from Tieton Cider Works, based in Tieton, Washington. TCW makes at least 10 different products. Here we review a half dozen, all spins on the classic apple cider formula, and arranged from dryest to sweetest. Enjoy.

Tieton Cider Works Tieton Blend Cider Dry – English style cider, bone dry with barely a hint of sweetness. This is a tough one for those more accustomed to fruitier, sweeter ciders, and even after putting on my dryest of dry white wine hats, I couldn’t cut through it. Herbs and minerals abound here, but the overall effect is like a weak sauvignon blanc. 7% abv. C

Tieton Cider Works Yakima Valley Dry Hopped Cider Dry – Dry cider blended with local hops. Cider plus beer is known as a “snakebite,” but I’ve never seen anyone actually drink one. Here, the sweet, sour, and bitter are combine to create an initially off-putting concoction, but over time your palate adjusts and reveals a complex and unique brew. The sour apple notes remain the heaviest component, the hops largely blowing off to show themselves primarily as a hint on the finish. 6.9% abv. C+

Tieton Cider Works Wild Washington Apple Cider Semi-Dry – Aptly described, with tart and sweet elements. Lots of mineral notes here, along with an earthy (“wild,” perhaps) pungency on the nose. This is a cider for those who are OK with sweeter stuff, but who might want to experience a somewhat dryer beverage from time to time. 7% abv. B

Tieton Cider Works Apricot Cider Semi-Dry – Blended with apricots, naturally. Quite fruity, with strong overtones of fresh and dried apricots. Seems sweeter than “semi-dry” would indicate, with a biting acidity on the finish. The simplest, but perhaps the best, of the bunch. 6.9% abv. B+

Tieton Cider Works Apple Cherry Cider Semi-Sweet – Plenty of cherry flavor up front here, so much so that it almost drinks like pomegranate/cherry juice. Heavy sour notes on the finish abate over time, leaving behind the essence of fruit, with an almost mineral edge to it. Not bad. 6.9% abv. B

Tieton Cider Works Blossom Nectar Cider Sweet – Includes apple blossoms in the mix. Quite sweet, and indeed very floral, with a pleasant balance between tart apple and the perfumy, rose-scented blossoms. The perfume does take on a “grandma’s house” note over time, particularly as it warms up, but hey, you’re drinking cider, so stop moaning. 7% abv. B+

$42.60 as a mixed six-pack of 500ml bottles (one of each of the above) / tietonciderworks.com

Review: Young Ribera del Duero Wines from Garcia Figuero and Protos

Tinto Figuero 4 Month 109x300 Review: Young Ribera del Duero Wines from Garcia Figuero and ProtosSpanish wines are known for being released well-aged, with some Rioja reservas spending 8 to 10 years in barrel and bottle before hitting the market… and sometimes longer.

But not all Spanish wines are aged for such a long time. In fact, the Ribera del Duero has two lesser-known classifications, in addition to the older crianza and reserva bottlings, which are intended to be consumed young. Known as barrica and roble wines, these Riberas are released within a year of harvest, both spending between three to eight months in oak — though, by Spanish law, they are not required to spend any time in barrel at all. Basically: It’s prison rules wine, letting a winemaker do just about anything he wants to craft the best wine he can, without having to worry about Spain’s arcane aging and labeling requirements.

Both wines are made from 100% tempranillo (aka tinto fino) grapes — but otherwise couldn’t be more different. Thoughts follow…

2012 Garcia Figuero Roble Ribera del Duero – This “roble” wine spends only four months in new oak barrels (3/4 American, 1/4 French), then four more months in bottle before release. (The wine is also officially known as “Four Months in Barrel” in English — hence the big “4” on the label.) The nose is intense with bramble, dense wood, and meaty sausage notes. On the body, there’s more fruit than expected, but these thick blackberry jam notes are punched down by licorice, bitter roots, tobacco leaf, and tar characteristics. Chewy and more than a little tough. C+ / $20

2011 Protos Tinto Fino - This wine spends a full year in 60% French, 40% American oak barrels. The difference between the Figuero is remarkable, with the Protos showing a much more refined character on the nose and body. Aromas of blackberry and violets pervade, and the body is moderate to lush, with fresh fruit, some peppery notes, and a touch of floral character. This is a young wine that is sometimes a bit brash, but on the whole it’s finding its balance, with ample structure and smoothed out tannins. B+ / $15

Review: The Fat Trout Blended Scotch Whisky

the fat trout 131x300 Review: The Fat Trout Blended Scotch WhiskyThe Fat Trout is a blend from the Speyside that’s produced by the world renowned Ian Macleod Distillers. A “standard 3 year old” blend, the whisky is comprised of approximately 30 different single malts, mostly from the Spey region, but also from Islay and the Highlands.

There is also a huge fish on the label of this, “the sportsmans choice.”

There’s lots of grain on the nose, as expected, but things are balanced with not insubstantial sherried orange notes. A fair amount of alcoholic heat makes things indistinct, however, at least until the Trout has had substantial air time.

The body is more interesting than expected, the cereal notes becoming more balanced here with some marshmallow, caramel, and gentle chocolate character. A sugared orange slice character takes hold — surprisingly strongly — on the finish, almost to the detriment of some of the other notes in the whisky. Initially brash and rustic, the palate of The Fat Trout also improves with some air time, but it never really elevates beyond a basic blended experience.

80 proof.

C+ / $23 / thefattrout.com

Review: 2013 Chamisal Stainless Pinot Noir Unoaked Central Coast

Chamisal Stainless PinotNoir 81x300 Review: 2013 Chamisal Stainless Pinot Noir Unoaked Central CoastIf you ever wondered Beaujolais Nouveau would taste like if it was made in California, try this: Chamisal takes a Central Coast Pinot Noir and bottles it, completely unaged in oak.

For a red wine this is completely unheard of. I can probably count on one hand the number of unoaked reds I’ve had in my life.

And here’s why: Pretty much all red wines need the help of wood to reach their potential. Kudos to Chamisal for attempting to showcase the pure essence of the grape, but those aren’t always enticing qualities.

Here, Chamisal shows off the huge strawberry and raspberry fruit notes in the grape, but it’s tempered by bramble and wet earth notes, an unripeness that’s almost sour at times. But most of all, the body’s just not there. The wine is on the thin side, with a sharp finish that ultimately turns a little watery. Without the soothing vanilla punch that time in oak barrels brings, this comes off like a curious and incredibly instructive experiment but not something I’d want to serve at dinner.

C+ / $24 / chamisalvineyards.com

Review: Spirits of Santa Fe Spirits

santa fe apple brandy 525x323 Review: Spirits of Santa Fe Spirits

Santa Fe Spirits is based, you guessed it, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Founded by Colin Keegan in 2010, the company now offers a range of five spirits, all with a southwestern bent and primarily column-distilled. We tasted four of them (all but the aged, single malt whiskey). Thoughts follow.

Santa Fe Spirits Apple Brandy – This was Santa Fe’s first product, made from New Mexico-grown Mountain West apples, including some from Keegan’s own orchard. Barrel aged “for years.” Big, punchy nose. It’s got mashed apples, sure, but lots of wood, and some coal fire character to it. The body is on the oily side, burly with overpowering wood notes and a big, tannic finish. Overall: A curiosity that never quite pulls it all together. C+ / $45

Santa Fe Spirits Wheeler’s Western Dry Gin – A newfangled infusion and the most avant garde of the bunch. This gun includes only botanicals that are sourced from within 30 miles of the distillery: white desert sage, Cholla cactus blossoms, osha root, Cascade hops, and local juniper. My first cactus-infused gin! The nose is a delight. Quite citrusy, like Meyer lemon, with distinct sage notes. On the body, those hops come through right away, while the sage and citrus character lingers. All of these things balance quite well, though the hops tend to dominate a bit too heavily. 80 proof (it could have stood to be 86, in my opinion). B+ / $32

Santa Fe Spirits Silver Coyote Pure Malt Whiskey – Made from 100% malted barley and bottled as unaged white dog. A lighter style of white dog, relatively restrained (comparatively) with a curious mix of grain and slate notes on the nose. The body isn’t overly complex, wearing its maltiness and youthful barley notes on its sleeve, with a lightly vegetal finish. Think green beans and sweet potatoes. Or competently made white lightning, anyway. 92 proof. B+ / $30

Santa Fe Spirits Expedition American West Vodka – 6 times distilled from a corn base. Interesting nose here, supple and sweet but not overdone. It’s not at all “corny,” but the aroma is almost like a nice bit of cotton candy or marshmallow. On the body, similar notes prevail, with a subtle fruitiness that recalls apples and banana. The finish has a touch of medicinal burn, but by and large it’s a smooth operator that offers a modern profile balanced by a restrained and refined backbone. 80 proof. A / $25

Note: This quartet is available in a four-pack of 200ml bottles. Total price: $55.

santafespirits.com

Review: 2011 Cliff Lede and Moondance Dream Cabernet Sauvignon

cliff lede 2011 198x300 Review: 2011 Cliff Lede and Moondance Dream Cabernet SauvignonNew 2011 Cabs from Cliff Lede, one of Napa’s blue chip bottlers. Surprising thoughts follow…

2011 Cliff Lede Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Stags Leap District – A big misstep for the normally spot-on Cliff Lede. This ultra-premium Cab has lost all its body, coming across as flabby and pruny, without the barest hint of acidity to keep things alive. The nose is restrained, too, offering some currant but mostly chocolate notes, leaving the body to try to work with notes that approximate a warmed-over, raspberry-inflected melted Hershey bar. C+ / $75

2011 Moondance Dream Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District – Cliff Lede’s blue chip bottling. A massive improvement over this year’s standard edition, a lush but restrained expression of pure Cabernet, gorgeous with distinct black pepper inflections atop currant jelly. The body is less racy than the nose would indicate, with silky, but not quite jammy, notes of cassis and red berries, layered with mild cedar wood notes. Hints of spice come back around on the finish. Beautiful. A / $95

cliffledevineyards.com

Review: Cutty Sark Prohibition Edition Blended Scotch Whisky

cutty sark prohibition edition 525x787 Review: Cutty Sark Prohibition Edition Blended Scotch Whisky

Cutty Sark, from Scotland, brings us this upscale bottling in celebration of… Prohibition? An American phenomenon? Bear with us. “Cutty Pro” as it’s being taglined, “salutes the notorious Captain William McCoy, who courageously smuggled Cutty Sark into American speakeasies. McCoy possessed an infamous reputation as a distributor of the highest quality products, always genuine and never adulterated, giving rise to Cutty Sark’s affectionate nickname, ‘The Real McCoy.’ The black opaque bottle design and cork seal are a respectful hat tip to the type of whisky bottles prevalent during the Prohibition era.”

You see: It’s what Scotch tasted like during Prohibition.

To be honest, this is not my favorite blend, or even my favorite expression of Cutty. The nose is thick, offering fuel oil notes, dense cereal, and some hospital character. The body is on the burly side — Prohibition-era drinkers had it rough, I suppose — though it speaks more of the bathtub than the frontier. A bit swampy and smoky, it’s got a cacophony of flavors that run the gamut from iodine to rock salt to wilted grains to tree moss. Where this takes me is not to a Prohibition-era speakeasy but rather an industrial town in Scotland where some wacky whisky blender is trying to figure out something to do with a bunch of random casks.

100 proof.

C+ / $30 / cutty-sark.com