Chocolate-covered blueberries explode in this rich grenache-syrah-mourvedre blend (65%, 31%, 4% — in that order). That burst of flavor — backed by some cinnamon and notes of currants — is an initial rush, but an overwhelming sweetness arrives soon after, quickly giving the body a raisiny/pruny quality that works against it as a table wine. The finish is dense and lengthy but on the saccharine side.
C+ / $12 / hahnwines.com
Flavored tequila can be a mixed bag, and straight out of the bottle, 1800’s coconut-flavored expression smells exactly like Malibu — at least until you stick your nose into the glass, when sharp agave notes come to the fore.
On the palate, it’s a combination of the two, as the spirit bounces between notes of sweet coconut flakes and brash, green, and peppery blanco tequila (100% agave is used here, though), with very little else happening in between. A touch of pineapple hits the finish, but otherwise this is sugary coconut and punchy agave notes, trying to live side by side.
My mind struggles trying to figure out the appropriate use for the spirit, though. As a sipper the two styles never quite get together in a friendly enough way. As a mixer, the same issue applies — the tequila clashes with cola or another standard add-in.
That really leaves one option: Coconut margaritas, anyone?
C+ / $24 / 1800tequila.com
Atalon has been releasing wines since 1997, with just three offerings on the table — two reds, and this sauvignon blanc.
Intensely grassy, this is sauvignon blanc that at first showcases a wine pushed to its herbal limits. As it develops, notes of grapefruit peel and saltwater taffy give this wine an extreme profile, a bitter-sour attack leading to an increasingly sweet finish. This is a wine that defies easy categorization — except for drinkers who, I’m sure, will largely either love it or hate it.
C+ / $21 / atalon.com
Paradoxically, the “Vintner’s Reserve” designation is pretty much Kendall-Jackson’s lowest-end bottling, but let’s not get too caught up in the names. The 2014 vintages of its iconic California white wines are finally here, so let’s give them a spin.
2014 Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Sauvignon Blanc California – Almost New Zealand in style, this super-sweet sauvignon blanc boosts the tropical notes while keeping the minerals and herbs to a minimum. The finish offers notes of sugar-coated lemon and orange candies, which might be fine on the deck of your yacht, but which clashes at mealtime. C+ / $13
2014 Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay California – A considerable improvement over the sauvignon blanc, this chardonnay keeps the butter and oak in check while pushing notes of baked apples, vanilla cookies, and a sweetness that I’ll call cereal milk. B / $17
See if you can guess where Bronx Brewery is based. Not sure? Check out their website, then consider these two offerings from the company’s collection of (all canned) beers.
Bronx Brewery Belgian Style Pale Ale – A bit musty and earthy from the get go, with muddy hops and overtones of forest floor. The finish is sharp, with heavy notes of bitter herbs. The beer doesn’t much improve as it aerates, and while I could tell some sweeter, malt-driven notes were trying to break free, they could never quite hit escape velocity. Ultimately it lands with a rather lifeless thud. 6.7% abv. C+
Bronx Brewery Rye Ale – A better balanced brew, with notes of toasty, roasted grains, some cinnamon spice, and a fresh baked bread character. The finish has some of the muddy-earthy elements of the Belgian Pale Ale, but they’re kept in check by a more rounded grain bill and better-integrated bitterness. 6.3% abv. B+
each $11 per six-pack of 12 oz. cans / thebronxbrewery.com
Two new releases from Napa’s Flora Springs. Thoughts follow.
2014 Flora Springs Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley – Pale and young, and surprisingly sweet for a sauvignon blanc. Notes of overripe melon and pineapple wash away a lightly minerally backbone, leaving just a hint of steel and slate in the wine’s predominantly tropical wake. In need of balance. C+ / $20
2013 Flora Springs Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – A straightforward Napa cab, with initial notes of menthol, cinnamon, and significant barrel influence. Dusty licorice notes and tar meld with a fruity, cassis-loaded core, giving the wine enough complexity to maintain interest without things getting too hoary. B+ / $40
Gonzalez Byass is one of Spain’s leading sherry bodegas — but the company also produces a wide range of spirits, including gin and whiskey. Brandy is the more natural fit, however, as Spain has a long history of producing exotic brandies that don’t much resemble what you’ll find next door in France.
Recently the company sent us two bottlings to sample. Thoughts follow.
Gonzalez Byass Soberano Brandy – Made from Airen grapes and aged, solera-style, in sherry casks. It’s immediately intense on the nose, with notes of roasted — almost burnt — nuts, petrol, green vegetable, and raisins. The body is just as exotic, but more cohesive and user-friendly. On the palate emerge notes of cloves, anise, and lots of coffee. Eventually some smoky, toasted marshmallow — still quite sweet — emerges, leading to a slightly chocolatey, coffee-laden finish. Like a lot of Spanish brandies, all of this doesn’t quite gel the way perhaps it should in the end. Occasionally interesting, but it’s largely a curiosity. 80 proof. C+ / $29
Gonzalez Byass Lepanto Brandy de Jerez Solera Gran Reserva – Made from Palomino grapes, this brandy is aged 15 years in solera in former Fino sherry casks. Lighter on its feet than the Soberano, this brandy offers a nose of more nuts and raisins (trail mix?) but layers on moderate floral elements to add some intrigue. On the palate, initial sweetness drives both fruit and flowers together, with some citrus mingling with a darker hazelnut character. A cappuccino note closes out a comparatively delicate and nicely balanced brandy. 80 proof. B+ / $46