Review: 2010 Cenyth

Cenyth Bottle ShotCenyth is a Sonoma County bottling from Jackson Family Wines, a Bordeaux style wine that offers a wildly different composition every year. For 2010 it’s 54% merlot, 34% cabernet franc, and 12% cabernet sauvignon. This wine is drinking very old – it feels like something from the turn of the century, not just five years ago — with strong balsamic notes, heavy earth and mushroom – very old world in structure. Aged fruit notes endure, along with some black pepper and clove elements. The finish is a bit watery and, sadly, played out.

Pretty label, at least.

C+ / $60 / cenythwines.com

Tasting: Schiava Wines of Alto Adige – Abbazia di Novacella, Cantina Andriano, Nals Margreid

Cantina Andriano BocadoSchiava is a grape also known as Trollinger — and it’s one of the more heavily grown red wine grapes in Germany. It also finds a home in the north of Italy, where it is turned into this exotic and odd wine. Let’s take a look at three 100% Schiava wines from Italy’s Alto Adige region.

2014 Abbazia di Novacella Schiava Alto Adige DOC – A classic, slightly sour, young Italian red. Notes of thyme and nutmeg dust a tart cherry core, with a finish of leather, tobacco leaf, and gentian. Mild finish. Pairs well with food. B / $16

2013 Nals Margreid Galea Schiava Alto Adige DOC – Jammy, and reminiscent of rapidly fading Beaujolais Nouveau, with a gamy and balsamic-heavy undertone. Of minor interest only. C+ / $18

2013 Cantina Andriano “Bocado” Schiava Alto Adige DOC – Both sweet and tart, with strawberry and some cherry notes. Approachable, though the heavy acidity makes it somewhat off-putting at times. On the finish, a dusting of baking spices add a bit more complexity. B- / $21

Review: Zinfandels of Murphy-Goode, 2012 Vintage

MURPHY_GOODEMurphy-Goode is a venerable Sonoma-based producer of all manner of wines. Today we look at the company’s new 2015 zinfandel releases, all from the 2012 vintage.

2012 Murphy-Goode Liar’s Dice Zinfandel Sonoma County – Rather thin, without much character on the nose aside from some balsamic notes. On the palate it offers a somewhat watery body with ample greenness — not at all the jammy fruit bomb that you expect with zin. That wouldn’t normally be a slight, but there’s just not enough character here to make this overly worthwhile. C+ / $21

2012 Murphy-Goode Snake Eyes Zinfandel Alexander Valley – A significant improvement, revealing an initial gingerbread note that seemingly comes out of nowhere — I mean that in a good way. Over time, the wine settles into a groove that offers dense currant, some cinnamon and cloves, and dark chocolate-covered cherries. Well-rounded and cohesive. Give it a little chill to coax out more flavor. A- / $35

2012 Murphy-Goode Reserve Zinfandel Alexander Valley – Similar in profile to Snake Eyes, sans the gingerbread. With a plummy core it’s fruit-focused to the extreme, though dry and not at all over-sweetened. The lasting finish features notes of dried tea. Very well crafted but not as exotic as Snake Eyes. A- / $40

murphygoodewinery.com

Review: Wicked Spirits Wicked 87 American Light Whiskey, Wicked 84 1/2 Whiskey, and Wicked Lightning Moonshine

wicked tangoOh, how I’ve procrastinated on these reviews, a collection of light whiskeys and moonshines bottled by a Kansas company called Wicked Spirits, aka Wicked Tango. With their mascot, Dirty Darcy (ahem), Wicked wants to rule the college shot market with this collection of minimally aged spirits made from 100% corn. Before I lose my nerve, let’s dive in.

Wicked 87 American Light Whiskey – Light whiskey isn’t like light beer. Rather, it’s a type of whiskey that is distilled at higher proofs and aged in used barrels, rather than new ones. The impossibly dark in color Wicked 87 is an off-putting experience, starting things off with a gumball and cotton candy scented nose. On the tongue, an enormous butterscotch candy character overwhelms, lingering until it fades into something closer to a pink bubblegum character. Vanilla lingers on the finish — but it’s more like vanilla ice cream… melted, with lots of sprinkles. Clearly packaged as an alternative to Fireball and other “party whiskeys,” this one just goes too far into sugar land for more than a few sips. A shot would probably kill you from the sugar shock. 87 proof. C / $NA

Wicked 84 1/2 Premium Reserve American Light Whiskey – This tastes almost exactly the same as Wicked 87 though, surprisingly, the slight downtick in proof is noticeable. That slightly lower alcohol translates to slightly more sugar, though, so any “premium reserve” translates into “extra sweetness.” It’s hard to tell much of a difference vs. the 87 though, and this bottling doesn’t appear on the Wicked website, so it’s unclear if it’s even on the market any more. 84.5 proof. C / $NA

Wicked Lightning Moonshine – Slight popcorn on the nose. Buttered. Classic, lightly corny on the body, but quite mild thanks to it being watered down considerably. Who’s looking for underproof moonshine today? I’m unclear. Harmless, but a bit pointless. 60 proof. 60 proof. C+ / $24

Wicked Lightning Peach Pie Moonshine – Strong chemical flavoring notes on the nose, unlike any peach pie I’ve ever had. Imagine melted peach-flavored Jolly Ranchers, muddled with that popcorn character outlined above and you’ve got this oddity. 60 proof. C- / $24

Wicked Lightning Pumpkin Spice Moonshine – Pungent with cloves on the nose, and even more on the body. Earthy and spicy, it eventually evokes a character more akin to a a cinnamon roll than a pumpkin pie, but it’s close enough to merit at least some attention. 60 proof. C / $24

wickedtango.presspublisher.org

Book Review: The Mason Jar Cocktail Companion

mason jarAm I the only one who doesn’t like drinking out of a mason jar? Yeah, it looks old-timey and all, but the fat lip and groove for the lid always seems to make things sloppy.

That said, for the kinds of cocktails in The Mason Jar Cocktail Companion, by Shane Carley, this kind of delivery mechanism should work fine. Don’t go looking for highfalutin’ gastro-tails here. It’s all Tom Collins, margaritas (seven varieties!), and Long Island iced teas as far as the eye can see.

Nothing wrong with those drinks (for the most part), but do you need a special, hardcover book to tell you to put them in a mason jar when you’re done? By and large, Carley’s recip
es are straightforward and simple, with ample color photography to keep things interesting (though lots of this is just for show — I’m sure the discussion went along the lines of: how many finished drinks sitting in mason jars would the readers want to see?).

Ultimately I have nothing specific to complain about in Carley’s guidebook, and rank novice home bartenders looking to serve up cocktails for summertime parties will find it a fun introduction to basic drinkmaking. That said, I am not sure I can devote precious shelf space to recipes I have dozens of times over in other books — just served in different glassware.

C+ / $15 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Maraschino Head to Head: Bols vs. Luxardo vs. Maraska

bols maraschinoMaraschino is an essential liqueur in many a classic cocktail — especially the Casino and the Hemingway Daiquiri — but it’s one of the few categories where only a small number of producers, typically wicker-clad European brands, hold sway. The biggest of these is Italy’s Luxardo. Croatia’s Maraska is another commonly-seen version of the liqueur.

Now comes a new entry in the form of mass-producer Bols, the Dutch liqueurists with a panoply of fruit-flavored concoctions on the market.

Can Bols Maraschino stand up to the icons of the category? I’d never formally reviewed Luxardo Maraschino or Maraska, so what better time than the present? I tasted these blind so as not to sway my opinion with fancy branding. The identifying — and surprising — details were added later.

Thoughts follow.

Bols Maraschino – There’s not so much cherry on the nose here as there are tropical lychee and flowery perfume notes, with a sort of medicinal cherry flavor on the back end. Quite sweet and syrupy, it’s got a gummy finish that smacks of added gelatin. 48 proof. C+ / $15

Luxardo Maraschino – This is a wildly different experience. It’s sharp and astringent on the nose, not sweet at all. Oddly, it offers primarily granary aromas — cereal and fresh hay — rather than the intense cherry character one expects. Fruit comes along, but it’s almost an afterthought, relegated to the background. Frankly, the combination is slightly off-putting. The palate brings more balance, but it’s still got that heavy grain maraskafocus that surprisingly reminds me of animal feed. The fruit is indistinct, but it finally comes around as an echo on the finish. The ultimate character is something closer to a fruit brandy than a liqueur — which is either a good thing or a bad, depending on what you want out of your maraschino. 64 proof. B / $29

Maraska Original Maraschino – A nice balance between the two styles above, with brandy-like aromatics and lots of floral notes on the nose, backed up by sweet cherries. On the palate, the cherries are clear and sweet, but not overpowering. Those floral elements play on the palate as well, adding a spicy distinctness and complexity to the mix. This is the only one of these three I’d consider drinking neat (and the only one in which I polished off the sample glass), but it seems tailor-made for adding round cherry notes plus exotic floral elements to a cocktail. 64 proof. A / $27

The winner? Maraska makes a surprising upset over the better-known Luxardo, by quite a wide margin.

Review: Q Soda, Q Ginger Beer, and Q Grapefruit

q grapefruitQ Drinks is well known for its tonic, but like Fever-Tree, the company makes a wide range of cocktail mixers, all high-end products made with legitimate ingredients and botanicals. (You’ll notice the solids settling out in the ginger and grapefruit products, so be sure to gently mix them up a bit before serving.)

Thoughts on three of Q’s mixers follow.

Q Soda – A classic club soda, heavy on the fizz, with no minerality to speak of, or any other overtones. Drinks like a solid sparkling water, with large, gently foamy bubbles rather than tiny, spicy ones. A fine product on all fronts — and enjoyable on its own. A-

Q Ginger Beer – Nicely sweet up front, then this ginger beer builds to a strong, authentic ginger bite with significant, growing heat. There’s a good balance between the two components, making this an easy go-to for Dark & Stormy cocktails and other ginger-fueled libations. A-

Q Grapefruit – Very mild, with a minimal citrus bite to it. Squirt is a much bolder grapefruit soda than this, which comes across like club soda with a modest squeeze of grapefruit in it. As such, it can’t hold its own in a cocktail and quickly finds itself overpowered. C+

each $7 per 4-pack of 8 oz. bottles / qdrinks.com