Category Archives: Rated C+

Review: 2009 Arizona Stronghold “Nachise” Arizona Red Wine

We’ve covered Arizona wine before, and Dos Cabezas red blend was more of a success than Arizona Stronghold’s similar undertaking. Hailing from the area near Sedona, this wine is blended from Syrah, Grenache, Petite Sirah, and Mourverdre. A racy “Rhone-style” is alas not something that leaps to mind during tasting. It has huge meat and smoke notes on the nose, then the body moves into juicy blueberry and plum notes, with a disarming sweetness that takes the wine to a place that’s quite a bit out of balance. The finish is tough and a little short, almost astringent.

C+ / $23 /

arizona stronghold nachise 2009 Review: 2009 Arizona Stronghold Nachise Arizona Red Wine

Review: Yorkville Cellars Mendocino 2006 Wines

Mendocino’s Yorkville Cellars is a unique little oddball in the wine world. It produces classic Bordeaux varietals (plus Carmenere), but it’s based in Mendocino, known mainly for Zinfandel production (which Yorkville doesn’t make).

Then, it doesn’t blend those varietals: It bottles them separately. In fact, Yorkville says is Rennie Vineyard is the only place in the world where these six grapes are grown together and vinified separately.

How do they stack up? We tasted all six (sold as a set) from the 2006 vintage. Here we go:

2006 Yorkville Cellars Malbec Rennie Vineyard Yorkville Highlands – Intense licorice character, with a huge oak backing. A little out of whack, which is common for California Malbecs. Drink it with a big meal. B

2006 Yorkville Cellars Cabernet Franc Rennie Vineyard Yorkville Highlands – Awfully jammy and up-front for Cab Franc, with a simply structured but very extracted body. Night and day vs. the Malbec. Almost like a Zinfandel. B+

2006 Yorkville Cellars Petit Verdot Rennie Vineyard Yorkville Highlands – Surprisingly full of character. Unbelievably purple. A flash of pepper plays nicely with the hugely cherry body. Moderate and tart finish, with a decent balance on it. Very unusual. B+

2006 Yorkville Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Rennie Vineyard Yorkville Highlands – Lovely on first blush, but the body retreats to jammy fruit too easily, and there doesn’t seem to have been enough time in cask spent here. Might cool down with some bottle time, but I’m not certain. Decent but not a knockout. B

2006 Yorkville Cellars Merlot Rennie Vineyard Yorkville Highlands – Tough and incredibly herbal. Gets easier with time in the glass, but it’s still chalky and uncharacteristic of good Merlot. C+

2006 Yorkville Cellars Carmenere Rennie Vineyard Yorkville Highlands – Not a fan. Extremely tart to the point of astringency. Ultra-fruity, with sweet jam and candy notes, it goes way too far into the berry world for easy drinking. C-

$200 for case of six wines /

yorkville cellars six wines 525x276 Review: Yorkville Cellars Mendocino 2006 Wines

Review: Karl Strauss Oktoberfest Seasonal Beer

San Diego’s Karl Strauss Brewing Company offers this brew for the traditional October celebration of all things beer.

But Karl Strauss’s Oktoberfest isa bit of an oddity. The nose screams cocoa powder, with a malty, lightly hoppy character. That cocoa continues on the palate, but the body isn’t a good match. Watery and thin, it doesn’t have the body that a meaty, autumn brew commands. The finish is even stranger, veering into sour notes after flirting with bitterness. Just out of balance over all, and not very refreshing, ultimately.

C+ / $7.50 per six-pack /

karl strauss oktoberfest Review: Karl Strauss Oktoberfest Seasonal Beer

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: Sence Rose Nectar

I’ll admit: This stuff has been sitting on my kitchen counter for nearly nine months. Why? Because I’m a little scared of drinking flowers: 48 rose petals go into each 250ml bottle of Sence Rose Nectar, so Happy Valentine’s Day to you, too.

But finally I’m doing it.

Wasn’t so scary, really. Sence is exactly what it claims to be: A sweetened, rose-scented concoction that can be used as a mixer or consumed as is, preferably through a pink straw. The recipe is claimed to be hundreds of years old. Could be.

One whiff and you’ll know this is a flower-based juice. The aroma is “old lady perfume” all the way, baby powder and rose petals nonstop. Of course, petals alone would not be drinkable, so Sence wisely adds copious amounts of sugar — 30 grams of it — to give the nectar some sweetness. The flavor is considerably less flowery, and it has more of a flat juice character to it, with minimal aftertaste except for some lingering rose petals in the nostrils.

Whether you like this stuff is going to be strictly a matter of taste. I’ve had some not-bad cocktails made with it (try gin), but my advice is to use it sparingly.

120 calories per bottle. Refrigerate after opening. Note: A version with only 20 grams of sugar (and 2/3 the calories) also exists.

C+ / $4 per 250ml bottle /

sence liqueur Review: Sence Rose Nectar

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: Valdo Prosecco

Two new non-vintage Proseccos from Valdo — both extremely different in design — arrived today. The brand that dates back to 1926 and was once part of the Bolla family. Now it’s a budget label that exists for your enjoyment.

Valdo Prosecco Brut – Quite sweet, with a tart edge. A bit grassy in character, with a roundness that makes it quite easy to drink, with no roughness. I like this quite a bit. A- / $11

Valdo Nerello Mascalese Brut Rose – This rose is a blend of Prosecco grapes and Nerello Mascalese, a black Silician grape namely known as a coloring agent. The addition, alas, does nothing for the wine, turning it pink yet harsh and tough, turning perfumy those grassy notes found in the standard Brut. C+ / $13

valdo prosecco Review: Valdo Prosecco

Review: Balcones Distilling Baby Blue and Rumble

The uninitiated may think of Texas as the frontier, a place where whiskey is probably as common as water. Not so: In fact, for years, Tito’s has been the state’s only legal distillery.

Now a few upstarts are coming out of the skunkworks, and the state has its first whiskey since Prohibition. Operating out of Waco, Texas, Balcones Distilling doesn’t just make the first whiskey in the state, it also makes, as far as anyone can tell, the only whiskey made from blue corn — in this case, Atole, a Hopi blue corn meal. The distillery’s first two products — Balcones Baby Blue Corn Whisky, and an odd offshoot, Balcones Rumble — are reviewed below.

Balcones Baby Blue Corn Whisky – Wow, intense. Clearly a young corn-based whisky without a lot of time in the barrel. The starchy character (“white dog,” in the parlance) is overpowering on the nose alone, with a huge, grainy body and a finish redolent of petrol. Some sweetness makes this drinkable, but like so many younger whiskies, it isn’t easy going. Why this wasn’t left in the barrel for another three or four years is a mystery to me. Batch BB10-10. 92 proof. C / $45

Balcones Rumble - Perhaps aware that Baby Blue was not made for easy consumption, Balcones created Rumble, not exactly a liqueur (it’s a serious 94 proof) but close enough. Made from Texas wildflower honey, Turbinado sugar, and Mission figs, Rumble looks like whiskey but tastes like something else. That Balcones corniness is apparent on the nose, but it’s a much sweeter spirit on the whole. Only the fig character really comes through, the rest is mainly a sweeter version of Baby Blue. Batch R10-10. C+ / $36

Update 2/2013: Tasted new releases of both of these products, with considerably different notes, especially for Rumble, which (at least now) is far more worthwhile than this review would indicate. Hopefully, new reviews coming soon.

Remember Me

? Back to

Review Roundup: 5 White Wines for Summer

Summer is here — officially, now — and that means the white wines will be flowing. Why not take the opportunity to look at five different varietals all primed for warm weather? All of the wines reviewed below are extremely affordable, too. Take a look!

2009 foppiano sauvignon blanc 69x300 Review Roundup: 5 White Wines for Summer2009 Weingut Meinhard Forstreiter “Grooner” Gruner Veltliner Niederosterreich – That’s a lot of words for a wine sold as “Grooner,” one of the cheesiest-looking wines I’ve ever tried yet, bizarrely, a really good one. Atypical for Gruner Veltliner, it’s a fruity, lemon-infused wine with a zippy, buzzy body. So easy to drink, and equally good with food. A- / $12 / (pictured below)

2009 Foppiano Vineyards Estate Bottled Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley – A crisp and light — extremely pale — wine with a really easygoing body. Apricot interplays with minerals but it’s not a very deep experience. B+ / $18 / (pictured at right)

2008 Luna Vineyards Pinot Grigio Napa Valley – Oddly brown in color, with a pleasant melon-inflected nose, but a skunky, rough finish. Not  C+ / $18 /

2009 El Coto de Rioja Blanco – Somewhat simplistic, this wine made from 100% Viura grapes is crisp and easy. A lightly woody finish adds complexity, but only a little. B / $9 /

2009 Trapiche Torrontes Mendoza – An Argentinian oddity, with a Muscat-like character, rich with orange peel. Sadly, it’s so rough that it isn’t all that pleasant, and it clashes with food. Strange finish, too. C / $9 /

2009 grooner Review Roundup: 5 White Wines for Summer

Review: Early Times 150th Anniversary Edition Kentucky Whisky

“The whisky that made Kentucky whiskies famous” is now 150 years old, and to celebrate, the folks at Early Times are putting out a special edition bottling of their canonical (update: not quite a) bourbon.

Don’t get too excited. Early Times is not exactly a top shelf whiskey, and this special edition marks only a modest upgrade, specifically one which gets 5 to 6 years of aging vs. the mere 3 that standard Early Times gets.

The result is still an awfully hot bourbon, 100 proof and even more fiery than that would imply. There’s some character here, to be sure: Vanilla from the wood, overwhelming spiciness, and a distinct mashed corn impression. The body is thick, burly, and racy, a frontier style whiskey that makes no bones about its brash, in-your-face character. (Remember: Early Times was originally sold as medicine.)

Take it or leave it.

36,000 half-bottles made.

C+ / $12 (375ml) /

early times 150th anniversary whiskey Review: Early Times 150th Anniversary Edition Kentucky Whisky

Review: Jack Daniel’s Ginger Splash

Jack Daniel’s has several pre-mixed, ready-to-drink cocktails on the market. This one, which promises the classic combination of JD and ginger ale, is its latest.

Mind you, this is simply a (naturally) flavored malt beverage (at a mere 5 percent alcohol), but at least it looks the part, with a moderate caramel color on offer. The taste is quite light, a hint of ginger ale and the barest touch of whiskey character — a vague vanilla and charcoal wisp that doesn’t exactly scream bourbon country, but may at least make you understand why the Jack Daniel’s name is on the label.

Worth a taste for the summer libation seeker who doesn’t care for beer or wine. Connoisseurs can pass.

C+ / $8 per six pack of 10-ounce bottles /

jack daniels ginger splash Review: Jack Daniels Ginger Splash

Review: Crunk!!! Energy Drink and Energy Stix

We have Drank, why not have Crunk!!! too?

While “crunk” is technically a combination of “crazy” and “drunk,” Crunk!!! (yes, three exclamation points) contains no alcohol. It is rather another energy drink loaded with caffeine, inositol, green tea leaf, damiana, licorice, guarana, l-tyrosine, horny goat weed, ginkgo biloba, ginseng, grape seed extract, skull cap, white willow, and (whew) ashwaganda (which is specifically touted on the can).

While the folks behind Crunk!!! don’t make any medical claims, the ingredients in each can promise to aid memory, well-being, virility, calmness, aches, pain, and more. Not exactly anything we’d consider “crunk-like,” but no matter… it’s just a name, right?

crunk energy stix 176x300 Review: Crunk!!! Energy Drink and Energy StixAvailable in five flavors, each 16 oz. can is lightly carbonated and has 240 calories and 96mg of caffeine. (There’s also Energy Stix… more on that later.)

Crunk!!! Original is flavored with pomegranate but has a distinct overly sweetened and cloying cough syrup character to it. Perhaps it’s just what the average Crunk!!! fan desires? Not terribly enticing. D+

Crunk!!! Grape-Acai is better but quite sour, and fans of grape-flavored drink will likely find it not sweet enough for regular consumption. Tolerable, though. C+

Crunk!!! Mango-Peach is a fairly winning combination of flavors. The taste is light and reasonably fruity. I could see finishing this whole can if I had to. B

Crunk!!! Citrus is the lemon-lime version, but it’s closer to Mountain Dew than 7-Up. Powerful bitterness on the finish; the fruit juice in this one just can’t overpower the herbs and additives. C

Crunk!!! Low Carb Sugar Free is the diet version of Crunk!!! Original, with just 10 calories instead of 240. Sadly, it smells altogether awful (think a football field after a long rainstorm) and tastes only marginally better. D-

Crunk!!! Energy Stix is another beast altogether. These Pixie Stix-like packs are designed to be ripped open and dropped right on your tongue. I tried one (10 calories) and found it to be only mildly unpleasant, though the powder is easy to inhale and can give you a bit of a headache. C+ / $3 for pack of two sticks

As for the “rush,” I’d say all forms of Crunk!!! have a pretty standard caffeine hit, and contrary to the company’s claims there is a crash some hours later.

$44 for case of 24 16-oz. cans /

crunk energy drink Review: Crunk!!! Energy Drink and Energy Stix

Review: Bacardi Classic Cocktails Strawberry Daiquiri and Pina Colada

So-called “instant” cocktails don’t have to be bad. I mean, they usually are, but they don’t have to be.

Bacardi, which makes a pretty good instant mojito, has now released two new pre-mixed cocktail flavors, a strawberry daiquiri and a pina colada. As with the mojito flavor, these use real ingredients, not malt liquor and artificial flavors (well, not just artificial flavors), in the mix. Just pour over ice and you’re ready to go (and leftovers have to go in the fridge). Both are 30 proof. Here’s how they measure up.

Bacardi Strawberry Daiquiri suffers from the curse of most strawberry-flavored spirits products in that it tastes awfully saccharine and cough syrupy. Something akin to Hi-C, this concoction is bright pink (not red), you might not believe that this has real rum, lime, sugar, and strawberries in it. It’s not really bad, but anyone expecting something truly tropical will be disappointed. This tastes more like a cosmopolitan than anything else I can think of. C+ / $14

Bacardi Pina Colada is made from rum, pineapple, and real coconut water. Sounds good so far, and sure enough this bad boy is a much bigger success. While the color is more of a translucent, milky white and not the rich, creamy pearl of a real pina colada, it’s close enough for a quickie. The flavor is heavy on the pineapple, with coconut in more of a supporting role, but both are there and both are authentic, with no chemical grossness to be found. It may not quite look the part (blending it with ice will probably be more effective, but more work), it at least tastes about right. B+ / $14

bacardi strawberry and pina colada Review: Bacardi Classic Cocktails Strawberry Daiquiri and Pina Colada

Review: Super Sake Smackdown

Is sake making a comeback?

For whatever reason, Drinkhacker HQ has been flooded with the stuff of late. The intricacies of sake styles are too involved and complex to go into here, so if you’re interested in the differences between, say, junmai and ginjo, I’ll refer you to this Wikipedia article.

Here’s our look at six new and classic sakes on the market — and one plum wine just for kicks. Because, seriously, when are we going to want to drink plum wine by itself?

All sakes were tasted chilled.

Samurai Love Sake (Japan) – Surprisingly fresh, with crisp cantaloupe notes and a dry, medium body. The finish is lackluster, but otherwise it’s a solid sake, despite the gimmicky packaging (red bottle with intertwined “male” and “female” symbols on it) and the silly name. 15% alcohol by volume. B+ / $32 (720ml)

Gekkeikan (California) – Commonly available at restaurants and grocery stores, and nothing special. Sharp on the tongue, very mild melon character, and a flat finish. Made in Folsom, perhaps better known for its prison than its sake. 15.6% alcohol by volume. C+ / $8 (750ml)

Gekkeikan Haiku (California) – Gekeikkan’s premium bottling. Quite a different character. Spicy attack, bolder body, and a warming finish. Bit of a fishy nose, though, and not entirely balanced. Considerably sweeter than most other sakes sampled. 15% alcohol by volume. B- / $13 (750ml)

Momokawa Diamond Junmai Ginjo Sake (Oregon) – Harsh on first sip, despite a lower alcohol level. Not much going on here, flavor-wise, though you’ll get cantaloupe notes if you leave it on the tongue for a long while. Finish is dry and mild. Disappointing. Widely available in Japanese restaurants. 14% alcohol by volume. C / $13 (750ml)

Konteki Tears of Dawn Daiginjo (Japan) – Complex, with huge melon character and a sharp, almost acidic body. Slight briny character, long and slightly sweet finish. Interesting but not fully balanced. 15.5% alcohol by volume. B+ / $39 (720ml)

Konteki Pearls of Simplicity Junmai Daiginjo (Japan) – Good balance, freshly fruity with crisp melon and a moderately long finish. Good hints of sweetness make it easy drinking, yet with a bit of complexity, too. Favorite sake of the tasting. 15.5% alcohol by volume. A- / $39 (720ml)

Japanese Plum Gekkeikan (Japan) – Despite the same name, this Gekkeikan is actually from Japan, while Gekkeikan sake is from the United States. No matter. This plum wine is medicinal, almost sickly sweet, and difficult to choke down in any but the smallest of sips. Yeah, tastes like plum juice mixed in with red wine that’s gone off. Not a fan. 13% alcohol by volume. D+ / $13 (750ml)

Review: Travis Hasse’s Apple Pie and Cherry Pie Liqueurs

Sweet tooths, rejoice. Someone has indeed taken a pie, liquefied it, added a little alcohol, and bottled it for sale. Behold Travis Hasse’s Apple Pie Liqueur and Cherry Pie Liqueur, both of which are absolutely crazy.

Travis Hasse’s Apple Pie Liqueur is a hazy gold color. Flavored with apple and cinnamon and a few other spices, what you mainly get from a sip of this spirit is a rush of sugary sweetness. It’s possibly sweeter than any other spirit I’ve ever tasted, although the aroma and flavor are, once you push past the sugar, relatively authentic apple pie representations. But the sweetness is such a killer that it’s hard to palate on its own — in a small dose with a cocktail or, as the label suggests, atop ice cream, you might be better off. 40 proof. C+

Travis Hasse’s Cherry Pie Liqueur is a somewhat different animal. Less alcoholic (30 proof) and less sweet, it’s a cherry liqueur with a touch of vanilla added. A little less “pie” like on the nose, it still smells pretty good. On the tongue, though, it comes across as medicinal. It’s not syrupy in texture, thank God, but one gets the feeling that if you melted down some Sucrets you would get a similar liqueur… complete with the same amount of alcohol. C

$17 each /

Review: HobNob Wines

Can the French go toe to toe with the Australians at their own game: Putting out cheap and simple varietally-focused wines that consumers will lap up? All that’s missing is the animal on the label.

Here’s how the five wines of the HobNob label — sometimes seen as Hob Nob and all hailing from “the sunny hills of southern France” — stack up.

hobnob wines Review: HobNob Wines2007 HobNob Chardonnay – Not drinkable, heavily perfumed with mint and incense. Like licking a belly dancer, and not in a good way. D

2008 HobNob Pinot Noir – Smoky and meaty, this is more harmless than the chardonnay, but a bitter green finish mucks things up. C

2006 HobNob Merlot – Jammy, somewhat easydrinking, but with a big green olive kick. Bizarre, but not horrible. C+

2007 HobNob Cabernet Sauvignon – Extremely light but clearly cabernet, at least — rare for these wines which defy varietal classification. A lot like the merlot, but with less abrasive components. Harmless. B-

2006 HobNob Shiraz – Plummy but mild. A little chewy, but easy to deal with. Curiously uses the Aussie “Shiraz” name instead of the Francophilic “Syrah.” B

$11 each /

Review: Tré Wines

Tré means three, and if the faux-talian didn’t tip you off to the threeness of this wine, perhaps the silhouettes of the three men walking along and drinking it will.

Tré is a budget wine through and through: Each of these four varietals sells for $9.95. Produced by the Guglielmo Winery in Morgan Hill, California, look for them in mainstream markets.

2008 Tré Chardonnay Monterey County – Surprisingly big, fruity like a sauvignon blanc. The only regionally-sourced wine of the Tré lineup, it’s generally a winner, minimal oaking, lots of pineapple and peach character, and a semisweet finish. Works best as an aperitif. A-

2007 Tré Merlot California – Light bodied, with a jammy nose and bittersweet finish. Really easygoing, but not much to it. Good for parties. B-

2007 Tré Syrah California – 4% cabernet, the rest syrah. Not a fan. Seriously vegetal nose, a rough and rustic body, really weedy. Fruit is an afterthought. This tastes of dirt and greenery, like chewing on a briar. C-

2007 Tré Cabernet Sauvignon California – Inexpensive cabernet is always a tricky proposition, and Tré does the best it can at this price point. Very young and overtly jammy, with the distinct tone of strawberry preserves. Tastes a bit like something you’d find in a pastry, not quite the decadent and rich wine you’d serve with a steak. Too thin, no structure. C+

$10 each /

tre cellars merlot Review: Tré Wines

Review: Blackheart Spiced Rum

Spiced rum continues to grow as a category as every distiller on earth realizes that Captain Morgan has been sucking down cash for years with no competition. This latest brand, Blackheart, comes from Heaven Hill, home of Evan Williams bourbon and Christian Brothers brandy. (Not to be confused with Black Heart Rum, which is a different product altogether from New Zealand.)

Sweeter by far than most spiced rums I’ve tried, it’s almost saccharine. Actual spices are elusive — I thought it tasted more like coconut-flavored suntan lotion than anything else — with an apple-cinnamon finish.

Not my favorite spiced rum by a longshot, but those with a real sweet tooth may find it more palatable than I. 93 proof. Rum is sourced from the Virgin Islands. Price has been updated.

C+ / $16 /

blackheart spiced rum Review: Blackheart Spiced Rum

Review: 6 Sparkling Wines for Valentine’s

Run out and buy your special someone a bottle of Moet or Veuve… or look off the beaten path at a different sparkling wine.

Here’s a look at six recently released sparklers from literally all over the world (six wines from six countries) — tasted blind, just for the fun of it — featuring three standard sparklers and three rose versions.

Happy early Valentine’s Day!

Sparkling Wines

NV Trapiche Extra Brut – Mendoza, Argentina – Lightly sparkling, with fresh apple flavors. Simple, but refreshing. Would work well in a cocktail or as a house sparkler. B+ / $12

2007 Bagratoni 1882 Reserve (pictured) – Tbilisi, Georgia (yes, the country) – Fruity, with orange aromas, but with an oddly vegetal finish. Very bright color. Would go better with food. B- / $25

NV Pongracz Brut – Western Cape, Stellenbosch, South Africa –  Very dry, and extremely fizzy. Not bad at all, but nothing special. B / $NA

Sparkling Rose Wines

NV Elyssia Cava Pinot Noir Brut – Spain – Extremely fruity, with blatant raspberry character. Almost tastes doctored. Somewhat sour finish. From Freixenet. C+/ $22

NV Amorosa Bella Brut Rose – Mendocino, California – The essence of rose petals in a bottle. Perfumy and a little cloying. C+ / available only at the Kenwood Inn & Spa (also available here)

NV Lamberti Vino Spumante Rose – Calmasino, Italy – Sweet, not very fizzy at all. Very flat. Not a lot of character, but I can drink it. In an odd side note, whatever is used to make the wire cage black began to melt, leaving a puddle of black ink all over my hands after opening it. B- / $13

bagratoni 2007 reserve brut Review: 6 Sparkling Wines for Valentines

Review: Van Gogh Wild Appel Vodka

There are a lot of ways to get apple character into a cocktail — Calvados, apple juice, even Apple Pucker, God help you — and now Van Gogh adds “wild” apple to its lineup of flavored vodkas.

Truth be told this isn’t my favorite entry into the otherwise top-notch Van Gogh arsenal. The aroma and body are indeed pretty appley — but also pretty “wild,” and not really in a good way. Overly tart and woodsy, it’s more cider-like, with a weird and strong vanilla aftertaste that comes off as artificial. I can’t think of a  better description than “gamey.”

Definitely one for cocktails only and in small quantities.

70 proof.

C+ / $30 /

van gogh wild appel Review: Van Gogh Wild Appel Vodka