Category Archives: Rated C+

Review: Martini & Rossi Rosato Vermouth

Ladies and gentlemen, we now have a new kind of vermouth to contend with.

Joining Dry, Sweet, and the rarely-seen Bianco and Rosso, Martini & Rossi has launched another expression: Rosato.

Rosato falls somewhere between the red and white spectrum — indeed it’s a blend of red and white wines, plus a lot of spice. The pink color belies its intense flavor: Roses, brier thickets, and the essence of the woods. All brought together with an aromatic, if a little strange, blend of red and white wines.

In moderation, Rosato is interesting, but as an aperitif it’s overpowering. The balance is a little off, and the bittersweet aftertaste gets cloying. Many of Martini’s recipe suggestions are fruit juice focused, and that makes sense. With a real spirit (like whiskey or gin) behind it, Rosato wouldn’t stand a chance.

C+ / $10 /

Martini and Rossi Rosato vermouth Review: Martini & Rossi Rosato Vermouth

Review: Adult Chocolate Milk

In its old-timey stoppered bottle featuring comforting, cartoony lettering, Adult Chocolate Milk is nothing if not enticing. The very name alone makes you want to guzzle the stuff. But then, well, you’d be sorry.

Essentially a variation on Baileys, Adult Chocolate Milk is not particularly chocolaty nor milky. At 40 proof it’s a touch more alcoholic than Baileys (34 proof), but the flavor is generally in the same ballpark: Vaguely chocolate, a touch of mint, some whiskey-like booziness. My sample was very small, so I didn’t get a chance to really delve into the stuff, but it was generally harmless until the finish, when a rough aftertaste grabs hold, lingering for minutes. The body is thin but the liqueur is mouth-coating and difficult to shake.

A cute idea for a “turning 21″ gift — to suggest your victim is now barely a grown-up — but more upscale, dessert-minded drinkers will be better served by a more refined cream liqueur.

C+ / $18 /

adult chocolate milk Review: Adult Chocolate Milk

Review: Tanqueray, Tanqueray No. Ten, and Tanqueray Rangpur

A reader recently complained (or kvetched, perhaps) that I didn’t review enough accessible products, stuff that you’d find on the shelf of your average liquor store and didn’t cost five figures.

Fair enough, so here you go.

It doesn’t get much more mainstream than Tanqueray, the British gin (produced in Scotland, actually) which is one of the best-selling spirits in the world.

Tanqueray exists in the U.S. in three varieties now (there’s also a vodka), and I recently received a holiday kit from the company so I could try them all side by side.

Here’s how they stack up.

Tanqueray London Dry Gin is the standard-bearer, and the company provides the identity of only three ingredients — angelica, coriander, and juniper. The rest are secret. That said, all one really needs to know — or tastes — in Tanqueray is the juniper. Along with Beefeater, I think it’s one of the most juniper-heavy gins on the market. Obviously people are into that: “Tanq & Tonic” is one of the most-called-by-name drinks of all time. The juniper nose is rich and strong on the palate. Secondary flavors are elusive, but you’ll find mildly bitter lemon and orange peel if you hunt for them. That evergreen character is all-encompassing, and as with heavily-peated Scotch, you either like this or you don’t. I find Tanqueray grows on you over time, but my ultimate gin preference is always to seek something with a little more balance and nuance. 94.6 proof. B / $17

Tanqueray No. Ten (10) strikes an immediate impression in its iconic, monolithic bottle, one of the best-designed decanters on the market. The gin inside clearly adheres to the Tanqueray formula, but it extends that with a bit more citrus. The company claims it is the only gin to use handpicked fresh fruit in its distillation, including white grapefruit, orange, and lime. There is also chamomile in the mix, a curious addition. What comes through in the finish is, of course, juniper, and all three of the citrus fruits mentioned. Grapefruit, for sure, with orange and lime more of an afterthought. I definitely prefer Ten to regular Tanqueray, and arguably worth the upgrade in price. 94.6 proof. A- / $28

Tanqueray Rangpur adds Rangpur limes to the Tanqueray recipe, and the results are obvious. The nose only hints at citrus, but it’s the finish where those limes — almost like tart Key limes — come to the forefront. Whereas standard Tanqueray can be overpowering with juniper, Rangpur is overpowering with lime — almost chemical in the way it comes across. The flavor is actually bigger and more powerful than standard Tanqueray — this despite a cut in proof of more than 12 points. The ultimate effect is more like a lime-flavored vodka than a gin, though it doesn’t eschew juniper character altogether. Not my favorite Tanqueray expression. 82.6 proof. C+ / $21

tanqueray Review: Tanqueray, Tanqueray No. Ten, and Tanqueray Rangpur

Review: 2010 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau

Beaujolais Nouveau has a bad reputation as being cheap and often undrinkable wine, and in many cases that’s indeed the case. Beaujolais is supposed to be cheap, and it’s meant to be consumed in the year it was produced: Come New Year’s, no one is supposed to be drinking Nouveau any more until next November, when the 2011 releases come out.

2009’s Nouveau was surprisingly quite good (especially Beaujolais-Villages), but 2010 mostly represents a return to the usual, with overly jammy wines produced in bulk without a lot of interest to them. Not undrinkable, but hardly showstoppers.

We tasted both of Duboeuf’s new releases.

2010 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau – Bright red berry notes, especially strawberry. Candy-like, fading into some moderate earth character. Two tastes that don’t play well together, but it improves with aeration. C+ / $9

2010 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau – Equally jammy with strong strawberry notes, but with a touch more balance. Green and herbal on the finish, fading to a rough and lightly astringent finale. Better, but only marginally so. B- / $11

Review: 2008 & 2009 Mouton Cadet and Cadet d’Oc Wines

Now on its 80th year, Mouton Cadet is a venerable budget label from the venerable Baron Philippe de Rothschild. (If your supermarket carries any French wine, it’s probably this.)

The brand is now extending the line but instead of blending a selection of grapes, traditional with all Bordeaux wines, the new Cadet d’Oc wines (pictured) are 100% varietal wines sourced not from Bordeaux but from the Languedoc region.

All feature rock-bottom pricing: $9.99 a bottle.

2009 Mouton Cadet Blanc White Bordeaux – 65% Sauvignon Blanc, 20% Semillon, and 5% Muscadelle. Lemony, with clear, unripened melon notes. A little fuzzy on the finish, but perfectly palatable and easygoing. B+

2008 Mouton Cadet Rouge Red Bordeaux – 65% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 15% Cabernet Franc. Bitter and rough, as difficult as the Mouton Cadet Blanc is simple and easy. Not a winner. D+

2009 Cadet d’Oc Chardonnay - An efficient Chardonnay, lightly oaked and crisp with apple notes. The finish is a bit off but for the price it’s certainly good enough for a weekday dinner. B+

2009 Cadet d’Oc Cabernet Sauvignon - Exactly what you’d expect from a $10 imported Cab, jammy and smoky with wood notes — probably some shortcuts in the aging here. Some fine plum character at its core, but there’s too much greenery and vegetable notes to make it anything more than not unpleasant. C+

each $10 /

Review: Benjamin Prichard’s Tennessee Whiskeys and Liqueur

It may not be canonically “Bourbon,” but the state of Tennessee is responsible for the best-selling whiskey in the world: Jack Daniel’s.

But Jack isn’t the only whiskey going in Kentucky’s next-door neighbor. Benjamin Prichard has been producing a variety of spirits — including a whole family of rums — for ten years now.

We got a peek at three of the distillery’s whiskeys (and one whiskey liqueur) — and the results prove that if you don’t know Prichard already, it’s time to start paying attention.

Benjamin Prichard’s Lincoln County Lightning – White lightning, folks. Unaged corn whiskey. Moonshine. At 90 proof it isn’t horrible, its enormous corn notes balanced with just a touch of sweetness. I’m admittedly not the world’s biggest fan of white whiskeys, but if I had to drink one, Prichard’s is at least passable. 90 proof. C+ / $NA

Benjamin Prichard’s Tennessee Whiskey – Now that’s more like it. An easy drinking whiskey, made of white corn, aged 10 years in barrel, and bottled at 80 proof, this Tennessee Whiskey was released to celebrate the distillery’s 10th year of operation. It’s worth the wait, very much a Bourbon at heart, sweet caramel notes balanced by a body that hints at its corn-based roots, a little black pepper, and vanilla on the finish. Nice balance. A- / $NA

Benjamin Prichard’s Double Barreled Bourbon Whiskey (pictured) – The notes on the back of this curiosity say that it’s a “little known fact” that whiskey is watered down before it’s bottled. I’m not sure many whiskey drinkers are unaware of that fact, but regardless, what Prichard’s does with this whiskey is age it at normal cask strength for nine years, then water it down to 90 proof, and then re-barrel the cut whiskey in charred oak barrels a second time.  What advantage this might actually offer is hard to say. Prichard’s Double Barreled is hot and much spicier than the 10-year Tennessee Whiskey, indicative perhaps of more rye in the mash. A little harsh on the attack, it quickly reveals a huge and racy herbal character, tempered by brown sugar. Lots of intrigue and worth seeking out. Limited release. A- / $60 [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Benjamin Prichard’s Sweet Lucy Bourbon Based Liqueur – Sweet Lucy — now there’s a name for a liqueur. Like many a whiskey-based liqueur before it, Prichard’s rendition is overwhelmingly, well, sweet, a syrupy concoction that is overwhelmingly sugary, but which offers vague Bourbon character in the finish. With this much sweetness, it’s hard to really differentiate; if you’re a fan of American Honey and its ilk, you’ll find Sweet Lucy just as satisfying. 70 proof. B+ / $25

prichards double barreled Review: Benjamin Prichards Tennessee Whiskeys and Liqueur

Review: Sokol Blosser Meditrina{6} Red Wine

Named after the Roman goddess of wine and health, Meditrina is Oregon winery Sokol Blosser’s nonvintage red blend, a mix of Pinot Noir (23%), Syrah (52%), and Zinfandel (25%). The {6} indicates this is Sokol’s 6th rendition of this wine.

Kind of an odd bird, it’s both jammy and thick. The Pinot notes come through as overripe cherry, Syrah provides a little earth, and the Zin hits you with an alcoholic punch plus that unmistakable, sweet jamminess. Unfortunately these notes are not much in balance with one another, and nowhere is this more evident than on the finish, which is cloying and a little charred.

C+ / $15 /

Meditrina 6 Review: Sokol Blosser Meditrina{6} Red Wine

Review: 100 Anos Tequila

“Wow, this tequila is 100 years old?”

At least three visitors to Drinkhacker HQ have made this joke(?) upon seeing these bottles of 100 Anos tequila sitting in wait of a review. And the response is, well, no.

100 Anos is a new brand in the Sauza line — 100% agave tequila that’s very reasonably priced. Intended as competitors to Cuervo Tradicional and Espolon, both expressions can be found for less than $20 a bottle. Both are 80 proof.

Note that a non-100% agave version of 100 Anos is said to be available as well. If you’re buying, look for bottles that are clearly labeled with the “100% Agave” notice.

100 Anos Blanco Tequila – Crystal clear tequila, but particularly hard-edged. Let it open up in the glass for a bit and some of the bite mellows out, giving way to some light lemon notes but lots of agave and a big, charcoal-infused finish. Better than a mixto, but far from fantastic. B- / $19

100 Anos Reposado Tequila – No information on length of aging is provided, but the color is dark — caramel color added, I suspect. Hot. Some actual caramel flavor notes add character atop the body of the blanco, but it’s just not done in a balanced way. Compared to other reposados, this is simplistic and lacking nuance, and still too hard in the finish for easy drinking neat. C+ / $19

no website

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.

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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