Review: Wines of Francis Ford Coppola, 2015 Releases

VendettaIt’s a bumper crop of new releases from Coppola. Here’s a look at something old and something new from this always-busy operation.

2014 Francis Ford Coppola Sauvignon Blanc Diamond Collection Yellow Label – A workmanlike, even gentlemanly, sauvignon blanc. Quite sweet, with marshmallow notes, lemon juice, and creamy orange Dreamsicle notes. Simple but with a lightly herbal edge to the finish, it’s classic yet cheap summer wine (if the bright yellow label didn’t cue you in). B / $16

2014 Francis Ford Coppola Pinot Grigio Diamond Collection Emerald Label – A rather tropical pinot grigio, melding mango and banana notes into a festive shell. Simple, lightweight, lightly sweet, and rather refreshing, but better as an aperitif than with food. B+ / $12

2013 Francis Ford Coppola Claret Diamond Collection Black Label – Surprisingly on point, the 2013 claret — a Bordeaux style blend that nonetheless reads “California Cabernet Sauvignon” on the back label — has youth and austerity, both in moderation. Bright red strawberries and raspberries seize the day — there’s not too much currant character here — with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar and tea leaf (sweet tea, maybe?) lingering on the finish. Mostly dry but with a short, quick finish, this is as gentle an entry to this style of wine. B+ / $21

2014 Francis Ford Coppola Sofia Rose Monterey County – Pleasant, summery, and refreshing, this rose of syrah and pinot noir is an easy sipper with strawberry and blackberry notes, atop a fresh apple juice core. Probably the best thing you’ll find under the Sofia sub-label. A- / $19

2014 Francis Ford Coppola Pinot Noir Director’s Sonoma Coast – (Not the same as “Director’s Cut.”) Not a bad effort here, and it evolves to show more charm in the glass as it gets some air. Cherry up front, with some dusky brewed tea and cracked pepper notes. Nice balance, with a lightly bitter kick on the finish. B+ / $21

2013 Francis Ford Coppola Zinfandel Director’s Cut Dry Creek Valley – A reserved and quite tannic zinfandel, this wine features muted bramble notes, leather, and mild currants. Quite drying on the finish, with a licorice kick. B- / $17

2013 Francis Ford Coppola Vendetta – The new kid on the block. A cab-merlot blend, packaged in the oh-so-trendy paper-wrapped bottle. An often horrifying wine, doctored and pumped up (IMHO) with artificial sweeteners. Chocolate and cinnamon notes mingle with a cloying sweetness that positively coats the palate. Was the vendetta against me? D / $21

Review: Skyy Barcraft – White Sangria, Margarita Lime, and Watermelon Fresca

skyy stuff

“It’s time to hack the cocktail!” Now that’s a slogan I can get behind.

Unfortunately, Skyy Barcraft — essentially lower-proof flavored vodka designed to be mixed with your favorite mixer (soda, ginger, what-have-you) and consumed on the rocks — isn’t really hacking anything. Unless you consider water and those inimitable “natural flavors” to be a hack. Meh.

Each of the three expressions is 60 proof. All were tasted with a splash of club soda. (Skyy suggests a 2:1 mix of soda to spirit, which I don’t recommend at all.)

Skyy Barcraft White Sangria – Fresh, with lots of peach overtones, followed by citrus. Doesn’t exactly scream sangria — as there’s no wine element on the palate to speak of — but it does come off as a capable rendition of a lower-cal peach vodka. B

Skyy Barcraft Margarita Lime – Makes for an ugly margarita. Starts off with piney, evergreen notes, then segues into hospital overtones. The finish is drying and medicinal, not at all like any margarita I’ve ever had (possibly because you make a margarita with tequila, not vodka). D-

Skyy Barcraft Watermelon Fresca – About what you’re expecting — Jolly Ranchers dipped into vodka for a slightly astringent, slightly candied complexion. Some bitter notes emerge on the finish, likely driven by the vodka. Relatively harmless, but unless you’ve got a serious thing for watermelon, it’s probably not going to be your go-to beverage. C

each $x /

Review: Cerveza Modelo Especial

Modelo Especial_ Bottle with GlassQuick: What’s the best-selling imported beer in the U.S.?

Too easy. What’s the #2 best-selling import?

No, not Heineken. Not any more. Now it’s Modelo Especial.

Celebrating its recent rise to the second from the top, Modelo sent out samples to see what all the fuss is about. I have to say, I don’t much see it. This is a classic, lower-end Mexican bottling, light as gold and loaded with malty notes up front. The body then turns somewhat skunky and mushroomy, with light citrus fruit and vegetal overtones. The finish is at first clean but ultimately turns a bit gummy and not entirely satisfying.

4.4% abv.

D+ / $15 per 12 pack /

Review: Jacob’s Creek Two Lands Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay, 2014 Vintage

479155“Two Lands harnesses the creative power of collaboration by bringing together two award-winning winemakers from opposite sides of the world to create a range of premium and totally unique Australian wines that marry Californian winemaking craft with Australian varietal character.”

Well, let’s see how that pans out.

2014 Jacob’s Creek Two Lands Pinot Grigio Australia – A bit creamy and buttery for a pinot grigio, but not as tropical as what you might see out of New Zealand. The fruit component veers toward pears with a touch of mango, but the finish is a bit too restrained. B- / $14

2014 Jacob’s Creek Two Lands Chardonnay Australia – Quite a surprise, as it’s very aromatic and perfumed on the nose, almost to a grandma’s-bathroom level — unusual for chardonnay. On the tongue, there’s a significantly off-putting overripe melon character that’s paired with a blown-out, artificial-tasting butter flavor (think microwave “double butter flavor” popcorn). The finish has a mouth-coating chemical character to it. Pass. D+ / $14

Review: Vov Zabajone Cream Liqueur

vovPrimary colors on the label. A name in quotes — “VOV” — and all caps, at that. Opaque, white bottle. What the hell is Vov?

Vov looks like something a clown would have to nurse to get through his next birthday party, but in reality, it’s an exotic Italian cream liqueur. This “traditional Italian Zabajone Cream Liqueur is made from egg yolks, sugar, and the highest quality, aged Sicilian Marsala Superiore,” per the Molinari family, which imports it to the U.S. Here’s more backstory on the stuff:

Italy’s #1 selling liqueur, VOV was created in 1845 by Gian Battista Pezziol, a confectioner and nougat specialist from Padua. Looking for a way to use the leftover egg yolks from his nougat-making process, Pezziol mixed them with Marsala wine, alcohol and sugar to make an energy drink, a popular trend at the time. He named the beverage VOV, short for “vovi,” the Venetian word for eggs. An immediate success, the drink won a silver medal in 1856. That same year, the Archduke of the Court of Vienna issued a patent with the royal double headed eagle. The spirit remained prevalent into the 20th century and was consumed by the troops during World War II for its energizing properties. VOV is the perfect substitute for modern and classic cocktails that call for a fresh egg.

How do you drink it? Warm or cold, neat or on the rocks, or in cocktails, the bottle tells us. Some people put it in coffee, I’m told. As it’s similar to an advocaat, try it in a Bombardino cocktail — half brandy or rum, half Vov. (You can add whipped cream and/or coffee if you like.)

Well, it sure does look disgusting. An opaque and milky off-white in color, the mind reels at all the negative connotations one can draw with reality and this stuff. It’s intensely sticky. Get one drop on your hands and you’ll need to scrub them. Don’t be afraid of the soap.

On the nose, it’s mainly driven by intense sugar — like a creme brulee plus some cinnamon notes — but with a sharp/sour citrus edge reminiscent of baby vomit. Notes of licorice and burnt butter bubble up in time. The body is where the egg yolk starts to really show, gooey and, indeed, intensely eggy, adding in notes of sticky sugar syrup and marshmallow, lemon peel, and a winey influence driven by the Madeira. The body isn’t as thick as you’d think, and the slight wateriness adds to an overall weak impression when served neat. The finish is absolutely mouth-coating, sickly sweet-and-sour and simply impossible to shake for a solid five to ten minutes after taking a sip.

Few people probably drink Vov like this, so I tried it with rum and ice. It’s a considerable improvement, but the funky nose seems somehow stronger and the sour aftertaste still lingers. Now I’m not a guy who’s ever enjoyed a cup of eggnog, so I can see how Vov would not exactly be my cup of tea. But still, Vov has got to be the very definition of an acquired taste.

Eggnog fans, dig right in — and let the hating begin.

35.6 proof.

D- / $27 (1 liter) /

Update 9/6/2015: Unthrilled with this review, the Vov folks sent me a shopping list and a number of cocktail recipes that would showcase how well Vov worked as a mixer. I made all four of the following with a fresh bottle of Vov and can absolutely attest that cocktails like this are a marked improvement over Vov on its own. That said, some of these are more successful than others, particularly the Orange Julius-like Arancia Fizz and the surprising, foamy, sweet-and-sour-infused Fluffy Vov. If you’ve got some Vov sitting around and don’t know what to do with it, give one of these a try tonight.

Arancia Fizz
2 oz. VOV
2 oz. Orange juice
3 oz. Sparkling orange soda or ginger ale

Add ingredients to a highball glass filled with ice and roll (empty contents back and forth between a shaker tin and the highball glass until well mixed). Garnish with an orange slice.

Madagascar Spritz
Created by Tim Cooper
1.5 oz VOV
2 Orange half wheels
4 oz Club Soda

Mash the orange slices with a muddler or bar spoon in the bottom of a Collins glass.  Add Vov, ice and club soda. Stir. Garnish with an orange half wheel.

Created by Tim Cooper
1.5 oz VOV
1.5 oz Pineapple juice
1.75 oz Unsweetened Almond Milk
2 dashes Angostura bitters (optional)
Freshly grated cinnamon

Place all ingredients into a mixing glass and shake with ice. Strain over new ice into a wine glass. Garnish with a pineapple leaf & freshly grated cinnamon. This drink can also be blended.

Fluffy VOV
Created by Lucinda Sterling
2 oz gin
1 oz VOV
1 oz heavy cream
3/4 oz fresh lemon/lime juice
Few drops orange blossom water

Shake all ingredients with ice, strain into a fizz glass, without ice, and top with club soda.

Review: Paulaner Hefe-Weizen Natural Wheat and Weissbier-Radler NA

HefeWeizen 0.33 Liter (11.2 Oz) Bottle (TIF)What, has Drinkhacker gone soft? Another non-alcoholic beer review? I promise, we review what we get. We even review water from time to time, after all. Here’s a look at two newly available ones from Munich-based Paulaner, a bold hefeweizen and a non-alcoholic “weissbier-radler.”

Paulaner Hefe-Weizen Natural Wheat – Aka “Naturtrüb” if you want to get your Deutsch on. This isn’t your girlfriend’s hefeweizen but rather a burlier, chewier, and more hoppy style of the classic wheat brew. As the light bitter elements fade the beer evokes notes of lemon, grapefruit, and tropical notes. The finish offers more cereal, with a bit of almond character to it. Hefeweizen is never my go-to beer style, but Paulaner really does a stand-up job with this “natural” expression. 5.5% abv. B+ / $2 per 16.9 oz. bottle

Paulaner Weissbier-Radler Non-Alcoholic – “With lemon juice.” This is basically a shandy in a bottle, but in lieu of lemonade it tastes like something akin to lemon marmalade has been added to the mix. Incredibly sweet, there’s no beer character here at all, but rather a sticky, sweet-and-sour combination of flavors that come across like something your kids would probably enjoy. I understand when folks can’t drink, but there’s no reason to punish them for it. D- / $9 per six-pack

Review: Radeberger Pilsner, Clausthaler NA, and Schofferhofer Grapefruit

schofferhofer grapefruit

No fancy intro needed on this one. Here’s a collection of three semi-random beers from the U.S. distribution arm of Germany’s Radeberger Gruppe — including the company’s newly-available grapefruit-flavored hefeweizen and our first-ever review of a non-alcoholic beer! Can any of these be worthwhile? I smell a roundup brewing…

Radeberger Pilsner – Simple at first, Radeberger evolves its deep cereal and malt notes to reveal some surprising chocolate character, particularly on the back end. Slightly muddy, with some notes reminiscent of a brown ale, but not without ample charm. 4.8% abv. B / $9 per six-pack

Clausthaler Amber Non-Alcoholic – There’s no getting around the fact that this is a non-alcoholic beer (or, at less than 0.5% abv, almost non-alcoholic), but let’s try to look at this in the context of, say, a curiously-flavored soda. On that front, Clausthaler isn’t bad, offering a sort of malt-flavored sparkling water that offers the essence of beer without all the social problems. There’s not much to get excited about here, to be sure, but if you absolutely can’t drink — or can’t drink any more — I can think of worse things to put in your gullet. D+ / $8 per six-pack

Schofferhofer Grapefruit – Unfiltered wheat beer with grapefruit flavor (and cochineal color) added. It’s a super-fruity concoction not unlike a shandy or even a modern grapefruit-flavored malt beverage — with a bit of a vegetal tinge on the end. Not much in the way of “beer” flavor, but while the tart grapefruit character is quite sweet, it’s at least short of candylike. Harmless, and at 3.2% abv, I mean that in every sense of the word. B- / $7 per six-pack

Review: Steel Reserve Alloy Series Margarita and Hard Pineapple

steel reserveI won’t belabor the introduction of these two new flavored malt beverages from Steel Reserve with a lot of bloviating. So here we go … with Steel Reserve Margarita and Steel Reserve Hard Pineapple.

Steel Reserve Alloy Series Margarita – Kryptonite green in color and, I have to presume, in flavor. Vaguely lime flavored, then blended with crushed up cough drops and topped off with rubbing alcohol. The slight fizz helps to mask some of its roughness, but that’s only marginally effective. D+

Steel Reserve Alloy Series Hard Pineapple – Gatorade yellow in color and every bit as horrifying as you’re expecting. I actually did a spit take on my first sip, and subsequent attempts to consume this monstrosity weren’t much better. Pineapple candy is the character at the start, sure, but from there it’s a combination of lemon-lime zest and what I can only describe as the flavor expired, off-brand mouthwash. No me gusta! F

8% abv.

about $2 per 24 oz. can /

Canned Margarita “Showdown” – Bud Light Lime-A-Rita vs. Parrot Bay Margarita with Coconut Water


I’m a firm believer that a cocktail should decidedly not come out of a can, but even I can accept that in desperate circumstances — venues where hard alcohol or glass isn’t allowed, namely — drinkers are forced into solutions that are less than ideal.

Such is the case with the margarita, which has seen a massive uptick in ready-to-drink renditions in recent years. Today, these concoctions (which are technically “malt beverages,” not tequila-based drinks) are now waging a quality war. Which of these is best? Or rather, which is least bad? Parrot Bay recently attempted to sway us by putting on its own Pepsi Challenge, sending us a blind-tasting kit consisting of Parrot Bay Margarita with Coconut Water and Bud Light’s Lime-A-Rita. Complete with little plastic margarita glasses, salt, and a lime… which one would we say was best? There is no irony in the name emblazoned on this kit: The Ultimate Margarita Challenge.

Well, I took the challenge and am pleased to report that Parrot Bay’s Margarita with Coconut Water is a considerably better product. How much better? Read on. (These were tasted and reviewed blind but considering one has coconut water in it and one does not, telling them apart wasn’t exactly difficult.)

Bud Light Lime-A-Rita – Put a little tequila flavoring in a Sprite and you’ve nailed this fizzy, lemon-limey concoction. Saccharine finish. Better with salt. 8% abv. D / $11 per 12-pack of 8 oz. cans

Parrot Bay Margarita with Coconut Water – Put a little lime flavor in some coconut water and you’ve nailed this less fizzy, pina colada-like concoction. A bit less sweet, with heavily tropical overtones. 5.8% abv. C- / $11 per 12-pack of 8 oz. cans

As you can see, Parrot Bay is the clear winner!

Review: Piehole Flavored Whiskeys


Piehole is arguably the most maligned name in spirits today. Named in honor of a common insult, designed with labels that feature buxom farmer’s daughters, and a member of what is probably the most reviled category of spirits on the market — flavored whiskey — that’s three strikes before the bottle’s even open.

Piehole is Canadian whisky, flavored with one of three “pie flavored liqueurs.” No one’s trying to pass off artisan biodynamic infusions here, this is classic whisky-‘n’-chemicals, just like mom used to make. (Presuming mom worked down at the local food science lab.)

Well, without further ado, let’s have a taste of these three Pieholes, shall we?

All are 70 proof.

Piehole Apple Pie Flavored Whiskey – Lots of sweetness evident on the nose, though the apple notes don’t quite come through until the body takes hold. They nailed the crust flavor here — slightly well-done — but that combined with the heavy sweetness directs the finish toward a more generalized, super-gooey-sweet character that’s hard to peg as any specific fruit. The cinnamon flavors help establish it as apple pie more than anything else. Drinkable. B-

Piehole Cherry Pie Flavored Whiskey – This one’s quite medicinal on the nose, a common hazard among cherry-flavored spirits. Here things go off the rails, with an intense cough syrup character that simply doesn’t let up. It’s arguably not distinctly cherries and it’s definitely not pie, adhering closer to the melted Jolly Rancher motif one tends to find in this spirits category. The finish veers wildly into astringent elements that linger uninvited for quite awhile. D+

Piehole Pecan Pie Flavored Whiskey – Very sweet again up front, offering a fairly authentic glazed and heavily sugared pecan character on the nose. The aroma is almost like a praline, really, and that carries over to the body, though again, as with the apple pie expression, an almost burnt cookie character threatens to unravel things. While the nutty elements are fun enough (and conceivably cocktail-worthy in modest dosage), there’s so much sugar here that it’s tough to get through more than a few small sips of the stuff; a full shot would probably kill you. Not from the alcohol, but from the diabetes. C

each $15 /