Review: Wines of Portugal’s Alentejo Region

Alente WhiteThe Portuguese don’t sit around sipping Vintage Port all day. For everyday drinking, they turn to some simple and very affordable wines. Increasingly, these wines have been coming to the U.S., letting us discover new grapes, like Antao Vaz, and new regions, like Alentejo, where these three wines hail from.

Alentejo covers most of the southern half of the country and encompasses a wide range of varietals and styles. Thoughts follow.

2010 Alente Vinho Branco Antao Vaz/Arinto DOC Alentejo – A white blend of Antao Vaz (60%) and Arinto (40%) grapes, the former being the most commonly grown white grape in the Alentejo region. Lots of herbal notes on the front of this wine, with a big body featuring restrained apple notes coming along behind. The finish is mildly bitter and lasting. Altogether it’s an interesting change from the usual fare, but an overall sense of balance just isn’t here. B- / $12

2009 Mariana Alentejo - A blend of 40% Aragonez, 30% Alicante Bouschet, 20% Trincadeira, and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. Rocky. Intensely herbal and funky earth on the nose. Not nearly that powerful on the body, which is super tart and almost jammy on the back end, though that creeping, decaying herb character comes along after a short while. Not a winner. D / $14

2009 Vinha do Mouro Tinto Estremoz Alentejo – A marginal improvement. Big barnyard notes, with a raisiny core. Some coffee notes, particularly on the finish. Ends up somewhat bittersweet. C- / $15

Review: Shock Top Campfire Wheat Experimental Beer

There’s no picture to this review because this beer is not for sale. You can try it — available on tap only — in extremely limited quantities at beer festivals around the country this year. Want to find this stuff? Try the San Francisco International Beer Festival on April 27, or the American Beer Classic in Chicago on May 11, 2013. Check Shock Top’s Facebook page for more info — and information on two more festival-only exclusive beers coming out later this year.

Campfire Wheat is perhaps the most outrageous beer I’ve ever encountered. An unfiltered ale, it is brewed with graham wheat, chocolate malts, and marshmallow flavor. It is then aged over cocoa nibs before being sealed into kegs. What’s this all mean? Well, if the ingredient list doesn’t tip you off, think harder: It’s s’mores. S’mores beer. S’mores, turned into a beer.

Continue reading

Review: Mangria

MangriaWe’ve covered celebrity wine. Celebrity vodka. Celebrity Cognac. Even celebrity tequila.

This is definitively the first and likely the only celebrity sangria that we’ll ever see.

Mangria comes to us courtesy of sangria-lover Adam Carolla, who’s apparently still working the “man” angle on just about everything. Like Mansinthe, it’s a horrible name for a product, but it’s so insane it just might work.

Continue reading

Review: NV Pink Panda and 2007 Naked Rebel Red Wine

Targeting a clearly younger, more modern, and cost-conscious drinker, Naked Rebel is a new brand that’s offering two wines at launch. One is quite good. Thoughts on both follow.

Pink PandaNV Pink Panda – “Sparkling grape wine with natural flavors.” Say what? There’s really no telling whats in this ultra-fruity concoction — it is reportedly a demi-sec rose of Alexander Valley Pinot — considering how full of strawberry and heavy rose-petal-perfume notes it is. In the quest to come across as playful, those “natural flavors” (a term typically reserved for wines heavily spiked with fruit juice) basically just come across as brutish and juvenile. Not really drinkable beyond a few sips. D / $18

naked rebel wine2007 Naked Rebel California Red Wine – Don’t try to sift through the white-on-black-all-caps on the back of the bottle. This blend of Syrah and Oakville Cabernet is fairly delish without the verbiage. Touches of smoke on the nose lead to a plummy, Cab-heavy body that is heavy on the fruit. Now six years old, its tannins have faded enough to make things well integrated and reasonably balanced, though the relatively light body has trouble offering up much in the way of secondary notes. B+ / $20

nakedrebelwinery.com

Mainstream Brewery Spotlight: Anheuser-Busch’s Budweiser Line Reviewed

Discriminating drinkers aren’t immune from the mainstream, and ultra-micro-craft brews aren’t always available when you’re looking for a six pack at your local convenience store. What then about the biggest beer of them all? Today we look at the complete lineup of Budweiser beers, which now includes six different bottlings. Thoughts follow.

As the oldest beer within Anheuser-Busch’s portfolio, Budweiser defines the very meaning of a “brand.” Not only has the Budweiser name produced off-shoots of varying flavors and target demographics, but the beer’s popularity extends beyond what is contained within the bottle. With the iconic Clydesdale mascots and extensive marketing program, even consumers who don’t necessarily like beer are drawn into the fold.

BudweiserJust like its commercials, Budweiser lager is a classic. Anheuser-Busch brews Budweiser and its various siblings with rice, and the impact is readily apparent. The aroma and taste take on a neutral characteristic because of it, but it leans towards sweet as a result of the rest of the malt bill. In contrast to some of the lighter Bud offerings, this original Budweiser exhibits a noticeable graininess in the form of buttery cereal grains that add flavor. While not the focus by any stretch, hop influences creep in the nose and flavor by contributing a light fruitiness and earthy spice. C- / $6.99 per six-pack

Bud Light Platinum Continue reading

Review: Harvest Spirits Core Vodkas, Liqueurs, and Brandies

harvest spirits farm distilleryHarvest Spirits Farm Distillery, in Valatie, New York, focuses like so many other operations in this region on using local fruits to produce artisinal, farm-to-bottle spirits. The lineup below represents a full farmers’ market of goodies. Thoughts on the bulk of Harvest Spirits’ production follow.

Harvest Spirits Core Vodka – Another vodka distilled from New York apples, these grown in the company’s own orchards and triple distilled (leaving only the “core” of the spirit… get it?). Clean on the nose, with a caramel note. Slightly sweet, somewhat nutty on the body, with a surprisingly grain-focused finish. Apple character is evident on the nose, but only in passing, as the spirit opens up in glass. Intriguing and unique. 80 proof. B+ / $34

Harvest Spirits Rare Pear Brandy – Double distilled from Hudson Valley pears and aged for two years in American oak. Wood and pear — always a tricky combination — don’t come together well on the nose, here. It’s got a huge medicinal quality to it, vaguely fruity but knocked around by astringency and pungency, redolent of mothballs. The body is less palatable, more of that mothball character with a hint of pear on the finish. Just not drinkable. 80 proof. D- / $35 (375ml)

Harvest Spirits Cornelius Applejack – Named after a veteran cider presser from the company farm, this apple brandy is rested in oak barrels for an unstated length of time before bottling. On the nose: Apples? Sure, but less present than you think: This is surprisingly far more whiskey-like than any applejack I’ve had. The body backs that up, with clear vanilla notes, wood, and a smooth cocoa finish. In a world where you’d probably never dream of drinking rustic applejack unless it was the last bottle left on the back bar, Cornelius challenges what this spirit can be and proves it belongs on the top shelf. 80 proof. A- / $50  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Harvest Spirits Core Black Raspberry Vodka – A flavored vodka, distilled from apples and black raspberries (both local), with a small amount of black raspberry juice added back in afterward, giving it an impossible (yet natural) pink color. Incredibly fruity nose, a perfect complement to that incredible hue. Unlike the unflavored vodka, it has distinct apple notes underneath that big berry character. The body is immensely sweet (though there’s no added sugar), loaded with that raspberry — almost blackberry — character. Toss in some triple sec and you have an instant Cosmo, sans cranberry juice. 80 proof. B+ / $NA

Harvest Spirits Peach Jack – Not what you think. Fresh peaches are pitted and soaked in Cornelius Applejack, then the mix is strained and aged a second time in oak barrels. There’s a lot going on here, maybe too much. The peach is overwhelming in an old school peach brandy sort of way, and combined with the apples it all gets a bit cloying on the palate. The finish feels authentic, but rough to sip on even at a relatively modest 60 proof. I can see how some folks would be fans, though. C+ / $33

harvestspirits.com [BUY THEM NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Black Velvet Toasted Caramel Canadian Whisky

Black Velvet Toasted CaramelA funny thing happens when I try to type “Canadian.” I always mistype “Candian” instead. Never has that been a more apropos typo than with Black Velvet’s Toasted Caramel Whisky.

Flavored with a hefty dose of “natural toasted caramel flavor,” this sugar bomb is so dense with sugar it’s actually difficult to swallow it. The nose cues you in for what you’re about to get hit with, but the mouthfeel is something else. It’s so sugary I swear you can feel the grains of sugar grinding around in your mouth. The “toasted caramel” (which means what, exactly?) is something akin to burned Bananas Foster, and there’s a touch of a woody finish on the end that reminds you that this is indeed whisky and not caramel-flavored vodka.

Sweet tooths only need apply.

70 proof.

D+ / $11 / blackvelvetwhisky.com

Experiment: Ice vs. Whiskey Stones vs. Tilt Chilling Sphere

ice stones and spheres oh myThe drinking industry’s war on ice is in full force. Fearful that ice will water down their precious booze, entrepreneurs are suggesting alternative chilling systems to bring the temperature of their hooch down.

But do they work? Ice is effective at chilling a drink because it melts, releasing near-frozen water into your dram. Can alternative technologies do the job, too? There are whiskey stones (soapstone cubes), or the new Tilt Chilling Sphere, a metal spheroid that you fish out of your drink with an included hook, which doubles as a cocktail pick. How effective can these non-melting chilling systems be?

We did the science, folks!

Continue reading

Review: Wemyss Single Cask Single Malts, 2012 Releases

Wemyss (“weems”) Malts, based in Edinburgh, has become well known for its blended malt whiskys in a small number of years (it was founded in 2005). But Wemyss also releases a periodic series of single malt whiskys, all bottled from single casks, following a number of prior, limited-edition releases along these lines and in keeping with the fancifully-named whiskys of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society.

For 2012 Wemyss is putting out four new single malt single cask whiskys. Each of these is essentially a privately bottled whisky from another distillery (see details below). One important distinction: Each is bottled not at cask strength but at 92 proof. All were bottled in August 2011.

Wemyss Single Malt “A Day at the Coast” 14 Years Old – A Highland 14 year old hogshead from Clynelish Distillery. Tastes younger than you’d think, with lots of grain character left behind. Brisk orange and sherry notes, with a bit of a burnt caramel, seaweed, and bittersweet chocolate finish. Dusty, chewy, and salty all at once. 354 bottles made. B+ / $110

Wemyss Single Malt “A Matter of Smoke” 15 Years Old – An Islay 15 year old hogshead from Caol Ila Distillery. At least this one is fairly straightforward. Lots of smoky peat, but not overwhelming, with plenty of sweetness to back it up. There’s more of a biting medicinal character than I might like, an antiseptic feeling that lingers on the finish. That’s common with Islay, of course, but there’s also a tanginess here that is at once enjoyable and a bit disarming. 337 bottles made. B / $135

Wemyss Single Malt “Winter Larder” 20 Years Old – A Speyside 20 year old butt from Glen Elgin Distillery. Deep mahogany — distinctly different than the others in this series. Noses of cocoa powder and barbecued meat, the latter of which grows stronger as you take a sip. Notes of licorice, and a distinct, tarry petrol character come along later. More tannin, like “The Dunes” (see below). Tough to love. 654 bottles made. C / $130

Wemyss Single Malt “The Dunes” 29 Years Old – A Highland 29 year old hogshead from Inchgower Distillery. Surprisingly light in color for a whisky this old. Very sawdusty and sandy (perhaps that’s where “the dunes” comes from), the whisky starts off light but quickly turns toward meatier tones, like bacon fat and salted pork. The finish is tough and tannic. Not a fan. 202 bottles made. D+ / $185

wemyssmalts.com

BUY THEM HERE!

wemyss 2012 single malts