Review: Old Forester Mint Julep

old fo mint julep

No, there’s no substitute for the real thing, but one often finds the afternoon hot and the mint absent, so what’s a julep lover to do?

Old Forester has been bottling pre-made, ready-to-drink mint juleps for years, and should this summer find you wanting, it’s a fine way to get your minted bourbon on in a pinch.

This concoction — essentially Old Forester, mint flavoring, sugar syrup of some form, caramel color, and some water to knock it down in proof a bit — makes for an easy way to enjoy a horse race. The key ingredients are present: The mint reasonably authentic, particularly on the body vs. the nose. The bourbon has a distinctly peachy spin to it, really boosting up the fruitiness. That works fairly well with the mint, giving the beverage an almost tropicality to it. The finish is sweet but short of overbearing, which is pretty much how you want the julep to fade out.

Again, a quality julep with fresh mint will put this concoction to shame — but I’ve made worse mint juleps than what comes out of this bottle myself.

60 proof.

A- / $24 (1 liter) / oldforester.com

Review: 2012 Butternut Chardonnay California

BNA_Butternut_2012_Chard_Bottle_8x10_150_dpiIt’s called Butternut for a reason. This Chardonnay from Napa-based winemaker Tony Leonardini is a classic expression of the wine, a bold and brash and butter-laden experience that starts with vanilla and nougat and ends with oak and applesauce. It’s sugar and spice and, well, maybe not everything nice, but if you like your chardonnays to blow the doors off with unctuous, sticky sweetness, this one’s for you.

B- / $13 / bnawinegroup.com

Review: 2012 Las Rocas de San Alejandro Garnacha Calatayud

Las Rocas 2012 Calatayud Garnacha 750mlSpain’s Calatayud region is where this delightful, high-altitude Garnacha from Las Rocas is born, yet it comes to the U.S. at a remarkable price. This is a surprisingly gentle wine, mild in body but loaded with flavor. Gentle red plum and currant notes plus a bit of slightly sour cherry character attack the body, which is backed with some cinnamon and cloves. The finish is lightly touched with sweetness, but not overdone. Very easygoing, it works well as an aperitif but it also excels with food — even spicier items.

B+ / $10 / lasrocaswine.com

Review: Meletti 1870 Bitter Aperitivo

That meletti_1870_hi1bright red color and an Italian name can only mean one thing: Campari, right?

Wrong! Introducing Meletti 1870, a bit of a Campari lookalike that’s designed to be used in Negronis and Americanos and other strong/bittersweet cocktails.

Of course, you can sip it straight as an aperitivo, too, and in this fashion you will find this concoction of sweet and bitter orange plus infused herbs and spices (including gentian, coriander, cinnamon, and clove) quite a little delight. The nose is syrupy and brisk with orange notes along with maraschino cherry character. Lots of baking spice emerges on the palate, with a mild bitterness to add balance.

It may look a lot like Campari, but it’s quite a different spirit. Campari is punctuated by mammoth bitter notes that start on the nose and carry through to the lengthy, heavily bitter finish. In Meletti 1870, the bitterness comes across almost as an afterthought, making for a much different experience on the whole. Melitti is focused on fruit and spice. Campari lives to sear your throat and give you that unbending grimace — in a good way, though.

Either way, try it as an alternative in a cocktail to Campari — or, better yet, instead of .

50 proof.

B+ / $26 / opiciwines.com

Review: St. Augustine Distillery New World Gin

st augustineA gin distilled from 100% Florida cane sugar? Flavored with just five botanicals — juniper, coriander, angelica, orange peel, and cassia bark — St. Augustine’s “New World Gin” is specifically designed to be citrus focused, in keeping with its Floridian heritage.

On the nose, the citrus isn’t as strong as you’d think — angelica and coriander notes, both earthier elements — make a very strong showing here, with some light pine needle notes picking up the rear. On the palate, don’t worry: Despite the cane base, it isn’t sweet. It’s a surprisingly dry gin, and the juniper is quite strong, balanced out with a slight squeeze of orange juice and a light hint of cinnamon on the back end. (This is particularly evident as the gin opens up with some air — or water, as it’s high-proof stuff.)

This is not at all a bad gin, and it grew on me over time. The balance is quite good, particularly when approaching it as a cocktail ingredient. That said, I think St. Augustine would do well to push the citrus agenda even further — a lot further — than it currently does, and really strike out into a territory that only Florida can call its own. And no, not gator flavor.

94 proof.

B+ / $33 / staugustinedistillery.com

Review: 4 Albarinos from Rias Baixas, 2013 Vintage

Pazo SeñoránsFour new albarinos from the Rias Baixas region of Spain, each showcasing that classic acid-meets-the-tropics character… but each with a unique little spin on the theme. Thoughts follow.

2013 Paco & Lola Abarino Rias Baixas – A perfectly serviceable albarino, creamy with notes of peaches and tropical fruits, and a caramel-dusted finish. A juicy party wine, with a nice balance of fruit and acid, but not entirely nuanced. B+ / $17

2013 Albarino de Fefinanes Rias Baixas – Very dry, with notes of white peach and restrained tropical character, with lots of acidity on the back end. The dryness demands food rather than a beach chair, but the mineral notes are intriguing in their own right. B+ / $26

2013 Namorio Albarino Rias Baixas – Initially quite dry, with some peachy notes. As it opens up, it reveals a nice balance between mineral notes and a growing tropical character that hits fairly hard on the finish. As the bargain bottling in this lineup, it’s worth a strong look as your new everyday white. A- / $15

2013 Pazo Senorans Albarino Rias Baixas – A slight herbal edge sets this apart on the nose immediately, with notes of sweet peaches, apricot, and lemon bubbling up on the palate. A tart, acidic body that oozes with touches of light marshmallow cream seals it as the winner in this lineup. A / $25

Review: Balls Vodka

ballsWell, at least Balls vodka isn’t trying to take the vodka category too seriously. There’s no story of frost-kissed grapes, diamond-filtration, or crystal decanters to contend with. This is bulk vodka with a pinup model on the label, and, in case you missed it, it’s called BALLS, which appears in great big letters. Even my sample bottle was no little mini but a full 1.75-liter handle of the stuff. How am I going to fit all this Balls in my mouth?

OK, enough of that. Let’s taste this vodka, which is made from non-GMO corn and is 4x distilled, per the label.

The nose is moderately intense: Medicinal, but shy of coming across as industrial, with a touch of sweetness underneath it. The palate is a bit on the sweeter side, offering some marshmallow and vanilla notes on a moderately creamy body. The finish fades quickly, leaving a strong note of vanilla ice cream on the back of the palate. The touch of sweetness isn’t overdone though, and it doesn’t detract from what is an otherwise straightforward, workable spirit that should work just fine as a mixer in sweeter cocktails.

80 proof.

B+ / $20 (1 liter) / ballsvodka.com

Review: Skyy Infusions Texas Grapefruit

SKYY Infusions Texas GrapefruitSkyy turns to the south for this latest flavored vodka: Texas Grapefruit.

It’s very brisk on the nose with fresh grapefruit notes. It’s not overly candied or sweet, but appropriately tart. That carries through to the palate, a modestly sweet vodka that balances its sugar with dauthentic grapefruit notes, appropriately sour and tangy with a touch of lemon-orange character. The finish is lasting and somewhat sugary, but it’s far from overwhelming.

On the whole: Uncomplicated. Which is probably the best praise you can give a flavored vodka, no?

70 proof.

B+ / $15 / skyy.com

Review: Anaba 2013 Turbine White and 2012 Turbine Red

Anaba_Sonoma_TurbineWhite_2013You’ll find Anaba in southern Sonoma, where it focuses on Rhone-style wines along with chardonnay and pinot noir. Today we look at two of the Rhoneish releases, both bottled under the “Turbine” moniker.

2013 Anaba Turbine White Sonoma Valley – 42% roussanne, 20% grenache blanc, 20% picpoul blanc, 18% marsanne. Slightly tropical, with lots of oak influence. The fruit is dialed back here, and quite a bit too far. The body feels considerably overoaked, which pushes the peachy/apricot-leaning notes into somewhat vegetal territory. The finish is lightly astringent and underwhelming. B- / $28

2012 Anaba Turbine Red Sonoma Valley – 43% grenache, 41% mourvedre, 16% syrah. Extremely dense, with a nose of roasted meats and tree bark. The body is a touch bitter, with just a hint of fruit to work with at first. Touches of licorice and bacon are fine, but there isn’t much for them to grab on to. Time helps things open up, revealing some sour cherry and blackberry notes, but I was hoping for more from the get-go. Quite food-friendly, however. B / $28

anabawines.com

Review: Captain Morgan Grapefruit, Pineapple, and Coconut Rum

captain morgan flavors

Is the world crying out for more flavored rum? Captain Morgan thinks so, and as such it’s released a trio of new tiki-friendly rums, each naturally flavored and beyond-intensely sugared.

All three are bottled at 70 proof. Thoughts on each follow.

Captain Morgan Grapefruit Rum – Strong grapefruit notes on the nose, with a slight medicinal character underneath. The body is very sweet, with strong caramel overtones. This tends to wash out the natural tartness of the grapefruit and imbues it with heavy candylike notes. As the sweetness fades on the lengthy finish, there’s a vegetal echo, offering some incongruous notes of rosemary and sage. C-

Captain Morgan Pineapple Rum – Pineapple candy (or at least canned pineapple) gets the nose going, but the body is (unsurprisingly) all sugar. Imagine steeping pineapple slices in molten sugar, then bottling it with a touch of water and you’re not far from what Captain Morgan has come up with here. It’s lacking that veggie funk that the Grapefruit expression has, but it’s still far from anything identifiable as rum. C

Captain Morgan Coconut Rum – After all of that, I was scared to death to crack into this one for fear of being immediately put into a diabetic coma. I shouldn’t have fretted so much. While Captain Morgan Coconut is as sweet and saccharine as you’d expect, it’s restrained in comparison to the two fruit-flavored spirits that come before. This doesn’t straw too far from the Malibu formula, though it’s less tropical than that old coconut standby. The finish is surprisingly clean for a coconut vodka, and the caramel notes present in all of these rums actually complements the coconut flavor in a way that it fails to do in the other rums. Definitely the best of the lot. B

each $16 / captainmorgan.com