Tag Archives: drinkwire

Tasting Chopin Vodka: Potato vs. Rye vs. Wheat

chopinkit 525x930 Tasting Chopin Vodka: Potato vs. Rye vs. Wheat

Curious how the base carbohydrate impacts the way a straight vodka tastes? Well, Poland-based Chopin is here to illustrate. It’s one of the few companies that make a multitude of straight vodkas from different base products. In fact, it now makes three: one from potato, one from rye, and one from wheat.

While I’ve tasted (and reviewed) both the potato and rye versions before, this is the first time I’ve sampled all three side by side (and the first time I’ve had any of them in many years). I sampled the trio blind, so as not to be tainted by preconceived notions, with thoughts below. But never mind my thoughts — this is a great little experiment to try for yourself at your favorite watering hole.

Each is 80 proof.

Chopin Potato Vodka – Similar nose to #1, with just a hint more power. On the body, it offers a punchier mouthfeel with a more savory character, and a somewhat earthy, mushroomy component on the finish. Still on the light side, but with more heft. The most “old world” vodka in the lineup. My favorite here, by a slight margin (and a significant departure from my opinion of it back in 2008). A-

Chopin Rye Vodka – Clean, slightly sweet nose, with a breezy, almost tropical nuance. Very clean, light body, with a slight astringency on the finish. Flavor profile includes very mild tropical character, and a kind of doughy finish. Easily the lightest spirit, in both body and character, in this lineup. B+

Chopin Wheat Vodka – Sharper nose, with more of a lemon curd character to it. The body hints at orange juice, adds more sweetness in the form of a nougat, almost chocolate character. Stylistically it’s the most “modern” of the bunch, with the cleanest finish. B+

each about $28 / chopinvodka.com

Review: Nelson’s Green Brier Belle Meade Bourbon

belle meade bourbon 200x300 Review: Nelsons Green Brier Belle Meade BourbonA craft distillery is reborn in Nashville, Tennessee… and they’re putting “the B word” on the label!

Belle Meade is, as the story goes, a relaunch of a pre-Prohibition bourbon brand that was owned by one Charles Nelson. Today, two of his great-great-great grandsons are bringing the brand back, with the goal of producing small batch whiskey that approximates their ancestor’s recipe.

That’s the idea, anyway. At present, this is high-rye, slightly overproof bourbon (no age statement) sourced from Indiana’s MGP, in advance of the Nelsons finishing up their own on-site distillery, hopefully sometime this year. Instead, Belle Meade is something of a first volley to get investors’ — and drinkers’ — palates wet.

As for the juice, it’s got a quite mild nose, offering notes of applesauce, cinnamon, and grapefruit skins alongside straightforward wood barrel character. On the palate, the body is moderate with that rye giving off a lot of baking spice, mint chocolate, and cedar wood planks. On the whole it’s pleasant and balanced but a little on the thin side, coming up just a little short in the power department.

90.4 proof.

B+ / $39 / greenbrierdistillery.com

Review: Deschutes Brewery The Abyss Aged Stout 2013 Edition

deschutes the Abyss 2013 Label 525x460 Review: Deschutes Brewery The Abyss Aged Stout 2013 Edition

It’s been three years since we tucked into a bottle of Bend, Oregon-based Deschutes Brewery’s rare barrel-aged concoction. Time again then for a fresh look at this bold annual release, The Abyss, now in its 8th installment.

Sadly, I’m still two months before the 8/16/14 “drink after” date on this beer… but by that point, this will all be off the market, and you won’t be able to buy it.

This Imperial stout is brewed with black strap molasses, licorice, cherry bark and vanilla. 6% of the beer is aged in oak ex-bourbon barrels, 11% in oak ex-pinot noir barrels, and another 11% in new oak barrels. It all comes together in glorious fashion; I think this is one of the best Abyss bottlings I’ve tried to date.

On the nose, the coffee-brown brew offers beautiful licorice notes up front, with aromas of coffee bean and cocoa powder backing it up. The body is intense with dark coffee character, ultra-bitter chocolate, and a panoply of mild vegetal notes that include green bean and that olive character that’s a classic part of The Abyss’s finish. The denouement is like sipping on the last of a truly great espresso.

Great stuff, hard to put down.

11% abv. 70 IBUs.

2013 Edition: A / $12 per 22-oz. bottle / deschutesbrewery.com

Review: El Jimador Tequila Blanco

el Jimador Blanco 89x300 Review: El Jimador Tequila BlancoLooking to boost its presence off the lower tier of tequilas (albeit the still-100% agave ones), venerable El Jimador, the #1 selling 100% agave tequila in Mexico, is revamping its image with a new bottle design. The new look is sleeker and considerably more upscale… but what of the tequila within?

2014-era El Jimador (we tasted only the blanco) is a Lowlands spirit, unaged and named in honor of the jimador, a Mexican agave harvester. There’s modest pepper on the nose, with red chiles, lemon, coconut, and roasted meats. The body is a little all over the place, with notes of chile oil, grilled pineapple, more lemon, and a sultry agave/herbal character on the finish. There’s quite a bit of that funky meat character on the finish, but it’s not overwhelming or pungent.

All told, El Jimador is pleasant enough for journeyman cocktail duty, but the spirit lacks finesse, and the body is decidedly on the thin side. That said, it is fortunate to be lacking the back-of-throat burn so common in cheaper tequilas. So that’s nice.

80 proof.

B- / $22 / eljimador.com

Review: Sinfire Cinnamon Whisky

SinFire  New Bottle 122x300 Review: Sinfire Cinnamon WhiskyOregon-based Hood River Distillers has recently rebranded Sinfire, a cinnamon whisky (no “e” on this one) that was launched only two years ago in February 2012. The highlight of the relaunch: “Best served as a 32-degree shot, Sinfire now features a thermochromic temperature-triggered color-changing label to help consumers know exactly when it reaches optimum temperature. The label also incorporates photochromic ink, which brightens the logo when exposed to UV lights.”

Well, then!

We’ve never sampled Sinfire (tagline: “an evil spirit”), so what better time than the present to give it a go?

Cinnamon-flavored whiskey doesn’t typically involve a ton of nuance, and Sinfire is pretty straightforward from the start. The nose is quite mild, more cinnamon toast than cinnamon straight from the jar. On the palate, it’s remarkably easygoing, with one of the lowest overall levels of spice I’ve encountered in this type of spirit. Oddly, it’s not as overwhelmingly sweet as you might expect but rather uses its buttery, creamy body to smooth out the roughness that’s typical of cinnamon whiskeys. The sweetness hits you mid-palate, more of a brown sugar, and the cinnamon pops up most presently on the moderately racy endgame.

Surprisingly well-made, Sinfire proves that you don’t have to blast out your customers’ sinuses with spices in order to craft a rich and soothing spirit. Hardly evil.

70 proof.

A- / $18 / hrdspirits.com

Review: UV Sriracha Vodka

UV Sriracha Bottle 294x1200 Review: UV Sriracha VodkaAs we reported in December, the world of flavored vodka has delved into the full-on lunatic, with the launch of UV’s Sriracha-flavored vodka.

Officially notated as a “chili pepper flavored vodka” made with all-natural flavors, the spirit really looks the part, bottled in imitation of the iconic condiment, packaged in a red bottle with a green stopper. (That said, unlike actual sriracha, the vodka itself is clear. The bottle is what’s tinted red here.) Now, chili-flavored vodkas aren’t a new thing… but sriracha? Let’s see whether UV has managed to recreate a boozy version of the real deal.

The nose is surprisingly engaging — lightly spicy, with notes of tomato juice, olives, pickles, and — oddly — fresh lettuce. On the palate, sweetness arrives (much like in actual sriracha) to balance an initial rush of heat. The body retains a lot of that Bloody Mary character you get on the nose with peppery tomato juice up front, but the sweetness here is a little distracting, coming off as artificial, failing to integrate well with the hot side of things. That said, I think actual sriracha has a bit of the same problem, too.

Overall, UV Sriracha doesn’t exactly aim for the stars, and the vodka is a qualified success. I can’t say I’ve ever encountered quite this collection of flavors in a single product. It may not exactly be sriracha with a boozy base, but it’s probably as close as it comes if you’re one of the legions of fanatics who love the stuff. And since it’s not much more expensive than a real bottle of sriracha, anyway, it’s arguably worth the investment for novelty value alone.

60 proof.

B / $12 / uvvodka.com

Review: 1.0.1 Vodka

1.0.1 vodka 300x300 Review: 1.0.1 VodkaMade in California and pronounced “One-O-One,” this new vodka is distilled from corn (to keep the spirit gluten-free) and filtered five times before bottling.

Billed as affordable alternative to $30-plus ultra-premium vodkas, 1.0.1 fits right in with its oversized, frosted bottle.

The spirit itself, however, is considerably different than most of those big brands. Here, big notes of marshmallow and chocolate-covered caramels waft out just from opening the bottle. Rich and dessert-like on the nose, I also get the slightest hint of quince or Asian pear in the nostrils too. The body is a rich dessert from the start. More marshmallow, more caramel, and a long, sweet finish with a slight smokiness on the back end. The end result is not at all unpleasant, but it lacks the punch and zip of more traditional vodkas, as 1.0.1.’s traditional medicinal character has been seemingly filtered away.

80 proof.

B / $20 / 101vodka.com

Review: Frangelico Liqueur

frangelico 199x300 Review: Frangelico LiqueurConsider the hazelnut.

Best known as a secondary ingredient in a popular chocolate-flavored spread, it’s also long been the only way to get hazelnuts into a cocktail (though newer options have recently availed themselves).

Frangelico is a classic spirit that reportedly dates back more than 300 years to a bunch of Italian monks who made the stuff — hence the distinctly monk-shaped bottle. The liqueur is indeed made from roasted hazelnuts, steeped in alcohol, distilled, then flavored with cocoa and vanilla (among other proprietary flavorings) before being sweetened with sugar. Caramel color is added.

Surprisingly light in color, the toasty character of freshly roasted hazelnut really comes through here. It’s particularly hefty on the nose, a bit dusty and smoky, like fresh-baked pecan sandies. As you sip through the liqueur, the hazelnut evolves into more of a peanut butter character, with the vanilla element growing and becoming distinctive on the finish.

Frangelico is easy to like but difficult to truly love, a relatively simple spirit that works fine in a handful of cocktails and thrives with coffee. For the record, the distiller’s serving suggestion: On the rocks, with a squeeze of lime. Curious.

40 proof.

B+ / $24 / frangelico.com

Review: Barrow’s Intense Ginger Liqueur

barrows intense ginger 74x300 Review: Barrows Intense Ginger LiqueurIt should be noted at the start that “INTENSE” is by far the largest text on the label of this liqueur, but that’s to be expected from any ginger-flavored spirit. It simply comes with the territory.

Ginger liqueurs are a small category, for obvious reasons. The number of cocktails you can use it in is limited, and ginger beer does the trick in most cases. My bottle of Domaine de Canton — the most venerable product in this category — has been half-empty for years.

But Barrow’s, an artisanal product made in Brooklyn, NY, easily gives it a run for its money. This cloudy, intriguing liqueur (Canton is transparent) really does live up to its name. The nose is pungent without being overwhelming, offering legit ginger character plus a smattering of lemon and grapefruit notes. There’s more of the same on the body, which starts off with moderate sweetness — brown sugar melted into ginger ale — then jumps off a cliff into that classic, fresh-grated-ginger bite. The finish is spicy hot yet oddly refreshing, a spirit that’s both rustic and authentic. (The swing top bottle stopper completes the effect.)

Do I still like Canton? Absolutely, but it’s more perfumed, offering jasmine, incense, and vanilla notes up front, with all the ginger in the back. Barrow’s is a bolder and less distracted rendition of the spirit with, yes, a bit more intensity.

44 proof.

A / $31 / barrowsintense.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Ketel One Vodka (2014)

ketel one 2014 bottle 353x1200 Review: Ketel One Vodka (2014)

The Netherlands-distilled Ketel One was one of the brands that drove vodka’s rise to super-premium status, and it’s been 6 years since we took a look at this iconic, venerable brand.

Recipes and production methods change, over time. So how has Ketel One fared in the last half-decade as its found itself attacked by competitors? We took a fresh look at a recent-vintage bottle.

I tasted Ketel One before reading my prior review. The vodka is cleaner than I remember, with distinct lemon notes on the nose backing up some hefty hospital character. The body is crisp and sharp with classic medicinal character, and also mildly lemony with a slight backbone of vanilla. Lovely balance on the whole, making it easy to enjoy straight or in any number of cocktails. A clear go-to that deserves its spot on the back bar.

I didn’t catch the menthol notes this time around, but more importantly that ashy charcoal character was wholly lacking in this 2014 bottle. All in all, Ketel One remains a top choice for a high-end vodka, and in fact may even be getting better.

A / $20 / ketelone.com

Review: Barenjager Honey & Tea and Honey & Pear Liqueurs

Barenjager pear and tea 525x638 Review: Barenjager Honey & Tea and Honey & Pear Liqueurs

Barenjager, Germany’s classic, beehive-stoppered honey liqueur, got its first line extension, Honey & Bourbon, two years ago. Now it’s launched two more extensions, as honey spirits continue their ascent in the marketplace. Here’s a dive into these new additions, all naturally-flavored, to the Barenjager hive. Both are 70 proof.

Barenjager Honey & Tea Liqueur – The nose is initially overwhelming, like walking into a Persian rug shop — all incense and wet wool. The honey character here is intense, deeply earthy, and moist, taking on clear influence from the tea component. But here, that tea comes across not as sweet, brewed tea but something completely different. It starts with overwhelming notes of dried, crushed black tea leaves (none more black), then digresses into notes of forest floor, licorice, menthol cigarettes, and camphor. Barenjager makes a highly enjoyable honey liqueur, but something has been lost in the tea mash-up. C

Barenjager Honey & Pear Liqueur – It never would have struck me to add pear flavor to a honey liqueur, but what do I know? This liqueur blends Barenjager with pear brandy, and the results are quite pleasant. The sweetness of the pear spirit is a natural companion to honey — like an apple pie baked with sliced pears — and the two work well together. The honey is the strongest element here (with pear almost indiscernible on the nose), but the finish brings the pears on strong. They’re crisp and clear and definitively not apple, offering that slightly more umami version of the fruit that’s unmistakably pear. The effect isn’t huge, but it’s noticeably different. All in all, it may not add a whole lot over the standard Barenjager bottling, but it works well enough in its own regard. B+

each $29 / barenjagerhoney.com

Review: Lolailo Sangria

Lolailo bottle shot 289x300 Review: Lolailo SangriaMade by Bodegas Sanviver in Spain, this budget sangria may not be overwhelming in its complexity, but it sure does go down easy. A basic, fruity red wine gets things started — think strawberries and raspberries — and copious sugar seals the deal. The finish offers a character not unlike a highly sweetened fruit tea, with only very mild “winey” notes on the finish. If you like your sangria with the fruitiness first and the wine a mere afterthought, look no further than Lolailo.

6% abv.

B+ / $6 / biagiocru.com

Review: Samuel Adams Cold Snap

Sam Adams Cold Snap 120z BOTTLE 79x300 Review: Samuel Adams Cold SnapFor the upcoming spring season, Sam Adams has bottled this experimental brew, originally rolled out at beer fests last October. It’s an unfiltered white ale, a golden wheat blended with ten fruits, flowers, and spices, including grains of paradise, anise, hibiscus, and orange peel. Tasting notes follow.

Cold Snap pours, as expected, a cloudy gold in color. It’s surprisingly woody and a bit piney on the nose, with big cereal notes underneath. Intensely musky, these characteristics — nothing I’d call fruity — obscure any hop character at least at first. On the palate, some lemony fruitiness manages to push through the earth tones, bringing on a malty mid-palate before a kind of tree bark character takes over on the finish. Altogether this beer is a bit muddy, though mega fans of wheat beers may find it more to their liking. I tried both the canned and bottled versions and felt the bottled version was a bit fresher.

5.3% abv.

C+ / $9 per six-pack / samueladams.com

Review: Abreojos Tequila Silver

abreojos 153x300 Review: Abreojos Tequila SilverColloquially “open eyes,” this Lowlands tequila is the only 100% agave tequila you’ll find that features an enormous eye-meets-lobster drawing on the label.

Inside the frosted bottle you’ll find a standard blanco (reposado and anejo, not reviewed, are also available from Abreojos), made sans resting or aging.

The spirit’s nose is initially heavy on earth tones. These blow off with some time and aeration. What remains is a fairly racy, spicy, and nutty tequila, surprisingly agave-forward given today’s focus on generally sweeter, milder blancos. Some lemon peel notes add interest.

The body follows in kind. Agave, dried herbs, and wet earth come first, then a broad lemon and citrus character to even things out. Boldly peppery — with crushed black peppercorns and red chiles — on the finish. The overall effect is rustic and just shy of bruising, a burly tequila for those that like their blancos to wear their pinas on their sleeve.

B+ / $30 / abreojostequila.com

Review: Exclusiv XO Napoleon Brandy-Flavored Vodka

exclusiv brandy Review: Exclusiv XO Napoleon Brandy Flavored VodkaFlavored vodka gets a whole new whaaaaaa? factor with the release of Exclusiv XO Napoleon, a brownish-colored vodka that is made “with natural brandy flavor and caramel added.” This may look like brandy — and that big “XO” on the front has to earn the award for the most misleading liquor designation of all time — but rest assured it’s really a flavored vodka, colored brown.

The company offers this by way of an explanation, “This is the first vodka of its kind, which uses 5-18 year old brandies to create an authentic XO flavor. Our goal in creating this product was to give our brown spirit drinkers an affordable taste alternative.”

Sadly, Exclusiv, which makes a perfectly credible straight vodka in its Moldova home base, has created a misguided monster with XO Napoleon. It certainly looks the part, a lovely iced tea-brown in color, but from there things just get weird. The tea character carries over into the nose, which comes across like weak Lipton spiked with Sweet’N Low. That’s a close approximation of the body, too — plus a little bit of dried leaves, a bit of sweetener, and a bit of rubber. There’s literally nothing here that resembles brandy in even its most simplistic, basic rendition. If you told me this was another tea-flavored vodka (a trend which seems to be winding down), I’d believe you, but I’d tell you I’d had better. For something that’s meant to approximate a brandy — no matter what the price — this simply doesn’t work.

While Exclusiv’s idea of bringing brandy, or at least the idea of it, to the masses for $10 a bottle has some semblance of a good idea within, its execution is basically a disaster. The fundamental flaw with XO Napoleon: There are plenty of $10 brandies on the market that are actually made out of brandy and which are far more interesting than this.

70 proof.

D / $10 / exclusiv-vodka.com

Recipe: Super Bowl XLVIII Cocktails

In America, the Super Bowl isn’t just a game, it’s close to being a national holiday. This year, the Broncos and Seahawks are getting ready to battle it out in the sunny, balmy climate of East Rutherford, New Jersey. While people usually gravitate to more traditional fare for game time (hello, Pabst fans!), here are a few recipes we’ve tried out that we think might spice up your tailgate/home parties.

Allstar Recipe: Super Bowl XLVIII CocktailsThe Allstar
2 parts Milagro Anejo tequila
1 part Italian amaro
½ part allspice liqueur
1-2 dashes Aztec Chocolate Bitters
Add all ingredients in mixing glass, stir with ice until well chilled. Strain into martini glass or coupe and garnish a flamed orange peel.

LimeofScrimmage 121x150 Recipe: Super Bowl XLVIII CocktailsLime of Scrimmage
2 oz Patrón Silver tequila
2 oz fresh lime-lemon sour
1 oz cranberry sauce
1 oz cranberry juice
1/2 oz grenadine
Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a rock glass. Garnish lime slices/ dry cranberries.

EndZone 117x150 Recipe: Super Bowl XLVIII CocktailsEnd Zone Rita
2 oz Patrón silver tequila
1 oz Monin watermelon syrup
1 oz fresh sweet & sour
1 oz fresh lime juice
6 thin sliced cucumber slices
Shake all ingredients with ice, pour over fresh ice in rocks glass. Garnish with a watermelon slice.

touchdownpaloma 102x150 Recipe: Super Bowl XLVIII CocktailsTouchdown Paloma
1 1/2 oz Patrón Silver Tequila
1 oz Elderflower liqueur
3 oz pink grapefruit juice
2 oz club soda
Pour ingredients in a Collins glass filled with ice, then stir well and serve. Garnish with grapefruit.

The Bronco Bulldog
2 oz Crater Lake Hazelnut Espresso Vodka
2 oz Crater Lake Vodka
1 oz cola (note: diet works, but makes it a bit sweeter)
1 splash of half & half
Combine all ingredients over ice in a rocks glass.

dimeback 114x150 Recipe: Super Bowl XLVIII CocktailsThe Dimeback
3/4 oz Ciroc Amaretto
3/4 oz Ciroc Coconut
1 oz simple syrup
1/4 oz lime juice
Combine all ingredients over ice, garnish with slice of lime.

Review: Tanduay Asian Rum

tanduay gold rum 513x1200 Review: Tanduay Asian Rum

A new rum? Nah. Tanduay’s been being made for 160 years… in that classical bastion of the rum world: The Philippines. Yeah, who knew? (The brand lays claim that it’s “one of Asia’s best-kept secrets,” which seems to be right on the nose.) But Tanduay is very likely new to you (as it is to me), as it’s at long last making its debut on the mainland stage.

Asian or no, the Tanduay production process is fairly typical of modern rum-making. Column-distilled from local, Philippine sugar cane and local water, Tanduay’s new-make spirit then goes into charred barrels for years (see below for details), though all of its rums are blends of barrels of a variety of ages. Both of these spirits are bottled at 80 proof. Thoughts on each, as always, follow.

Tanduay Silver Asian Rum – Spends up to 5 years in first- and second-fill oak barrels, then filtered to a light gold in color, almost like a young reposado tequila. Pungent on the nose, with an indistinct alcohol character. It’s not overwhelmingly sweet-smelling — a surprise — but rather veering toward a more brooding, burnt sugar character. The body is on the exotic side, starting with brown sugar and evolving with notes of cloves, ripe banana, and marzipan. The finish offers some bitter orange notes, all of which adds up to an unusual and a slightly unbalanced experience. Not at all bad — this is a rum designed for mixing, to be sure — but a little funky for everyday sipping. B+ / $20

Tanduay Gold Asian Rum – Spends up to 7 years in barrel before bottling, not filtered for color. Bold, more distinctive rum-focused nose, with brown sugar and some vanilla. A more exotic character evolves on the palate, including coconut and mango notes, licorice candy, and again with the dense marzipan notes — almost bordering on Amaretto character. More balanced on the whole, and all in all this is a more pleasurable rum than the Silver, offering a denser body with better integrated flavors. Fun for a change, and not a bad price. (Turns out “gold” and “silver” cost the same for once!) As with the above, this would be great in a tropical cocktail. A- / $20

tanduay.com

Review: Crazy Steve’s Bloody Mary Mixes

ghostship 300x241 Review: Crazy Steves Bloody Mary MixesCrazy Steve is making Bloody Mary mixes, dry spices, salsas, and pickles in the heart of New Jersey. (He’s also trying to help out the damaged Jersey Shore, so give him a hand.)

Our focus today however is on his two Bloody mixes (made with fresh cucumber, celery, onion, and jalapeno) and their rimmer companion. Thoughts follow.

Crazy Steve’s Badass Barnacle Bloody Mary Mix – Thick, with enticingly meaty overtones. Almost a gazpacho in a glass, it offers notes of garlic, onion, bouillon, and a bit of mixed garden vegetables. Moderate heat — it burns the lips but not the belly. All in all, there’s a great balance of flavors here, all coming together in a viscous yet easily drinkable package. Good on its own or spiked with vodka. A / $9 per 32 oz. bottle [BUY IT AT AMAZON]

Crazy Steve’s GhostShip Bloody Mary Mix – Spiked with ghost peppers, aka “the hottest pepper in the world,” hence the name. Smells great. Peppery, like black pepper, atop the garlicky tomato notes. The body at first comes off much like the Badass Barnacle, but the heat builds quickly and steadily as it settles into your gullet. GhostShip quickly rises to the level where it seems like you’re going to break into a sweat, and your tongue is starting to prickle with an uncomfortable level of heat… and then it breaks. A seasoned (ha!) heat-seeker can handle GhostShip without a beer or milk chaser, but it’s more comfortable with a little something on the side. A- / $9 per 32 oz. bottle [BUY IT AT AMAZON]

Crazy Steve’s Shot Over the Rim Spicy Bloody Mary Salt – Made with salt, red wine vinegar powder, chili powder, jalepeno powder, onion powder, cider vinegar powder, cumin, garlic powder, and some other stuff. I really like it. Most Bloody Mary rim salt is too heavy on chili powder, too light on salt. Crazy Steve has the balance right — plenty of salt (though not too much), with a kind of smoky, chipotle kick behind it. Good heat, but not overdone. Who knew that vinegar powder would be a killer secret ingredient? A keeper. A / $6 per 6 oz. container [BUY IT AT AMAZON]

crazystevespickles.com

Review: 2010 Sartori Amarone della Valpolicella Estate Collection

Sartori Amarone Della Valpolicella 153x300 Review: 2010 Sartori Amarone della Valpolicella Estate CollectionA bright and fresh Amarone, this wine offers ripe strawberry and cherry notes, tempered by just the slightest touch of raisin — more evident on the nose than on the palate. The finish sticks with the sweeter side of things, offering a touch of sour cherry and some intriguing black tea notes, too.

B+ / $40 / banfiwines.com

Review: New Rioja from Zaco and Pomal

Vina Pomal Reserva NV HR 179x300 Review: New Rioja from Zaco and PomalTwo new Spanish Riojas — both quite young, a twist over the typical Rioja you’ll encounter, which can often be six to eight years old — or more — by the time they hit the shelf. How do these young guns measure up? Here we go…

2011 Vina Zaco Rioja Tempranillo – Especially young for Rioja, and it shows. Raw, almost pruny notes on the nose lead to a rather plain and unrefined body. Tar and stewy stone fruit notes are prominent, with a slightly sickly sweet finish. C- / $15

2009 Vina Pomal Rioja Reserva – Better, but still a clearly young and somewhat fruit-funky wine. Underripe fruit on the nose opens up over time, giving way to a strawberry/blueberry character laced with black tea and a touch of leather. Best with food, but fair enough on its own. B / $21