Review: Wines of Argentina’s Alamos, 2017 Releases

Someone has messed up a relatively winning formula at Alamos, which has taken a turn for the overly manipulated since we last encountered the wines in 2015.

2016 Alamos Torrontes Origin Salta – The lone hit in this bunch, this is a highly acidic torrontes with tons of white flowers, hints of peach, and a lightly herbal finish that adds some nuance. A crowd-pleaser but also a relatively complex white. A- / $13

2016 Alamos Malbec Mendoza – Credible malbec, without much nuance to it. A moderately acidic bite up front, with ample cherry and tobacco notes, leads to an overly gummy body whose flavor quickly evaporates into thin air. The finish is almost nonexistent. B- / $13

2015 Alamos Malbec Seleccion Mendoza – Again a little gummy (too much gum arabic, perhaps), taking a silky body someplace a bit on the funky side. The cherry here seems blown out, the herbal notes falling a bit flat on the finish. B- / $20

Review: Johnnie Walker Blenders’ Batch Wine Cask Blend

Johnnie Walker’s experimental, limited-time releases continue this month with the second expression in the series to be released in the U.S.: Wine Cask Blend. (Two more expressions from this series, Rum Cask Blend and Espresso Roast, have been released internationally and are not available in the U.S. That brings the total number of experimental releases up to six.)

Some details:

The unique blend is influenced by experimentation of maturation in wine casks, a project set in The unique blend is influenced by experimentation of maturation in wine casks, a project set in motion by Johnnie Walker Master Blender Jim Beveridge nearly a decade ago. In 2015 Aimee Gibson, a member of the Johnnie Walker blending team, took on the project and through experiments of her own, developed a wonderful new whisky in the Blenders’ Batch series. This welcoming blend includes some whiskies matured in wine casks. It is crafted with malt whiskies from the Highland such as Clynelish and some from Speyside such as Roseilse. It also includes creamy grain whiskies, such as those from Cameronbridge. The result is a light and vibrant whisky with notes of orchard fruit and red berries.

It’s a bit troubling that the only information on the aging is that “some whiskies” are matured in “wine casks.” There’s no information about how much of the blend goes into wine casks, for how long, or even what kind of wine we’re talking about. After all, sherry, Port, and white zinfandel are all “wine.” Naturally, there’s no age statement on the bottle, either.

Anyway, we’ll have to plow forward despite our ignorance…

Light as a feather, pinkish in color, and pleasantly aromatic, the whisky offers a few unusual aromas (driven by the wine cask treatment) of bold florals, fresh peaches, strawberry, and mint, alongside more traditional vanilla and some modest cereal notes. The palate is soft and expressive — and so sweet that it initially feels a bit like a rum, complete with plenty of fruit and lots of vanilla character. As it evolves on the tongue the whisky reveals more fruit character, including some apple, citrus, and red berries, along with classic baking spice notes. The finish is where you see the granary character the most, with a lasting cereal note that lingers as the fruit quickly fades.

For what it’s worth, my wife calls it a “whisky for ladies.” That ain’t a bad thing, but she’s not wrong.

80 proof.

B+ / $30 /

Tasting the Wines of Chateau Magdeleine Bouhou

The Cotes de Bordeaux is the youngest AOC in Bordeaux, established only in 2009 when four smaller communes were joined together to become a single region (with a bit more of marketing muscle than they had before). Cotes de Bordeaux wines aren’t very common here — though that’s changing, thanks in part to wineries like Chateau Magdeleine Bouhou, which is exporting on a limited basis to the U.S. for the first time this year.

I recently met with the chateau’s Yann Couturier over lunch in San Francisco to taste two of the wines that Bouhou is bringing into the states. Thoughts follow.

2014 Chateau Magdeleine Bouhou La Boha – This blend of 80% merlot, 10% cabernet sauvignon, and 10% cabernet franc is unaged in oak. It is held in concrete tanks only before bottling. Color my surprise at how incredibly drinkable Boha is, its heavy violet notes belying the merlot content while allowing freshly fruit-forward notes of cherry and red berries to rise to the surface. Very atypical of anything I’ve ever had from Bordeaux, it’s a perfect little “by the glass” offering (which is how it is commonly sold in France). B+ / $16

2012 Chateau Magdeleine Bouhou Grand Vin – This is Bouhou’s flagship wine, blended from 90% merlot and 10% malbec, and traditionally aged for a year or more in French oak barrels. Classically structured with more of a boldly tannic backbone, it still has ample fruit but is complemented by notes of pepper, grilled meat, and a tart finish. Worth a look. B+ / $24

Review: Ardbeg An Oa

Peat fans, consider it your birthday: Ardbeg is announcing a fourth whisky to join its core trio as a permanent addition to the range. Ardbeg An Oa (pronounced “an oh”) is the first new permanent expression from Ardbeg in almost a decade. The expression is named for the southernmost point of Islay, where towering cliffs stand resolute and shelter the southern coast of the island.

An Oa is a unique property drawn from Ardbeg’s new Gathering Vat – “especially created from fine French oak to bring Ardbeg An Oa into being.” Much like Glenfiddich’s Solera Cask, the Gathering Vat lets a variety of casks “mingle” in a large-scale environment. Into this cask go whiskies matured in Pedro Ximénez casks, ex-bourbon barrels, and virgin oak casks. There’s no info on the age of the whiskies that go into the Gathering Vat at the outset, and no information on how long they might stay in the Vat itself. However, the idea seems to be that, in classic Solera style, some of the spirits in the vat will get older and older even as new casks are added to the mix. We’ll have to see how An Oa evolves in the years to come.

For now, anyway, in a lot of ways, this comes across a bit like “starter Ardbeg.” The peat is dialed back on the nose, which allows notes of crisp brine, toasted marshmallow, and hints of nutty sherry to emerge. The palate finds sherry-driven citrus dominating, with tea leaf and a rounded vanilla character creeping up behind it. Peat weaves in and out of all of this, along with notes of grapefruit, gingerbread, and some more raw petrol notes that linger on the finish.

All told, it’s a bit of a melange of flavors that, if not exactly “starter Ardbeg” then at least comes across like “greatest hits Ardbeg” — a mix of this and that that feels at times like a blend of leftovers that didn’t get used in other expressions. That’s not totally a bad thing, really. Infinity bottles are fun for everyone!

93.2 proof.

B+ / $80 /

Review: The Traveler Beer Co. Jack-O Traveler Pumpkin Shandy 2017

The unofficial post-Labor Day arrival of autumn ushers in things people look forward to all summer long: college football, campfires, and everything consumable blessed with a generous infusion of pumpkin. The beer world is not immune to this trend. One trip down a local beer aisle presents a plethora of pumpkin flavored beers around this time of the year, ready for consumption in every style imaginable.

Burlington, Vermont’s Traveler Beer Company joins in the chorus with its latest offering: The Jack-O Traveler Pumpkin Shandy. The front-end is heavy with typical autumnal notes of gingerbread, clove, and little bit of nutmeg. This combo can be a bit potent on the first sips, so if a mouthful of pumpkin pie happens to suit your palate, this will do the job nicely. Over time the rough edges smooth out and there’s a splendid aftertaste of vanilla and ginger.

In a previous review two years ago, Chris found this particular offering too sweet and overwhelming. I can see where he would reach that conclusion. Perhaps the recipe has changed a bit, because as pumpkin beers go, there are far worse to be found lurking in the great pumpkin patch.

Pairs well with a dollop of Cool-Whip.

4.4% abv.

B / $7 per six-pack /

Review: Kilchoman 100% Islay Seventh Release and Loch Gorm 2017

Two 2017 updates from Kilchoman have hit our desk. Let’s dig in!

Kilchoman 100% Islay Seventh Release – Kilchoman’s 2017 version of its annual 100% Islay release — grown, malted, distilled, matured and bottled on Islay — is here. At seven years old, it’s once again the oldest expression of 100% Islay released to date. As always, the 100% Islay line is more lightly peated than the rest of the Kilchoman range. As is typical, this year’s is completely matured in Buffalo Trace bourbon barrels. Fresh and lively, 100% Islay is always a crowd-pleaser, and the 2017 release is no exception. The nose offers notes of fresh cut grass, sharp lemon, and a smattering of herbs, all filtered through a layer of peat smoke. The palate stays on target, citrus and grassy notes melding with a hint of vanilla, some coffee bean grit, and a reprise of that smoky finish, dusted with a hint of cloves. It’s quite lovely from start to finish (though water is an improvement) and, as always, a top pick if you’re considering anything from Kilchoman. 100 proof. A / $77

Kilchoman Loch Gorm 2017 – This is the sixth edition of Loch Gorm, which is Kilchoman’s annual, sherry cask matured edition. This release has been matured exclusively in Oloroso sherry butts filled in 2009, the longest Loch Gorm maturation to date. This year’s edition is one of the better expressions of Loch Gorm, the sherry maturation really hitting its stride and revealing some interesting nuances in the whisky. The peat is dialed way back vs. prior years’ releases, letting aromas of orange blossoms, lemon peel, and sandalwood peek through. The palate is quite sweet and seductive, with notes of camphor, spearmint, and a hint of licorice adding intrigue to the base notes of citrus and peat smoke. The 2017 Loch Gorm is a whisky that really comes together with a surprisingly deft balance. Though it’s a much different whisky than the 100% Islay, it’s definitively worth checking out. 92 proof. A / $73

Review: 2015 Schloss Johannisberg Gelblack Riesling Feinherb Rheingau

Drinking a riesling like Schloss Johannisberg’s Gelblack bottling reminds me that I should be drinking more (German) riesling. This Rheingau-sourced wine is just a bit tropical, its nearly dry but honey-flavored core layered with notes of baking spice and gingerbread. The finish is dry but satisfyingly refreshing, again hinting at those pineapple-dusted tropical notes.

A- / $18 /