Review: Stoney Honey Infused Grappa

stoney grappa

Is it a rarity or an oddity? Stoney Honey Infused Grappa is both. Distilled and bottled by St. George Spirits, this unique and very small batch project flavors grappa (no word on what grape varietals) with sage honey for Riverbench Winery.

The nose offers lavender, eucalyptus, and light citrus. I’m immediately reminded of spa oils, in a perverse yet delicious sort of way. The body is lightly oily, revealing well the honey which infuses the grappa. Again, plenty of eucalyptus on the palate, too, with big floral aromatics that stick with you for days. Then comes the sweeter aspects of the honey. Nice and sweet, but not overdone, it’s all orange blossoms with a silky, classic honey finish.

This is wild stuff. I wouldn’t have likely pegged it as grappa — that spirit’s classic funk is well obscured by the sweetness of honey and that light burn of menthol… here it actually soothes the throat, it’s so strong. The use of sage honey really opens up some unusual and unexpected flavors in this spirit. Color me intrigued, and good luck in your search for a bottle.

70 proof. 40 cases made.

B+ / $NA /

Tasting Report: Vini d’Italia Tour 2013

Our friends at Winebow, a major wine importer, host this event on a fairly annual basis, bringing some of the biggest names in Italian wine (and a little grappa) to the States for tasting and consideration. In addition, some virtually unknown brands, looking for distribution in the U.S., are made available, too. Prices below are wholesale. As always, thoughts follow on everything tasted.

Tasting Report: Vini d’Italia Tour 2013

2009 Allegrini Palazzo della Torre Veronese IGT / $17 / B+ / slightly green
2009 Allegrini La Grola Veronese IGT / $23 / A- / fresh, nice body
2007 Allegrini La Poja Corvina Veronese IGT / $68 / A / gorgeous nose, brilliant minerals
2008 Allegrini Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOC / $67 / A / dense, cocoa, cofee, complex
2010 Altesino Rosso di Altesino Toscana IGT / $16 / B / fresh, earth meets fruit
2010 Altesino Rosso di Montalcino DOC / $24 / B / similar, some green notes, bitter finish
2008 Altesino Brunello di Montalcino DOCG / $55 / B / nose is off, heavy herbs and olive
2011 Fattoria Le Pupille Morellino di Scansano DOCG / $17 / A- / lively, pretty fruit, light herbs
2008 Fattoria Le Pupille Poggio Valente Morellino di Scansano Riserva DOCG / $43 / A- / licorice, chunky chocolate notes
2009 Fattoria Le Pupille Saffredi Maremma IGT / $103 / A / classic Super Tuscan, no complaints
2010 Leono de Castris Malana Salice Salentino Rosso DOC / $11 / A- / complex for a young wine, some jam, herbal touches,
2008 Leono de Castris Malana Salice Salentino Rosso DOC 50th Vendemmia / $13 / B+ / much more wood here, clinging to a fruity core
2010 Maculan Brentino Veneto IGT / $16 / B / light, enjoyable, fresh herbs
2010 Maculan Palazzotto Cabernet Sauvignon Breganze DOC / $26 / A- / nice balance, great everyday drinker, versatile
2009 Montevetrano Colli di Salerno IGT / $73 / A- / elegant, beautiful structure, fruit meets charcoal, roasted meats
2010 San Polo Rubio Toscana IGT / $13 / B- / heavy earth, tannic
2010 San Polo Rosso di Montalcino DOC / $20 / B- / similar, unripe
2008 San Polo Brunello di Montalcino DOCG / $65 / B- / green and tough
2010 Tenimenti Luigi d’Allesandro Borgo Syrah Cortona DOC / $18 / A- / lovely, fresh fruit and berry notes
2009 Tenimenti Luigi d’Allesandro Il Bosco Syrah Cortona DOC / $50 / A- / old vines; some licorice and chocolate
2009 Tenimenti Luigi d’Allesandro Migliara Syrah Cortona DOC / $74 / B+ / inky, almost like an Australian Shiraz in style
2011 Tua Rita Rosso dei Notri Toscana IGT / $20 / B / slight tannin, raspberries, plummy core
2009 Tua Rita Giusto di Notri Toscana IGT / $67 / A- / intense, fennel and cedar, tar, herbs follow


Nardini Grappa Aquavite di Vinaccia Bianca / $41 / A- / powerful nose, surprisingly fruity body, lemon and citrus, 100 proof
Nardini Grappa Aquavite di Vinaccia Riserva / $49 / B+ / wood doesn’t add much to this grappa, a touch of vanilla, 100 proof
Nardini Grappa Tagliatella / $41 / B / strong cherry, bittersweet; marketed as an alternative to Campari, 70 proof
Nardini Grappa Acqua di Cedro Liqueur / $41 / B+ / like limoncello without the color, light herbal notes
Nardini Grappa Amaro / $34 / A- / slight mint, almonds, licorice touches; bitter finish, good balance

Review: Van Brunt Stillhouse Whiskey, Rum, and Grappa

van brunt stillhouse whiskeyVan Brunt Stillhouse is a craft distillery based in Brooklyn — arguably the epicenter of microdistillery activity in America, if not the world. (The company is named after Cornelius Van Brunt, one of the founding fathers of Brooklyn.)

The distillery produces whiskey, rum, and — unusually — grappa. We tasted all three spirits. All are 80 proof. Thoughts follow.

Van Brunt Stillhouse American Whiskey – Made from New York grains, “made primarily from malted barley and wheat, with a little bit of corn and a touch of rye.” No age statement, but it spends just five months in American oak barrels. Incredibly young on the nose, it’s loaded with grain, funky and skunky. The palate doesn’t really alter course. Here the grain has a more malty character, but the finish is lengthy with grain husks, bean sprouts, and lumberyard remnants. Not my bag, though the mashbill sounds intriguing. C- / $36 (375ml)  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Van Brunt Stillhouse “Due North” Rum – Made from organic Himalayan sugar. Aged an indeterminate amount of time, but it’s hitting the spot reasonably well. It’s young, for sure, but the rum is full of brown sugar and molasses notes that hold down some of the more husky notes from distillation. Touches of apple, pumpkin pie spices, and a moderate finish. Lots going on here, and it’s coming together. A couple more years in barrel would probably seal the deal. B / $23 (375ml)

Van Brunt Stillhouse “Red Hook” Grappa – Made from grape skins used for the 2012 vintage of Leib Cellars Pinot Blanc, a Long Island wine. Per the company, “While not everyone likes Grappa, for those that do, Van Brunt Stillhouse’s Grappa is a delicacy.” Well, I like good grappa, and Van Brunt’s is mostly of the harmless variety. Big, hoary funk on the nose, more modest on the tongue. Interesting and surprising sweetness here, with vanilla and custard notes that counterbalance, to some degree, the fuel-powered aroma. Could stand some barrel aging to see what it might do with some mellowing. B- / $36 (375ml)

Review: Dimmi Liquore di Milano

The Italian answer to gin and absinthe, Dimmi is an old (1930s) product now making a resurgence. Distilled in the Lombardy region in Italy’s north, Dimmi is distilled from organic wheat (like a vodka) and infused with licorice, orange peel, rhubarb, ginseng, and vanilla. Following this infusion, peach and apricot blossoms are infused into the mix, and Nebbiolo-based grappa is added to top it all off along with a touch of organic beet sugar, for sweetness.

Very pale yellow in color, Dimmi is a pretty enticing liqueur that, based on the above description, tastes nothing like you are probably expecting. The nose hints at lemon, but on the tongue it comes across with grapefruit character backed up with vanilla custard. This sounds like an odd combination, but imagine candied fruit garnishing a creme brulee and you’re in the ball park. (Strega is also a distant, yellower cousin.) But still, there is plenty of bitterness and sourness to balance out the sweetness here, and more than enough complexity to keep you sipping if you’re drinking it neat.

Lots of cocktail possibilities. Consider it in lieu of vermouth in your favorite drink if you’re looking for a way to get started, experimentally speaking.

70 proof.

A- / $40 /

dimmi liquore di milano

Notes from Grappathon 2011

Grappa, something of a national spirit in Italy, doesn’t have to come from the famous country. Anyone can make the stuff — and, arguably, it’s far easier for a grape-grower in, say, Virginia, to produce good grappa than good wine.

Recently I gathered with friends to sample and compare a host of grappas from all around our fair country, along with a few Old World ones, too. This wasn’t a formal review — and I’m not grading the spirits discussed here — mainly because you’ll probably never see any of these in the wild.

Our adventure covered the following territories:

Brandy Peaks — Oregon Marc Brandy Muscat

Brandy Peaks — Grappa

Amalgamated Distilling — Vita di Saint Louis, Blanca (OH)

Amalgamated Distilling — Vita di Saint Louis, Giallo

Flag Hill Winery and Distillery — Graham’s Grappa (NH)

Peach Street Distillers — Muscat Grappa (CO)

Peach Street Distillers — Viognier Grappa

Forks of Cheat Winery — West Virginia Grappa

Stillwater Spirits — Cole Ranch, Cabernet Sauvignon Grappa (CA)

…plus a pair of Italian grappas

Favorites? Stillwater’s Cabernet Grappa was traditional in the nose — with olive pit and nut aromas — but proved complex, with a burnt caramel saltiness and sweetness on the tongue. Fans of traditional Italian grappa will likely enjoy this one.

Peach Street’s Viognier grappa was also a winner, fruity with apple notes and a fun chocolate finish; oddly, the Muscat grappa from the same distiller was too overpowering with citrus notes and an astringent body.

Still, nothing really compared to La Grappa di Pino Zardetto, a grappa made from Prosecco, vibrant with aromatics, honey, flower, and fruits, but all perfectly balanced. It’s a grappa for the both the grappa novice and the pro, and a winning example of how great good grappa can be.

What of the rest? As with all sorts of spirits, these grappas occupied a range between passable to awful, the worst coming off like nail polish remover and the better ones offering some nuance, but often drifting back into grappa’s old habits: fuel overtones and overpowering earth character.

All told? A really informative tasting that proved to me that you don’t have to be Italian to make good grappa… but it certainly doesn’t hurt.

Review: Samogon Russian Grappa

Yeah, you read that right: Grappa from Russia.

Samogon is actually the Russian term for moonshine, so using it as a brand name is a little confusing. Samogon, from Phenix Brands, is also not really moonshine (in Russia, it’s typically a sugar-based spirit), but rather a grappa, made from grape stems and seeds left over from the winemaking process.

It’s unclear what grape varietal is used in the making of Samogon, but as grappa goes, this is pretty straightforward stuff. The nose is filled with fuel-like characteristics, an astringency common with simpler grappas. The palate is about the same: Tough as nails and heavy on the funk. There’s not a lot of nuance in Samogon, which perhaps explains how they came up with the name: In a world of ultra-smooth premium vodkas, Samogon tries to go the other way. For those of you who like a lot of character in your liquor, well, you found it — for better or worse.

B- / x /

Tasting Report: Winebow’s Wines of Italy

Winebow isn’t a name I expect you have ever heard of, but you’ve surely consumed its wines: The company is the largest importer of Italian wines in America, and as such it has the volume to be able to put on an event where it pours its Italian offerings… and nothing else. (Winebow also represents wines from many other regions, plus spirits.)

With some wildly rare and expensive wines, this was certainly an event not to miss, but there was nothing here to compare with Prunotto’s northern Italian lineup, a range of outstanding Brunellos and Barbarescos where each seemed to be better than the last. Tasting notes follow: First wines, then grappa. Prices noted are wholesale list price per bottle.

Tasting Report: Winebow’s Vini D’Italia, June 2011

2007 Allegrini Amarone Classico / $67 / A- / approachable

2004 Allegrini La Poja / $67 / A- / fruitier

2009 Allegrini Soave / $13 / A-

2006 San Polo Brunello di Montalcino / $65 / A-

2004 Altesino Brunello di Montalcino Montosoli / $111 / B+ / very dried fruit character

2004 Altesino Brunello di Montalcino / $59 / B+ / herbal

2006 Altesino Brunello di Montalcino / $55 / A

2006 Castello di Bossi Chianti Classico / $16 / B- / heavy tannin

2007 Castello di Bossi Chianti Classico / $16 / C+

2006 Castello di Bossi Chianti Classico Riserva Berardo / $29 / B-

2003 Castello di Bossi Garolamo / $52 / B-

2004 Castello di Bossi Corbaia / $52 / B

2005 Falesco Marciliano Cabernet Sauvignon / $40 / B+ / big herbs, especially on the nose

2006 Falesco Sagrantino di Montefalco / $42 / B- / nose is off

2010 Falesco Est! Est!! Est!!! Di Montefiascone / $8 / B

2009 Franz Haas Pinot Nero / $42 / B

2009 Kris Pinot Noir / $11 / B-

2004 Leone de Castris Donna Lisa Salice Salentino Riserva / $40 / B+

2005 Leone de Castris Donna Lisa Salice Salentino Riserva / $40 / A / great balance

2008 Maculan Palazzotto Cabernet Sauvignon / $26 / A- / very soft

2007 Maculan Fratta / $83 / A / lush, intense

2004 Prunotto Barolo Bussia / $73 / A-

2005 Prunotto Barolo Bussia / $85 / A

2006 Prunotto Barbaresco Bric Turot / $63 / A-

2006 Prunotto Barbaresco Classico / $42 / A-

2005 Prunotto Barolo / $46 / B+ / strawberry notes

2006 Prunotto Barolo / $46 / B / sunny

2006 Zenato Amarone della Valpolicella Classico / $55 / B+ / huge fruit

2005 Zenato Cresasso / $63 / A- / sweet licorice notes, fun

2005 Tasca D’Almerita Rosso del Conte / $56 / B+ / over-jammed

2005 Tua Rita Giusto di Notri / $77 / C+ / tight

2006 Tua Rita Perlato del Bosco / $39 / B

2007 Tua Rita Syrah / $188 / A- / great balance

2007 Tua Rita Redigaffi / $260 / A


Poli Jacopo Moscato / $60 (375ml) / B+

Poli Jacopo Torcolato / $60 (375ml) / A-

Poli Po Moscato / $48 / B-

Poli Po Pino / $48 / B+

Poli Po Traminer / $48 / B

Poli Sarpa / $48 / B+