Review: Our/Detroit Vodka Infusions

Flavored vodkas off the shelf are full of God-knows-what. So why not make your own flavored vodka at home?

That’s the ambitious idea behind the Our/Vodka crew and the four flavor-them-at-home expressions that the Detroit-based distillery has released. The idea is simple: The company provides a half bottle of 80-proof vodka that started from a Canada-distilled corn alcohol base and is redistilled in Detroit (note this is a different base spirit than the 70-proof Our/Berlin vodka reviewed previously), a tea bag, and a package of spices. You put the spices in the tea bag, the tea bag in the bottle, and wait. While this is more difficult than it sounds (getting the bag in and out of the neck of the bottle without making a huge mess is tricky at first), the process is straightforward.

Four different versions of the product have been created. Our/Tea and Our/Citrus are designed to quickly (in less than 15 minutes) turn straight vodka into a lightly flavored vodka. Our/Gin Spices and Our/Oak are intended to steep for up to 15 hours. These two produce spirits with deeper flavors and considerably more color.

We got to play with all four expressions. Let’s see how they turned out!

Our/Detroit Vodka Our/Tea Infusion – An infusion of black tea and bergamot; set infusion time of 8 to 15 minutes (actual steeping time: 12 minutes). This infusion offers clear black tea aromas from the get-go, with a considerable savory overtone of thyme. The palate is sharp and more alcohol-forward than I’d like, but the tea comes through clearly, here with some modest citrus notes driven by the bergamot — though here they come across particularly as orange peel and Meyer lemon. While it’s fun on its own, the citrus notes make it more versatile than you’d expect; I’d happily use this as a mixer for cocktails in lieu of a traditional citrus-flavored vodka. B+

Our/Detroit Vodka Our/Citrus Infusion – This one includes white tea, lemongrass, ginger, grapefruit, and lemon flavors, with an 8 to 15 minute infusion recommendation; I also infused it for about 12 minutes. The lemongrass is strong with this one, particularly on the sharp nose, which offers both lemon peel and a sharper herbal component. On the palate the grassy, herbal elements tend to dominate, muscling the fruit out of the picture a bit. While there’s plenty to like here, the finish is on the tannic side, gripping a bit at the back of the throat. B

Our/Detroit Vodka Our/Gin Spices Infusion – Lots of gin spices here, as promised: juniper berries, coriander, angelica root, sweet orange peel, bitter orange peel, and ginger. 8 to 15 hours of infusion are specified; I went with 12 hours. This is a bit more bitter than a typical dry gin, with perhaps more coriander than I’d like on the nose. The palate is a bit woody, with some vaguely herbal notes following. Oddly, there’s not enough juniper here, nor enough citrus, to work as a legit gin, but it does at least get halfway there. B

Our/Detroit Vodka Our/Oak Infusion – This infusion includes toasted oak chips, vanilla bean powder, and saffron powder, with an 8 to 15 hour infusion time. I went with 12 hours — after which the infusion bag had soaked up so much liquid I couldn’t get it out of the bottle. This is meant to resemble whiskey of a sort, but the nose is all lumberyard and sawdust, with perhaps a hint of vanilla. The palate doubles down on the wood, to the point where it tastes like furniture polish over whiskey. The finish is dusty and pungent with overtones of something approaching lighter fluid. An utter disaster. F

each $17 (375ml) / ourvodka.com

Tasting the Wines of Vin de France, 2017 Releases

Back in 2009, France created a new categorization to cover wines sourced from all over the country. The so-called Vin de France wines are a mixed bag of grapes and styles (as the restrictions are few), but the overall goal with the category is to create single-varietal wines or blends, sourced from anywhere in the country — either all one region or multiple ones, mixed together — at a very affordable price.

Today, Vin de France wines comprise 15 percent of total wine exports from the country.

We checked out two Vin de France wines (a third was corked) from recent vintages. Thoughts follow.

2014 Marc Barriot Le P’tit Barriot Vin de France – 100% syrah. Do you like terroir? This wine wears it on its sleeve — a big and funky wine that reeks of earth, balsamic notes, and green vegetables, and carries that through to an equally semi-sour palate. The finish seems some wild, citrus-like notes emerging. Rough and rustic, this is the wine to drink before you embark on a running with the bulls. Vaya con dios! Or whatever they say in France. C / $18

2013 Maison Ropiteau Pinot Noir Vin de France – A simple and jammy pinot noir, this wine loads up on fresh berries and vanilla, with gentle balsamic notes underpinning the experience. The finish is short, quite fruity, with just a touch of rose petal to it. There’s nothing incredibly deep here, but as far as summery picnic wines go, you could do a lot worse. B / $10

Review: Wines of Frank Family Vineyards, 2017 Releases

It’s never a bad day when Frank Family Vineyards’ annual releases show up for review. Today we look at a field of four wines from this delightful Napa producer.

2015 Frank Family Vineyards Chardonnay Carneros – A solid expression of Sonoma chardonnay, bold and buttery with strong vanilla notes, but not overblown at all. Light apple and some fig offer nuance as the palate evolves, with lemon-scented butter dominating the lengthy finish. A- / $24

2015 Frank Family Vineyards Pinot Noir Carneros – A brisk pinot, this is loaded with notes of black currants, black cherries, and black tea. As a pinot goes, it may seem like it’s none more black, though there’s lingering sweetness to cut through some of the more dusky characteristics, finishing on a nice little blackberry note. To be honest, it’s less black than you’d think. A / $30

2014 Frank Family Vineyards Zinfandel Napa Valley – A beautiful zin from Frank Family, though creamy and clearly loaded with alcohol (at 14.6% abv), it remains expressive (though indulgent) with notes of dense cassis, brambly blackberry, molten chocolate, and ample vanilla. Big and bold zin, to be sure, but an exemplar of the style. A- / $37

2014 Frank Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – A misfired vintage? A little weird and surprisingly thin, this cab is overloaded with fruit but lacks the structure and tannin one comes to expect from Napa cabernet. The jammy strawberry notes give way to some rhubarb, orange peel, and a few savory herbs, but they’re hard fought given the surfeit of fruit. B- / $40

frankfamilyvineyards.com

Review: Oak & Cane American Craft Rum

Given the relative ease and speed of making rum instead of whiskey, it’s surprising that more craft distillers aren’t pursuing this spirit. Oak & Cane, produced in Florida, is an exception to that rule. It’s also made with much different methods than your typical bottle of grog. To wit:

What sets Oak & Cane apart? Its innovative distillation process. Instead of relying on the traditional aging process for rum, which typically takes years, Oak & Cane double-distills its recipe to smooth out the finish. It then rests its rum for 6 to 12 months with fresh Florida orange peels and medium-charred white American Oak – the only rum to use this unique ingredient – resulting in a smooth, versatile spirit with a taste comparable to an aged rum.

Interesting concept, but how does it work out?

Very sweet on the nose, Oak & Cane Rum offers classic but somewhat simplistic aromas of spun sugar, vanilla, some orange peel (less than you’d think), and a bit of butterscotch. The wood influence is there, but it’s still raw, unable to shake its apparent youth (and time in new oak barrels). On the palate, the sweetness continues first and foremost. Almost cloying at times, this rum feels like it’s spiked with syrup, some coconut and candied pecan notes adding nuance, but ultimately unable to do much against the onslaught of cane. Hey, I shouldn’t be surprised. It’s right there in the name, after all.

It’s a credible mixer, but the sweetness is a bit too much for straight sipping.

B- / $43 / oakandcane.com

Review: Wines of Lake Sonoma Winery, 2017 Releases

My hunch is that you can figure out where Lake Sonoma Winery is based — but you might not know that this under-the-radar operation makes wine from all over the county, not just near the lake.

We tried six new releases from the winery, with almost unanimously impressive results. Thoughts follow.

2014 Lake Sonoma Winery Tributaries Blend Russian River Valley – A blend of 88% pinot blanc, 7% chardonnay, and 5% sauvignon blanc. A huge, summer crowd pleaser, this fragrant blend features white flowers, melon, some lemon, and a nougat character that creeps in late in the game. The finish seems some forest floor elements that sully an otherwise impressive blend, but otherwise it’s a big hit. A- / $19

2014 Lake Sonoma Winery Chardonnay Russian River Valley – A surprisingly beautiful chardonnay, not overblown with vanilla and oak, which lets some of the inherent fruit in the grape shine through: Lemon, with a dollop of marshmallow creaminess on top. A great food wine. A- / $18

2014 Lake Sonoma Winery Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast – This pinot offers a classic Sonoma Coast structure, melding gentle earth and cola notes with a moderately fruity core. Some black tea leaf emerges late in the game, with the finish seeing some meaty character adding a somewhat beefy note. B+ / $21

2014 Lake Sonoma Winery Malbec Sonoma Valley – Initially I found this wine to be a little gummy, but after giving it a slight chill, this malbec really opened up and showcased its lush fruit: blackberry, dense plum notes, currants, and lingering chocolate and cola notes on the finish. Worked perfectly with steaks with a chili-spiced butter. A- / $35

2013 Lake Sonoma Winery Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley – Lots of acidity gives this zin a more approachable density and mouthfeel, with hints of orange and tart cherry mingling with the more traditional, plump red berries at the core of the wine. There’s a little dark chocolate on the back end to give it some length. B+ / $20

2015 Lake Sonoma Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley – My least favorite wine in this group, this is a somewhat dimwitted cab, over-fruited and showing some green underbelly that lingers well after the simple red berry fruit has faded. A touch of tannin and a hint of dried mushroom are welcome on the back end, but it’s not enough to elevate this beyond a mere B- / $25

lakesonomawinery.com

Review: Proyecto Garnachas de Espana – Salvaje and Olvidada, 2017 Releases

Proyecto Garnachas de Espana — or the Spanish Grenache Project, if you will — is a curious series of wine releases meant to celebrate the grenache wines of the Ebro Valley. A project of Spanish wine company Vintae, the idea is to showcase different vineyards in the Aragon region, to show how terroir and microclimates can expressions of 100% garnacha.

While a number of these wines are on the market, we received two to check out. (Note they are from different vintages.) Thoughts follow.

2015 Proyecto Garnachas de Espana La Garnacha Salvaje – A surprisingly thin wine for grenache, particularly given the aromas of tobacco and spice that lead to a rather watery and limpid body. Here flavors of fresh cherries and blonde wood notes lead to a somewhat off-putting finish that showcases beef jerky and boiled vegetables. A bit of a blown opportunity. C / $12

2013 Proyecto Garnachas de Espana La Garnacha Olvidada – A strikingly different (and much better) wine than the above, much bolder on the palate with notes of cassis, tea leaf, cola, and some lingering mint. The body is rich and the finish is lasting, offering a tribute to the earth in the form of lingering hints of cassis, mushroom, and dusky tree bark. Well balanced between sweet and savory, with a lightly drying conclusion. A / $12

garnachasdeespana.com

Review: Santo Mezquila

Why would someone want to blend mezcal and tequila into the same spirit? I’m not entirely sure what the motivation was, but Sammy Hagar (Van Halen) and Adam Levine (Maroon 5) decided this might be the next big thing, and Santo — aka Santo Puro — has now arrived.

The tequila used is 100% blue agave, and the mezcal is from espadin agave. The two are blended 50-50 to make the final product, so the “you got your tequila in my mezcal” debate can continue unabated, forever.

Let’s give it a whirl!

The nose has the smoke and sweet citrus notes that immediately scream mezcal. Blend or no, on the nose it’s the mezcal that comes through the most clearly — peppery and full of spicy character. The palate tones things down a notch. Santo is sweet and gentle, and while the smoky and pepper are present, they’re dialed back to where even a mezcal novice could enjoy them. This isn’t a bad thing, as it allows notes of apple, caramel corn, and some ruddy carrot notes to come to the fore, which give it a savory bent. The finish is on the short side, but with lingering smokiness and hints of that vegetal character.

80 proof.

B+ / $40 / santomezquila.com

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