Review: 2014 Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

Louis Martini’s latest Napa Valley cab — one of the more entry-level though perfectly palatable bottlings — has arrived. This year’s bottling is lush and seductive, loaded with fresh and dried berries, but not overtly sweet or jammy, with overtones of milk chocolate, nutmeg, and fresh cherries. The finish is supple and seductive, with hints of vanilla. And yet… it’s less dessert-like than all of that sounds, pairing well with food and drinking beautifully on its own today. No need to cellar.

A- / $38 /

Review: Convalmore 32 Years Old Limited Edition 2017

Convalmore was in the heart of Speyside in Dufftown. It closed in 1985, just a year after this whisky was distilled. It spent 32 years in refill American oak hogsheads before bottling; this is only the fourth time Convalmore has appeared in the Diageo Special Release series.

Very old bourbon-barrel aged Speyside spirit can be truly enchanting, and this Convalmore 32 is no exception. In 2013, I complained that Convalmore 36 Years Old was fading away. At 32 years old, it’s still in its prime. The nose is surprisingly racy, showcasing notes of salted caramel, dark chocolate, dried berries, and lightly toasty granary notes. The palate is in line with the above, but bolder than the nose would indicate. At 48% alcohol, it drinks perfectly, with the dessert-heavy character segueing into notes of blood orange, gingerbread, coconut, and banana. There’s a hint of Band-Aid on the finish, but this does little to mar what is otherwise a stellar whisky from beginning to end.

96.4 proof. 3,972 bottles produced

A / $1400 /

Review: Eli Mason Mint Julep Syrup

Eli Mason is a Nashville-based producer of a variety of classic syrups, including grenadine, demerara syrup, and more. The company recently sent us its mint julep syrup — water, cane sugar, turbinado sugar, mint, and natural gomme syrup — to check out.

This is an interesting syrup, for sure, but it’s also a bit unusual. There’s a peppery quality to it, and a spice akin to root beer. The mint is actually played down next to that spice, and it gets even more lost when mixed with bourbon, where it takes on more of a chocolate note, driven perhaps by the turbinado sugar in the mix.

I’d still use it — but probably not for a classic julep.

B / $14 per 10 oz bottle /

Review: Glen Elgin 18 Years Old Limited Edition 2017

This Glen Elgin release spent 18 years in sherry oak before bottling. It’s only the third time this Speyside distillery has been featured in the Special Release series.

One of the more conventional (though perfectly well-made) bottlings in this lineup, this Glen Elgin is well sherried, to the point where the nose takes on a nutty character, dense to the point of offering a furniture polish note. The orange peel and clove notes are aromatically thick, as is the palate, which is exceptionally sharp I think more due to the sherry influence than the cask strength alcohol level. Water is a friend here, and just a drop or two will do wonders to soften that throat-scratching harshness. What emerges is a much quieter whisky with notes of lemon honey, tea leaf, and some Christmas spice. At cask strength, the finish is a bit rough-and-tumble; appropriately watered down, it reveals a more approachable, though less enthralling, spirit.

109.6 proof. 5,352 bottles produced

B+ / $340 /

Review: Coravin Screw Cap

One of the (decidedly minor) challenges of the Coravin wine preservation system is that it doesn’t work with screw-capped wines. Because the system involves a thin needle piercing the cork, allowing the cork to re-seal after it’s withdrawn, it just isn’t possible to use it on a metal screwcap.

Now, says Coravin, the problem is solved.

Coravin Screw Caps, which are available in two sizes to ensure a proper fit on any bottle, combine self-sealing silicone with the same premium cap liner, to create a tight seal that protects wine for up to 3 months. To use, simply unscrew a bottle’s cap and quickly replace it with a Coravin Cap. Then, access and pour as you normally would with any Coravin Preservation Opener (like all Coravin accessories, the Screw Cap is compatible with all Coravin models). Store the remaining wine and once the bottle is empty, remove the Screw Cap and reuse – it withstands 50 punctures!

The Screw Caps come in two different sizes, and they’ll be arriving on the market later this year.

I tried them out and quickly found that my biggest issue was finding a screw-capped wine that I would bother using with the Coravin. Sure, there are luxe screwcap bottlings, but these are rare. Most screw-capped wines today are cheap bottlings that I’m not interested in preserving for three months. Few last more than a night around these parts.

Using the system really couldn’t be simpler. Remove the original screwcap and replace it with the Coravin model. Then drive the needle through. It even pierces the silicone more easily than cork.

Results: I used the system on a bottle of sauvignon blanc and found that after a week, the wine remaining in the preserved bottle was just as fresh as when I’d originally poured it. In other words: It works just as well as the original Coravin. That said, I can’t imagine using the screwcaps very often, but should the need arise, it’ll be handy to have a couple around.

A- / $30 for a six-pack /  [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Review: Caol Ila Unpeated 18 Years Old Limited Edition 2017

This Caol Ila is a rare, unpeated version, aged in American oak hogsheads, that appears regularly in the Diageo Special Releases. This is the oldest unpeated Caol Ila released in the series to date.

I’ll be straight up here: This is my favorite Caol Ila ever.

The nose is rich with fruit, roasted grains, nuts, and — unpeated or no — an ample amount of campfire smoke in the mix. Has aging all that time next to regular Caol Ila led to cross-pollination? The palate is spot-on, offering everything you’d want to see in this style of whisky. A core of beautiful syrup is balanced with more gentle fruits, some floral elements, and a delightful amount of spice that starts off slow but builds to a lovely crescendo as the finish arrives.

Notes of fresh nougat, honeycomb, lavender, and lilac are all in effect, weaving in and out of an impressively bold body that finishes on a resprise of wispy smoke and notes of dried flowers. Incredibly complex and engaging, it’s well worth the asking price.

119.6 proof.

A / $100 /

Review: 2014 Don Miguel Gascon Malbec Reserva Mendoza

This “purple label” bottling is the upscale release from Gascon. The mint on the nose is dense to the point of coming across a bit like spearmint gum, backed up with violet florals. The palate offers more in the way of fruit, though it features a semi-sweet, caramel-inflected core that takes it to a sweeter place than I’d like. With air the wine exhibits notes of black pepper, licorice candy, and potpourri. Surprisingly, that’s a swell combination.

B+ / $25 /