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: 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: A. Smith Bowman Abraham Bowman Sequential Series Bourbon

 

Bourbon finishing is becoming a huge trend today, and Buffalo Trace-owned A. Smith Bowman has been finishing its Virginia-made whiskeys pretty much for as long as we’ve been writing about them.

Up next in the Abraham Bowman line is a duet of bourbons, both traditionally aged in new oak barrels, then finished in used barrels (of different types). The question really isn’t though what used to be in the barrels, but how many times those barrels were used. The first of these whiskeys were finished in barrels that had already been used for bourbon (aka second-use barrels). The second whiskey is finished in barrels used to age bourbon, Port wine, and bourbon again (aka fourth-use barrels). Can a barrel’s character stand up to all that abuse?

Before we find out, here’s the nitty-gritty from Bowman on the full experiment:

This limited release explores how flavor profiles are affected when bourbon, first aged in new charred white oak barrels, is then finished in different kinds of used barrels for its final years, and also explores how the barrel entry proof affects the finish.

This release is comprised of two expressions, each finished in two different kinds of barrels. The first expression was aged for nine years in new charred white oak barrels before being transferred into barrels that had previously held bourbon for nine years. Half of those bourbon barrels were barreled at 125 proof and half were barreled at 115 proof, before finishing for three years and five months.

The second expression was aged for nine years in new charred white oak barrels before being transferred into barrels that had previously been used to age bourbon and port wine, and then were used to finish their Abraham Bowman Port Finish Bourbon, which went on to be named the 2016 World’s Best Bourbon by Whisky Magazine. Half of these fourth-use barrels were barreled at 125 proof and half were barreled at 115 proof before finishing for three years and five months.

And now on to the tasting. Both are bottled at 100 proof.

Abraham Bowman Sequential Series Bourbon – 2nd Use Barrels – This bourbon has a bright nose with some clear orange notes, lots of vanilla, and classic baking spice character. The palate sees some fun chocolate notes, sweet caramel, and a reprise of those citrus notes. The finish is clean but a bit hot (this is 50% abv, remember), but otherwise a really lovely expression of well-aged bourbon. Finishing a nine-year old bourbon in another, old bourbon barrel shouldn’t really have much of an impact, though there are some unusual characteristics in this whiskey that at least make me wonder whether something percolated through all those years and into the spirit. Well done, regardless. A-

Abraham Bowman Sequential Series Bourbon – 4th Use Barrels – The nose on this whiskey is immediately duskier, with a stronger wood-driven aroma and a clear tobacco character. Chocolate is here on the nose — but it’s a very dark cocoa, not the silky milk chocolate of the 2nd Use Barrel bourbon. The palate feels less hot (and more complex) than the 2nd Use, and it’s loaded with cigar-room flavors of tobacco, more dark chocolate, and dark cherries (the clearest sign of the Port wine influence). I love this whiskey — though it’s a totally different experience than the 2nd Use Barrel expression, with a lingering, fruit-filled finish that hangs on for quite awhile. Grab this one if you can. A

For kicks, I mixed the two, roughly 50-50. I didn’t like the blend nearly as much as either whiskey on its own, which just goes to show… blending is tough!

each $40 (375ml) / asmithbowman.com

Review: Single Cask Nation Whiskies Outturn #1 – Girvan 10, Ardmore 8, Glentauchers 8, Glenrothes 8, Ben Nevis 8, and Ben Nevis 20

Let’s welcome a new independent Scotch whisky bottler to the scene: Single Cask Nation.

Decidedly unlike the old guard of G&M, Signatory, and the like, SCN is a brand being launched exclusively for the U.S. market by the Jewish Whisky Company. Who knew?

Some details:

Jewish Whisky Company has announced that it will release a series of Retail-Only Single Cask Nation bottlings for the California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York markets.

The retail line of Single Cask Nation whiskies focuses on young, vibrant whiskies between 7 and 14 years of age. Consumers can expect whiskies to be bottled at full cask strength without chill-filtering or added coloring and be from a host of different distilleries from around Scotland, America, and other whisky producing countries. Releases, however, may not be limited to this age range.

Retail-Only Single Cask Nation whiskies will complement the current online membership-only series of bottlings. Both consumers and Single Cask Nation members can expect the two separate lines to continue to grow in offerings. The two lines will remain separate. Casks bottled for retail will not be available for online purchase from Single Cask Nation. Similarly, Online-Only bottlings will not be available on retail shelves and all orders will continue to be fulfilled and shipped directly to Single Cask Nation members.

The company expects to bottle 12 to 18 single casks per year for the Single Cask Nation Retail-Only line of whiskies. Similarly, 12 to 18 different single casks will be bottled for the Single Cask Nation Online-Only line which is available through membership. Single Cask Nation members will continue to have exclusive access to Whisky Jewbilee festival bottlings. The 12 to 18 Online-Only bottlings available to Single Cask Nation members include the Whisky Jewbilee festival bottlings.

So, it’s not just Scotch, but for this first outturn of six whiskies, we’ve got five single malts and a single grain, all sourced from Scotland and all retail-only bottlings. We took a look at all of them. (Note that additional whiskies have since hit the market.)

Note that only a few hundred bottles were produced of each of these spirits. All were bottled between September 2016 and January 2017.

Single Cask Nation Girvan 10 Years Old – Single grain whisky from a refill bourbon hogshead. Single grain whisky this young is often brash and off-putting, and this expression is equally rough and tumble. Somewhat weedy on the nose, the palate offers notes of mushroom, licorice, and dusky hint of coal and coffee grounds. Despite some apple cinnamon notes that arrive late in the game, unfortunately it’s just too young at this stage to offer much engagement. 115.4 proof. 228 bottles produced. C / $71

Single Cask Nation Ardmore 8 Years Old – Single Highland malt from a refill bourbon hogshead. Moderately peated (considerably more so than a typical Ardmore bottling), the nose is sharp with wood smoke and a hint of bacon. The palate falls largely in line with this, featuring a sweet counterbalance that offers notes of pears, maple, and some golden raisins. Isley fans will find plenty to love here, though its youth prevents a flood of secondary flavors from developing. 113.8 proof. 228 bottles produced. B / $83

Single Cask Nation Glentauchers 8 Years Old – Single Speyside malt from a refill sherry hogshead. Potent sherry on the nose, with malty vanilla and some banana adding intrigue. The palate is quite creamy, building on all of the above flavors with stronger citrus, some coconut, and a lick of chocolate on the back end. Particularly worthwhile thanks to the bracing abv, which gives it a lengthy and seductive finish that belies its youthful age. 116.2 proof. 222 bottles produced. A- / $95

Single Cask Nation Ben Nevis 8 Years Old – Single Highland malt from a refill sherry butt. Again, quite sherry-forward on the nose, with some salted caramel notes. The palate takes things in a considerably different direction, though, quite nutty with oily furniture polish overtones. The sherry notes here run to amontillado, with notes of dates, cherry pits, and prunes. Almost syrupy on the finish, here’s where you find the more cereal-focused notes of roasted grains amidst all the winey character. 129.6 proof. 663 bottles produced. B- / $78

Single Cask Nation Glenrothes 8 Years Old – Single Speyside malt from a refill sherry hogshead. Probably the biggest name in this outturn, this is a youthful but expressive whisky with aromas of sharp citrus, walnuts, and spice. The palate shows the youth more clearly, with some heavier cereal notes, tempered by bold tangerine and mango notes, grassy heather, and a finish that layers some coal dust into the experience. Lots going on here — it’s a whisky that drinks above its mere eight years of age. 112.6 proof. 318 bottles produced. B+ / $95

Single Cask Nation Ben Nevis 20 Years Old – The sole double-digit whisky in this outturn (and an exception to the “young whiskies” rule outlined above), this is single Highland malt from a refill sherry puncheon. Interesting apple notes on the nose here, with plenty of citrus-fueled sherry right behind them. In the background, aromas of roasted meats waft up from the glass. The palate is sharp and heavy with citrus — orange and some oily lemon, with hints of grapefruit. The slippery, oily body leads to a lengthy finish, just as sharp as the palate proper, with nutty overtones. An enjoyable and enchanting whisky on the whole. 111.2 proof. 321 bottles produced. A- / $190

singlecasknation.com

Review: Cocktail & Sons Watermelon & Thai Basil Syrup

Cocktail & Sons’ latest seasonal syrup has arrived. This one blends watermelon and Thai basil to create a decidedly summery — and surprisingly versatile — sweetener.

The watermelon does the heavy lifting here. It is pungent right from the opening of the bottle, and the unmistakable flavor is loaded on the palate. Slightly floral notes linger through to the finish, and though the basil never packs the sharpness you might expect, it does provide an herbal lift on the back of the tongue.

An excellent companion with gin.

A- / $15 per 8 oz. bottle / cocktailandsons.com

Review: Compass Box Double Single (2017)

Compass Box released its first version of Double Single way back in 2003. A second version followed sometime after, and now this expression, the third, has arrived.

What’s Double Single? Simple: It’s a blend of two whiskies — one is a single malt, one a single grain. Double single. Get it?

For this batch, the single malt is from Glen Elgin (72% of the total blend), which was aged in re-charred bourbon hogsheads. The single grain is from Girvan, also aged in re-charred bourbon casks. There’s no age statement for either, or for the whisky as a whole.

Let’s give it a try.

With its classic malt-forward nose, the whisky offers aromas of green apple, hearty baking spices, and salted caramel — a strange but surprisingly compelling combination. The palate is lean but silky, showing some surprisingly bold citrus notes, lots of malty cereal, banana, and lingering nutmeg and cinnamon on the finish. The whisky is so gentle on the whole that it’s hard to be overly effusive about it, but at the same time it is so pure and full of flavor that it’s quite impossible not to love.

92 proof.

A- / $175 / compassboxwhisky.com

Review: Kavalan Amontillado, Manzanilla, and Pedro Ximenez Sherry Cask Single Malt Whisky

Taiwan’s Kavalan is on a tear of late, winning award after award as it shows that great whisky can come from unexpected places. The latest from Kavalan is a series of five whiskies called the Sherry & Port Cask Series. As you might expect, these all spend time in fortified wine casks — what’s not entirely clear is whether these are fully matured in their respective casks or if they’re finishing barrels, though the former seems to be the case. As usual with Kavalan, none of these releases is bottled with an age statement.

Three of the new whiskies are reviewed below. Two — Moscatel Sherry and the Port cask release — are sadly missing.

Thoughts follow. Bring your Visa card.

As these are single cask releases bottled at cask strength, all are noted on my review samples as “50 to 60% abv,” so figure 100 to 120 proof, depending on the bottle.

Kavalan Amontillado Sherry Cask Single Malt Whisky – Intensely colored, it’s perhaps the darkest shade of mahogany I’ve seen in a whisky in a long, long while. The nose is incredibly nutty, with aromas of walnut, old wood, flamed orange peel, and classically burly, lightly spicy Amontillado notes. The nuttiness is the strongest of these by far, and on the palate this takes on an austerity and intensity that is hard to fully elucidate. Rich with coffee notes, it also showcases salted caramel, gunpowder, and cloves — but those rich, spiced nuts hang on for days. Truly unique. A / $599

Kavalan Manzanilla Sherry Cask Single Malt Whisky – Manzanilla is a very dry sherry, but the relatively dark color of this whisky could fool you into thinking you’re drinking something else. While the Amontillado pushes you around, the Manzanilla coaxes you in with a nose of bright citrus fruit and pungent spice, leading the way to a palate of toasty almonds, more classic sherry citrus, and a briny, spicy conclusion. It’s a more gentle sherry cask bottling, but it’s still got a ton going on. A- / $599

Kavalan Pedro Ximenez Sherry Cask Single Malt Whisky – PX casks are relatively common as finishing barrels, but this expression is a departure from the usual fare from Scotland. The nose is nutty like the Amontillado, but filtered through toffee, espresso, and cola notes. The palate is similar, but gentler than expected with notes of chocolate, cherries, and loads of fresh gingerbread. A rich coffee note emerges on the lengthy finish. Again, compelling and enticing stuff through and through. A / $699

avalanwhisky.com

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