Review: Chisholm Trail/Stölzle Lausitz Jarritos Tequila and Mezcal Glassware

Does glassware make a difference? Whether wine or spirits, you bet it does. And that’s probably why Romeo Hristov has turned his attention to glassware for tequila and mezcal, where aroma plays a key role in a high-end tasting.

Hristov explains:

Since late 2016 Stölzle Lausitz GmbH (a German glass manufacturer that makes, among other items, the Glencairn whisky glasses) and I started the development and testing of new glasses for tequila and mezcal inspired by the drinking jars [jarritos] for pulque and mezcal. The use of this particular drinking vessel for alcoholic beverages from agave (most likely fermented, not distilled) goes back to the fourth century BC, but its shape is remarkably similar to the modern stemless tulip snifters, and offers an interesting blend from tradition and functionality.

These glasses are currently available as high-end hand-blown crystal glasses, but this year Hristov is aiming to bring out a more affordable machine-blown version. He sent a pair of glasses, one for tequila, one for mezcal, for us to check out. I’ve been experimenting with them with a variety of spirits, but primarily am analyzing them in their intended purpose, comparing performance to a standard Glencairn.

Some thoughts follow.

Chisholm Trail/Stölzle Lausitz Jarritos Tequila Glass (narrow mouth) – In tasting the tequila-intended jarrito, I found that a Glencairn focused the aromas more clearly at the top of the glass, though with very high-proof spirits, this can be a negative, as the jarrito allows more alcohol to evaporate more quickly. The glass is more effective with anejo tequilas than blancos (and it works very well with whiskey), as the spicier and sweeter elements of the spirit coalesce more clearly in its broader bowl. In actual use, the jarrito was also more successful at delivering tequila to the right part of the palate, though, and the overall shape of the glass is quite pleasing in the hand. A-

Chisholm Trail/Stölzle Lausitz Jarritos Mezcal Glass (wide mouth) – With mezcal, the wider jarrito first delivers a ton of smoke to the nose, but that blows off quickly, translating to a sweet and expressive palate. I definitely enjoyed drinking mezcal — which is traditionally served in a wide dish of sorts called a copita — more from the jarrito than a Glencairn, as it was more effective at opening up the spirit, allowing it to showcase more of its underlying charms. As with the above, the glass fits very well in the hand, working almost like a tumbler at times. A

prices TBD /

Review: Copper Fox Peachwood American Single Malt

Many craft distillers today are producing good (if young) whiskey. Unfortunately, too many are bringing nothing that’s really new to the market and asking a hefty premium over quality bottles from the bigger distilleries. It’s perhaps the biggest challenge of America’s craft whiskey movement: to create not just good whiskey but good whiskey that’s also unique.

Creativity is something not lacking at Copper Fox Distillery in Sperryville, Virginia. As an early East Coast pioneer of American single malt, its founder, Rick Wasmund, took lessons from Scottish tradition (they’re the first distillery in North America to install a malt floor and kiln) and combined them with completely original techniques like the use of different fruitwood smoke in their malt. The latest addition to their line-up, Peachwood American Single Malt, is perhaps their most unique endeavor to date, relying on peachwood as both a smoking medium during kiln drying and as a maturing catalyst inside the barrels. Surprisingly, much of the process behind the single malt is spelled out on the label, from the type of still used to the barrel entry proof to the ppm (parts per million) of Virginia peachwood smoke used in the malting. It’s clearly something different, but how does it taste?

On the nose, Peachwood American Single Malt is like a candied campfire. It’s sweet with a blend of toasted grain, ripe peach, and mesquite aromas. On the palate, the whisky showcases a great balance of sweet and savory with vanilla, clove, and citrus complemented by toasted oak, a briny smokiness, and gentle heat. The peachwood is less of a factor on the palate than on the nose, which is probably for the best, but it seems to have created some welcome, honeyed citrus notes not found in the distillery’s standard single malt offering. The finish is slightly drying, but still manages to carry those complex initial flavors for a decent length until they erode into smoke and caramel sweetness. It’s a well-made and extremely interesting single malt — and it’s just what the craft whiskey world could use a little more of.

96 proof.

A / $54 /

Review: 2015 Pfendler Vineyards Chardonnay and Pinot Noir

I’d never heard of Pfendler Vineyards before attending a media lunch last week, where I met owner Kimberley Pfendler and winemaker Justin Harmon. I’m glad I did, because what I discovered was some of the best-produced wine I’ve had in recent memory, hailing from Sonoma’s most recently designated AVA, the Petaluma Gap.

With production of just 500 cases per year, Pfendler is a tiny operation that you’re unlikely to find outside of California, at least for now. But it’s worth ordering a bottle or two from the winery directly to check it out — particularly the bright Chardonnay — before the rest of the world catches on.

I’m even putting my money where my mouth is — and just ordered a case of wine for myself.

2015 Pfendler Vineyards Chardonnay Sonoma Coast – An immediately and intensely lovely chardonnay, with a slight tropical edge atop ample lemon, some grapefruit, and a softly spicy element. With plenty of acidity, it cuts through the creaminess to give this wine a beautiful balance that drinks well on its own or with food. A / $38

2015 Pfendler Vineyards Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast – A somewhat aromatically dense expression of pinot, with aromas of black cherry and chocolate. It’s a bit lighter on the palate, with a slightly dusty element and hints of vanilla, particularly on the finish. Again, nicely balanced, but more burly today than you might expect. I look forward to watching its development over the next few years. A- / $45

Review: MarieBelle x Reserva de la Familia Chocolate Box Set

In partnering with chocolatier MarieBelle, Jose Cuervo has created a limited edition of “luxuriously decadent ganache chocolates,” a mix of dark and milk chocolates that are infused with Cuervo’s extra anejo Reserva de la Familia tequila.

This isn’t Cuervo’s first spin with a chocolate producer. Last year, the company released a delightful (but different) collection in conjunction with Tcho.

As noted, the collection of squares combines both milk and dark chocolates (a handy map explains which is which, based on the artwork on top), and both are equally delightful. Bursting with cocoa flavor, the slightly fruity chocolates are pure, fresh, and lightly chewy thanks to an ample amount of ganache in the filling. Ultimately I had trouble picking a favorite between the two styles and found it more fun to pick them at random.

The bad news? What I didn’t get was any sense of tequila in these chocolates, even after polishing off half the box. Quizzing friends on what spirit might be infused within the confections (when tasted blind) never once elicited “tequila” as a response. So, bad news if you’re looking for a little agave punch in your chocolate squares… but good news if all you really care about is having an amazing bite of cocoa to nosh on.

A / $55 per box of 16 chocolates /

Review: 2015 Mark Ryan Winery Water Watch Red Wine Red Mountain

Mark Ryan Winery is based in Woodinville in Washington state, and Water Witch is its latest project, a reintroduction of one of the first wines it ever created. Back in 2012, Mark Ryan  partnered with Quintessence Vineyards to plant a 13.6-acre block on the south slope of Red Mountain, and the grapes are now being used to create a new release of this Bordeaux-style blend.

For the 2015 bottling, the varietal breakdown is 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot?, 8% Cabernet Franc, ?and 2% Petit Verdot.

Immediately engaging and complex, this is a wine worth intense exploration — study, even. Lush with notes of currants, elderflowers, and violets, there’s a real intrigue to the wine that one rarely sees in U.S.-based Bordeaux blends (and particularly Washington wines). Silky on the tongue, those florals are intense as it leads toward a lengthy but supple finish, slightly tannic with just a hint of earth, charcoal dust, and a touch of leather. Turns out all of those notes go great with flowers, making for a beautifully balanced and complex experience.

Now available for pre-order, I highly recommend snapping it up.

A / $58 /

Review: Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost and Rare

The latest installment in Diageo’s Johnnie Walker Scotch line isn’t a new color but rather a special version of an existing one. Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost and Rare, as it awkwardly notes on the bottle, is a “Special Blend with Brora & Rare; 8 Legendary Whiskies.” The key to that is a single word: Brora, a long-dead distillery whose few remaining casks appear regularly in Diageo’s annual Special Release series. Brora single malt is now a highly coveted (and highly expensive) whisky, and its appearance here in this blend should raise eyebrows, considering it’s available at a price well below the four figures the single malt commands.

So what is Ghost and Rare, really? More completely, it’s “the first in a series of special releases crafted using irreplaceable whiskies from ‘ghost’ distilleries that have long since closed, together with other rare malt and grain scotch.”

All eight distilleries are outlined on the bottle (with a handy map). The three ghosts are Cambus, Pittyvaich, and the aforementioned Brora. The five “rare whiskies” include Royal Lochnagar, Clynelish, Glenkinchie, Glenlossie, and Cameronbridge. Some of those are rarer than others, but clearly some less expensive juice is needed to keep the price down.

As for the tasting, put simply, this is what Blue Label should taste like.

The nose is fresh and lively, not at all hoary and old, showcasing bright notes of fresh apple, figs, orangey sherry, and vanilla-scented, well-rounded malt. That’s all just prologue for the palate, a seductive blend that kicks off with loads of chocolate — both milk and dark — plus top notes of ripe banana, apricots, and lilac. As the lushly rounded and rich body develops, it leads to more sultry notes of sandalwood, fresh tobacco leaf, and some savory hints akin to lamb chops. The finish is dry and a bit tannic, but satisfying with notes of old wood and wet leather. All told, it’s a whisky that tells a story, one that starts with a bright sunrise and concludes with the dying of the light.

To answer the most obvious question that any Johnnie Walker fan must be thinking, this is nothing like standard Blue Label, not just because it lacks a peated element, but because it offers a far richer and more developed depth of character and flavor. Even if you think you don’t like blends, even if you think you don’t like Johnnie Walker, I highly recommend checking it out.

92 proof.

A / $300 /

Review: Nine Single Barrel Bourbons from the New Hampshire Liquor Commission – Woodford Reserve, Knob Creek, Jack Daniel’s, and Russell’s Reserve

The state that brought you 15 barrels of Jack Daniel’s whiskey and 9 single barrel tequilas is back again with a mountain of single barrel bourbons from some of the biggest names in the industry.

The New Hampshire Liquor Commission recently went down south and came back with a whopping 62 barrels of spirits from just about every distillery there is. The haul included 17 barrels of Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel, 4 barrels of Weller Reserve, and even a barrel of Blanton’s. The NHLC sent us nine of the 62, including four barrels of Woodford Reserve Private Selection, two Knob Creek Single Barrel releases, two Jack Daniel’s Single Barrels, and one Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel bourbon.

Ready to dig in? Thoughts on the full collection follow. (Proof levels and prices were not readily available for the collection.)

Woodford Reserve Personal Selection Barrel #9220 – Oak-forward on the nose, with hints of mint and cloves. Tons of oak on the palate recall a classic Woodford construction, with a hint of cherry on the back end. B+

Woodford Reserve Personal Selection Barrel #9221 – Wildly different, this is a popcorn bomb with a very youthful, pastoral construction. Frontier-style, with a chewy body and a rather pungent finish. Not a favorite, but a real outlier here an an otherwise engaging field. C+

Woodford Reserve Personal Selection Barrel #9222 – Sweet and quite oak-heavy, with an unusual maritime note that fans of Islay scotch may grab onto. Very savory, with a conclusion of toasty oak and dark chocolate. B

Woodford Reserve Personal Selection Barrel #9223 – Tons of eucalyptus and menthol here, with a finish that winds its way toward chocolate and caramel sauce. The conclusion recalls vanilla marshmallows with an ample amount of spice. B+

Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve Barrel #4507 – The essence of burly Knob Creek — high proof, big lumber and spice notes, and a lingering sweetness that offers some orange peel, tea leaf, and caramel corn notes. Nice balance, while still evoking youth. B+

Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve Barrel #4926 – Heavier on the caramel corn notes, with ample spice (and less heat) behind it. This is a mellow bourbon that is silky on the tongue, with layers of caramel, vanilla, and nutmeg/cinnamon that linger through a quite satisfying and well balanced finish. A surprising departure from #4507. A

Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Select Barrel #1597 – Corny Jack, with an aggressively savory edge, a bit tough with some vegetal notes, but also sultry with a lashing of butterscotch, vanilla custard, and a bit o’ Bit-O-Honey. Nice balance between the sweet and the savory here. B+

Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Select Barrel #1598 – An aromatic and beautiful whiskey, with notes of graham crackers and apple pie, with a finish that approaches whipped cream. There’s also a spice element of clove and nutmeg that really starts to creep out as the finish develops. Hard to put down. A

Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon Barrel #218 – Fairly corn-heavy, this is a big Wild Turkey release with notes of maple syrup and spice, but savory on the finish with a leather and tobacco character that belies its upfront sweetness. Chewy on the tongue, there’s a certain spiciness to the whiskey that’s more evident on the lingering finish. B+