Review: Wines of Argentina’s Alamos, 2017 Releases

Someone has messed up a relatively winning formula at Alamos, which has taken a turn for the overly manipulated since we last encountered the wines in 2015.

2016 Alamos Torrontes Origin Salta – The lone hit in this bunch, this is a highly acidic torrontes with tons of white flowers, hints of peach, and a lightly herbal finish that adds some nuance. A crowd-pleaser but also a relatively complex white. A- / $13

2016 Alamos Malbec Mendoza – Credible malbec, without much nuance to it. A moderately acidic bite up front, with ample cherry and tobacco notes, leads to an overly gummy body whose flavor quickly evaporates into thin air. The finish is almost nonexistent. B- / $13

2015 Alamos Malbec Seleccion Mendoza – Again a little gummy (too much gum arabic, perhaps), taking a silky body someplace a bit on the funky side. The cherry here seems blown out, the herbal notes falling a bit flat on the finish. B- / $20

alamoswines.com

Review: Wines of Edna Valley, 2017 Releases

You’ll find Edna Valley Vineyard in San Luis Obispo in southern California, but this winery sources grapes from all over California, particularly for its low-cost whites and rose. Here’s a look at three such wines to take you out of summer and into fall.

2016 Edna Valley Pinot Grigio California – This pinot grigio offers some fun florals and ample notes of fresh pears, banana, and a touch of nutmeg — which would all be swell if not for a rather gummy body that feels overly doctored, particularly on the strangely chewy finish. B- / $15

2015 Edna Valley Chardonnay Central Coast – This is a big and bold chardonnay, typically California in style, unctuous with notes of vanilla, oak, and brown butter. A hint of lemongrass on the nose does little to cut through the liquid dessert that follows on the tongue, nor can it cut the weighty, overly creamy finish. C+ / $15

2016 Edna Valley Rose California – A mix of Tempranillo, Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre. A simpler wine than the above, appropriately fragrant on the nose with mixed florals and berries, with a very light, almost watery, body that offers a simple strawberry character. The palate is fortunately clean and fresh, the light fragrance giving it a bit of a lift on the back end. B / $18

ednavalleyvineyard.com

Review: Don Papa Rum

The Philippines isn’t exactly known for rum, but why not? It’s hot, they’ve got sugar, and now they’ve got their own rum finally making it to the U.S. — Don Papa.

Filipino rum is a bit of a different animal, however, than you might be used to. I didn’t read up on this before tasting, but here’s the back story:

Don Papa Rum carries the long-standing traditions of Filipino rum making as a first-rate, expressive liquid that has amassed a cult-like following with spirits enthusiasts and industry insiders – a testament to its ability to transcend the rum category. The complex and delicious tasting rum offers a new taste that rum drinkers, brown spirit aficionados and newcomers to the spirit category can all enjoy.

The field to bottle process required to perfect “The Don” is no simple task. Don Papa Rum is handcrafted on the ethereal Philippine island of Negros, also known as “Sugarlandia,” where the lush, fertile land allows the sugarcane to flourish. The ancient sugar mills of Negros grind the Noble Cane, the original variety of sugar cane in Southeast Asia dating back thousands of years ago. This variant is much sweeter than others and transforms into the special “black gold” molasses used in Don Papa. These ingredients are then distilled and aged up to seven years in an ultra-humid climate, intensifying the interaction between the rum and the American oak barrels, drawing out the vanilla notes from the wood.

The key in all of that is that this Filipino sugar cane is sweeter than other strains. Tuck into Don Papa and you’ll soon see that’s no exaggeration. (The rum has no formal age statement but, as noted above, it’s “up to seven years” old.)

It starts right from the nose. Unlike most Caribbean rums, which are driven by vanilla notes, Don Papa is overwhelmingly fruity, featuring tons of orange, some coconut notes, banana, and a tropical hint. You can smell how powerful the sugar is — it exudes sweetness with a distinct candylike character.

The palate arrives much as expected. That candy-coated fruit character endures, here folding in some mint, more toasted coconut, and a bit of strawberry into that orange-dominated body. The finish eventually sees a bit of astringency (that classic petrol note so common with rum) that the sugar can’t quite cover up, though frankly, given the overwhelming rush of sweetness that comes before, this rustic character is almost a relief.

Tread with caution lest you go into diabetic shock.

80 proof.

B- / $36 / donpaparum.com

Review: Half-Seas Sparkling Paloma and Daiquiri

Ready for a new style of ready-to-drink beverage? Half-Seas Sparkling Cocktails are a new offering from the makers of Scrappy’s Bitters, made with real spirits (no malt or other fermented alcohol).

Three “true” ready-to-drink canned cocktails are coming out of the gate, and all are sparkling, with 30psi carbonation (Half-Seas says this is “champagne level”). First up are recreations of the Bramble, Daiquiri, and Paloma.

We received early samples of two of these (the paloma and the daiquiri), and gave them the Drinkhacker taste test. Thoughts follow.

Each is canned at 12% abv.

Half-Seas Sparkling Paloma – Made with Half-Seas own grapefruit soda. This paloma is fragrant with herbs and grapefruit at first, but quite tequila-forward as it develops on the palate. It could benefit from a bit more sweetness, as the heavily earthy aftertaste tends to weigh down the experience. B-

Half-Seas Sparkling Daiquiri – A simple rendition of a daiquiri, lightly sweet with fresh lime and gentle rum notes. The fizz gives this a bit of a different spin, letting the lime percolate up a bit like a gin and tonic. The lime and bitterness on the finish also connotes a quinine component, even though it may not really be present. Perfectly pleasant, if short of elevated. B+

each $16 to $20 per four-pack of 200ml cans / half-seas.com

Review: Wolfburn Single Malt Whisky and Aurora Sherry Oak

Located on the extreme northern tip of the Scottish mainland, Wolfburn is one of the youngest distilleries in Scotland, getting its start in 2013 on the site of an old distillery from the 1800s located outside the town of Thurso. The distillery ages in a combination of bourbon casks (of various sizes) as well as Spanish sherry casks — but so far, none of its products carry formal age statements. You can do the math: Since none of this is sourced whisky, it’s a maximum of four years old, probably less.

Today we look at two of the earliest releases from Wolfburn, the eponymous single malt and another bottling called Aurora, which sees a considerable influence (judging from color alone) of sherry casking.

Both are 92 proof.

Wolfburn Single Malt Scotch Whisky – All the hallmarks of young whisky are here. This one’s green on the nose, with notes of new leather, fresh cut wood, evergreen needles, lemon peel, and menthol. On the palate, the pungent character that comes across is wholly expected, the grain taking on a surprisingly heavy bitter citrus note along with notes of dusky cloves, green pepper, and roasted onion. Those can be off flavors for sure, but here they work reasonably well as they build to a burly, if uneven, crescendo. The overly bitter finish is a bit further off the mark, though. B- / $55 [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Wolfburn Aurora Sherry Oak Single Malt Scotch Whisky – The heavier sherry is evident here from the first whiff, though again it is filtered through notes of fresh herbs, ample wood, and a tobacco note. The palate is sharply sherried, though still somewhat vegetal (though less so than the single malt), with notes of mint (fresher than the menthol notes in the single malt), cinnamon, and nougat. The finish is incredibly sharp and biting, with an even more bitter, herbal edge than the above — quite a surprise, and a bit of a letdown over what is otherwise a pretty interesting dram. B / $60

wolfburn.com

Review: Baron Samedi Spiced Rum

There’s a great story behind Baron Samedi then man — he’s the legendary master of the dead in Haiti, “the ever-cool and confident guide to a world shrouded in shadows and riddled with enigma.” (He’s also the henchman to the big bad in Live and Let Die, if you’re a Bond fan.)

Baron Samedi the rum is a different animal, a highly-sweetened spiced rum made from a mixed base. Some deets:

The Baron Samedi Spiced Rum is a carefully crafted, supernatural spirit. Made with high-quality rums from the Caribbean, the Baron Samedi includes a small amount of Jamaican pot still rum for depth of flavor. All natural spices — cocoa, cinnamon, and clove — are steeped into the rum, which is then blended with vanilla and an exotic spice from the Baron’s native Haiti.

An exotic spice, eh? Well, let’s give Baron Samedi a sampling.

The nose of this rum is exceedingly sweet but also almost overwhelming with its chocolate, cinnamon, and clove notes — all three present and accounted for as promised — with plenty of vanilla backing that up. The palate is, as expected, quite sweet — almost unbearably so on first blush — the vanilla melding with brown sugar and some nutmeg to create an almost Christmas-like character on the tongue. The finish recalls hot buttered rum — the 90 proof base giving it more of an oily character than you typically get in a spiced rum — with ample nutmeg dusting the top. Of course, all of that is mere prologue to the main event: Sugar, and lots of it, lingering like melted caramels and well-packed, light brown sugar, both of which just undulate over the palate for what seems like days.

If this wasn’t so sweet, Baron Samedi might stand as an excellent example of how flavorful spiced rum can be. Unfortunately, the sugar doctor has been so generous with the Baron that ultimately that’s all one can really grab onto here.

90 proof.

B- / $15 / baronsamedi.com

Review: Starr Hill Summer 2017 Releases – Resinate, Festie, Sublime, The Hook, Warehouse Pils, Grateful, and The Love

Starr Hill’s (late) summer beers are now in full effect — today we look at a full seven varieties, including four appearing in a mixed case of cans for the first time. Let’s take a spin!

Starr Hill Resinate Imperial Red IPA – If “resin” is the operative term here, Starr Hill sure got this one right. Sticky, almost syrupy, this beer offers a maple, raisin-soaked attack before hitting you with a slug of bitterness — chewy, almost chocolaty, resin with a whiff of pine needles behind it. A hearty beer that will fit better come cooler weather. 7.7% abv. B

Starr Hill Festie Oktoberfest Lager – A classic German-style amber lager, fairly heavy on the carbonation with notes of dates, nuts, and a mash-up of baking spices. Warming and toasty, it’s by and large a hit for a beer of this style, though the malt feels a bit overdone on the finish. 4.8% abv. B+

Starr Hill Sublime Citrus Wit – If you like your wheat beers nice and orangey, Citrus Wit is for you. Lots of coriander back up a healthy dosing of citrus peel, giving it an intensely spicy, almost middle Eastern feel. Whether it lives up to its name is up to you. 4.7% abv. B

These four were all reviewed from cans (though they’re also available in bottles).

Starr Hill The Hook Grapefruit Session IPA – Not my favorite session IPA, this is a weak entry into an increasingly crowded field that comes off as watery and only hinting at any fruit, let alone grapefruit. Rather bready, with an herbal edge, the characteristic pine resin and citrus are decidedly lacking. Not there yet. 4.9% abv. C+

Starr Hill Warehouse Pils – A classic German pilsner, this burly lager goes beyond the typically barley-led basics and offers overtones of roasted meats, coriander, and green vegetables. A nicely dry finish helps even things out a bit. 5.5% abv. B-

Starr Hill Grateful Pale Ale – “Remastered” for 2017 with a new recipe to modernize the beer with a revamped hop bill and more malt. Good decisions all around: The new version of the beer bursts with hops without being overwhelming, with lemony citrus, gentle caramel, a dusting of spice, and some amaro notes all adding complexity. 4.7% abv. A-

Starr Hill The Love Wheat Beer – A moderately bodied hefeweizen, this isn’t the most distinguished of wheat beers, very heavy on the grain, with a subtext of apples and a significant amount of coriander. Fine, but “love” might be too strong a term. 5.1% abv. B-

each about $15 per 12-pack / starrhill.com

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