Review: 2015 Apothic Crush and Red

California-based Apothic specializes in weird blends at low prices (the whiskey-barrel-aged Inferno is one to also read about), and its two latest releases — Crush and Red, both likely bulk wine buys blended to make the best possible finished product the blender could come up with — are no exception to the rule.

Let’s pop a couple of corks and see what we think.

2015 Apothic Crush – A blend “led by” petite sirah and pinot noir. Clearly driven more by the former, this is a fruit-heavy expression of strawberry and blueberry, filtered through milk chocolate and caramel sauce. It’s thick and almost gooey, and the sweetness can be a bit unbearable at times — though it is fortunately rescued to some degree by a scatter of baking spices on the finish. C+

2015 Apothic Red – A mutt of a blend of zinfandel, syrah, cabernet sauvignon, and merlot. Relatively innocuous next to Crush — or perhaps my palate has just become accustomed to the sugar rush — it also features chocolate notes but filtered through notes of blackberry bramble, banana, and jasmine. A tad more interesting. B-

each $14 /

Review: Tequila Corralejo Blanco and Reposado

Corralejo’s striking bottles — the reposado is blue, the anejo is red — stand out on any back bar. At the liquor store, something else is likely to stand out even more: The price, which frequently comes in at under $20 for the blanco, $25 for the reposado.

We tasted both the “white” and “blue” bottlings — the anejo was not available — to see what some bright colors and low, low prices could do for our enjoyment of the spirit.

Both are 80 proof.

Tequila Corralejo Blanco – Tons of agave up front on the nose, alongside black pepper, lemon, and a hint of roasted meat. On the palate, it’s racy, with lots of alcohol weighing heavily on the tongue, the black pepper dulling the agave the way a somewhat dusty old can of McCormick spices might mar your otherwise well-crafted dish. A little bright citrus pops back into focus toward the end of the experience, but it’s too little, too late. The overall impression here is on the muddy side, a spirit designed wholly for mixing. B- / $20

Tequila Corralejo Reposado – Rested for four months in three types of oak — French, American and Encino (a type of California-sourced oak). Wood aging usually mellows out any spirit — especially tequila — but with Corralejo, an off-putting, funky/weedy character lingers, difficult to shake despite a filter of vanilla on top of it. The palate’s not much better, a melange of old wood, pepper, weedy agave, and a finish that offers just a touch of cinnamon and vanilla syrup. There may be some charms buried deep in the bottle (and this reposado has its share of fans), but I find said charms difficult to access. C- / $25

Review: NV Graham’s Six Grapes Reserve Porto Special River Quintas Edition

Port fanatics may recall that three years ago, Graham’s released a special edition of its Six Grapes flagship bottling, Six Grapes Special Old Vines Edition. Now owner Symington is out with a follow-up, Six Grapes Reserve Porto Special River Quintas Edition, which is sourced from two river estates close to the Douro: Tua and Malvedos. As the company says, “Tradition dictates that the finest properties of the Douro are those that hear the murmur of the river flowing by.”

Only 1000 cases of this release were produced. Let’s see how it stands up to the claim that it is “Vintage Port quality but ready for immediate consumption.”

Unfortunately, I found this expression to be surprisingly, slightly green on the palate, with notes of dark chocolate and prune filtered through vegetal notes of fresh rosemary and sage. The finish lands with a bit of a thud, plenty sweet but gummy around the edges, hinting at orange and grapefruit peel. It’s fair enough for a glass, but it won’t hold a candle to a solid Vintage Port.

B- / $42 /

Review: Yellow Snow Peppermint Schnapps

It’s perhaps not the most elegant of products, packaging choices, or even spirit coloration decisions, but let’s give Yellow Snow, from the creators of Throttle 2 Bottle whiskey, a hand for originality at least. Yes, that’s a yeti peeing the name of the product into the snow.

While the color is off-putting, the nose is classically structured, with nothing but racy peppermint and a faint herbal undercurrent beneath it. On the palate, there’s more sweetness than I initially expected, which dulls the mint component quite a bit. Perhaps it’s the color playing with my mind, but lemon notes come through on the finish.

The overall effect is similar to chewing on a piece of peppermint-flavored gum, sweet and simple — but refreshing in the end. Yellow gum, anyway.

44 proof.

B- / $15 /

Review: Throttle 2 Bottle Canadian Whisky

Throttle 2 Bottle is one of the most patriotic whiskeys I’ve had in months, not to mention the most manly. The front label alone has a motorcycle, an ATV, a snowmobile, and a stunt plane — all decked out in red, white, and blue, of course.

There’s a lot of text about living extreme, the 2nd Amendment, and God blessing America, but the fine print will tell you what you’re actually drinking: Canadian whisky, apparently brought to Wyoming for proofing by an import company based in Houston, Texas. There’s no information on sourcing or age, but this isn’t a whiskey that most people are going to be sipping intently, analyzing every aspect of it.

Except us, of course…

The nose is loaded up with brown sugar and baking spice, both doing a so-so job at covering up an ample lumberyard character that’s also a bit smoky. The palate is quite sweet, a lightly honeyed syrup character with notes of overripe apple and pear, and some maple notes emerging on the finish.

No big surprises here, really. This is a basic Canadian but it isn’t at all unpleasant, and it would be fine as a rack mixer for tall drinks. Of course, if you keep it in the rail behind the bar, you wouldn’t be able to see the awesome label, so what would be the point of that?

80 proof.

B- / $20 /

Review: Ferdinand’s Saar Dry Vermouth, Dry Gin, and Quince

Newly available in the U.S. is this collection of products from Germany’s Avadis Dsitllery. Bottled under the Ferdinand’s label, these products all involve a unique ingredient: Riesling wine from the Mosel region, where the distillery is based.

Some additional details from the company:

Ferdinand’s Saar Dry Gin is crafted from grain to bottle at Avadis Distillery located in Germany’s Mosel Region. Only the highest-grade late and select harvest grape wines from the neighboring steep shale slopes of the Saarburger Rausch vineyards are used for the gin’s wine infusion. These semi-sweet Rieslings from the Saar are not just known for their elegance and fruity complexity, but also exhibit the maximum degree of extract density, providing a refinement characteristic to Saar Dry Gin. The raw distillate produced from the grain is distilled several times to form the basis for a selection of 30 hand-picked herbs, spices and fruits, which are carefully macerated to produce an eau-de-vie. The additional use of a steam infusion of freshly harvested herbs adds unique fresh floral notes to this gin, and it is rounded off with a precise measure of Schiefer Riesling to guarantees a high-quality product.

We tasted three products in the Ferdinand’s line. Thoughts follow.

Ferdinand’s Saar Dry Vermouth – Dry vermouth made from the riesling grape. Quite dry, and surprisingly bitter given the riesling base. Notes of oxidation, rosemary, and quinine all mix together a bit unevenly, finishing on a Meyer lemon note. Scattered and off-balance, with too much wormwood in the mix, it has a certain charm but doesn’t add a whole lot in a mixed drink. 18% abv. B- / $23

Ferdinand’s Saar Dry Gin – This is the riesling-infused gin, with 30 (undisclosed) botanicals. The nose is intense with juniper, lemon peel, and thyme — largely traditional, with the riesling not making a major showing. On the palate, the wine character is far more evident, a bittersweet character that offers a lemon syrup note, followed by layers and layers of savory herbs, leading to a surprising, very bitter finish. Daunting on its own, it’s an intensely herbal experience that needs a lot more citrus in the bill to find balance. 88 proof. C+ / $45

Ferdinand’s Saar Quince – This oddity, an homage to traditional sloe gin, is an infusion of Saar Dry Gin (though the label says “vodka”) with estate-grown quinces and 2011 Kabinett class riesling. The exotic nose combines sweet white wine, honey, lemon and grapefruit (or quince-ness), and a smack of herbs to create a truly unusual but not unappealing aroma. The palate is quite sweet, again laced with a rather intense amount of herbs but cut with lots of that lemony citrus character. The finish is bittersweet, a bit sour, and quite herbal, but it all fades out on a sweet lemon sherbet note. Not really a substitute for sloe gin, but you might see what you can do with it in lieu of triple sec — or half-and-half with a regular gin. 60 proof. B / $50 (500ml)

Review: 2014 Les Dauphins Puymeras Cotes du Rhone Villages

70% grenache, 20% syrah, 10% carignan. This affordable Rhone Valley wine offers an exceptionally fruit-forward profile, featuring notes of bold strawberry and cherry, backed with a hint of rhubarb. As the palate develops it turns a little toward citrus, with stronger orange juice and orange peel notes, before leading to a slightly astringent — yet highly fruited — finish. Best with food.

B- / $19 /