Review: A Trio of 2013 Italian Value Wines – Masi, Montessu, and Salviano

Italy has its share of cult wines, but it’s also loaded with bargains, like these three wines (all imported by Kobrand), which showcase a tour of different Italian wine regions, all coming in at less than $20 a bottle. Let’s take a look!

2013 Masi Campofiorin – A “Superveronese” blended from corvina, rondinella, and molinara grapes (the same used for Amarone). A beautiful and balanced wine. Lush berry fruit notes pave the way toward light hints of vinegar, fresh herbs, and a finish that nods at nutmeg and ginger. A beautiful wine that drinks with more complexity than its price tag would indicate, the 2013 expression is one of the best examples of this wine in recent years. A- / $16

2013 Agricola Punica Montessu Isola dei Nuraghi IGT – A Sardinian blend of mainly carignane plus other grapes. This wine is a bit flat, its berry fruit filtered through a bit of applesauce and, emerging on the nose with time, some tar and leather elements. The body is muted, heavy on cherry fruit and meatier notes, with a fairly short finish. Tastes like a lot like the “house wine” at your favorite Italian restaurant. B- / $15

2013 Tenuta di Salviano Turlo Lago di Corbara DOC – A blend of 50% sangiovese, 30% cabernet sauvignon, and 20% merlot. This Umbrian blend is one of the best values I’ve ever found out of Italy. Beautiful cherry and raspberry fruit is deftly balanced with notes of fresh herbs, a touch of tobacco, a hint of vanilla, and a few green notes around the edges. Even the greenery doesn’t detract from what is a surprisingly lush and balanced experienced, perfectly quaffable on its own but an excellent companion to pasta dishes, as well. A / $13

Review: Wines of Joseph Jewell, 2017 Releases

Joseph Jewell — the middle names of Micah Wirth and Adrian Manspeaker, respectively — produce a range of pinot noir, zinfandel, and chardonnay wines, sourcing from all around Sonoma and, interestingly, Humboldt County (which is far better known for another cash crop than grapevines).

Today we look at a sextet of red releases from the duo — though all are quite well-aged, they are all surprisingly current releases.

2013 Joseph Jewell Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Hallberg Vineyard – This pinot is showing some age, but is still drinking well, with a core of well-extracted cherry that is backed up with notes of cola, tea leaf, and some baking spices. The finish shows a touch of balsamic and ample, lingering acidity. B+ / $55

2014 Joseph Jewell Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Bucher Vineyard – Firing on all cylinders, this cherry-core pinot offers stronger tea leaf notes than the Hallberg bottling, with lingering, savory notes of thyme and bay leaf. The finish echoes intriguing notes of pencil lead. Good stuff. A- / $50

2013 Joseph Jewell Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Floodgate Vineyard – There’s quite a bit of oxidation starting to show on this wine, which filters cherry through ample balsamic along with some odd, gummy banana notes and a bittersweet finish., with lingering balsamic notes. B+ / $50

2014 Joseph Jewell Pinot Noir Humboldt County – A bit on the flabby side, with ample oxidation/balsamic notes showing throughout. Heavy current and sour cherry notes dominate, with a kick of licorice on the back. Somewhat lackluster. B- / $32

2014 Joseph Jewell Pinot Noir Humboldt County Alderpoint Vineyard – Interesting licorice and black pepper notes kick this off, leading to a smattering of balsamic vinegar, tar, and tobacco — but it’s all filtered through notes of fresh strawberry and cherry, albeit somewhat watery in body. The finish hints at mint. B / $35

2013 Joseph Jewell Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley Grist Vineyard – A solid little zin, bursting with fruit but not blown out, heavy with cherry and cola notes, some chocolate, and a healthy dose of fresh herbs. The finish is a bit on the sour side — again, the wine is showing some age — but still charming. B / $39

josephjewell.com

Review: 12 Beers from New Belgium, Early 2017 Releases

Today it’s a little bit of “something old, something new” from New Belgium, which released no less than 12 beers on tap for us to experience over the last few months… including a bizarre collaboration with none other than Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream.

Read on for reviews of everything…

New Belgium Pilsener – A “Bohemian style” pilsner, this lovely lager kicks off with mammoth notes of fresh bread — almost pizza crust-like — before finishing with a touch of sea salt (giving it a pretzel-like character) and just the mildest hint of bitterness late in the game. As straightforward (and enjoyable) lager I could imagine. 4.8% abv. A-

New Belgium Whizbang – Described as a hoppy blonde ale, this is an interesting hybrid style of beer that starts things off with a brisk (Mosaic-driven) bitterness before moving on to a maltier, meatier middle. Imagine an IPA stripped of fruit, with a chewy, bready character in its place, and you’ve got this interesting oddity just about figured out. 5.7% abv. B+

New Belgium Citradelic Exotic Lime Ale – This is a different beer than New Belgium’s older Citradelic, which is flavored with tangerines. As the name implies, this beer has lime as the focus — Persian limes, plus coriander and a little black pepper. Neat idea but, unfortunately, the lime here comes off as a bit plastic, slightly chemical in tone with just a hint of that coriander to give it a little spin. That said, it’s as drinkable as a Corona with a couple of lime wedges stuffed into it, for better or for worse. 5.2% abv. B

New Belgium Tartastic Lemon Ginger Sour – Not a “sour” in the sense that beer snobs think of it, but very acidic and lemony and not really all that pleasant, with an intense vinegar aftertaste that feels a little like the experience one gets when he has motions contrary to swallowing. 4.5% abv. C-

New Belgium Dayblazer Easygoing Ale – The name should tip you off that this is a session brew, a very pale ale that drinks closer to a lager than an IPA. Lightly sweet and malty, there’s an edge of slightly citrusy bitterness that takes it into ale territory. Easy to enjoy and light on its feet. That said, 4.8% abv is on par with the “regular” beers in this roundup. B+

New Belgium Accumulation (2017) – The 2017 release of a wheat-barley hybrid (a “white IPA”) we reviewed last year. Again it’s a chewy, hoppy encounter that offers ample and tart fruit notes and lemony notes on the finish. Heavily bready from start to finish, it’s an appropriate ale for the wintertime scene that appears on the label. 6.2% abv. B+

New Belgium Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ale – As gimmicks go, this one’s out there — a blonde ale dosed with chocolate, brown sugar, and vanilla to give it indeed an ice-cream like character. It’s better than you’re thinking, its malty undercoating giving it a bit of malted milk character, and the chocolate/vanilla notes providing sweetness, but not too much. Lots of vanilla on the back end. It’s surely not something for every day, but it’s an approachable novelty for sure. Proceeds help Protect Our Winters. 6% abv. B

Voodoo Ranger is a sort of sub-brand from New Belgium, where “Voodoo Ranger” is larger in type size than the name of the brewery. Here’s three from the company…

New Belgium Voodoo Ranger IPA – A straightforward IPA expression, aromatic and piney up front but with some curious chocolate syrup notes on the back end. Both aromatically heady and burly on the palate, its alcohol level keeps things rolling without overwhelming the palate. 7% abv. A-

New Belgium Voodoo Ranger Imperial IPA – Ample malt backs up this dense, almost gooey IPA, which is heavy on the pine and forest floor elements, with a quite limited citrus profile. Quite bready on the back end. 9% abv. B

New Belgium Voodoo Ranger 8 Hop Ale – An octet of hop varieties gives this pale ale a bit of a scattered character, with intense bitterness fading into a muddy, forest-floor-laden back end. The finish is lightly vegetal, causing this beer to take a back seat to better-realized multi-hop beers. 5.5% abv. B-

And two collaborative offerings from New Belgium’s ongoing Lips of Faith series…

New Belgium in Collaboration with Anne-Francoise Spiced Imperial Dark Ale – Aged on “white oak spirals,” this Belgian collaboration is a deep and dense, dry-hopped beer that is flavored with the essence of the forest, including spruce tips and grains of paradise. Warming and malty, the wood-driven vanilla melds nicely with the sprinkling of baking spices, while a hoppy bitterness eventually finds its way to the finish. So much going on here, plan to spend some time getting to know this brew before figuring it all out. 9.5% abv. B+

New Belgium Clutch Collaboration Wood-Aged Imperial Sour Stout – Brewed in collaboration not with a brewery but with a band, Clutch. This is a blend of 70% stout, and 30% dark sour wood-aged beer. Results are straight-up crazy, the beer kicking off with sour apple and grapefruit peel notes that slowly trickle down into a melange of bitter roots, chocolate, coffee, cacao nibs, and oxidized wine. The mouth-puckering introduction that slowly turns rounded, burly, and bittersweet is nothing if not unique, but rather than developing over time, I feel it wears out its welcome fairly quickly. 8.5% abv. C+ / $13 per 22 oz. bottle

$17 per 12-pack unless noted / newbelgium.com

Review: William Wolf Frisky and Coffee Whiskeys

Remember William Wolf? The pecan-flavored American bourbon made in… the Netherlands? Well Mr. Wolf has been busy expanding into other flavored whiskeys, with a total of four (plus an unflavored rye) now on the market.

Today we look at two of the newer products, “Frisky,” which is a vanilla/caramel-heavy whiskey, and “Coffee,” which is flavored with, er, coffee. Note that unlike the Pecan whiskey, these are not billed as having bourbon as their base but rather are made with just American whiskey. (I also can’t determine if there is any Holland connection any more; the labels merely say these were produced and bottled in William Wolf’s home state of South Carolina.)

Let’s take a quick peek at each of them.

Both are 70 proof.

William Wolf Frisky Whiskey – This vanilla- and caramel-flavored whiskey is as sticky as they come, a super-sweet concoction that combines a soda shop full of syrups to create a whiskey that is filled with vanilla, butterscotch, some coconut, and ripe banana. This actually is more appealing than it sounds, particularly as a dessert-class tipple, as the coconut notes (intended or otherwise) work well with the maple syrup sweetness of the underlying spirit. B- / $25

William Wolf Coffee Whiskey – It’s a good thing it says “whiskey” on the label, because otherwise you’d have no idea there was any whiskey in this heavily-flavored concoction, a mahogany-brown spirit that smells of well-sweetened coffee, and little else. Perhaps the lightest hint of vanilla gives this spirit any semblance of whiskey; feel free to use it as a considerably higher proof version of your favorite coffee liqueur in your next White Russian. B+ / $25

thinklikeawolf.com

Review: Stolen Whiskey 11 Years Old

Stolen, best known for its smoked rum line, expands into whiskey with this first offering, an 11 year old bourbon sourced from MGP and given a unique finish. After Stolen gets ahold of the whiskey it is rebarreled in a cask with “double smoked barrel staves” which are made by “turning the staves at key points during a toast over an oak fire.”

So, what’s that do to a whiskey?

The nose of Stolen Whiskey is bourbon-sweet but, as one would expect, slightly smoky — exhibiting a barbecue-like smokiness with vanilla-soaked overtones of cherry wood, some eucalyptus, and hints of cardamom. The smoke lingers the longest on the nose, though — and it grows in power as it collects in the glass.

On the palate, a rush of sweet vanilla and caramel reminds you you’re drinking bourbon, but it’s washed away by notes of bacon and smoldering mesquite fire, smoky but sweet, and heavily meaty. The finish is drying and exceptionally lasting, increasingly dusty and growing rather harsh as it lingers on the tongue, that initial burst of sweetness long gone.

A little barrel char in a whiskey can work wonders for it, balancing out the more sugary notes and adding nuance, but here the effect is amplified to an extreme, taken too far and throwing the whiskey a bit out of whack. The more I drink it, the more all I taste are the remnants of a desert scrub brush fire. And I have to think that was probably not the intention.

92 proof.

B- / $40 / thisisstolen.com

Review: Wines of Australia’s MWC, 2017 Releases

MWC is a budget label from Aussie winemakers McPherson Wines, with four expressions being produced. Don’t be alarmed: All the bottles used are Burgundy-style bottles, regardless of what goes in them.

Let’s take a look at 2017’s releases, all now in the market.

2015 MWC Pinot Gris Victoria – A lovely pink hue kicks off this fruit-filled wine, which offers notes of pineapple and mango and a touch of coconut, all layered over a lemony backbone, with light grapefruit notes. Incredibly fresh and eminently drinkable, it’s a lovely wine as an aperitif that also pairs well with seafood. A- / $15

2014 MWC Shiraz Mourvedre Victoria – 95% shiraz, 5% mourvedre. Blunt and unremarkable, this lightly pruny wine offers loads of blackberry jam and some tea leaf, with a fair amount of syrupy milk chocolate notes. Nuanced it’s not, using ample sweetness to mask a thin body and a short finish. C / $15

2015 MWC Pinot Noir Victoria – More enticing, with a solid acidity level that works well with notes of cherry and blueberry that dominate the palate. The finish treads into some odd areas of baking spice and more of that milk chocolate, but otherwise the experience is robust enough to carry its own. B / $16

2015 MWC Cabernet Sauvignon Victoria – An entry-level cabernet, approachable but not the most nuanced wine in this lineup. Notes of raspberry and currant are on target, but secondary character behind them is fairly lacking. The finish is more acidic than expected, with only modest tannin structure, and with a straightforward, tart but fruit-heavy conclusion. B / $16

mcphersonwines.com.au

Review: Eden Mill Gins – Original, Love, Oak, and Hop

Eden Mill is a combo brewery-distillery in Scotland’s St. Andrews that makes beer, whisky, and gin, including this quartet, which all come in unique, swing-top bottles. Eden Mill makes quite an array of spirits in its copper pot stills; it’s a bit unusual for gin to be pot-distilled, so let’s take a dive into four of Eden Mill’s releases, which are just now becoming available in the U.S. thanks to importer ImpEx.

Eden Mill Original Gin – Beautifully balanced right from the start, featuring moderate but omnipresent juniper, a healthy slug of lemon and orange peel, and aromatic hints of cinnamon and cloves. The body picks up the spice a bit, playing up torched orange peel, cardamom, and hints of eastern spices, while finishing clean with some light florals notes. A perfect rendition of a modern gin that keeps one foot in the new world and one in the old. Use it for, well, anything. 84 proof. A

Eden Mill Love Gin – Flowers naturally come to mind when “Love” is on the menu, and roses are fragrant on the nose of Love Gin, right from the start. Evergreen character is surprisingly a bit stronger here, both on the nose and on the palate, which gives way to some orange peel and a hint of mushroomy forest floor. The finish is juniper-loaded, giving love a strangely feminine beginning, and a surprisingly masculine finale. Further proof that gender fluidity is hot right now. 84 proof. B

Eden Mill Oak Gin – Clearly barrel-aged (thanks to both the name and the color), though details on the treatment are scarce. Gentle citrus and vanilla notes on the nose give way to a cake frosting character on the palate, which eventually leads to the juniper at the gin’s core pushing its way through the sweetness. The finish is a pleasant combination of sweet and savory notes, with toasty baking spice elements layered on top. 84 proof. B+

Eden Mill Hop Gin – This hop-infused gin is a complete departure from the above trio, which can easily be seen as close members of the same family. The nose has strong elements of green olives, while the palate turns heavily hop-focused and very bitter, growing in strength as the finish, with echoes of lime peel and bitter amari, comes into focus. An acquired taste. 92 proof. B-

each $40 / edenmill.com

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