Review: 2016 Landmark Vineyards Damaris Chardonnay, Grand Detour Pinot Noir, and Overlook Pinot Noir

Today it’s a trio of 2016 vintage wines from Landmark Vineyards in Sonoma — a chardonnay and two pinot noirs — including a few expressions we’ve never seen before.

2016 Landmark Vineyards Damaris Reserve Chardonnay Sonoma Coast – This standby chardonnay finds a moderate to heavy wood profile giving its underlying fruit a slathering of bacon, vanilla, and a hint of Eastern spices. The finish is lengthy and unctuous with butter and oak; on its own it’s a bit much, but it does pair well with seafood. B+ / $40

2016 Landmark Vineyards Grand Detour Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast – With that earthiness and chewy graphite character, this is iconic Sonoma Coast pinot noir from the outset. Notes of tea leaf give the black cherries at the wine’s core some gravitas, with a light meatiness adding weight to the back end. Some floral notes emerge in time, particularly as that finish lingers. While its dense and rich, there’s an elegance here that’s beautiful today — and will probably be more forthcoming in 2021 and beyond. A- / $30

2016 Landmark Vineyards Overlook Pinot Noir – Very meaty, this wine is almost tough with notes of beef jerky and fried ham, with a bit of a charred, burnt toast character to it. The savory elements dominate any fruit that’s to be found here; that runs to plums and a slightly raisiny, almost Port-like note. Pairs reasonably well with food, but on its own it lacks the vibrancy one wants from a truly soulful pinot. B / $20

Review: Traverse City Premium Cocktail Cherries

Traverse City is a craft whisky distillery in the eponymous town in Michigan. Lately they’re also introduced cocktail cherries — of the “brandied” variety, not artificial maraschinos. Some details:

TCWC Co-founder Chris Fredrickson chose to use Northern Michigan Balaton Cherries,which are harvested exclusively from orchards in the Traverse City area. The large, plump, firm cherries, which are dark burgundy in color, are delivered to the distillery in five-gallon pails that also contain a natural syrup base that acts as a buffer to protect the fruit from smashing together. The syrup is mixed with Traverse City Straight Bourbon Whiskey and brought to a boil, while the Balaton Cherries are heated to a near-boil, in nearby copper pots, before jarring.

Once the premium cherries are jarred and weighed, they get backfilled with the boiling syrup, which has burned off all of the alcohol during its slow-cooking process. The TCWC team prides itself on traditional jarring methods, better known as the “hot-filled” process, which kills all possible bacteria.

We gave them a try in a couple of cocktails to see if they were worth adding to your garnish library.

These are big cherries, larger than your typical Luxardo, and considerably different in flavor, too. The texture difference is immediate: Traverse’s cherries have bite, almost crunchy, with a relative dryness at their core instead of a burst of juice. The flavor takes a spin away from the typical sweet/tart cherry character one finds with a Luxardo. Here, the cherry has a distinct chocolate character that acts as a foil to a modest earthiness beneath. There’s less sweetness here than in any other cocktail cherry I’ve encountered, but perhaps that’ll be to the liking of some drinkers? For me, however, while I enjoyed eating the cherries on their own, I found them a bit too savory for most recipes.

B / $16 per 16 oz jar /

Tasting the Wines of South Africa’s Simonsig, 2018 Releases

South Africa’s Simonsig (pronounced SEE-mun-sigg) is one of the country’s most noteworthy operations, and recently we had the opportunity to sample five of its wines, courtesy of a live tasting with its winemaking and business staff, broadcast to us from Stellenbosch in South Africa.

We walked through five wines that run the gamut of Simonsig’s production. Thoughts follow.

2016 Simonsig Kaapse Vonkel Brut Rose – We reviewed the 2015 vintage of this wine only a month ago. Mystery from that review solved: “Kaapse Vonkel” means “cape sparkling” in Afrikaans. The 2016 expression is made from the same three red grapes, and as with the 2015, it’s a very dry expression of sparkling wine, a bit meaty, its fruit character running to notes of rhubarb and dried strawberry. Quiet on the finish. B / $18

2017 Simonsig Chenin Blanc – Simonsig’s first wine, this chenin blanc is made from untrained, en gobelet vines. Picked very ripe, the wine has some natural sweetness to it, a honey and vanilla character that counters some of the earthier elements in the wine. A crisp, green apple note gives the finish a lift. B+ / $13

2015 Simonsig Pinotage – Bold and smoky bacon on the nose of this typical pinotage (a cross of pinot noir and cinsault) leads into a mildly fruity, somewhat thin palate, showing blackberry and raspberry, with licorice notes on the back end. That smoky bacon endures well into the finish, though, making this a love-it-or-hate-it experience. B- / $18

2015 Simonsig Redhill Pinotage – Essentially a single-vineyard pinotage, with some of its aging done in American oak, instead of just French oak. Much bolder, with spice and eucalyptus on the nose, dark chocolate and licorice giving it a bit of an American character. A definite food wine, it’s one that would benefit from time in bottle, to let some of its tannins settle out, letting the black fruit show itself more clearly. B / $34

2015 Simonsig Frans Malan Cape Blend Reserve – 67% pinotage, 29% cabernet sauvignon, and 4% merlot. Everyone’s been talking about “mulberries” here and it turns out it’s spot on — the wine showing a kind of blueberry/blackberry note that is stronger and more acidic, with a hint of vanilla extract underneath. This is a velvety but still youthful wine, its finish running to notes of balsamic, dark chocolate, and heady spices. Worth hanging on to. A- / $30

Review: Koloa Kauai Reserve Hawaiian Rum 3 Years Old

Kauai, Hawaii-based Koloa’s latest rum has hit the market, a three-year old product “artfully crafted in single-batches at its Kalaheo distillery. Kauai Reserve is made from the finest Hawaii sugar cane and fresh island water that was slowly filtered through volcanic strata before reaching vast underground aquifers. Kauai Reserve is carefully aged for a minimum of three years in select American white oak barrels and contains no added sugar, color or other ingredients.”

Compare to previous Koloa releases, then read on…

A very sweet nose offers notes of bold coconut, vanilla cream, and orange juice, almost impossibly sugary at times. On the palate, the sweetness kicks off the show, but it fades fast enough to reveal more of a toasted coconut character, hints of chocolate and butterscotch, and a ruddy, sometimes muddy, character that takes over as the finish develops. What remains on the palate is a slight chemical aftertaste, an unfortunate conclusion to the earlier proceedings.

B / $50 /

Review: Centenario Rum 7, 9, 12, 20, 25 and 30 Years Old

Centenario Rum, also known as Ron Centenario (and not to be confused with Gran Centenario Tequila), is based in Costa Rica, where the company produces a massive number of expressions, all made from local sugar can and aged in oak.

Centenario sent its core lineup of six rums for us to review (there’s also an 18 year old , from its affordable 7 year old to its ultra-rare 30 year old. The 7, 9, and 12 year old rums are all aged “Spanish style” in barrels (and thus represent true age statements). The 20, 25, and 30 year old rums are all made in the solera style, so those years represent the oldest spirit in the bottle.

Thoughts on the series of six rums, which have recently seen updated packaging, including gift boxes or canisters, follow.

All are 80 proof.

Centenario Rum Anejo Especial 7 Years Old – Still youthful on the nose, but engaging, with ample vanilla of course, plus some coconut, almond, and quite gentle baking spice notes. Similar notes fill the palate, but the body is on the small side — slightly funky, not in a bad way — and the finish is short. Though it’s got a decent amount of age on it, it’s a rum built for mixing, not sipping. Which is fine, because we have a long way to go here. B / $18

Centenario Rum Conmemorativo 9 Years Old – Two extra years make a modest difference here, namely in the body, which is stronger and more pungent, with a slightly winey character. That aside, more coconut and an emerging chocolate note arise to complement the vanilla at the rum’s core, leading to a sharper finish that hints at sherry. B+ / $23

Centenario Rum Gran Legado 12 Years Old – Some clearly older notes percolate here, the nose taking on a winey, sherried note, heavy with notes of baking spice. A salted caramel character is heavy on the palate, with the coconut notes taking on a more toasted character. While it’s slightly chocolaty on the finish, the fortified wine notes are what endure the longest. B+ / $30

Centenario Rum Fundacion 20 Years Old – Getting into the solera releases (this one is 6 to 20 years old), the rum finds a particularly wine-heavy character to it, almost brandy-like at times. Notes of tobacco and old wood begin to appear on the nose, while notes of sour cherry, intense vanilla, and cocoa powder dominate the palate. The finish finds a certain sweetness, almost like a candied strawberry, lingering for some time. In the end, there’s an impressive balance between the spirit-driven power and the elegance that comes with extended time in wood. A lovely rum that straddles the line between crowd-pleaser and sophisticated sipper. A- / $40

Centenario Rum Gran Reserva 25 Years Old – This 6 to 25 year old solera style rum is very dark, like that of strong tea, with a deep and powerful nose that offers notes of coffee, aged sherry, cocoa powder, and walnut oil. Raisiny and spicy on the palate, notes of furniture polish, old leather, and mocha dominate, the finish bouncing between those strong wine and coffee notes. Rich, but with some acidity to give it life on the palate, it’s a pure sipper that invites examination and discussion. A- / $60

Centenario Rum Edicion Limitada 30 Years Old – The top of the line carries less age information than the 20 and 25: All we know is the maximum age of this solera style rum is 30 years old. It continues the theme started by the 20 and 25 year olds, pushing further the agenda of coffee and increasingly dark chocolate. While very winey on the nose, the composition is sweeter on the palate than the 20 or the 25, those nutty notes taking on a candied character, the more intensely oily, polish-heavy notes mellowing just enough to let the fruit in the rum pop. The finish is still sharp and strong, but the warming character fits what’s come before perfectly. Try this after dinner instead of a cup of coffee. A / $100

Review: Evans Brewing Co. Son of a Beach, Joaquin Dead, Breakfast Black, and Chocolatte

Evans Brewing sent more of its offerings for our consideration. We tasted them all from 16 oz cans, but they’re available in bottles of various sizes, too.

Evans Brewing Co. Son of a Beach Blonde Ale – This foamy blonde ale is bursting with lemon notes, something like a shandy on steroids. Honestly it doesn’t do much to elevate an otherwise simple beer, giving it a sour sharpness that can be a little off-putting against a brew that should be all about freshness and easy granary notes. 4.2% abv. C

Evans Brewing Co. Joaquin Dead Mexican Red Ale – No question, I love the name. The beer, a bit less so: Again it features a heavy citrus element, here coming across a bit like a preservative, which decidedly muddies the freshness and crispness of a typical Mexican-style beer, though some amber-like nuttiness does peek through a salty-sour finish. 5.2% abv. C-

Evans Brewing Co. Breakfast Black Pilsner – A weird little beer, but probably the best in this lineup, it’s malty and (again) heavy on citrus, a crazy disconnect in comparison to the near-black color of the beer. Before too long, the darkness of the beer starts pushing its agenda, with toasty, coffee notes emerging on the finish. Wild. 4.8% abv. B

Evans Brewing Co. Chocolatte Chocolate Porter – Ink-black and pungent, I’m not sold on the “latte” part of the equation, but there’s an ample dark chocolate character here that at least fits the bill. Winey and strong, it’s got a drying finish with a Port-like, nutty character to it. 6.8% abv. B

each $5 per 22 oz. bottle /

Review: Wines of Portlandia, 2018 Releases

Pity Portlandia the winery, which has to compete with Portlandia the TV show, at least until this final season ends.

But Portlandia wine “was conceived well before the hit Fred Armisen show, a similar Oregonian whimsy can be detected on the quirky labels and in winemaker Damian Davis’s endearingly zany spirit,” or so they say. And it’s not just fanciful: The Willamette Valley AVA encompasses the entire city of Portland, and wineries are popping up near the city, and even inside it.

Portlandia technically hails from Dundee, which is in the heart of Willamette Valley, but we won’t hold that against them. While we dig into a quartet of surprisingly affordable wines from this operation, do take a moment to enjoy the hyper-hip labels, all simple, single-color graphics on kraft paper, each more iconically hipster than the last.

2016 Portlandia Oregon Pinot Gris – A lively and fresh pinot gris, this expression is a showcase for fresh-press white grapes, lemon, and gentle floral notes. It’s hardly a complex wine, though hints of grapefruit give it ample acidity and easy drinkability. B+ / $17

2016 Portlandia Oregon Rose of Pinot Noir – This rose of pinot is restrained on the fruit, allowing the more steely, acidic notes of a white wine to shine through. A light touch of strawberry, some brewed tea notes, and a hint of caramel take things in a bit of a different direction, giving the wine more of a sustained presence. B+ / $16

2015 Portlandia Oregon Pinot Noir – A soft wine that borders on thin at times. Though a brisk nose of spice, cherry, and gunpowder gives it some initial oomph, the body of the wine settles a little too quickly into a heavily fruited, slightly sweet character, punctuated by strawberry and rhubarb, with a twist of cotton candy. That said, it’s not at all hard to drink, particularly at mealtime, its finish lightly spiced with Christmas cake notes. B / $19

2015 Portlandia Momtazi Pinot Noir – Biodynamic. This is a much bolder expression of pinot, one that I could easily mistake for a Russian River bottling, full of graphite and tannin notes, with a heavy-duty body that allows dense blackberry fruit to slowly bubble up to the surface. It’s a powerful wine considering its Oregon origins, weighty but balanced, with a clean and elegant finish that invites continued exploration. A- / $35

Review: UFO Pineapple

UFO is an offshoot of Boston’s Harpoon Brewery with a specific focus on unfiltered wheat beers. Kinda-sorta spun off as its own thing, UFO (for UnFiltered Offering) has been steadily increasing its output, with a particular focus on canning.

UFO Pineapple is the latest edition, a hefeweizen (of course) infused with its namesake fruit. From its wheat-heavy beginnings, it doesn’t take long for a bold pineapple note to take hold: Think sugary, candied pineapple, not fresh fruit, or perhaps digging into a big Dole Whip — a bit too overblown for my taste, at least up front. The grainy, slightly malty wheat notes don’t stay in the background for long, though, emerging in time for a finish that melds fruit with field.

5.2% abv.

B / $8 per six-pack /

Review: Charleston Distilling Co. King Charles Vodka, Jasper’s Gin, Vesey’s Bourbon, and Calhoun’s Rye

Charleston Distilling is a South Carolina-based craft distillery that takes a farm-to-bottle approach to all of its spirits, starting with South Carolina-grown corn, rye, wheat, and millet that are milled at its own millhouse in Summerton, South Carolina, and then distilled at its operation in downtown Charleston. Its whiskeys are aged in new, charred oak barrels.

Today we look at a spectrum of Charleston Distilling’s products, including a vodka, a gin, and two whiskeys.

Charleston Distilling Co. King Charles Vodka – Distilled from a mash of corn and rye. This vodka is distinctly weedy, with mushroom overtones and a corny, white whiskey character to it. A modest sweetness offers a brief respite from the funkiness at the core here, but it’s a tough road to overcome the heavy notes of forest floor and pungent grains. 80 proof. C / $25

Charleston Distilling Co. Jasper’s Gin – Somewhat mysterious, Charleston doesn’t disclose the mash nor the botanicals in the bottle. While there is ample evidence of underlying grains on the nose, there’s a hefty spice element here, showing hot pepper, ginger root, and lemongrass notes. The palate is juniper-moderate, with strong citrus peel, baking spice, and licorice elements, brisk and a little pungent, but surprisingly balanced among its constituent flavors. The finish is a bit ragged, but not unpleasant, making for a gin that would work in a more herbal-focused cocktail. 94 proof. B / $30

Charleston Distilling Co. Vesey’s Straight Bourbon – A wheated bourbon, though no age statement is offered. Youthful on the nose, but soft, it’s a quiet bourbon with notes of fresh popcorn, some cherry notes, and ample barrel char. The palate is heavier on the grain, as is to be expected from a young spirit, but there’s notes of fruit, vanilla, and nutmeg here, enough to temper that cracking barrel char, at least until the rather rustic, heavier finish arrives. Part of that is driven by abv; a little water isn’t a bad idea here, which tempers granary character quite well. 94 proof. Reviewed: Barrel #1-6. B / $57

Charleston Distilling Co. Calhoun’s Single Barrel Straight Rye – 100% rye, bottled from a single barrel, sans age statement. Nice depth of color here, but the nose is a real oddball, with notes of candy corn, spun sugar, and overripe banana and stone fruit. The palate is somewhat more traditional, though it’s also quite sweet, bold with butterscotch, but touched with a bit of mushroom, burlap sack, and that rustic granary note. The finish is sharp, with a hint of gunpowder, which sprinkles some spice and heat atop the otherwise sugary proceedings. The more I sip on it, the more I enjoy it. 100 proof. Reviewed: Barrel #6. B+ / $56

Review: KO Distilling Bare Knuckle Bourbon, Rye, and Wheat Whiskey

KO Distilling calls Manassas, Virginia home, and this outfit, which opened its doors only in 2015, already has a significant portfolio to show off. Today we look at its collection of American whiskeys — a bourbon, a rye, and a wheat whiskey — all of which are made with grains sourced from local Virginia farms, milled on-site, double distilled on a hybrid Vendome still, and aged in new, #3 charred, 53-gallon standard-size barrels. From a craft perspective, KO is doing everything perfectly.

Today we look at the full trio of whiskeys, all bottled in late 2017. Let’s see how technique translates to the bottle.

All are bottled at 90 proof.

KO Distilling Bare Knuckle Straight Bourbon Whiskey – This is a two-year-old bourbon made from a mash of 70% corn, 20% wheat, and 10% malted barley. Young though it may be, there’s craft here, as evidenced by a nose that incorporates caramel corn alongside some smoky bacon notes. The palate offers hints of butterscotch that lift up the sweetness, but by and large the bourbon is still on the immature side, heavy with popcorn while showing some mushroom and burnt toast punchiness. While raw in the middle, there’s promise around the edges in the form of zippy cloves, toffee, and dark caramel notes, all hallmarks of a whiskey still developing, yet developing well. B / $40

KO Distilling Bare Knuckle American Rye Whiskey – A 100% rye, aged 18 months in new oak. This one holds up better to the brief aging process, with a more rounded nose of toasty oak notes backed up with hints of licorice, camphor, and savory spices. The palate is considerably more engaging than the nose lets on. It’s young, yes, but the spice and wood combine here to make for something quite a bit more fun than you might expect. Healthy vanilla and cinnamon notes linger on the tongue as the wood element quickly fades, though the finish sees just a touch of char-meets-rubber character, a reminder that you’re drinking a pretty solid rye that’s a mere year and a half in age. Would love to see this rye at four years old. A- / $46

KO Distilling Bare Knuckle American Wheat Whiskey – Made from 60% wheat, 30% rye, and 10% malted barley, aged one year in new oak. This whiskey is the youngest of the bunch and it shows. Lumberyard is heavy on the nose, really dominating everything else. Give it some air and notes of clove and mushroom emerge, but these are faint and not all that interesting, anyway. The palate is sharp and quite youthful, heavy with granary notes and a more moderate sawdust character, but this fades surprisingly quickly, leaving behind a slightly salty character with secondary notes of milk chocolate, cherries, and toffee. It may not have much nasal engagement, but on the palate it’s a surprising delight. B+ / $36

Review: NV Locations “TX” (Texas Red Blend) TX4 6th Release

Dave Phinney’s Locations series continues with an unexpected region as its next target: The state of Texas. This wine, its sixth release from the state, is a blend of Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah, Carignan, and assorted Bordeaux varietals. It was made as a joint venture with Kim McPherson of McPherson Cellars.

Heavily fruited from the start, the wine eventually settles into a groove that — while on the sweet, over-extracted side — shows notes of gunpowder, rum raisin, dusky prune, and roasted meats — er, Texas barbecue. While the finish runs a bit saccharine, heavy with figs, raisins, and spice, it works better with a savory meal, where a little sweetness can be a good thing. That said, complexity is not the wine’s strongest point.

B / $25 /

Review: Baltamaro Fernet, Szechuan, and Coffee Amaro

Bitter amari continue to be developed outside of their historical homeland in Italy, with the latest release of this intense liqueur coming to us from the Baltimore Whiskey Company. The distillery is putting out Baltamaro Volumes 1 through 3, a line of three core herbal liqueurs made in very different styles. Volume 1 is an overproof Fernet style amaro, Volume 2 is a Szechuan peppercorn infused amaro, and Volume 3 is made with coffee.

“This line was inspired by the great amari of the Amalfi Coast, but we saw an opportunity to push the boundaries and bring new ideas to the category,” says head distiller Eli Breitburg-Smith. “Baltimore has always been about the intersection of cultures leading to innovation.”

Innovation and culture, what could be better? Let’s dig in and taste this bitter trilogy.

Baltamaro Fernet Amaro – Classically styled, this is an impressively bitter fernet with massive doses of cloves and gentian. While the bitter intensity is unavoidable and overwhelming, in time some notes of dark chocolate and black raspberry emerge, adding intrigue. These sweeter elements linger particularly on the finish (though, of course, despite all of that, the bitterness never really fades to let them take over). 100 proof. B+ / $35

Baltamaro Szechuan Amaro – Don’t be afraid of the Szechuan peppercorns that are infused into this amaro, it’s quite mild on the whole, with some lingering heat on the back of the palate, but definitely something that any Drinkhacker reader can handle on an average weekday night. Not nearly as intense as the Fernet, the hazy-pink Szechuan liqueur kicks off with some of the traditional trappings of amaro — cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon (plenty of it here), and ginger, before fading into a lightly fruity finish, which finds notes of strawberry alongside some milk chocolate and rose petal notes. Fun stuff. 70 proof. B+ / $30

Baltamaro Coffee Amaro – This is a “ten botanical Amaro,” featuring “cascara, orris root, and citrus peel.” And coffee, I presume. This is the least satisfying expression from Baltamaro, the coffee notes never quite gelling with the traditional amaro botanicals. The bitter nose is only lightly scented with coffee beans, but the palate drinks more like a weak espresso that’s been dosed with cloves, licorice root, and dark chocolate. There’s a healthy slug of semi-sweet bitterness on the finish, heavy on the chocolate but with enough coffee to give it a mocha overtone. Interesting, but really just so-so. 70 proof. B / $30