Review: 2014 1000 Stories Bourbon Barrel Aged Zinfandel

Our third bourbon-barrel aged wine comes from Fetzer, which recently launched a new label: 1000 Stories. Unlike previous bottlings from Mondavi and Apothic, this is a straight zinfandel instead of a cabernet sauvignon or a blend (respectively). Need deets? Says Fetzer: The wine (sourced from Mendocino) is “aged in a combination of new bourbon barrels from Independent Stave Company, and old bourbon barrels from famed distilleries such as Heaven Hill and Four Roses.”

A didn’t have high hopes considering how rocky a start this category has gotten off to, but this is  a wine that comes off quite a bit better than expected. It’s extremely sweet from the get-go, but this is tempered by some big berry notes — blackberry and blueberry, plus ample milk chocolate, vanilla, and some tea leaf. Mild hints of coffee arrive on the finish, adding a layer of complexity I didn’t expect to find. That said, allow me to reiterate that this wine is a true sugar bomb, all jam and juicy raisins overwhelming a finish that may very well come across as simply too much. Those looking for nuance will need to apply elsewhere… but those looking for a well-made curiosity may get something out of it.

I’m not saying whiskey barrel-finished wines are going to be a great thing, or even a good thing… but if you are going to give one a try, 1000 Stories, for now, is the bottle to grab.

B / $15 / 1000storieswines.com

Review: Santa Fe Spirits Wheeler’s Western Dry Gin (2017)

We last looked at Santa Fe Spirits’ Wheeler’s Western Dry Gin in 2014. Let’s take a quick spin again to see if anything has changed.

As a reminder, the gin is made exclusively using only botanicals that are sourced from within 30 miles of the distillery: white desert sage, Cholla cactus blossoms, osha root, Cascade hops, and local juniper.

This time out, those hops dominate the nose straight away, and from a mile off. The sage, fresh and lush, is close behind. While generally quite grassy, notes of orange rind manage to make their way through on the nose, but only modestly.

On the palate, the hops find some balance by a decent amount of citrus, something akin to squeezing an orange into your beer. The finish feels appropriately desert-like, recalling dried grasses and southwestern spices before finishing on those bittersweet hoppy notes.

80 proof.

B / $30 / santafespirits.com

Review: Smirnoff Spiked Sparkling Seltzers

Alcoholic water isn’t a new thing, but Smirnoff’s entry into the market is bound to give “hard seltzer” a bigger presence on the shelf. Available in three “invigorating” flavors (with no artificial flavors added), the seltzers pack just 90 calories and 4.5% abv in each 12 oz. can. We tried all three. Thoughts follow.

Smirnoff Spiked Sparkling Seltzer Orange Mango – Surprisingly fragrant, with both orange and mango notes distinct, particularly on first cracking open the can. On the palate, it’s rather mild and slightly sweet, but the significant, creamy fizziness give it a clean and fresh finish. Rather harmless. B

Smirnoff Spiked Sparkling Seltzer Cranberry Lime – A low-cal cosmo as a fizzy drink? Here the berry notes come across on the strong side, and the sweetness is a little overbearing at times compared to the more subtle Orange Mango. Fans of sweeter sodas may find this more appealing than me. C+

Smirnoff Spiked Sparkling Seltzer Watermelon – Watermelon is always a tricky flavor, and here it comes across largely as expected, a bit like Jolly Rancher candies melted down and mixed with fizzy water. The least nuanced of the group. C-

each $9 per six-pack of 12 oz cans / smirnoff.com

Head-to-Head Review: 2015 Broadside vs. 2015 Rombauer Chardonnay (Blind Tasting)

A little something different this time out: A blind tasting and review. Broadside, so confident in the quality of its chardonnay, sent us not only its own wine for evaluation, but a bottle of Rombauer as well — often considered the benchmark for California chardonnay. The instruction: Taste them blind, and pick your favorite.

Brave move, but wholly unnecessary, really. Stylistically these two wines are absolutely nothing alike. (Broadside seems to have made some major stylistic shifts since we reviewed this bottling last year.) I had a clear favorite, but please, try this experiment or something like it, and see for yourself.

2015 Broadside Chardonnay Central Coast Wild Ferment – A very atypical chardonnay, with notes of fresh grasses, brisk lemon, grapefruit, and a smattering of baking spices — particularly nutmeg — emerging on the finish. A lively and, again, fresh wine, Broadside drinks closer to a sauvignon blanc than a California chardonnay, though hints of creaminess in the silkier-than-usual body give it ample power. A- / $17

2015 Rombauer Chardonnay Carneros – Tasting this blind was pointless. Rombauer sticks out immediately with its up-front notes of oaky vanilla and undercurrent of melon and pineapple. The ultra-creamy body offers a finish that goes on for days, but getting there can sometimes be a slog through a wall of whipped cream and confectionery. Iconic, to be sure, but not nearly as versatile as Broadside’s lighter and more lively style. B / $30

broadsidewine.com

Review: Flora Springs 2015 Soliloquy, 2013 Holiday Blend, and 2014 Trilogy

Napa’s Flora Springs has been making wine since 1978. Here are three new releases from the company (all late 2016 launches that you should be able to find on the market today, with the possible exception of the Holiday bottling). Thoughts follow.

2015 Flora Springs Soliloquy Sauvignon Blanc Oakville – Surprisingly honeyed for a sauvignon blanc, the wine offers notes of orange blossoms and sweet honey atop more floral elements. Some coconut and toffee notes bubble up on the finish. The traditional grassy acidity of a California sauvignon blanc is missing here; in its stead, a rather unique experience that offers a strange melange of styles. Serve it blind and keep your friends guessing! B+ / $21

2013 Flora Springs Red Wine Holiday Blend – Each year Flora Springs releases a one-off holiday blend, complete with a variety of etched label designs to choose from. It’s always a cabernet-heavy Bordeaux-style blend similar to (but different from) Trilogy. This one’s a tad gummy, which dulls the fruit character and leaves it with a somewhat cloying, unsatisfying finish. In the mix you’ll find some blackberry and boysenberry notes, an herbal lacing, and plenty of chocolate and vanilla notes, but it’s nonetheless muddy throughout. B / $57

2014 Flora Springs Trilogy – 86% cabernet sauvignon, 8% malbec, 6% petit verdot. A classically huge Napa blend, with juicy currants dominating from the start and enduring for quite a while. Give it some air to reveal notes of dark chocolate, salted caramel, bitter licorice root, and a smattering of spices. The finish evokes gingerbread, cocoa, and a significant vanilla custard character, tempered with more currants and some candied violets. A huge wine, but one that, given time, showcases the best of what Napa has to offer. A- / $80

florasprings.com

Tasting: Late 2016/Early 2017 MashBox Club Spirits Samplers

Today we’re ganging up two recent quarterly shipments of MashBox spirits samplers, one a rather random collection of recent releases, the other a trio of the same whiskey but finished in different barrels types. Read on for details from this outturn of the internet’s most interesting booze-of-the-month club.

As a reminder, $99 a year gets your four boxes of three 50ml samples.

Manhattan Moonshine – Full review here. A pungent and somewhat mushroomy white dog, tempered by notes of gingerbread and breakfast cereal. 95 proof. B

Owney’s New York City Rum – A white rum, unaged. Quite weedy on the nose, with hard cereal notes. The palate doesn’t offer much intrigue and the finish is harsh and astringent. Generally, a funky rum like this needs some barrel time to mellow out, even if it’s being filtered back to clear. 80 proof. D+

Black Button Distilling Bespoke Bourbon Cream – A whiskey cream liqueur, made with bourbon (whose is unclear, but Black Button doesn’t make any). This is super stuff, easy to drink and loaded up with notes of vanilla and butterscotch, atop a creamy, cake-frosting-like base. Bourbon creams always manage to pack in more flavor than Irish creams, and Black Button’s is no exception. 30 proof. A-

And now for a trio of releases from Filibuster Bourbon. These are each aged for four years in new oak, then finished for two years in different types of French oak wine barrels (details follow). (Check the stickers on top to see which is which; the individual bottle labels are otherwise all the same.) Each is 90 proof.

Filibuster Bourbon Finished in 100% Cabernet Sauvignon Barrels – Lively, with sweet butterscotch, milk chocolate, and vanilla custard notes. The finish sees some baking spice and red pepper, making for a supple and sultry sugar bomb of an experience. A-

Filibuster Bourbon Finished in 100% Chardonnay Barrels – A big surprise — this one is far racier up front, with lots more of that peppery character and a more powerful baking spice element. The finish sees the spice fading and the sweeter elements enduring more clearly, making for a distinctly different, but equally compelling, experience. A-

Filibuster Bourbon Finished in 60% Cabernet Sauvignon/40% Chardonnay Barrels – Is this the sweet spot? While still rather heavy on the pepper notes up front, the whiskey fades a bit after that rushing attack, becoming a bit dull in tone across a somewhat gummy body. The finish is soft and a bit flabby — a big surprise considering the pedigree of its lineage. Proof that the whole can indeed be less than the sum of a whiskey’s parts. B+

mashandgrape.com

Review: Virtue Michigan Brut Cider

Virtue’s Michigan Brut Cider is made from Michigan-grown apples (a blend of heirloom varietals) and, like its high-end Lapinette, is a bone-dry brut. As with Lapinette, it offers overtones of mushroom, bramble, and oxidized wine, but here, the core of the cider — the apple — is significantly dialed back. Pushing through the earth tones and letting some of the carbonation fade allows the fruit to come forward more, here taking on notes of dried apples, a bit of orange peel, and a little plum. There’s a touch of sweetness on the finish, though it’ll hardly make you think of anything approaching apple pie — but the overall clean and crisp style may be particularly appealing to beer fanatics.

6.7% abv.

B / $10 per four-pack / virtuecider.com

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