Review: 2016 Dark Horse Pinot Grigio California

A $10 pinot grigio really doesn’t inspire thoughts of greatness, but Dark Horse’s 2016 expression of this grape is surprisingly approachable and ready to enjoy, filled to the brim with notes of fresh peaches, white flowers, and, to a lesser extent, tropical fruit. At the same time, it’s gentle and high enough in acidity to make for a crisp refresher on its own, or a savvy pairing with seafood.

B+ / $10 / darkhorsewine.com

Review: One Eight Distilling Ivy City Gin and Untitled Gin No. 2

As in many cities across the country, craft distilling in Washington, D.C. has taken off in recent years. Since 2011, no fewer than nine distilleries have opened their doors. One of the pioneers of this group is One Eight Distilling. The distillery gets its name from Article One Section Eight of the Constitution, which among other things established the District of Columbia as the nation’s capital. For such a young distillery, One Eight has a wide portfolio including a vodka, a white whiskey, and nine different releases of sourced, finished whiskey. Earlier this year, they also released their own aged rye whiskey with plans to release their own bourbon in the near future. However, one of the areas where One Eight really shines is their gin.

Here’s a look at two of them.

One Eight Distilling Ivy City Gin – Ivy City Gin is a new American dry gin distilled from locally-sourced grains (predominately rye). The botanical program for this gin includes the familiar juniper and lemon peel, among others, but also the somewhat unusual use of local spicebush, a member of the laurel family with aromatic berries. On the nose, the juniper is immediately present but almost smoky and complimented by notes of cracked black pepper and sweet licorice. The palate is light yet honeyed. The juniper is again present, but it’s not the backbone of the spirit, while the malted rye complements the spicebush, delivering a great earthy quality. There’s more licorice, but it’s soft, not biting, as can sometimes be the case. Bright coriander and citrus notes and a little cinnamon round out the palate with a gentle heat on the finish. This is a great cocktail gin and easy to sip, although I’d probably prefer it at a slightly higher proof. 80 proof. B+ / $37

One Eight Distilling Untitled Gin No. 2 – Expanding into the barrel-rested gin category, One Eight now has three versions of their Ivy City that have spent some amount of time in oak. For the second release, One Eight used both ex-bourbon casks and new American oak casks. The nose on this gin is more honey and citrus than the Ivy City with just a little of the familiar peppercorn. On the palate, a caramel sweetness collides with the juniper and spicebush in a wave of initial heat and spice that is remarkably refreshing. The burst of flavor and warmth immediately gives way to softer clementine and vanilla notes with traces of dusty oak. Although some of the botanicals in the original Ivy City are diminished by the barrel influence, what is enhanced makes this a superior spirit. 112 proof. A- / $45

oneeightdistilling.com

Review: Bridlewood Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon, 2014 Vintage

Bridlewood is a relatively big operation in California’s Central Coast, and the winery offers bottlings up and down the food chain. Today we look at two new releases on the lower end of the scale, a pinot and a cabernet from the 2014 vintage.

2014 Bridlewood Pinot Noir Monterey County – Lightly meaty at first, this somewhat thin wine takes its sweet time in revealing notes of light cherry, jasmine, and lavender, filtered through a haze of bacon fat. A simple wine, but better than my description sounds. B / $15

2014 Bridlewood Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles – Here’s a cab that’s drinking well above its weight class. Lightly sweet at first, with notes of fresh berries and some rosemary, it fades into a sort of marshmallow sweetness, with a dusting of milk chocolate shavings. The finish has a powerful vanilla kick, with more of that requisite, residual sugar. (Perhaps a mask for any flaws within.) There’s no real tannic structure here, so drink it young. B+ / $15

bridlewoodestatewinery.com

Review: Nine Single Barrel Tequilas from the New Hampshire Liquor Commission – Patron, Herradura, and Casa Noble

In case you missed our previous reviews, New Hampshire — the Granite State — is one of the most enthusiastic consumers of private label, single barrel spirits in the world. Recently the state’s liquor commission loaded up on 15 barrels of Jack Daniel’s whiskey, the biggest single barrel purchase of JD ever made.

Tired of whiskey? Maybe not, but the NHLC is at least extending its horizons to another hot spirit category: Tequila. Its latest purchase? Nine single barrels of tequila sourced from Patron, Herradura, and Casa Noble. The total haul is about 2,862 bottles — and we got to sample all of them.

Thoughts on the full collection, all 80 proof except the one Casa Noble as noted, follow.

Patron Reposado – Barrel #219 – Aged 8 months in new French oak. It kicks off as one of the most straightforward tequilas in this roundup, a toasty, vanilla-forward spirit with a sweet but agave-sharp nose and a palate that blends nicely its flavors of caramel and vanilla with ample notes of black pepper. Ultimately complex, with notes of banana and green olive emerging, it manages to remain balanced, a study in agave and wood finding harmony at just the right time. A / $57

Patron Anejo – Barrel #140 –  Aged 26 months in new American & new French oak. The first of three studies on different wood types used to age tequila — in this case, Patron. Quite citrus-forward on the nose, with big lemon peel notes and a hint of smoke. The body folds in more of that smokiness, plus some notes of apricot, lemongrass, and some mint. On the whole, a straightforward reposado. B+ / $62

Patron Anejo – Barrel #134 –  Aged 26 months in new (French) Limousin oak. The nose of this one offers notes of green banana, soft smoke, and lightly vegetal agave notes. The palate is more peppery, but balanced with a modest caramel and vanilla. Drinks more like a reposado. B / $62

Patron Anejo – Barrel #114 –  Aged 31 months in used American oak. Billed as a monster, and yeah, there’s plenty of wood on the nose, but it’s well filtered through butterscotch, vanilla, and caramel, with hints of fresh fruit. The palate is spicy, with red pepper and cloves, some notes of molasses, and a finish that again echoes toasty wood. Drinks more like an extra anejo, perhaps, with a more savory edge to it. B+ / $62

Herradura Double Reposado – Barrel #1224 – Aged 11 months in used American white oak, then spends an additional 30 days in new American white oak. The first of two identically aged barrels. There’s straightforward agave on the nose along with some buttery pastry notes, with a relatively soft approach on the palate’s attack. The finish is creamy and sweet, with mild herbal overtones, altogether drinking a lot like a typical, dialed-back reposado. B+ / $50

Herradura Double Reposado – Barrel #1225 – As above, aged 11 months in used American white oak, then spends an additional 30 days in new American white oak. While it has some of the same sweetness, this tequila is immediately much more peppery on the nose and the palate, with a more classically agave-forward profile. The finish finds a balance of sweet and spice, with notes of cloves and lemon peel — but the finish is all dusky pepper and a bit of smoky bacon that lingers on the finish. A somewhat more interesting expression of reposado, though it was just one barrel over. A- / $50

Casa Noble Joven – Barrel #808 – Aged 6 weeks in new French Oak from the sought-after Taransaud region — new oak of any sort being an unusual move for tequila. A clean tequila with a bold nose of green agave and lime peel, the sharp palate leading to some light notes of almond, toasted marshmallow, and blonde wood. Quite pungent on the finish, with a spritz of citrus, ample black pepper, and lingering alcohol overtones. 102 proof. B+ / $45

Casa Noble Reposado – Barrel #691 – Aged 364 days in new Taransaud French Oak, just under the reposado limit. A very supple and surprisingly gentle tequila, aromas of soft brown sugar, vanilla, and gentle wood lead to a soft but highly drinkable palate that mixes up notes of lemongrass, honey buns, peppery agave, and butterscotch. Lithe and mellow on a finish that turns almost decadent, particularly for a reposado. A / $58

Casa Noble Extra Anejo – Barrel #556 – Aged 5 years in new Taransaud French Oak. “The Director’s Pick.” There’s a surprising amount of agave left here considering the advanced age of this extra anejo. Grassy and almost green, it’s a tequila that comes across at first like a reposado both on the nose and the palate… at least until the barrel influence becomes more evident as notes of cinnamon, mixed baking spices, raisins, and some notes of raw sugar cookie dough, which linger on the finish. This is a fun tequila but it seems at times a bit scattered, perhaps even lost. B+ / $130

liquorandwineoutlets.com

Review: Wines of Mt. Beautiful, 2017 Releases

Mt. Beautiful is a major New Zealand wine operation, sourcing fruit from the North Canterbury region. Its 2017 releases are just now hitting. Thoughts follow.

2016 Mt. Beautiful Rose North Canterbury – A rose of pinot noir, this wine tastes off — dirty and earthy, with mushroom notes where none should be. A watermelon-strawberry character eventually endures underneath, but the dusty funkiness mars the experience from the start too much to overcome. C- / $15

2015 Mt. Beautiful Pinot Gris North Canterbury – Slightly musty, its fruit dulled by an earthy perfume note that lingers a bit too long and too strenuously. The finish is modestly herbal, with a slightly meaty edge to it. On the whole, I like pinot gris to showcase fruit more clearly. B / $17

2016 Mt. Beautiful Sauvignon Blanc North Canterbury – Mt. Beautiful always makes classic New Zealand style sauv blanc, and this one is no exception to the rule. While it’s dialed back a bit, the overall impact of orange blossoms, lime, pineapple, mango, and bright acidity add up to a crowd-pleasing, fruit-forward wine with lots of freshness to it. Mt. Beautiful can often be overblown, but this expression is firing beautifully (no pun intended). A- / $13

2015 Mt. Beautiful Pinot Noir North Canterbury – Somewhat unctuous with notes of cherries in syrup, this wine eventually settles down to reveal notes of tea leaf, gingerbread, and a touch of balsamic on the back end. A workable pinot that works its best with food. B+ / $20

mtbeautiful.co.nz

Review: Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Organic 6 Grain Whiskey

It feels like it’s been a year since Buffalo Trace’s last entry into its ongoing Experimental Collection release, but finally something new has arrived. This one looks at the most basic component of whiskeydom: the underlying grain. This time, it’s going with a whopping six of them.

Some details from the buffalo’s mouth:

Distilled in early May 2010, this whiskey mash bill contains an assortment of grains; corn, buckwheat, brown rice, sorghum, wheat, and rice. These grains were milled, cooked and made into sour mash before being distilled on Buffalo Trace’s experimental micro-still to 130 proof white dog. The white dog was then entered into eight new charred white oak barrels that had received Buffalo Trace’s standard number four char. After resting in Warehouse H for seven years and one month, the whiskey was chill filtered and bottled at 90 proof.

This is a certified organic whiskey, as all six grains received organic certification, and the production method at Buffalo Trace Distillery, including distillation, processing, and bottling was organically certified.

The whiskey is a bit of a bruiser, loaded up with tannin and barrel influence that I wouldn’t expect from a seven year old whiskey. The nose is loaded with sawdust and pencil lead, dusky clove and tobacco leaf. The palate, well, it stays right on target: wood is the dominant note, with diminishing characteristics of burnt sugar, molasses, tar, and heavy barrel char. Some sweetness lingers here — a by-product perhaps of the sorghum — but for the most part it lacks the heavy vanilla and caramel notes of a typical bourbon. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is quite unexpected and off the beaten path.

This is a complex beast, and fans of very old bourbons are advised to track down a bottle to compare and contrast how this unorthodox mashbill, at a younger age, compares to a more traditional bourbon, at a much more advanced one. Please share your talking points in the comments.

90 proof.

B+ / $46 (375 ml) / buffalotrace.com

Review: Pierre Ferrand Reserve Double Cask Cognac

The latest from Pierre Ferrand is Reserve Double Cask — not to be confused with Pierre Ferrand Reserve Cognac — which is finished for a year in Banyuls wine casks, the fortified wine that is France’s answer to Port. Some additional detail from the distillery:

Long ago, Cognac producers used a variety of casks to create a fascinating range of taste and complexity. Crafted in the innovative but methodical manner that is Alexandre Gabriel’s hallmark, Pierre Ferrand Reserve Double Cask single-handedly revives one of the vanished traditions of Cognac: maturing the spirit in different types of casks to enrich flavor and deepen complexity. With this lost tradition in mind, Pierre Ferrand Reserve Double Cask is made of Cognac that has been matured 7 to 10 years in small oak barrels kept in seven different aging cellars (some dry, some humid), which is then blended with 20 year old Cognac. Once blended, the Cognac is placed in rare Banyuls casks and aged in one of Pierre Ferrand’s humid cellars for one year.

The brandy is extremely fruit forward on the nose, with some toasty wood notes alongside classic brandy notes of raisin and incense. The palate continues the theme, with an attack of fresh fruit, apricots, lemon, and green apple. Soon after the initial fruit rush comes the spicier and more savory notes — dusky wood, dried fig, cloves, and some licorice. The finish is heavy on baked apple notes, though there’s a bit of a camphor character that bubbles up here too. While none of this is particularly reminiscent of Banyuls (or any other sweet red dessert wine), it is nonetheless and engaging and approachable spirit that’s definitely worth exploring.

84.6 proof.

B+ / $80 / maisonferrand.com

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