Book Review: Inside the Bottle

Arthur Shaprio is a legendary wine and spirits industry maven who has seen every trick in the booze industry marketing playbook. He is also the author of Booze Business, an exhaustive blog dissecting both the history and the current trends in the industry, and Inside the Bottle is his book.

I should, perhaps, clarify: Inside the Bottle is a book of Booze Business blog posts, which in turn are musings from a man who worked for years at Seagram and after it closed worked as a consultant for an endless procession of household name big booze brands. None of these entities seem to have had a nondisclosure agreement with Shapiro, and he lays bare all the demons at major brands like Crown Royal, Captain Morgan, Absolut, Skyy, and on and on. Shapiro’s stories are always illuminating and lots of fun; if you have any illusions about getting into the booze industry in any way, reading Shapiro’s book is an absolute must.

The book reads, not surprisingly, a lot like a blog. Stories have been roughly segmented into chapters, but the flow is choppy to the point of being almost random. It can be hard to tell sometimes where one tale ends and another begins, but the generous inclusion of simple cartoon drawings frequently used as dividers may be of help in that regard. Still, Shapiro knows how to spin a yarn, and he has no problem throwing every sacred cow he encounters under one bus or another.

The problem is: I’m unclear how much material in this book doesn’t appear on Booze Business, but a spot check indicates that it’s not a lot. You therefore have a choice when it comes to how you consume Shapiro’s tales. If you like the weight of the book in your hand or prefer to read on dead trees, grab the book. If you want to save $14, well, just point your browser to the link above. Either way, I’m sure Shapiro would have something to say about your decision.


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

Review: Antech NV Brut Nature and 2014 Emotion – Sparkling Limoux Wines

Limoux is a region within the Languedoc best known as the most likely birthplace of sparkling wine. Records dating back to 1531 show that local monks had developed the technique that closely resembles that of Prosecco. Today, Limoux wines are the second most imported French sparkling wine, after Champagne.

Limoux sparkling wines come in two styles. (This info comes directly from reps from the region):

  • Blanquette de Limoux wines are at least 90% Mauzac, a grape that is native to the region and not grown elsewhere. These wines are fresh and show ripe green apple flavors.
  • Crémant de Limoux wines are primarily blends of Chardonnay (a key Champagne grape) and Chenin Blanc, with some additions of Mauzac and/or Pinot Noir. These wines are most like their cousins to the north, with some subtle toasty, brioche notes.

We’ll review both styles below, courtesy of producer Antech (the name surely sounds better in French than in English), which was originated by Eugenie Limouzy, one of the first women in Languedoc to manage a vineyard. Let’s give these affordable wines a spin!

NV Antech Brut Nature Blanquette de Limoux – A non-vintage Blanquette. There’s lots of lemon on a fairly creamy body, chewy with overtones of grapefruit, sour apple, and a touch of mint. Imagine a juicier and slightly sour style of Prosecco and you’re about on target for this wine, which works well as an aperitif and as a base for punch, cocktails, and more. B+ / $13

2014 Antech Emotion Cremant de Limoux Brut Rose – A vintage cremant, and a rose at that. Creamy again, with fragrant florals and a lacing of strawberry jam. The finish has a slight edge to it, just a hint of bitterness to give the sweetness some balance and the wine some depth. Otherwise it drinks a lot like a crowd-pleasing rose Cremant d’Alsace, with a light caramel kiss on the finish. B+ / $15

Review: LIQS Ready To Drink Whiskey Fireshot

A late addition to the (reformulated) LIQS ready-to-serve shot lineup is this, a creamy “whiskey fireshot” made up of whiskey, cinnamon, and vanilla.

The name is a bit misleading, because while this creamy concoction may have a fiery cinnamon kick up front, it’s quite cooling thanks to Irish cream consistency and heavily vanilla-chocolate finish. That said, there’s a real simplicity to this concoction, which could easily be duplicated by mixing together a dash of Fireball with some Baileys — no fresh ingredients required — which is sort of against the purpose of having this is a ready-to-drink item.

That said, on its own merits, a cinnamon-dusted Irish cream isn’t a bad thing.

45 proof.

B+ / $18 for six 1.5-oz. shots /

Review: Breckenridge Brewery Vanilla Porter

A year round member of its Mainline series, Breckenridge Brewery boasts of using fresh vanilla bean in the brewing process of Vanilla Porter. This is certainly evident in the beer, with a strong vanilla nose the minute you open the bottle. The first taste delivers a strong root beer and vanilla essence, followed by a quick cascade of chocolate, coffee, caramel, and roasted almonds. This beer finishes nicely and lingers pleasantly with notes of cocoa and coffee. The mouthfeel is slightly thinner than other porters, but that doesn’t stand in the way of the beer being a very enjoyable one.

5.6% abv.

B+ / $10 per six pack /

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+

Review: Yves Leccia 2015 Patrimonio Blanc and 2013 Patrimonio Rouge

Corsica isn’t a wine region that many Americans are familiar with. (Hint: It’s part of France, not Italy.) That’s a shame, because this island produces some stellar stuff, and at the head of the class is Yves Leccia, a veteran winemaker whose products are widely considered ‘the Rolls-Royce’ of Corsican wines.”

Leccia doesn’t need me to validate what everyone already knows, but here are some tasting notes for two new releases, for those unfamiliar with Corsica and Leccia’s wares. (Also note that these are essentially just the entry-level wines from Leccia!) Patrimonio is a region near the northern tip of Corsica, where nielluccio and vermentino grapes comprise nearly 100% of the varietals grown.

2015 Yves Leccia Patrimonio Blanc – 100% vermentino. A gorgeous wine. Aromatic with white flowers, a spritz of perfume, and a grating of lime peel on the nose, the wine evokes a complexity seldom found in today’s whites. On the palate, the lush body is reminiscent of a chardonnay, but the notes of apricot, more florals, nougat, and soft vanilla sugar cookies give it a whole new dimension. The finish is ripe with fruit but cleansing and refreshing. Hard to put down, it’s a benchmark of French winemaking but also quite a bargain. A / $29

2013 Yves Leccia Patrimonio Rouge – 90% nielluccio, 10% grenache. Less complex than the Blanc, but quite engaging thanks to lively acidity, a fruit-forward character that’s heavy on currants, strawberry, and raspberry, and a finish that offers hints of tea leaf and cloves. There’s just enough tannin here to give the wine some meat on its bones — both figuratively and literally, thanks to hints of roasted sausages laced with savory spices. B+ / $30