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: Ezra Brooks Straight Rye

Jumping on the rye bandwagon, Luxco’s Ezra Brooks has expanded to offer a rye — 95% rye, 5% barley, sourced from Indiana’s MGP and bottled at just two years old — er, “24 months” according to the back label. It’s bottled just a tad overproof at 45% abv.

The nose doesn’t give too many hints about the whiskey on the whole. Dialed back and stripped down a bit, it shows the expected aromas of baking spice, but also some oddball notes, including licorice candy, overly heavy barrel char, and some sweetish campfire smoke. It’s interesting enough aromatically, though quite demure.

The palate immediately shifts gears and quickly belies the youth of the underlying whiskey, offering notes of green wood, raw alcohol, and simple cereals that claw at the tongue. There’s a bit of caramel and vanilla here, but it’s undercooked and overwhelmed by those raw notes, coming across as simply having been bottled much too soon.

This rye doesn’t represent what Luxco can do — and in reality, it’s not much more than a way to make a quick buck by capitalizing on the current rush to rye whiskey. Better rye is out there for not much more money.

90 proof.

C- / $20 / ezrabrooks.com

Review: Cooper River Petty’s Island Rums and Cooper & Vine Brandy

Cooper River Distillers is the first legal distillery in Camden, NJ — ever! This outfit produced its first product, a rum, in 2014, and since then it’s been adding more rum expressions, brandy, and whiskey. We received a variety pack from the company — three rums and its brandy — and put them all to the test in the writeups that follow.

Cooper River Petty’s Island Rum – Pot-distilled white rum (unaged) made from a “custom blend of molasses.” Funky and pungent, but with a distinct sweetness underneath the initial notes of leather and burlap. It’s not the usual tropical fruit character but rather a floral-driven note that evokes notes of hibiscus, grapefruit peel, and cinnamon-scented tapioca. Lots going on, with a somewhat muddy direction. 90 proof. B- / $25

Cooper River Petty’s Island Driftwood Dream Spiced Rum – Take the Petty’s Island white rum base, “then we age it on toasted applewood for a month, add all-natural cinnamon, vanilla, cloves, ginger, coffee, and allspice before finally sweetening Driftwood Dream just a tad with the same molasses we use as the base for all of our rums.” Incredibly dark color, and the molasses added comes through immediately. This, and some ginger notes, overwhelm all the other flavors, though a hint of coffee on the finish is both fun and quite unique spiced rum. Gingersnap in a bottle — that’s the gist — with a boozy edge. The more I sip on this, the more I fall in love with it. 80 proof. A / $32

Cooper River Petty’s Island Rum Rye Oak Reserve – Here’s the white rum aged for 13 to 16 months in charred, white oak barrels previously used for Cooper’s rye whiskey. Though amber in color, it’s still quite brash. Butterscotch notes hit the nose, along with hints of coconut and plenty of ethanol heat. On the palate, the raw alcohol notes tend to dominate, incompletely covering up the funky underpinnings of the white rum, thick with raw forest floor notes, pungent tobacco, and just a hint of spice — the only real indication of the rye whiskey barrel. 90 proof. B- / $39

Cooper River Cooper & Vine Garden State Brandy – Lastly, this is a brandy (made from New Jersey-sourced pinot grigio wine) that is aged for about 18 months in 15 gallon barrels — some new oak, some previously used for Cooper’s rum and rye — all blended together in the end. This is a rustic, very young brandy that is loaded with simplistic granary notes, raw alcohol, and blunt fruit notes, the finish offering heat and plenty of vegetal overtones. Nothing much to see at this young age. 85 proof. Reviewed: Batch #1. C- / $37

cooperriverdistillers.com

Review: New Amsterdam Vodka (2017) and Apple Vodka

New Amsterdam’s latest flavor joins seven existing flavored vodkas, plus of course the straight original expression. We covered the original, Modesto-based New Amsterdam Vodka back in 2012, and given that five years have passed since then, we thought it was time to look at it with fresh eyes (and mouths). As well, we’ve giving New Amsterdam Apple Vodka a go.

Thoughts follow.

New Amsterdam Vodka (2017) – Quite sweet on the nose, with heavy marshmallow notes atop notes of vanilla syrup. The palate fortunately plays the sweetness down, at least at first, with a brisk and acidic attack that brings out a strong, old world, medicinal character, before it becomes awash with candylike sweetness again, lingering on the sticky finish. Ultimately this is mixer material at best. 80 proof. C+

New Amsterdam Apple Vodka – A nose of candied apple is countered by a curious almond and marzipan character, which is enchanting enough from an aromatic perspective. The palate is a different story, though, with notes of cheap applejack and bulk white wine making for a rough-hewn and mouth-puckering experience. Medicinal on the back end, and rather harsh, though some appletini fans may not mind such flavors. 70 proof. C-

both $12 / newamsterdamspirits.com

Drinking the Bottom Shelf Vol. 2: Canadian Whisky – Ellington, Black Velvet, LTD

bottom shelf

Good whiskey can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. This review continues our project of considering bargain bottles by looking at three inexpensive Canadian whiskies. (Cheap-ass American whiskey coverage can be found here.) Canadian whiskies are usually blends, as all three of these are.

Ellington Canadian Whisky

Note that the whisky reviewed here is the regular Ellington and not the Ellington Reserve, which lists itself as 8 years old. The age of this product is unstated, but to bear the label “Canadian Whisky,” all of the constituent whiskies must have been aged at least 3 years in oak barrels (usually used barrels). The whisky’s light-yellow color suggests that coloring has been added to achieve an enticing hue in a blend that spent very little time in the barrel. The nose is gentle and presents a mix of nail polish remover, peanuts, and a touch of rye spice. The palate however is surprisingly supple and reminds me of cheap vodka. But I think it is better than cheap vodka. Slight wood notes and a touch of sweetness serve to round out the alcohol’s bite. The finish includes a touch of pepper and a slight bitterness. Ellington could serve as a promising mixer, particularly for people who aren’t huge fans of whisky (or alcohol) but still want to drink.

80 proof.

C / $11

Black Velvet Blended Canadian Whisky 3 Years Old

Like Ellington, this young whisky has an older sibling, Black Velvet Reserve, which is also aged 8 years. This younger, less expensive expression is light-gold in color, suggesting, as with Ellington, that color was used to achieve a pleasant hue in a very young whisky. The nose is virtually  nonexistent. I’m not sure I have ever smelled a whiskey (or another 80 proof product) that exhibited so light a nose. A light medicinal scent can be discerned when swirled in a glass. The taste is more pronounced than the aroma suggests, opening with some bitterness, followed by notes of cheap vanilla extract. A touch of pepper follows, which is nice, and then an alcohol burn. The finish is rather short but surprisingly clean. No bitter aftertaste.

80 proof.

C / $9 / blackvelvetwhisky.com

Canadian LTD

On the bottle, Canadian LTD states that it is “Canadian Whisky with Natural Flavors,” which means that some of the product is made up of whiskies aged for at least 3 years and some of it is a mystery. Most of the remaining product is likely neutral grain spirits (aka vodka). On the nose, LTD is presents faint aromas of nail polish remover with a little vanilla and just a whiff of peanut. The palate is much more assertive, opening with some pepper and then presenting strong flavors of cheap vanilla extract, which leads me to wonder if it is made with some of the same whisky as Black Velvet. The finish is fairly short and is followed by an unpleasant, but not overpowering, medicinal bitterness.

80 proof.

C- / $9

Review: Jose Cuervo Silver Tequila – The Rolling Stones Tour Pick

Jose Cuervo continues its historically-based promotion of The Rolling Stones with a second bottling that should be considerably more attainable. This silver tequila — really just Cuervo Especial — isn’t anything fancy (it’s a mixto and not even 100% blue agave), but it does say Rolling Stones on the label, so collectors may find it of interest. Otherwise, you can consider this an update of our 2009 review of Especial Plata.

As mixtos go, Cuervo has long been the king of the hill, and you can definitely do worse than Especial. That said, this is nothing particularly especial: The nose is lemon-heavy, with undertones of petrol and fertilizer. On the palate, it’s got a roughness that instantly recalls canned green vegetables, lemongrass, and Sweet’N Low.

Respectfully, if you’re a Stones fan and want to stick with the Cuervo theme, might I suggest pouring this out and filling it instead with some of Cuervo’s Tradicional instead? Mick will never know!

81 proof.

C- / $20 / cuervo.com

Review: The Wines of Game of Thrones, 2017 Releases

Listen close and you can hear the theme song. Yes, we’re still three months away from season seven of GOT, but if you’re jonesing for a taste of Winterfell — well, Dorne seems more wine-friendly — then check out these wines licensed with the Game of Thrones logo and motif. The grapes are sourced from all over Wester… er, California and are made by Bob Cabral at Vintage Wine Estates, which owns B.R. Cohn, Delectus, Cosentino, and a number of other brands.

Thoughts follow. Summer is coming!

2016 Game of Thrones Chardonnay Central Coast – A perfectly acceptable chardonnay, modestly oaked and fruit forward with notes of vanilla-dusted apples, some peach, and a squeeze of lemon. The finish is clean and quite dry, with just a touch of honeycomb. B+ / $20

2014 Game of Thrones Red Wine Paso Robles – A credible blend of predominantly syrah, tempranillo, and petite sirah, with florals and bright berries in equal concentration, a touch of chocolate and, on the finish, lots of cinnamon and nutmeg. This spice detracts from an otherwise perfectly drinkable — if lightly sweet-tasting — red, putting it roughly in par with a decent zinfandel. B / $20

2014 Game of Thrones Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – This ultra-fruity expression of cabernet doesn’t come across like any Napa cab I’ve encountered. It’s loaded with unctuous — and quite sweet — notes of strawberries and over-ripe currants, marshmallows and vanilla syrup. The finish is saccharine at times — and very lengthy. C- / $50

gameofthroneswines.com

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