Tasting the Wines of Artesa, 2017 Releases

I realized I hadn’t visited Artesa, located in California’s Carneros region, in many years, and on a lark I paid a visit to their tasting room. I ended up spending nearly an hour here digging through rarities you won’t encounter much in the wild. (Pro tip: Avoid the winery’s supermarket bottlings; the gold is upmarket.)

Brief thoughts on everything tasted follow.

2016 Artesa Albarino – Dry, with good acidity, herbal and lightly toasty. B / $28

2014 Artesa Estate Reserve Pinot Noir – Very green, skip it. C / $40

2013 Artesa Block 91D Pinot Noir – Bold body, lots of red fruit. Structured and built in a vague Burgundy style. Highly worthwhile. A / $80

2014 Artesa Sangiacomo Pinot Noir Carneros – Softer but meatier, a bit tougher on the finish. A- / $80

2013 Artesa Cabernet Franc Single Vineyard Foss Valley – Big at first, but layered with fruit. Amazing structure highlights pretty aromatics. Luscious, rounded. One of the best cab francs I’ve experienced. A / $85

2013 Artesa Malbec – Chewy, with big tannins, but a solid fruit core. B+ / $45

2013 Artesa Pinnacle – A blend; quite dry, with jammy berries, some currants, light tannin, and a meaty edge. B / $55

2013 Artesa Rive Gauche Cabernet Sauvignon – Left-bank style blend (hence the name); soft, a little marshmallow, and some brown sugar. Quite floral. A- / $60

2013 Artesa Foss Valley Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon – Blackberry and spice, licorice, dark fruits. A- / $90

2013 Artesa Morisoli-Borges Cabernet Sauvignon – Blueberry notes, bold fruit, some cranberry sauce. A- / $90

artesawinery.com

Review: The Spirits of Sugarlands Shine

Don’t look now, but one of the busiest distilleries in the country — based on tourism visits — is Sugarlands Distilling, in the Great Smoky Mountains of eastern Tennessee. A connection with the popular show Moonshiners doesn’t hurt, nor does the vast product lineup, which includes 21 varieties of moonshine, rum, and liqueurs, which range from a straight white rye to a peanut butter and jelly moonshine, all bottled in (incredibly messy) mason jars. Candy- and dessert-flavored ‘shines are a particularly specialty of the operation.

It’s impossible to keep on top of all of these flavors — there will be more by the time you read this — so consider this a representative sampling of what Sugarlands is up to. Thoughts follow.

Sugarlands Shine Silver Cloud Moonshine – This corn and cane sugar moonshine is the starting point for much of what Sugarlands makes, and it’s a fair enough ‘shine to get you going. Plenty popcorny at the start, particularly on the nose, the spirit offers hints of vanilla and cinnamon but otherwise drinks relatively flatly but cleanly, with a jet fuel-soaked finish — that classic moonshine pungency. 100 proof. B / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Sugarlands Shine Unaged Rye – Billed as a rye, though no mashbill information is available. This is a more classic white whiskey, loaded with popcorn and roasted grains, with a subtle undercoat of baking spice. Lacking the sugar of the moonshine, the finish is rougher and more rustic, with a mushroom and tobacco note, plus some hints of baked bread. 100 proof. B- / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Sugarlands Shine Appalachian Apple Pie Moonshine – Less sweet than many an apple pie moonshine, the raw cereal character of the spirit comes through more clearly. The fruit takes on an apple cider character, somewhat oxidized with a kind of butterscotch note that isn’t completely on the pie spectrum. The finish is reminscent not of apples but of cherries, particularly the cough syrup variety. 50 proof. C / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Sugarlands Shine Hazelnut Rum – Nicely nutty on the nose, those hazelnuts roll over anything that’s particularly rummy in the mix. Some brown sugar notes and cloves at least offer a nod toward a spiced rum, with a touch of that funky petrol layering itself in underneath. The finish is a sustained nuttiness, with notes of toasted marshmallow. Hazelnuts are a smart choice to give this spirit a strong and unique flavor, but it drinks almost like a liqueur rather than a rum. 80 proof. B+ / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Sugarlands Shine Root Beer Moonshine – Spot-on root beer aromas kick the nose off on this heavily flavored (and nearly opaque) ‘shine, which is heavy on the sassafras and baking spices. Alongside a healthy slug of sweet vanilla, the body sees more peppermint coming to the fore than I would like or expect, with surprisingly heavy clove character. These cloves endure for quite some time, eventually mellowing as the finish fades into a sort of charred wood character, which erases some of the excitement and nostalgia of what’s come before. 70 proof. B / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Sugarlands Appalachian Sippin’ Cream Butter Pecan Cream Liqueur – Not dark brown as the bottle would indicate, but rather a gentle, creamy tan. Extremely sweet on the nose, with light brown sugar the clearest component. The buttery, nutty pecan notes are a bit slightly clearer on the palate, but there’s so much sugar that it overwhelms just about all of it, leading to a milky finish akin to melted vanilla ice cream. 40 proof. B- / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Sugarlands Appalachian Sippin’ Cream Dark Chocolate Coffee Cream Liqueur – The color of milk chocolate, with a nose that is a heavier blend of coffee with some chocolate syrup swirled in. Ample vanilla kicks off the palate, along with some butterscotch sweetness, before the relatively gentle coffee character arrives. There’s nothing really “dark” about the chocolate in this liqueur. As far as the cocoa goes, it’s about as milky as it gets. Nevertheless, it works fairly well. 40 proof. B+ / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

sugarlandsdistilling.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: Heritage Distilling Rye and Bourbon Whiskies and Crisp Gin

Heritage Distilling makes a veritable ton of spirits in its Gig Harbor, Washington home, and by that I mean it actually makes them. This isn’t sourced or finished whiskey and gin, it’s the real deal, bringing in grains from the Pacific Northwest and Canada, mashed and fermented on site, and distilled in a copper column still. In other words: Everything here is a legit craft spirit.

Today we take a spin through a selection of Heritage’s product line, including five American whiskies as well as one of the company’s four gins.

Heritage Distilling BSB Brown Sugar Bourbon – Made from a mash of corn, rye, and malted barley, this whiskey is aged for less than two years in new American Oak charred barrels, then cut to 30% abv, with natural brown sugar and cinnamon flavors added. Pure Christmas on the nose, with intense cinnamon, vanilla, and nutmeg notes, plus a clear brown sugar overtone. The palate is very sweet, just shy of being overwhelming, and the cinnamon and sugar notes are omnipresent from the start. This of course comes at the expense of being able to taste any of the whiskey itself, which is common with heavily flavored spirits like this, although there’s a nutty, lightly corny character on the back end that at least hints at the underlying spirit. No “fireball” heat here, mind you — the experience is closer to a liquified gingerbread house than anything approaching red hots. 60 proof. B+ / $34

Heritage Distilling Elk Rider Bourbon Whiskey – Made from a mash of corn, rye, and malted barley (likely the same as in BSB), then aged for less than two years in new American Oak charred barrels. This whiskey comes across as a bit more mature than it actually is, though the very dry, popcorn-heavy nose pushes the focus to the barrel char underneath. On the palate, again it’s quite dry, with pushy lumberyard notes, forest floor and tree bark notes, and hints of gingerbread, Christmas cake, and dried fruit notes lingering as those pushy, wood-driven notes start to fade. The finish is a bit nutty — keeping the theme from the BSB bottling — but the lack of any real sweetness causes it to fade away a bit too quickly. This is clearly a well-made spirit, though it’s simply bottled too young. Would love to see this as a four year old. 92 proof. B / $30

Heritage Distilling Elk Rider Rye Whiskey – Made from a mash of rye and barley (no corn), aged less than two years in charred oak barrels. While the Elk Rider Bourbon may be dry, this rye is over the top dusty, a sawdust-infused monster that offers a nose of spice-dusted lumber and a palate of the same. Here, the body takes those intense cloves and heavy barrel char and complements them with notes of menthol, bitter roots, rhubarb, and wet wool. Clearly a work in progress. 92 proof. C+ / $33

Heritage Distilling Dual Barrel Collection Bourbon Whiskey – (These are sometimes denoted as the Double Barrel Collection but are otherwise the same.) The next two whiskeys start out much like their Elk Rider brethren above, but are then barreled for a second time in barrels that were previously used to age 15 pounds of pure vanilla beans. Lots of butterscotch on the nose here, with just a hint of barrel char and some surprising peanut butter aromas emerging. The palate offers considerably more sweetness than Elk Rider, and also more of those candylike notes, with notes of chocolate and Snickers bars layered atop toasty notes of brown butter and charred marshmallows. The wood-heavy barrel notes finally get their kicks in on the drying finish, which is equal parts sweet and savory. Overall, this whiskey is quite a surprise, and one of the better craft bourbons you’ll find on the market today. Exclusive to Total Wine. 92 proof. B+ / $29

Heritage Distilling Dual Barrel Collection Rye Whiskey – Aged the same way as the Dual Barrel Bourbon above. This whiskey is softer and sweeter than the Elk Rider version, though it still carries a modest barrel-driven character (particularly on the nose) as a backbone to a body that features plenty of that classic rye spice, heavy with cloves, spearmint, and some licorice character. This segues toward notes of caramel and milk chocolate on a finish that otherwise tends to keep things close to its barrel-driven roots taking the whiskey out with a surprisingly satisfying conclusion. Exclusive to Total Wine. 92 proof. B+ / $29

Heritage Distilling Elk Rider Crisp Gin – Distilled from 100% Washington grains, with traditional (but largely unrevealed) London Dry style botanicals. Especially medicinal on the nose, with heavy notes of camphor. Very herbal on the nose and on the tongue, it isn’t until the finish that some citrus notes finally push through, offering a touch of sweetness against what is otherwise an overwhelmingly pungent and savory experience. A tough nut to crack but one which might find the right home in, say, a Negroni. 94 proof. C / $28

heritagedistilling.com

Review: Ezra Brooks Bourbon Cream

Kudos to Luxco’s Ezra Brooks for making its newly-launched Bourbon Cream with real Kentucky Straight Bourbon, but damn if the guy in charge of the sugar dosing ought to lose his job.

There’s a heavy, familiar vanilla aroma on the nose, but the palate is immediately sweeter than expected — and, for me, far sweeter than desired. On the palate: Bold butterscotch candy, heavily sweetened vanilla cream, and a touch of milk chocolate — nothing surprising, but again, it’s all so sweet that ultimately the sugar distracts from anything else going on.

The lingering finish is almost syrupy, offering vague maple notes and more essence of melted butterscotch candies. It’s very expressive, but at times, just too much, to the point where it can even be a little rough on the stomach.

25 proof.

C / $12 / ezrabrooks.com

Review: Wines of Australia’s MWC, 2017 Releases

MWC is a budget label from Aussie winemakers McPherson Wines, with four expressions being produced. Don’t be alarmed: All the bottles used are Burgundy-style bottles, regardless of what goes in them.

Let’s take a look at 2017’s releases, all now in the market.

2015 MWC Pinot Gris Victoria – A lovely pink hue kicks off this fruit-filled wine, which offers notes of pineapple and mango and a touch of coconut, all layered over a lemony backbone, with light grapefruit notes. Incredibly fresh and eminently drinkable, it’s a lovely wine as an aperitif that also pairs well with seafood. A- / $15

2014 MWC Shiraz Mourvedre Victoria – 95% shiraz, 5% mourvedre. Blunt and unremarkable, this lightly pruny wine offers loads of blackberry jam and some tea leaf, with a fair amount of syrupy milk chocolate notes. Nuanced it’s not, using ample sweetness to mask a thin body and a short finish. C / $15

2015 MWC Pinot Noir Victoria – More enticing, with a solid acidity level that works well with notes of cherry and blueberry that dominate the palate. The finish treads into some odd areas of baking spice and more of that milk chocolate, but otherwise the experience is robust enough to carry its own. B / $16

2015 MWC Cabernet Sauvignon Victoria – An entry-level cabernet, approachable but not the most nuanced wine in this lineup. Notes of raspberry and currant are on target, but secondary character behind them is fairly lacking. The finish is more acidic than expected, with only modest tannin structure, and with a straightforward, tart but fruit-heavy conclusion. B / $16

mcphersonwines.com.au

Book Review: The Bar Cart Bible

Enduring Mad Men symbology and ’50s/’60s nostalgia are bringing back yet another nifty idea from yesteryear: The rolling bar cart that lets you turn cocktail hour into a moveable feast.

The Bar Cart Bible (no author listed, oddly), is designed with simple cocktails in mind. The 350 drinks included can all be made on the go, so you won’t need to smoke any ice or make any lavender tinctures to mix up these cocktails. If you can stock some simple syrup and sour mix and fill an ice bucket, everything else can generally come out of a bottle or a can. (How fancy you want to get with the occasional call for orange juice is up to you… I will note that at least one of the cocktails calls for Tang!)

These are simple drinks designed for small spaces and the most basic of cocktail hours, and when more complex drinks are included (like the Mai Tai), they’re simplified considerably. Most of the drinks have just 3 or 4 ingredients.

As for what you’ll actually be drinking, unfortunately The Bar Cart doesn’t seem to be the most well-curated list of drinks — particularly considering the rather sophisticated surroundings of a bar cart. Will your guests be jonesing for a Comfortable Fuzzy Screw, a Mind Eraser, or a Psycho Tsunami (made with blue curacao, natch)? If so, they won’t be drinking it anywhere near a bar cart, and they aren’t invited to my house.

C / $15 /  [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

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