Tasting the Wines of Vin de France, 2017 Releases

Back in 2009, France created a new categorization to cover wines sourced from all over the country. The so-called Vin de France wines are a mixed bag of grapes and styles (as the restrictions are few), but the overall goal with the category is to create single-varietal wines or blends, sourced from anywhere in the country — either all one region or multiple ones, mixed together — at a very affordable price.

Today, Vin de France wines comprise 15 percent of total wine exports from the country.

We checked out two Vin de France wines (a third was corked) from recent vintages. Thoughts follow.

2014 Marc Barriot Le P’tit Barriot Vin de France – 100% syrah. Do you like terroir? This wine wears it on its sleeve — a big and funky wine that reeks of earth, balsamic notes, and green vegetables, and carries that through to an equally semi-sour palate. The finish seems some wild, citrus-like notes emerging. Rough and rustic, this is the wine to drink before you embark on a running with the bulls. Vaya con dios! Or whatever they say in France. C / $18

2013 Maison Ropiteau Pinot Noir Vin de France – A simple and jammy pinot noir, this wine loads up on fresh berries and vanilla, with gentle balsamic notes underpinning the experience. The finish is short, quite fruity, with just a touch of rose petal to it. There’s nothing incredibly deep here, but as far as summery picnic wines go, you could do a lot worse. B / $10

Review: Proyecto Garnachas de Espana – Salvaje and Olvidada, 2017 Releases

Proyecto Garnachas de Espana — or the Spanish Grenache Project, if you will — is a curious series of wine releases meant to celebrate the grenache wines of the Ebro Valley. A project of Spanish wine company Vintae, the idea is to showcase different vineyards in the Aragon region, to show how terroir and microclimates can expressions of 100% garnacha.

While a number of these wines are on the market, we received two to check out. (Note they are from different vintages.) Thoughts follow.

2015 Proyecto Garnachas de Espana La Garnacha Salvaje – A surprisingly thin wine for grenache, particularly given the aromas of tobacco and spice that lead to a rather watery and limpid body. Here flavors of fresh cherries and blonde wood notes lead to a somewhat off-putting finish that showcases beef jerky and boiled vegetables. A bit of a blown opportunity. C / $12

2013 Proyecto Garnachas de Espana La Garnacha Olvidada – A strikingly different (and much better) wine than the above, much bolder on the palate with notes of cassis, tea leaf, cola, and some lingering mint. The body is rich and the finish is lasting, offering a tribute to the earth in the form of lingering hints of cassis, mushroom, and dusky tree bark. Well balanced between sweet and savory, with a lightly drying conclusion. A / $12

garnachasdeespana.com

Review: Single Cask Nation Whiskies Outturn #1 – Girvan 10, Ardmore 8, Glentauchers 8, Glenrothes 8, Ben Nevis 8, and Ben Nevis 20

Let’s welcome a new independent Scotch whisky bottler to the scene: Single Cask Nation.

Decidedly unlike the old guard of G&M, Signatory, and the like, SCN is a brand being launched exclusively for the U.S. market by the Jewish Whisky Company. Who knew?

Some details:

Jewish Whisky Company has announced that it will release a series of Retail-Only Single Cask Nation bottlings for the California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York markets.

The retail line of Single Cask Nation whiskies focuses on young, vibrant whiskies between 7 and 14 years of age. Consumers can expect whiskies to be bottled at full cask strength without chill-filtering or added coloring and be from a host of different distilleries from around Scotland, America, and other whisky producing countries. Releases, however, may not be limited to this age range.

Retail-Only Single Cask Nation whiskies will complement the current online membership-only series of bottlings. Both consumers and Single Cask Nation members can expect the two separate lines to continue to grow in offerings. The two lines will remain separate. Casks bottled for retail will not be available for online purchase from Single Cask Nation. Similarly, Online-Only bottlings will not be available on retail shelves and all orders will continue to be fulfilled and shipped directly to Single Cask Nation members.

The company expects to bottle 12 to 18 single casks per year for the Single Cask Nation Retail-Only line of whiskies. Similarly, 12 to 18 different single casks will be bottled for the Single Cask Nation Online-Only line which is available through membership. Single Cask Nation members will continue to have exclusive access to Whisky Jewbilee festival bottlings. The 12 to 18 Online-Only bottlings available to Single Cask Nation members include the Whisky Jewbilee festival bottlings.

So, it’s not just Scotch, but for this first outturn of six whiskies, we’ve got five single malts and a single grain, all sourced from Scotland and all retail-only bottlings. We took a look at all of them. (Note that additional whiskies have since hit the market.)

Note that only a few hundred bottles were produced of each of these spirits. All were bottled between September 2016 and January 2017.

Single Cask Nation Girvan 10 Years Old – Single grain whisky from a refill bourbon hogshead. Single grain whisky this young is often brash and off-putting, and this expression is equally rough and tumble. Somewhat weedy on the nose, the palate offers notes of mushroom, licorice, and dusky hint of coal and coffee grounds. Despite some apple cinnamon notes that arrive late in the game, unfortunately it’s just too young at this stage to offer much engagement. 115.4 proof. 228 bottles produced. C / $71

Single Cask Nation Ardmore 8 Years Old – Single Highland malt from a refill bourbon hogshead. Moderately peated (considerably more so than a typical Ardmore bottling), the nose is sharp with wood smoke and a hint of bacon. The palate falls largely in line with this, featuring a sweet counterbalance that offers notes of pears, maple, and some golden raisins. Isley fans will find plenty to love here, though its youth prevents a flood of secondary flavors from developing. 113.8 proof. 228 bottles produced. B / $83

Single Cask Nation Glentauchers 8 Years Old – Single Speyside malt from a refill sherry hogshead. Potent sherry on the nose, with malty vanilla and some banana adding intrigue. The palate is quite creamy, building on all of the above flavors with stronger citrus, some coconut, and a lick of chocolate on the back end. Particularly worthwhile thanks to the bracing abv, which gives it a lengthy and seductive finish that belies its youthful age. 116.2 proof. 222 bottles produced. A- / $95

Single Cask Nation Ben Nevis 8 Years Old – Single Highland malt from a refill sherry butt. Again, quite sherry-forward on the nose, with some salted caramel notes. The palate takes things in a considerably different direction, though, quite nutty with oily furniture polish overtones. The sherry notes here run to amontillado, with notes of dates, cherry pits, and prunes. Almost syrupy on the finish, here’s where you find the more cereal-focused notes of roasted grains amidst all the winey character. 129.6 proof. 663 bottles produced. B- / $78

Single Cask Nation Glenrothes 8 Years Old – Single Speyside malt from a refill sherry hogshead. Probably the biggest name in this outturn, this is a youthful but expressive whisky with aromas of sharp citrus, walnuts, and spice. The palate shows the youth more clearly, with some heavier cereal notes, tempered by bold tangerine and mango notes, grassy heather, and a finish that layers some coal dust into the experience. Lots going on here — it’s a whisky that drinks above its mere eight years of age. 112.6 proof. 318 bottles produced. B+ / $95

Single Cask Nation Ben Nevis 20 Years Old – The sole double-digit whisky in this outturn (and an exception to the “young whiskies” rule outlined above), this is single Highland malt from a refill sherry puncheon. Interesting apple notes on the nose here, with plenty of citrus-fueled sherry right behind them. In the background, aromas of roasted meats waft up from the glass. The palate is sharp and heavy with citrus — orange and some oily lemon, with hints of grapefruit. The slippery, oily body leads to a lengthy finish, just as sharp as the palate proper, with nutty overtones. An enjoyable and enchanting whisky on the whole. 111.2 proof. 321 bottles produced. A- / $190

singlecasknation.com

Review: American Born Bourbon, Peach Whiskey, and Apple Whiskey

American Born is a new line of bourbon and flavored whiskey from Milestone Brands, an Austin-based company founded by the minds behind Deep Eddy Vodka. These new whiskeys are sourced spirits bottled at 83 proof, which “pays homage to the recognition of the country’s independence in 1783.” Hmmm.

Note that the spirits are all bottled in Nashville, but they are not considered (or labeled) Tennessee Whiskey.

Thoughts on the full lineup follow.

American Born Bourbon Whiskey – Made from a “corn and rye” mash, but otherwise details are scant, including where it is distilled, and how long it is aged. Clearly it’s not young. The whiskey has the hallmarks of youth on the nose, namely plenty of lumberyard character that gives it a considerable pungency. The palate finds that wood melding with buttery popcorn and taking on some smoky notes, alongside almond, clove, and a burnt rubber character that lingers on the finish. A simple bourbon that is all about youth, worn straight on its sleeve. 83 proof. B- / $20

American Born Peach Whiskey – Made with natural peach juice and natural flavors. This is a capable way to doctor the rough-and-tumble Bourbon, giving a good amount of sweetness to a whiskey that’s desperately in need of it. And at first blush, the peach is juicy, authentic, and sweet — but this degrades surprisingly quickly, devolving into a chemical note that comes across as acrid, shades of (the old) Southern Comfort. 70 proof. C / $19

American Born Apple Whiskey – Again, made with real apple juice and natural flavors. Sharp apple candy on the nose leads to an incredibly sweet and syrupy body, stuffed with apple and watermelon candy notes. The finish is unbearably saccharine, off-putting with harshly astringent overtones. D- / $19

americanbornwhiskey.com

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

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