Review: Wines of Edna Valley, 2017 Releases

You’ll find Edna Valley Vineyard in San Luis Obispo in southern California, but this winery sources grapes from all over California, particularly for its low-cost whites and rose. Here’s a look at three such wines to take you out of summer and into fall.

2016 Edna Valley Pinot Grigio California – This pinot grigio offers some fun florals and ample notes of fresh pears, banana, and a touch of nutmeg — which would all be swell if not for a rather gummy body that feels overly doctored, particularly on the strangely chewy finish. B- / $15

2015 Edna Valley Chardonnay Central Coast – This is a big and bold chardonnay, typically California in style, unctuous with notes of vanilla, oak, and brown butter. A hint of lemongrass on the nose does little to cut through the liquid dessert that follows on the tongue, nor can it cut the weighty, overly creamy finish. C+ / $15

2016 Edna Valley Rose California – A mix of Tempranillo, Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre. A simpler wine than the above, appropriately fragrant on the nose with mixed florals and berries, with a very light, almost watery, body that offers a simple strawberry character. The palate is fortunately clean and fresh, the light fragrance giving it a bit of a lift on the back end. B / $18

ednavalleyvineyard.com

Review: Barefoot Refresh Spritzers – Moscato and Rose

Proudly trumpeting on the containers that they are “wine-based” — code for “not made out of malt liquor” — budget wine brand Barefoot aims for the ready-to-drink crowd with its new line of Refresh premixed spritzers. The ingredients (which are actually included on the canisters) mainly include wine, sparkling water, and sugar, which is really all you want in a drink like this.

Five varieties are available, four of which are also available in cans. We tried two: Moscato and Rose.

Each is a mere 6.5% abv.

Barefoot Refresh Moscato Spritzer – Quite a bit less sweet than you’d expect, this tangy and fruity concoction tastes more like grapefruit soda than anything wine-related. In fact, the hints of peach and brisk orange would likely pair nicely with tequila as part of a Paloma-esque cocktail. That said, it drinks plenty well — again, soda-like — on its own. B

Barefoot Refresh Rose Spritzer – There’s less to grab onto with this experience. The spritzer has a floral character to it, with mild strawberry overtones. The finish is more medicinal than than Moscato — with a “cheap wine” overtone that lingers a bit too long. Might work OK in a punch, though. C+

each $7 per four-pack of 8.4-oz. cans / barefootwine.com

Drinking the Bottom Shelf Vol. 3: Gin – Seagram’s, Dover Strait, New Amsterdam

Good liquor can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. This review continues our project of considering bargain bottles by looking at three inexpensive gins. For those on a budget who want to drink well, the results are promising — at least, better than when we looked at whiskey (here and here)! Since gin is minimally aged, it typically is not as labor intensive as many whiskeys, which means producers can spend a little more on higher-quality raw materials.

Here are three bargain bottles we put through the paces.

Seagram’s Extra Dry Gin

Seagram’s is just approachable enough to drink straight, although I don’t really recommend it. Orange rind and pungent alcohol notes figure prominently in the nose and the palate, with juniper (gin’s most common component) appearing only very faintly in the finish. I am surprised by how hot this gin is considering it is only 80 proof. Tonic tames the alcohol, but the flavors don’t really blend well. One might do better to follow Snoop Dogg’s recommendation and use Seagram’s for “gin and juice.” 80 proof. C+ / $11 / seagramsgin.com

Dover Strait American Gin Extra Dry

This is my first experience with Dover Strait, and I’m not encouraged by the nose. Rather than notes of juniper, I detect nail polish remover and a little ginger ale with a touch of lemon rind. On the palate, Dover is less off-putting. The acetone notes are completely absent, and the gin comes across as an inexpensive, but not offensive, vodka. The lemon rind notes appear on the palate, but they are very subtle. Adding tonic makes me think I’m drinking a vodka tonic, which is not such a bad thing, but the smell of nail polish remover lingers. 80 proof. C- / $10

New Amsterdam Gin

The nose and palate of New Amsterdam (see prior review here as well) make it the most palatable of the three gins, and I had no qualms about drinking it straight. We have reviewed this gin before, and on a new tasting, the notes remain the same. Juniper appears on the nose, but orange and orange rind are far and away the dominant notes on the palate. This might annoy gin purists who want juniper to appear front and center, but I happen to like a lemon twist in my martinis, and I found this gin to be smooth enough to appear in one. For bargain hunters who agree, New Amsterdam is an affordable and enjoyable gin. In a gin and tonic, New Amsterdam is a vibrant, citrusy cocktail, ideal for a hot day. 80 proof. B / $12 / newamsterdamspirits.com

Review: Starr Hill Summer 2017 Releases – Resinate, Festie, Sublime, The Hook, Warehouse Pils, Grateful, and The Love

Starr Hill’s (late) summer beers are now in full effect — today we look at a full seven varieties, including four appearing in a mixed case of cans for the first time. Let’s take a spin!

Starr Hill Resinate Imperial Red IPA – If “resin” is the operative term here, Starr Hill sure got this one right. Sticky, almost syrupy, this beer offers a maple, raisin-soaked attack before hitting you with a slug of bitterness — chewy, almost chocolaty, resin with a whiff of pine needles behind it. A hearty beer that will fit better come cooler weather. 7.7% abv. B

Starr Hill Festie Oktoberfest Lager – A classic German-style amber lager, fairly heavy on the carbonation with notes of dates, nuts, and a mash-up of baking spices. Warming and toasty, it’s by and large a hit for a beer of this style, though the malt feels a bit overdone on the finish. 4.8% abv. B+

Starr Hill Sublime Citrus Wit – If you like your wheat beers nice and orangey, Citrus Wit is for you. Lots of coriander back up a healthy dosing of citrus peel, giving it an intensely spicy, almost middle Eastern feel. Whether it lives up to its name is up to you. 4.7% abv. B

These four were all reviewed from cans (though they’re also available in bottles).

Starr Hill The Hook Grapefruit Session IPA – Not my favorite session IPA, this is a weak entry into an increasingly crowded field that comes off as watery and only hinting at any fruit, let alone grapefruit. Rather bready, with an herbal edge, the characteristic pine resin and citrus are decidedly lacking. Not there yet. 4.9% abv. C+

Starr Hill Warehouse Pils – A classic German pilsner, this burly lager goes beyond the typically barley-led basics and offers overtones of roasted meats, coriander, and green vegetables. A nicely dry finish helps even things out a bit. 5.5% abv. B-

Starr Hill Grateful Pale Ale – “Remastered” for 2017 with a new recipe to modernize the beer with a revamped hop bill and more malt. Good decisions all around: The new version of the beer bursts with hops without being overwhelming, with lemony citrus, gentle caramel, a dusting of spice, and some amaro notes all adding complexity. 4.7% abv. A-

Starr Hill The Love Wheat Beer – A moderately bodied hefeweizen, this isn’t the most distinguished of wheat beers, very heavy on the grain, with a subtext of apples and a significant amount of coriander. Fine, but “love” might be too strong a term. 5.1% abv. B-

each about $15 per 12-pack / starrhill.com

Review: 2015 Apothic Crush and Red

California-based Apothic specializes in weird blends at low prices (the whiskey-barrel-aged Inferno is one to also read about), and its two latest releases — Crush and Red, both likely bulk wine buys blended to make the best possible finished product the blender could come up with — are no exception to the rule.

Let’s pop a couple of corks and see what we think.

2015 Apothic Crush – A blend “led by” petite sirah and pinot noir. Clearly driven more by the former, this is a fruit-heavy expression of strawberry and blueberry, filtered through milk chocolate and caramel sauce. It’s thick and almost gooey, and the sweetness can be a bit unbearable at times — though it is fortunately rescued to some degree by a scatter of baking spices on the finish. C+

2015 Apothic Red – A mutt of a blend of zinfandel, syrah, cabernet sauvignon, and merlot. Relatively innocuous next to Crush — or perhaps my palate has just become accustomed to the sugar rush — it also features chocolate notes but filtered through notes of blackberry bramble, banana, and jasmine. A tad more interesting. B-

each $14 / apothic.com

Tasting Greek Wines: 2015 Roya and 2013 Markovitis Xinomavro

Turns out there’s more to Greek wine than assyrtiko. But is any of it worth drinking?

Let’s find out…

2015 Roya – 100% muscat. This is a much drier expression of muscat, which lets some of the more perfumed and floral notes come forward — jasmine, lemongrass, and some grassy notes — leading to a finish that is surprisingly dry for the ordinarily ultra-sweet muscat. That said, it’s not all that interesting as a table wine, and it pairs in rather lackluster fashion with food. C+ / $10

2013 Markovitis Xinomavro – A red from the Naoussa region in northern Greece, this unique wine offers a nose of raspberry and rhubarb, sweet and fragrant. The palate unfortunately doesn’t quite measure up to the nose, leading to a bone dry palate that is missing almost any semblance of fruit. The dusty, slightly sour finish reminds more of a dry sherry than anything else, which is decidedly bizarre for a red wine. C / $27

Review: Ferdinand’s Saar Dry Vermouth, Dry Gin, and Quince

Newly available in the U.S. is this collection of products from Germany’s Avadis Dsitllery. Bottled under the Ferdinand’s label, these products all involve a unique ingredient: Riesling wine from the Mosel region, where the distillery is based.

Some additional details from the company:

Ferdinand’s Saar Dry Gin is crafted from grain to bottle at Avadis Distillery located in Germany’s Mosel Region. Only the highest-grade late and select harvest grape wines from the neighboring steep shale slopes of the Saarburger Rausch vineyards are used for the gin’s wine infusion. These semi-sweet Rieslings from the Saar are not just known for their elegance and fruity complexity, but also exhibit the maximum degree of extract density, providing a refinement characteristic to Saar Dry Gin. The raw distillate produced from the grain is distilled several times to form the basis for a selection of 30 hand-picked herbs, spices and fruits, which are carefully macerated to produce an eau-de-vie. The additional use of a steam infusion of freshly harvested herbs adds unique fresh floral notes to this gin, and it is rounded off with a precise measure of Schiefer Riesling to guarantees a high-quality product.

We tasted three products in the Ferdinand’s line. Thoughts follow.

Ferdinand’s Saar Dry Vermouth – Dry vermouth made from the riesling grape. Quite dry, and surprisingly bitter given the riesling base. Notes of oxidation, rosemary, and quinine all mix together a bit unevenly, finishing on a Meyer lemon note. Scattered and off-balance, with too much wormwood in the mix, it has a certain charm but doesn’t add a whole lot in a mixed drink. 18% abv. B- / $23

Ferdinand’s Saar Dry Gin – This is the riesling-infused gin, with 30 (undisclosed) botanicals. The nose is intense with juniper, lemon peel, and thyme — largely traditional, with the riesling not making a major showing. On the palate, the wine character is far more evident, a bittersweet character that offers a lemon syrup note, followed by layers and layers of savory herbs, leading to a surprising, very bitter finish. Daunting on its own, it’s an intensely herbal experience that needs a lot more citrus in the bill to find balance. 88 proof. C+ / $45

Ferdinand’s Saar Quince – This oddity, an homage to traditional sloe gin, is an infusion of Saar Dry Gin (though the label says “vodka”) with estate-grown quinces and 2011 Kabinett class riesling. The exotic nose combines sweet white wine, honey, lemon and grapefruit (or quince-ness), and a smack of herbs to create a truly unusual but not unappealing aroma. The palate is quite sweet, again laced with a rather intense amount of herbs but cut with lots of that lemony citrus character. The finish is bittersweet, a bit sour, and quite herbal, but it all fades out on a sweet lemon sherbet note. Not really a substitute for sloe gin, but you might see what you can do with it in lieu of triple sec — or half-and-half with a regular gin. 60 proof. B / $50 (500ml)

saar-gin.com

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