Review: NV Chateau Souverain Cabernet Sauvignon California

There’s not that much to excite anyone about a 13 dollar, nonvintage California cab — but Chateau Souverain is doing one fun thing this year by offering custom labels with, well, anything printed on them. As you can see by the photo above, Chateau Souverain becomes Chateau Null, or Chateau Smith, or Chateau Whatever. The idea: A bespoke wine — or at least a bespoke label — designed for holiday gifting.

As for the wine, well, it’s nothing special: Heavily fruity, gummy at times with notes of vanilla-scented molasses, and quite sweet on the finish. You’re drinking bulk wine, and anyone to whom you give a bottle of this should be prepared for that… although, to be fair, that doesn’t make it any less fun.

C+ (for the wine), A (for the label) / $13 / labelmaker.souverain.com

Review: Paul John Bold Indian Single Malt Whisky


Born and raised in the Goa region of India, Paul John continues to push out new expressions of its single malt whiskies — inspired by Scotland but unique to this part of the world.

The latest expression — you can check out our previous Paul John coverage here — is Paul John Bold, a heavily peated whisky that lets you “plunge headlong into the delicious depths of Goa.”

Heavily peated is no joke. This is a smoke bomb from start to finish, kicking off with heavy forest fire aromas, coal dust, and compost notes. On the palate, peat smoke overwhelms, though hints of citrus peel and raspberry push through underneath. Some water seems like it might help temper the smoky beast, but in reality it does little to drown out the peat bog, dulling instead the fruit, what there is of it, and leaving an ashy taste in the mouth by way of a finish.

92 proof.

C+ / $43 / pauljohnwhisky.com

Review: WhistlePig “The Boss Hog: The Black Prince” Rye Whiskey 14 Years Old 2017

WhistlePig continues to push its offerings upmarket with annual, limited edition releases that are part of its Boss Hog series. 2017 sees the release of the fourth of these, “The Black Prince.” Now distilled by Indiana’s MGP instead of being sourced from Canada, as was the norm with prior releases of WhistlePig, the wine is finished at WhistlePig’s Vermont farms in Armagnac casks, seeing 14 total years of aging (the same amount of aging time as the 2016 Boss Hog release). (For what it’s worth, WhistlePig says this is the first rye whiskey to be finished in Armagnac barrels.)

Let’s give Boss Hog 2017, “The Black Prince,” the Drinkhacker treatment.

I’ve always admired WhistlePig’s bold flavors and balance, but this year’s Boss Hog has really gone off the script a bit. The dominating character — and this was evident on my first sampling at WhiskyFest — is wood, pure and simple. Big, burly, lumberyard notes that downright dominate everything. The nose is full of the stuff, both at cask strength and with water added — though adding some H2O is essential if you want to enjoy The Black Prince much at all.

The palate opens up — again, with water — to show some toffee notes, but smoky tobacco and tar quickly wash out the sweetness. Harsh and unforgiving at times, the body is rustic and aggressive, the overwhelming wood treatment almost brutalizing the palate. Whatever time this spent in Armagnac casks has had little impact on what lies beneath — though the finish, which finally percolates notes of raisins and some Eastern spices amidst the heavy scorched butterscotch notes, does at least nod in the direction of France.

The bottom line is that this whiskey — in stark contrast to previous Boss Hogs — has been ill-treated by its time in wood, and though the brandy finishing is a delightful idea, it just doesn’t translate in the finished product. Does the switch from Alberta to MGP have something to do with it? I couldn’t say based on my experience, but perhaps time will tell as WhistlePig’s sourcing continues to shift.

At $50, I’d give The Black Prince a whirl. But at $500, you can safely skip it.

~124 proof (varies by bottle).

C+ / $500 / whistlepigwhiskey.com

Review: Wines of Maiden + Liberty, 2017 Releases

Maiden + Liberty can be found on Long Island, New York, where it makes “French-American” blends — inspired by the owners’ heritage (He’s from New York, she’s from France, coming this fall!). “What would a wine that combines American dynamism with French elegance taste like?” ask the winemakers? What does that mean? Well, Maiden + Liberty makes wines blended from French and American grapes, as well as some bottlings of U.S.-only grown varietals and some strictly imported from France. We’ll lay out what’s what in the detailed reviews below, but meanwhile, let’s find out what a wine that combines American dynamism with French elegance tastes like.

NV Maiden + Liberty French-American White Blend Batch 001 – A blend of Chardonnay and Viognier from the U.S. plus Macabeu and Vermentino from France. Results: Not at all bad. A slightly creamy wine, it has an herbal, somewhat vegetal body that is complemented by notes of brown butter, canned peaches, and baking spice. Fresh and approachable, but versatile enough to pair with food or sip solo. B+ / $20

2016 Maiden + Liberty Chardonnay North Fork of Long Island Batch 002 – A more French style of Chardonnay than we’re used to seeing on our shores, the oak dialed back, with more citrus and green apple notes coming to the fore. The finish sees a modest vanilla character, but it’s not off-putting or overly oaky; rather it gives the wine a light baking spice character that complements the fruit nicely. B+ / $15

2016 Maiden + Liberty French Rose Languedoc Batch 001 – This is a straight French import from the Languedoc, which is curious, but unfortunately a little flat: The wine is rather doughy, with yeasty overtones. This dulls the fruit, flattens the wine, and doesn’t leave much of an impression on the finish. C / $15

NV Maiden + Liberty French-American Red Blend Batch 001 – A gooey mix of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon with Syrah and Grenache, this concoction doesn’t really come together, coming off as overly sweet, with a bizarre mix of cinnamon and blueberry notes taking center stage. The finish is heavy with vanilla and milk chocolate and a hint of licorice candy, none of which overwhelmingly appeals. C+ / $22

maidenandliberty.com

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

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