Review: Tequila Codigo 1530 Complete Lineup

Tequila Codigo, launched in late 2016, has plenty of industry power behind it, but it also finds support in the form of country icon George Strait, who is an investor and brand ambassador.

Made in the region of Los Bajos, these are all 100% blue agave tequilas. Curiously, all of the aged expressions spend time not in ex-bourbon barrels, which is traditional, but rather in used French oak Napa cabernet sauvignon wine barrels. This takes Codigo’s tequilas in an entirely new direction, for better or for worse.

Five expressions in total are produced. Four are reviewed here — all save for Rosa, which is aged for just one month in those wine barrels and is colored pink. All expressions are bottled at 80 proof. Thoughts on the primary four expressions follow.

Tequila Codigo 1530 Blanco – Unaged. Very peppery on the nose, with overtones of overripe fruit. The body is unusual, with notes of baked apples, roasted meat, and ripe banana. Some cinnamon character endures on the finish, but the overall impact is a little disjointed and tough to fully engage with. B- / $49

Tequila Codigo 1530 Reposado – Spends six months in Napa cabernet barrels. Lots of dessert notes here, though they find a strange bedfellow in the nose that also showcases peppery and agave-laden notes. The palate is heavily influenced by brown sugar, banana, caramel, and some toasted marshmallow notes. Though the body’s a little on the gummy side, but it offers some fun tart and spicy notes on the finish — with hints of chocolate. B+ / $69

Tequila Codigo 1530 Anejo – 18 months of oak give this a nose of well-integrated agave and caramel, in equal proportions, The anejo pumps up the ripe fruit character of the reposado, layering in more baking spice notes and lots of vanilla. Hints of coffee on the back end — with lots of cream. B+ / $119

Tequila Codigo 1530 Origen – This is Codigo’s extra anejo, aged a whopping 6 years in those cabernet barrels. The nose here takes things in an entirely new direction, with intense aromas of camphor and antiseptic. None of the sweetness or even the base agave is present aromatically. On the palate, a similar hospital character is heavy, pungent with alcohol, rubber, and notes of motor oil. I can’t say that I’ve ever experienced a tequila that has spent too much time in wood (whiskey yes, tequila no), but I guess there’s a first time for everything. D / $249

codigo1530.com

Drinking the Bottom Shelf Vol. 1: American Whiskey – Jim Beam, Evan Williams, Old Thompson

Good whiskey can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. There are bargain bottles that are enjoyable and offer considerably higher quality:value ratios than more expensive options. Today we pore through the “bottom shelf” bottles in order to find whiskeys that are enjoyable yet affordable while attempting to steer drinkers clear of the ones that still aren’t worth the price.

Let’s start with a look at three lower-cost American whiskeys.

Jim Beam Kentucky Straight Bourbon (White Label)

It’s important to read the label closely when purchasing bottom shelf whiskeys. Jim Beam’s most inexpensive whiskey is White Label Kentucky Straight Bourbon. To advertise itself as a bourbon, a whiskey must adhere to certain rules, the most important of which state that it is: (1) made from at least 51% corn, (2) aged in new oak barrels, and (3) aged at least four years if it is to call itself “straight bourbon.” This means that, as inexpensive as Jim Beam is, it lives up to the minimum requirements of a
demanding labeling system.

The payoff for following the legal requirements to label a whiskey “straight bourbon” are apparent when sampling this one, which is simple and straightforward, but drinkable. The nose offers soft notes of corn mixed with candy corn. There is a touch of spice, but it isn’t a particularly enjoyable smell as it carries a slightly medicinal quality. On the palate, Jim Beam is quite smooth. Notes of of corn and candy corn appear again but are very light. For the serious bourbon fan, the taste is too smooth, even watery, as it hints at bourbon’s possibilities without delivering the goods. But for the novice, this might be a good start. The finish is long and smooth, and introduces some of the oak that this whiskey aged in for at least four years. None of the unpleasant flavors appear which tend to mar the finish of some inexpensive whiskeys. As an affordable mixer, Jim Beam is a great choice. See additional coverage here.

80 proof.

C+ / $14 / jimbeam.com

Evan Williams Black Label Bourbon

Evan Williams Black is also a Kentucky Straight Bourbon, and it is aged around 5 years in new oak barrels and bottled at a slightly higher alcohol level than most bottom shelf whiskeys, 86 proof. The higher alcohol presents in the nose, but not so strongly as to be off-putting. It is accompanied by pleasant smells of caramel, vanilla extract, and a bit of mint. The palate is corn sweetness mixed with caramel and brown sugar, but it is not cloying. For such an inexpensive bottle, the flavors are surprisingly balanced. The finish is medium in length, ending in wood, but not bitterness. This is a great starter bourbon, and one I wouldn’t hesitate to drink neat. For those on a budget who appreciate the taste of bourbon, Evan Williams Black is tough to beat. See additional coverage here.

86 proof.

B- / $14 / evanwilliams.com

Old Thompson American Whiskey

Old Thompson is not a bourbon, but rather a blend of whiskeys coupled with neutral grain spirits (vodka). If you’ve had Seagram’s 7, you know the deal. The blend strictly follows the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations which requires that a beverage contain at least 20% whiskey (aged at least 2 years) to be labeled “American Whiskey.” The consequences of just barely staying within the legal definition of American Whiskey are immediately apparent. The nose is almost nonexistent with hints of gasoline and nail polish remover, along with the slightest whiff of what might be corn sweetness. This makes sense considering that 4/5 of the product is unaged grain alcohol. On the palate, Old Thompson is harsher than its proof would suggest and offers an unpleasant sweetness that doesn’t seem to draw from the whiskey in the product. These flavors are followed by a short finish and lingering bitterness. Perhaps Old Thompson works as a mixer since it is mostly grain alcohol, but I would recommend an inexpensive vodka instead.

80 proof.

D- / $8 / sazerac.com

A Duet of Spanish Wines Reviewed: 2015 Beronia Rueda and 2013 Torres Celeste Ribera del Duero

No particular theme here, just two wines from along the route of Spain’s Duero River, including a white from Rueda and a red from Ribera del Duero. Thoughts follow.

2015 Beronia Rueda Verdejo – This verdejo is grassy and acidic, drinking a lot like a western sauvignon blanc, with crisp lemon notes up front, followed by honeysuckle and some spice to give it a little spin to one side. A versatile wine, it has a slightly bigger body that hints at marshmallow syrup, but only as an afterthought. B+ / $15

2013 Torres Celeste Ribera del Duero Crianza – Not my favorite wine. A very young nose offers notes of overripe fruit and blunt milk chocolate, while the palate is blown out with bitter herbs, orange peel, and a muddy, almost dirty, finish. Skip. D+ / $14

Review: Robert Mondavi 2014 Pinot Noir, 2013 Merlot, and 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon

Today, a trio of new releases from Robert Mondavi’s entry-level “Napa Valley” line.

2014 Robert Mondavi Pinot Noir Napa Valley Carneros – Smells fine — light but heavy with notes of tea leaf and cherries, classic pinot stuff — and then you take a sip. Ugh, here it reveals a funky, bitter, and entirely unpalatable character that is redolent of muddy boots and bitter greens. Doesn’t smell or tastes corked — just bad. D- / $18

2013 Robert Mondavi Merlot Napa Valley – Fruity on the nose, with overtones of earth. The palate sees some funk, but it keeps things quite light, with gentle florals layered over a core of red berries, plum, and some tobacco leaf notes. Moderately tannic, particularly on the lasting finish, which eventually echoes the floral elements while calling up some spice notes. Nothing overly special, but it’s palatable. B- / $17

2014 Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – A very young cabernet, this one really needs another year in bottle before being cracked open. Today it drinks with youthful notes of overripe berries and sweet jam notes, though the finish seems some tightness from the clove-scented tannins still bound up in the bottle. Hints of milk chocolate endure on the relatively simple finish. Still, I think there’s ample promise here; give it some time. B- / $20

robertmondaviwinery.com

Tasting: Late 2016/Early 2017 MashBox Club Spirits Samplers

Today we’re ganging up two recent quarterly shipments of MashBox spirits samplers, one a rather random collection of recent releases, the other a trio of the same whiskey but finished in different barrels types. Read on for details from this outturn of the internet’s most interesting booze-of-the-month club.

As a reminder, $99 a year gets your four boxes of three 50ml samples.

Manhattan Moonshine – Full review here. A pungent and somewhat mushroomy white dog, tempered by notes of gingerbread and breakfast cereal. 95 proof. B

Owney’s New York City Rum – A white rum, unaged. Quite weedy on the nose, with hard cereal notes. The palate doesn’t offer much intrigue and the finish is harsh and astringent. Generally, a funky rum like this needs some barrel time to mellow out, even if it’s being filtered back to clear. 80 proof. D+

Black Button Distilling Bespoke Bourbon Cream – A whiskey cream liqueur, made with bourbon (whose is unclear, but Black Button doesn’t make any). This is super stuff, easy to drink and loaded up with notes of vanilla and butterscotch, atop a creamy, cake-frosting-like base. Bourbon creams always manage to pack in more flavor than Irish creams, and Black Button’s is no exception. 30 proof. A-

And now for a trio of releases from Filibuster Bourbon. These are each aged for four years in new oak, then finished for two years in different types of French oak wine barrels (details follow). (Check the stickers on top to see which is which; the individual bottle labels are otherwise all the same.) Each is 90 proof.

Filibuster Bourbon Finished in 100% Cabernet Sauvignon Barrels – Lively, with sweet butterscotch, milk chocolate, and vanilla custard notes. The finish sees some baking spice and red pepper, making for a supple and sultry sugar bomb of an experience. A-

Filibuster Bourbon Finished in 100% Chardonnay Barrels – A big surprise — this one is far racier up front, with lots more of that peppery character and a more powerful baking spice element. The finish sees the spice fading and the sweeter elements enduring more clearly, making for a distinctly different, but equally compelling, experience. A-

Filibuster Bourbon Finished in 60% Cabernet Sauvignon/40% Chardonnay Barrels – Is this the sweet spot? While still rather heavy on the pepper notes up front, the whiskey fades a bit after that rushing attack, becoming a bit dull in tone across a somewhat gummy body. The finish is soft and a bit flabby — a big surprise considering the pedigree of its lineage. Proof that the whole can indeed be less than the sum of a whiskey’s parts. B+

mashandgrape.com

Review: Easy Tea Co. Hard Iced Tea

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The alcoholization of everything continues with the world of iced tea, courtesy of MillerCoors-owned Easy Tea Co. and its new Hard Iced Tea (Crisp Citrus Flavor) product. That’s a bold name for whatever is in this monster-sized can. Whatever it is, it isn’t tea, which doesn’t appear anywhere in the list of ingredients (water, corn syrup (dextrose), barley malt, yeast, hop extract, sucrose, citric acid, natural flavors, caramel color, sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate (added for freshness)), though perhaps that gets folded in under the “natural flavors” rubric. What it does taste like, rather, is orange soda, though lightly funky and mildly off-putting in that vegetally-flavored malt beverage way. On the whole it’s harmless, but it simply isn’t describable — in any way — as tea.

Sweet and fizzy, with candylike overtones to tamp down the malt liquor character, I don’t know who could polish off a full 24 oz. of this stuff — that’s almost the quantity that’s in a wine bottle — but if you can, you’re not invited into my house.

5% abv.

D+ / $3 per 24 oz. can / millercoors.com

Review: Wines of JaM Cellars, 2016 Releases

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This new brand of supermarket-friendly wines comes from John Anthony and Michele Truchard — and together they are JaM Cellars. If that isn’t catchy enough, the names of the wines — Toast, Butter, and Jam — and black-plus-one-primary-color labeling are likely to stick with you.

JaM may wear its obviousness on its sleeve — or, on its label at least — but let’s see how it does on the palate.

NV JaM Cellars Toast California Sparkling Brut – Extremely dry, its fruit takes its sweet time to make an appearance, eventually coming forward with simple notes of apple, lightly browned butter and sage, and — indeed — notes of toasted bread. The finish is simple and short, nearly devoid of the sweetness I expected to find despite the Brut indication on the label. A credible, yet very simple, California sparkler. B / $25

2015 JaM Cellars Butter Chardonnay California – Buttery, yes, but more restrained than you’d think. Simple fruit and brown butter is spiked with notes of allspice, plus a touch of grapefruit peel. The finish is a bit chewy, with some unfortunate green bean character on the back end. Fair enough for a Tuesday evening, though. B- / $16

2014 JaM Cellars Jam Cabernet Sauvignon California – Again the name doesn’t lie. Completely overblown with chocolate syrup, overripe plums, and juice currants, this sugar bomb hits the palate with a vengeance and never lets go. Frankly I couldn’t get through half a glass… but what are you expecting, anyway? D- / $20

jamcellars.com

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