Review: 2015 Illumination Sauvignon Blanc

You’ll have to check the back label for the details, but Illumination is a white wine made at Quintessa, which is best known as a cult producer of red wine. Here, however, is a white from the property, blended from 39% Sauvignon Blanc Musqué (a particularly aromatic clone of Sauvignon Blanc), 48% Sauvignon Blanc, and 13% Semillon. The fruit is sourced 58% from Napa County and 42% from Sonoma County. Aging is done in French oak barrels (8% new), Acacia barrels (5% new), egg-shaped concrete fermenters, and stainless steel barrels.

It’s altogether a fine expression of Sauvignon Blanc, loaded with intensely floral aromatics and notes of apricots underneath. Some light ammonia notes emerge as the wine opens up (and warms up), revealing a body that offers notes of dried fruit, dried flowers, and some nutmeg notes. The finish hints at green tea while concluding on honeysuckle. A very expressive and worthwhile wine.

A- / $55 / illuminationwine.com

Review: Templeton Rye 10 Years Old

Templeton continues to build a name for itself with its 95% rye expression, sourced from Indiana’s MGP and bottled in Iowa, and to celebrate 10 years in business the company is introducing a limited edition 10 year old “special reserve” rye. 34 barrels were turned out to fill 6,080 bottles, each hand-numbered and boxed. (A full 10 years on, Templeton has finally announced it will build its own distillery, at a cost of $26 million, in the city of Templeton, Iowa.)

The whiskey has a few things in common with Templeton’s last special edition, 2016’s Templeton Rye 6 Years Old, although its much more savory, its sugariness dialed back. With this 10 year old, that means a nose heavy with burnt grains, fresh rubber, and some oxidized fruit character, like a vinegary compote. There’s an aroma that’s hard to place but ultimately it falls somewhere in the gingerbread/fruitcake realm… if it were cut with a hint of petrol.

The palate continues the intensely savory character, which takes on some of those traditionally spicy rye notes, mingled with a quite heavy granary character. One would expect that after 10 years in barrel, a whiskey like this would have lost some of that crispy-crunchy rye grain character, but Templeton 10 is really hanging on to it. The finish shows off more brown sugar and molasses than the palate proper would indicate, but it’s the lingering notes of barrel char and burnt matches that stick with you for the long haul — and which make the whiskey feel like a much hotter concoction than it is.

80 proof.

B / $150 / templetonrye.com

Review: 2014 St. Francis Merlot Sonoma Valley Reserve

Don’t let them tell you that merlot is dead. St. Francis’s 2014 Sonoma Valley bottling is loaded with character, starting with floral aromatics and, on the palate, gentle leather and tobacco notes. After a slug of modest tannin the wine bursts forth with blackberry and rhubarb character before revealing some lingering coffee notes on the finish.

A- / $40 / stfranciswinery.com

On Toasts and Irish Whiskey for St. Patrick’s Day

Life gives us precious few moments for a proper toast anymore. St. Patrick’s Day remains as one of the few times when you stop and hold a room’s attention long enough to actually raise one. Or rather, what I wonder is often the case in my experience, enough time for your friends and family to at least pretend to be giving you their full attention.

There are very few rules to a good toast, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t important. Brevity is your best friend. Three or four lines is ideal. It’s important to remember that wedding toasts are usually speeches, so don’t go by those rules. In the bar, each extra word has a direct negative correlation on how your toast will be received.

Tone is the second most important aspect of a great toast. Joyful sincerity is the target. The best toasts quickly reflect and uplift. It should be something everyone can latch onto. Short, simple, and earnest.

If you can’t come up with the words on your own, it’s fine to take a good quote and cannibalize it for your own purposes. Luckily for us, the Irish have a long history of being good with words.

It’s also important to note that the best accessory for a toast is a good rocks glass. While it feels great to raise a beer to the person doing the toasting, the temptation to use a pint glass as a microphone is strong — but whiskey is always best. While you can toast with any beverage, remember it is bad luck to toast with an empty glass — but it is the best luck to toast with whiskey, particularly Irish whiskey on St. Patrick’s Day.

Ready to make a memorable toast? This evening, try on some of these… each paired with the perfect glass of Irish whiskey.

Powers John’s Lane

He was not sure what idea he wished to express but the thought that a poetic moment had touched upon him took life within him like an infant home. He stepped onward bravely.

James Joyce said he sought to capture the entirety of Dublin in his writing so that if the city ever disappeared it could be rebuilt from his books. Single pot still whiskey and its mix of malted and unmalted barley is the one style unique to Ireland. If every other Irish whiskey were to disappear from the face of the earth, Powers John’s Lane, with its incredible mix of nuttiness, malted chocolate, and delicate floral touches would stand well as its last remaining representative. The fact that it also has an inspiring finish which seems to push the limits of time itself certainly doesn’t hurt.

Tyrconnell 10 Year Old Madeira Finish

The only way to atone for being occasionally a little overdressed is by being always, absolutely over-educated.

Oscar Wilde is the undisputed king of the bon mot. Pretty much everything he ever said and wrote can be easily turned into a wonderful quote. This one works beautifully with the Tyrconnell Madeira Finish. Irish whiskey tends to begin its life in such a light and delicate state that too much barrel trickery can easily overwhelm and overdress a beautiful drink. Thankfully those behind this whiskey are smart enough to know right where that edge of perfection is. This whiskey jumps right off the palate with some bright citrus and then softens to a nutty and sweet finish. It is impeccably balanced and also happens to be one of my all time favorites.

Teeling Single Grain

Better pass boldly into that other world, in full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age.

We return to the inspiration of James Joyce. For those ready to embrace and celebrate forward momentum, one whiskey that answers that call is this single grain offering from Teeling. While grain whiskey may be looked upon by stubborn single malt purists stuck in the world of 1980s advertising as the component of blended whiskey that ruins single malts, us open minded imbibers can rejoice. Teeling is one of a few companies (See also: Compass Box and Girvan) doing wonderful things with this overlooked style. Raise a glass to the impassioned and be thankful they keep giving you wonderful things to drink.

Green Spot

As long as I have a want, I have a reason for living. Satisfaction is death.

George Bernard Shaw was never one to shy away from an opinion. What used to be scarce and highly sought after outside of Ireland is thankfully now regularly available. Green Spot is another single pot still whiskey which is helping to carry the torch for that wonderful and particularly Irish style. It is rich and dense with notes of roasted caramel, chocolate, and a hint of citrus. It also doesn’t hurt that the whiskey comes with a lovely story of a family purchasing unaged distillate from Jameson and aging it in a varying range of sherry barrels from their wine import business. It’s a perfect whiskey to honor those who embrace the idea of always reaching for more.

Redbreast 12 Years Old

May the road always rise to meet you, May the wind be always at your back, May you be in heaven an hour before the Devil knows you’re dead.

A personal combination of a couple of classic Irish toasts. In honor of the classics you can do no wrong with the Redbreast 12 year old. A delicate mix of tropical fruit, vanilla, and cinnamon, this Irish whiskey is often the first one many people see as truly special. It’s a classic for a reason and a perfect companion for a classic toast. If it’s available, do yourself a favor and spend the extra money on the cask strength version. It’s one of the best whiskeys on the market.

So there you have it.  Embrace the toast and make the most of it. If all else fails just raise your glass, thank your friends and family for being there, and wish them all the best in the future. Just remember to end it all with a hearty sláinte.

Review: A Trio of 2013 Italian Value Wines – Masi, Montessu, and Salviano

Italy has its share of cult wines, but it’s also loaded with bargains, like these three wines (all imported by Kobrand), which showcase a tour of different Italian wine regions, all coming in at less than $20 a bottle. Let’s take a look!

2013 Masi Campofiorin – A “Superveronese” blended from corvina, rondinella, and molinara grapes (the same used for Amarone). A beautiful and balanced wine. Lush berry fruit notes pave the way toward light hints of vinegar, fresh herbs, and a finish that nods at nutmeg and ginger. A beautiful wine that drinks with more complexity than its price tag would indicate, the 2013 expression is one of the best examples of this wine in recent years. A- / $16

2013 Agricola Punica Montessu Isola dei Nuraghi IGT – A Sardinian blend of mainly carignane plus other grapes. This wine is a bit flat, its berry fruit filtered through a bit of applesauce and, emerging on the nose with time, some tar and leather elements. The body is muted, heavy on cherry fruit and meatier notes, with a fairly short finish. Tastes like a lot like the “house wine” at your favorite Italian restaurant. B- / $15

2013 Tenuta di Salviano Turlo Lago di Corbara DOC – A blend of 50% sangiovese, 30% cabernet sauvignon, and 20% merlot. This Umbrian blend is one of the best values I’ve ever found out of Italy. Beautiful cherry and raspberry fruit is deftly balanced with notes of fresh herbs, a touch of tobacco, a hint of vanilla, and a few green notes around the edges. Even the greenery doesn’t detract from what is a surprisingly lush and balanced experienced, perfectly quaffable on its own but an excellent companion to pasta dishes, as well. A / $13

Review: Breckenridge Brewery Dry Irish Stout

Get ready for St. Patty’s tomorrow by picking up a four-pack of Breckenridge’s nitro-charged Dry Irish Stout, a fun Guinnessesque brew that will take you straight back to old Eire. Made in partnership with Boundary Brewing of Belfast, it’s a silky and appropriately creamy ale that offers up a rich and toasty oatmeal character before getting into some fruitier notes of apples and peaches, plus hints of dried banana chips. Gentle coffee and nutty aromas emerge as the beer warms up — all the better to entice you to actually eat that corned beef and cabbage.

4.8% abv.

B+ / $12 per four-pack of 15.2-oz cans / breckbrew.com

Cocktails for Saint Patrick’s Day 2017

Cromwell's Conquest
The Irish are some of the most celebrated of immigrants, along with their subsequent generations of American kin in the United States. Honor their heritage by skipping the green beer and goofy hats this year for these ten Saint Patrick’s Day cocktails. Hold your favorite up high and cheer, “Sláinte!”

Cromwell’s Conquest
courtesy of mixologist Matt Seigel @matt_seigel 
Oliver Cromwell was the Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland. He led the army during the invasion of Jamaica in 1655, hence the Jamaican rum and Irish beer.
1/4 oz. Crème de Menthe (Note: Less is more on the Crème de Menthe because it can quickly overpower the other flavors.)
½ oz. maple syrup
1 ½ oz. Hamilton Gold Jamaican rum
1 bottle of Guinness
mint
orange twist

Add first three ingredients to mixing glass, add ice, and stir. Next, strain into a double rocks glass; top with Guinness. Garnish with mint and an orange twist.

TrinityTrinity
from Zachary Blair, lead mixologist, KANU, Whiteface Lodge 
Ireland’s favorite three-leafed clover is the inspiration behind this cocktail with three distinct spirits.
2 1/2 oz. Irish whiskey (Westbrook)
1 oz. elderflower liqueur (Note: some folks may find the elderflower a bit strong so we recommend starting with ½ oz. and then adding to taste.)
1 oz. sweet vermouth
¼ oz. lime juice
lime twist

Combine all liquid ingredients in a glass with ice; stir, and strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a lime twist.Gaelic Grasshopper

Gaelic Grasshopper
by Pamela Wiznitzer
1 ½ oz. Kerrygold Irish Cream liqueur
1 oz. Teeling Small Batch Irish whiskey
½ oz. Brancamenta
½ oz. Creme de Cacao
fresh mint
chocolate shavings

Add all ingredients except mint and chocolate shavings into a shaker. Shake lightly and strain over crushed ice. Garnish with mint and shaved chocolate.

Irish Slang
by Pamela Wiznitzer
1 ½ oz. Teeling Single Grain Irish whiskey
1 ½ oz. Kerrygold Irish Cream liqueur
¾ oz. Borghetti liqueur
½ oz. Grand Marnier
1 orange slice

Add all liquid ingredients to a shaker; shake and strain into a highball glass. Garnish with an orange slice and serve.

Saint CasaSaint Casa
1 1/2 oz. Casamigos Añejo tequila
1/2 oz. Crème de Mure
1/4 oz. agave nectar
Guinness beer
blackberries
green and gold edible glitter (Get this at cake decorator supplies or online.)

Combine first three ingredients into tin shaker except Guinness. Add ice. Shake vigorously for 8–10 seconds. Fine strain into coupe glass. Top off with Guinness. Garnish with 2 fresh blackberries through skewer with edible green and gold glitter over on top.

Luck of the IrishLuck of the Irish
by Eddie Garcia, lead mixologist and manager, jade bar, Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain Resort & Spa 
2 oz. Redbreast whiskey
¾ oz. Guinness simple syrup
¾ oz. lemon juice
½ oz. apple juice

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake and pour into a stemmed cocktail glass.

To make Guinness simple syrup: Heat 16 oz. Guinness in pan and cook down to 8 oz.; add 8 oz. raw sugar and stir to dissolve. Set aside to cool.

Laphroaig Last Laph
created by Austin mixologist Justin Lavenue
3/4 oz. Laphroaig Select
3/4 oz. part ginger liqueur
3/4 oz. pineapple juice
3/4 oz. lemon juice
3 dashes absinthe verte
sprig of mint (for garnish)

Combine all liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake well. Strain into a coupe glass and garnish with a mint sprig.

Emerald on the RocksEmerald on the Rocks
2 oz. Svedka vodka
¾ oz. fresh lime juice
¾ oz. simple syrup
4 mint sprigs
green edible glitter

Muddle mint at bottom of a Pilsner glass. Add crushed ice and build the drink on top (except for glitter and mint). Agitate with a spoon (or swizzle), not disturbing the mint at the bottom. Top with ice, rim with green/white glitter. Garnish with mint.

Maria Verde
1 part Ancho Reyes Verde green chile liqueur
1 ½ parts Reyka Vodka
½ part Lime
5 parts Maria Verde mix (pickled carrot, pickled onion, and pickled jalapeño)

Add all ingredients to a shaker; add ice. Shake briefly to mix, then strain over fresh ice.

Leprechaun Lemonade
created by Masa Urushido of Saxon + Parole
1 oz. Ménage à Trois vodka
1 oz. lemonade
¾ oz. Crème Yvette liqueur
¾ oz. melon liqueur
2-3 mint leaves for garnish

Shake vodka and lemonade together; then set aside. Build the cocktail in a Collins glass over ice: first pour Crème Yvette liqueur, then vodka lemonade blend, topped off with melon liqueur. Garnish with mint.

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