Two Lads Sparkling Pinot Grigio

Maker: Two Lads, Old Mission Peninsula, Traverse City, Michigan, USA2015-12-29-17.57.18.jpg.jpeg

Grape: 100% Pinot Grigio/Gris

Place of origin: Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

Vintage: NV

ABV: 12.5%

Price: $30 (Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room)

Note: Pop cap closure.

Appearance: Light gold with big fizz and persistant, quick bubbles.

Nose: Dry. Minerals, lychee, sage.

Palate: Effervescent. Mineral water, Meyer lemon, mandarin orange.

Finish: Dry and flinty. Slightly herbal and smoky.

Mixed: I tried this wine in a mimosa and a Death in the Afternoon (using herbsaint instead of absinthe). It was good in both and would probably work well in other champagne cocktails like a Kir Royale, but it’s so good on its own I’m not sure why anyone would want to use it in cocktails.

Parting words: I was blindly grabbing at bottles in a box behind some wine racks yesterday trying to find a sparkler to pull out for a review today. The first bottle I pulled out was a bottle of mid-range prosecco. Looks OK, I thought, but maybe I have something more interesting in there. I reached back again and pulled this out. “That’s it!” I actually said out loud.

I expected this to be tasty, but not quite this tasty. This wine is dry enough to remind me of brut Champagne, but retails enough sweetness and Pinot Grigio character to make it enjoyable to drink. Bone dry champagne never really turned me on, anyway. This is non-vintage but they also have produced vintages of this in years past. It pairs well with a wide variety of cusine, too.

Two Lads Sparkling Pinot Grigio is a winner. Drink it early in the evening while you can still tell how good it is and appreciate how pretty the conical bottle is. Highly recommended.

Gordon & Macphail Vine & Table Selection- Coal Ila 8 y/o, cask strength.

Bottler: Gordon & MacPhail, Elgin, Moray, Scotland.2015-12-23-15.16.36.jpg.jpeg

Distiller: Caol Ila, Port Askaig, Argyll, Scotland, UK

Region: Islay

Age: 8 y/o (distilled July 2006, bottled August 2014)

ABV: 58.8%

Price: $65 Exclusive to Vine & Table, Carmel (CAR-muhl), Indiana, USA

Notes: Single cask, natural color, not chill filtered. Aged in a refill sherry hogshead, cask #306213. One of 260 bottles. At cask strength, this whisky was all peat and smoke to me, so I diluted it to around 50% ABV for this review.

Appearance: Medium copper with thin, irregular legs.

Nose: Peat, smoke, black tea, drop of sherry.

Palate: Full bodied and hot. Some tropical fruit and vanilla in the beginning then the burn grows as does smoke, but without a lot of peat.

Finish: Ashy. Fireplace, old ashtray at grandma’s house back in the 1980s when people smoked inside. A belch after drinking this is the closest we humans will come to knowing what it’s like to be a dragon.

Parting words: Diageo’s Caol Ila is best known as a supplier of smoky malt for a myriad of independent bottlers and makers of blended malts. There’s also a 12 y/o distillery bottling that I reviewed here and friend of the blog My Annoying Opinions reviewed here. There was at one time a Distiller’s Edition, but I’m not sure how available that was in the US. In recent years there have also been a number of young, cask strength, independent bottlings like this one making the rounds. Most single malt Scotch doesn’t get bottled at anything less than ten years of age, but smoky malts often do because the smoke is more prominent at a younger age.

If fire is what you crave, this is the malt for you. A belch after drinking this is the closest we humans will come to knowing what it’s like to be a dragon. There’s not much else going on, though. There’s a hint of sweet malt and sherry, but it is hard to find behind the inferno. This Caol Ila is one dimensional, but it is only $65 and at cask strength which makes it more attractive than it might be at a standard proof. A volcano like this is especially good if you enjoy making your own blends at home. I mixed a little bit in with some Craigellachie 13 and some 16 y/o grain whisky and it added a nice extra bit of smoke to both of those.

If you enjoy smoky whisky like I do or if you’re looking for some smoke in your personal blending lab, Vine & Table’s 8 y/o, cask strength Caol Ila from V & T is a good choice. Recommended.

Le Brun Organic Cidre

Maker: Le Brun, Plovan, Finistère, Brittany, France20151221_185414.jpg

ABV: 4%

Purchased for $9/750 ml

Appearance: Dark gold with a foamy head.

Nose: Yeast, tannin, mineral water, apple juice.

Palate: Medium bodied and tannic. Semi-dry. Overaged white wine, tart apple, wood, gravel dust.

Finish: Semi-sweet with a subdued tang on the back end.

Parting words: The family owned Le Brun cidery has been in business since 1955 in a tiny costal commune in the department of Finistère at the western tip of Brittany. I wasn’t able to find any more information on this maker. They do have a website and, although it is enjoyable for its charming unidiomatic English, it is hard to maneuver.

I’ve reviewed Breton ciders before and I’ve like them all. This will not change the pattern. I love this cider. It has depth and complexity (and tannins) but is still refreshing and very food friendly. I had in one night with poached salmon and the next night with fried chicken. It did well both times. At $8 you’d be stupid NOT to buy it. The fact that it’s organic is a nice bonus too. Le Brun Organic Cider is highly recommended.

Trader Joe’s Vintage Ale Triple-Triple Head to Head: 2013, 2014, 2015

Brewer: Unibroue, Chambly, Quebec, Canada2015-12-21-15.33.33.jpg.jpeg

Style: Spiced dark ale

ABV: 9%

Price: $6

Me= Me

Jessica= J

Brian= B

Served in snifters.

Appearance: Coffee brown with a big, but short-lived head (all).

2013

Me: Orange, ginger and malt on the nose. Light on the palate with a little gingerbread. Mild finish.

J: Smells fruity but doesn’t taste fruity.

B: Nose and palate are very different. Much less flavor on the palate than there is aroma in the nose. Mild. Watery.

2014

Me: Mild nose, mildly effervescent on the palate. Spicy and stronger on the palate than 2013. Booze more obvious. Favorite of the three.

J: Not as spicy. More malty. Palate is more consistent with the nose. Finish lingers in the tongue. Elusive whiff of chocolate.

B: “ooh!” Much better on the palate. Agree with J. Malt is prominent but there’s underlying clove and nutmeg. Favorite of the three.

2015

Me: Stronger on the nose and in the palate but less balanced than 2014. Orange peel and potpourri nose, malty on the palate.

J: Stronger “beer” flavor. Lager-like. Smells younger, a little grassy. Favorite of the three.

B: Spices are barely there, except for some clove and nutmeg at the end. Least subtle of the three. Strong tasting.

Parting words: Every year around this time, I buy at least three bottles of that year’s Trader Joe’s Vintage Ale. I always plan to drink them six months to a year apart but sometimes I forget they’re in my cellar or I get thirsty and drink one early. I forgot about my last 2011 and I drank it at about three years old and I drank my last 2012 shortly after that. I decided to get serious this year and do a three way head to head tasting. Normally I would enlist my wife to help, but she’s pregnant, so I enlisted the help of a beer-loving couple we’re friends with, Brian and Jessica.

We tasted over dinner (all three were OK with food) and I tried to take notes as best as I could. 2013 was the least favorite for all of us. It wasn’t bad, it was just bland on the palate. Jessica preferred the stronger taste of the 2015, but Brian and I liked the 2014. That said, we all agreed that 2014 and 2015 were both enjoyable pours. One remaining question is whether this beer rebounds after an apparent dip after two years in the bottle, like wines sometimes do. Maybe next year we can answer this question! Trader Joe’s Vintage Ale is recommended new and at a year old.

Old Hickory Blended Bourbon

Maker: R.S. Lipman, Nashville, Tennesee, USAwpid-oh-blended_thumb.png

Distiller: MGPI, Lawrenceburg, Indiana, USA

Style: Blended bourbon (100% whiskey but not a blend of straights)

Age: 2 y/o (89% 4 y/o, 11% 2 y/o)

Proof: 80 (40% ABV)

MSRP: $30

Note: I received complementary bottles of this and the straight bourbon from Double Diamond Marketing & Communications. Also, coloring and flavoring additives are used in this blended bourbon.

Appearance: Shiny auburn.

Nose: Mild. Alcohol, roasted corn, caramel.

Palate: Sweet and mild with some heat on the back end. Vanilla, caramel, pinch of cocoa.

Finish: Vanilla extract.

Mixed: Did poorly in cocktails with citrus mixers, like a whiskey sour or a Holdfast. Did very well in just about everything else. Perfect eggnog bourbon. Also makes an excellent Manhattan, Old Fashioned, and boulevardier. Gets a little lost with soda but did fine on the rocks.

Parting words: There aren’t a lot of blended bourbons on the market and the ones that are aren’t very good. One of the reasons for that is that they use Grain Neutral Spirits (GNS, basically vodka) to fill out the non-bourbon portion of the blend. The makers of Old Hickory blended use another type of whiskey instead of GNS. I’m guessing it’s a young corn or wheat whiskey, but they don’t say. OH blended does use flavoring and coloring additives as noted above, but this is perfectly legal and expected for any type of blend. While straight bourbon doesn’t use additives, many styles of whiskey do. Coloring is very common in Scotch and flavoring additives are allowed in Canadian whisky, of course. The vanilla extract flavor is overbearing in the finish when drinking neat, but complements most mixers.

I think more small producers should be making blended bourbons or ryes or other types. Low or no GNS blends might be a good way to give the consumer true-to-type whiskey flavor at a lower price than an NDP or micro-distilled straight might go for. Unfortunately, Old Hickory blended isn’t at a lower price than a straight of similar quality. Selling this at $30 seems to defeat the whole purpose of offering a blended bourbon. Evan Williams, Very Old Barton, and Old Grand Dad are all cheaper than OHBB by $13 or more in this state. At $20 or even $25 Old Hickory Blended Bourbon Whiskey might be recommended but at current MSRP, it is only mildly recommended.

Peninsula Cellars Late Harvest Riesling, 2014

Maker: Peninsula Cellars, Traverse City, Michigan, USA2015-12-09-16.13.49.jpg.jpeg

Place of origin: Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

Style: Unintentionally sparkling late harvest Riesling

ABV: 8.5%

Price: $14 (website)

Appearance: Light gold with a huge fizzy head and big ongoing effervescence.

Nose: Cut ripe pear, mineral water, apple juice.

Palate: Very fizzy with stone fruit notes and some oregano on the back end.

Finish: Sweet and apple-y with a pebble of minerality.

Parting words: Everybody makes mistakes, even winemakers as skilled as those at Peninsula Cellars. A few months ago Peninsula Cellars released only a few cases of their 2014 late harvest Riesling to the public. A couple pallets of that wine were released to Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Rooms and offered to wine club members like yours truly. I love Peninsula Cellars and I love Riesling, so I jumped at the chance and bought two bottles. Shortly after picking them up, I received an email that the wine had effectively been recalled. The wine in one of the pallets had undergone an expected and undesired secondary fermentation in the bottle, turning it into a sparkling wine. This created a lot of pressure in the standard Riesling bottles the wine was in and some of the corks had started popping out, rather forcefully in some cases. Anyone who bought it was asked to return the wine to the store for a store credit or drink immediately. I returned one of my bottles but took my life into my hands by keeping the other one in my cellar. It leaked a bit, but never exploded. The leaking began to get worse last week so I brought it up into the fridge at that time.

This wine is delicious but disappointing to me in a couple ways. First, I’m disappointed that I didn’t get to taste the 2014 Peninsula Cellars LHR as the winemakers intended. Second, I’m disappointed that Peninsula isn’t regularly making a sparkling Late Harvest Riesling because this is so good. Sadly, these sparkling bottles are probably all gone by now but if you happen to find one, I highly recommend you purchase it.

Old Hickory Bourbon

Maker: R.S. Lipman, Nashville, Tennesee, USAwpid-oh-straight_thumb1.png

Distiller: MGPI, Lawrenceburg, Indiana, USA

Style: High rye bourbon

Age: NAS (4-7 y/o)

Proof: 86 (43% ABV)

MSRP: $40

Note: I received complementary bottles of this and the blended bourbon from Double Diamond Marketing & Communications.

Appearance: Ruddy copper.

Nose: Spearmint, potpourri, pine.

Palate: Hot on entry. Cinnamon, clove, butterscotch, oak, alcohol.

Finish: Herbal and hot. Lingers for a long time.

Mixed: This is a fantastic mixing bourbon. The strong rye notes complement vermouth perfectly and prevent the low proof from being problematic. Wonderful in a boulevardier and Manhattan. Also good in an old fashioned and in eggnog.

Parting words: Lipman is a small, Nashville-based Non-distiller producer (NDP) that has been around for a couple decades. They purchased the Old Hickory brand in 2013 (for many years the flagship bourbon of Publicker/Continental in Pennsylvania) and resurrected it with the help of our old friends at MGPI. It is currently only available in Tennessee, but is slowly being rolled out around the country. The label doesn’t make a connection with the old brand, other than featuring Old Hickory himself on the label. They are also very open about where they’re getting their stocks from. Good on them for not taking the Michter’s route.

According to Lipman’s promotional materials, this whiskey has a very high proportion of small grains (meaning malt and rye) and it certainly tastes like it. There seems to be an even higher percentage of rye than most high rye MGPI bourbon. Perhaps it was custom distilled. Lipman makes a big deal of how it owns its own stocks of bourbon and thus isn’t just buying this stuff on the bulk market. That should mean a consistent product going forward, more so than most NDP brands. They are planning some more expressions in the future, in addition to the straight and blended bourbons offered now.

This is a weird bourbon. I don’t think I’ve ever tasted one that was like this. It’s so rye heavy that if I were tasting it blind I would probably guess that it was Bulleit Rye, not a bourbon. It took me a while to figure out whether this was good weird or bad weird, but I finally settled on good. At this price, the proof should be higher, but it does ok at 86. Like I said above, the spice makes up for the low proof. Old Hickory Straight Bourbon is recommended, and highly so for cocktails.

Pelee Island Winery Late Harvest Riesling, 2011

Maker: Pelee Island, Kingston, Ontario, Canada2015-12-02-13.45.48.jpg.jpeg

Place of origin: Ontario VQA.

ABV: 12.5%

Purchased for $13 (Hollywood Market, Madison Heights)

Other information: Residual sugar: 36.1 g/ltr. Harvested at 23.1 Brix.

Appearance: Golden straw with thick, even legs and a few crystals.

Nose: Thyme, cut white peach, Bartlett pear, lychee, whiff of gasoline.

Palate: Full bodied. Lychee, oregano, Meyer lemon, mango, orange marmalade.

Finish: Peachy and sweet. Lasts a long time before fading into herbal flavors.

Parting words: I was pleasantly surprised by this wine. The last Pelee Island wine I had was the crummy Pinot Noir I reviewed a few months ago. This wine was on sale and from a good white vintage in Michigan, so I figured it was probably a good one in Ontario too so it was worth a try.

It’s an Ontario VQA (as opposed to Pelee Island) so one probably wouldn’t expect much in the way of terroir influence, but there is some broad terroir character. The time in the bottle has benefited it greatly as well. It is rich and sweet but still carries a lot of typically dry flavors and aromas. This is a very good wine for a reasonable price. Pelee Island Winery Late Harvest Riesling, 2011 is recommended.