Winexpression to Close

I must fly away to another flowerAfter almost 8 years, I have decided that my Wine Blogging journey has come to an end. Thanks to all the readers, PR staff, and fellow wine bloggers that supported me through this journey. I have a few posts to finish up and will explain a bit more, but basically this forum has run it’s course in my life and I am ready to move on. I have valued the feedback I have received and thank you all for your support. Stay tuned for a few more posts with the most valuable wine lessons I’ve learned, tips for wine bloggers, and some final reviews and notes from recent tastings I have attended.



Review: Milagro Reposado and 1800 Select Silver 100 proof

What makes for a delicious tequila? Is it the complexity, smoothness, or its mix-ability? Certainly all of these are factors, and a well crafted example will excel in these areas. But is there something more? Does the taste take you away, perhaps connecting you with a cherished memory? Is the lingering flavor on your tongue something you want to return to? This is the goal of every drink manufacturer, to harness your neural senses and begin brand loyalty.

Personally, I feel that tequila can have a place amongst the single malts and Cognacs of the world. Who would think that a lowly cactus from a humble country could produce a high quality spirit? It is possible, and some brands hit these high marks. I was recently sent a couple different tequilas, let’s see how they fare. Continue reading

Tasting CÎROC Vodka’s Latest Releases

Ciroc_latest_releasesThe distinguished Frenchman starred at me from across the table as I brought the wine glass up to my nose and took a few short whiffs of the clear liquid. He knew what my response was going to be; he has witnessed it again and again. His name is Jean-Sebastién Robicquet and he is the master distiller behind a wine based vodka named CÎROC, the third most consumed vodka on the market and now only footsteps behind the top two “Luxury” vodkas in the world, Grey Goose and Belvedere, respectively. An impressive feat considering the product was only launched in 2003. What makes this vodka different, and how was it able to achieve success so quickly? Is the “from wine grapes” moniker just good marketing?

I reclined at a table in a private meeting room downstairs at the E&O Trading Co. in San Francisco. Jean-Sebastién and the entourage sat across the table and we began.

First the neutral: a grain based vodka cut to 20% abv. (note: when tasting vodka’s, you can add the identical amount of distilled water to your glass to neutralize the ethanol making it easier to taste through a flight and pick up nuances.) Even though the ABV was cut, the aroma was still overwhelmed by a rubbing alcohol like smell with a sharp finish. This is your typical grain vodka that I’m guessing retails for under $15.

Then we tasted two separate CÎROC vodka’s, each distilled from the two grapes that are fashioned together to create the final product. First was Ugni blanc (pronounced eew-knee – blaunk), a more neutral aroma that was less harsh than the grain neutral, but surprisingly velvety on the tongue with a fantastic finish that seemed to linger. Then the Mouzac (pronounced Moe-Zach), a rare grape only found in two parts of the world, Gaillac and Limoux France, and only 5%-7% of which is used in the final CÎROC blend. This is where the incredible aroma is fused into the spirit, with fragrant notes of citrus, apricot, and crushed rock that finish with a full bodied mouth feel.

Finally the last vodka poured was CÎROC, the final blend of Ugni Blanc and Mouzac.


The infusion of what Jean-Sebastién likes to call the DNA or soul of the grapes is apparent. The story is written with the alcohol, and water is just used to cut the 96.4% abv product down to the much more manageable 40% abv or 80 proof on the label.

The name, like the product, is a fusion of two names: Cime or Summit, and Roche or Rock, inspired by the town Gaillac in France where it is produced. The blue color on the bottle is a throwback to bleu de pastel, formerly used in Gaillac as a dye that now lives on in the pastels used to paint doors, windows, and various items throughout the town. The rooster on the bottle helps one associate the vodka’s origin. France is the area that occupies what was once referred to as Gaul, and a similar variant on that name is used to describe a rooster.

The latest creation are two flavored Vodka’s, Coconut, which reminded me of Malibu Rum without the bite, and Red Berry, which has a beautiful aroma of fresh strawberries, cherry and raspberry. Both of these options are worth trying and are much smoother than most flavored vodka’s I’ve tasted.

From the early morning grape harvest and cold fermentation, to the steam heated coil stills that provide indirect heat during distillation, CÎROC is made with great care and attention to quality. No wonder the company expects to dethrone the overhyped and overpriced competition within the next few years.

Website: []

Review – Three Olives Root Beer Vodka

root_beer_vodka_three_oliveCitrus. Vanilla. Raspberry.  What do these have in common?  They are all flavors of vodka that most are familiar with and that large distillery’s typically don’t venture away from producing.  But what about root beer vodka?  Now that’s another story.  I’d never heard of root beer vodka before being sent a press sample from Three Olives, who claim to “be the first to put the alcohol back into this classic flavor” since it was originally made as a drink with alcohol in it. I’ll admit, I was leery at first.  To me it sounded like a spirit 20 somethings might drink just for the sake of drinking.  But after allowing it to chill in the freezer I gave it a taste and to my surprise it was quite good.  The root beer aroma is very apparent on the nose, almost tricking your mind into thinking you are about to take a sip of root beer itself.  However, on the palate you experience a smooth taste of vodka with just hints of root beer in the background.

If you are a fan of root beer and martini’s, separately, you may want to give this a try shaken with ice and poured into a martini glass.  However, you could give your inner mixologist a chance to come out and be quite creative using this for mixed drinks.  Adult root beer float anyone?

Full Disclosure: This was a press sample.

Spirit: 3 Olives Root Beer Flavored Vodka
Price: $20 USD
Notes: Sweet aroma of root beer, caramel and toasted marshmallow that coats the palate and envelopes your tongue.  Ethanol apparent on the palate but still a somewhat smooth finish. Close your eyes and pretend you just stepped up to the bar at the soda shop. Very nice on the rocks.
Score: 86 pts (B)

Here are a few of the mixing ideas for this Vodka from the companies Bartender’s booklet.

Rock Star Root Beer

1 ounce Three Olives Root Beer Vodka

1 ounce Three Olives Vanilla Vodka

4 ounces Ginger Ale

Mix in a glass filled with ice and garnish with a cherry.

Root Beer Floatini

1-1/2 ounce Three Olives Root Beer Vodka

1/2 ounce Amaretto Liqueur

Shake hard over ice and strain into glass. Float a melon-ball size scoop of vanilla ice cream in center.

British Car Bomb

1 ounce Three Olives Root Beer Vodka

1/2 Pint Ale

Drop shot glass of Three Olives Root Beer Vodka carefully into 1/2 pint of ale.

Brotherly Love

2 ounces Three Olives Root Beer Vodka

4 ounces Lemon-Lime Soda

Mix in a glass filled with ice and garnish with a lime wedge.

About Proximo Spirits:

The company is currently pushing a campaign to raise brand awareness of it’s Three Olives label and the flavored Vodka’s they currently offer including Regular, Cherry, Grape, Passion Fruit, Pomegranate, Green Apple, Chocolate, Orange, Berry, Vanilla, Citrus, Raspberry, Watermelon, Mango, and Triple Espresso. The campaign is the “What’s Your O-Face” contest and here are a few details:

… an interactive contest that invites users to upload a photo of their best “O-face” – the look of surprise one has after tasting a shockingly delicious Three-O Vodka drink. At the conclusion of the campaign on May 31, 2009, 5 finalists will be chosen, flown to NYC, given the VIP treatment and given a photo shoot. Of the 5 finalists, 1 grand prize winner will be Three-O’s next “O-Face”, awarded $10,000 and be featured in a national ad campaign.

You can visit the website for more details.

Review: Matusalem Rum 15 Year Reserve

Tasting a distilled spirit is a bit different than tasting wine, although the basic premise is the same. Since the alcohol levels are much higher, at 40% versus your standard wine around 14%, the first thing you smell is the ethanol. That being the case, a taster must adjust their method in order to identify the unique aromas. I have personally found that keeping my nose above a tulip shaped glass while employing short controlled sniffs, allows me to pick up the aroma better than swirling and sticking my head in the glass. That said, the complexity and nuances that can be found in any distilled alcohol, rum included, are amazing. Sometimes, just touching the liquid to your lips and licking is enough to experience the flavor.

That brings me to Matusalem, a distillery operating out of the Dominican Republic. I received this 15 year old French Oak cask blended rum as a press sample, and didn’t know what to expect. I must say, I was pleasantly surprised, as I thought only pirates could drink rum straight up. The company has a rich past, dating back into the 19th century in Cuba, where their production methods still have roots.

…the company’s founders borrowed the Solera techniques used to produce Europe’s finest wines, cognacs and sherries.

The following are my notes on this delightful effort.

Matusalem Rum – Gran Reserva 15 year
40% abv
Retail: $28 USD
Notes: This golden hue color rum has a revealing aroma of vanilla, cream, and caramel with a hint of smoke. Although smooth, the rum tingles on your tongue, and leads into a raisin flavor that finises with a warming sensation on the back of the throat. This Rum is a blend of aged French Oak casks which lend to the complexity of the finish, which is quite long. This Rum is great for sipping neat or on the rocks, but would also work as a fine addition to a mixed drink.
Score: 90 (A-)
Update: Imported by Proximo Spirits

(P.S. I checked out the website and a lot of the descripters I used are also used by the company. That’s the first time in a while I have seen my palate match up with that of the marketing department. Grab a bottle, set these notes aside and see what you come up with.)

Tasting Hendricks Gin

Hendricks GinI’ll admit it, I’m not that familiar with Gin. I like it, and I used to order up a Sapphire tonic when dining out, but I just haven’t given it that much thought: until recently. On a recent trip to Idaho, I was introduced to the world of premium Gin’s at a fine little establishment called Bardenay’s. The Gin that is distilled on premises gets 11 different botanicals added to it, and believe me, it’s fantastic. In fact, I spent a good part of the trip trying to buy it. (Idaho’s liquor laws are annoying.)

That little experience opened the door for me to accept an offer to try Hendrick’s Gin as a press Sample. All I can say is WOW! Welcome to another lever. This Gin is fantastic, from the awesome bottle, to the smooth mouth feel and aromatic nose, this spirit has it all. The note included says to enjoy as a Martini or with tonic, but I would recommend first putting a little bit on a spoon, let it touch your lips, and then try to decode the complex nuances found within. In fact, a small amount would work great out of a small wine glass.

Distilled in small batches in Scotland, this Gin is quite unique. The companies website explains the process:

Instead of crudely boiling its ingredients, the Carter-Head “bathes” them in vapours. By keeping our eye on the round windows, we enforce the slowest possible build-up.

This makes an enormous difference in flavour. The more leisurely the distillation, the smoother and more thorough the instillation. This is especially critical when dealing with the peculiar orchestra of botanicals that makes Hendrick’s Gin so extraordinary.

In addition to some standard and proprietary infusions, Henbdrick’s Gin also gets touched with Bulgarian rose petal oils, and cucumber of all things. These subtle additions add a refreshing and pleasant flavor and aroma.

So, there you go. Try it, but only tell a few good friends. If to many people find out about this, we might not have enough for ourselves.

Notes: Hints of juniper, rose petal and cucumber greet and refresh your nose. A smooth mouth feel leads to a lingering finish where a bit of heat can be felt on the back of your palate. Fantastic on it’s own, in a Martini, or with a slice of cucumber and a splash of tonic (I like the Whole Foods organic brand made with cane sugar).
ABV: 44%
A (94- 96 pts)
Price: $30


Try the Wine from Nampa

Idaho MapNo, that isn’t a typo, Nampa is located in the beautiful state of Idaho, and yes, they make wine. Nampa isn’t the only city in which wine is produced in the state, in fact, at the time of this writing, 34 wineries are listed on the website as either already producing wine, or coming soon.

The area’s Wine Growers experiment with quite a number of different varietals and styles. Idaho is one of the few states that produce Ice wine, thanks to the reliable frost that comes through late in the harvest season. Reisling also seems to grow well, lending itself perfectly to a nice dessert-ready late harvest wine. Of the three wineries I visited, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Chardonnay, Gewurtzminer, Viognier, and Bordeaux style blends were all produced. I found myself partial to the whites more than the reds, which included the dessert wines.

Our first stop was The Winery at Eagle Knoll (Website), a 5,000 case production facility with tranquil grounds for weddings and events. The Winemaker, Vernon Kindred, has a palate that leans toward dry wines, which translates into a very nice Chardonnay that doesn’t see oak or malolactic fermentation, and a dry Riesling that is well balanced and food friendly. The staff was friendly, prices reasonable, and white wines surprisingly pleasant. An enjoyable pairing was with a white dessert wine and a nibble of dark chocolate .The Winery has recently changed hands and the new owners are aiming at improving quality, changing the label, and investing in the business. Watch out for this one over the next few years.

Next we found ourselves sipping and depositing a lot of wine in the spit buckets of St. Chapelle Winery in Caldwell, ID, Southwest of Boise (Website). Although the Sparkling Brut was a good value, pretty much all of the other wines tasted off, sweet, flabby, or austere. The grounds are nice however, and it seems to be a popular choice for weddings and other events. A good comparison winery in California is Sutter Home. Huge production, low prices, low quality, with one or two varietals that are just O.K.

Our last stop was the Koenig Winery & Distillery (Website). Although the wines here are good, the prices are a bit steep, and I would much rather buy a good red from Washington at less than half the price. The Viognier was nice, but still, a bit pricey. The real gem of this stop is the vodka distilled from potatoes in double copper pot still’s made by renowned German coppersmith Adrian & Co. Unfortunately, the state doesn’t allow tasting of hard alcohol or shipping to any other state, so you have to pony up and grab a bottle when you visit. If you’re a vodka fan, this effort is sure to impress, and can be enjoyed in typical martini fashion or sipped out of a petite wine glass. Our tour guide, Gina, also recommends the brandies, available in Apple, Apricot, Cherry, Grappa, Peach, Pear, Plum, and Raspberry.

The next time you’re passing through town, move to the area, or are just going to Boise to watch the Bronco’s, schedule some time to see Nampa, you might be surprised at what you find.

Compass Box Shakes Up Scotch Industry

John Glasser of Compass BoxIn a world that has been somewhat unchanged for years, John Glaser is beginning to turn some heads. His method is unconventional, although quite common in the wine world. His company, Compass Box, is responsible for producing around 6,000 cases of award winning Scotch a year, with one catch: they don’t make it. The company contracts with about 15 different producers, and blends unique traits from each cask at their warehouse in London, creating a final blend that garners attention. For example, the Spice Tree, a whiskey that was blended and aged in barrels that contained Oak staves to infuse a rich flavor, was deemed impermissible by the Scotch Whiskey Association, and Glaser was forced to discontinue the blend. He laments in the announcement on his website:

Not much we could do at that point, with a gun, (figuratively speaking) pointed at our head. But don’t worry! The good news is we’ve got lots of other whiskies in development. We have no shortage of ideas. And no diminished passion for creating extraordinary and delicious whiskies. Stay tuned.

Glaser kept close ties to his former employer, Diageo brands, producers of Johnny Walker, and his contacts in the industry, giving him an “in” to buy the whiskey’s he blends. A man in his 40’s originally from Minnesota, he has done much to raise awareness of the spirit, helping to showcase a profile that hadn’t really been seen, and it’s beginning to pay off.

Compass Box has won Whisky magazine’s Innovator of the Year award four times in six years, which may say less about the recipient of the award than about the very conservative industry, in which even little innovations make big splashes.

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