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21 Sep

Grand Marnier’s latest expression launched quietly earlier this year. Cuvée Louis-Alexandre is an ode to the creator of Grand Marnier liqueur, Louis-Alexandre Marnier Lapostolle, “whose audacious and grand idea to blend a fine cognac with a rare, bitter orange liqueur disrupted the status quo more than a century ago.” This newest expression blends VSOP Cognac with aromatic bitter oranges. (Standard Grand Marnier Cordon Rouge does not specify the age of the brandies in its blend, making this a slightly upscale version.)

And here’s surprise #1: Despite the use of older Cognac in this liqueur, Cuvee Louis-Alexandre immediately presents itself with a much stronger orange character than standard Grand Marnier. The nose is bold with mandarin orange notes, with secondary notes of cola and cinnamon underneath. The palate is spicy and nicely sweetened with tangerine and more mandarin notes, with Cognac-driven vanilla, cola, and some chocolate underneath. The finish continues the theme: lingering orange above all else, with some baking spice underneath.

While Louis-Alexandre is a bit of a departure for Grand Marnier, it is nonetheless quite a pleasure, provided you’re looking for a significant orange component. Sip straight, or use it in lieu of triple sec to elevate your cocktail.

80 proof.

A- / $65 / grand-marnier.com

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Grand Marnier Cuvee Louis-Alexandre

$65

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20 Sep

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There’s a first time for everything, even wine drinking! If you’re a wine admirer and tempted to introduce someone to the awesome world of wine, this can be a daunting task since there are thousands of wines and you have only one mouth. I love wine, and it’s no secret. But how does one get started with wine? And what are the appropriate tasting terms?

Wines are divided into two major styles: one is dry and the other richly sweet. One topic that is particularly confusing is that of wine sweetness. But after a little clarification, you’ll be talking and tasting wine like an expert. After tasting a number of wines, you’ll soon realize that some wines that are regarded as sweet are not as sweet as you expect, and many dry ones are actually sweeter than anticipated.

Thoughts while tasting Sweet Wine as a tyro…

To guide you when choosing sweet wines, here are a few characteristics for beginners to consider.

  • Sweetness: Many beginners think that sweet wines are much easier to enjoy. Some also believe sweet wines are of lesser quality than other wines. This is not the case, as many sweet wines are highly regarded and are quite expensive. If your taste buds fall for sweet wines, consider those with higher alcohol content. Wines with high alcohol content are perceived to be sweeter, even when they don’t have as much sugar.
  • Tannin: If you’ve had dry red wine you’ve obviously noticed some sticky substance in your teeth and gums after you’ve sipped. This is called tannin. Beginners may find this sensation quite irritating for the first time; therefore, it’s advisable that you start with wines with low tannin levels when introducing newcomers to wine.
  • Acidity: Just like most fruits, wine grapes contain acid, making them crisp and refreshing. Different wines have distinctive acidity levels that vary considerably. When you taste new wines, find out whether you like them more or less sour, a sign of acidity. This will help to find your place in wine and to find wines which tickle your fancy.
  • Alcohol content: Too much alcohol in any wine makes it unbalanced. My suggestion is for newcomers to start with wines with 14% alcohol content or lower.
  • Taste indicators: The back labels on the bottles of many consumer-friendly products can be quite useful, as they carry important information. Look for symbols that show the sweetness level of a wine. For red wines, check how light, medium, or full-bodied they are.

The wine sweetness chart below diagrams the sweetness level of various wines. Note that these will fluctuate due to production variations.

How to taste and enjoy?

There is no official yardstick for measuring the quality of a wine. What you like someone else may dislike. With this in mind, here are some tips on evaluating how sweet wine suits your tongue.

  1. Always start with a clear wine glass when tasting a sweet wine. Hold your glass at the stem. This is to avoid warming the wine due to heat from your hand when holding the bowl.
  2. Pour a little wine, an inch or less, into your glass. Always begin with the lightest wine when tasting several wines, moving from sweet sparkling wines, to rosés, then to light whites and to full-bodied whites. Continue to the heaviest – light reds, more full-bodied reds, then lastly dessert wines. This keeps your taste buds sensitive to better enjoy each wine in series. Take sips of water in between wines to preserve your palate.
  3. Before sipping the wine, swish your glass around for different flavors to be released in the air, then smell the air inside the glass. Put your nose gently over the rim and breathe in. This is important since the aroma can carry more magic than the taste. Most wines aromas are characterized by the grapes they are made from, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, or Zinfandel. As time goes by and you gain experience with different wine varietals, it becomes easier to identify different wine aromas. Trust your nose to tell you the aromas; you may pick up hints of vanilla, peaches, berries, and even smoky or grassy aromas.
  4. Note the color of the wine by holding the glass up against a white background or light. The color usually tells the wine’s age. White wines tend to gain color as they age, while red wines lose color with age. Young red wines are redder, but as they age, they turn burgundy or brown.
  5. As you finally taste the wine, allow it to linger and touch all the taste buds on your tongue, including those underneath it. This is done by swishing the wine in your mouth.
  6. The initial taste you will get from the wine will come from your first sip. This awakens your taste buds and keeps them active. You can then swish the wine around the mouth while drawing a little air in.
  7. Observe the texture of the wine to see whether the body is light or rich. You can relax before taking another sip in order to catch the finish or aftertaste. Consider how long the flavor lasted in your mouth, and your overall experience in tasting the wine.

Conclusion

Describing wine tasting is harder than actually tasting wine. I recommend that you taste as many wines as possible to determine your favorite bottles. Another important factor in wine tasting is pairing your wine with the right meal – which can be like discovering a new recipe. Wine always enhances the dining experience if paired with the right food.

For more tips on wine pairing, visit the SweetWineClub blog and discover new ways to relish wine. Cheers!

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20 Sep

We’re back to the Rhone Valley with an exploration of the wines of Famille Perrin, seven bottlings from low-end table wines to higher-end offerings from some of the region’s finest growing areas. Let’s dive in.

2018 Famille Perrin Cotes du Rhone Reserve (Rose) – A seldom-seen Rhone rose, this grenache, mourvedre, syrah, and cinsault blend is bright, floral, and moderately sweet, with a marshmallow note that builds quite a bit as the palate develops. The finish is flowery, but rather innocuous. B / $11

2018 Famille Perrin Cotes du Rhone Reserve (Blanc) – This blend of grenache blanc, marsanne, roussanne, and viognier is classically composed. Aromatic with gentle tropical notes up front, the wine wanders its way into notes of lime leaf, grapefruit, and quince before finishing with hints of white flowers. You’ll find it available for all of 10 bucks. A- / $10

2016 Famille Perrin Cotes du Rhone Reserve – Surprisingly innocuous, this simple GSM blend offers plenty of fruit without ever coming across as sweet or blown out. Gentle blackberry and some strawberry notes meld with a little tea leaf and cola, with some lightly earthy character on the finish. Simple but quite refreshing, and an amazingly good value. A- / $10

2017 Famille Perrin Cotes du Rhone Villages – Grenache and syrah, soft and supple. A touch of pepper gets into the mix with ample black cherry and blackberry notes and a touch of mint. The finish is chocolaty, with just a bit of balsamic to it. Very approachable and food-friendly, and well-priced to boot. A- / $14

2017 Famille Perrin Vinsobres Les Cornuds – Hearty but approachable, this grenache-syrah blend is equal parts black berry fruit and fresh red berries, with silky tannin in the undercarriage. Notes of cola and some pepper add a touch of nuance on the finish. B+ / $19

2017 Famille Perrin Chateauneuf-du-Pape Les Sinards – A GSM blend from relatively young vines. Hearty but quite bitter, this is a complex wine that needs time in glass or decanting to properly appreciate. Bold with green herbs including rosemary and thyme, the wine eventually showcases its classically beefy undercarriage, though it’s laced with ample notes of balsamic and cloves. The twist as that the body is on the whole surprisingly thin, which doesn’t let the savory components shine through nearly as clearly as they should, making for a fairly gamy, vegetal finish. B / $40

2017 Famille Perrin Gigondas La Gille – Grenache and syrah, harvested in one of the Rhone’s most prized villages. Heavy at first with currants and blackberries, this Gigondas bottling settles into a groove that finds a vein of rosemary and sage, mineral-driven graphite, and mild tannins. A pop of pepper and sweet cherries hits on the finish. A great choice for a hearty meal. A- / $35

familleperrin.com

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2017 Famille Perrin Gigondas La Gille

$35

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20 Sep

Without too much fanfare or forewarning, Woodford Reserve recently introduced a new addition to its permanent lineup. Woodford Reserve Wheat is the fifth whiskey in its full-time portfolio and a rare offering out of Kentucky. The only other majority wheat mashbill that I’m aware of is Heaven Hill’s Bernheim Original Wheat Whiskey, and like Bernheim, this one clocks in at just over 50% wheat (52% to be exact). Unlike Bernheim, this one is actually a four grain mash, with equal parts corn and malt (20%) and the remainder rye (8%). There’s no age statement and no information about the aging regimen. From the tasting notes provided on the website, it appears this one is meant to showcase Woodford’s fruit-forward side. Let’s see about that, shall we.

The nose is initially soft with earthy notes, hay bales, and grass clippings. As it opens, there’s some cigar box in the mix, brown sugar, and a distinct red apple note. The palate is much less shy about things, with a big burst of candied apple up front that becomes caramel covered as it moves across the tongue. There’s a little cocktail cherry in the mix and a subtle stewed pear component, but all kinds of apple — crisp apple, cinnamon baked apples, even dried apples — dominate. It’s light on the palate, bordering on thin, but the flavors linger in all the right places and never get too sweet. Things get a tad watery on the finish, with some milk chocolate and baking spice finally rising to the foreground to remind you that you’re drinking whiskey and not Calvados or apple brandy. On the whole, it’s a fun addition to the Woodford line that definitely showcases its “fruitier” side.

90.4 proof.

B+ / $35 / woodfordreserve.com

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Woodford Reserve Wheat Whiskey

$35

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19 Sep

Did you know you can make wine from store-bought raisins? Tomatoes? Butternut squash?

The very thought of drinking many of the wines in Richard Bender’s Wild Winemaking (aka Wild Wine Making) are alone worth the price of admission, even though I will fully confess I don’t plan on actually whipping up any plum champagne or limequat-kung pao.

For tinkerers who want to toy with fruit-based winemaking, though, Bender’s book is probably an essential. 148 recipes seemingly run you through every fruit known to man, proving that you can make wine from anything short of bananas, as long as it grows on a tree. Most of the recipes involve some kind of additional flavoring agent, in the form of things like green tea, ginger, chocolate, rhubarb, or (frequently) peppers. The bottom line: There’s plenty of variety here to keep you in homemade hooch for years to come.

While I didn’t personally cook up any of these recipes, I think the book is arguably worth hanging on to for the inevitable end of days. Who’s gonna be the envy of the block with his crabapple-mint vino? This guy.

B / $19 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

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Wild Winemaking

$19

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19 Sep

The final edition of WhistlePig’s FarmStock series — its first whiskeys that include spirit distilled from grain grown on its own farm — has arrived. Crop 003 is, as all WhistlePig releases, a 100% rye release, and it’s comprised of 52% of WhistlePig’s own 3-year-old rye whiskey which is blended with 31% 6-year aged whiskey and 17% 10-year aged whiskey, both sourced from Alberta, Canada. Notably, at 52%, “most” of the whiskey in the bottle is WhistlePig’s own production. Both Crop 001 and Crop 002 were at least interesting products, so hopes run high for #003.

The catch with Crop 003 is that, although the WhistlePig-produced portion of the blend is one year older than Crop 002, there’s a lot more of it… which means the overall age of the blend is actually younger. I did the math. It isn’t hard since WhistlePig is very exact on its proportions, but I was nonetheless shocked: The composite age of Crop 003 is 5.12 years. Crop 002 is 5.64 years old. And the original Crop 001 is a whopping 6.37 years old! These whiskies are getting younger, not older! Now those numbers are decidedly not indicative of quality (witness the rough Crop 001 as a case in point), but they do drive home a key point: Crop 003 has a lot of very young whiskey in it, and it shows.

The nose is decidedly grain forward, with bold cereal character giving way to notes of black pepper, mixed spices (lots of cloves in there), some dried berries, and a surprising degree of menthol. Breathe deep and you might feel like you’re sniffing BenGay.

The palate is chewy with notes of fresh hay and well-toasted grains, though it again finds room for a little nuance in the form of raspberry, spicy nutmeg, and cinnamon notes. Still, it’s the cereal notes that rise above all else, and it’s here that Crop 003 shows its youthful makeup the clearest. The finish hints at dark chocolate and cafe au lait, but on the whole, the theme that has defined Farmstock over the last three years is seen through to the end. WhistlePig calls this an exploration of terroir. That’s a nice way of putting it, I guess.

86 proof.

B / $73 / whistlepigwhiskey.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

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WhistlePig Farmstock Rye Whiskey Crop 003

$73

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18 Sep

Big and juicy, Lagunitas’ latest IPA is made with Loral 291, Hallertau Blanc, Galaxy, and Citra hops — and it’s only going to be available during the month of September, so best hop on it as soon as possible.

The appropriately hazy brew is less pineapple and more papaya, with a greener, more melon-oriented edge to it. Bold pine needles become more evident on the nose as the beer warms up, along with a gentle resin that pairs well the rather thick and rather dense body (the beer is brewed with both oats and wheat in the mix). On the finish, a nice pop of tropical character keeps the overwhelming dankness of hops mostly at bay, helping the brew to finish clean.

Goes down a bit too easy, y’all.

8% abv.

A / $11 per six-pack  of 12 oz cans / lagunitas.com

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Lagunitas Hazy Memory IPA

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18 Sep

Ambros Banana WhiskeyAmbros Banana Whiskey

Day-O! Who’s ready for banana flavored whiskey?

Ambros bills itself as “the first shelf-stable, flavored liquor infused with only 100% real fruit.” I’m assuming they mean bananas, not all fruit, but that’s still an intriguing concept. Here’s what we know about what’s in the bottle:

The process: Each batch is infused with 50,000 bananas (no fruit purees, juices, natural flavors, or syrups) that are hand-peeled at a state-of-the-art facility in Nevada, where three-year Irish whiskey is infused, bottled and labeled onsite.

Why bananas: The world’s most consumed fruit (100 billion annually) and underutilized cocktail flavor, bananas can stop their ripening process at any of their eight ripening stages, and real banana flavor pairs surprisingly well with other spirits and ingredients.

Note that the instructions direct you to shake if needed, but I didn’t notice any solids either before or after shaking.

Up front, the nose of the whiskey hints more at banana-flavored candy than banana fruit, sharp and sweet, with a generalized pungency that makes picking out any particular fruit difficult. If you didn’t know better, you might think this was heavily infused with lime — or something more like Rose’s Lime Juice, really — based on the citrus character that overwhelms the nose.

The palate at least does showcase banana more clearly, but it’s more akin to dried banana chips. Also, the choice of young Irish whiskey as the base ensures there’s minimal influence from the light-bodied spirit underneath — my instinct is that a bolder bourbon base might have been more appropriate. Eventually, a caramel element that influences the finish hints at more of a flambeed Bananas Foster character rather than fresh banana.

Bottom line: This is really weird stuff, and it’s pricy for a flavored product. Ambros offers cocktail suggestions on its website, of course. I tried the Banhattan (you surely get the concept), and found it undrinkable. Mixing up something with a blender is probably your best bet… while watching the below video.

60 proof.

C / $40 / ambroswhiskey.com

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Ambros Banana Whiskey

$40

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17 Sep

Flora Springs’ top-end white wine is this, Soliloquy, a blend that’s composed (this year) of 44% sauvignon blanc, 41% chardonnay, 10% malvasia, and 5% pinot gris. It’s a bold wine, heavy with perfume up front, featuring notes of jasmine, honeysuckle, and cedar chest notes. The palate grows sweeter and fruitier, growing in complexity while tempering what can be a fairly heavy initial rush of fruit-heavy sweetness (think viognier). The finish is long and floral. I like it best with food; solo it can be a bit overwhelming.

A- / $50 / florasprings.com

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2018 Flora Springs Soliloquy

$50

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17 Sep

Laphroaig fans are by now no stranger to its limited edition Cairdeas bottlings, which are released each year as part of Islay’s Fèis Ìle celebrations.

This year’s limited release is a cask strength version of its popular Triple Wood release, a whisky which is first matured in ex-bourbon barrels, then moves to smaller quarter casks, and finally is finished in European oak casks that previously held oloroso sherry. The big twist is while the standard Triple Wood hits 96 proof, this one tips the scales at 119 proof, nearly 60% abv.

If you’re familiar with Triple Wood, you will find this cask strength version quite the old friend. Classic smoky-peaty Laphroaig notes emerge immediately on the nose, mildly laced with sherry influence plus notes of toasted marshmallow and graham crackers. Breathe deep and you can smell the s’mores.

The palate is initially huge with peat, then a rush of sherry quickly follows. These elements can be a bit blunt until the finish arrives, which shows a curious mix of red pepper, charred beef barbecue, and a whiff of cigar smoke. The back end finds room for a crushed berry fruit component, though the smoldering peat notes linger for ages. A definite keeper for fans of Laphroaig.

119 proof.

A- / $80 / laphroaig.com

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Laphroaig Cairdeas Triple Wood Cask Strength Edition 2019

$80

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