Our Mixed Case series serves up an eclectic mix of recent discoveries by the dozen.
Whether you’re perusing a bar menu while traveling or stirring up a cocktail at home, let our guide lead to new taste destinations.
By Hope S. Philbrick
The global pandemic rages on, we continue to stay home as much as possible. Back in March did I imagine coronavirus would consume the rest of year and roll into next? No. But here we are. Let’s make the most of the situation.
The 2020 holidays may be more isolated than usual, but you don’t have to give up everything: Treat your taste buds to add some cheer to the season.
This series typically features ‘adult beverages,’ but we’ve helped break up the monotony of our at-home routines by sampling several new products in other categories as well. This post includes a mix of our most recent favorite discoveries.
Piano Keys, a chocolate and vanilla Imperial Stout, is a collaboration between New Belgium Brewing and Dennis Malcolm Byron (also known as Ale Sharpton). (Full disclosure: Dennis is a personal friend of mine, but I’m a professional perfectly capable of offering an unbiased review.) As background, press materials explain that “Ale initially presented the concept for Piano Keys during a visit to New Belgium’s Fort Collins brewery back in November 2018 when the brewery hosted a group of beer influencers and experts to talk about racial diversity and inclusion in craft beer. Piano Keys supports BIPOC vendors and suppliers ranging from raw materials to content creation including Black Brew Culture, The Sweetest Bean, Xocolatl, and Cork Bros Studios. A portion of proceeds will support BrewGether, whose mission is to provide support and resources to steadily increase awareness, access and economic opportunity for Black people and other underrepresented communities in the beer industry.” Piano Keys is rich, smooth, sophisticated, and loaded with yummy notes of coffee, malt, chocolate, vanilla, roast nuts, and a hint of berries. It is currently available in Atlanta, Ga., and select other locations (a friend spotted it in Minnesota’s Twin Cities metro area); nationwide distribution is planned for Spring 2021. Retails for approx. $14 for a 4-pack of 16 oz. cans.
Vinada Sparkling Gold and Vinada Sparkling Rosé are genuinely impressive ZERO alcohol wines and offer a satisfying alternative for anyone who loves wine but suddenly has to or wishes to avoid alcohol due to pregnancy, medication, a double-dog dare, or any reason. Both versions achieve the seemingly impossible: They smell and taste like wine, not grape juice. They offer some palate-pleasing layered flavors plus light fizz for a celebratory mouthfeel. According to press materials, “The white sparkling wine is made from the Airén Grape and the Rosé is made from the Tempranillo grape both originating from the Spanish region Castilla-La Mancha and follows every step of the ‘normal’ wine production. Just before the wine is bottled, the alcohol is removed by a combination of heating and vacuum extraction. The unique bottling process retains most of the wine’s original aromas and taste and with only 21 calories per 100ml,” compared to the typical wine’s 75 calories per 100ml. You can buy Vinada online at Beverage Universe and Amazon. Retails for approx. $15 for 750ml and $7.50 for 200 ml (including shipping).
Rancho la Gloria presents a line of bottled, canned, and frozen cocktails made using agave wine. All these ready-to-serve cocktails are made with 100% Blue Weber Agave wine, real lime juice, cane sugar, water, and “natural flavors.” In addition to the classic margarita recipe, flavors include mango, peach, watermelon, strawberry, and paloma. We sampled strawberry and mango margarita versions, both taste akin to the pre-mixed fruity margaritas served at national chain restaurants. The agave wine brings the agave flavor so there’s no need to miss tequila. Serve over ice and garnish with a slice or wedge of the featured fruit for the most festive experience. Rancho La Gloria is available in major retailers across the U.S. including Trader Joe’s, Costco, and Walmart. Retails for approx. $10 for a 4-pack of cans, $15 for a 1.5L bottle, and $20 for a 12-pack of frozen pops.
Sapporo Premium Beer is an iconic Japanese lager—founded in 1876, it’s Japan’s oldest brand of beer. It’s been available in America since 1964. Odds are, you’re familiar with it, but the brand has released some new information to suggest it’s just the sort of light, fizzy beer to pair with food. According to press materials, science offers two compelling reasons:
- Shared Flavor Compounds: The act of kilning grains (heating of germinated barley) creates the maillard reaction, which occurs amino acids react with sugars at elevated temperatures. In food, that manifests through things like toasted bread, fried onions, or steak char. In beer, the resulting compounds bring a variety of flavors—from toast and nuts to caramel to dark fruit. This kinship in cooking techniques creates a harmony that keeps people wanting to keep to return to sides of the food/beverage equation.
- Bubbles’ Pleasuring Pain: Research suggests that the sensation produced by the carbonation in beer irritates pain receptors in the mouth, producing a mildly painful stimulus that hints at the idea of something being dangerous. Our minds, however, are smart enough to recognize that the stimuli is simply from the suds in your drink, and craves more of the “edgy” behavior.”
My reasons are simpler: It’s crisp, refreshing, and clean. It washes the palate between bites with subtle yet interesting notes of baked goods, herbal hops, and gentle malt. Retails for approx. $15 for a 12-pack of 12 oz. cans.
2019 Dry Creek Dry Chenin Blanc, Clarksburg is a 100% varietal that offers refreshing notes of citrus, tropical fruit, honeydew, tart apples, and soft herb. Bright acidity and a smooth mouthfeel add to the enjoyment of this food-friendly wine. Pair it with oysters, seafood, or salads. Retails for approx. $16.
2019 Dry Creek Sauvignon Blanc, Dry Creek Valley is a sumptuous blend of 73% Sauvignon Blanc, 20% Sauvignon Musqué, and 7% Sauvignon Gris. Stainless steel fermentation was supplemented with small amounts of chestnut, acacia, and neutral French oak barrels, to add additional character and nuance. Hearty and luscious, it offers notes of citrus, pineapple, guava, mango, and spring blossoms. Pair it with crudités, salads, or grilled fish. Retails for approx. $20.
2017 Dry Creek The Mariner, Dry Creek Valley is Meritage (blend) of five noble Bordeaux varietals grown in California’s Dry Creek Valley: 69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc, 5% Malbec, and 5% Petit Verdot. The blend was aged for 18 months in French and Hungarian oak, 42% of which was new, and released January 2020. It offers well-balanced, complex notes of black raspberry, sweet cherries, spiced compote, cinnamon, mocha, and herbs. Press materials suggest that “the wine’s vibrant acidity will allow it to age beautifully for years to come.” Pour it alongside roast meats, hearty stews, or before settling into a chair near a crackling fireplace. Retails for approx. $50.
2018 Cameron Hughes Lot 704 Pinot Noir Carneros Napa Valley was awarded a Gold Medal at the 2020 Denver International Wine Competition. It’s an old-vine Pinot Noir from a California family producer on Carneros’ Napa side. Red fruit notes mingle with cola, toast, thyme, cremini, and nutmeg. Gentle tannins and balanced acidity make it a pleasure to drink on its own or with food. Try it with roast poultry, grilled mild sausages, or a cheese and charcuterie board. Retails for $16.
2017 Windsor Vigonier—arguably the ideal wine to sip while binge-watching “The Crown” on Netflix—is a delicious, complex, bold symphony of aromas and flavors: crisp apples and pears, marzipan, honey, apricot, and tropical fruits. The wine was awarded a Gold Medal at the 2020 Sunset International Wine Competition. Serve it with roast poultry, Thai curry, sushi, or any cheese course fit for a Queen. Retails for approx. $16.
The Whiskey Scratch-Off Map is a great gift for whiskey lovers—even if it’s the gift you give yourself to be sure you receive something that you really like! This 22- x 17-inch map features 200 of the top whiskey distilleries across the USA with some blow-up inserts showcasing areas that are densely populated with distilleries (e.g., Kentucky). Scratch off the names of the distilleries that you’ve visited to keep track of your tasting travel progress. The map may not be scratch-and-sniff, but of course you can peruse the map while sipping some of your favorite whiskey. The map includes a key for the color categories that identify which whiskeys are rye, bourbon, and/or corn-, rice-, or wheat-based. Use it to help plan future distillery-focused road trips. Retails for $22 at Maps International.
Unless otherwise noted, all suggested retail prices are for a 750ml bottle.
Be a responsible grownup: Never drink and drive.
Product samples afford the research opportunity but do not sway opinion.