My secondary wine tasting establishment (the one with the long lists and crowded room) had an unusual tasting Saturday. Since the local Memphis in May festival is honoring Ireland this year, they did a focus on Irish beverages, plus a couple of California wines and some other oddballs. I don't normally review anything other than wine here, but I'm going to make an exception today for the heck of it.
They had the tasting structured in a really odd way--a bunch of sweet liqueurs, followed by Irish whiskey, then a slate of wines, and finally a coffee liqueur. I thought this was ridiculous, as you wouldn't be able to taste the wine after the whiskey, and the early placement of an Irish cream meant that everyone's glasses were cloudy for the remainder of the tasting. So these are presented in the order that I chose to drink them, which several others soon imitated.
Wine 1: 2002 Raymond Valley Chardonnay. Light and fruity, with some hints of citrus on the nose. Not a bad Chardonnay, though I don't know if it justifies the price. $16.
Wine 2: 2002 Clos du Val Carneros Chardonnay. This was much drier than the first wine, with a crisp flavor and low oak. Quite nice. $22.
Wine 3: 1999 Domaine Bertrand Ambroise Bourgogne Rouge. With all the fuss about pinot noir these days, is anyone buying red Burgundy? This was slightly tart, with soft tannins. It had a rougher aftertaste than I was expecting. I need more experience with Burgundy. Given the age and region, the price is pretty decent. $20.
Wine 4: 2001 Artesa Elements Napa Red Blend. I was pleasantly surprised by this wine, even though at the time we had no info on what grapes were used. It's a pleasant red mix that has a lot of forward fruit flavors. I'd happily recommend this, though for what is basically a fun table wine, I think it's overpriced. $20.
Cocktail 1: Mancini's Apple Martini. Think a so-so vodka with a green apple Jolly Rancher dissolved in it. This has nothing to do with Ireland, though it is a green beverage. I've largely avoided the novelty martini trend, and for some reason hearing the word "chocotini" makes my skin crawl. Give me cold gin, a splash of vermouth, and a nice olive. At home, I'll happily tip a bit of the olive brine in for a "dirty martini", though that's something you drink out of a tumbler rather than a martini glass. I am also not generally fond of premixed cocktails; you don't have any control over the quality of the individual elements, and more delicate flavors are going to be lost over time. $15.
Whiskey 1: Kilbeggan Irish Whiskey. These whiskey reviews are not going to be of much to anyone; I'm not an expert, and while I've had some amazing whiskeys in my time, I still haven't developed a taste for Scotch-like beverages. This is thin, pale gold, and has a harsh aroma and taste to it, almost chemical. $21.
Whiskey 2: Powers Irish Whiskey. The best-selling whiskey in Ireland, obviously they're doing something right. I got a lot of earth and spice flavors. $22.
Whiskey 3: Black Bush Irish Whiskey. Like a punch in the stomach. Really strong, and I think this would need to be consumed slowly over a longer period of time. A quick sip is a bit of a shock. $40.
Whiskey 4: Tyrconnell Single Malt Irish Whiskey. I enjoyed this one, though again, I think that might have more to do with getting my tongue acclimated to whiskey. This was much smoother than the first three whiskeys, and it appears as though this is a well-respected distillery. For the price, I suppose it would make a good gift for a whiskey lover. $25.
Liqueur 1: Celtic Crossing. A honey-based liqeuer. About 60 proof, and the honey flavor is very delicate and restrained. I think this would be amazing for soaking a cake (or babas au rhum or any similar spirit-soaked dessert). Probably great over ice cream as well. $22.
Liqueur 2. Irish Mist. Spicy, smooth, and sweet. Made me think of Christmas for some reason. Also contains honey. $30.
Liqueurs 3&4. Bushmill's Irish Cream and Starbucks Coffee Liqueur. I've had both of these at previous tastings, and my main problem with the Starbucks liqueur was what to mix it with. I didn't think it tasted all that great on its own, and obviously it would be overkill to add it to coffee (though I understand that this is an increasingly popular choice). So I just took both of these samples together, and they blended beautifully. The Starbucks toned down the sweetness of the Irish cream and the cream softened the bitter edge of the coffee. The combination looks like dark chocolate milk, and hangs on the glass like cough syrup. $20 and $30, respectively.