Tag Archive for vanilla

Sipping Stones, TOPO Eight Oak Carolina Whiskey, and the Strawberry Glades 

I’m doing two reviews in one today! My friends over at TOPO Distillery have debuted their organic Eight Oak Whiskey, and they were kind enough to send me a bottle for review. This fortuitous gift also provided me with the perfect opportunity to test out a set of Sipping Stones, soapstone cubes designed to provide a slight chill for drinks on the rocks that you don’t want to dilute. And yes, I also received them free to review (obligatory disclaimer alerts!).


Why not try them together, I thought. So I did. I made sure the Sipping Stones were chilled for a good day, as the instructions suggest, and then set to tasting.


Now, those stones are an obvious conversation piece on their own, providing a lovely, eye-pleasing addition to any chilled beverage. So is TOPO’s Eight Oak bottle that comes with a piece of whiskey-soaked wood at the bottom—and yes, you should suck that wood for all it’s worth when you reach the end.


But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start with the savoring, not the gluttonous sucking, yes? I’ve come to expect quality from TOPO Distillery, which is based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. They make spirits with sophisticated character including their unique vodka, a clear liquor that is often utterly forgettable but smooth and pleasantly sweet in this case, and their subdued Piedmont Gin, one of the few gins I genuinely enjoy in a cocktail. Eight Oak is aged in eight distinctly different oak barrels during its maturation process. Each barrel has its own profile of toasting and charring, and one of them also involves vanilla chips.  2/20 Correction: Oops! I got that process wrong. Esteban McMahan, TOPO’s Spirit Guide, informs me of what it really is: 

The Eight Oak refers to the eight combinations of three oaks (one American and two French oaks) and toasts that we use (one has a high vanillin content). We’re using techniques that have been used in the wine industry for over 100 years and it enables us to get a flavor that is simply unattainable using a single American oak barrel.

Thanks, Esteban, for clarifying that for me! And now back to the review…

The color is a beautiful peach-amber with a golden horizon.

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Robert Mondavi Private Selection Pinot Noir 2011

Robert Mondavi Private Selection Pinot Noir 2011


From the label, it sounds as though this wine is a blend of pinot noir grapes from around the state. I know Mondavi is a huge name in the wine world, but I honestly haven’t tried much from their label, though I sold plenty of it when I worked in restaurants. This bottle was on a good discount at Safeway, taking it below $10 and thus right at my standard wine price range.

I smell tart cherries with a smooth eucalyptus. It’s thin-bodied. My first thought is that it’s too smooth in flavor, lacking character. But as I chew on it, I appreciate how mellow it is, a nice break from strong tannins. The main notes are vanilla, barely there açai berry, cherry, and a hint of chalky eucalyptus.

It works. It’s not at all memorable, but it works.


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Homewood Winery Merlot Port 2010

Homewood Winery Merlot Port 2010
Dry Creek, CA


I picked up this bottle on a recent sojourn to Sonoma from the one vineyard we ventured to on a quick day trip to the region. I thought the merlot port delicious in the tasting room, and I’m interested to see how it stacks up when drunk at home.

It smells of raspberry, strawberry, and very faint vanilla. For a port, it’s surprisingly light-bodied. I agree with our host from the tasting room that it pairs best with white chocolate; drinking it now brings me back to how it mingled with that confection during the tasting. Vanilla takes over the sip, and it’s tinged with buttery notes.  On drinking, the wine is closer to fig than berry in flavor, with amazing brown sugar that tastes moist and pure. A strawberry layer swells up toward the middle of the swish, but it’s fast, so you might miss it. Or never taste it at all, if your tasting buds are different than mine. Hint: They probably are!

This port is a lot of fun to drink, and I imagine it will only deepen in depth with age. But I never age anything so rest assured that you can enjoy it now.


Other Bloggers’ Thoughts:

Again, I’ve found no blog reviews of this wine. I’m beginning to suspect that local wine bottlings without mass distribution don’t end up with many reviews of their wares. Hrm. I think that deserves further pondering despite it being rather unsurprising.

Reviewed 26 December 13.

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