2008 Waterstone Merlot, California, $18
It is nice to see a Napa merlot of this quality for less than $20. Starting with a nose full of ripe cherries and earthy, leathery, rustic aromas, you can immediately tell this wine has lots to offer. The flavors explode once they hit the mouth, and notes of ripe cherries and blueberries give way to lingering notes of dark chocolate and tea. There is a creaminess that holds together all the flavors and a subtle note of licorice in the finish. This is a terrific food wine, standing up to beef and pork dishes, and it also does well with the many sauces used over these meats. We enjoyed our bottle with grilled ribeyes and a portobello mushroom wine reduction sauce on the side.
Three Olives Supercola Vodka, England, 70 proof, $17, 750ml
I have seen some strange things in my years of tasting, but vodka and flat soda? I have to admit when I saw this bottle I was a little confused. That said, when this "supercola" hit my lips it was a great surprise -- a nice balance of vodka notes and the sweet, spicy cola taste without the carbonation. There are hints of vanilla, caramel, cherry and a tangy spice in each sip, but there is no vodka burn -- it's just smooth and clean. One recipe idea is to serve it with Sprite and garnish with a lemon. One of their signature drinks is "Cola-Bration," which is equal parts Three Olives Supercola, Three Olives Cake and cream, straight up or over the rocks. This really is a neat, new vodka flavor that has some interesting drink possibilities.
Columnist Lain Bradford is a wine writer and reviewer who has achieved his first level master sommelier certificate and is working toward his Certified Wine Educator degree. He only writes about beverages that are available in South Carolina and Georgia. Follow him at www.twitter.com/winereview.