Review: 2013 Saved Red Wine

bt-saved-red-lg

A blend of “Merlot, Malbec, Syrah, Zinfandel, and small amounts of other red varietals,” this is a California bottling from parts otherwise unknown. The wine is initially dialed back, but some air and time in glass reveals a denser-than-expected fruit core that showcases blackberries, blueberries, and currants. There’s a lacing of vanilla and a touch of balsamic in the mix, with a finish that echoes cake frosting (but in a good way), plus a hint of chocolate-dusted, bittersweet amaro.

The wine is also being released in conjunction with a new corkscrew designed by Saved creator Scott Campbell, who is a tattoo artist. Some deets:

Available at Shinola stores and online in time for the holidays, the solid brass corkscrew marries form and function to bring a little ceremony to the everyday act of opening a bottle of wine. With its intricate design of sigils, reflective of Scott’s tattoo style, this piece makes a perfect gift for those who appreciate design and fine wine equally. Available exclusively for holiday 2016 in Shinola stores and online at shinola.com for $125.

B+ / $16 / savedwines.com

Review: El Consuelo Tequila Reposado

el-consuelo-large

El Consuelo is a new brand just launched this year. It is one of only a few USDA-certified organic tequilas, made with Highland agave and, curiously, is aged in Cognac barrels instead of the usual bourbon barrels. We received the reposado for review, which spends six months in wood before bottling.

Heavy agave kicks off the nose; for a reposado I’d expect a more sedate herbal character, but here it’s really quite pungent, the agave showing overtones of petrol and mushroom. On the palate, again the powerful agave is front and center — it initially drinks like a blanco rather than a typical reposado — but give it some time and sweeter elements make their way to the fore. It’s nearer to the finish that notes of maple syrup, raisin, and vanilla candies finally bubble up. But the biggest surprise is saved for last, as the finish evokes a very atypical note of fresh thyme, which becomes particularly evident primarily on the nose.

All told it’s a very unusual tequila, and worth sampling at least once.

B / $46 / elconsuelotequila.com

Tasting Report: Wines of the Petaluma Gap, 2016

Draw a line eastward from Bodega Bay to Sonoma, and another one parallel to that about 10 miles to the south. Congratulations, you’ve just outlined, roughly, the Petaluma Gap, a much-discussed region of Sonoma County (plus a bit of Marin County) that is heralded particularly for its colder-climate pinot noir and chardonnay grapes. The “gap” itself is a break in the mountains that surround this region, creating a canyon of sorts through which the cold Pacific breeze can blow, all the way to the San Pablo Bay.

Recently the Petaluma Gap Winegrowers Alliance put together a tasting of wines grown exclusively from grapes grown in this small region. You’ll find some familiar names in the tasting report below, along with some you’ve probably never heard of.

Brief thoughts on everything tasted follow.

Tasting Report: Petaluma Gap Wines, 2016 Releases

2013 Agnitio Wines Pinot Noir Sun Chase Vineyard / C+ / rather vegetal, bitter edges
2014 Agnitio Wines Pinot Noir Sun Chase Vineyard / A- / more floral, still dense with dried fruits
2013 Agnitio Wines Chardonnay Sun Chase Vineyard / B / earthy, but quite buttery at times
2014 Black Kite Cellars Chardonnay Gap’s Crown Vineyard / A- / fairly classic, lots of aromatics
2013 Black Kite Cellars Pinot Noir Gap’s Crown Vineyard / A- / some antiseptic notes on the nose; body is rich and bold, ample cherry
2013 Brooks Note Winery Pinot Noir Marin County / B+ / acidic, quite tart, restrained fruit
2014 Brooks Note Winery Pinot Noir Marin County / A- / also very tart, but nicely focused with overtones of tea leaf amidst bolder fruit
2012 Clouds Rest Vineyards Allure Chardonnay / A- / strong fruit notes fade into a butter and spice character
2011 Clouds Rest Vineyards Femme Fatale Pinot Noir / A- / aromatic, spicy, bold cherry notes
2008 Clouds Rest Vineyards Pinot Noir (Reserve) / A- / very big, heavy spice, cloves and cinnamon, plus dried fruits; long finish
2013 Fogline Vineyards Pinot Noir Fogline Neighbors / A- / fruity, lively with lots of acidity
2013 Fogline Vineyards Pinot Noir Hillside Block / A- / similar, tending more toward a baking spice note
2013 Keller Estate Pinot Noir La Cruz Vineyard / B+ / a bit dusty, but solid berry underpinnings
2013 Keller Estate Rotie / B / 93% syrah; very aromatic, licorice notes on a big big body
2012 Kendric Vineyards Pinot Noir Reserve / B / lots of aromatics, dense finish is lackluster
2012 La Rochelle Wines Pinot Noir El Coro Vineyard / B / lots of aromatics, almost ethereal in body; some earthy overtones mar the finish
2013 La Rochelle Wines Pinot Meunier Parliament Hills Vineyard / A- / lots of acidity, plus some cocoa character, curious
2013 Loxton Syrah Griffin’s Lair Vineyard / B+ / spicy, bold raisin bread note
2014 Loxton Pinot Noir Griffin’s Lair Vineyard / A- / chewy and balanced
2013 Pax Syrah Griffin’s Lair Vineyard / B+ / big and mouth-filling with coffee and chocolate notes, still tannic; try in 3-4 years
2014 Pfendler Vineyards Pinot Noir / A- / bold and rich in style; dark fruit, chocolate notes
2013 Ramey Wine Cellars Syrah Rodgers Creek Vineyard / B / meaty, a classic Rhone syrah style; very bold, lasting finish
2012 Trombetta Family Wines Pinot Noir Gap’s Crown Vineyard / A- / very fruit forward, quite acidic with a flick of licorice and dark chocolate
2013 Trombetta Family Wines Pinot Noir Gap’s Crown Vineyard / A- / quite similar; a bit more punch
2014 Trombetta Family Wines Pinot Noir Gap’s Crown Vineyard / A- / slightly bigger herbal character
2014 WALT Wines Pinot Noir Gap’s Crown Vineyard / C+ / licorice nose; somewhat flabby body; very bitter finish
2014 Waxwing Wine Cellars Pinot Noir Spring Hill Vineyard / B- / modest, simple but quite bitter edges
2013 Waxwing Wine Cellars Pinot Noir Spring Hill Vineyard / C+ / very very dry; dusty to an extreme

Review: Glenfiddich Experimental Series #1 IPA Cask Finish

glenfiddich-ipa_us_lockup_hr

Even old guard Glenfiddich can’t stay away from the fun of experimental whiskymaking. In fact the distillery is launching a whole line of experimental spirits called the Experimental Series which revolve around unusual cask finishes. First out of the gate: an India Pale Ale cask finish.

This isn’t a partnership with a major brewery. Rather, the distillery worked closely with a local Speyside craft brewery to craft a custom IPA, then aged it in its own used whisky casks,. Those casks were then emptied and used to finish already mature Glenfiddich. There’s no age statement for the initial aging run, but the whisky ultimately spends 12 weeks in the IPA barrels.

This is the first of what will likely be a significant series of releases from Glenfiddich. While we wait for what’s coming down the pipe, let’s take a taste of what GF has cooked up with its IPA Cask Finish.

On the nose, it’s definitely malty, bourbon-casked Glenfiddich, but it comes with a clear beer influence as well — moderately hoppy, with citrus (but not sherry) overtones. The palate is malty at first, showcasing traditional notes of cereal, light caramel and vanilla notes, heather, and a touch of spice… but while you’re grasping for that lattermost note the IPA finish kicks in. A slug of hops followed by some bitter orange peel immediately connotes IPA, The finish is decidedly beer-like, bittersweet and herbal at times, but also kicking out a chocolate character that is decidedly unique.

All told, I really love this expression — and am shocked at how generally affordable and available it is. Can’t wait to see what’s next in the series.

86 proof.

A- / $70 / glenfiddich.com

Bar Review: The Oakwood, Vancouver B.C.

297

Vancouver’s Oakwood is a Canadian Bistro by name, featuring a decent-sized restaurant serving Canadian classics next to a roaring fire. But across the aisle is a bar that’s worthy of your time in its own right.

We picked an auspicious time to visit, as Oakwood’s former bartender recently left and was just replaced by a new fellow, Robert, who’s dismantling the current drinks menu and replacing it with new libations.

We tried one of these new cocktails on the day it was designed — the Exuberant Gaucho, a mix of anejo tequila, Campari, creme de cacao, and cold brew coffee. It’s the dash of chili-infused vodka that gives it the exuberance — and we went back and forth with the bartender on whether one dash or two was the best version. (Our ultimate vote: One dash, plus some chocolate bitters.)

The only cocktail Robert says he plans to keep on the list is the Shrubbery, a complex mix of grilled pineapple-infused tequila, Aperol, pineapple bark shrub, lime juice, pineapple-jalapeno bitters, and a smoked chili salt rim. An easy crowd pleaser that offers an amazing balance among its various flavors, it fires on all cylinders right from the start and goes down incredibly easy.

Keep an eye on the place come January when the new menu should be revealed!

theoakwood.ca

Review: Jefferson’s Reserve Old Rum Cask Finish Bourbon

oldrumcaskfinish

Jefferson’s latest release is this special edition, which takes standard, fully-matured Jefferson’s Reserve Bourbon and finishes it in Gosling’s Family Reserve Old Rum barrels.

The barrels themselves have a compelling history — they held bourbon for four years, then held Gosling’s for 16 years, then were sent back to Jefferson’s for this experiment, in which he dumped the eight-year old, straight Kentucky whiskey. The bourbon aged for 15 additional months in these barrels before bottling.

So, fun stuff from the get-go, and sure enough it’s a knockout of a whiskey.

The nose is loaded with molasses notes, brown sugar, tons of baking spice, some coconut husk, and only a smattering of wood. If I didn’t know any better, from the nose I’d probably have guessed this was a well-aged rum instead of a whiskey.

The palate belies the bourbonness of the spirit, melding caramel corn with a big injection of sweet caramel, dark brown sugar, cinnamon, and layers of chocolate sauce — both sweet milk and bittersweet dark. The rush of sweetness isn’t overpowering, but rather fades easily into its lightly wooded, vanilla-focused finish.

This is one whiskey that’s hard to put down. I’d snap it up on sight before it’s all gone.

90.2 proof.

A / $80 / jeffersonsbourbon.com

Review: Morocco’s Ouled Thaleb 2013 Signature and 2012 Aït Souala

ouled-thaler-signature-and-ait-souala

Quick, what’s the wine hot spot of the Arab world? Morocco, it turns out, where Domaine Ouled Thaleb is the country’s oldest working winery. Ouled Thaleb has been pushing into the States of late, and recently the company began exporting two new blends to our shores. Curious how Moroccan wine — here represented by a pair of blends that mix together both oddball varietals and better-known international grapes — fares? Read on.

2013 Ouled Thaleb Signature – 50% marselan, 35% petit verdot, 15% carmenere. (Marselan is a cross of cabernet sauvignon and grenache.) Rustic but well-rounded, this blend offers a core of dark fruits alongside a significant earthiness, loading up notes of leather and tar, with a finish that echoes violets and some balsamic notes. A mixed bag, but for the most part it’s approachable and engaging. B / $28

2012 Ouled Thaleb Aït Souala – 50% arinarnoa, 25% tannat, 25% malbec. This is a much more approachable wine (arinarnoa is a cross of merlot and petit verdot), starting with heady, aromatic aromas of cloves, baking spice, and ginger — but cut with some tarry character — that then moves into a lush, fruit-forward body. Raisins, plum, and raspberries all mingle with notes of cinnamon, vanilla, and a gentle touch of leather. The finish is very lightly sweet, but that sweetness integrates well with all the fruit and spice that comes before. A very versatile wine, I could drink this with just about anything. A- / $24

nomadicdistribution.com

Review: Few Spirits/The Flaming Lips Brainville Rye Whiskey

flaminglips-f

Celebrating five years in business, Chicago’s Few Spirits recently launched a collaboration with The Flaming Lips and artist Justin Helton to release a new rye called Brainville. Why? Read on…

The collaboration actually holds quite a bit of resonance for FEW Spirits’ founder and master distiller Paul Hletko: Before founding the distillery, he played lead guitar in a band called BerBer (short for Bourbon Bourbon, ironically) that got some local radio airplay and a feature at the CMJ Music Marathon in the early ’90s; ran a short-lived record label called Hank’s Recording Empire (“we put out one record, and it was a dismal failure,” he says); and opened a guitar effects-pedal company called Custompbox. “Music has always been an important part of my life, and when Justin Helton’s manager called me about a collaboration with The Flaming Lips and Warner Bros. Records to create a custom spirit, it was a no-brainer; they knew exactly which distillery they wanted to work with,” Hletko says.

The whiskey is a rye made with corn and malted barley grown within 150 miles of the Few distillery. Aging is in new, charred American oak barrels custom-made in Minnesota. (No age statement is offered.) Like Few’s standard rye, the mash is, unusually, fermented using a French wine yeast.

This is a young craft whiskey, dominated by notes of fresh grain, lumberyard, and a bit of Band-Aid character on the nose. Nothing too special, but on the palate emerges something considerably more complex and intriguing. Notes of malted milk give the whiskey a chewy backbone, before moving into spicy red pepper, ginger, and baking spice notes. There’s a youthful wood influence here, but it’s outdone by quiet fruit laced with spices and a finish that echoing melon and a grind of pepper. All told, it’s quite a compelling experience, though you’ll pay a pretty penny for the privilege.

80 proof. 5000 bottles produced.

B+ / $125 / fewspirits.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Buffalo Trace Completes First Round of Whiskey Experiments

btd-workers-unload-first-experiment-out-of-warehouse-x

Earlier this year I wrote about Warehouse X at Buffalo Trace and the distillery’s dedication to experimentation with whiskeymaking technology. The first barrels were laid down here in 2013, and this week, 3.5 million data points later, they were cracked open, ready for analysis.

I’m pasting the full press release below, but here’s the findings in a nutshell.

  • Hotter barrels do indeed produce higher alcohol levels in the finished product. This has long been well-known in the business (and is the reason why barrels on the upper floors of a rickhouse tend to go into the rarer bottlings, like George T. Stagg), but Buffalo Trace has formally validated this with science.
  • Natural light hitting barrels however does not impact color or abv. The “honey barrel” theory has long held that barrels nearest windows, which receive natural light, mature more fully. The experiments show that this really isn’t the case. That said, other factors such as air flow may impact these barrels, so the jury’s not yet out on honey barrels.

More experiments are on the way, so stay tuned come late 2018 for the next batch of results!

FRANKFORT, Franklin County, Ky (Nov. 30, 2016) Buffalo Trace Distillery has completed phase one of its bourbon barrel aging experiment inside Warehouse X, the experimental warehouse built in 2013 that allows for specific atmospheric variables to be tested in four individual chambers, plus one open air breezeway.   The first experiment focused on natural light, keeping barrels in various stages of light for two years.

Chamber One of Warehouse X held barrels at 50% natural light, while matching the temperature of the barrels inside the chamber to the temperature of the barrels in the outdoor breezeway.

Barrels in Chamber Two experienced 100% darkness, while keeping the barrel temperature at a constant 72 degrees Fahrenheit.

Chamber Three also had 100% darkness, but those barrel temperatures were kept the same temperature as the barrels in the outdoor breezeway.

Chamber Four barrels saw 100% natural light as the temperature was kept the same as the barrels in the outdoor breezeway.

In the two years this experiment was conducted, the barrels in the open air breezeway (which was not climate controlled) saw a fluctuation of temperatures ranging from -10 F to 105 F, likely some of the greatest temperature variance any bourbon barrels have ever experienced. The pressure inside these barrels varied from -2.5 psi to 2.5 psi.

The team at Buffalo Trace collected and analyzed an astonishing 3.5 million data points. Among those learnings, an interesting correlation between light and psi was realized, and a long held distiller’s theory of more heat equaling higher proof was scientifically proven (at least for now).

However, another popular theory was disproved in part – as it turns out, the amount of light does not really affect the color or the proof of the bourbon inside the barrels. So much for the theory of honey barrels! But Master Distiller Harlen Wheatley has this to add about honey barrels, “Even though we proved light doesn’t affect the color or the proof of the whiskey, that doesn’t mean that honey barrels (those next to windows in standard warehouses that are typically distiller’s favorites) don’t taste a little bit better. Perhaps because of other factors than natural light.  We did prove factors like temperature, pressure, humidity and air flow all play a role in the end result.”

Now that the light experiment is complete, Buffalo Trace is moving on to the next planned experiment, which focuses on temperature. In this experiment, the various chambers will experience different temperature variations, with Chamber One remaining the same temperature as the outdoor breezeway, plus 10 F.  Chamber Two will be 80 F, Chamber Three will be at 55 F and Chamber Four will be kept at the breezeway temperature minus 10 F.  The temperature experiment is expected to last at least two years.

For information about Warehouse X including a blog updated since the inception, visit http://www.experimentalwarehouse.com/

Review: Kuvee Wine Preservation System

kuveeideo3x

How to deal with the conundrum of leftover wine has been an issue that has dogged us for ages, and while numerous solutions work well, none is perfect.

Kuvee thinks it has the answer with this: A high-tech wine dispenser that lets you pour one glass at a time while ensuring the wines inside last for weeks.

The solution is quite a cutting-edge one. Kuvee is a sleeve that goes on top of a custom (this is key) bottle of wine. On the front of the sleeve is a web-connected color touchscreen that provides copious information about the wine, including a picture of the label, a winemaker bio, tasting notes, and more. The screen shows you when the bottle was opened and even keeps track of how much is left. A base station recharges the Kuvee every time you set it down, much like an electric toothbrush. Want more wine? You can actually buy it directly from the Kuvee, which is perhaps the first time I’ve had a bottle of wine offer to sell me another one.

I tried Kuvee with a white and a red, pouring out about half, then waiting two full weeks to see how well the wines fared. Both sailed through without an issue, tasting as fresh on day 14 as they did on day one. If you like to have multiple bottles in rotation and don’t like existing preservation methods, Kuvee is a winning solution.

The problem however is that Kuvee only works with those custom bottles (plastic canisters with a collapsing bladder inside), and there are only a couple dozen wines available. Most of those are relatively low-end. Exceptions like Chamisal, Round Pond, and Clos Pegase exist, but these aren’t the norm. I had never heard of the red I was sent, a $15 wine called Cartlidge & Browne, and it wasn’t terribly drinkable no matter what day I tried it on.

It’s nice that Kuvee requires no argon or other consumables, but the requirement of buying custom bottles will be a deal-breaker for most consumers. Unless Kuvee manages to expand to several hundred wineries at a minimum, it’ll be best reserved for restaurants with limited wine-by-the-glass programs where customers don’t get through a whole bottle every night.

$199 (with four wines) / kuvee.com

Review: Don Julio Tequila Blanco and Reposado (2016)

It’s hard to believe that it’s been eight years since we looked at Don Julio’s tequilas, aside from a (disastrous) appearance in our blind tequila roundup. Reportedly these have undergone recipe changes at least once since 2008 — the brand was sold to Diageo in 2014 — and Don Julio has continued to grow.

Today we take fresh looks at the blanco and reposado expressions of Don Julio, 2016 editions, which are grown from highland agave. Both are 80 proof.

Don Julio Tequila Blanco – I’ve been on and off with Don Julio’s blanco, but as of now it is revealing itself as a quite gentle but also engaging little spirit. The nose showcases crisp agave, a touch of lime, and white pepper. Spicy but not overpowering, the aroma sets you up for a bold body — but that never materializes. Instead we find it drinking with a surprising restraint, sometimes even bordering on coming across as watery. A stronger citrus profile makes its presence known, along with lingering floral notes. The finish is clean, lightly peppery, with a bit of lime zest hanging on. A great choice for mixing. A- / $30

Don Julio Tequila Reposado – Aged for eight months in oak (same as 8 years ago). Stylistically it’s quite light, which makes sense considering the blanco’s similar state. Notes are similar, though the pepper here is dialed way back. In its place, some orange peel, light caramel, and some light barrel char notes arrive on the nose. On the palate, again the pepper notes are restrained, with some modest brown sugar in their place. The floral elements are harder to catch here, their gentleness done in by the power of the barrel. The finish sees some red pepper, tempered by brown sugar, and a fleeting hint of licorice. All told, it’s a slightly sweetened-up version of the blanco. Nothing wrong with that. A- / $35

donjulio.com

Three 2013 Red Wines from Portugal: Passa, Assobio, and Titular

big_v6esporaassmag

Best known for dense Ports and crisp whites, Portugal is also home to a bustling red table wine production. Today we sample three reds from Portugal, including selections from both the Douro and the Dao regions.

2013 Quinto do Passadouro Passa Douro Red Wine – A traditional blend of touriga franca, tinta roriz, and touriga nacional. Notes of dark cherry and licorice find a curious companion in some sweet almond character, with the wine lightening up on the palate as it evolves to show off strawberry, some cloves, and a bit of vanilla. Short on the finish, but lively and pleasant. B+ / $15

2013 Esporao Assobio Douro – Another blend of touriga franca (40%), tinta roriz (40%), and touriga nacional (20%). Fresh blueberry notes fade into a licorice and clove character, adding body to an otherwise quite fruity attack. It’s a relatively straightforward wine, all told, but a versatile one that works in a variety of dining scenarios. B+ / $15

2013 Caminhos Cruzdos Titular: Dao Red – This blend from the Dao region comprises touriga nacional (45%), tinta roriz (15%), jaen (10%), and alfrocheiro (30%). Youthful, heavy on blackberries and brambly notes, with heavy tobacco, leather, and licorice notes bursting forth on the rustic finish. B- / $9