Dining with Sammy Hagar at El Paseo’s Wine Collectors’ Dinner

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What’s better than bringing a bottle of wine to dinner? Bringing about 30 of them, then passing them around so everyone can try a bit of each.

Such is the idea behind the monthly Wine Collectors’ Dinner at Mill Valley, California’s El Paseo, a fine dining establishment perhaps best known for its celebrity ownership, local luminary and legendary rocker Sammy Hagar.

Hagar’s brainchild is organized around themes in the wine world. Each month guests are instructed to bring wines of a particular variety. In March it was pre-2003 Howell Mountain reds. In February, Right Bank Bordeaux. This month, Sonoma Coast and Central Coast pinot noir.

Hagar’s wine collection is legendary, and he always brings exotic offerings to the party. This month was no exception, as he poured a splash of 1980 Chalone for me, which utterly surprised with its amazing longevity and plenty of fruit. Later, he uncorked a magnum of 2012 Williams Selyem Allen Vineyard, which was fun to compare against the 2012 Williams Selyem Peay Vineyard that I brought, both from the Sonoma Coast. Of course, all the guests had wine to share, too — the rule is one bottle per person — which meant ample opportunity to try both classics and obscurities, like a gorgeous pinot from Occidental and an opulent new wine called The Prestige, made by a negociant who was in attendance.

Of course, this is a dinner, and the $125 entry fee gets you a four course meal that I’d describe as rustic French in style. A Wellington-style scallop was a unique highlight, but the tender, roasted veal chop that came after was probably the standout of the night.

Sadly, my picture-taking skills failed me and I forgot to snap a selfie while Hagar and I talked not just wine but also his upcoming spirits projects, which include a spiced rum to round out the Sammy’s Beach Bar line and a hybrid mezcal-tequila he’s calling Mezquila. Both are arriving this fall, so stay tuned… or visit El Paseo during one of the upcoming Wine Collectors’ Dinners and ask him about them yourself.

elpaseomillvalley.com

Tasting the Wines of Roussillon, 2016 Releases

 

Banyuls rimage Tour vieille

The Roussillon is France’s southernmost wine region, nestled into the wedge formed between Catalonia, Spain and the Mediterranean Sea. Within this region there are dozens of sub-regions, including some well-known ones like Minervois, Corbieres,, Fitou, and Banyuls. The Roussillon is but a small part of the broader Languedoc-Roussillon region, and is often simply lumped into the sprawling Languedoc province.

This hot climate is home to both table wines and dessert wines. Rose is common here, made largely from Rhone-style grapes, as are sweet wines, including muscat (and lots of it) and the dessert wines from Banyuls, which are made much like Port with the addition of fortifying spirit, a unique process not seen elsewhere in France.

Below you’ll find reviews of four Roussillon bottlings, including two dry roses and two dessert offerings, all of which are affordable buys. Thoughts follow.

2015 Penya Rosé Côtes Catalanes – A simple rose, made from 96% grenache and 4% syrah, this wine balances heavy floral elements with lively strawberry and some citrus notes, plus a healthy smattering of dried herbs, which become heavy on the finish. The finish is quiet and lightly sweet, with hints of lavender. B / $9

2015 Domaine Lafage Miraflors Rosé Côtes du Roussillon – 50% mourvèdre, 30% grenache, and 20% grenache gris. Fragrant and balanced, this rose offers classic strawberry notes complemented by gentle florals and a touch of brown sugar. This is all layered atop a surprisingly rich body that shows off a density rarely seen in rose. A- / $15

2014 Domaine La Tour Vieille Banyuls Rimage – A classic, dense-ruby Banyuls made of grenache noir and carignan. Fresh red berries and tart cherries, with overtones of chocolate syrup and a surprising toasted almond-hazelnut character. Notes of hickory wood and some licorice give this a rustic character you won’t find in ruby Port, but that seems to add to the wine’s uniqueness and charm. 15.5% abv. A- / $22 (500ml)

2014 Domaine de la Coume du Roy Muscat de Rivesaltes – An extremely sweet muscat dessert wine (16% abv), it offers ample aromatics of the orange blossom variety, followed by a dense body of orange-mango-peach-apricot notes. The finish is sugary to the point of being cloying, with moderate to heavy notes of fresh, green herbs. All told, it’s a bit much to handle after a big meal. B- / $22

Review: Stone Citrusy Wit, Go To IPA, Mocha IPA, and Scru Wit

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Four new beers have arrived from SoCal’s Stone Brewing — all ready to be sampled and sussed out. Let’s dig right in!

Stone Citrusy Wit – What’s the first thing most people do with a wheat beer? Squeeze an orange into it. Stone does that heavy lifting for you with this beer, which adds tangerine and kaffir lime leaf to the mix. That sounds better on paper than it is in the glass, where some big and funky mushroom notes blend with pungent herbs driven by the kaffir lime leaf. There’s a bare essence of a witbier somewhere in here, but it comes off as quite a bit too hoppy for a wit. 5.3% abv. C+ / $11 per six-pack

Stone Go To IPA – A sessionable, hop-heavy IPA, this is is a fruity rendition of IPA, loaded with lemons and oranges and liberally infused with a sizable amount of piney hops. You’d be hard-pressed to ID this blind as “session” anything, given its dense body, chewy palate, and the loads of authentic IPA flavor it packs. 4.8% abv. A- / $10 per six-pack of 16 oz. cans

Stone Mocha IPA – “Style-defying” is no lie: This is a double IPA with cacao and coffee added. What? Surprisingly, this isn’t a complete and utter failure. The beer offers both bracing bitterness and the classic flavors of a chocolate-spiked coffee, the former more up front, the latter more evident in the rear. How these two go together eventually starts to make sense, if you think about the bitterness of coffee, or its sometimes herbal notes (evident in a big IPA). Sure, the big piney character of a classic double gets a bit confusing in a beer meant to taste like coffee and chocolate, but as experiments go, it’s hard not to dig what Stone has come up with, at least for a pint. 9% abv. B+ / $16 per six-pack

Stone Scru Wit – This is one of Stone’s spotlight ales/pet projects, a melding of styles which probably aren’t too common in your corner store. Specifically, a Finnish sahti, a medieval European gruit, and a Belgian imperial wit, made with a recipe that includes mugwort, wormwood, and juniper berries. They call it “SahGruWit,” hence the name. The results are about what I thought they’d be: A crazy bunch of styles that probably went over better in medieval Germany than it does today. The beer finds notes of smoked grains (rauchbier-like at times), freshly turned earth, sweet malts, and a variety of canned green vegetables. It’s long on the finish, and a bit syrupy at times… but you can barely even taste the mugwort, God! 8.5% abv. B- / $8 per 22 oz. bottle

stonebrewing.com

Review: George Dickel Distillery Reserve Collection 17 Years Old

 

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Who doesn’t love a good backstory on a whiskey? Here’s how Tennessee’s George Dickel positions this new 17 year old limited edition release, which is available only at Dickel’s visitor’s center and at a few Tennessee retailers.

When Distiller Allisa Henley first discovered George Dickel Tennessee Whisky’s newest 17-Year Old addition to the portfolio, she wasn’t really even looking for it.  At the time, she was searching George Dickel’s single story barrel warehouses for 9-Year Old whisky to use in the Hand Selected Barrel Program she’d launched in 2014.  However, after pulling a sample from a row of 17-Year Old barrels near the back of one of the warehouses, she knew it was too good not to share as the extra time in the barrel had resulted in a perfectly balanced, flavorful sipping whisky.

The whiskey is made from Dickel’s standard mash — 84 percent corn, 8 percent rye and 8 percent malted barley. Its only real difference it sees vs. No. 8 and No. 12 is its time in barrel.

Let’s sample what’s in the bottle.

The nose offers some curious aromas: Old wood, scorched mint, and clove-studded oranges. There’s vanilla sweetness deep down in there, but it’s underneath a thick layer of austerity. On the palate, sweet butterscotch and maple syrup quickly emerge; exposure to air dulls things fast, leaving behind heavy notes of leather, peppercorns, and burnt newspaper. The wood is intense from the start, and this gets stronger as the palate and the finish develop, to the point where it becomes nearly overwhelming.

Old bourbon can be dicey, either soulful and supple or overblown with too much wood. Dickel 17 isn’t quite a bust in the latter category, but it’s definitely getting there. On the plus side: At least Dickel pulled it out of barrel when it did. A few more months and one feels this would have been too far gone to drink.

87 proof.

B / $75 (375ml) / georgedickel.com

Review: Kilchoman 100% Islay Sixth Release

kilchoman 100 islay 6th edition

Kilchoman’s 2016 version of its annual 100% Islay release is here, and this time it’s a vatting of fresh and refill ex-Buffalo Trace Bourbon barrels that were filled in 2010 and bottled in 2016 — the most mature expression of 100% Islay to be released to date. As always, the 100% Islay line is more lightly peated than the rest of the Kilchoman range.

While Kilchoman tends to shine the brightest in its sherried expressions, this bourbon-only rendition is quite a delight. The bourbon barrel time imbues the whiskey with aromas of chocolate and vanilla, its light grain notes fragrant with peaty smoke. The body follows suit for the most part, though some citrus notes are a bit of a surprise. The lingering smoke on the finish is mild and fragrant, with notes of maple syrup, cinnamon, and green banana.

Brooding but very refreshing, it’s one of the most drinkable Kilchoman releases in recent memory.

100 proof.

A- / $100 / kilchomandistillery.com

Review: Louis Jadot 2014 Macon-Villages and Beaujolais-Villages

 

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I can’t remember the last time I had Louis Jadot’s iconic French wines — clearly I’m long overdue to take a quick trip through the Maconnais and Beaujolais regions with good old Louis. Here’s a look at two new low-cost releases, both easy summer sippers.

2014 Louis Jadot Macon-Villages Chardonnay – This is classic, unoaked French Chardonnay, lush with fruit and unfiltered through the lens of woody vanilla notes. Gently floral, the wine offers solid notes of fresh apple, lemon, and honeysuckle on the back end. Fine on its own, but it shines more brightly when those floral notes can find a companion with food. B+ / $13

2014 Louis Jadot Beaujolais-Villages – Beaujolais Nouveau gives this region a bad name, but bottlings like this prove there’s plenty of nuance in the gamay grape. This wine offers lots of young fruit, but tempers that with notes of fresh rosemary and hints of black pepper. The finish has some earthiness to it, along with clear vanilla notes, but the conclusion ends on straight-up fresh red berries that any Beaujolais drinker will instantly find familiar. Drink slightly chilled. B / $14

kobrandwineandspirits.com

Review: Kin White Whiskey

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The goal of Kin White Whiskey, “born in the South” but made in Los Angeles, is to offer a moonshine without the burn, without the traditional solvent character so common in unaged whiskey. As far as that job goes, it’s mission accomplished: Kin is indeed “smooth” and decidedly unfiery, as innocuous a white spirit can be this side of vodka.

On the nose, Kin offers, well, very little: a touch of lemon and some chamomile tea. There’s a touch of rubbing alcohol — it’s impossible to get rid of completely — but nothing that any drinker will have a problem with. On the palate, there’s ample sugar — Kin is clearly doctored and sugared up more than a bit — with little more than a few citrus undertones. The finish is clean and sweet and, if I didn’t know better, I’d say it’s a fair enough example of a new world vodka.

80 proof.

B+ / $42 / kinwhitewhiskey.com