Review: 2014 Owsley Single Block Pinot Noir


Sonoma-Cutrer has been quietly producing a “grand cru” inspired pinot noir from its own prized Owsley Vineyard for four years, bottling it of course under the name of Owsley. This isn’t a second label — it’s kind of a zeroth label, a step up from garden-variety S-C, made with a single block of grapes and with decidedly unique winemaking practices. For example, for this 2014 release, “fermentation involved a unique combination of three different methods: oak tank, stainless steel tank and new French oak barrels with the heads removed. Each was allowed to ferment separately for several weeks before being ‘mingled’ together and aging for 16 months in the French barrels.”

The wine presents itself with loads of old world character, kicking off with a meaty, lightly smoky nose, and laying in balsamic notes. On the palate, the wine exudes austerity, offering notes of dark cherry fruit, more balsamic, some dusky spices, and a bit of black pepper. On the finish there are notes of tea leaf and tobacco. All told it’s a well-rounded wine that does indeed echoes great Burgundy, but with a unique, Sonoma spin.

A- / $50 /

Book Review: Distilled Stories


There’s a certain segment of the population — Californians interested in craft distilling — that will find Distilled Stories particularly appealing. That isn’t to say the rest of you won’t dig the book, but there’s a certain down-the-rabbit-hole inquisitiveness that’s required of anyone wishing to drill down into this somewhat obscure world.

Distilled Stories takes the form of vignettes presented by some 20 different distillers (or groups of distillers), each telling the tale of how their company came to be. I know many of these people personally and some I consider friends, and yet I didn’t know all the ins and outs of how their operations came into being. In fact, there are companies in this book I’d never even heard of.

Some of these stories are more interesting than others, and the writing quality varies widely. (The book was written by a large number of contributors, and individual pieces are not bylined.) I don’t want to play favorites but definitely take a particularly close at the stories of Adam Spiegel and the Karakasevic clan.


Review: Glenfarclas 12 Years Old, 17 Years Old, and 105 Cask Strength (2016)


Recently I looked back at my early reviews of Glenfarclas 10 and 12 year old single malts and was a bit appalled at their naivete. An upgrade was required, and I got my hands on a trio of expressions: Glenfarclas 12 Years Old, 17 Years Old, and the coveted 105 Cask Strength expression.

For those unfamiliar with this Speyside classic, Glenfarclas is all single malt, 100% sherry cask matured (using both oloroso and fino sherry barrels). Consistently underrated, it’s a distillery that’s always worth a look no matter what age you see on the bottle.

Glenfarclas 12 Years Old – Classic Speyside. On the nose, there’s lots of honey and maple notes, with a biscuity character that offers lightly buttery, grainy notes. The sherry influence is slight, offering some punch on the nose but also just a hint of orange peel on the finish, following a body that offers tastes of chocolate malt balls, lightly roasted peanuts, and some dried ginger. This is a perfect “everyday” dram — not overwhelming, but with enough nuance to merit continued exploration — and affordable. 86 proof. A- / $47

Glenfarclas 17 Years Old – There’s an immediately stronger sherry influence on the nose with this older expression, ripe with aromas of orange peel and oil which complement the underlying grain character. On the palate, the bold body kicks off with classic Glenfarclas biscuits and honey, moving from there into notes of lemon peel, gingerbread, and walnuts. Stronger sherry notes build with time in glass; the finish finds this in relative balance with the barley character. 86 proof. B+ / $70

Glenfarclas 105 Cask Strength – This is a 10 year old expression of Glenfarclas bottled at 120 proof (not 105, which refers to its original proof under the old British system). The bottle and label have changed in recent years, but what’s inside seems to have stayed the same. This is a richly sherried whisky, complex with notes of Christmas spices, marzipan, honeycomb, brown butter, and ample orange peel — both on the nose and the palate. Boldly malty at its core, the whisky finds intrigue in the way it builds upon that, folding in nuts, spice, fruit, and more. Cask strength gives the whisky the level of heat and the complexity that you’d expect, which you can either embrace with both arms or, perhaps more sensibly, temper it with a healthy splash of water. (It can handle plenty.) Either way — or perhaps both ways — it’s well worth exploring. 120 proof. A- / $92

Review: Redbreast Sherry Finish Lustau Edition Irish Whiskey

Redbreast Lustau

What a fun idea from Redbreast. For the tasting experience of Redbreast Sherry Finish Lustau Edition, the distillery sent out three bottles: A bottle of classic Redbreast 12 Years Old, a bottle of the new sherry-finished Redbreast Lustau, and a bottle of actual Lustau Oloroso Don Nuno sherry. In this way one can follow the creation of Redbreast Lustau pretty much from start to finish.

Redbreast Lustau is a permanent addition to the Redbreast line. Though it is officially a NAS release, it includes single pot still whiskey that is aged in both bourbon and sherry casks for 9 to 12 years. It is then finished in an Oloroso sherry butt from Bodegas Lustau which was crafted from Spanish oak, where it sits for an additional 12 months.

Now Redbreast has a long history with sherry casks; the 12 year old is aged in a variety of cask types (including both bourbon and multiple types of sherry casks). The finishing is a new spin — as is, of course, the loss of an age statement.

Tasting reveals a dramatic departure from the 12 year old expression, as Redbreast Lustau takes that classic, malty pot still character and gives it a serious spin. The nose is only slightly off from the expected, showing a stronger and more pungent orange peel note plus a nose-tickling pepper note to back up the malt, nougat, and toasty grains. On the palate is where things really start to diverge, the sherry giving the whiskey an intense nuttiness, along with notes of raisins and figs, again backing up that bold, malty body. The finish is lengthy, creamy, and spicy — all at once — everything building to a cohesive whole that is well worth exploring, age statement or no.

As for the actual sherry sample included here, well, I have no idea how people drink this stuff.

92 proof.

A- / $69 / 

Review: 2013 Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG


Avignonesi’s latest 100% Sangiovese wine from the Montepulciano is very dry, almost dusty at times, with more balsamic on the body than I’d expect for a wine of this age. Pleasant enough with food but somewhat thin on its own, the core of dark cherries and blackberries is powerful enough at the start, but eventually it gives way to tobacco, coal dust, and some heavier, green notes.

B / $29 /

Review: Thorberg Five Hop Belgian IPA


Belgium’s Brouwerij Anders says the quest for the perfect Belgian IPA is over, and here it is: Thorberg Five Hop, which take Golding, Mosaic, Equinox, Willamette, and Citra hops and brews them up with Belgian techniques.

The results are impressive, offering aromatic layers of citrusy and lightly piney hops that meld beautifully with the heavier, relatively malt-laden body. Notes of applesauce and brown butter mingle with a hint of roasted vegetable character on the palate, offering a quick break from the bitterness of the hops. The hops however make a return appearance on the finish, which is mouth-filling and rounded, refreshing and clean but not nearly as palate-cleansing (or enamel-stripping) as a typical west coast style IPA. All in all, a nice treat as well as a break from the norm.

6.5% abv.

A- / $4.50 (11.2 oz bottle) /

Book Review: Quench Your Own Thirst


Ever wonder how Jim Koch got Samuel Adams started? Now you can, in Koch’s memoir that is part business story, part insider guide to the booze trade. It’s a relatively straightforward work as Koch meanders from his first act as a management consultant to the founder of a scrappy brewing operation to the CEO of the largest independent brewing company in the U.S.

It’s all quite linear, starting in 1983 and ending in the near present. The book really flies by: Some chapters are just a three or four pages long. Some aren’t even a full page. All the while, Koch focuses on his mantras about doing what you believe in, focusing on quality, the value of experimentation, and making do with as little as possible. A lot of it is standard business/management/go-get-’em sentiments, but all of it is still good advice.

Throughout, Koch offers anecdotes about what he knows about beermaking, plus gossip about the beer industry at large. Did you know that German beers exported to the U.S. had sugar in them (at least at once)? That Sam Adams could have ended up with the name of Sacred Cod?

If you’re a businessperson or aspiring entrepreneur who enjoys beer, Quench Your Own Thirst will be right up your alley. Hell, you don’t even need to like beer that much — the stories from the trenches are fairly universal. If, however, you’re a beer fan looking to better understand what goes into what it is you’re drinking, I would probably suggest a more general tome on the topic over Koch’s memoir.