The Experts Speak: My Wine Is a Winner

wine

Some eight years ago I received the craziest gadget I’ve yet to review: The WinePod, a giant urn that helps home winemakers craft their own vino. I ended up spending six months fermenting grapes, aging the wine in oak, and bottling it, and chronicled the process in a six-part series for Wired.

For years the wine (four cases were produced) has sat in my cellar, occasionally cracked open for kicks or given away as a gift. This year I finally got the idea to see what the pros thought about it, and I entered the wine into my local Marin County Fair.

The results: A blue ribbon, first place for winemaking in the “Cabernet Sauvignon, 2010 or older” category. The big ribbon came complete with tasting notes: “Great balance of fruit, acid and tannin. Very well made. I really like it. Commercial quality.” Another critic said: “Very nice. Smooth, balanced, nice fruit to tannin ratio. Slight eucalyptus.”

Eucalyptus, folks!

Anyway, that’s a long way around of patting myself on the back, and giving serious praise to the WinePod. The WinePod never became a massive success, but it is still being sold — I’d love to see more folks experiment with it. Here’s a toast to the WinePod and a strong vote for its revival!

Review: Dark Corner Distillery World’s Best Moonshine and Whiskey Girl Flavored Whiskeys

WG_ProductPages_3_Peach-1024x698

Dark Corner Distillery in Greenville, South Carolina is the home of a number of youthful whiskey products, including an unaged moonshine and a series of flavored whiskeys bottled under the Whiskey Girl (aka Whiskeygirl) brand. All of this is distilled and bottled at Dark Corner’s Greenville operation.

Four reviews — the aforementioned moonshine and three flavored whiskeys — follow.

Dark Corner Distillery The World’s Best Moonshine – The “corn whiskey” moniker on the label doesn’t tell the whole story; this clear spirit is made from a mash of corn, red wheat, and barley. The nose is both rubbery and corny, classically moonshine — which is to say, not all that compelling. The body is lightly sweet but with plenty of popcorn, with a racy but not fiery finish that is shaded with black pepper, cinnamon, and ample hospital character. “World’s best” may be pushing it. 100 proof. B- / $32

Dark Corner Distillery Whiskey Girl Peach Flavored Whiskey – This (along with the following two reviews) is naturally flavored corn whiskey; I presume the whiskey is unaged (though this is not specified by the company) and that the color is derived from caramel or other flavoring agents. It’s oozing with peach candy notes, both fruity and sweet on the nose in equal proportions — plus a little milk chocolate, too. The body however is downright overloaded with sweetness, punchy with candy notes melting onto the tongue. It’s a peach-heavy spirit as promised (with no whiskey notes to be found), and it’s pleasant enough at first, but the finish is rubbery and lingers for far too long. 70 proof. C- / $28

Dark Corner Distillery Whiskey Girl Apple & Maple Flavored Whiskey – The nose is indistinct, neither particularly apple nor maple but rather just vaguely fruit-syrupy. The maple syrup notes break through first, hitting the palate like Sunday morning. On the tongue, apple is more elusive, but there if you hunt for it in the form of baked apple crisp, complete with cinnamon and crumbly crust. It’s hardly a nuanced product, but I can see this being a big hit at dollar shot night. The lower abv helps. 60 proof. B / $28

Dark Corner Distillery Whiskey Girl Butterscotch Flavored Whiskey – I saved the most brazenly candylike product for last, and for good reason — it’s a sugar-coated monster from start to finish. I’m unclear how butterscotch is created with “all natural ingredients,” but I’m not sure the answer really matters. The end product here is overpowered with weird chemical flavors, hospital notes, and an intensely sweet, syrupy, funky finish. The furthest thing from “whiskey” I can imagine. 70 proof. D / $28

darkcornerdistillery.com

Tasting the Pinots of Emeritus Vineyards, 2013 Vintage

Emeritus HR

Emeritus began in 1999 when the irascible Brice Cutrer Jones, founder of Sonoma-Cutrer, bought a coveted 115-acre apple orchard in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley. Apples went out. Pinot noir grapes went in. The goal: Craft an all-estate-grown Burgundy-style wine “from scratch,” its grapes carefully dry-farmed for maximum flavor extraction — and to actually showcase the terroir of California. (This vineyard is said to be the largest dry-farmed vineyard in California.)

Today Emeritus spans three small vineyards (two in the Sonoma Coast), with each responsible for producing a single-vineyard pinot noir. Today a small group of writers sat down (via a web chat) with Jones and his daughter and partner Mari Jones to step through the three latest bottlings of Emeritus pinot, all 2013 vintage releases, and listen to Jones extol the benefits of dry farming… and rail against the commercial winemaking practices of the Napa Valley.

Thoughts on each of these wines follow.

2013 Emeritus Vineyards Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Pinot Hill Vineyard – The newest vineyard, about 30 acres on the northern end of the Wind Gap, planted in 2008 (before that it was a llama farm). Distinctly Burgundy style, with notes of bacon and pepper on the nose. The body is loaded with fruit, gentle raspberry and cherry notes, plus notes of tea leaf. The conclusion is gentle and easy, with light wood notes. A quiet nod to the Cote de Nuits. B+ / $55

2013 Emeritus Vineyards Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Hallberg Ranch Vineyard – Sourced from the original 115-acre vineyard discussed above. Brighter, more acidic, and with a clearer, though not overblown, fruit character. It’s a departure from the ultra-jammy style that’s typical of the Russian River, with a smattering of savory spices, and a finish that evokes crisp red apple notes. Really gorgeous, elegant, and fresh, it’s easy-drinking and light on its fight… but loaded with a depth of flavor that merits considerable thought. Definitively not your daddy’s RRV pinot. A / $42

2013 Emeritus Vineyards Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast William Wesley Vineyard – Sourced from a high-elevation vineyard, a 30-acre plot that was originally a partnership with Aubert de Villaine, the proprietor of Domaine Romanée-Conti. De Villaine eventually backed out of the project, but the finished product nonetheless has some of his DNA. It’s heavily Burgundian in style, brooding on the nose with wet earth and some, big meaty notes, and tempered with touches of spearmint. There’s a density on the palate, loaded with notes of licorice, blackberry bramble, and some tar, which combines to make for a quite heavy pinot that might even be mistaken for syrah at times. That’s not a slight. Brice thinks of this as his winery’s “grand cru” bottling… and he’s not wrong in that descriptor. A- / $67

emeritusvineyards.com

Review: 2014 Treana Blanc

 

treana

Treana, from Hope Family Wines, is an iconic California red blend. Now comes Treana Blanc, a white blend to follow in its footsteps. Made from 45% viognier, 45% marsanne, and 10% roussanne, it carries a Central Coast appellation. This is the second vintage for the wine, which offers a slightly different blend than the original 2013 (which had no roussanne).

Very much Rhone-like in composition, the wine shows an aromatic nose of white flowers, buttered popcorn, and plenty of peaches. Those viognier-driven notes are more muted on the palate, letting more buttery-oaky notes come through, something like a traditional chardonnay. That body is a bit at odds with the racier and more fragrant nose, but somehow the overall construction seems to work fairly well — with the aromatics making a brief reprise on the finish. Worth tasting.

B+ / $24 / hopefamilywines.com

Review: Templeton Rye 6 Years Old

templeton 6 years old

It’s hard to believe that Templeton Rye first arrived on the scene 10 years ago (to generally wide acclaim, including from yours truly) — and it’s taken 10 years for the company to release its second expression, Templeton Rye 6 Years Old.

Templeton has been in the news of late, caught up in the backlash against folks who use terms like “small batch” and, in Templeton’s case, “Prohibition Era recipe” on the label. The problem, of course, is that Templeton is actually made in Indiana, not Iowa, by MGP. As part of the settlement terms, customers who bought Templeton bottles can get a few bucks by way of a refund, and Templeton doesn’t get to use its Prohibition or Small Batch taglines any more.

Anyway, Templeton Rye 6 Years Old is a limited edition, higher proof, age-statemented version of Templeton — still 95% rye, 5% barley. Though Templeton is building a distillery in Iowa, this is still MGP juice, but it now carries the new Templeton tagline: “The Good Stuff.”

As for Templeton 6, it’s good enough, though given the phalanx of top-shelf ryes that have emerged since Templeton first hit the scene in 2006, it’s not exactly a scene stealer. The nose is loaded with sweetness — butterscotch, creme brulee, lots of sugar, with some vegetal, carrot-like hints lingering in the background. If the nose is loaded with sugar, the body is damn near overloaded with it at first, offering notes of cake frosting, more butterscotch, and candy corn notes. This is tempered by some notes of scorched lumber, pencil lead, and a finish that is surprisingly bitter, with additional notes of burnt rubber. The conclusion is quite drying, at times uncomfortably so.

The slow swing from sweet to quite bitter takes some time, and offers more complexity and curiosity than you might think, though on the whole it doesn’t exactly reinvent (or do much to elevate) the category.

91.5 proof.

B / $50 / templetonrye.com

Review: Creyente Mezcal Joven

Creyente_v6_F

This new joven mezcal is a blend of two 100% Espadin agave mezcals from different regions of Oaxaca (Tlacolula and Yautepec). It’s fitting, because the product is a parternship of two longtime mezcaleros – Pedro Mateo and Mijail Zarate – who have tinkered with classical distillation processes to come up with Creyente (Spanish for “believer”). Per the press release: “In separate distilleries, they begin by removing the pencas (leaves) and roasting the piñas (hearts) using an artisanal method with mesquite wood in a horno cónico de pierdra (stone oven) for three days. The roasted piñas are ground by hand using a molino de piedra (stone mill) to extract their succulent syrups, fermented in wooden barrels, then distilled in small copper stills. Finally, following distillation, the two mezcals are cut with natural spring water, blended with each other, and together they become Creyente.”

The crystal clear Creyente offers a classically smoky nose, studded with notes of lemon zest, black pepper, and overripe fruit. On the palate, more smoke leads to a relatively fruit-heavy body, lightly oily with notes of black pepper, furniture polish, and sweetened cereal. The finish sticks to the palate (and the ribs), with overtones of petrol, licorice, and smoky forest fire. Altogether it’s a rather classic, and surprisingly straightforward, mezcal, despite it’s unorthodox production.

80 proof.

B+ / $50 / no website

Review: Kilchoman Loch Gorm 2016

kilchoman loch gorm

It’s round five for Kilchoman’s Loch Gorm (somehow a fourth release seems to have snuck in between the 2015 and 2016 releases), which continues to show itself as a hit and miss whiskey. This year’s edition has spend six years in Oloroso sherry butts.

2016’s release is not my favorite of the bunch, by a long shot. This year’s Loch Gorm is pure peat on the nose, with a rather sickly sweet underbelly. The body exudes a somewhat cacophonous character, with notes of seaweed, camphor, and pickle juice atop the heavily smoked palate. The sherry element is all but lost in the shuffle, though some orange peel notes finally manage to break through with some air exposure and, especially, as the finish starts to develop. Said finish keeps things closer to the shore on the whole though, with an umami-laden seaweed note to finish things off.

92 proof.

B- / $100 / kilchomandistillery.com