Review: Wines of Sokol Blosser, 2016 Releases

sokol blosser

Oregon’s Sokol Blosser is out with a panoply of new releases, ranging from sparkling stuff to single-block pinot noir.

Let’s taste the lot.

NV Sokol Blosser Evolution Sparkling Wine – An everyday brut sparkler made from grapes unknown, but which goes down without a fight. Notes of nuts and brioche on the nose lead to a very fruit-forward body, loaded with fizzy apple, apricot, and white grape notes. Party wine. B+ / $20

2014 Sokol Blosser Pinot Gris Willamette Valley – Stellar pinot gris, with tropical notes on the nose and melon on the body. They come together with bright acidity, modest sweetness, and a bit of exotic baking spice on the back end. Quaffable by the glassful, but also thought-provoking on its merits. A / $18

2013 Sokol Blosser Pinot Noir Estate Dundee Hills – Not my favorite release from Sokol Blosser, a meaty and somewhat astringent expression that offers dusky notes of Vienna sausages, old cloves, spent wood, and brambly thickets. The fruit is stamped down, almost into oblivion, which is not the usual way Sokol Blosser’s pinot behaves. C+ / $30

2012 Sokol Blosser Pinot Noir Estate Dundee Hills Goosepen Block – A single-block designate of Sokol Blosser’s estate pinot, only 300 cases made. (Note that this is a prior vintage, too.) Here we see Sokol Blosser firing on all cylinders. The nose offers chocolate, raspberry jam, and tea leaf. On the palate, light notes of grilled meats segue into notes of darker fruits, more milk chocolate, and a lightly bittersweet finish. Quite a departure from the previous wine, and a massive upgrade. A- / $65

sokolblosser.com

Review: Wines of La Crema, 2016 Releases

La Crema 2014 Virtuoso Pinot NoirToday we look at three new releases from Sonoma-based La Crema, including the kooky Virtuoso Pinot Noir. Virtuoso is the result of a crowdsourced winemaking experiment, in which 25,000 “virtual vintners” put their input into what type of wine La Crema would make (Russian River Pinot won), what type of yeast would be used (wild), how long the wine would spend in barrel (9 months), and more. Majority ruled, and La Crema made it to the crowd’s specifications. Did the wisdom of crowds prove better than the wisdom of a trained winemaker? Let’s find out!

2014 La Crema Pinot Gris Monterey – A fruity yet brisk and fun pinot gris, this wine offers lush apple notes with a smattering of tropical and citrus fruits, showing some melon notes on the finish. Ample acidity gives the wine a freshness that cuts through any lingering sweetness, wrapping things up on a light and vibrant note. A- / $15

2013 La Crema Chardonnay Monterey – A pedestrian chardonnay, some curious lemon notes are about all that give it structure outside of a moderately wood-driven, slightly chalky and gravelly expression of this grape. The vanilla on the finish is reminiscent of cake frosting more than anything else. B- / $20

2014 La Crema Virtuoso Pinot Noir Russian River Valley – Let’s see if the crowd knew what it was doing. Virtuoso is initially quite restrained for a Russian River pinot, with blackberry preserves, black tea, and mild chocolate notes. The wine is modest of body, almost thin at times, with a short — but nicely bittersweet — finish. Otherwise, it’s not terribly remarkable — perfectly acceptable with a meal, but on its own it feels a little lost in the shuffle. B+ / $50

lacrema.com

Review: Angostura White Oak, 5 Years Old, 7 Years Old, 1919, and 1824 Rums

ango

 

While best known for its ubiquitous aromatic bitters, Angostura is a major rum distillery, and it’s been producing spirits in Trinidad & Tobago since 1824.

We tasted five rums spanning a wide range of production from the company. All are 80 proof, with comments on each below. Enjoy!

Angostura White Oak Rum – You’ll find “Angostura Limited” in small type underneath the much larger White Oak banner. This white rum (barrel aged and filtered to white, though no age information is offered) is the number one selling rum in its homeland of Trinidad, and it’s easy to see why. Fresh citrus is prominent on the nose, with crisp lime notes. The palate lacks the raw character that so many white rums exhibit, hitting the tongue with spice and some gentle notes of canned peaches in syrup. The finish is lackluster, flabby, with notes of acetone — but what white rum is a dazzler, anyway? Not widely exported to the U.S., but bottles do show up from time to time. B+ / $15

Angostura Caribbean Rum 5 Years Old – A gold rum with five years of age on it. Caramel and cinnamon on the nose give this a bit of a cinnamon roll character, though the buttery body brings the spice on more strongly — think red hot candies instead of cinnamon toast. The finish is heavier with clove character and lengthy brown butter, but recalls a bit of youthful petrol character as it fades out. All told, it’s a solid though youngish bottling. B+ / $18

Angostura Caribbean Rum 7 Years Old – Though only two years older, this rum is significantly darker in the glass and richer on the nose — with notes of coffee, dense vanilla, and chocolate right up front. These sweet notes lead to a nutty, toffee character as the finish builds, taking you to a big and bold conclusion that offers hints of baking spice while it lingers for quite a while. An impressive sipper, it’s a bold spirit that showcases all the best characteristics of rum at this age level. A / $20

Angostura Caribbean Rum 1919 – This golden-hued rum offers no aging information but it makes up for that with a hugely spicy profile. If you’re a fan of spiced rum, Angostura 1919 will be right up your alley. Toasted coconut, huge vanilla notes, dark brown sugar, cinnamon, and allspice are all present and accounted for — and in a stronger show of force than your typical aged rum. Everything in 1919 seems pumped up to 11, with that unctuous butteriness just oozing on the finish. All told it’s an impressive rum — provided its stylistic flourishes are what you’re looking for. A- / $30

Angostura Caribbean Rum 1824 12 Years Old – A blend of clearly well-aged rums, though unlike the 1919, this one offers an age statement on the bottle. As with the 7 year old, notes of coffee and chocolate are immediately present on the nose, with spicy tobacco notes underneath. The body is intense with those coffee notes, rounded out with roasted nuts, vanilla, and sweet milk chocolate. A classic, well-aged rum, the lengthy finish makes for a perfect late-night sipper, but it works just as well as the key ingredient to spike your favorite rum punch. A / $60

angosturarum.com

Review: NV Sandeman Founders Reserve Porto (2016)

Sandeman founders reserveHere’s a fresh look at Sandeman’s widely-available nonvintage Ruby Port, which is sold in the squat bottles labeled Founders Reserve. (We last reviewed it in 2012.)

It’s a rather alcohol-forward Port, which dulls the raisiny core more than a bit with some hospital character. Secondary notes of weak tea, rhubarb, and caramel sauce find an unhappy hanger-on on the form of some canned vegetable notes that linger on both the nose and the finish, dulling this wine’s impact.

B- / $15 / sandeman.com

Tasting Report: Wines of Alpha Omega

I’ve been a fan of Alpha Omega — especially its white wines — for years (the entire operation isn’t quite 10 years old), and have always wondered why I never see these wines at stores or on wine lists. Mystery resolved: During a recent visit to this hot winery, our host informed us that 90 percent of the winery’s production goes direct to consumers, either through the tasting room or the wine club.

During our visit, we tasted through a range of Alpha Omega’s current releases. Thoughts follow.

2013 Alpha Omega Sauvignon Blanc – Beautiful tropical notes here, lemon and figs. Lots of aromatics alongside a stony slate character. Great balance. A- / $40

2014 Alpha Omega Chardonnay Unoaked 2013 – Unoaked, gentle and elegant. Fresh apples and a touch of citrus make this easy to drink. A- / $44

2013 Alpha Omega Chardonnay – The oaked version of the above (30% new oak, with light/medium toast), born from the Newton pedigree of AO’s winemaker. A touch of mint works nicely with the vanilla here, but the overall impact is one of restraint, with surprising acidity on the finish. A- / $72

2014 Alpha Omega Pinot Noir Russian River Hop Kiln – Dense pinot, with dark cherry and red fruit notes. Fairly closed off at this point. B / $86

2012 Alpha Omega Proprietary Red – 61% cabernet sauvignon, 32% merlot, 7% cabernet franc. Big chocolate and salted caramel notes here, with touches of licorice. Some sweetness and cinnamon on the finish. B+ / $96

2012 Alpha Omega Cabernet Sauvignon – Blended with 5% petit verdot. Major density here, with tobacco, red fruits, and blackberry. Chocolate hits on the lengthy finish. A- / $96

2013 Alpha Omega Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer Missouri Hopper Oakville – A single vineyard, 100% cabernet bottling, one of the components of AO’s top-shelf Era bottling. Big meaty notes of bacon and beef jerky, dense as hell, showcasing mixed herbs and tight tannins. Give this one lots of time. A- / $NA

2013 Alpha Omega Petit Verdot & Cab Franc – Curious name but see if you can guess what’s in this one? (52% petit verdot, 48% cabernet franc.) Starts off a bit shut down, but it slowly opens to reveal gentle strawberry and black tea notes. Exotic but enchanting. A- / $98

aowinery.com

Book Review: Cocktail Noir

81WLf9Dx3OLNovelty cocktail books are a dime a dozen, but Scott Deitche’s focus on the drinks of private eyes, gangsters, and other “in the shadows” types at least offers the promise of something new — of cocktail stories that we haven’t heard many times before.

Alas, this slim tome unfortunately is a bit of a random walk through the world of noir. What did Al Capone like to drink? Where did gangsters hang out in Dallas, Texas? It’s all here, sort of, in ultra-digestible bite-sized chunks, bouncing from one topic to the next without a whole lot of logic involved.

So much of the book is written in abrupt jags that it’s hard to see what Deitche’s point is with any of this. A few paragraphs on GoodFellas comes across like a drunken friend chatting you up with, “Hey, hey… remember in that movie, when they walk through the restaurant and sit down in the lounge? That was cool.”

Deitche isn’t a cocktail/spirits writer — he mainly covers organized crime — but numerous noir-inspired recipes are included as sidebars, though none are anything you won’t likely have seen before. If you want to figure out how to stock your home bar like a gangster, well, Deitche has you covered there, too. Turns out it looks a lot like the back bar of my local dive. Who knew?

C- / $16 /  [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Review: Black Bottle Blended Scotch Whisky (2016)

blackbottle

Back in the day (at least in the late 20th century), Black Bottle was the go-to blended whisky for peat freaks. In fact, at the time it was said to be made from stock sourced from almost every Islay-based distillery. But Black Bottle has a lengthy history — the brand actually dates back to 1879, when it was originated by a tea blender named Gordon Graham.

Black Bottle faded away in the last decade (the recipe reportedly changed considerably)… until 2013, when the brand was relaunched.

The new Black Bottle is made from just four single malts (plus presumably a grain whisky or two, as this is not a blended malt), and I’d be surprised if more than one of them is from anywhere close to Islay.

The deep amber color of the whisky is quite inviting, as is the nose, which features attractive, if muted, notes of green apple, unripe banana, sherried orange peel, and roasted nuts. Some wisps of chimney smoke emerge here, but they aren’t the focus of the spirit.

The palate is surprisingly full bodied, but mostly typical of blended Scotch. Citrus melds with almond and nougat notes up front, melding into a pleasantly dessert-like character. As the palate builds, chocolate and vanilla notes emerge, with curiously exotic spice notes coming on as the finish starts to build. Those smoky elements finally make a comeback here, but they’re cut with sweetness to the point where I think even a total peat hater would find it palatable. It’s a real jack of all trades, master of none.

Let’s be absolutely clear that this Black Bottle has virtually nothing in common (except, well, a black bottle) with the Black Bottle of yesteryear, so don’t come crying to me that “it’s just not like it used to be.” No, it’s not. It’s a totally different whisky. If you want a peaty blend, you can find those, too. But for what the new Black Bottle aspires to be — a very affordable blend that is easy to sip on, mix with, or otherwise keep around the house — it gets the job done.

80 proof.

B+ / $20 / blackbottle.com

Review: NV Leer Vineyards Heroic Red

heroic winesLeer Vineyards is an operation based in Contra Costa County, California, and among their hefty production is this bottling — Heroic Red — a nonvintage blend the proceeds of which partly go to supporting combat-wounded veterans by funding home purchases. (Leer also makes other wines with charitable goals.)

The blend is 58% Syrah, 29% Merlot, and 13% Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine offers thick, almost jammy, fruit notes, with strong blackberry and blueberry elements plus a dollop of smoke driven by the syrah. Tea leaf, coffee, and milk chocolate are all secondary notes, alongside a finish of currants. Altogether it’s a standard midgrade blend that you’d expect from this region, but it’s all kept in reasonable balance and offers a fairly brisk, tart finish.

B- / $24 / leervineyards.com

Review: Glenmorangie Milsean

Glenmorangie Milsean - Bottle shot transparent backgroundThe latest expression in the increasingly convoluted and difficult-to-pronounce Glenmorangie line of Highland single malts is this one: Milsean, Scots Gaelic for “sweet things.” (Pronunciation: meel-shawn.) This is the seventh release in the company’s annually updated Private Release line.

Glenmorangie has long been a massive proponent of wine barrel finishing, and Milsean is no exception. After an initial stint in bourbon barrels, the twist here is that the wine casks (reportedly Portuguese red wine casks) used for finishing the whisky are re-toasted with flames before the spirit goes into them for round two. (Typical finishing casks are left as-is in order to let the wine or other spirit that was once inside mingle with the whisky.) Re-toasting essentially re-caramelizes the wood, along with whatever was once inside.

Milsean’s name is a hint that sweetness is the focus, and the name seems wholly appropriate to this reviewer. The nose is a beaut, featuring pungent florals — the hallmark of Glenmo — mixed with candied fruits, a touch of alcoholic punch, and cinnamon-driven spice. The aroma alone is enchanting and offers plenty to like — but of course there’s more ahead.

On the tongue, Milsean is equally delightful, offering a host of flavors that develop over time. Watch for golden raisins and clementine oranges up front, followed by the essence of creamy creme brulee mixed in with a melange of cinnamon and nutmeg notes. The finish tends to run back to those florals — I get bright white flowers in my mind as the whisky fades — as it evaporates on the palate, leaving behind a crisp brown sugar character — the sweetest moment in this whisky’s life.

Glenmorangie special release expressions can be hit and miss — and often gimmicky — but Milsean is a magic trick that works wonderfully. I don’t hesitate to say that it’s the best expression from this distillery in years. I’d stock up on it.

92 proof.

A / $130 / glenmorangie.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Scotch Malt Whisky Society Casks 39.99 and 95.19

Every year our friends at the SMWS send us a couple of recent releases to sample and enjoy. Some quick thoughts on a couple of nice little indie releases follow.

Scotch Malt Whisky Society Cask 39.99 – Linkwood from Speyside, 23 years in refill (bourbon) hogsheads. Distilled in April 1990. Curious and atypical iodine and seaweed notes hit the nose up front, very strange notes for Speyside whisky. These are backed by notes of grains, cinnamon rolls, mixed nuts, some citrus, and light vanilla. On the palate, this cask strength spirit is surprisingly easy to sip on, offering notes of marzipan, ripe banana, spiced nuts, and a lengthy finish that pours on the flamed citrus oil notes. It’s here where things finally start to get a little racy, the alcohol kicked up a notch as it warms and soothes. It’s not a whisky that feels like it’s got 23 years under its belt, but it’s a very capable sipper nonetheless. 117.8 proof. B+ / $185

Scotch Malt Whisky Society Cask 95.19 – Auchroisk from Speyside, 17 years in refill hogsheads. Distilled in August 1997. Pale straw in color, it seems set up to be mild and youthful. That’s not the case here, as this whisky cuts a shockingly powerful profile. The nose is a bit astringent and hot — though this is hardly a blazer of a spirit. Light medicinal character, savory herbs, incense, and some green bell pepper get things started. I know, that hardly sounds like a recipe for excitement, but stick with me for a bit and take a sip or two. On the palate, the whisky explodes with flavor — caramel collides with spearmint, burnt honey runs with gently fruity notes, including raspberry and hints of strawberry. The finish is hot but offers a denouement of roasted grains and a bit of citrus peel… all of which leaves one with a big question: How is so much flavor packed into such a mild-looking spirit that offers no hints of it on its nose? Answers are far from forthcoming. 106.4 proof. A- / $150

smwsa.com