Review: 2010 Mesa Cantina Buio Buio Isola dei Nurachi IGT

Buio Buio2010 Mesa Cantina Buio Buio Isola dei Nurachi is produced in Sulcis, on the southwestern tip of Sardinia. Produced from 100% carignano (the Italian name for carignane), it’s part of a vanguard of wines from Sulcis that are just now making their way to the U.S. Buio Buio is restrained and almost floral on the nose, but the body is lush with notes of juicy Port, balsamic vinegar, cocoa powder, and cinnamon. The palate stretches on for quite awhile, leading to a slightly sweet and supple finish with modest tannins. Worth exploring.

A- / $25 / cantinamesa.it

Review: Deep Eddy Lemon Vodka

deep eddy lemonI love that Austin-based Deep Eddy makes flavored vodkas that look like flavored vodkas, all bright colors, with nothing to hide. The latest expression, Deep Eddy Lemon, looks like a glass of fresh lemonade, translucent and golden and flecked with just a tiny bit of pulp.

The nose plays it cool. Light, slightly sour-smelling lemon plus a bit of orange — more like Meyer lemon — with hints of a sugar. The body is more tart than I expected based on the gentle aroma, offering a sweet-and-sour kick up front that fades into a sort of brown sugar character as the finish builds. The back end offers more of a classic vodka kicker, slightly astringent and just bold enough to muscle past those brisk lemonade notes, if only for a few seconds.

Think of it as limoncello light and try it with lots of ice and something sparkling (be it soda or Prosecco) on a hot day this summer.

70 proof.

A- / $16 / deepeddyvodka.com

Review: Mahon Gin

Mahon Gin Bottle USAOn the Spanish island of Menorca, they make gin. Have been, since 1708. Also known under the brand name of Xoriguer (say it five times fast), Mahon Gin — aka Gin de Mahon — is one of the only gins in the world (alongside Plymouth Gin) to have a specific geographic designation. “Mahon Gin” will be the worldwide brand name going forward, so look for it under that label.

Gin got its start on this Mediterranean island back when it was a British colony. Given it was a popular waystation for sailors, all the more reason to crank out the juice. Under Spain’s ownership (which became formal in the late 1700s), gin continued to be produced here, and now it’s going global after just 300 years.

Mahon is distilled from grapes in small copper pot stills and is flavored with juniper and other, undisclosed herbs. It is also rested in American oak barrels (neutral, I presume) before bottling.

This is a pretty and very simple gin, but it’s not without some serious charms. The nose is driven by juniper, but not in a heavy-handed way. Fresh pine mingles with some earthier notes — coriander, I’m guessing — plus a slightly soapy character underneath it. On the palate, it’s very gentle, offering more fresh juniper, some lemon peel notes, a touch of sea salt, and some more of those earthier, almost nutty elements, on the back. The finish is clean and just ever so bittersweet, with a slight hint of cinnamon and chocolate lingering on the back of the throat.

That all sounds more complicated than Mahon really is — which is a simple and versatile spirit with lots to recommend about it. Try it in just about any gin-based concoction you can come up with.

82 proof.

A- / $42 (1 liter) / xoriguergin.com

Review: Woodchuck Cheeky Cherry and Gumption Hard Cider

Gumption six pack

It’s time for two new ciders from Vermont-based Woodchuck. Here they are.

Woodchuck Cheeky Cherry Hard Cider – Fresh apple melds with tart, sour cherry notes in this surprisingly balanced cider, which offers nothing unexpected aside from those two simple notes — apple to start, cherry to finish — but which drinks more like a grown-up soda than a typical cider. That said, it’s one of the better ciders I’ve experienced in recent memory thanks to its vibrant fruitiness. 5.5% abv. B+

Woodchuck Gumption Hard Cider – This cider, named in honor of an old-timey drink that P.T. Barnum pushed on his crowds, pairs dry and bittersweet cider apples with fresh apple juice from common “snack apples.” The result is a sweeter cider than most, a fresh-tasting brew that starts with some sweet caramel notes, moves into classic, tart cider character, then finishes with a touch crisp Granny Smith bite. Again, this has a nice balance — but of a much different sort than Cheeky Cherry — offering a kind of tour of the apple universe and a pleasantly summery finish. 5.5% abv. A-

each $9 per six-pack / woodchuck.com

Review: MarkThomas Double Bend MT Selection Glassware

markthomasAustria’s MarkThomas is bringing its ultra-luxe line of hand-blown stemware to the U.S. If you’ve got a taste for quirky designs and exceptionally high prices, well, maybe it’s for you.

The Double Bend collection is defined by, well, the double bend in the bowl of each glass. Rather than curve inward gradually, the glasses just out then back in sharply, making for a sort of double trapezoidal design. (The picture will explain this much better than I can.) Whether this is to your liking or not is going to be a matter of individual taste, but the idea is that the point of the bend is where you are supposed to fill the glass to. I found the glasses a bit homely, but others thought they were modern and stylish.

Either way, they perform admirably. They’re light as a feather but feature big bowls and razor-thin walls. The larger red wine glass worked beautifully with numerous wines, really concentrating the aromas in the center while remaining easy enough to drink out of. I also worked with the beer glass, but found I preferred a little more heft in my beer glassware, particularly given that beer glasses are filled much fuller.

The glasses feel as fragile as could be, and I consider it a minor miracle that I didn’t break one during my week of testing. I’d happily sip from them again… provided I could scrape together a grand to set up a 12-piece collection.

A- / $65 to $85 per glass / markthomas.at

Review: 2010 Tenuta di Arceno Il Fauno di Arcanum Toscana IGT

il fauno di Arcanum Bottle ShotThis Tuscan winery is owned by the enormous Jackson Family of Wines operation, and it’s only the company’s second Italian brand under its umbrella. Tenuta di Arceno’s Il Fauno di Arcanum bottling (not the same as Arcanum) is a Bordeaux-style blend of 56% merlot, 23% cabernet franc, 20% cabernet sauvignon, and 1% petit verdot.

It’s a complex little number, with a nose that kicks off some menthol, dense wood, licorice, and a touch of coal. On the body, more fruit comes through — though restraint is the name of the game — as notes of blackberry and currant emerge, plus a backbone of dark chocolate and a bit of coffee grounds. Some fresh tobacco leaf pops in on the finish. A restrained wine, but one with a lot of charm.

A- / $30 / arcanumwine.com

Tasting the Brunellos of Col d’Orcia with Count Francesco Marone Cinzano

023

I don’t know about you, but it’s not every day I get to have lunch with an honest to god Count. Frenceso Marone Cinzano runs the show at Col d’Orcia, where he has produced Brunello di Montalcino (amongst a number of other wines) since 1992. (His family has owned the estate since 1973.)

Cinzano visited San Francisco for a classically Italian lunch recently and he brought along a number of his wines, all made with estate fruit, dating back to 2001. Thoughts follow.

2012 Col d’Orcia Rosso di Montalcino DOC – Very herbal on the nose, fresh cherries and some balsamic notes. Dense tannins emerge with woody notes. Rosemary and some bitter edges hit the finish. B / $25

2010 Col d’Orcia Brunello di Montalcino DOCG – Just released. This is much more lush and fruity, with a light body and a nice structure. Some black pepper notes amidst all the red berries. A- / $55

0222006 Col d’Orcia Brunello di Montalcino Riserva “Poggio al Vento” DOCG – Densely earthy with cassis and bay leaf notes. Long finish provides florals and rocky, earthy elements. Slight muddiness in the body with time in glass. A- / $150

2004 Col d’Orcia Brunello di Montalcino Riserva “Poggio al Vento” DOCG – Sweeter and fruitier on the nose, with some tropical and even coconut notes showing. Tart raspberry character is matched by smoky, leathery notes on the finish. A- / $150

2001 Col d’Orcia Brunello di Montalcino Riserva “Poggio al Vento” DOCG – An exceptional wine. Perfect balance of fruit and earth, with dense cassis and blueberry really enveloping the wine. The finish is epic, with light herbs, blackberries, and no end in sight to the opulence. Fantastic from start to finish. A+ / $160

2010 Col d’Orcia “Nearco” Sant’Antimo DOC – A blend of 50% merlot, 30% cabernet sauvignon, 15% syrah, and 5% petit verdot. Lots of density here, with chocolate, licorice, and a woody finish. B+ / $45

2009 Col d’Orcia “Olmaia” Sant’Antimo DOC – 100% cabernet sauvignon. Fresh herbs — sage and thyme — with lots of dark fruit notes. Currants and vanilla galore nudge this toward a California style. A- / $77

 

coldorcia.com

024

Review: Amaro Montenegro

montenegroMade in Bologna, Italy, Montenegro (“the liquor of the virtues”) dates back to 1885. Amaro Montenegro is on the sweeter side of amari, with a character that folds lots of citrus, spearmint, honey, and licorice into its classic, bittersweet body. Light on its feet, it offers lightly salted caramel up front, then moves toward some subtle Madeira notes and a bit of root beer character on the finish.

Montenegro is widely considered one of the gentlest amari, and its light color and up-front sweetness bear that out. But Montenegro does have a bracing edge that showcases its bitterness well, making for a classic, cohesive amaro.

46 proof.

A- / $27 / totalbeveragesolution.com

Review: 2013 The Federalist Zinfandel Lodi

federalistAh, at last — a Zinfandel with balance! This lively blend starts with red berries and some cherry notes, then pushes into some notes of tea leaf, cinnamon, and touches of blueberry. Nice balance, with pleasant acidity and some oakiness on the back end. Very easy drinking on its own, and it pairs beautifully with food — something few Zinfandels can lay claim to. A great bargain, to boot.

A- / $14 / terlatowines.com

Tasting the Wines of Gerard Bertrand, 2015 Releases

008

Gerard Bertrand is a producer in the Roussillon region of France… just next door to the Languedoc, nestled between the Pyrennes mountains (and Spain) and the Mediterranean Sea. But Gerard Bertrand is also a man, an imposing Frenchman who was eye to eye with me at a solid 6’4″ and with the uncanny resemblance of Vincent Cassel. But rather than screaming at ballerinas to “Attack it!” Bertrand makes a number of highly regarded wines (dozens of them) in his mountain commune. He’s also written a book about it: Wine, Moon and Stars, where he talks about biodynamics and a life in winemaking in the south of France. We recently had lunch in San Francisco to talk about the book and taste his wines, both new and (very) old. Thoughts on Betrand’s latest wines follow.

NV Gerard Bertrand Code Rouge Cremant de Limoux AOP – A stellar sparkler that is not rouge at all but rather blanc, very fresh, lively, and bright, with notes of apples, some pears, and toffee. A- / $27

2012 Gerard Bertrand Cigalus Blanc Aude Hauterive IGP – A blend of chardonnay/viognier/sauvignon blanc. Bold and gold in color, it offers honey and mint notes with some almost bready notes on the palate. Food friendly, with an herbal kick and some notes of furniture polish on the nose. B / $36

2014 Gerard Bertrand Chateau La Sauvageonne GMVV Rose Coteaux du Languedoc AOP – Grenache/mourvedre/viognier/vermentino. An interesting rose, with a mild nose and notes of grapefruit, lime zest, and candied flower petals. Some herbal character emerges alongside the slightly chalky finish. B+ / $20

2012 Gerard Bertrand Clos d’Ora Minervois La Liviniere AOP – A new release. A Rhone-ish blend of syrah, grenache, mourvedre, and carignan. A wine designed to “deliver a mission of peace, love, and harmony.” That’s effective, given this wine’s lovely nose of violets and caramel, and youthful body that exhibits floral notes, and some coconut and chocolate in the finish. Mineral notes perk up with air, too. A- / $NA

0121951 Gerard Bertrand Legend Vintage Banyuls Rivesaltes AOP – Gorgeous old Banyuls, dessert wine made of 100% grenache. Lovely port notes have mellowed into a glorious blend of raisin and fig, chocolate and nuts in perfect harmony. At once gentle, elegent, and rich with dense dessert flavors. A knockout. A+ / $165

I also brought some wines home for tasting later…

2014 Gerard Bertrand Cote des Roses – A grenache/cinsault/syrah rose blend. Very fresh and, indeed, floral, with notes of strawberries, peaches, rose petals, and a significant tropical influence. Significant acidity keeps things lively on the palate, but also fruit forward. Brisk and fragrant, quite summery. Note the bottle, the base of which is cast into the impression of a full rose flower. Cute. B+ / $15

2014 Gerard Bertrand Gris Blanc – A rose blend of grenache gris and grenache noir, a very pale, light-bodied wine with overtones of fresh herbs, white flowers, and light tropical elements. Very fresh and fragrant, it’s a classic summer rose through and through. B+ / $16

2011 Gerard Bertrand Grand Terroir Tautavel – A blend of grenache/syrah/carignan. Herbal, with overtones of roasted meats on the nose, with touches of licorice and raspberry jam. The body gets going with restrained fruit and some fresh thyme and rosemary, but the fruit becomes more prominent as it gets some air. Ultimately it’s quite lively, with touches of vanilla and coconut, more of that thyme, and a slightly smoky, leathery back end. Let this one breathe a bit and its depth will surprise you. A- / $15

gerard-bertrand.com