Review: Adler Fels 2015 Chardonnay and 2014 Pinot Noir

Adler Fels is an old California wine brand that, 35 years after its original launch, has rebranded and relaunched with a “renewed commitment to innovative and world-class winemaking and premium sourcing.” From its home in the Mayacamas Mountains, the winery has dropped two releases for the new year, a chardonnay and a pinot noir, both sourced from dual locations. Details — and thoughts — follow.

2015 Adler Fels The Eagle Rock Chardonnay – A 50-50 blend of Sonoma and Monterey County fruit. Light vanilla notes meld well with notes of apples and pears. While the palate continues to develop more brown butter notes, the wine manages to stay light on its feet thanks to a slight acidity that tempers the back end, ensuring it finishes on the crisp and clean side. A- / $20

2014 Adler Fels The Eagle Rock Pinot Noir – 76% Santa Barbara County fruit, 26% Sonoma fruit. A soft and lightly aromatic pinot, gentle with cherries and laced just so with tobacco, vanilla, and dried blueberries. Fresh and lively, it offers plenty of flavor without getting bogged down in a gummy mess. The lightly bittersweet finish gives it depth without blowing out what is otherwise an elegant, lightly herbal denouement. A / $28

adlerfels.com

Tempranillo Roundup (2016 Releases): Vara, Bodegas Paso Robles, Castoro, Berryessa Gap, Matchbook, Becker Vineyards

Tempranillo is the star of Spain’s Rioja region, but it is also grown internationally, including right here in the U.S. Today we look at six tempranillo wines from five different regions to see how terroir can affect the wine — though you’ll note that many are blended with other grapes, with graciano particularly popular. (Graciano is another Rioja native that is commonly blended into tempranillo wines around the world.)

While you consider the importance of graciano from a viticultural perspective, sip on one of these…

2013 (Lot #013) Vara Tinto Especial Tempranillo – From the Santa Maria Valley. 75% tempranillo, 13% grenache, 9% syrah, 3% graciano. From the color alone, it’s a thin wine, extremely so. There are interesting notes on the palate, though, including red berries which meld with brisk orange zest, notes of sandalwood, and just a touch of currants on the back end. As summery a red wine as you’ll find. Sorry that it’s December. B+ / $12

2009 Bodegas Paso Robles Solea Central Coast – Despite the name of the winery, this is a Central Coast bottling. 86% tempranillo, 14% graciano. A lush wine, loaded up with a big and juicy currant character, with lighter notes of licorice and cloves backing up the heavy fruit up front. The finish seems plum and some orange peel notes, the latter particularly giving the wine a bit of a lift. Well done. A- / $35

2014 Castoro Cellars Tempranillo Whale Rock Vineyard – From Paso Robles. A mainstream wine, with big notes of plums and ripe cherries, the lush body leads to a berry-scented finish that hangs on the palate for quite awhile. Some tannin is evident, with a touch of balsamic detectable, but the finish remains heavy on the fruit. B+ / $30

2014 Berryessa Gap Tempranillo – From Yolo County. This is a drier style of tempranillo, a bit dusty, its mild berry core coated with notes of licorice and clove oil. Some olive notes and dried plum notes add intrigue, but a slightly sour edge calls out for a robust food pairing. B- / $18

2012 Matchbook Tempranillo Dunnigan Hills – 84% tempranillo, 8% graciano, 8% petit verdot. Another Yolo County wine, this one showcasing a bigger body and a bit more fruit — heavy with raspberry and strawberry particularly. Balsamic notes are the connecting thread between the two wines, though here they make a stronger showing, particularly late in the game. There’s also a candy licorice (not at all salty or bitter) on the finish. Again, the wine shows how food-friendly tempranillo can be. B / $15

2013 Becker Vineyards Tempranillo Reserve Texas – While no one was looking, Texas has become a hotbed of tempranillo production. This Hill Country producer’s is unorthodox and stands apart from the rest of the wines in this roundup thanks to significant brown sugar, cinnamon, and brown butter notes, which give the wine a lightness and liveliness that the other wines in the field don’t have. That’s a good and a bad thing, as it makes for a somewhat less “serious” wine that lacks body and offers a gummy yet thin finish, but it does show a whole other side of the grape. C / $25

Review: Expresiones del Corazon Barrel-Aged Tequila (Blanco, Buffalo Trace Reposado, Thomas Handy Anejo & Old Rip Van Winkle Anejo) 2016

For a few years now, Corazón Tequila has been releasing special, limited editions of its tequila under the name Expresiones del Corazón. The idea? Age tequila in barrels that used to hold some of the most prized whiskeys from Buffalo Trace Distillery. This year’s release includes the usual blanco, plus tequilas aged in Buffalo Trace, Thomas H. Handy Sazerac (new to the lineup), and Old Rip Van Winkle barrels. (To compare, check out the 2015 and 2013 releases of these tequilas.)

All are 80 proof.

Expresiones del Corazon Artisanal Edition Small-Batch Distilled Blanco – Unaged tequila (rested for 60 days in stainless steel), this is the base for what’s in the barrel-aged expressions that follow. The nose offers gentle herbs along with a detectable sweetness, plus notes of white pepper and lemon peel, a fairly complex introduction. On the palate, lemon-dusted sugar kicks things off, backed by notes of light agave and some forest floor character. It’s a blanco that’s on the soft side, but it’s also lively, sweet, and quite harmonious. On the whole, it’s a fresh and versatile blanco that comes together well without overly complicating the formula. B+ / $60

Expresiones del Corazon Buffalo Trace Reposado – Aged 10 and-a-half months in Buffalo Trace bourbon barrels. Light and fragrant on the nose, with some butterscotch and ample vanilla notes. The body is also quite light considering the time spent in barrel, but pleasantly laced with milk chocolate and vanilla caramel before notes of black pepper and gentle agave make their way to the fore. The finish has a bit more oomph than in previous years, making this the best expression of the Buffalo Trace Reposado I’ve encountered to date. A- / $70

Expresiones del Corazon Thomas H. Handy Anejo – Aged 19 months in Thomas H. Handy Sazerac whiskey barrels. On par with the color of the Reposado above. Lots of red pepper on the nose, with very heavy herbal notes of thyme and rosemary. The body is a surprising bit of a blazer, again with red pepper and spice — think cinnamon red hots — paving the way for notes of burnt caramel, dark chocolate, and smoldering embers of a wood fire. Fun stuff, and wholly unexpected given the general gentleness of the series. The official tasting notes say only that this tequila has “a light, sweet taste,” which could not be more wrong. Very limited quantities. A- / $80

Expresiones del Corazon Old Rip Van Winkle Anejo – Aged in Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon barrels for 23 months. As with prior renditions, this is extremely light in color. A nutty tequila, with notes of marzipan alongside the butterscotch and vanilla. It’s light on the agave, but it’s there. On the palate, there’s a peppery start that quickly segues into vanilla and caramel notes — the two sides play off one another quite beautifully — before finishing with a bit of an herbal lick. This is a nicely rounded tequila that offers both great balance and more complexity than you’d think. A- / $80

expresionesdelcorazon.com

Book Review: Bourbon: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of an American Whiskey

Fred Minnick may be best known for wearing an ascot, but he also happens to know whiskey, particularly bourbon. With Bourbon: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of an American Whiskey, Minnick takes us on a lively and wholly unpedantic history of bourbondom, particularly as it relates to its homeland of Kentucky.

You will learn a lot about bourbon by reading Minnick’s book. You will come to understand the ins and outs of pre-Prohibition whiskey terminology as well as post-Prohibition retrenchment. Minnick spends a huge amount of time on Prohibition itself, explaining the arcane world of “medicinal spirits” and various Temperance Leagues.

While heavily laden with sidebars, the book is relatively fluff-free, so don’t expect pages of cocktail recipes or other page-fillers that detract from the mission of Minnick: To tell you where bourbon came from, and where it’s going next. That answer is left for an ominous few pages in the end, where Minnick notes, in so many words, that what goes up must so very often come down again.

Well written and never boring (which can be a problem with more pedantic whiskey-related material), this is a fun treatise on the history of America’s original spirit.

A- / $14 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Book Review: The Canon Cocktail Book

Canon is a fun and well-stocked bar in Seattle — in fact, it lays claim to having the largest collection of spirits in the western hemisphere, and checking out the shelves that line the walls of the place, it’s hard to dispute that. Now, proprietor Jamie Boudreau, with James Fraioli, attempt to codify all the fine work they’re doing therein.

The cocktails in the thick Canon Cocktail Book are avant garde and often complicated. You will need to buy bloomed gelatin to make honey foam, infuse Scotch with chamomile tea, and even obtain an ounce of black truffles to dump into Cognac for one incredibly luxe cocktail. Many cocktails call for six or more ingredients. The Zombie recipe asks for a total of 30 when it is all said and done. One of those ingredients is calf’s brains — no, really!

It’s safe to say you won’t find another cocktail book quite like Canon on the market, but you won’t find a bar quite like Canon anywhere else, either. Yeah, Boudreau has some favorites that he uses a bit too often — Averna, absinthe, and Scotch among them — but even if your tastes don’t run in that direction, there’s plenty to engage with in this book, even if it’s just aspirational. Carbonated and barrel-aged cocktails both get their own sections, if you want to get really out there with your home mixology.

One of the more fun parts of the book isn’t about cocktails at all — it’s about 50 pages at the front of the book that outline what it’s like to own and run a bar. Anyone who’s even considering starting up their own watering hole — and who among us hasn’t? — needs to read this section backwards and forwards. The catch: Canon is a runaway success that’s littered with awards and praise. Your high-concept dive bar may not be so lucky.

A- / $17 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

More Beers from Devils Backbone Reviewed: Kilt Flasher, Flor de Luna, Single Hop IPA, Smokehouse Porter, and Berliner Metro Weiss Sour

Virginia-based Devils Backbone cannot seemingly be stopped. We just checked out seven new beers from the company, now it’s dropping another five — a regular release (Kilt Flasher) and four new Rare Series Adventure Pack releases. Let’s dig in.

Devils Backbone Kilt Flasher Wee Heavy Scotch Ale – A bold wee heavy, with big malt notes backed by notes of coffee, roasted nuts, and a lightly brown-sugared finish. It’s a powerful beer, but it’s quite a familiar one that tastes a lot like any number of similar brews. I wouldn’t say anything about imitation and flattery, per se, but while this wee heavy is on point, it doesn’t distinguish itself entirely. 8% abv. B+

Devils Backbone Flor de Luna Belgium Style Blonde with Jasmine – A blonde ale made with Belgian yeast, with jasmine added. A curiosity, indeed! The jasmine is far from apparent; rather, the heavy malt character is powerful from the start, along with some a pungent, yeasty underpinning. The heavy farmhouse character makes this one lean a bit too closely toward the sour world, but your mileage may vary. Even on the finish, any sense of jasmine is fleeting. Not that I am clear on why you’d want that in your beer, anyway. 6.3% abv. C+

Devils Backbone Single Hop IPA – A west coast IPA from the east coast — brewed only with Equinox hops. Strong, bitter, and piney, with a bit of a mushroom kick. The finish is earthy and quite lasting, with notes of resin and slate. A solid but not wholly distinguished IPA. 7.9% abv. B+

Devils Backbone Smokehouse Porter Smoked Porter Ale – Two types of smoked malts plus three unsmoked malts give this beer a burly, nutty, and, yes, appropriately smoky character, where mushroom and lightly herbal notes add some pizzazz. Smoked ales can so easily become overblown and sticky with barbecue flavors, but Devils Backbone just about nails the classic German style with this one. 5.7% abv. A-

Devils Backbone Berliner Metro Weiss German-Style Sour Ale – Quite tart, with juicy citrus and a pungent sourness right from the start. Lemon, grapefruit, and orange notes are intense, giving this a heavily fruity — yet entirely sour — essence from start to finish. A simple example of the style. 3.9% abv. B

about $17 per 12-pack / dbbrewingcompany.com

Review: Belle Meade Bourbon Cognac Cask Finished

Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery in Nashville is doubling down on barrel finishing. This rendition of Belle Meade Bourbon (sourced form MGP) starts with a mash that includes 30% rye. The stock used is a blend of whiskeys drawn from barrels aged 6 to 9 years – but we’re not ready for bottling just yet. At this point, the bourbon is rested in 12 year old Cognac casks for an unstated amount of time before bottling.

The nose is dense and rich, showcasing lots of baking spice, some black pepper, and well-integrated wood notes. On the tongue, an initial rush of heat settles down quickly, revealing notes of orange marmalade, vanilla and toffee, spiced nuts, and lots of cloves. The high rye component makes as big of an impact as the Cognac barrel, though the finish is influenced heavily by wood and citrus.

Fun stuff.

90.4 proof.

A- / $75 / greenbrierdistillery.com

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