Review: Trinchero 2014 Sauvignon Blanc Mary’s Vineyard and 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Mario’s

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New wines from Trinchero Napa Valley, which just opened a brand new state-of-the-art visitor center. Let’s give the duo a try.

2014 Trinchero Sauvignon Blanc Mary’s Vineyard Calistoga Napa Valley – A rather dry style of sauvignon blanc, offering gentle grapefruit notes mixed with lemon peel and fruit custard. All’s well and good until the finish, which is quite herbal and almost oppressively bitter. It may be built for summertime sipping, but it needs a meal to back it up in order to show off its strengths. B / $24

2012 Trinchero Cabernet Sauvignon “Mario’s” Napa Valley – A lively estate cabernet, this rich and balanced wine offers a dense plum and currant core, notes of licorice, tobacco, chocolate-covered raisins, and a gently bittersweet but lengthy finish. Again, the beautiful balance, which evokes light floral notes right alongside its dense fruit backbone, makes this wine so compelling that it’s tough to put down. A truly beautiful example of what Napa cabernet can be. A / $50

trincheronapavalley.com

Review: Amici Cabernet Sauvignon & Chardonnay and Olema Pinot Noir, 2016 Releases

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I hadn’t heard of St. Helena-based Amici before (or its second label, Olema), and as such I didn’t have any real expectations for these three wines. Consider me both surprised and a new fan: These wines are uniformly excellent — and pretty good values, to boot.

Thoughts follow.

2014 Amici Chardonnay Sonoma Coast – Lots of fruit on the nose — lemons, apricots, and peaches. The body deftly balances this fruit with its more sultry elements — nicely browned butter and a slug of vanilla — leading to a very well-rounded and supple finish. Highly worthwhile. A / $25

2013 Amici Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – Notes of sweet licorice on the nose add complexity to an otherwise straightforward but well-made Napa cab. The body ups the ante with modest tannins and folds in light raisin notes, vanilla, some tea leaf, and a simple, slightly sweet, chocolate-scented finish. An easy winner. A- / $45

2014 Olema Pinot Noir Sonoma County – A second label from Amici, here we find tart cherries, lush strawberry, and a gentle lacing of vanilla all whipped into a frothy, zippy, and easy-drinking lather. Just a touch of dark chocolate and some well-integrated but mild tannins. A perfect little everyday pinot at a very compelling price. A / $20

amicicellars.com

Review: Samuel Adams Spring 2016 Releases

sam adams rev_noble_bottle (2)Seven new releases from our friends at the Boston Beer Company, including a number of Brewmaster’s Collection releases and two additions to the Rebel IPA group.

Thoughts follow.

Samuel Adams Crystal Pale Ale – An pale ale made with Crystal hops, fairly representative of the style. Rather earthy up front, this hoppy brew offers notes of mushroom, leather, and dried herbs, without any of the evergreen notes you see in west coast style IPAs. Rather, the finish heads into a slightly sweet and malty character, with a touch of juicy orange. Simple, but quite drinkable. 5.3% abv. B+

Samuel Adams Noble Pils – A classically-structured Czech pilsener, made with all five varieties of Noble hops. This takes that golden, malty character you expect from a pils and punches up the bitterness quotient, though it feels far from overblown hop bomb, instead offering lightly floral notes, some grassiness, and a slight touch of citrus on the otherwise malty finish. 4.9% abv. B

Samuel Adams Escape Route – An unfiltered kolsch, this beer offers a bold attack with a healthy slug of malt, plus notes of lemon juice, wet earth, and some vegetal character that endures on the finish. A fair enough example of the style, offering solid (if uninspiring) refreshment. 5% abv.  B

Samuel Adams Session Ale – A lower-alcohol Extra Special Bitter (note the fine print), malty and hoppy and decently balanced between the two. The beer showcases a fairly strong nutty character that grows on the palate as you drink it. The finish culminates with a superfine level of fizz on the tongue, which feels almost soda-like at times. Overall, however, the beer is fully drinkable, but ultimately quite harmless.  5% abv. B

Samuel Adams Scotch Ale – A fairly typical brown ale, heavily nutty, malty, and slightly raisiny on the back end. The finish leaves behind a smokiness that catches in the back of the throat. It’s not a style I typically gravitate to, but should a cold snap hit this season, it’s worth a look. 5.5% abv. B

Samuel Adams Rebel Grapefruit IPA – Grapefruit peel and juice give this IPA a nice burst of citrus, but almost in passing. The fruit can sometimes get lost amidst the sizable amount of hops in the beer, but on the whole the IPA feels balanced and eminently drinkable, elevating the experience the way a squeeze of lime in your Pacifico can give a little something extra to it. My only complaint: The finish comes across as a touch muddy. 6.3% abv. A-

Samuel Adams Rebel Cascade IPA – IPA made with Cascade hops, big and west coasty. This is a bold and very citrus-forward IPA, with ample bracing bitterness riding high on the back end. Juicy and lush, it’s a great example of the IPA style without feeling like it was hopped to within an inch of its life. 7.3% abv. A

each about $8 per six-pack samueladams.com

Review: Pittyvaich 25 Years Old Limited Edition 2015

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Why don’t you know anything about Pittyvaich? Because the Speyside distillery was built in 1975 and torn down in 1993. As Diageo notes, this Special Edition release, distilled in 1989, survived longer than the distillery itself did.

Aged in refill American oak and first-fill ex-bourbon barrels, this is classic non-sherried Speyside from start to finish. On the nose, it’s surprisingly racy, its golden hues offering up gentle malt, heather, warm honey, butterscotch, and gentle vanilla.

In keeping with the luscious nose, the body is fairly hot yet quite well rounded, its oily, honey-dripping body showcasing a variety of treasures. Mild citrus, almonds, a smattering of baking spice — all come together quite beautifully to present themselves atop an enchantingly sweet palate, with a lingering finish that recalls Sauternes, honey syrup, and a slight dusting of cinnamon. Balanced just right, it showcases an achingly gorgeous sweetness without ever becoming cloying. It may not be incredibly complex, but its intensive focus on a handful of key, nicely harmonized flavors elevate this malt considerably.

A highlight of the 2015 Specials, at a “mere” $350, it’s also one of the best bargains in this year’s lineup.

99.8 proof. 5922 bottles produced.

A / $350 / malts.com

Review: High West Bourye (2016)

bourye_bottle_2015One of the icons of new wave distilling is back: High West Bourye, which is returning to limited release right about now.

The 2016 Bourye is, as always, a touch different from its forebears. This version of the now-classic bourbon and rye blend features a mashup of 9-year-old straight bourbon (75% corn, 21% rye, 4% barley malt), 13-year-old straight rye whiskey (95% rye, 5% barley malt), and 17-year-old straight rye whiskey (95% rye, 5% barley malt) — all from MGP. As always, the proportions of these three whiskeys are not disclosed — but the overall focus looks a lot like the 2015 rendition of this spirit, which also featured a nine-year-old-minimum. The major difference is really that everything in the bottle is from MGP this year.

Bourye is a whiskey I have always admired, and this year’s release is no exception, though it presents much differently than the fruity 2015. The nose is exotic and a bit unusual — heavy on the cloves, along with dark brown sugar, dark toast, barrel char, and some freshly burnt rubber — all meant in a good way.

On the palate, it’s sweet but restrained, a host of bittering elements — more cloves (classic Bourye), licorice, toasty wood, and a touch of roasted vegetable character. The caramel and vanilla notes endure above all of this, though, the bitterness catching in the back of the throat as the whiskey finds a balance slightly on the savory side of the wheel.

This is a significantly different whiskey than last year’s release — and frankly I prefer the sweeter 2015 edition to a slight extent. That said, this return to a more frontier style will likely resonate with more of the hardcore American whiskey fans.

Reviewed: Batch 15X20. 92 proof.

A / $80 / highwest.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Cynar 70 Liqueur

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Cynar’s a highly-regarded classic of the amaro world. So why produce a new version of this vibrantly bitter, artichoke-infused concoction? Because they can.

Cynar 70 is designed to put the liqueur into a category alongside Jagermeister and Fernet, both bitter aperitifs but bottled at a much higher proof than Cynar or Campari, which have the same bitter approach but hit 33 and 48 proof, respectively.

We’re reviewed the 33-proof Cynar twice (here and here), and today we look at Cynar 70 in true head to head fashion, comparing it side by side against its big brother. Note: The old Cynar isn’t going away, this is just a line extension. The two 13-ingredient recipes are the same; only the alcohol level is different.

It’s amazing what a different amount of alcohol can make to a spirit. Classic Cynar is immediately bitter, with overtones of chocolate, oranges, leather, and tobacco on the nose and palate. Cynar 70, on the other hand, is restrained on the nose — dark chocolate notes hit first, lightly sweet, and not particularly bitter. That classic cinnamon note is even more evident here than in the original Cynar, making it even more engaging right at the start.

The palate of Cynar 70 continues to diverge from its forebear. The attack is not particularly bitter — a striking contradiction to the original. Here, it’s lightly sweet at first — simple sugar, some molasses, a touch of raisin character — and then it builds from there. First more herbs arrive — cinnamon and anise, along with sweeter chocolate and fresh oranges — and then that long-awaited bitterness hits at last. It has a softer entry than the slam-bang punch of classic Cynar, slowly washing over you with its herbal-orange character rather than immediately dominating the experience. That said, it does eventually hit the same bitter high as the original Cynar, gripping onto the tongue and refusing to release, proving itself as a classic and enduring amaro.

The body of Cynar 70 is much creamier, the color considerably darker. Turns out this isn’t a New Coke situation: Cynar 70 takes everything that is great about Cynar and builds upon it while showing off a few new tricks. I was skeptical at first, but it turns out I actually preferred the sweet-then-bitter structure of Cynar 70 to the original in side by side tasting. Definitely worthwhile.

70 proof.

A / $37 (1 liter) / camparigroup.com

Tasting 2016’s Octomore 7 with New Bruichladdich Master Distiller Adam Hannett

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When Jim McEwan left Bruichladdich last year after 50 years in the business, many wondered how a legend like McEwan could be replaced. The answer: You can’t, really, but the Islay distillery’s Adam Hannett is on his way to filling some mighty big shoes.

Hannett recently visited San Francisco as part of a U.S. “get to know ya” tour, and he brought with him a collection of Bruichladdich’s Octomore releases, including three from the Octomore 7 line. Among those is Octomore 7.4, the first “.4” release in the line (more on that later) and Hannett’s first solo release since McEwan’s departure.

The distillery world is full of nice guys, and while Hannett is one of the nicest I’ve met, he’s also full of big ideas, like the recent announcement that, in the name of transparency, customers will soon be able to look up the complete provenance of their Bruichladdich bottles online — even NAS releases. At SF’s Wingtip, we walked through the three latest Octomore 7 releases, plus a couple of whiskies for comparison.

IMG_7542Bruichladdich The Classic Laddie – “Classic” for a reason, this sweet whisky offers notes of granulated sugar and gentle notes of grain wafting in and out. Impossibly good, it’s one of my favorite “everyday” malts, Hannett says he chalks up the gentle, oily body to the slow distillation it undergoes. A

Bruichladdich Octomore 6.1 – Last year’s release (5 years old, all ex-bourbon barrel) remains a classic, strong peat on the nose (at 167ppm) that offers intense citrus once you dig into the body. The finish is clean and fruity, with layers of smoke on top of everything. I’m really digging the structure and balance today. Perfect at 114 proof. A

Bruichladdich Octomore 7.1 – This new release (also a 5 year old, ex-bourbon bottling, as all the .1 releases are) is a bit hotter, with much more peat at 208ppm. It doesn’t come across heavily on the nose, where sweeter notes prevail. The body offers chocolate and caramel, and then the smokiness takes hold, leading to a heavy, petrol-laden finish. This rubbery note lingers for a while. Quite a counterpart to the sweeter 6.1. 119 proof. A-  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Bruichladdich Octomore 7.3 –.3 signifies an “all Islay” release. This year’s spends 5 years in bourbon cask, with a little Spanish wine cask included. Earthy and maritime notes explode on the nose — a true essence of Islay aroma — the body is clean and uncomplicated, offering fruit and grain together, with a distinct chimney smoke finish. 169ppm, 126 proof. A-  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Bruichladdich Octomore 7.4 – The newest Octomore is the first in the .4 line, which signifies the whiskey was aged in virgin oak casks instead of refills. Unlike other Octomores, which are generally 5 years old, this release spent 7 years in toasted French oak, laid down in 2008. It’s quite a departure from other Octomore releases, and the intense grain and lumberyard notes immediately reminded me of younger American single malts, which are also generally aged in new oak, a la bourbon. Malt always struggles with new oak, but the heavy peat at least gives Octomore 7.4 some legs to stand on. After seven years, the grain notes have tempered only slightly, but the smoky character gives that something to play again. The finish offers notes of chocolate and gentle candy-like sweetness. It’s a whiskey that is initially a little off-putting but which definitely grows on you over time. Definitely a series to keep an eye on. 167ppm, 122.4 proof. B+

bruichladdich.com