Tasting the Wines of Marchesi de’Frescobaldi, Late 2015 Releases

Frescobaldi-Giramonte-zoomUnlike the rest of Italy, our friends at Tuscany’s Marchesi de’Frescobaldi never seem to rest. Today we take a look (via online tasting with winemaker Niccolo D’Afflitto) at four recent releases from this legendary producer’s stables, including some of its most renowned bottlings.

2012 Marchesi de’Frescobaldi Pomino Bianco Benefizio Riserva DOC – This is a Tuscan chardonnay, oaked but not overly so due to partial maturation in used barrels. Quite restrained, it evokes gentle fruit flavors and lots of stony minerals, with a moderately buttery finish. The wine ends up somewhere between Old World and New World, straddling these two styles nicely. B+ / $40

2011 Marchesi de’Frescobaldi Mormoreto Toscana IGT – 64% cabernet sauvignon, 26% cabernet franc, 5% petit verdot, and 5% merlot. A bit of an “entry level” Supertuscan, this is a classy wine with dense fruit up front and lengthy forest notes that follow. Dark cherry and blackberry flavors, almost raisin-like at times, attack the palate, then notes of tobacco, mushroom, and forest floor bring up the rear. Savory and dense with a lengthy finish. Quite food friendly. A- / $55

2011 Marchesi de’Frescobaldi Giramonte Toscana IGT – A blend of merlot and sangiovese, proportions unstated. Lush and lively, this is a wine that showcases the best of two grape varieties, offering dense violet florals from the merlot, and bright cherry fruit from the sangiovese. A bit of coffee ground character comes along on the back end. Slightly smoky and dusty at times, the wine layers on a subtle earthiness that adds complexity without making it austere and overly pastoral. Lovely on its own or with a meal. A / $90

2009 Marchesi de’Frescobaldi Ripe Al Convento Di Castelgiocondo Brunello di Montalcino DOCG Riserva – Showing some nice age, this Brunello (100% sangiovese, of course) is an exercise in restraint: Slightly sour cherries, dried rosemary and thyme, and a slight dusting of black pepper. Everything is dialed back, though — almost an echo of another wine. Earthy, mushroomy notes develop as the finish starts to build, with just a dollop of blackberry jam polishing things off on the end. A- / $100

frescobaldi.it

Review: 4 Pearl Vodka Flavors – Lime Basil, Strawberry Basil, Chocolate Hazelnut, and Pumpkin Spice

pearlIntroducing four new flavors from Luxco-owned Pearl Vodka (which recently rebranded all its bottles with a more streamlined design) — two fruity/basil blends, two dessert-focused for winter sipping. Let’s give them all a sample.

All are 70 proof.

Pearl Vodka Lime Basil – Gentler than you’d think. Heavy on candied lime peel, with just a hint of racier, Thai-style basil on the back end. Modest in structure, pure in its flavor elements, and offering a crisp body with a short finish. It’s a fine alternative to Hangar One Kaffir LimeA

Pearl Vodka Strawberry Basil – Somewhat chemical-smelling on the nose, a common problem with strawberry vodkas. There’s no hint of basil in the aroma, but on the palate it offers a heat more akin to black pepper than any kind of herb. A heavily sweetened finish washes that away, though, leaving behind a bit of a medicinal character. B

Pearl Vodka Chocolate Hazelnut – So, Nutella vodka! Nails it on the nose — though it’s heavier on hazelnut than chocolate. The palate isn’t far off, either. Cinnamon is a distinct secondary character but otherwise this vodka exudes lovely hazelnuts dusted with cocoa powder. Some vanilla marshmallow notes emerge on the finish. Dessert-focused vodkas like this are often largely undrinkable, but this is a surprising winner. A-

Pearl Vodka Pumpkin Spice – Far more restrained than I’d expected, with classic brown sugar, cinnamon, allspice, and clove notes. The sweetness is at first dialed back, but it doesn’t take long to start building up on the palate. As it begins to coat the mouth, it leaves behind a saccharine character that eventually becomes too much and hangs around for far too long. B-

each $13 / pearlvodka.com

Review: Michter’s Single Barrel Bourbon 10 Years Old 2015

michters 10-Year-Bourbon 2015

Michter’s latest whiskeys have arrived — single-barrel bottlings of 10 year old and 20 year old bourbons. There’s no production or sourcing information on these limited edition whiskeys (which are not part of the US-1 line), only that they are aged in new oak for 10 (or 20) years, which is, of course, the law for bourbon.

These are actually the first single barrel bourbon releases for 2015, though they were supposed to ship in January. Says Michter’s Master Distiller Willie Pratt, “These two bourbons were set for release at the beginning of this year, but I held them back for a bit more aging. I wanted them to be just right.”

So there we have it. We received the 10 year old expression for review. The $600 20 year, alas, remains elusive.

As for the 10, this is just good, solid, well-made bourbon from front to back. The nose carries a solid caramel punch, with touches of banana and coconut. On the palate, rich and well-integrated notes of vanilla and more caramel take center stage, with some smoky char emerging underneath. The finish is fruity — offering more banana, more coconut, and some chocolate notes, the ultimate effect being something like a nice little ice cream sundae. Altogether it may not be incredibly complex, but it’s so delicious on its own merits that it hardly matters. Definitely worth seeking out.

94.4 proof. Reviewed: Barrel #15J829.

A / $100 / michters.com

Review: Stolichnaya Elit Vodka

elit by Stoli bottlePerhaps the best known of ultra-luxe vodka bottlings, Stoli Elit is oversized, over-designed, and over-hyped — complete with  a limited edition subset of vodkas that are made with water from the Himalayas, the Andes, and other far-flung locales.

Straight-up Stoli Elit is a single-estate vodka that starts with winter wheat, spring wheat, and rye from Stolichnaya’s farm in Tambov, Russia. The spirit is distilled three times and blended with water from Riga, Latvia, then filtered through quartz and birch charcoal before bottling.

The finished spirit is impressive. The nose is gentle and lightly floral, with touches of lemongrass. The body is equally balanced and light on its feet — offering a supple experience that features just a touch of citrus, a hint of baking spice, and a slight kick of black pepper on the finish. The experience couldn’t be quieter and more supple, a perfectly made vodka with nothing to detract from a wholly lovely experience.

While it’s lacking in the viscous punch you expect from most Russian vodkas, it’s so easygoing and pleasant that it’s impossible not to recommend — especially since, while it’s expensive, it’s not obscenely overpriced like some luxe vodkas.

80 proof.

A / $47 / elitbystoli.com

Review: 2012 Matchbook The Arsonist and Tinto Rey

71jzazc7YdL._UY490_CR0,0,450,490_Two new releases just arrived from our friends at Matchbook in Zamora, California. One of them blew my socks off. Keep reading to find out which one!

2012 Matchbook The Arsonist Red Blend – 52% petit verdot, 24% cabernet sauvignon, 24% merlot. You’ll be hard pressed to find a better wine at this price level. Petit verdot at this concentration is very rare, but Matchbook makes it work far beyond all expectations. Brilliant violets and plum mingle with notes of chocolate and spice, melding together in the context of a fruity but balanced palate. Modest acidity and a lengthy, satisfying finish give this wine elegance and long-haul legs. It drinks well on its own, but it’s a gorgeous food wine — pair with just about anything. A / $22

2012 Matchbook Tinto Rey Red Blend Giguiere Family – 50% tempranillo, 27% syrah, 11% petit verdot, 8% graciano, 4% tannat. A less masterful wine, but it works well enough. A little thin on the palate, it offers notes of green vegetable and hemp rope, with a backbone of cherry, tea leaf, and dark chocolate. Somewhat scattered, it never comes together the way I’d like, and it exits on a relatively lackluster, moderately bitter finish. B- / $17

crewwines.com

Book Review: Drinking the Devil’s Acre

920x920Duggan McDonnell’s Drinking the Devil’s Acre isn’t so much a bar book as it is a love letter to San Francisco, hardbound. Which, it turns out, is basically the subtitle of the book. McDonnell is one of my favorite SF bartenders and interesting characters in general, so I’m inclined to meet anything he does with general approval.

There aren’t a whole lot of cocktails in this 250-plus page tome, with just 25 featured recipes. I have little doubt that I’ve had every single one of them during my time in SF. And while McDonnell’s recipes for a French 75, Pisco Punch, or Mojito seem right on target, you may initially be asking yourself why you need another book the regurgitates recipes for cocktails you probably know how to make from memory.

Well, again, this isn’t a book about the cocktails, it’s a book about stories. Some are about cocktailing history, some are about McDonnell, and all of them are about San Francisco, from the Barbary Coast days to the gay ’80s to modern times. The centerpiece is the so-called Devil’s Acre, a block in SF which was notorious in the late 1800s but which is now considerably less so, despite the proximity of strip clubs and a new bar called, of course, The Devil’s Acre. Probably not a lot of high-class mixology came out of there, but it was assuredly the origin of the San Francisco attitude.

So check out Drinking the Devil’s Acre not (necessarily) for the recipes — though don’t miss the black inserts within each chapter for numerous bonus recipes that may be less familiar to you — and enjoy McDonnell’s storytelling, which comes across both with wit and straightforward prose. Whether you’re a San Francisco lifer or just planning to visit our ‘hood, it’s definitely worth your time. (Especially bookmark McDonnell’s ultimate bar crawl in the back for a real look at the past and present of SF drinking palaces.)

A / $18 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Tasting the Wines of Lodi Native, 2013 Vintage

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Lodi is an area that most California wine fans are familiar with, especially if they enjoy a glass of Zin once in a while. 40 percent of all Zinfandel grown in California comes from this region, and it has the highest proportion of old vine Zin in the state – with some active, still-producing vines dating back to the 1880s.

But Lodi isn’t often thought of when it comes to high-end or natural winemaking. Many of the wines here are unabashedly manipulated and doctored, attempts to make them palatable while keeping prices low.

Lodi Native is an altogether different idea. The project got its start in 2012, when a half-dozen winemakers got it in their head to try natural winemaking in Lodi. This wasn’t a terribly popular idea, but these folks charged ahead nonetheless, putting together a series of six single-vineyard Zinfandels from all around Lodi with the intent of showcasing Lodi’s terroir. These wines are all natural, with only sulfur dioxide added – the wines have all native yeasts, no inoculation, no acidification, no oak chips or similar, no water, and so on. These are predominantly Old Vine Zins meant to showcase exactly what that means.

2012’s wines were a hit – though this is not really designed as a commercial project; rather it’s primarily an educational opportunity – and the group is back with a second round. Recently I had the opportunity to taste the 2013 vintage of Lodi Native wines — complete with discussion with all of the winemakers — and here are my thoughts on the lot.

2013 Lodi Native Stampede Vineyard Fields Family Wines – Smells a bit corky (as do all of these wines, actually… all a little funky on the nose), with lots of earth and vegetal notes. Give the body time and fruit finally emerges. B

2013 Lodi Native Wegat Vineyard Maley Brothers – Lots of dense berry fruit here, massive in body, with classic chocolate notes. Quite sweet, very much in line with Lodi Zin. B+

2013 Lodi Native Trulux Vineyard McCay Cellars – An earthier expression, with herbal notes and a sultry body. Restrained and balanced. B+

2013 Lodi Native Marian’s Vineyard St. Amant – The big winner of the group, with amazingly ripe and juicy blueberry notes. Balanced with wood character on the long finish, a real delight. A

2013 Lodi Native Schmiedt Ranch Macchia – Lots of red fruit, tea leaf, and some baking spices. Long and lightly sweet finish. A-

2013 Lodi Native Soucie Vineyard m2 Wines – Classically dense, extracted Zinfandel, almost loke a dessert wine. Intense, but quite enjoyable with loads of flavor. A-

$180 for the case of six wines / lodinative.com