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

Review: Clyde May’s Alabama Style Whiskey Special Reserve 110 Proof

clyde mays 110

The “Alabama Style” whiskey crew at Clyde May’s is back at it, turning out a Special Reserve edition of its original product. This is the first line extension for the brand, a corn/rye/malted barley whiskey that’s aged for up to six years in “mellowed” barrels “and finished non-cold filtered with a slight hint of apple, in the Alabama style.” (Dried apples are actually used in the barreling process to impart a slight fruit flavor. That sounds crazy, but stick with me here.)

Different lots of the Special Reserve will be bottled, each with slight barrel-driven variations; the bottle reviewed here does not contain any lot information, however.

Intensely reddish-ochre in color, the whiskey certainly looks the part of a smooth operator. The nose hits you upside the head with fruit, right from the start. Baked apples, for sure, but also cherries and some floral elements, alongside vanilla and caramel. (For kicks, try this side by side with Baker’s Bourbon.)

On the palate, Clyde May’s Special Reserve is a full-on fruit bomb, shotgunning the tongue with notes of clove-studded oranges, apple brown betty, and a sense at least of chopped almonds scattered atop toffee-covered brownies.

The finish pushes big cinnamon character, more apple fruit, and a lot of warmth. (This is 110 proof whiskey, after all.) I don’t think it particularly needs water, but adding a bit smooths out the rough edges and makes the experience a bit creamier, though less flavorful. Add water literally by the drop, and only one at a time.

Bottom line: Clyde May’s has taken what it learned from its freshman product and elevated it into a true American standout. Just slip a glass into the hand of any bourbon fanatic and see what they have to say. Now how do you like them apples?

A / $70 / clydemays.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Bear Republic Racer X Double IPA (2015)

RacerX2015-bottle-fillFew seasonals get the kind of love that Bear Republic’s Racer X Double IPA receives — and even fewer actually deserve it.

Racer X is a rarity that has wholly earned the love it gets on those rare occasions when it adorns beer shops and tap handles. The big brother to Bear’s equally loveable Racer 5, Racer X pumps up everything that that year-round brew has to offer and pours on the hops — Cascade, Columbus, Centennial — pushing the beer up and over 100 IBUs but flooding the palate with flavor.

Things start with loads of sweet fruit — citrus, but also apples and pears and some green banana. Caramel notes take hold for a bit before intense and resinous, piney notes build, with touches of licorice, coffee bean, and dark chocolate floating in and out and reminding you that this is not your father’s (or your hipster son’s) IPA. The finish is highly bitter, but manageable, echoing some of the sweeter notes that come across earlier in the experience.

I love the way Racer X bounces back and forth between sweetness and intense bitterness, offering a respite from each sensation before either has a chance to wear out your palate.

I could go on, but as this is a seasonal release that is criminally underpriced, you’re better off heading to your local beermonger for all you can carry.

8.3% abv.

A / $8 per 22 oz. bottle / bearrepublic.com

Review: StoneCask Shot Flask

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Flasks are convenient for on-the-go mixology, but drinking directly from a flask is both uncouth and unpleasant. Flask-drinking always ends up forcing the spirit straight down your throat, burning the tonsils and robbing it of any actual flavor or nuance.

Solution: StoneCasks’s Shot Flask, an innovative product that pairs a standard 8 oz. flask with a collapsible shot-glass-sized camping-style cup. The cup stows away conveniently in a depression build into the center of the leatherette-clad flask. If you were none the wiser, you’d probably assume it was just part of the design.

As a container, the Shot Flask works as well as anything else out there — depending on the model you purchase you may need to provide your own mini-funnel — and the design is utilitarian and decidedly non-flashy. If you want a curvy, hip-shaped flask to look cool down at the Elk’s Club, this one won’t do — but once you pop out that cup and sip away like the sophisticate you are, heads are likely to turn.

I don’t often find myself in need of the services of a flask, but I can assure you the next time I do, the Shot Flask is the one I’ll choose.

A / $20 / stonecask.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Review: William Grant New Releases 2015 – Girvan No. 4, 25 Years Old, 30 Years Old, Kininvie 23 Years Old, Annasach 25 Years Old, and Ghosted Reserve 21 Years Old

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William Grant is the home of Glenfiddich and Balvenie, two of the biggest name in single malt whisky. But lately the Grants have been pushing some of their lesser-known offerings, including new bottlings from lesser known malt shops like Kininvie, single grain whisky from Girvan, and limited edition blends. Over a recent lunch, the company walked me through an array of these new launches, most of which are already hitting store shelves.

Here’s a look at everything tasted.

Girvan Single Grain No. 4 Apps – The entry-level offering from Girvan is a NAS single grain, named for the still it is produced in. Aged in bourbon casks, this lovely grain whisky offers ample vanilla notes, plus melon and candylike citrus character. 85.2 proof. A- / $50

Girvan Single Grain 25 Years Old – Like No. 4, this is made primarily from a wheat mash. Beautiful in the glass, it is dark and deep whisky that presents a big butterscotch and toffee bomb, turning to cocoa powder on the back end. Gentle grain notes wash over a lovely experience. 85.2 proof. A / $330

Girvan Single Grain 30 Years Old – 30 years ago, Girvan was making whisky mainly from corn, not wheat. The results are staggeringly different from the 25 year old, where sweetness takes a back seat to much stronger grain character from the start. Delicate fruit notes – lemon peel and some melon — collide with popcorn and heavier wood character. A real surprise. 85.2 proof. B+ / $500

william grant (2)Kininvie 23 Years Old – Tucked in next to Balvenie and Glenfiddich is Kininvie, a smaller distillery mainly being used to make blending malt. Now William Grant is realizing what they’ve been sitting on, releasing as a limited edition a 23 year old single malt expression (the second batch of Kininvie ever made) aged in 80% bourbon casks and 20% sherry casks. Very floral on the nose, it offers a mix of flowers and restrained sweetness, with some coconut notes. But the experience is as light as a feather on the palate. The finish is long, engaging, and sultry at times. 85.2 proof. A / $150 (375ml bottles only)

William Grant Rare Cask Reserves The Annasach Reserve 25 Years Old Batch #1 – This is a blended malt (no grain whisky) made from old William Grant stocks. The catch? Some 40 single malts go into this blend, and none are owned by William Grant itself; all are acquisitions from other distilleries. Slightly musty and mushroomy, it offers notes of leather, vegetables, roasted nuts, and breakfast cereal. Deep and complex, it’s one to savor and explore, despite some vaguely odd notes. Exclusive to BevMo. 792 bottles made. 80 proof. B+ / $280

William Grant Rare Cask Reserves Ghosted Reserve 21 Years Old – This one-off release is a blend of malt and grain whisky from three defunct distilleries, Ladyburn, Dumbarton, and Inverleven, most of which have been closed for decades. The nose is restrained, ultimately revealing toffee and some nutty elements. The palate plays up grain, citrus, and nougat, with a touch of smokiness. Very Old World in construction. 80 proof. B+ / $TBD 

williamgrantusa.com

Review: Crispin “15 Men” Blended Hard Cider Rum Cask Aged

Crispin 15 Men BottleCrispin’s latest limited edition cider is made from Colfax apple wine, aged in dark rum casks, and finished with wildflower honey and “dark candi syrup” — a fancy type of caramel that’s usually used in beermaking. What does the name mean? It comes from Treasure Island, meant to evoke pirates and buried treasure — and rum, of course.

Stories aside, this is cider the way you always hope it will taste — a bit like an apple pie fermented and poured into a glass. The tart apple is tempered with honey and spice notes, layering in vanilla and light chocolate notes. Dusky notes of cloves and some floral notes add complexity and balance to the long and lightly sweet finish. All told, it’s easily one of the best ciders I’ve ever had.

6.9% abv.

A / $9 per 22 oz. bottle / crispincider.com

Review: 2012 Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley and Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford

FREEMARK_ABBEYFreemark Abbey’s always-engaging Cabernets are here, representing the 2012 vintage. Some real standouts… without further ado.

2012 Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – 75.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16.6% Merlot, 3.3% Cabernet Franc, 2.6% Petit Verdot, and 2.0% Malbec. Dense and quite sweet, this is New World cabernet at its most iconic, all crushed red fruits, vanilla, and a sprinkling of fresh herbs. It’s all layered into a rich and sumptuous body, almost like marshmallow creme at times. I have a feeling all the sweetness is going to leave me with a headache tomorrow, but for now it’s so easy to drink and enjoy that I can’t complain much. A- / $44

2012 Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford Napa Valley – 83.2% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8.3% Merlot, 4.6% Petit Verdot, and 3.9% Cabernet Franc. A more regional designate of the above (oddly, in a slightly larger bottle). Again, classic Napa Cabernet, but elevated to near perfection — supple cherry and berry fruit, very gentle tannin, the slightest layering of baking spices. This is so easy drinking it’s almost criminal, with hints of violets (hello, Merlot), black pepper, and blackberry bramble raising the game that much more. A / $75

freemarkabbey.com