Review: Wines of Mt. Beautiful, 2016 Releases

Mt Beautiful NC Pinot Noir

Mt. Beautiful is a fairly noteworthy New Zealand winery, which we most recently encountered in our tasting report on new NZ wines. Recently we received a quartet of expressions from the winery. Thoughts on each of these 2016 releases follow.

2014 Mt. Beautiful Pinot Gris North Canterbury – A simple wine, with moderate florals embedded into a mild tropical and citrus body. The short finish is more aromatic than fruit-focused, with a slight brown sugar edge. A quite pleasant but simplistic companion with lighter fare. B / $19

2015 Mt. Beautiful Riesling North Canterbury – Crisp and aromatic, with light notes of pineapple to give this wine a bit of a New World spin. The finish is loaded with acid and comes across as a bit peachy, with a solid and sophisticated balance between the two. A- / $21

2014 Mt. Beautiful Sauvignon Blanc North Canterbury – A straightforward sauvignon blanc, though far from the tropical bomb that you typically expect from New Zealand. Instead, here you find bracing acid, significant floral elements, and a dusting of candied pineapple on the slightly earthy back end. B+ / $16

2014 Mt. Beautiful Pinot Noir North Canterbury – A fairly thin wine, with some vegetal and mushroom notes taking hold of the nose. The palate showcases more red cherry fruit character, though the finish reprises some of those leathery notes, with a surprisingly touch of gingerbread on the finish. B- / $26

mtbeautiful.co.nz

Tasting the Wines of Lodi’s Mokelumne Glen Vineyard

Now this is a rarity: A tasting organized based not on producer but on vineyard… and not just any vineyard, a specific vineyard in California’s Lodi region known for producing, of all things, German varietals.

Mokelumne Glen spans 26 acres but is home to more than 40 cultivars, some only a represented by a few vines. Its most notable vines include riesling clones, Kerner, and two black-skinned German grapes, Dornfelder and Blaufränkisch.

We tasted four different wines made from different producers but all from Mokelumne Glen fruit, all led by Brett Koth, the Glen’s vineyard manager. Thoughts follow.

2015 Holman Cellars Uncharted Lodi Bacchus – 100% bacchus, a grape I’d never heard of before this. High in acid and aromatics to the point of near astringency, this crisp white wine offers notes of apricot tempered by the heavy perfume of white flowers and honeysuckle. There’s a surprisingly long and slightly sour finish that seems a bit at odds with an otherwise fresh and lively body. B- / $25

Markus2013NimmoBottle-Horiz-3502014 Markus Wine Co. Nimmo Lodi White Wine – 71% kerner, 13% gewurztraminer, 11% riesling, and 5% bacchus. Curiously, spends 9 months in 60% new French oak. Think of it as chardonnay-light. Caramel and butterscotch mix with herbal and slightly vegetal notes. Fairly fruity despite its general sense of restraint, it finishes without any real muss. B- / $22

2015 Hatton Daniels Lodi Zweigelt – 100% zweigelt, a German red varietal. Bright purple in hue, it offers a funky, very earthy nose (which is typical of German red wines) that is instantly at odds with its youthful, powerfully fruity, and tart body. Notes of fresh cherry juice find a tentative companion in some musky, mushroomy and woody elements. Needs time in glass to reveal more of its charms. Think of it as a Teutotonic Beaujolais Nouveau, by way of Northern California. B- / $24

2014 m2 Wines Belle Étoile Blanche – A dessert wine crafted from 35% reislaner, 25% weissburgunder, 20% riesling, and 20% gewurztraminer. Intensely aromatic and outrageously sweet, this honey-dusted sticky offers tropical overtones plus notes of vanilla and brown sugar, with a hint of savory herbs on the lingering finish. B+ / $24 (500ml)

Review: Wines of Chateau Tourril, 2016 Releases

tourril rose

A new arrival to the U.S. market, Chateau Tourril is a Languedoc-based winery based in Minervois. The operation relies primarily on traditional Rhone Valley grapes, though you’ll need to check the back label to see what’s inside each bottle: Tourril has a fanciful name for each of its bottlings that has nothing to do with the grape varietals it uses for the wine.

We tasted five expressions from Chateau Tourril. Thoughts follow.

2015 Chateau Tourril Helios Grand Vin du Languedoc Minervois – 100% roussanne. A fairly crisp and fresh white, with an initial vanilla and caramel kick that gives way to dense apple notes, some pear, and a long, slightly bitter-tinged finish. Very summery. B+ / $17

2015 Chateau Tourril Havana Minervois – 70% cinsault, 30% grenache. A simple strawberry-heavy rose, showing bitter and herbal notes around the edges and on the quiet, simple finish. A basic French rose, with notes of rosemary to give it some nuance. B / $13

2013 Chateau Tourril Livia Grand Vin du Langudoc Minervois – 100% syrah. Simple and uncomplicated, with slight smoky notes layered atop a surprisingly weak body that offers notes of currants and plums. Notes of roasted meats, dried herbs, and mushroom endure on the finish. Lackluster. C+ / $27

2013 Chateau Tourril Panatella Grand Vin du Langudoc Minervois – 80% syrah, 20% grenache. Surprisingly sweet, with notable cherry notes atop that plum and currant core previously noted. Again, rather thin and a bit out of balance, with a tart and fruit-heavy finish. B- / $20

2011 Chateau Tourril Philippe Grand Vin du Langudoc Minervois – 40% carignan, 30% syrah, 30% grenache. At least it’s not thin. This heavy, meaty wine showcases notes of smoke and roasted lamb atop a dense, currant-heavy core. It drinks like a blend of syrah and young cabernet, with a lightly balsamic, berry-scented finish. Mind the heavy sediment. B / $15

chateautourril.fr

Review: Sangre de Vida Tequila and Mezcal, Complete Lineup

sdv tequila-anjeo-and-reposado

So here’s the story. I hope I have all the facts correct.

In 2009, Grace Kim Brandi founded of L.A.-based Elements Spirits, which makes KAH Tequila and packages it in unmistakable skull decanters, hand painted to honor the Mexican Dia de los Muertos. Elements was sued by the people that make Crystal Head Vodka, which comes is in a (clear) skull, which culminated in a business deal that resulted in the acquiring company taking over Elements’ legal defense. As of earlier this year, this case is still ongoing. At trial, a jury sided with Elements, but various appeals have given the Crystal Head owner the right to a new trial, citing misstatements in Elements’ original closing arguments.

Brandi left Elements in 2011 in a massive (and confusing) corporate and legal shuffle and did what any good entrepreneur does: In 2012 she founded Iconic Brands, which is now selling the Sangre de Vida tequila and mezcal product line, packaged in unmistakable skull decanters, also hand painted to honor the Mexican Dia de los Muertos.

Naturally, Elements sued Iconic over trademark infringement, citing that the decanters Sangre de Vida is using are confusing when compared to KAH’s. Iconic’s position is that Brandi herself owns the design rights, not Elements, and that Elements is supposed to pay Brandi a royalty for using the bottle design. The courts so far have sided with Brandi — though, as with the other litigation — this is still ongoing.

So while the courts settle all of this brouhaha over packaging, we actually remembered that there are spirits inside these little bottles and can see if they’re any good. With that in mind, let’s drop the legal briefs for a day and sample the three tequilas and one mezcal that SdV is marketing.

Thoughts follow.

Sangre de Vida Tequila Blanco – A fresh but somewhat flabby blanco, with a curious but appealing nose of fresh cream, milk chocolate, and restrained sweet agave. The palate showcases all of the above, in even heavier concentrations, with an almost milky body that layers in hints of almonds and cinnamon. There’s plenty to like here, but it doesn’t drink particularly like a blanco — and the finish is on the thin side. 80 proof. B / $40

Sangre de Vida Tequila Reposado – Overproof reposado, aged at least three months. A vastly different experience than the blanco, the SdV reposado is racy on the nose, punctuated with black and cayenne pepper, dense herbs, and overtones of ripe citrus. That sweetness that prevails so clearly on the blanco is also present here, though it becomes clearer after time in glass lets some of the alcohol vapors to resolve. The finish is spicy and warming, heavy on vanilla and banana notes over a relatively long fade-out. 110 proof. A- / $45

Sangre de Vida Tequila Anejo – Aged at least 12 months. Supple caramel and coconut aromas hit the nose, with herbal agave just a gentle hint. On the palate the tequila is quite sweet, with notes of toasted marshmallow, caramel, and butterscotch. Vanilla endures well into the finish, which only nods gently at pepper and earthy agave notes. I love a good anejo, but the sweetness here is a bit overpowering, dampening any residual agave character. B+ / $50

Sangre de Vida Mezcal – 100% espadin agave from Oaxaca, aged 60 days in oak. Warmly smoky, with winey and fruity notes on the nose.It starts off as rather plain for a mezcal, offering a garden-variety winey character, barbecue smoke, and notes of honey and fruit preserves. The finish is epic and not entirely in a good way, its cloying sweetness lingering for days, leaving the palate significantly out of balance and with any real sense of agave. 90 proof. B- / $50

sangredevida.com

Review: Starr Hill King of Hop Series, The Hook, Daily Grind, and Sublime

starr hill Four Kings

A  whopping seven new releases from Starr Hill, including a series of four IPAs which are variations on the theme, bottled under the “King of Hop” moniker.

Let’s dig in…

Starr Hill King of Hop Imperial IPA – The base IPA, dry hopped with a variety of American hops and pumped up to the full, west-coast effect. Ample citrus notes find a pleasant companion in a healthy slug of piney hops, with a light mushroom character underpinning it. A classic IPA from start to finish, it’s a refreshing exemplar of the style. 7.5% abv. A

Starr Hill King of Hop Lemon-Lime Imperial IPA – The lemon/lime notes are understated, just a quick rush of lemon flavor on first sip, then ample hops following, providing the standard piney, earthy, slightly citrusy notes present in the unflavored version. Together the lemon/lime and hops components make for a pretty and refreshing finish — but then again when did a squeeze of lime not make for a natural companion to beer? 7.5% abv. A-

Starr Hill King of Hop Grapefruit Imperial IPA – You can’t escape grapefruit in beer these days, but in Starr Hill’s grapefruitized IPA you won’t even notice it. Virtually indistinguishable from the unflavored version, maybe it’s like having vitamins in your beer. “Fortified” with grapefruit? I taste nothing different here at all, but nonetheless I’m giving it a half a grade off for being ineffectively flavored… and for the threat of the vitamins. 7.5% abv. A-

Starr Hill King of Hop Habanero Imperial IPA – Exactly what you’re expecting, a hop-heavy IPA with the thrill of heat hitting hard on the finish. The first sip is off-putting. From there you get used to the spicy finish fairly quickly. On its own it’s a bit disjointed, but as a strange mirror to the standard grade King of Hop, it’s worth a peek, particularly if you’re into the spicy stuff. 7.5% abv. B+

Starr Hill The Hook Grapefruit Session IPA – Yes, more grapefruit! And here you can taste it a bit more clearly, the strong upfront hops giving way to a burst our sweet-and-sour citrus, before finishing on a lightly earthy, leathery note. Quite a nice flow, and well balanced. 4.9% abv. A-

Starr Hill Daily Grind Peppercorn Farmhouse Ale – I hear “daily grind” and immediately think coffee, but this is a spicy, peppercorn-based beer that folds in bold citrus notes, plus apple cider, sticky toffee, and ample malt. (That said, I get almost nothing in the way of pepper within.) There’s something to like in this beer but it’s a bit all over the map — and the heavy residual sweetness on the finish fatigues the palate. 6.2% abv. B-

Starr Hill Sublime Citrus Wit – A bold wheat brew, loaded with malty cereal notes plus ample citrus peel, grapefruit peel, and a touch of nutmeg. Refreshing, and with just a touch more going on than your typical wit bier. 4.7% abv. B+

each about $9 per six-pack / starrhill.com

Review: Alexander Walker & Co. Polly’s Casks Double Barrel Aged Single Malt Scotch Whisky

pollys casks

Who is Polly and what is so special about her casks? Allow me to explain.

Alexander Murray is a major private Scotch bottler — in the U.S. it’s best known for making the Kirkland brand of whiskies that show up in Costco (and which we often write about).

With Polly’s Casks, Alexander Murray has something far more complex in mind. It starts with 60 barrels of Tullibardine single malt whisky, aged normally in used bourbon barrels. AM shipped this whisky to Firestone Walker Brewing Co. in California, which then aged for an additional 12 months that already-maturing Tullibardine in oak barrels used for Firestone’s Proprietor’s Vintage beers. (Those barrels in turn were also used bourbon barrels… circle of life, circle of whisky.) The whiskies, released with no primary aging information, have been named after the matriarch of the Walker clan, Polly Firestone Walker.

That’s a big build-up. How does it all acquit itself?

The whisky is clearly very young, a pale shade of yellow I mainly associate with aged gins or reposado tequila. The nose offers simple and sweet cereal notes, gentle fruit, and just a touch of smoke. Some green, vegetal hints emerge here as well, once the whiskey opens up with air.

On the palate the spirit is a bit brighter, but it still drinks quite young. Sweet and grainy, the body offers caramel corn and a hint of baking spice… and little else. Only on the finish does the brewery’s influence start to show itself, with a slightly tannic, bittersweet edge that offers echoes of roasted nuts, charcoal, and iodine.

This isn’t an immediately successful spirit, but the main problem lies in its youth. A beer barrel might take a mature single malt in a new direction, but this whisky just doesn’t seem to have much to work with from the start. It’s not a bad product by any means, but there’s just not enough to get excited about, particularly at this price.

80 proof.

B- / $86 / alexandermurray.com

Review: Armorik Breton Single Malt French Whisky – Classic, Double Matured, Sherry Finish (2016)

armorik

It’s been five years since we last checked in with Armorik, a single malt whisky producer in Brittany, France. Its lineup has been radically revamped and updated, with numerous new expressions hitting the market in the intervening years. The 80 proof expression we reviewed in 2011 is no longer produced under that name, but you can still get it as “Armorik Original Edition” if you are interested.

Among the changes: a stronger use of sherry, locally-sourced wood, and, most notably, increasing the alcohol level to the current 92 proof (which is the abv at which all of the below are bottled). Today we look at three of the company’s expressions that are now available in the U.S. Thoughts follow.

Armorik Breton Single Malt Classic – A marriage of spirits aged in sherry and bourbon casks, representing a variety of ages. Herbal and slightly floral on the nose, with notes of flamed orange peel. On the palate, it offers a classic single malt composition — ample malt, honey and vanilla sweetness, roasted nuts, and a bit of cocoa. The finish is a touch astringent and youthful with some green notes, but approachable enough for an everyday dram. B / $50

Armorik Breton Single Malt Sherry Finish – While Armorik Classic is a blend of whiskies matured in either bourbon or sherry casks, all the whisky in Sherry Finish spends time in both — first bourbon casks, then sherry casks for a few months of finishing. This whisky doesn’t come across like your typical sherry finished spirit, offering caramel, barrel char, and coffee notes on the nose. The palate is a bit mushroomy, with overtones of charred bread, more barrel char, and a heavily malty finish. The sherry just doesn’t make much of an impact at all here, either because it doesn’t spend enough time in those barrels, or because they’re spent from too much reuse. B- / $60

Armorik Breton Single Malt Double Matured – A somewhat unique whisky, Double Matured starts not with bourbon casks but with casks made from wood cut from Brittany’s forests. After “many years” in these casks (used or new is not stated), the whisky is then transferred to sherry casks for finishing. Though there’s still no age statement, the whisky inside on average is likely a little older. Age comes across on the nose, which provides a more complex and intricate experience right away, with notes of cloves, menthol, and sherried fruit. The body is nuttier and richer than the Classic, with a heavier (but surprisingly balanced) wood component. The whisky finishes strong but doesn’t overpower, the ultimate impact being something of a hybrid of a single malt and an American whiskey. Interesting stuff, worth exploring. B+ / $60

heavenlyspirits.com