Review: Crown Royal Noble Collection Cornerstone Blend

crown royal cornerstone blend

Crown Royal is embarking on a new collection of whisky releases called the Noble Collection. This will be a series of annual, limited releases (no time horizon has been announced), each designed to “showcase Crown Royal’s team of talented distillers and blenders and named for the whisky brand’s noble roots.” (Crown Royal reminds us that the brand originated as a gift for King George VI when he visited Canada in 1939.)

The first installment of the Noble Collection, Cornerstone Blend, is a blend of three whiskies, and Crown Royal has taken the interesting step of actually telling us a little bit about all three of them: a traditional Canadian rye, a rye made using Crown’s Coffey still, and a “bourbon-style Canadian whisky” that is matured in American oak. There’s no additional data on the three whiskies or their proportion in the blend, but that’s a nice start.

I take that back: It’s even better than that, because Crown Royal sent individual samples of all three of the component whiskies for us to check out as well as a sample of the finished blend. Before we move on to the review of the finished product, let’s take a quick look at the trio on their own to see what ingredients we’re working with. (Note: All three samples are cask strength, while the finished blend was brought down to 40.3% abv.)

The Cornerstone rye (111.4 proof) is quite gorgeous, a spicy, toffee-heavy whisky with a long finish of cloves and toasted wood. The Cornerstone Coffey rye (122.8 proof) has some similar characteristics, but is less polished and has a duller profile on the whole, with a heavy grainy character and some flabbiness on its finish. A lot of the character of the finished product clearly comes from this component, which is the least engaging of the trio. Finally, the Cornerstone “bourbon-style” whisky (136.4 proof) is engaging but is almost overloaded with sweetness, featuring butterscotch, cocoa powder, and ample barrel char.

Putting everything together, it’s a bit less than the sum of its parts. Crown Royal Cornerstone Blend is a bit of an odd whisky, punctuating a heavy barrel char character on the nose with briny notes, camphor, and some green olive notes. Sweetness is elusive at first, but shows its face on the restrained palate, which shows off notes of blonde wood, furniture polish, some raisins, and some rye-driven baking spices, including cloves and ginger. The finish is mild and short, in keeping with the greater experience: On the whole Cornerstone is dialed back, way back, a very model of restraint so effective that it’s difficult to get a proper handle on its essence. It’s not a bad whisky, but it comes across as a bit plain, almost to the point of boredom.

80.6 proof.

B- / $50 / crownroyal.com

Review: Yuengling Traditional Lager and Summer Wheat

yuengling

“America’s oldest brewery” gets minimal play out here on the west coast, but Yuengling (est. 1829) is nonetheless a well-known brand in these parts, even though we don’t often see its labels being peeled off of damp bottles. That’s because Yuengling is also a very large brewery — roughly the size of Sam Adams’ parent company, actually.

Today we look at Yuengling’s classic expression, a lager, and a more recent release, a wheat beer. Thoughts on both follow.

Yuengling Tradtional Lager – Traditional is right. This is a malty, robust, slightly nutty amber lager that exudes the old world from front to back. Grain lingers on the finish, with just a touch of gingerbread making a late appearance on the back end. Ball park beer at its best. 4.5% abv. B / $8 per six-pack

Yuengling Summer Wheat – A simple hefeweizen, Yuengling’s take on this brew offers lots of coriander and dried orange peel, giving the heavy wheat notes underpinning it a huge amount of spice. Initially off-putting, I eventually came around to the brew, though its boldly sweet and malty finish left me longing for some hops. 4.6% abv. B- / $8 per six-pack

yuengling.com

Review: Wines of Terra d’Oro, 2016 Releases

Amador County is home to Terra d’Oro, the first winery to open in this region since the end of Prohibition. Formerly bottled under the Montevina label, the winery was established in 1973 with a focus on historic grape varietals — particularly those of the Italian persuasion.

We sampled a vast array of current releases from Terra d’Oro. Thoughts follow.

First, some white and rose…

2015 Terra d’Oro Chenin Blanc & Viognier Clarksburg – 87% chenin blanc, 13% viognier. Peaches and lemons arrive up front, with perfume-driven notes taking the lead in short order. The finish offers hints of vanilla and caramel. On the whole, the wine is tropical and a bit buzzy, and it offers a refreshing take on a style that can often be overwhelmingly fruity. B+ / $16

2015 Terra d’Oro Pinot Grigio Santa Barbara County – There’s a nice slug of mango on the front of this wine, an an otherwise standard pinot grigio from Santa Barbara, far from Amador. Light and quite fresh, it’s an uncomplicated crowd pleaser with a brisk and nicely acidic finish. A- / $16

2015 Terra d’Oro Rose Wine Amador County – Made mostly of nebbiolo grapes. Fruit forward, and loaded with strawberry notes. A surefire crowd pleaser, this is a lively and fragrant wine that showcases crisp acidity and a slight sweetness on the finish. Nothing too fancy going on, but it’s difficult not to enjoy in the moment. B+ / $13

And on to the reds…

2014 Terra d’Oro Barbera Amador County – A bit fruity for a barbera — in fact, it’s got so much bright plum and cherry notes that barbera would’ve been my last guess. That said, this barbeque sipper has plenty to like, including a healthy vanilla note, a dusting of black pepper, and some dried herbs on the back end. It’s a definitive “new world” example of this grape, however. B- / $18

2014 Terra d’Oro Aglianico Amador County – This obscure Italian varietal makes for an interesting alternative to zinfandel, showcasing chocolate and caramel notes along with a moderate slug of citrus. Not as sweet as you’re expecting — at least not after it opens up for a few minutes — and the finish offers restraint. B+ / $18

2013 Terra d’Oro Sangiovese Amador County – A dense wine, with intense cherry and vanilla notes, plus a dusting of dark chocolate on the back end. The plummy finish and lack of herbal notes recall cabernet more than sangiovese, which isn’t entirely a bad thing — but which doesn’t ring authentic to the grape. B / $18

2013 Terra d’Oro Teroldego Amador County – Made from a obscure Alto Adige grape, this is an inky, ultra-ripe wine with notes of anise, cloves, and loads of dark currants. Sweet up front with a lingering earthy, tannic, and herbal finish, it makes me think of a cross between zinfandel and amarone… with all the good and bad that that connotes. B- / $18

2013 Terra d’Oro Petite Sirah Amador County – Ripe and juicy, with a ton of sweetness and residual notes of black tea, black pepper, and licorice. With time, this wine settles down enough to be approachable but the overwhelming sweetness otherwise makes the experience rather singular, culminating in a raisin- and cherry-heavy finish. B / $18

2013 Terra d’Oro Zinfandel Amador County – Restrained for zinfandel, with plenty of sweet raisin notes but also notes of blackberry, sweet tea, and vanilla candies. The finish is, again, quite dialed back, bringing forth notes of chocolate and licorice. It’s not an overly serious wine, but it’s a fun one. A- / $18

Finally, a pair of single vineyard zinfandels…

2014 Terra d’Oro Zinfandel Home Vineyard – Chocolate and intense Port notes — this is classic Amador County zinfandel, dusted with black pepper and notes of vanilla cake frosting. The finish offers notes of dried blueberry and a solid amount of baking spice and dried ginger notes. Though the body lacks structure (so common with zinfandel) and tends to fade away rather than go out with the bang I’d like to see, it’s still a fun and worthwhile zin. B+ / $24

2014 Terra d’Oro Zinfandel Deaver Vineyard – A somewhat vegetal expression of zin, with notes of coffee, sweet tea, and fruity, juicy plums throughout. Lots of tannin and a heavy wood influence muddy the waters, while the intense cherry jam notes come across as a bit cheap. B- / $22

terradorowinery.com

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