Tasting the White Wines of Lodi, California

Lodi is located up and east from Napa/Sonoma. The source of some of California’s less expensive wines, it’s nonetheless and “up and coming” region that has more of a pedigree than, say, California’s industrial Central Valley. Known for its heavy Zinfandel production, Lodi is also home to a prodigious amount of white wine. In a recent live tasting event, which was led by Camron King, Executive Director of the Lodi Winegrape Commission, and Susan Tipton of Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards, we focused exclusively on those whites, sampling five wines made from different varietals, all from Lodi grapes.

Thoughts on all five wines tasted follow.

2013 Borra Vineyards Artist Series Nuvola Gewürztraminer – A very fruity example of Gewurztraminer, with lemon and peaches up front, revealing a light honey sweetness as it starts to evolve in the glass. The finish is crisp and clean, with more fruit than the fragrant perfume notes that are typical of Gewurz. A fave here. B+ / $19

2013 Bokisch Vineyards Garnacha Blanca Vista Luna Vineyard – A bit on the weedy side, this white offers tropical notes up front before fading into a strongly grassy character, along with a somewhat meaty edge on the finish. Strange balance, not my favorite. C+ / $18

2013 Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards Viognier – Made by Lodi’s only all-white-wine winery. This Viognier is restrained in a way that many Viogniers are not, with more mild apricot and peach notes and an earthiness backing them up. Again, that big, chewy body takes over and fades into some funkier, meatier notes on the finish. Better balance on the whole, though, and something to try even if you don’t consider yourself a Viognier fan. B- / $23

2013 Heritage Oak Winery Sauvignon Blanc – Very perfumy on the nose, with notes of lemongrass and pepe du chat… and also an edge of tree bark atypical of Sauvignon Blanc. Clean on the body, with lots of fresh lemon character and a grassy, herbal finish. B+ / $18

2012 Uvaggio Moscato Secco – Not overwhelmingly sweet as you might have feared, this Moscato is plenty fragrant and perfumed, but dials back that unctuous juicy orange character almost to an afterthought. Dry and clean, this is the rare moscato that you might consider drinking with your main course rather than dessert. B / $14

lodiwine.com

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Review: Ingenium Dry Gin

IngeniumGin

Portland, Maine-based New England Distilling presents this avant garde “new western” gin, made from a triple pot-distilled mash of 2-row barley with a bit of rye added. Botanicals include juniper, lime zest, lemongrass, bay leaf, mace, and rose petals — plus some other oddities.

That description alone gives you plenty to think about. Pour a glass and you get plenty to write about, too.

Let’s start with the mashbill. That barley base creates a very white whiskey-like experience on the nose, malty and full of cereal, with some evergreen notes bringing up the rear. The botanicals barely peek through, unable to push past that granary-fueled base.

The palate offers more interest, though it’s inconsistent. Here some floral notes make for an odd but somewhat successful balance with the malted milk-like body. Curious but somewhat compelling. As the finish arrives, the clear lime and mint notes — about the only things even remotely traditional in this gin — offer some hint that this might work in a cocktail, but on the whole it’s so weird that it’s a struggle to see where it would feel truly at home.

94 proof.

B- / $40 / newenglanddistilling.com

Review: Wines of CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs, 2014 Releases

Crossbarn_By_Paul_Hobbs_Pinot_Noir_Sonoma_Coast_2011_Bottle-900x900Once called “the Steve Jobs of wine,” Paul Hobbs is a NorCal bigshot that makes wines under his own label as well as importing stuff he really likes. CrossBarn is his new, lower-cost label.

We sampled three wines (two Pinots, one Chardonnay) under the CrossBarn label. Thoughts follow.

2013 CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs Chardonnay Sonoma Coast – Virtually unoaked (80% fermented in tank, 20% in neutral French oak), this wine presents a citrusy but quite herbal nose, with a body offering spiced apples and Meyer lemon, plus some apricot on the finish. Easy to love. A- / $18

2012 CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir Sonoma County – A slightly thin, somewhat meaty example of the varietal. The body’s light blueberry fruit is indistinct, muddied by the savoriness that makes it feel a bit like old fruit juice. B- / $35

2012 CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir Anderson Valley – A much more refined Pinot. It starts with some Port-like notes on the nose, and plenty of macerated cherries. The body isn’t exactly dense with fruit, but it has lots of life and only a hint of vanilla and some woody bramble character by way of terroir. A solid, easy-to-love wine. B+ / $35

crossbarnwinery.com

Review: McAfee’s Benchmark Peach Liqueur

Benchmark No 8 Bourbon Peach 70prf 750ml Glass

This has been sitting on the shelf of a local store for a bit and at a price of $13, I thought it was worth dropping the coin to give it a spin. Benchmark Peach is marketed as an offshoot of the venerable Benchmark whiskey brand, but it’s not a flavored whiskey: It’s a liqueur.

To borrow a phrase: It’s just peachy. Very peachy. It certainly lives up to tasting like a peach liqueur with a hint of whiskey rather than the other way around. This could be quite handy for mixers and cocktail recipes: perhaps for a peach-mint julep, fuzzy navel (we still have those, right?), or a bellini. However, as a standalone product it’s almost too overpowering. There are other varietals in the series (Brown Sugar and Egg Nog were also on the shelves), and reviews of these will be coming in due time.

The packaging might cause a bit of confusion and high expectations for Benchmark loyalists expecting the usual Benchmark juice with a hint of peach. It may be unfair to compare, but the association is inevitable, and bourbon drinkers may find themselves a bit disappointed. As flavored whiskeyish products go, it’s not the best available on the market, but it is certainly far from the worst.

70 proof.

B / $13 / greatbourbon.com

Review: The Glenlivet Nadurra Oloroso

The-Glenlivet-Nadurra-Oloroso-bottle-2

The Glenlivet Nadurra — “natural” in Gaelic — is a member of the Glenlivet’s core range of expressions, named in part because it spends its entire life in ex-bourbon casks (with no finishing), isn’t filtered or colored, and is bottled at its “natural” cask strength. Now, Nadurra is getting its first permanent line extension, with Nadurra Oloroso.

As the name implies, this whisky spends its entire life in Oloroso Sherry casks, the first major Glenlivet release in decades to be aged this way. Unlike the “regular” Nadurra, though, it is bottled without an age statement and at a somewhat lower alcohol level: 96 proof.

More Nadurras are coming, as the Glenlivet Nadurra sub-range is about to blow up. Says the company: “Each expression in The Glenlivet Nàdurra range is crafted in small batches using traditional production methods and is matured exclusively in a different cask-type, showcasing the versatility and flawless quality of The Glenlivet spirit. Unlike most modern whiskies, the range is bottled without chill-filtration, which offers the additional complexity, body, and texture of a whisky that has just been drawn from the cask.”

All that aside: Nadurra Oloroso is a considerable departure from standard Nadurra expression. The nose offers lots of grain and cereal notes — it’s clearly younger (probably much younger) than the 16 years of age on the regular Nadurra — with just a touch of orange oil and apple pie spice atop the cereal notes.

On the body, that granary character is strong, but not overpowering, with notes of sherried fruit (naturally), plus unripe banana, burnt matches, tar, and overcooked meat. What emerges from this melange is a sense that the whiskey is simultaneously too young and spent too long in sherry barrels… that perhaps a finishing was more in order with this release than a lengthy sojourn in Sherry casks. The lower proof level also leads me to believe that this whisky isn’t even bottled at cask strength — 96 proof can’t be the way it came out of the barrel — to which I have to ask: Why was this given the Nadurra name to begin with?

Weird. Discuss amongst yourselves.

96 proof. Travel retail only (for now).

B- / $75 / theglenlivet.com

Review: Bacardi Mango Fusion

Bacardi Mango_Fusion_BottleFusion, you say? Turns out all you need are mangos and oranges and they fuse together to power your car.

Ahem, well, Bacardi’s latest flavored rum is this, “Mango fused with Orange” and bottled at 70 proof.

The nose of this concoction lands in a weird zone among tropical, citrus, and cough syrup, sharp and indistinct, but impossibly fruity. The body is a bit more merciful. Initially quite mild, it soon punches you with that same trio of flavors. Lots going on, but it’s the oily orange marmalade character that spreads itself on the thickest. The finish is sweet as candy, the only real indication that this is rum, not vodka. Fair enough as a mixer if you’ve got a sweet tooth.

B- / $12 / bacardi.com

Review: Ty Ku Silver, Black, and Coconut Sake

TY_KU_Premium_Sake_Collection_Pack

One of the bigger names in imported sakes (in addition to a panoply of other spirits like soju and other Asian-inspired liquors), Ty Ku hails from Nara, Japan, where it’s produced in iconic, triangular-base bottles.

Ty Ku produces four sakes (one flavored). Only the white bottling (Ty Ku’s highest-level sake) is not reviewed here. The three bottlings below are also available in a gift pack (pictured) of three 330ml bottles ($39).

Thoughts follow. (Prices are for individual 720ml bottles.)

Ty Ku Sake Junmai (Silver) – Slightly brooding on the nose, with more of a winter squash character to it. Modest honeydew notes emerge on the body, with a very gentle sweetness to it. Initially a touch jarring, it grows on you over time. Drink very cold. B- / $16

Ty Ku Sake Junmai Ginjo (Black) – Gentler, with notes of melon and coconut on the nose. More fruit, with cantaloupe and some pear character, emerges on the palate.  Quite fresh, it’s a classic, if simple, junmai ginjo. B+ / $22

Ty Ku Coconut Sake – A nigori (cloudy) sake produced at junmai quality and flavored with, of course, coconut. Pina colada on the nose, but tempered with melon notes on the body. It’s sweet, but not as sweet as you might expect, with the coconut notes coming off as rich and filling. The finish, however, gets a little mouth-coating after awhile, leaving one running for the water. C+ / $13

trytyku.com

Review: Starr Hill Whiter Shade of Pale Ale, Soul Shine, and Little Red Roostarr

SH__WhiterShade_22oz_Bottle_thumbThree new brews from Starr Hill, arriving just in time for summer barbecues. Thoughts follow.

Starr Hill Whiter Shade of Pale Ale White IPA – A hybrid of Belgian wheat beer and India Pale Ale, a bit like one of my current favorite brews, Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’. Made with wheat and two-row malt along with Cascade, Simcoe, Columbus, and Falconer’s Flight hops, it’s a nicely hoppy beer that still exercises some restraint with its bitterness (45 IBUs). The attack starts moderately big hop notes along with some orange fruit, quickly leading to a very pleasant and rounded body. Chewy on the palate, the wheat component makes for a more breadlike IPA than you may be accustomed to, but this is ultimately quite fulfilling and satisfying. The finish is soft and easy, more soothing than bracing like a classic IPA. All in all, an excellent brew. 7.5% abv. A / $10 per 22 oz. bottle

Starr Hill Soul Shine Belgian-Style Pale Ale – An “Americanized” Belgian ale, which means adding American hops (Falconer’s Flight, Cascade, Simcoe, and Columbus) and bringing it down to 5.2% abv. Though it’s specifically designed for lighter, summer drinking, the beer feels a bit watery, and super fizzy to boot. Relatively flavorless up front, I pick up very basic citrus notes interwoven with baked bread character. The body is short and quickly fades, however, leaving behind a minerally taste reminiscent of beer-spiked Perrier. Not my favorite in this batch. 5.2% abv. B- / $NA per six-pack

Starr Hill Little Red Roostarr Coffee Cream Stout – The odd man out in this otherwise summery collection of brews, Little Red Roostarr is an inky milk stout that offers the coffee ground and bittersweet chocolate notes you’d expect from this style, with a very modest hop character (East Kent Goldings) to it. What’s lacking is the “cream” component: Red Roostarr is fairly thin in the body, which ultimately takes the beer to a lackluster finish that has more chewy graininess in it than I care to see in a beer of this style. 5.8% abv. B / $7 per 22 oz. bottle

starrhill.com

Review: 2012 Natura Cabernet Sauvignon and 2012 Novas Sauvignon Blanc

Natura_CS_2012We may have missed the “Earth Day” timing of these affordable, biodynamic, sustainably produced wines from Chile’s Emiliana Winery, but it’s safe to say you’ll find them for sale pretty much year-round. Anyway, we love to hear stories about Earth-friendly wines being made… but if you’re serious about sustainability, perhaps you should be drinking local plonk instead of foreign stuff? Just sayin’.

2012 Emiliana Natura Cabernet Sauvignon Rapel Valley Curious nose: dark cocoa powder, toasty wood, and dense currant notes. The body doesn’t really deliver, alas, bringing some astringency to bear alongside an acidic, moderately tannic, and restrained fruit. The finish is drying and a bit bittersweet. C / $10

2012 Emiliana Novas Sauvignon Blanc Gran Reserva San Antonio Valley – Intensely vegetal nose. Asparagus, lettuce, some lemon peel, pepe du chat. The body brings on some merciful acidity and citrus juice notes, here predominantly grapefruit. Very tart finish, which washes away those somewhat uninspiring notes on the nose. B- / $15

emiliana.cl

Review: Wines of Belle Ambiance, 2014 Releases

belle ambianceA new brand from DFV/Delicato, Belle Ambiance has a rock bottom price combined with appealing, upscale packaging that’s certain to drive some sales. Launching out of the gate with a collection of six wines, we tried three for review. Not entirely sure I’m buying the “family vineyards” claim on the label, given that all of these wines carry generic “California” designations, but, hey, it’s what’s inside that counts, no?

2013 Belle Ambiance Pinot Grigio California – On the sweet side, with lots of mango notes, plus some lemon and a touch of melon. The lasting finish offers some light herbal notes, before recalling that tropical punch up front. Fine, but best with food. B / $8

2012 Belle Ambiance Chardonnay California – Straightforward, big butter/vanilla notes, with a lemon chaser. Long finish, with quite sweet marshmallow notes picking up on the back end. Not bad, but needs some refinements. B- / $8

2012 Belle Ambiance Pinot Noir California – Gentle, simple stuff. Light cherry and strawberry notes lead to a quietly sweet body, with light tea leaf notes on the finish. Oh so pleasant, almost harmless. B+ / $8

belleambiancevineyards.com