Francis Ford Coppola has become an icon in Northern California’s wine country, but why does a man this important — whose Oscars and Palme d’Or can be seen firsthand at the pool-equipped day resort/tasting room he runs in Sonoma County — need no fewer than five Chardonnays? (In truth there are at least seven.)
While you puzzle over that one, we were tasting the 2011 vintages of these wines. Thoughts follow.
2011 Francis Ford Coppola Chardonnay Director’s Cut Russian River Valley – Surprisingly sweet, with lychee and mango notes up top, some lemon underneath. Modestly buttery body. The finish is a touch bittersweet. Altogether curious, but not overly balanced. B / $21
2011 Francis Ford Coppola Chardonnay Votre Sante California – “Burgundian style” Chardonnay, which is a little flabby and muted on the fruit notes. Some vanilla notes creep into what is otherwise a predominantly butter and wood affair, although a touch of lemon on the nose elevates things a bit. B- / $14
The Portuguese don’t sit around sipping Vintage Port all day. For everyday drinking, they turn to some simple and very affordable wines. Increasingly, these wines have been coming to the U.S., letting us discover new grapes, like Antao Vaz, and new regions, like Alentejo, where these three wines hail from.
Alentejo covers most of the southern half of the country and encompasses a wide range of varietals and styles. Thoughts follow.
2010 Alente Vinho Branco Antao Vaz/Arinto DOC Alentejo – A white blend of Antao Vaz (60%) and Arinto (40%) grapes, the former being the most commonly grown white grape in the Alentejo region. Lots of herbal notes on the front of this wine, with a big body featuring restrained apple notes coming along behind. The finish is mildly bitter and lasting. Altogether it’s an interesting change from the usual fare, but an overall sense of balance just isn’t here. B- / $12
2009 Mariana Alentejo - A blend of 40% Aragonez, 30% Alicante Bouschet, 20% Trincadeira, and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. Rocky. Intensely herbal and funky earth on the nose. Not nearly that powerful on the body, which is super tart and almost jammy on the back end, though that creeping, decaying herb character comes along after a short while. Not a winner. D / $14
2009 Vinha do Mouro Tinto Estremoz Alentejo – A marginal improvement. Big barnyard notes, with a raisiny core. Some coffee notes, particularly on the finish. Ends up somewhat bittersweet. C- / $15
2007 marks the first year that Banfi’s new Horizon Winery got up and running, featuring new a fermenting system that uses oak cores with stainless steel caps to produce wine. The newly released Brunello, the first wine to come out of this winery, is reviewed below, along with a hot new Amarone from Sartori, one of Banfi’s labels. Thoughts follow.
2007 Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino – Brick red in color, this Brunello looks very old (it’s not) and almost oxidized (it shouldn’t be) after pouring. Initially a bit hoary and funky, things settle down with exposure to air. In the end we get lots of wood, a dense and tannic core, and notes of balsamic, licorice, and currants. Not altogether balanced. B- / $55 castellobanfi.com
2009 Sartori Amarone della Valpolicella – A classically structured Amarone, raisiny but full of fruit up front, with notes of tobacco and touched with strawberry jam. Tart and fresh (particularly on the finish), it’s not as heavy-duty as many Amarones, which makes it more easygoing when sipping on its own. B+ / $40 banfivintners.com
Stony Hill Vineyard is located in Napa Valley’s Spring Mountain AVA, where it specializes in white wines, particularly its award-winning Chardonnay. We sampled three of its latest releases for the 2013 drinking season. Thoughts follow.
2010 Stony Hill Chardonnay Napa Valley – Lemon, honeysuckle, and intriguing woody notes on the nose lead to a complex body, moderate in mouthfeel with light acidity. Here you find lots of orange and lemon notes, some honey — an almost Sauternes hint — midway through the finish. Don’t worry, it’s not a sugar bomb: The conclusion is dry and inviting, the honey character building on the nose as it warms in the glass. A real knockout. A / $42
Lately we’ve received a whole bunch of “stocking stuffer” sized gadgets suitable for wine and beer fanatics. Rather than review them individually, we’re rounding them up here in a mega-gizmo post. Thoughts follow.
Hermetus Bottle Opener & Resealer – Sometimes you don’t want to drink that entire half-liter of beer, but if you’ve pried off the crown cap, what do you do next? The Hermetus is several gadgets in one, but the most noteworthy is that it reseals beer bottles. Just slide the lip of the bottle through the aluminum groove as far as you can: The groove pushes it against a rubber pad and seals it tight. Turn it upside down, shake it up, no worries — the beer won’t come out. It works on both U.S. and Euro bottles, and it includes a standard opener as well as a claw-like opener designed to help with stubborn twist-offs, too. Instructions engraved on the reverse remind you of all of this in case you’ve had too much. A / $9 kaufmann-mercantile.com
Indio: Not from India, but from Mexico. Born south of the border in 1893, Indio only made it to the U.S. in 2012, courtesy of owner Heineken (which makes Tecate, Dos Equis, Sol, and a ton of other familiar beers in the same brewery). Now that Indio’s here, how’s it taste?
This curious, darker Mexican lager is at first appealing. The body is brisk, mildly bitter but nutty and lightly earthy — corn husks, perhaps? Things go along well enough until the finish, which gets progressively more and more bitter — too much so, really. This finish is not so much hoppy as it is weedy and vegetal, almost acrid in some bottles that I encountered. Quality seems to be erratic and the beer, overall, is just so-so.
B- / $8 per 6-pack / facebook.com/IndioBeer
Not getting enough froot in your diet? Now you can up your intake with one of the nuttiest vodka flavors to hit the market yet: Three Olives’ “Loopy” Vodka.
Designed specifically to taste (and look) like a certain breakfast cereal, Loopy is unmistakable when you crack open the bottle. The aroma of sugared, berry-flavored cereal is dead-on uncanny as you pour out a glass. Whoever concocted this flavor (it’s natural, people!) deserves a medal.
Bacon salt rim? Boring. How about a basil rim on your cocktail? Or fennel?
Fresh Origins, a micro-greens and edible flowers creator, is launching Herb and Flower Crystals, a sort of freeze-dried herb-meets-sugar idea that results in colorful, exotic, and wholly unique crystals that can be used as cocktail garnishes. Two sizes of the crunchy crystals are available, a coarse grind that is mainly intended as a flavoring ingredient for culinary recipes, and a finer grain that can stick to the rim of a moistened cocktail glass.
We recently wrote about one of Mettler’s wines in our roundup of Lodi’s biggest names. The company recently sent a pair of additional bottlings to consider. Thoughts follow.
2010 Mettler Petite Sirah Estate Grown – Tons of fruit, jammy like a big Zinfandel. Light smoky notes and a huge body. This is a very sweet wine that rushes the palate with freshly-smashed blueberry and blackberry character, yet it’s surprisingly easy to drink. Not a terribly nuanced wine, but it worked fairly well both on its own and with a hearty meal. B / $25
2010 Mettler Old Vine Zinfandel Epicenter Lodi – A strange Zin. On the nose, traditional notes of blackberry, pepper, and black tea. But on the body, a much different picture emerges: these characteristics take on a stranger, much more exotic consistency. The tea notes come on strong, playing with some hefty wood character. The spice brings on a kind of sour rhubarb note that sweetens up after some exposure to air… but never quite enough. B- / $20
Starr Hill in Charlottesville, Virginia makes a collection of beers in a wild array of styles, mostly available on the central-eastern seaboard. The company sent us (out of the blue) two of its newer, seasonal releases for sampling and review. Thoughts follow.
Starr Hill Starr Saison Belgian Style Ale – Mild nose. Fruity with orange and grapefruit notes. On the palate, moderately bitter and slightly sour, with a bit of mustiness on the end. Fruit and hops come together to create something approaching a sense of applesauce mixed together with old wood, rye crackers, and peanut shells. Surprisingly restrained body. Overall it offers an austere, Old World, and an overall pleasant experience, but not an entirely refreshing or complicated one. 6% abv. B- / $NA per 12 oz. bottle
Starr Hill Psycho Kilter Wee Heavy Ale – Wow, this is a dangerous beer. 22 oz. of 9.3% alcohol wee heavy… and oh so drinkable. Very malty but not syrupy, this mahogany brown ale is rich with nutty flavors, silky chocolate notes, some touches of coffee, and even light wine characteristics with just a touch of bitterness on the back end. This bruiser goes down far too easy, its light sweetness tantalizing the taste buds in just the right way, inviting sip after sip as you explore its depths. Really lovely. A / $NA per 22 oz. bottle
This big Zin, touched with Petite Sirah, offers a flood of flavor. Big with strawberry jam and cocoa notes, and a touch of cedar wood on the side. The finish is long and a bit cloying, almost enamel-stripping in its incredible sweetness. Overall a fairly standard interpretation of Zinfandel in the ’10s — tons of alcohol (14.9% abv), overripe fruit, and candy.
B- / $18 / ranchozabaco.com
MillerCoors is getting the creative juices flowing with a new brand straight out of the company think tank. The Band of Brewers, a collaborative group of brewers spanning across the MillerCoors network, have joined together to release to release Third Shift, an amber lager within the Märzen style. While February marks the first month that this beer is available for distribution and release to the masses, it has enjoyed success in the past by winning a gold medal at the Great American Beer Fest in 2010. It also has seen limited, tap-only allocations in the past year, of which Chris had the pleasure of testing last August.
Third Shift is dedicated not only to the brewers who worked throughout the nights to create this beer, but to all those who put in the effort and long hours in their pursuits and careers. And to these workers go the spoils, as their reward comes in the form of slightly buttery and toasted malt, a light honey-like sweetness, and earthy, spicy hops. An obviously German influence permeates throughout this beer, both in malt and hop selection, and everything is tied together with a crispness that leaves a smooth aftertaste in the finish.
George Clooney seems to like his tequila like he likes his women: Sweet.
This much talked-about celebrity project doesn’t hide its backer on the back label like some vanity spirits: The Cloon’s signature is right on the front. (It looks like “Geogo Cloy” but that’s close enough, I think.)
Available in blanco and reposado expressions, this 100% Highlands agave tequila is currently an exclusive at BevMo retailers. Both are 80 proof.
2011’s Valinch — a cask-strength version of Auchentoshan Classic — was a real knockout, so the Lowlands-based distillery is back with a follow up for 2012.
This edition (still no age statement) offers a substantially different sipping experience. On the nose, there’s a distinct and overwhelming green olive character, tempered by notes of pine needles and brown butter. I can’t say I’ve experienced anything quite like it on the nose of any other whisky.
To call the LeSutra line of liqueurs garish would be a vast understatement. Decked out in pastel colors, emblazoned with tiny fleur-de-lis icons, and sporting oversized metallic stoppers, you don’t walk past the lineup of four LeSutra bottles and not ask, what the heck is that?
Launched by producer Timbaland, these are (duh) club-friendly spirits intended as sippers at the table in your fancier bottle service establishments. Obviously they work as mixers, Alize-style, too.
Buffalo Trace’s latest experimental whiskeys are here, and this time out the focus is on barrel treatments, specifically how different heat treatments can impact the resulting spirit. In BT’s own words:
Both of these experiments study the effects of extreme heat on oak barrels and the flavor of the bourbon inside.
The Hot Box Toasted Barrel Bourbon involved placing the barrel staves into a “Hot Box” at 133 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, the staves were steamed before being assembled into a barrel. The goal was to drive the flavors deep into the wood. Next the barrels were filled with Buffalo Trace Rye Bourbon Mash #2 and left to age for 16 years and 8 months.
The #7 Heavy Char Barrel Bourbon Whiskey experiment used barrels which were charred for 3.5 minutes, as opposed to the normal 55 second char used by Buffalo Trace typically. The barrels were then filled with Buffalo Trace Rye Bourbon Mash #2 and left to age for 15 years and 9 months.
Both are 90 proof. Thoughts follow. Continue reading
Van Brunt Stillhouse is a craft distillery based in Brooklyn — arguably the epicenter of microdistillery activity in America, if not the world. (The company is named after Cornelius Van Brunt, one of the founding fathers of Brooklyn.)
The distillery produces whiskey, rum, and — unusually — grappa. We tasted all three spirits. All are 80 proof. Thoughts follow.
Van Brunt Stillhouse American Whiskey – Made from New York grains, “made primarily from malted barley and wheat, with a little bit of corn and a touch of rye.” No age statement, but it spends just five months in American oak barrels. Incredibly young on the nose, it’s loaded with grain, funky and skunky. The palate doesn’t really alter course. Here the grain has a more malty character, but the finish is lengthy with grain husks, bean sprouts, and lumberyard remnants. Not my bag, though the mashbill sounds intriguing. C- / $36 (375ml) [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]
It’s well known that Pinot Noir from California tastes different than Pinot Noir from France — even if the wines are made identically. But does the concept of terroir extend to spirits like gin, too? Can juniper berries sourced from the far ends of the world really express their differences after going through the long process of distillation and bottling as gin?
Master of Malt sets out to find the answer with this, the Origin Series of Single Estate gins. Seven versions are on offer, each made with juniper sourced from a single location, each in a different country (all are in Europe). Each batch arrives in a bottle that is distilled just from juniper, with no other botanicals added. However, a small add-on vial of distilled botanicals (the usual gin stuff) comes with each bottle. To turn your juniper-flavored spirit into real gin, just add the vial to the bottle and you’ve got single-estate gin, with all the fixings. (Note: You can buy them as minis if you don’t want to shell out for full bottles of seven experimental gins.)
Every serious wine drinker needs a big fat book on Bordeaux, the world’s pre-eminent wine region, on his shelf. Oz Clarke’s fat tome on the area and its wines (and, per the subtitle, the vineyards and winemakers) is a decent pick, but it’s not the best I’ve seen.
As is frequently the problem with “celebrity” authors, the book is significantly more concerned with Oz Clarke than with Bordeaux. The word “I” appears on nearly every page. And Clarke himself is seen mugging in a vast number of pictures (far more than any winemakers, anyway). Continue reading
Finger Lakes Distilling operates out of, you guessed it, the Finger Lakes region of New York, well known as an up-and-coming wine region but also a hotbed of craft distilleries, too. Finger Lakes makes two young whiskeys which we recently put to the taste test. Both are 91 proof.
McKenzie Bourbon Whiskey – Double-pot distilled from a mashbill of 70% local, heirloom corn (the rest is reportedly 20% rye, 10% malted barley). Aged in 10-gallon, new charred barrels (for unspecified time; reportedly 18 months) and finished in casks that held local Chardonnay. First impressions: There’s lots of wood here, with a hearty corn character to back it up. The grain notes are quite straightforward, and the bigger body — driven by the Chardonnay finish, perhaps — is a help considering the relative lack of sweetness. There’s some glimmers of excitement here, with some interesting incense and raisin notes, but the hefty sawdust character on the finish is a bit too close to the lumberyard for my taste. Batch 09/2012. B- / $56 [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]