Review: Wines of Francis Ford Coppola, Late 2016 Releases


A septet of new releases from our friends at FFC. Quality on this round is literally all over the place…

2014 Francis Ford Coppola Sofia Blanc de Blancs Monterey County – The cellophane wrapper should connote luxury, but to me it always comes across as scary. This wine — vintage blanc de blancs! — smells like fizzy chardonnay, which is basically what it really is. Notes of bubble gum and vanilla candy aren’t wildly inappropriate against the backdrop of a gummy, foamy body, but it hardly makes for a nuanced drinking experience. C+ / $15

2015 Francis Ford Coppola Rosso & Bianco Pinot Grigio – A simple pinot grigio on the whole, though notes of marzipan and parmesan cheese take things in an unexpected, somewhat rustic direction. Gentle with citrus and apple fruit, lightly acidic, and mildly perfumed, it’s got a bit of everything, which is both good and bad, but which helps to acquit the wine appropriately for what’s intended to be an everyday table wine. B+ / $9

2015 Francis Ford Coppola Diamond Collection Pinot Grigio – A fruit-heavy style of pinot grigio, with notes of lychee, mango, and pistachio, with a finish that echoes notes of nougat. Quite sweet, but approachable. B / $12

2014 Francis Ford Coppola Votre Sante Chardonnay California – The label is perhaps meant to remind one of Burgundy, but the palate instead screams “Central Valley.” This is some questionable chardonnay, doctored up and over-oaked to within an inch of its life, offering a nose of sweet honey and a palate that pinballs between candy and canned vegetables. Throughout all of this: An overlay of liquid oak. Ugh. D / $10

2014 Francis Ford Coppola Diamond Collection Pavilion Chardonnay – The fine print on the back details that this is a Santa Lucia Highlands wine, and its elevated appellation (over the California-only appellation of the Votre Sante) shows bright apple fruit with light vanilla notes, brown butter, and fresh cream. There’s a lovely balance here that many of the wines in this roundup are lacking, and a freshness on the finish that is almost inspiring. A- / $20

2015 Francis Ford Coppola Sofia Rose Monterey County – This is the still rose from the Sofia sub-label, a strawberry-hued and -flavored oddity that won’t inspire or excite. Underneath those sweet berries there’s a somewhat muddy character, lingering on the finish side by side with some increasingly candy-like notes. C / $15

2013 Francis Ford Coppola Pitagora Red Wine Blend Sonoma County – The sole red wine in this collection, Pitagora is a blend of syrah, petit verdot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and petite sirah, but it feels closest in tone to a rustic Italian wine, full of dried herbs, cherries, and olive notes. Very dry, with an undercurrent of balsamic. B / $26

Review: Hermitage Brewing Company Sour Cherry Sour Ale


The name doesn’t lie. This orange-pink, wine-barrel-aged, ultra-fizzy sour from San Jose’s Hermitage Brewing is overwhelming with cherry notes up front, intensely sour from start to finish. The ale takes a turn for the earthy late in the game, which isn’t a poor match for the up-front cherry character, but the monumental sourness of the entire experience is quite overpowering. The lingering sour cherry mixes with notes of graphite, dried herbs, and slate on the finish. Stylistically, you know already if this is for you.

6.5% abv. Winter 2015-16 release.

B / $30 (750ml bottle) /

Review: Captain Morgan Jack-O’Blast


You know how you have those neighbors that go all out at Halloween? They put their decorations up in September. Everyone gets dressed up, even the dog. They give out the full size Snickers. You know the type.

Well, I had no idea, but Captain Morgan is that family. This new limited edition expression follows in the footsteps of Captain Morgan Cannon Blast, which was designed as a Jagermeister-like shot and bottled in a faux cannonball. Jack-o-Blast, as you can see from the photo above, is bottled in a faux pumpkin! And it looks legit! It doesn’t really matter what this stuff tastes like. You can put the bottle on your dining table as a credible centerpiece for the Halloween season.

Anyhoo, there is actual liquid inside the bottle, which is described as “pumpkin spiced rum.” At 30% alcohol, it’s lower-proof than Cannon Blast even, which is likely part of why the color is so light and golden hued. On the nose, imagine a liquified pumpkin pie, heavy with cloves, ginger, and vanilla — the hallmarks of a classic pumpkin pie. The palate isn’t quite as crystal clear. It drinks foremost with cola notes, from start to finish, the herbal elements adding a layer on top of that. Quite sweet from start to finish, it manages to keep from being overblown with sugar. In fact, while that sweetness hangs in there, it’s the cloves that linger longest on the finish, though its the aroma that makes the biggest and most lingering pumpkin-like impression.

Prototypical “pumpkin everything” fans will probably enjoy this beverage a bit more than I did… but I expect more of it will end up in coffee and on ice cream than it does in shot glasses.

60 proof.

B / $15 /

Review: Sonoma Cider The Wimble


This new limited edition cider from Sonoma Cider is billed as a Rhubarb Gose, a spin on the classic, slightly salty, semi-sour beer style. Sonoma’s gose-cider (gosider?) is made from organic apples, organic red rhubarb, and sea salt, coming together with a lick of sugar and salt up front, quickly fading to a light sour character. It’s hard to identify the flavor specifically as rhubarb; perhaps the sea salt mutes that specific flavor. That aside, the finish is dry and surprisingly refreshing, which is probably the only time I’ve said that about rhubarb anything.

5.5% abv.

B / $9 per 4-pack /

Review: Baileys Pumpkin Spice


Fall is here, and that must mean it’s time for… special edition flavored liqueurs!

Today’s comes from Baileys, which takes its iffy history with limited edition flavors and adds to it that biggest of crowd pleasers: pumpkin spice. Of course, pumpkin spice never really means much in the way of pumpkins, but “nutmeg/cinnamon/ginger/clove spice” just doesn’t have the same ring, does it?

Baileys is always most appropriate as a fall/winter spirit, and this is at least a credible use of the pumpkin spice motif. The spices are reasonably accurate and make for a natural companion to the creamy-vanilla-whiskey notes of the Baileys, but as with all things pumpkin spice and all things Baileys, this can quickly become far too much of a good thing.

Baileys Pumpkin Spice is ultimately a bit overwhelming, no surprise, all of this coming to a head on a finish that lingers for what feels like hours, thoroughly coating the palate with an unctuous character that feels like a pile of holiday cookies that have been liquefied and poured into your mouth.

But hey, maybe that’s your thing.

34 proof.

B / $19 /

Review: Johnnie Walker Blue Label (2016)

Johnnie Walker Blue Label Bottle

It’s been a solid six years since we spent any serious time with Johnnie Walker’s flagship bottling, Blue Label. The House of Walker doesn’t talk much about whether or how the recipe for Blue Label has evolved over the years, but in 2010 it was said that there were nine single malts in the blend, while today reports peg the total number at roughly 16 — so it’s likely some things have changed.

Tasting 2010 and 2016 vintage Blue Label side by side reveals some evolutionary changes, though nothing overwhelmingly dramatic. Today, the 2010 offers well-rounded notes of heavy sherry, almonds, some mint, and a dense, malty core. In comparison, the 2016 release shows itself as more aromatic, with a younger overall vibe and some clear aromas of petrol and rubber right off the bat.

The body however plays to many of the same elements as the older bottling — lots of nuts and roasted malts, a more restrained sherry component, and mixed herbal notes. As with the nose, the finish diverges from the 2010 more considerably. While the older bottling is lightly sweet and lingering, the 2016 comes off as a bit ashy and charcoal-smoked. It’s still respectable, austere, and complex — thanks largely to its bold and burly body, the whisky’s most consistent element throughout the years.

Blue Label has always presented itself as a mixed bag, but its current direction feels misguided to me. (For the record, I’d give the 2010 an upgrade to an A- from my earlier review.)

80 proof.

B / $225 /

Tasting the Wines of Amalaya and Colome, 2016 Releases


Amalaya and Colome are both based in Salta, Argentina — and both are owned by California’s Hess Family Wines. Today we look at two wines from each, a torrontes and a malbec, all delightfully different despite being neighbors, both geographically and business-wise.

2015 Amalaya Torrontes/Riesling Salta – 85% torrontes and 15% riesling. The riesling is a huge help here, and a big influence on the wine, giving it both tightly perfumed aromatics and some apricot/peach notes reminiscent of viognier. The flatter torrontes benefits from this, lifting it up into a more festive, zippy wine. B+ / $10

2015 Amalaya Malbec Salta – A blend of 85% malbec, 10% tannat, and 5% syrah. It’s a very dry wine, dusty at times before exhibiting notes of tree bark, chicory, and licorice overlaying its lightly balsamic, blackberry core. Modest body, but the finish is quite drying, slightly pruny, and a little thin. B / $12

2015 Colome Torrontes – Quite lemony, with a pinch of rosemary in the mix. The finish diverges toward a more heavily herbal character, including notes of juniper, though its acidity is high enough to at least keep this in check to some degree. B- / $12

2013 Colome Malbec Estate – What a breath of fresh air this wine is. Malbec can be so overwhelming, but Colome’s expression is full of fruit but tempered with a sprinkle of licorice, savory herbs, cloves, and graphite. Some mushroom evolves on the nose; give it time and some lively floral notes emerge, too. The finish is dry and a bit leathery, which actually makes for a balanced and engaging experience. A lovely and unexpectedly special wine — one to stock up on. A / $20