Tasting the Wines of Gerard Bertrand, 2015 Releases

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Gerard Bertrand is a producer in the Roussillon region of France… just next door to the Languedoc, nestled between the Pyrennes mountains (and Spain) and the Mediterranean Sea. But Gerard Bertrand is also a man, an imposing Frenchman who was eye to eye with me at a solid 6’4″ and with the uncanny resemblance of Vincent Cassel. But rather than screaming at ballerinas to “Attack it!” Bertrand makes a number of highly regarded wines (dozens of them) in his mountain commune. He’s also written a book about it: Wine, Moon and Stars, where he talks about biodynamics and a life in winemaking in the south of France. We recently had lunch in San Francisco to talk about the book and taste his wines, both new and (very) old. Thoughts on Betrand’s latest wines follow.

NV Gerard Bertrand Code Rouge Cremant de Limoux AOP – A stellar sparkler that is not rouge at all but rather blanc, very fresh, lively, and bright, with notes of apples, some pears, and toffee. A- / $27

2012 Gerard Bertrand Cigalus Blanc Aude Hauterive IGP – A blend of chardonnay/viognier/sauvignon blanc. Bold and gold in color, it offers honey and mint notes with some almost bready notes on the palate. Food friendly, with an herbal kick and some notes of furniture polish on the nose. B / $36

2014 Gerard Bertrand Chateau La Sauvageonne GMVV Rose Coteaux du Languedoc AOP – Grenache/mourvedre/viognier/vermentino. An interesting rose, with a mild nose and notes of grapefruit, lime zest, and candied flower petals. Some herbal character emerges alongside the slightly chalky finish. B+ / $20

2012 Gerard Bertrand Clos d’Ora Minervois La Liviniere AOP – A new release. A Rhone-ish blend of syrah, grenache, mourvedre, and carignan. A wine designed to “deliver a mission of peace, love, and harmony.” That’s effective, given this wine’s lovely nose of violets and caramel, and youthful body that exhibits floral notes, and some coconut and chocolate in the finish. Mineral notes perk up with air, too. A- / $NA

0121951 Gerard Bertrand Legend Vintage Banyuls Rivesaltes AOP – Gorgeous old Banyuls, dessert wine made of 100% grenache. Lovely port notes have mellowed into a glorious blend of raisin and fig, chocolate and nuts in perfect harmony. At once gentle, elegent, and rich with dense dessert flavors. A knockout. A+ / $165

I also brought some wines home for tasting later…

2014 Gerard Bertrand Cote des Roses – A grenache/cinsault/syrah rose blend. Very fresh and, indeed, floral, with notes of strawberries, peaches, rose petals, and a significant tropical influence. Significant acidity keeps things lively on the palate, but also fruit forward. Brisk and fragrant, quite summery. Note the bottle, the base of which is cast into the impression of a full rose flower. Cute. B+ / $15

2014 Gerard Bertrand Gris Blanc – A rose blend of grenache gris and grenache noir, a very pale, light-bodied wine with overtones of fresh herbs, white flowers, and light tropical elements. Very fresh and fragrant, it’s a classic summer rose through and through. B+ / $16

2011 Gerard Bertrand Grand Terroir Tautavel – A blend of grenache/syrah/carignan. Herbal, with overtones of roasted meats on the nose, with touches of licorice and raspberry jam. The body gets going with restrained fruit and some fresh thyme and rosemary, but the fruit becomes more prominent as it gets some air. Ultimately it’s quite lively, with touches of vanilla and coconut, more of that thyme, and a slightly smoky, leathery back end. Let this one breathe a bit and its depth will surprise you. A- / $15

gerard-bertrand.com

Review: West Cork Irish Whiskey Classic Blend and Single Malt 10 Years Old

WestCork_10Yr_Whiskey_bt

West Cork is an Irish whiskey brand that’s now making its way to the U.S.. It’s actually made in West Cork (by West Cork Distillers), where Kennedy and a variety of other products are also produced. Unlike Kennedy, these are legit whiskeys, one blended and one a single malt. We tried them both. Thoughts follow.

West Cork Original Irish Whiskey Classic Blend – A standard blend of grain and malt whiskeys, aged in Bourbon barrels. It’s a light and breezy blend, largely in keeping with the gentle “house style” of Irish whiskey. There’s a citrus edge on the nose, but the body features plenty of malt, with solid nougat, vanilla, and a mild echo of citrus — lemon meringue, perhaps — as the finish takes hold. It’s a whiskey that initially comes across as simple but which grows on you quite a bit as you work through that first glass. Irish fans, give it a spin. 80 proof. B+ / $27

West Cork Single Malt Irish Whiskey 10 Years Old – Big (and surprising) green apple notes on the nose, drowning out everything else. The body is very malty, rich with notes of sweetened breakfast cereal, with lingering notes of toffee and molasses — and perhaps some coconut on the back end. The palate cuts a traditional Irish malt character, but it’s ultimately hard to reconcile with the fruity nose — those apple characteristics growing in strength as the whiskey gets some air in the glass. 80 proof. B / $40

westcorkdistillers.com

Review: Old Overholt Straight Rye Whiskey

old overholtOld Overholt’s been making rye since well before rye was cool. Part of the Beam Suntory empire, the brand claims heritage back to 1810 and was reputedly the whiskey of choice of Doc Holliday himself.

Old Overholt is commonly used as a mixer — and is a frequent denizen of the Sazerac cocktail — but let’s take a look at how well it stands on its own two feet. While there is no official production information available (including the mashbill), some say Overholt’s trimmed its barrel time down to 4 years while simultaneously raising prices.

True or not, as of 2015 Old Overholt drinks a lot like a young, rye-heavy, mainstream bourbon. On the nose, menthol notes and some hints of leather and cloves. The body is lightly sweet, heavy on notes of cinnamon and clove, bitter roots, and some simple, sawdusty wood character. Sampled neat, Old Overholt drinks as a simple spirit, light on the tongue, a bit bitter, and with a touch of red pepper on the finish. Pleasant and cordial enough, but best as a mixer, where, true to form, it proves quite versatile.

80 proof.

B / $17 / beamsuntory.com

Review: Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey Batch #121

Stranahan's Bottle ShotIt has been many years since we visited Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey in a formal capacity. Batch #33, in fact, back in 2009.

Since then, Stranahan’s has become a bona-fide phenomenon, one of the stalwarts of craft whiskeymaking and the recipient of a cult following. Today we look at the 121st batch of Stranahan’s — still 100% Rocky Mountain barley and local water, aged two-plus years in new barrels, and bottled in batches made from 10 to 20 barrels a pop, which makes it more different with each bottling than the typical whiskey.

Stranahan’s has always had a certain soul and its own raison d’etre, and that is one that resonates with intense oak, old prunes, lumberyard notes, and an almost funky, mushroomy cereal character. Stranahan’s is a gut punch, and depending on your mood that day it can be a welcome friend or an angry enemy. Re-tasting Batch #33 reveals a brooding spirit that still rests on its grainy base but which is tempered by some citrus notes, a little baking spice, and some gingerbread.

In contrast, Batch #121 comes across as more youthful in the selected barrels — the grain overpowering the secondary elements singlehandedly. Here the whiskey is enveloped in that mushroom funk, featuring some austere, winey elements ultimately giving it some astringency. The notes of fermented bean curd are weird, but not out of bounds for a whiskey as generally as strange as Stranahan’s, but the lack of any real fruit or spice element in this batch makes it a tougher slog than it ought to be. I’ll say one thing: Stranahan’s is such a unique whiskey that none of this should come as a surprise. Batch #122 probably tastes nothing like it.

B / $60 / stranahans.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: I.W. Harper Bourbon and 15 Year Old Bourbon

I.W._HARPER_15_YEAR

Diageo recently announced another spiritual resurrection: I.W. Harper. I.W. Harper was a Kentucky bourbon brand started by Isaac Wolfe Bernheim (another familiar whiskey name) in 1879. It changed hands a few times over the years, ultimately winding up with Diageo, which turned it into a super-premium product … in Japan. Discontinued in the U.S. in the 1990s, now Diageo is bringing Harper back to the States.

Two expressions are launching, a lower-cost NAS expression and a 15-year-old version. Chuck Cowdery has a lot of info on the likely origins of the distillate in these bottles, but these are different spirits with different origins; the full mashbills were recently revealed (see below for details). The 15 year is the bigger mystery here, and it’s likely a blend of lots of “orphan” barrels that didn’t become Orphan Barrels.

Harper hits U.S. shelves this month. Here’s what to expect.

I.W._HARPER_I.W. Harper Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey – There’s no age statement on the “base” expression, but it’s made from a mash of 73% corn, 18% rye, and 9% barley. It “was most recently aged at the Stitzel-Weller Distillery in Louisville, Ky., and contains whiskeys distilled at the current Bernheim Distillery. It is hand bottled in Tullahoma, Tenn.” The nose is quiet, and a little sweaty at times with notes of walnut and some lumberyard. Vanilla emerges over time, with more salty shortbread character building on the palate. The finish offers almonds, with a touch of astringency. Capable, but it doesn’t add a lot to the world of bourbon at this price range. 82 proof. B / $35  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

I.W. Harper Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey 15 Years Old – This “was distilled at the current Bernheim Distillery in Louisville, Ky. and aged most recently at the Stitzel-Weller Distillery in Louisville. It is hand bottled in Tullahoma, Tenn.” The mash is 86% corn, 6% rye, and 8% barley. This is a much different spirit than the above; it really bears little resemblance to it at all. On the nose: lots of mint, cinnamon, dark chocolate, and some lumber. The body features ample citrus notes, more baking spice, and emerging chocolate and caramel on the backside. There’s heat at first, but this settles down into supple sweetness and a finish that’s surprisingly gentle for a 15 year old bourbon. Ultimately it’s quite balanced and delightful — and well worth sampling. Delightfully retro decanter, too. 86 proof. A- / $75

iwharper.com

Review: Scotch Malt Whisky Society Casks 36.67 and 93.61

smws Cask No. 93.61Surprise, it’s two new outturns from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. Thoughts follow on two current releases.

Scotch Malt Whisky Society Cask 36.67 – 9 year old Benrinnes from Speyside. Burly, with notes of wet earth and the essence of a pre-lit campfire. There’s fruit here, but it comes across a bit like a canned tropical medley, loaded with syrupy guava and pineapple notes. Water brings out all of the above, both an intense and oily oak character alongside that unctuous fruitiness. With time, things coalesce into something akin to a bowl of Fruity Pebbles, but with a curious, evergreen finish. 119.8 proof. B+ / $100

Scotch Malt Whisky Society Cask 93.61 – 14 year old Glen Scotia from Campbeltown. An exotic mix of fire and spice, this iodine-laden whisky kicks off with supple notes of nougat and marshmallow, with hints of citrus and banana. The fire and smoke kick up then, starting with simple peat and pushing into some fishy, kippery notes. Iodine blends with some syrupy notes on the back end, leading to a dry and dusty finish. Some balance issues on the whole, but it’s not without some charms. Much more approachable with water. Compare to 93.47, which we reviewed last year. 116.6 proof. B / $135

smwsa.com

Review: Samuel Adams Escape Route, Crystal Pale Ale, Double Bock, and Rebel Rider IPA Series

EscapeRoute_12oz_Bottle_(1)Sam Adams is positively pouring out the new releases this season for springtime, including three seasonals — Escape Route, Crystal Pale Ale, and Double Bock — and a new series of “west coast style” IPAs called Rebel Rider. Rebel Rider is available at three different strengths, from a low-alcohol session version to a thick and rich double. We reviewed the lot! Thoughts follow.

Samuel Adams Escape Route – An unfiltered, hybrid Kolsch designed for springtime, I heartily enjoyed this concoction, a mix of ale and lager styles that starts off bready, with just a touch of citrus, before fading gently into notes of bitter, dried spices, citrus peel, and easy malt notes. Quite refreshing and very well balanced, with a crisp and quenching finish. 5% abv. A

Samuel Adams Crystal Pale Ale – A piney American pale ale made with, of course, Crystal hops (plus East Kent Goldings and Fuggles) being the primary bittering agent. It’s got a standard, evergreen-oriented pale ale profile, but its on the distinctly muddy side, which makes the final product come across as a bit weedy, with some canned vegetable notes on the finish. Acceptable, but not a standout in a world where you can throw your shoe and hit a dozen superior IPAs. 5.3% abv. B-

Samuel Adams Double Bock – A big double bock, almost syrupy at times. Chocolate, licorice, and coffee notes mix to combine a somewhat muddy experience that I can best describe as filling. The finish is long and heavy on maple syrup notes, but there’s no way I could power through a full 22 oz. bottle (this is the only oversized bottling in this roundup) of this stuff without breaking my palate. 9.5% abv. B-

sam adams Rebel_12oz_BOTTLESamuel Adams Rebel Rider Session IPA (blue label) – One of the best “session” IPAs I’ve experienced in recent years. A brisk and fragrant west coast style IPA, it’s stuffed with piney notes, citrus peel, and plenty of bitter root and tree bark notes, but it manages to offer a lush body, avoiding that thin wateriness that comes with so many session IPAs on the market. Clean, simple, and easy to enjoy. 4.5% abv. A-

Samuel Adams Rebel Rider IPA (red label) – Surprisingly less well-realized, this IPA is herbal up front, with a more mild, bitter core. It’s creamier and with a distinctly rounder body than the Session IPA thanks to the higher alcohol level, but there’s just less overall character here — either west coast IPA oriented or otherwise. 6.5% abv. B

Samuel Adams Rebel Rider Double IPA (green label) – Back in action, this rich IPA offers big pine needle notes up front and a luxurious, resinous body to back them up. The long finish offers notes of root beer, grapefruit, licorice, and baking spice. Lots going on, and IPA fans should eat it up. 8.4% abv. A-

pricing NA / samueladams.com

Review: Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Bourbon Round Sixteen

This is it! The end! The last 12 bottles in the unfathomably ambitious Buffalo Trace Single Oak Project have arrived. I’ll be offering some in-depth coverage of the lessons learned from the project in the months to come — more on this later — but for now it’s time to consider this last dozen whiskeys on their own merits. Meanwhile, hats off and glasses raised to Buffalo Trace for putting on such an impressive and — likely — industry-shaping experiment.

Need a primer on the Project? Here’s the entire Single Oak Project:

Round One (including all the basics of the approach to this series)
Round Two
Round Three
Round Four
Round Five
Round Six
Round Seven
Round Eight
Round Nine
Round Ten
Round Eleven
Round Twelve
Round Thirteen
Round Fourteen
Round Fifteen

This final round is a mixed bag of basically the leftovers in the project. The only constants are stave seasoning (6 months) and barrel char level (#4). Everything else — recipe, entry proof, wood grain, warehouse type, and tree cut varies. As always, all expressions are bottled at 90 proof.

There are no major standouts in this round, but there’s plenty of intrigue in the mix. As for the field as a whole, barrel #82 remains the fan favorite among all the bourbons released to date, with #109 and #111 close behind.

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #7 – A melange of aromas here, but heavy on the mint. The body has more of a chocolate mint character to it, but some racy heat and a slightly odd oatmeal character underpins the finish. B+ (rye, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, 15 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #20 – Well-rounded, with touches of cinnamon atop some traditional, lumber-heavy notes. The body heads strongly into sawdust territory, with some citrus notes on the back end. Fine, but undistinguished. B (rye, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, 17 rings/inch, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #39 – Gentle nose, heavier on lumberyard notes than anything else. There’s some cola amidst the vanilla caramel notes and a touch of citrus oil on the very back end, but otherwise this bourbon comes off with a bit of a thud. B- (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, 18 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #52 – A racier expression on the nose, with peppery notes and some cereal character behind that, but it settles into a creamy caramel character as the body takes hold. Quite a pleasure, with two faces to consider. A- (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, 18 rings/inch, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #71 – A little raw on the nose, this whiskey seems like it will be a fire bomb on the palate, but that’s not the case for the most part. Caramel, cinnamon, and red hots candies are all in the mix, and working well together. The finish is a bit hot, with some rougher granary notes dominating. B- (rye, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, average grain, 13 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #84 – Engaging from the start, a little minty, with a little butterscotch character to it. Lovely and dessert-like on the palate, with an echo of that mint on the finish. A- (rye, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, average grain, 14 rings/inch, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #103 – A fireside whiskey, almost smoky at times. The palate’s a little thin, but it does offer some red fruit and curious berry notes to spice up the vanilla and lumberyard notes on the body. Particularly fruity on the finish. A- (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, average grain, 13 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #116 – Chewy with cereal, but layered with menthol notes. Rounded on the palate, it’s got fruitcake and nutty elements that fade with the arrival of a more grain alcohol character on the back end. B (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, average grain, 12 rings/inch, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #135 – More citrus here than most of the other expressions in this round, with a bit of butterscotch to back it up. The finish is warming, and quite drying at times. B (rye, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, coarse grain, 9 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #148 – Oaky, and a bit racy. Plenty of red pepper here but the dusty, vanilla-tinged caramel that makes up the core makes it both balanced enough and worthwhile on its merits. B+ (rye, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, coarse grain, 9 rings/inch, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #168 – Plenty of lumber at first, but a unique element of hazelnuts emerges if you give this whiskey some time, a bit of Nutella character that lingers for quite awhile before some cayenne pepper notes kick back up on the back end. A little weird, but worth sampling for its uniqueness alone. A- (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, coarse grain, 8 rings/inch, concrete ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #180 – A simpler whiskey, without a lot of classic bourbon character to it. Here I get more simple lumberyard notes, some cereal, and mixed fruit, but it’s missing that vanilla slug, particularly on the rustic back end. B (wheat, 105 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, coarse grain, 10 rings/inch, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

$46 each (375ml bottle) / singleoakproject.com

Review: Patron Citronge Lime and XO Cafe Incendio

patron citronge lime

Patron is no longer content to rule only the tequila world. Now it wants to take over the liqueur market as well. Two newish releases in this space recently launched. Thoughts follow.

Patron Citronge Lime Liqueur – Patron’s rendition of triple sec, Citronge Orange, was a big enough hit that it has begotten a sequel, Citronge Lime. Sure, the need for lime-flavored liqueurs is considerably smaller than the one for orange-flavored ones, but one appreciates having options, right? Again, while Citronge Lime smells strongly of vegetal, agave notes, it is strictly a lime liqueur, not a flavored tequila. Sharp chili pepper notes mingle with authentic, rich lime character — perhaps with a hint of mint — but the body is overwhelmingly sweet and unctuous (perhaps the lower abv is part of the reason for that), almost syrupy in its composition. With its tequila-like character, the overall impression of Citronge Lime is something akin to the sweetest margarita you’ve ever tasted… and I’ve tasted a lot of them. Try it in moderation. 70 proof. B / $22

patron incendioPatron XO Cafe Incendio – The burgeoning XO Cafe line now has a third member: XO Cafe Indendio. Unlike Citronge, the XO Cafe line does include tequila in the mix (Patron Silver, specifically), plus Criollo chocolate and Mexican chile de arbol for the incendio. That may sound like a bit of a hot mess (pun intended) and it is. The nose is primarily chocolate, just with an edge of racy spice. The body is something else altogether, kicking off with a pleasant cinnamon-infused Mexican chocolate. But you’re in for a swift kick in the pants in short order as that chili pepper hits and hits hard. This is an intense and biting heat that rapidly washes away all that candylike sweetness very quickly. What’s left behind is a scorching sensation in the back of the throat, a touch of chalky cocoa powder, and a hint of orange peel. But above all there is the heat — long, lasting, and ultimately a little off-putting. 60 proof. B- / $25

patrontequila.com

Review: Wines of Arrowood, 2015 Releases

arrowoodTwo new releases from Sonoma-based Arrowood, including — oddly enough — a new 2011 Cabernet, released in a time when everyone else is putting out their 2012 releases. Thoughts follow.

2013 Arrowood Chardonnay Sonoma County – Nothing new to see here. This California starts off with buttery vanilla notes and sticks with them to the end. Some pear and banana notes arrive in the middle, but otherwise this wine fades into relative anonymity in short order. B / $20

2011 Arrowood Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County – Hearty and a bit rustic, this Sonoma Cab kicks off with a ton of fruit before delving into notes of blackberry syrup, coffee beans, dark chocolate, and some bitter root notes. Not entirely well-integrated, the tannin almost gets away from this one with a finish that is more herbal than fruit-driven. B / $37

arrowoodvineyards.com