Review: 2015 Dark Horse Rose California Limited Release

OK folks, get ready for a flood of rose reviews. They are arriving in force for what appears to be a very pink summer ahead. First up: Dark Horse, a Central Valley cheapie that sees only a seasonal release. Harmless (it’s a blend of 40% grenache, 20% barbera, 20% pinot gris, and 20% tempranillo), this affordable bottling presents a palate of strawberries, brown sugar, with a lightly earthy but largely sweet-leaning wine. Light herbal notes on the finish give it a rosemary dusting but otherwise the wine sticks to what’s tried and true.

B / $8 / darkhorsewine.com

Tasting Summer Wines from Germany – 2013 S.A. Prum Luminance and 2013 Guztler Pinot Noir

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German wines are only made for roast pork knuckles and boiled sausages with lots of kraut, right? Not so. Here’s a look at a couple of German bottlings that are down-right cool for the summer, designed for lighter fare.

2013 S.A. Prüm Luminance Dry Riesling – A lovely Mosel riesling, offering a mix of citrus and tropical character, with ample acid to back up all that fruit. I wouldn’t exactly call it “dry” — there’s plenty of juicy fruit here to give at least the impression of sweetness, and just a touch of caramel sauce particularly on the nose — but it works well as a food companion and as an aperitif on its own. A- / $15

2013 Guztler Pinot Noir Dry – Germany’s not my go-to region for great pinot (note the prominent “dry” indication on the label), but this bottling from Gutzler, in the Rheinhessen (western central Germany), isn’t half bad. Up front it offers fruit, but restrained, showing a hint of spice atop its easy cherry core. The finish has a little of that classically German, mushroomy funk, but otherwise offers a clean and food-friendly profile. B / $20

Review: FOS Greek Mastiha Liqueur

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File under ???

First, some history.

Mastiha is a unique spirit made exclusively in the Mediterranean, and it is best known on the Greek island of Chios, where it has protected status. A cousin of ouzo, it is a liqueur that starts with neutral spirits and flavors that with resin from the mastiha tree, also known as the crying tree. “The resin droplets, known as mastiha tears, are left to slowly seep out of the bark and dry in the natural sunlight to form translucent golden crystals. Before the first autumn rain, when the tears are ready to be harvested, the area around the tree is cleaned, leveled, and coated in a fine white soil on which the tears fall and are gathered,” per the company that is making FOS. (The tears look a lot like demerara sugar crystals.) Additional “secret ingredients and special formulas” give FOS its ultimate character.

Presented as a moderate-proof liqueur, FOS Greek Mastiha offers a nose of pine needles, anise, and eucalyptus — making one instantly recall Greece’s infamous retsina wine. That’s not intended as a slight, for FOS tastes less like Pine-Sol and more like an evergreen-dusted lemon candy — sweet, with a lacing of, well, resin. That resin character hangs with you for quite awhile, its sweetness never quite overcome by the heavy herbal component, but rather oddly complemented by it. Like ouzo, it’s nothing I’d turn to on a regular basis, but I could see how this stuff could grow on you.

56 proof.

B / $32 / ambrosiagrp.com

Review: Yuengling Traditional Lager and Summer Wheat

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“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: Rums of Rhum Clement – Canne Bleue, Select Barrel, 6 Years Old, 10 Years Old, and Coconut Liqueur (2016)

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Rhum Clement is perhaps Martinique’s most distinguished producer of sugarcane-based rhum agricole, but it’s been 8 years since we’ve checked in with the distillery in earnest. After some rebranding and shuffling of products, the lineup still looks fairly familiar. While we didn’t get to check out Clement’s very top-end rums this time, this roundup comprises a fairly comprehensive look at the company’s most widely available products.

Thoughts follow on the four rums and one rum-based liqueur tasted.

Rhum Clement Canne Bleue – White rhum agricole made from a single varietal of sugarcane. Intense on the nose with petrol and rubber notes, you could be forgiven for assuming this is cachaca. Overripe fruit and a range of vegetal notes fill the palate, leading to a hot, almost overwhelming finish. This one actually says it’s “intense” on the front label, in all caps and italics, so I guess I have no one to blame here but myself. 100 proof. C / $30

Rhum Clement Rhum Vieux Agricole Select Barrel – This is three year old rum aged in French oak, denoted as such on the back label. Lot of heavy vegetal notes remain on the body here, as yet untamed by the rum’s time in wood. Vague aromas of coffee give way to heavy mushroom and green vegetable notes, the funkier notes lingering on the body before an interesting apple character arises on the finish. It’s nothing extraordinary, but it works as a worthwhile mixer. 80 proof. B / $30  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Rhum Clement Tres Vieux Rhum Agricole 6 Years Old – Notes of coffee, tobacco, and baking spice on the nose give this rum the impression of significant age from the get-go. On the tongue, silky brown sugar leads to winey notes, complemented by a touch of smoke. The finish showcases the rum’s more savory side, hinting at both well-tanned leather, charcoal notes, and coconut husks. Balanced, without overblown sugars, it’s an excellent rum that’s still at the beginning of its life. 88 proof. A- / $55

Rhum Clement Tres Vieux Rhum Agricole 10 Years Old – Bolder coffee notes on the nose here than in the 6 year old, but otherwise the aroma is a close cousin to its progenitor. On the palate, there’s quite a bit less sweetness here than on the 6 year, that brown sugar note taking a back seat to a stronger brandy and oxidized wine character, complemented by notes of roasted nuts, more coffee, and Spanish sherry. More brooding and more intense, it’s a provocative rum that showcases austerity over sweetness, making for a more intriguing sipper. 88 proof. A- / $70

Rhum Clement Mahina Coco Coconut Liqueur – Made from white rhum and chunks of macerated coconut. Slightly tropical, with clear and powerful coconut notes, it’s a richer and more engaging version of Malibu, with notes of banana and, especially, pineapple emerging on the finish. Keep this on hand for upscale pina coladas. 36 proof. A- / $24

rhumclementusa.com

Review: Aervana Wine Aerator

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Aervana is yet another wine aeration system, and this one has a twist: It has batteries. Rather than pour wine through the device, the Aervana sits on top of the bottle and pumps wine up through a tube, and sends the air-infused wine out through a spigot, into your waiting glass.

Aervana (rightly) claims a lot of “firsts” with this device: It offers a constant flow rate, it leaves sediments at the bottom of the bottle, and it’s a bit less dramatic than what often happens when you try to hold a traditional aerator between bottle and glass.

Those are all good plusses — and the sediment factor alone merits Aervana serious consideration — but the device isn’t without its drawbacks. First, I simply don’t like putting stuff (namely plastic stuff) in my wine. It’s probably just my own conceited snobbery, but dipping these plastic tubes into bottles (and later cleaning them) strikes me the wrong way. If you don’t finish the bottle in one sitting, that means multiple cleanups if you want to close the bottle with a Vacuvin device or other stopper, too.

Since Aervana is a pump (6 AAA batteries, included, are required), it makes noise, and certainly becomes the center of attention whenever it is activated. The wine flow is slow to start and slow to finish, dribbling out for quite a while after you release the button up top. Fortunately it doesn’t seem to drip after the flow finally stops, which would have been a deal killer.

As for its results, it works well, really airing-up wine to the point where it is positively frothy when it hits the glass. All told it works as well as other aerators; if you have a tight or closed wine, it can really help some of the more engaging flavors come to the fore.

For $100, the Aervana is decidedly pricey, so you’ll need to think carefully as to whether it’s for you. I’ll probably keep it on hand mainly for use with older, sediment-heavy bottles that I’m just too lazy to decant.

B / $100 / aervana.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]