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)

rhum-clement-select-barrel-1

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

Aervana_Lifestyle_7

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]

Review: Wines of Mt. Beautiful, 2016 Releases

Mt Beautiful NC Pinot Noir

Mt. Beautiful is a fairly noteworthy New Zealand winery, which we most recently encountered in our tasting report on new NZ wines. Recently we received a quartet of expressions from the winery. Thoughts on each of these 2016 releases follow.

2014 Mt. Beautiful Pinot Gris North Canterbury – A simple wine, with moderate florals embedded into a mild tropical and citrus body. The short finish is more aromatic than fruit-focused, with a slight brown sugar edge. A quite pleasant but simplistic companion with lighter fare. B / $19

2015 Mt. Beautiful Riesling North Canterbury – Crisp and aromatic, with light notes of pineapple to give this wine a bit of a New World spin. The finish is loaded with acid and comes across as a bit peachy, with a solid and sophisticated balance between the two. A- / $21

2014 Mt. Beautiful Sauvignon Blanc North Canterbury – A straightforward sauvignon blanc, though far from the tropical bomb that you typically expect from New Zealand. Instead, here you find bracing acid, significant floral elements, and a dusting of candied pineapple on the slightly earthy back end. B+ / $16

2014 Mt. Beautiful Pinot Noir North Canterbury – A fairly thin wine, with some vegetal and mushroom notes taking hold of the nose. The palate showcases more red cherry fruit character, though the finish reprises some of those leathery notes, with a surprisingly touch of gingerbread on the finish. B- / $26

mtbeautiful.co.nz

Review: Wines of Chateau Tourril, 2016 Releases

tourril rose

A new arrival to the U.S. market, Chateau Tourril is a Languedoc-based winery based in Minervois. The operation relies primarily on traditional Rhone Valley grapes, though you’ll need to check the back label to see what’s inside each bottle: Tourril has a fanciful name for each of its bottlings that has nothing to do with the grape varietals it uses for the wine.

We tasted five expressions from Chateau Tourril. Thoughts follow.

2015 Chateau Tourril Helios Grand Vin du Languedoc Minervois – 100% roussanne. A fairly crisp and fresh white, with an initial vanilla and caramel kick that gives way to dense apple notes, some pear, and a long, slightly bitter-tinged finish. Very summery. B+ / $17

2015 Chateau Tourril Havana Minervois – 70% cinsault, 30% grenache. A simple strawberry-heavy rose, showing bitter and herbal notes around the edges and on the quiet, simple finish. A basic French rose, with notes of rosemary to give it some nuance. B / $13

2013 Chateau Tourril Livia Grand Vin du Langudoc Minervois – 100% syrah. Simple and uncomplicated, with slight smoky notes layered atop a surprisingly weak body that offers notes of currants and plums. Notes of roasted meats, dried herbs, and mushroom endure on the finish. Lackluster. C+ / $27

2013 Chateau Tourril Panatella Grand Vin du Langudoc Minervois – 80% syrah, 20% grenache. Surprisingly sweet, with notable cherry notes atop that plum and currant core previously noted. Again, rather thin and a bit out of balance, with a tart and fruit-heavy finish. B- / $20

2011 Chateau Tourril Philippe Grand Vin du Langudoc Minervois – 40% carignan, 30% syrah, 30% grenache. At least it’s not thin. This heavy, meaty wine showcases notes of smoke and roasted lamb atop a dense, currant-heavy core. It drinks like a blend of syrah and young cabernet, with a lightly balsamic, berry-scented finish. Mind the heavy sediment. B / $15

chateautourril.fr

Review: Sangre de Vida Tequila and Mezcal, Complete Lineup

sdv tequila-anjeo-and-reposado

So here’s the story. I hope I have all the facts correct.

In 2009, Grace Kim Brandi founded of L.A.-based Elements Spirits, which makes KAH Tequila and packages it in unmistakable skull decanters, hand painted to honor the Mexican Dia de los Muertos. Elements was sued by the people that make Crystal Head Vodka, which comes is in a (clear) skull, which culminated in a business deal that resulted in the acquiring company taking over Elements’ legal defense. As of earlier this year, this case is still ongoing. At trial, a jury sided with Elements, but various appeals have given the Crystal Head owner the right to a new trial, citing misstatements in Elements’ original closing arguments.

Brandi left Elements in 2011 in a massive (and confusing) corporate and legal shuffle and did what any good entrepreneur does: In 2012 she founded Iconic Brands, which is now selling the Sangre de Vida tequila and mezcal product line, packaged in unmistakable skull decanters, also hand painted to honor the Mexican Dia de los Muertos.

Naturally, Elements sued Iconic over trademark infringement, citing that the decanters Sangre de Vida is using are confusing when compared to KAH’s. Iconic’s position is that Brandi herself owns the design rights, not Elements, and that Elements is supposed to pay Brandi a royalty for using the bottle design. The courts so far have sided with Brandi — though, as with the other litigation — this is still ongoing.

So while the courts settle all of this brouhaha over packaging, we actually remembered that there are spirits inside these little bottles and can see if they’re any good. With that in mind, let’s drop the legal briefs for a day and sample the three tequilas and one mezcal that SdV is marketing.

Thoughts follow.

Sangre de Vida Tequila Blanco – A fresh but somewhat flabby blanco, with a curious but appealing nose of fresh cream, milk chocolate, and restrained sweet agave. The palate showcases all of the above, in even heavier concentrations, with an almost milky body that layers in hints of almonds and cinnamon. There’s plenty to like here, but it doesn’t drink particularly like a blanco — and the finish is on the thin side. 80 proof. B / $40

Sangre de Vida Tequila Reposado – Overproof reposado, aged at least three months. A vastly different experience than the blanco, the SdV reposado is racy on the nose, punctuated with black and cayenne pepper, dense herbs, and overtones of ripe citrus. That sweetness that prevails so clearly on the blanco is also present here, though it becomes clearer after time in glass lets some of the alcohol vapors to resolve. The finish is spicy and warming, heavy on vanilla and banana notes over a relatively long fade-out. 110 proof. A- / $45

Sangre de Vida Tequila Anejo – Aged at least 12 months. Supple caramel and coconut aromas hit the nose, with herbal agave just a gentle hint. On the palate the tequila is quite sweet, with notes of toasted marshmallow, caramel, and butterscotch. Vanilla endures well into the finish, which only nods gently at pepper and earthy agave notes. I love a good anejo, but the sweetness here is a bit overpowering, dampening any residual agave character. B+ / $50

Sangre de Vida Mezcal – 100% espadin agave from Oaxaca, aged 60 days in oak. Warmly smoky, with winey and fruity notes on the nose.It starts off as rather plain for a mezcal, offering a garden-variety winey character, barbecue smoke, and notes of honey and fruit preserves. The finish is epic and not entirely in a good way, its cloying sweetness lingering for days, leaving the palate significantly out of balance and with any real sense of agave. 90 proof. B- / $50

sangredevida.com

Review: Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Infrared Light Wave Experiments

buffalo trace infrared

Never one to shy away from wacky experiments, Buffalo Trace’s latest bourbon has gone straight off the reservation. The trick this time? Exposing barrels to infrared light waves before giving them a light char. Eight barrels total were made, four irradiated for 15 minutes, four for 30 minutes.

The full details are wonky and intricate. Here’s the gist direct from BT:

Working with barrel cooper Independent Stave Company in 2009, eight special barrels were constructed. All eight first underwent the same process as standard Buffalo Trace barrels, staves were open air seasoned for six months before being made into barrels.

Then, the barrels were divided into two groups and subjected to two different levels of infrared light waves.  The first group of four barrels underwent 15 minutes of both short wave and medium wave frequency at 70% power.  The second group of four barrels was subjected to 30 minutes of both short wave and medium wave frequency at 60% power. The barrels were then given a quick #1 (or 15 seconds) char, before finally being filled with Buffalo Trace’s Bourbon Mash #1.

All eight barrels were aged for 6 1/2 years (notably shorter than many of BT’s other experiments) before bottling at 90 proof.

Does “dry heat” improve barrel quality over traditional flame-charring? It’s time to taste these experiments and see if the Trace was on to anything.

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Infrared Light Wave Experiment 15 Minutes – A quiet whiskey, with a nose of brown sugar, butterscotch, and honeysuckle flowers. The palate is a bit bolder than the nose would indicate, slightly nutty with some nougat-flavored sweetness. The wood influence is mild but not absent, making for a gentle and pleasant, if unremarkable, finish. B

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Infrared Light Wave Experiment 30 Minutes – Theoretically these barrels should have more of a wood influence, and that’s evident from the start. The nose has a stronger presence, with heavier spice notes — cloves, mainly — plus a distinct almond character. The body is bolder, the palate richer with more baking spice, solid nuttiness, and some brown butter notes. Hints of raisin and dried figs emerge with time, with the finish echoing those baking spices. The influence of wood is omnipresent here, but it never comes across with dusty lumberyard notes. Rather, there’s a gentle vanilla component that layers itself over the full experience. This is a better whiskey than the 15 minute version, with a better developed nose and body. B+

Did Buffalo Trace strike gold with this infrared treatment? The process doesn’t seem to hurt, but my rough analysis based on these limited samples is that it’s no replacement for good old flame-charred barrels and didn’t really seem to add anything to the finished product. As gimmicks though, it may not be a new killer treatment for whiskey barrels, but at least its impact seems to have been mostly harmless (which is better than can be said for some experimental processes).

each $46 per 375ml bottle / buffalotrace.com