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: Cocktail & Sons Fassionola Syrup

Fassionola bottle shot

Fassionola is an old school tiki syrup, blood red in color, made from who-knows-what back in the 1920s. The idea was probably a lot like grenadine: Give a drink some bright red color, and in this case, a punch of sugar, too. Some authorities have compared old scchool fassionola to syrupy Hawaiian Punch.

There’s no evidence that ancient fassionola was anything remarkable, but today that is changing. Our friends at Cocktail & Sons have given fassionola the artisan upgrade, fashioning a modern version out of pineapple, mango, passion fruit, hibiscus flowers, strawberries, and lime zest. The result: A bright red concoction that can sub into everything that needs sweetness, fruit, and a little (or a lot of) crimson.

The C&S Fassionola is an intense beast. Those strawberries are what come through the clearest on the palate, boiled down plenty and giving the syrup a sticky, almost overpowering berry character. The remaining ingredients take the back seat. While a slight floral element emerges on the palate, the tropical components are legitimately hard to pick out in the wake of a strawberry overload. All told, it’s a solid addition to your cocktailing arsenal — though you may need to reference some more obscure or historical recipe guides to find it referenced.

That said, one of fassionola’s most essential cocktails is the Hurricane, and if you want to try making it without relying on a powdered garbage mixer, give it a whirl with fassionala. It’s easy:

Hurricane
1 1/2 oz. silver or aged rum
3/4 oz. fassionola
1/2 oz. lime juice

Stir ingredients in a rocks glass with ice for 15-20 seconds and serve.

B+ / $15 per 8 oz. bottle / cocktailandsons.com

Tasting the Wines of Lodi’s Mokelumne Glen Vineyard

Now this is a rarity: A tasting organized based not on producer but on vineyard… and not just any vineyard, a specific vineyard in California’s Lodi region known for producing, of all things, German varietals.

Mokelumne Glen spans 26 acres but is home to more than 40 cultivars, some only a represented by a few vines. Its most notable vines include riesling clones, Kerner, and two black-skinned German grapes, Dornfelder and Blaufränkisch.

We tasted four different wines made from different producers but all from Mokelumne Glen fruit, all led by Brett Koth, the Glen’s vineyard manager. Thoughts follow.

2015 Holman Cellars Uncharted Lodi Bacchus – 100% bacchus, a grape I’d never heard of before this. High in acid and aromatics to the point of near astringency, this crisp white wine offers notes of apricot tempered by the heavy perfume of white flowers and honeysuckle. There’s a surprisingly long and slightly sour finish that seems a bit at odds with an otherwise fresh and lively body. B- / $25

Markus2013NimmoBottle-Horiz-3502014 Markus Wine Co. Nimmo Lodi White Wine – 71% kerner, 13% gewurztraminer, 11% riesling, and 5% bacchus. Curiously, spends 9 months in 60% new French oak. Think of it as chardonnay-light. Caramel and butterscotch mix with herbal and slightly vegetal notes. Fairly fruity despite its general sense of restraint, it finishes without any real muss. B- / $22

2015 Hatton Daniels Lodi Zweigelt – 100% zweigelt, a German red varietal. Bright purple in hue, it offers a funky, very earthy nose (which is typical of German red wines) that is instantly at odds with its youthful, powerfully fruity, and tart body. Notes of fresh cherry juice find a tentative companion in some musky, mushroomy and woody elements. Needs time in glass to reveal more of its charms. Think of it as a Teutotonic Beaujolais Nouveau, by way of Northern California. B- / $24

2014 m2 Wines Belle Étoile Blanche – A dessert wine crafted from 35% reislaner, 25% weissburgunder, 20% riesling, and 20% gewurztraminer. Intensely aromatic and outrageously sweet, this honey-dusted sticky offers tropical overtones plus notes of vanilla and brown sugar, with a hint of savory herbs on the lingering finish. B+ / $24 (500ml)

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: 2014 The Clambake Unoaked Chardonnay Mendocino

Clambake Chardonnay Bottle

This is a pleasant Mendocino chardonnay, unaged in oak, in the traditional style of Mendocino and Anderson County. Surprisingly creamy at first, the wine quickly segues into strong citrus, some tropical notes, and a dusting of rosemary and sage on the finish. Nicely balanced but a tad herbal on its own, it pairs particularly well with seafood dishes.

B+ / $15 / ripelifewines.com

Review: Michter’s US-1 Barrel Strength Straight Rye 2016

Michter's Barrel Strength Rye

Michter’s is back with its second barrel strength rye, which is a higher-proof rendition of its US-1 Single Barrel Rye. The interesting thing about this rye: It goes into barrel at just 103 proof. 125 entry proof is standard; 105 proof is used sometimes, but 103 is quite on the low side.

Hot on the nose, the whiskey kicks off with a bold grain profile and layers and layers of spice — both the sweet baked goods variety as well as some cayenne. Some nutty and honeycomb notes emerge given time in the glass, along with some oxidized wine aromas.

On the palate, the whiskey pushes its grain base heavily, again backing a heavy cereal character with ample spice. Rather oily, it layers on notes of rhubarb, currants, and some sour cherry, finishing on a surprisingly tart note.

Altogether it’s quite a different whiskey than Michter’s standard-issue US-1 Rye (and a somewhat better one), it doesn’t quite find the balance it needs to really raise the bar. That can be a challenge with rye, particularly relatively young expressions, as this one appears to be, but it’s at least a solid effort through and through that grows on you the more time you spend with it.

Note: These are single barrel releases and proof will reportedly vary between about 110.2 proof and 114.8 proof. As reviewed: Barrel #16D432, 111.8 proof.

B+ / $75 / michters.com