Tempranillo Roundup (2016 Releases): Vara, Bodegas Paso Robles, Castoro, Berryessa Gap, Matchbook, Becker Vineyards

Tempranillo is the star of Spain’s Rioja region, but it is also grown internationally, including right here in the U.S. Today we look at six tempranillo wines from five different regions to see how terroir can affect the wine — though you’ll note that many are blended with other grapes, with graciano particularly popular. (Graciano is another Rioja native that is commonly blended into tempranillo wines around the world.)

While you consider the importance of graciano from a viticultural perspective, sip on one of these…

2013 (Lot #013) Vara Tinto Especial Tempranillo – From the Santa Maria Valley. 75% tempranillo, 13% grenache, 9% syrah, 3% graciano. From the color alone, it’s a thin wine, extremely so. There are interesting notes on the palate, though, including red berries which meld with brisk orange zest, notes of sandalwood, and just a touch of currants on the back end. As summery a red wine as you’ll find. Sorry that it’s December. B+ / $12

2009 Bodegas Paso Robles Solea Central Coast – Despite the name of the winery, this is a Central Coast bottling. 86% tempranillo, 14% graciano. A lush wine, loaded up with a big and juicy currant character, with lighter notes of licorice and cloves backing up the heavy fruit up front. The finish seems plum and some orange peel notes, the latter particularly giving the wine a bit of a lift. Well done. A- / $35

2014 Castoro Cellars Tempranillo Whale Rock Vineyard – From Paso Robles. A mainstream wine, with big notes of plums and ripe cherries, the lush body leads to a berry-scented finish that hangs on the palate for quite awhile. Some tannin is evident, with a touch of balsamic detectable, but the finish remains heavy on the fruit. B+ / $30

2014 Berryessa Gap Tempranillo – From Yolo County. This is a drier style of tempranillo, a bit dusty, its mild berry core coated with notes of licorice and clove oil. Some olive notes and dried plum notes add intrigue, but a slightly sour edge calls out for a robust food pairing. B- / $18

2012 Matchbook Tempranillo Dunnigan Hills – 84% tempranillo, 8% graciano, 8% petit verdot. Another Yolo County wine, this one showcasing a bigger body and a bit more fruit — heavy with raspberry and strawberry particularly. Balsamic notes are the connecting thread between the two wines, though here they make a stronger showing, particularly late in the game. There’s also a candy licorice (not at all salty or bitter) on the finish. Again, the wine shows how food-friendly tempranillo can be. B / $15

2013 Becker Vineyards Tempranillo Reserve Texas – While no one was looking, Texas has become a hotbed of tempranillo production. This Hill Country producer’s is unorthodox and stands apart from the rest of the wines in this roundup thanks to significant brown sugar, cinnamon, and brown butter notes, which give the wine a lightness and liveliness that the other wines in the field don’t have. That’s a good and a bad thing, as it makes for a somewhat less “serious” wine that lacks body and offers a gummy yet thin finish, but it does show a whole other side of the grape. C / $25

Tasting Affordable Bordeaux, Late 2016 Releases

Hey folks, don’t want to spend big bucks for wine for the holiday table? Check out this quintet of affordable Bordeaux wines — which generally fared much better than the last round of affordabordeaux that we reviewed.

NV La Fleur de Francois Cremant de Bordeaux Rose Brut – A sparkling rose made from 90% merlot and 10% cabernet franc. Rather malty and yeasty, but balanced by floral notes and notes of fresh berries, this wine drinks much like the better-known Cremant d’Alsace, melding cereal character with fresh fruit. Simple but versatile, with a round body that can stand up to heavier foods. B+ / $16

2013 Baron Philippe de Rothschild Mouton Cadet Bordeaux Blanc – Fresh and grassy, this blend of 69% sauvignon blanc, 28% semillon, and 3% muscadelle drinks with its sauvignon blanc foot forward, a grassy and lightly tropical experience, with light lemon juice notes clear and strong on the finish. Highly drinkable but definitely simple, it’s a versatile wine that works as a summer sipper or as a pairing with lighter fare. A- / $10

2011 Chateau le Calvaire Bordeaux Superieur – This wine (a 64% cabernet/36% merlot blend) may have no pedigree, but it’s an outstanding bottling that I recommend without reservation. Silky, fresh fruit, heavy on cherries, finds companionship with very light currant notes, some floral elements, tea leaf, and a bit of cinnamon. Well-balanced from start to finish, it showcases fruit without being at all jammy, its tannins deftly folding in on the wine as it fades out with a gentle, lingering floral touch. An amazing value wine. A- / $11

2012 Chateau Timberlay Bordeaux Superieur – 85% merlot, 10% cabernet sauvignon, and 5% cabernet franc. This is a fairly workaday Bordeaux, with fruit dialed way back so that only some tart, unripe cherry notes remain. Notes of tobacco and balsamic fill in the gaps, but the dusty and mildly astringent finish isn’t much to look forward to. C / $16

2014 Barton & Guestier Bordeaux – 85% merlot, 15% cabernet sauvignon. Another simple wine, and young. That said, fruit is dialed down a bit, leaving this wine to showcase mild herbs, some wood, and a significant amount of tannin. Watch for raspberry on the back end, which helps the wine rise to the occasion with a bit more gusto. B / $10

Review: High West Valley Tan Utah Whiskey

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Don’t look now, but you can actually get an (aged) whiskey that is really made at High West’s Utah location instead of brought in on a truck from someone else. Is that a good thing? While High West makes some lovely unaged whiskeys, its biggest home-grown barrel-aged product, Valley Tan, is clearly still a work in progress. The spirit is made from a mash of wheat, oat, and malted barley, and is blended from barrels aged from 1 to 6 years.

Heavily malted, granary notes kick things off. The nose is loaded with fresh, grassy cereal and lightly-smoky notes of dried hay, plus a significant amount of barnyard character. On the palate, it’s more of the same, though a touch of sweet breakfast cereal and hints of dried apple cut some of the harsher notes. That said, the finish is a bit pungent and offers some diesel notes — neither of which is entirely in line with what I’m looking for in a “sippin'” whiskey.

87 proof. Reviewed: Batch #3.

C / $59 / highwest.com

Review: Barbed Wire 2014 Red Wine Blend and Cabernet Sauvignon

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Trinchero’s latest brand is Barbed Wire, a budget offering from California’s North Coast (a region that encompasses pretty much anywhere on the northern half of the state). Nonetheless, Barbed Wire is trying to push quality higher, despite the reasonable price tag. We tried two releases from the 2014 vintage.

2014 Barbed Wire Red Wine Blend North Coast – This is a blend of cabernet sauvignon from Alexander Valley and merlot from Napa Valley. A rather innocuous wine, this blend offers a dusty, fruit-restrained attack with notes that focus on leather, tar, and bushy brambles. The finish brings out some black and blue berries, but remains quite dry and short, fading away within seconds. B- / $11

2014 Barbed Wire Cabernet Sauvignon North Coast – This is a lackluster cabernet, flabby with an unctuous, mouth-coating character and dialed back when it comes to fruit. Over time some engaging blackberry notes come to the fore, plus a dusting of juicy currants, but it’s awfully late in the game, after a generalized, gooey sweetness and vague forest floor notes have already taken hold. C / $11

tfewines.com

Review: Truly Spiked & Sparkling Water

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Well folks, we’re at peak, er… peak something. How do I know? Because in this world of alcohol-spiked oddities including Mexican frescas, whipped cream, and sports drinks, now we have the ultimate in ready-to-drink concoctions: spiked water.

Truly is — much to my surprise — not a malt beverage, but rather gets its alcohol from a cane sugar distillate. Low in calories (100) and sugar (1 gram), these are designed for the “club soda with a twist” set… but who decide they want a splash of the hard stuff in there after all. Four flavors are available, in both bottles and cans.

We tasted a trio of offerings from the available mixed pack. Thoughts follow.

Truly Spiked & Sparkling Colima Lime – A dirty G&T, very fizzy with a bit of lime zest that hits the palate. Surprisingly refreshing, with almost no discernable alcohol character to it. If I was going to drink a “hard seltzer,” this is probably what I’d choose. B+

Truly Spiked & Sparkling Pomegranate – On the nose this has that immediately evident strawberry-sweet berry note, which follows through as a vague candylike character on the palate. This is short-lived, however, eventually giving way to a similarly neutral, ultra-fizzy finish. B-

Truly Spiked & Sparkling Grapefruit & Pomelo – By far the most fragrant of the bunch, with a big floral nose that doesn’t immediately say grapefruit but which eventually kinda-sorta resembles it. The body is more flavorful than the above as well, though it comes across with a sweet-and-sour kind of note that ultimately feels somewhat off-putting. C

$8 per case of 12 oz. cans or bottles / trulyspikedsparkling.com

Review: Wines of Portugal, 2014 Quinto Elemento and Fiuza

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Portugal is more than just Port and vinho verde. Here’s a look at two bottlings from off the beaten path, both hailing from the Tejo region, near the Spanish border to the far east of the country.

2014 Quinto Elemento Arinto Reserva Vinho Branco Tejo – Made from the arinto grape, this racy white offers a lightly tropical/pineapple core studded with lots of aromatics and perfume notes, to the point of mild astringency. The finish mixes in notes of sweet peaches with honeysuckle and roses, the florals becoming particularly pronounced as the wine warms up a bit. B / $8

2014 Fiuza Premium Alicante Bouchet Tejo – A funky, vegetal red with barnyard and vague smoke overtones. Alicante bouchet isn’t the world’s most beloved grape, and its iffy nose leads to an almost bizarre body, which takes notes of prune and rhubarb and folds in tobacco and tar character. Highly acidic, but the wacky flavor profile takes some real getting used to. C / $13

Review: Wines of Francis Ford Coppola, Late 2016 Releases

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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

francisfordcoppolawinery.com

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