Drinking in Dublin: Guinness Storehouse and Teeling Whiskey

Howdy, everyone. Just back from the British Isles, where I spent nearly two weeks exploring Ireland and Scotland, two of the lands whose names are inexorably linked with the world of whiskey. This is the second of two travel pieces on major drinking attractions across the pond — this one focusing specifically on the city of Dublin.

Ireland boasts a handful of distilleries, but they are spread all around the island and visiting them takes quite a bit of doing. We devoted our time in Ireland largely to Dublin (with one day trip to the countryside by bus), but you can do a lot of boozy exploration without having to venture far from the city center.

In addition to a wealth of pubs and whiskey bars, Dublin boasts at least three attractions dedicated to drink. I skipped one of them, the “Old Jameson Distillery,” which is really just a museum and not a working still. Locals regard it as a tourist trap, so I focused on these two spots, both of which I heartily recommend visiting.

Guinness Storehouse

Dublin is the home of Guinness, and the Guinness Storehouse is the mecca for all fans of this archetypal stout. Yes it is chock full of tourists. Yes it is still well worth visiting.

The Storehouse is part museum, part experience, located adjacent to the brewery itself, which is a massive sprawling area that spans a couple of city blocks. Inside the Storehouse you’ll access a multi-story tour about how Guinness is made, and your ticket will also get you at least a pint or two of Guinness to enjoy while you’re making the rounds. The top floor, called the Gravity Bar, boasts panoramic views of all of Dublin. It’s extremely crowded, though; better to spend your time in the bar two stories below, where you are taught how to pour the perfect pint — and get to pull one for yourself to test your skills.

True enthusiasts will want to upgrade to the Connoisseur VIP experience, which comprises a 90-minute tasting of all of Guinness’s major versions worldwide, including a history lesson and a deep dive into the company that you won’t get from the standard tour. After the tasting, you’re set loose behind the bar — and when it’s all over you get to pick your favorite bottling to take with you on the road. Feel free to take it up to one of the three restaurants and enjoy it with your lunch — the Beef and Guinness Stew was one of the best I had during my time there.

Bottom line: Whether you like Guinness or not, don’t miss this experience.

Teeling Whiskey Company

Jack Teeling is an official Friend of Drinkhacker, and his distillery — the first to operate in Dublin since 1976 — just opened for visitors in May. Teeling Whiskey Company is still building out its tourist experience, but visitors are welcome to take a brief tour and taste some of the company’s products. At present, everything Teeling is bottling is sourced from other distilleries, but you can watch new-make spirit being produced now. Eventually this juice running from these stills will comprise the core of the Teeling product line.

We had a private tour with Jack and master distiller Alex Chasko, where we tasted Teeling’s standard lineup — widely available in every bar in Dublin — and some of its very rare limited edition releases. My hands-down favorite: The 26 Year Old Single Malt, which is finished in white burgundy casks for three years, an elegant whiskey that showcases the delicacy of Irish by infusing it with florals, gentle heather, and light citrus fruit notes. The fragrant, white flower finish almost makes you forget about the €450 price tag.

Also on hand at the tasting was one of the first bottlings of Teeling’s new Single Malt Single Cask offering. Seven different casks are being bottled — with different wood types and different age statements — and I managed to bring one home for a formal review. Stay tuned — and make sure you tell Teeling I sent you if you drop by.

Don’t miss the first part of this travelogue… Scotland!

Travel: Touring Scotch Whisky Distilleries in Speyside, Scotland

The trouble with drinking whisky in Scotland is the regret you experience the moment you get home. No matter how long you spend there and how much you purchase, by the time you get back to the States you wish you’d tasted and brought home more than you did. The vastness of malt whisky options available to residents and visitors to the UK is impossible to overstate. Even the humblest of pubs is likely to have 100 or so bottles on the shelf, a few of which you will never even have heard of. At major whisky meccas like Edinburgh’s Royal Mile and inns in the heart of Speyside, it isn’t unusual to see 500 Scotch whiskies on the back bar — or rather jammed into every corner of the place. Each night at the Quaich bar in the Craigellachie Hotel in Speyside I got to ogle whiskies, just sitting on shelves next to the armchairs, that retail for $4000 or $5000 a bottle. Of course, it’s the ones I was able to sample that I will remember forever.

And so it is that I return to you, my bags stuffed with liters of whisky but my heart left in Scotland, following a pilgrimage I’ve wanted to make for the better part of a decade.

Visiting distilleries in Scotland isn’t difficult, but you’ll want to plan your trip carefully to make the most of your time there. With this post, I want to share some tips and advice if you decide to venture to see Scotland’s stills for yourself, along with commentary about each of the distilleries I visited.

For starters, unless you have a week or more to spend here and can cover multiple areas, you’ll want to pick a region to focus on. For some, Islay and its smoky malts is the place to be — and I’m told there’s really nothing else at all to do there except drink whisky. For others, its Speyside, which is where I spent four solid days.

Speyside is a great choice for visiting for a lot of reasons. First, some of the best whisky in the world is made here, so you’ll have endless opportunities to sample lovely malts. Second, the central location makes it relatively easy to get to. (Fly into Aberdeen, then drive about 80 minutes.) Third, and most importantly, Speyside boasts about half the distilleries in Scotland. From a base in Craigellachie, you’re about 15 miles from 40 or 50 distilleries, and more if you venture 25 or 30 miles away.

Not all distilleries are open to visitors, so keep that in mind when planning your trip by researching them in advance, and many require you book in advance if you want a tour. Don’t overlook this step, as you don’t want to venture 5000 miles to Scotland only to find out that the tours for the week are all booked.

Lastly, and this is where I blew it a little, note that many if not most Scottish distilleries shut down for a month or two in the summer, usually starting in early July. This is called the “silent season,” and it’s a period when the distilleries are repaired, upgraded, cleaned, and otherwise worked on. The stills can’t operate during the silent season, so many are indeed very quiet. That’s not that big a deal — you’ve see one mash tun, you’ve seen ’em all — but the bigger problem is that with all that construction you often can’t even venture into the stillhouses or other parts of the distillery because they’re closed off as a safety precaution. Despite all that, July is still a heavy tourism month for Scotland and most everyone is still operating a tour of some kind even during the shutdown. Just bear in mind you might not see everything you could if you were there, say, in the middle of winter.

As I mentioned above, we chose the Craigellachie Hotel as our base. This is a lovely place to stay — though the Wi-Fi is pants — with a perfect location, nice rooms, and solid dining in the Copper Dog restaurant below. The breakfast options (included) are amazing — and nothing beats a full Scottish to prime the pump before heading out to the distilleries. The Quaich Bar makes for a perfect nightly ritual, too.

So let’s get on to the distilleries. Here they are, in the order I visited them.

The Glenrothes

The Glenrothes is not open to the public, so it’s perhaps not fair to start here, since you can’t actually visit. But Ronnie Cox really set the stage for a memorable time here, treating us to a tour of the Rothes House — the spiritual home of parent company Berry Bros. and Rudd (literally, the town minister used to live there) — plus lunch and an in-depth tour of the distillery. Capped off by a deep dive into the Glenrothes spirit archives, our time included discussions about the geology and history of Speyside, a stroll through the (no longer haunted) Glenrothes cemetery, and even the raising of the U.S. flag in honor of my visit. I couldn’t have asked for a better host than Cox, and he really set a high bar for the other distillery visits we had in store.

Cardhu

Cardhu was a last-minute addition to our trip after some scheduling hiccups at another distillery, but it was a nice one to visit because it was actually up and running. Cardhu mostly ends up in blends, not single malts, but the tasting did include three single malts from the distillery, each made in a slightly different style. Higher-end tastings are available for an additional fee. The nosing challenge (where you try to ID what’s in a series of sealed containers) is particularly fun.

Aberlour

Aberlour’s tour was one of the more unique ones, with a distillery that includes a look at some rare parts of the facility, including the funky biologically-powered tanks that process the waste product from the stills and turn it back into water which can be returned to the river. The tour is concluded with a very nice, sit-down tasting that lets you sample the full range of Aberlour products, including distillery-only releases.

Macallan

Macallan is in the midst of a massive expansion. In two years there will be a whole new visitor’s center here. Our visit to the estate began with lunch at Easter Elchies House, a historic home on the property that you can find on the label of Macallan whiskies. After lunch, a tour takes you through every aspect of production — and includes a very well-done museum-style exhibit on the various types of wood that the distillery uses. For whisky newcomers, consider Macallan as an excellent first stop in order to aid with education. Following the tour (sadly, photos were off limits in many buildings) we sat down to a private tasting that started with the Fine Oak 21 Year Old and went deeper from there. Macallan saved the best for last, though: A sampling of the 1979 Gran Reserva, a long-off-the-market bottling that spent 18 years in first-fill sherry casks. This beautiful but incredibly intense whisky really showcases what sherry aging can do, and it was the perfect way to cap off the day.

Glenfiddich

Glenfiddich is a massive operation, with 47 warehouses full of whisky on the property. Our tour guide, Fergus, led us on a private tour of the facilities — again, some areas off limits and many with no photos allowed — which included some fascinatingly fun times. A stop at a warehouse to try to identify — simply by smelling the casks — which of three whiskies was in an ex-sherry barrel was much tougher than you think, and the chance to see Glenfiddich’s Solera vat, from which its famed 15 year old is drawn, was a unique experience. Of course, a major highlight of the trip was dropping our own “dog” into our choice of Glenfiddich barrel — first-fill or refill, sherry or bourbon — to bring home our own, bespoke, single-cask selection. We ended the day at Glenfiddich with a tasting of rare bottlings, including the 21 Year Old Gran Reserva Rum Cask, the red wine barrel-finished Age of Discovery (third edition), and the oddball 26 Year Old Excellence. Very different whiskies, and each memorable in its own way. Again, a highly recommended tour especially for newcomers to Scotch.

Benromach

All good things must come to an end, and we wound up our time in the Highlands at Benromach, which is about 30 miles north of the heart of Speyside, near the Moray Firth on the coast. Benromach is younger and smaller than all of the other distilleries we visited, and it operates under the ownership of famed indie bottlers Gordon & MacPhail. We dropped by on the road to the city of Inverness, the gateway to Loch Ness. Benromach was a great place to stop because it was in production, there are no crowds, and unlike the distilleries in the heart of Speyside, it uses a bit of peated malt in its production. This was a very casual tour — we asked for an expedited visit due to a time crunch — but the staff was friendly and accommodating and really distilled the operation well despite our shortened visit. We’ll have a full review of the newly released Benromach 15 Year Old in short order.

Thanks to all my new friends in Scotland for taking care of us ugly Americans! See also our coverage of drinking in Dublin, Ireland.

Visiting Harpoon Brewery – Boston, Mass.

Headed to Boston? Take a little trip to Harpoon Brewery, which is now the 14th largest brewery in the U.S. but which still feels like a happy, family operation. Harpoon built a massive beer hall here in South Boston last year, which you can take in after spending 30 minutes or so strolling through the production facility and hearing a little bit about how Harpoon makes its various brews.

If you’ve been on one brewery tour you probably know what to expect, though being able to taste the barley that Harpoon uses to make its beers is a fun little touch. Of course, everyone’s favorite time is the tasting room, where you get about 20 minutes to essentially drink all the Harpoon beer you can from little 2 oz. glasses. I managed to sample a very broad selection of what was on tap that day, from the perfectly credible (and well-stocked) Harpoon IPA to the limited edition Citra Victorious Barrel Series, made exclusively with orangey Citra hops. The Leviathan Double IPA (at 10% abv) is a true monster — though maltier than you’d expect — but my ultimate favorite, by far, was Harpoon Rich & Dan’s Rye IPA, a spicy/piney beer with nice bite and good balance of fruit and hops.

Definitely recommended — and don’t miss the pretzels, which are house-made with grains used to make the company’s beers.

harpoonbrewery.com

Tasting Report: Blue Chip Wineries of Paso Robles, 2014

Paso Robles, in central California, is a wine region that has never gotten much respect. Sandwiched between high-profile Napa/Sonoma to the north; the well-regarded Santa Barbara (Sideways) region to the south; and the bulk-wine-producing Central Valley to the east, Paso is close to nothing and, for many, just not worth a very lengthy drive for what many see as inferior wines.

I can’t help you with your travel plans, but it’s time to look more closely at Paso, a region rapidly on the rise in the quality department. Once known as a home for zinfandel (never a good sign for any region), Paso is now producing a remarkable range of quality wines, with a special focus on Rhone-style wines (syrah, grenache, mourvedre, and their ilk). Cabernet Sauvignon is also on the rise here — as is the number of wineries in total. Over 300 wineries populate this region now, and more are on the way.

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Recently we spent several days touring Paso, with a specific focus on some of the region’s brightest stars. We also took the opportunity to stay at Justin’s completely revamped Just Inn, dining that evening at Justin: The Restaurant, an intimate place serving local and seasonal fare. (Note: Justin hosted both.) The Just Inn Isosceles Suite is quite the affair, featuring a lovely sitting area with fireplace, a king-size Tempur-Pedic bed, and a well-appointed bathroom complete with Jacuzzi-style tub.

The Justin Restaurant was a fun experience, with careful service and a steady pace of inventive dishes coming from the kitchen. (No a la carte here, only a set menu of about seven dishes.) Wine pairings (all Justin wines) are available, or you can order a bottle from a list that largely comprises imports. (We had the Justin pairings, of course.)

Many of the dishes were quite delightful, including a delectable venison loin, a luscious spring pea soup, and a fun little “deconstructed grilled cheese sandwich,” served as an amuse bouche from the kitchen. Other dishes weren’t as memorable — like the cheese course of burrata (not my favorite), served not with bread but with a pile of breadcrumbs. The only miss was the second course of hamachi crudo, a few beautiful slices of fish that were absolutely divine… until they were covered with a bright-green and quite bitter “herb jus,” washing out the lovely brininess of the fish. Sometimes, simpler is better.

On the whole, it was a lovely meal. Some photos follow. (Dine there yourself by entering Justin’s mega-sweepstakes on Facebook!)

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Complete tasting notes on all wines tasted during the trip follow.

Tasting Report: Paso Robles 2014

2013 L’Aventure Rose Estate / $25 / B+ / rose of syrah, grenache, mourvedre, and petit verdot; crisp and light; some lemon and vanilla notes
2011 L’Aventure Optimus / $45 / B+ / syrah/cab/petit verdot; silky, chocolate notes; big tannins now with some rough edges; definite mint notes
2011 L’Aventure Cote a Cote / $85 / A / syrah/mourvedre/grenache; good structure; more softness; some floral notes, black and blueberry; quite lovely
2011 L’Aventure Estate Cuvee / $85 / A- / syrah/cab/petit verdot; massive black fruit, blackberry nose; tobacco and lots of tannins; needs time to soften; approachable now
2012 Terry Hoage Vineyards The Gap Cuvee Blanc / $40 / B / grenache blanc/picpoul blanc/rousanne; marshmallow meets floral and honey notes, green apple character
2011 Terry Hoage Vineyards The Pick Grenache Cuvee / $55 / A / blended with syrah, mourvedre, and counoise; lots of ripe strawberries, some tea notes; vanilla – great little wine
2011 Terry Hoage Vineyards The 46 Greanche-Syrah / $55 / A- / 50-50 blend; similar to The Pick, more of a beefy quality, tobacco notes, some jam
2011 Terry Hoage Vineyards 5 Blocks Syrah Cuvee / $55 / B+ / mourvedre/syrah/grenache/cinsault; modest, some herbs, jammier finish
2011 Terry Hoage Vineyards The Hedge Syrah / $60 / A- / 100% syrah; lush, floral meets fruit, black cherry, big finish
2012 Calcareous Chardonnay Paso Robles / $32 / A- / lots of mineral, butterscotch; tart with a buttery body
2011 Calcareous Pinot Noir York Mountain / $40 / B / fruity and tart, light raspberry and blueberry notes; spicy end, some bitterness on the finish
2010 Calcareous Grenache-Mourvedre / $36 / B+ / licorice, big pepper notes; dense spice, earthiness
2010 Calcareous Lloyd / $49 / A- / malbec/cab/cab franc/petit verdot/merlot; lovely nose, restrained; cherry and raspberry fruit; some cedar and vanilla
2010 Calcareous Moose Paso Robles / $48 / A / syrah with 11% petit verdot; huge nose; most lush body of the bunch; vanilla and tobacco notes
2010 Calcareous Tres Violet / $42 / A / the winery’s signature blend – syrah/mourvedre/grenache; slighly thin, but with big floral tones; quiet and silky; the violets are there
2010 Calcareous Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles / $38 / A / huge blueberry and even bigger floral notes; some cocoa and cedar; wonderful
2011 Calcareous Syrah (barrel sample) / $45 / A / going to be killer; blueberry jam, a backbone of pepper; nicely chewy
2011 Oso Libre Volado Viognier / $32 / B / buttery, some tropical notes
2011 Oso Libre Carnal GSM Blend / $40 / B+ / smoky, a BBQ wine; acid on the finish
NV Oso Libre Primoroso Winemaker’s Blend / $39 / B+ / a vatting of 10 different varietal wines from 2009-11 vintages; wacky; some straberry candy, lots going on as expected
2010 Oso Libre Quixotic Estate Cabernet Sauvignon / $50 / A- / light and fruity; barely hints at tannins
2009 Oso Libre Reserva Bordeaux Style Blend / $52 / B+ / cab/merlot blend; big fruit, black tea, brown sugar, strawberry candies
2011 Oso Libre Nativo Estate Primitivo / $45 / B+ / wood smoke, dense; leathery, coffee bean notes
NV Oso Libre Rojo del Patron Winemaker’s Blend / $32 / B+ / zin/cab blend; quite sweet; edged with violets and more strawberry candy
2012 Justin Viognier / $23 / B- / woodier take on Viognier; light tropical notes with a big slug of vanilla; not my favorite
2013 Justin Sauvignon Blanc / $14 / B / mango, pineapple; quite steely
2013 Justin Rose Estate / $20 / A- / pretty, strawberry with tart and light sweet notes
2011 Justin Reserve Tempranillo / $45 / A- / huge cherry, vanilla, almost pinot-like in structure; a real surprise
2008 Justin Syrah / $40 / A- / cedra box, with long herbal notes; fun, with a long finish featuring dried fruites
2011 Justin Justification / $50 / B / cab franc/merlot blend; touch of barnyard here; dense, coffee, currants
2011 Justin Isosceles / $62 / B+ / cab/merlot/cab franc; pre-release but in bottle; drinking young, almost green; light cherry; give this 3 years
2010 Justin Isosceles Reserve / $100 / A / 90% cab with malbec/cab franc/merlot; huge wine; concentrated fruit and cassis, some chocolate and a bit of strawberry

Tasting the Classic Cocktails of New Orleans

Ah, New Orleans… it’s not just the home of some of the best food in the world, it’s also the birthplace — a spiritual birthplace in some cases — of some of the most classic cocktails ever invented.

I had the good fortune to travel through Louisiana, particularly New Orleans, on the eve of Mardi Gras recently, with a specific goal of seeing how these classics measure up to more modern fare. Whenever possible, I went straight to the source where the cocktail was first created.

Without further ado, here’s a rundown of some of NOLA’s biggest and most noteworthy cocktails… recipes included. (Note: I skipped the Grasshopper, reportedly invented here at Tujagues’. Next time, I promise.)

Sazerac047
1 tsp. Absinthe liqueur (preferably Herbsaint)
1 1/2 to 2 oz. Rye Whiskey (preferably Old Overholt)
1 sugar cube
several dashes Peychaud’s bitters

Coat the inside of a cocktail glass with the Herbsaint and pour out the excess. Shake the remaining ingredients in a cocktail shaker with lots of ice. Garnish with a lemon twist.

I’ve covered this classic before. It’s one of my favorite drinks. It’s also the official drink of New Orleans, invented here in the 1850s. The Sazerac at the Roosevelt Hotel’s Sazerac Bar — as iconic a place to order one as you can find — isn’t the best I’ve had. Sweet and spicy, it was way too warm and — more importantly — absent of nearly any absinthe flavor, the quintessential part of the cocktail, in my opinion. Today the Roosevelt is better known for its Ramos Gin Fizz, another NOLA classic.

040Vieux Carre
3/4 oz rye whiskey
3/4 oz Cognac
3/4 oz sweet vermouth
1 tsp Benedictine
2 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
2 dashes Angostura Bitters

On the rocks with a lemon twist.

This is very close to the recipe that the Hotel Monteleone’s Carousel Bar — where this drink was invented — uses today. (Most others omit the Benedictine.) A powerful, bittersweet cocktail, the Vieux Carre (the French name for the French Quarter) makes for a near-perfect digestif, all the better while sitting at the Carousel… which actually rotates 4 times an hour as you sip your beverage.

032French 75
1.5 oz cognac
1 tsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp simple syrup
Champagne

Briefly hake the first three ingredients and strain into a tulip glass. Top with Champagne and a lemon twist.

This is the recipe used at Arnaud’s French 75 Bar. Arnaud’s didn’t invent the French 75 — but it’s become an iconic drink in NOLA either way. (It’s also one of the most refined, service-oriented bars in town.) I really love this cocktail, but there are myriad ways to make it… many of which use gin instead of cognac.

062Hurricane
2 oz light rum
2 oz dark rum
2 oz passion fruit juice
2 oz pineapple juice
2 tsp lime juice
1 tablespoon grenadine

Mix in a Hurricane glass (what else) and serve on the rocks with an orange slice and a cherry.

OK, that’s a legit Hurricane, and as with many Tiki-style drinks, recipes vary far and wide. Just reading that recipe makes my yearn for the beach. Sadly, you won’t get that cocktail anywhere in New Orleans, especially not at Pat O’Brien’s, where it was invented. Sadly, this bar, just steps from Bourbon Street, is now focused on pushing out huge quantities of crude, Frankenhurricanes in plastic cups (see photo), designed to get you sloshed on the cheap. Pat-O’s, as it’s known, doesn’t even pretend any more, listing the official recipe of this Kool-Aid-like concoction in the brochure it places on the bar here as such:

Pat O’Brien’s World Famous Hurricane
4 oz. Pat O’Brien’s Hurricane Rum
4 oz. Pat O’Brien’s Hurricane Mix

A souvenir glass is 3 bucks. Popcorn is free, though!

Fortunately you can still make a good Hurricane for yourself… at home.

071Doctor’s Orders
2 oz Woodford Reserve Bourbon
1/2 oz white creme de cacao
a few dashes Benedictine

Shake over ice and strain into a coupe.

And now for something new. Bartending legend Chris McMillan made me this cocktail at Kingfish on my last night in NOLA, asking what I liked to drink and whipping this up on a whim. (The measurements are estimates on my part.) This chocolatey-vanilla-honey drink hits on all cylinders, and it’s almost embarrassingly easy to make. Give it a go in your home bar and take the credit.

California Wines: Page, Revolver, Mumm, Miraflores

I’ve spent more time than usual in various wine regions in Northern California, and I figured I’d put all my tasting notes into one post. Page Wine Cellars is a boutique winery in Yountville that also sells under the Revolver label. Miraflores is based in El Dorado — up in the Sierra Nevada foothills — where it produces quite the bevy of wines (we didn’t taste about a third of those available).

Finally, there’s mega-sparkling outfit Mumm (“You can get a whole bunch of Mumm’s.”), which surprised me with some really exemplary wines. Mumm may have the reputation of a budget, grocery store-friendly winery, but it has quite a range of wines that deserve another look.

Tasting notes follow.

Tasting Report: Semi-Random Wines of Northern California

2010 Page Wine Cellars Sauvignon Blanc / $25 / A- / peppery finish

2010 Page Wine Cellars Proprietary Red / $60 / B / Cabernet blend

2009 Revolver Wine Co. “The Fury” Cabernet Franc / $50 / B / pepper and plum

2009 Revolver Wine Co. “Forsaken” Petite Verdot / $50 / B+ / really juicy, pepper, cocoa

NV Revolver Wine Co. “Redemption” Petite Sirah / $NA / B+ / jammy

2010 Miraflores Chardonnay / $21 / B / big oak, butterscotch

2008 Miraflores Muscat Canelli / $15 / B+ / peaches, orange blossoms

2009 Miraflores Barbera / $23 / B-

2006 Miraflores Zinfandel / $22 / B+ / juicier, chocolate

2007 Miraflores Zinfandel / $25 / B+ / good body, licorice finish

2008 Miraflores Zinfandel / $25 / A- / more fruity, fig, currant

2005 Miraflores Syrah / $30 / B+

2006 Miraflores Syrah / $25 / B / hefty, drying finish

2007 Miraflores Syrah / $25 / B / very dry

2009 Miraflores Methode Ancienne Syrah / $30 / A- / more complexity, exciting finish

2008 Miraflores Botricelli / $40 / A / a Sauternes clone, not bad at all

NV Miraflores Principe Port / $24 / C

NV Miraflores Black Muscat / $40 / B- / astringent and medicinal

2009 Miraflores Zinfandel / $NA / B / more traditional Zin, jammy

2010 Miraflores Barbera (barrel sample) / $NA / B+ / big fruit

2010 Miraflores Cabernet Sauvignon (barrel sample) / $NA / B+ / jammy

NV Miraflores Angelica (pre-release) / $NA / B+ / fortified grape juice, almost; juicy raisin and cocoa powder character

2001 Mumm Napa DVX / $60 / A / crisp apple, lovely balance, lasting finish

2005 Mumm Napa DVX / $55 / B+ / ends with earth notes, somewhat less thrilling

2006 Mumm Napa DVX Rose / $65 / A / strawberries, cherries, lively fruit

NV Mumm Napa Brut Prestige “Extended Tirage” / $30 / B+ / long fruit character

2006 Mumm Napa Devaux Ranch / $36 / B+ / touch of sourness

NV Mumm Napa Brut Rose / $24 / B+

Travel Report: The Rheingau, Germany

Germany may be best known for its beer, but this is Old World wine country just like everywhere else in Europe. True, you won’t find classic reds here, but you will find some of the most vibrant white wines in the world on the western side of the country. This is the home of Riesling – both dry, table wine varieties and the super-sweet stuff… the kind that can age for dozens of years – if not a hundred or more (more on that later).

My recent visit to Germany took us in part to the Rheingau, one of the two major winemaking regions in Germany, the other being the somewhat better-known Mosel region, a bit to the north and west of the Rheingau, which is an easy drive from Frankfurt.

It’s called the Rheingau because it’s situated along the Rhine River, one of the most famous waterways in Europe. This wide expanse comes right up to the road the winds through the region. Hillside stretches up and away from the river, and vineyards crawl their way to the peaks along those slopes for miles, interrupted only by the impossibly quaint villages that dot the road along the way.

Our trip took us to two of those villages, to two wineries within. First stop: Prinz von Hessen, in the village of Johannisberg, where winemaker Dr. Clemens Kiefer tasted us through a range of Rieslings from everyday to the ultra-luxe sweet stuff, all mildly sweet and offering more earth tones than you’d expect from most Riesling we get here. Nothing, however, is more interesting, and more controversial, from Prinz von Hessen, than its “Dachsfilet” bottling, dach being a badger (a common wild animal in these parts) and filet being, of course, the best of the best. Von Hessen’s Dachsfilet (not sold in the U.S.) is unique in that it is in part fermented on the skins of the grapes – unheard of in Germany – which gives this wine quite a bit more body than the typical, highly acidic Rieslings of the region. Think of how Chardonnay’s creaminess is a counterpoint to Sauvignon Blanc – but while Dachsfilet retains the traditional flavors of Riesling, it becomes a different beast with that time on the skins.

After a beautiful lunch with Kiefer (one of the few times I got to eat fish during the entire trip), we headed a few km back toward Frankfurt and stopped in the village of Kiedrich to visit Weingut Robert Weil, a larger operation with unmistakeable baby-blue labels on its bottles. Here, our host Jochen Becker-Köhn took us into the (under expansion) cellars, and talked of trying Riesling from the early 1900s – black in color, but still sweet and alive. In our tasting of eight Robert Weil Rieslings, I found these wines almost as good, quality-wise, as the Prinz von Hessen offerings, but Weil’s 2007 “Gold Cap” Auslese, a private release unavailable for sale, was perhaps my favorite wine of the trip: Chewy, with massive honeycomb sweetness – but still that hint of earth – it was a phenomenal way to end the day trip to the Rheingau.

If you go: Getting to the Rheingau is very easy from Frankfurt, which is the main travel hub in Germany. Drive time from Frankfurt or nearby towns (we stayed in Kronberg, which was delightful) is about an hour, with about half of the driving on the Autobahn. Don’t expect much scenery during the winter months, but it’s compensated for with all the Christmas festivities going on in every village and city in the country. One final tip: Make sure you spring for the GPS unit for your car! Despite my fiancé speaking fluent German, we found it essential for getting around.

First image and map courtesy Prinz von Hessen.

Excuse Me, Do You Have Pussy in a Can?

Discovered this oddball energy drink at the train station in Munich. Turns out you can get away with a lot more here (of course) than you can in the U.S. I bought a can and frankly it’s not that bad. Flavored (strongly) with lychee, the exotic fruit drowns out the (all natural) active ingredients, including guarana, caffeine, ginseng, gingko, and some other stuff I can’t really read because it’s in German. Further analysis and commentary is left as an exercise for the reader. Additional reading: pussydrinks.ch

pussy

Tasting Report: Wines of Mendocino 2011

The weather’s been surprisingly delightful in Mendocino this fall, and a recent excursion to the coast brought not fog and drizzle but sunshine, warmth, and sea breezes. We took the opportunity to visit a number of wineries along the Mendo wine trail, finding some new Anderson Valley favorites in Phillips Hill’s lush Pinot Noirs, squirreled away in a quiet tasting room in the tiny town of Philo. Thoughts on other wines from this land of Pinot, unoaked Chardonnay, and a healthy number of German varietals follow.

2011 Mendocino Road Trip Tasting Notes

2009 Navarro Pinot Gris / $19 / B /

2009 Navarro Gewurztraminer / $19 / B /

2010 Navarro Riesling / $18 / B- /

2010 Navarro Edelzwicker / $13 / A- / my fave wine from Navarro, a lovely German style belnd

2009 Navarro Navarouge / $14 / B / licorice notes

2009 Navarro Pinot Noir / $19 / B / very dry

2007 Navarro Pinot Noir Methode a l’Ancienne / $29 / B+ /

2006 Navarro Cabernet Sauvignon / $29 / B / licorice again

2009 Navarro Gewurztraminer Late Harvest / $35 / A- / like peach pie

2006 Navarro Riesling Cluster Select Late Harvest (375ml) / $29 / B+ / honey and tea

2005 Scharfenberger Blanc de Blancs / $30 / B / big, yeasty

NV Scharfenberger Brut / $20 / B+ / more fruit, light bitterness on finish

NV Scharfenberger Rose / $25 / B+ / blackberry notes

NV Scharfenberger Extra Dry / $21 / B+ / light sweetness is nice

NV Scharfenberger Cremant / $25 / B- / cheesy character

2006 Scharfenberger Pinot Noir / $20 / B / past its prime

2007 Scharfenberger Syrah / $23 / A- / chewy, good fruit

2008 Scharfenberger Chardonnay / $16 / B+ / easy

NV Roederer Brut / $20 / A- / lots of fruit

NV Roederer Brut Rose / $27 / A- / lovely strawberry

2002 Roederer L’Ermitage Brut / $43 / B / tart, acidic and yeasty

2000 Roederer L’Ermitage Brut (magnum) / $90 / A / considerably better, creamy and balanaced

NV Roederer Extra Dry / $22 / A- / sweet finish, nice

2009 Roederer Rose of Pinot / $19 / B /

2007 Roederer Pinot Noir / $22 / B+ /

2008 Roederer Chardonnay / $18 / B /

2009 Goldeneye Chardonnay Migration / $30 / A- / figs and lemon

2009 Goldeneye Anderson Valley Pinot Noir / $55 / A- / herbs and mint, easygoing

2009 Goldeneye Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Confluence Vineyard / $75 / A- / light body, quite similar to the blend

2009 Goldeneye Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Gowan Creek Vineyard / $75 / B+ / tougher, great with cheese

2009 Goldeneye Anderson Valley Pinot Noir The Narrows Vineyard / $75 / B+ / a bit unripe and heavy, needs time

2010 Phillips Hill Chardonnay / $30 / A- /

2010 Phillips Hill Gewurztraminer Valley Foothills / $18 / B+ / unusual, big acid and earth

2009 Phillips Hill Pinot Noir Wiley Vineyard / $38 / A / great fruit here, Burgundy style earth

2009 Phillips Hill Pinot Noir Boontling / $27 / B / some bitterness, tougher

2008 Phillips Hill Pinot Noir Beeson Tree / $40 / B+ / from the Mendocino fire year, hugely smoky, like a Syrah

2008 Phillips Hill Pinot Noir Oppenlander Vineyard / $38 / A- / mushrooms, good earth, nice fruit too