Review: 2013 Saved Red Wine

bt-saved-red-lg

A blend of “Merlot, Malbec, Syrah, Zinfandel, and small amounts of other red varietals,” this is a California bottling from parts otherwise unknown. The wine is initially dialed back, but some air and time in glass reveals a denser-than-expected fruit core that showcases blackberries, blueberries, and currants. There’s a lacing of vanilla and a touch of balsamic in the mix, with a finish that echoes cake frosting (but in a good way), plus a hint of chocolate-dusted, bittersweet amaro.

The wine is also being released in conjunction with a new corkscrew designed by Saved creator Scott Campbell, who is a tattoo artist. Some deets:

Available at Shinola stores and online in time for the holidays, the solid brass corkscrew marries form and function to bring a little ceremony to the everyday act of opening a bottle of wine. With its intricate design of sigils, reflective of Scott’s tattoo style, this piece makes a perfect gift for those who appreciate design and fine wine equally. Available exclusively for holiday 2016 in Shinola stores and online at shinola.com for $125.

B+ / $16 / savedwines.com

Tasting Report: Wines of the Petaluma Gap, 2016

Draw a line eastward from Bodega Bay to Sonoma, and another one parallel to that about 10 miles to the south. Congratulations, you’ve just outlined, roughly, the Petaluma Gap, a much-discussed region of Sonoma County (plus a bit of Marin County) that is heralded particularly for its colder-climate pinot noir and chardonnay grapes. The “gap” itself is a break in the mountains that surround this region, creating a canyon of sorts through which the cold Pacific breeze can blow, all the way to the San Pablo Bay.

Recently the Petaluma Gap Winegrowers Alliance put together a tasting of wines grown exclusively from grapes grown in this small region. You’ll find some familiar names in the tasting report below, along with some you’ve probably never heard of.

Brief thoughts on everything tasted follow.

Tasting Report: Petaluma Gap Wines, 2016 Releases

2013 Agnitio Wines Pinot Noir Sun Chase Vineyard / C+ / rather vegetal, bitter edges
2014 Agnitio Wines Pinot Noir Sun Chase Vineyard / A- / more floral, still dense with dried fruits
2013 Agnitio Wines Chardonnay Sun Chase Vineyard / B / earthy, but quite buttery at times
2014 Black Kite Cellars Chardonnay Gap’s Crown Vineyard / A- / fairly classic, lots of aromatics
2013 Black Kite Cellars Pinot Noir Gap’s Crown Vineyard / A- / some antiseptic notes on the nose; body is rich and bold, ample cherry
2013 Brooks Note Winery Pinot Noir Marin County / B+ / acidic, quite tart, restrained fruit
2014 Brooks Note Winery Pinot Noir Marin County / A- / also very tart, but nicely focused with overtones of tea leaf amidst bolder fruit
2012 Clouds Rest Vineyards Allure Chardonnay / A- / strong fruit notes fade into a butter and spice character
2011 Clouds Rest Vineyards Femme Fatale Pinot Noir / A- / aromatic, spicy, bold cherry notes
2008 Clouds Rest Vineyards Pinot Noir (Reserve) / A- / very big, heavy spice, cloves and cinnamon, plus dried fruits; long finish
2013 Fogline Vineyards Pinot Noir Fogline Neighbors / A- / fruity, lively with lots of acidity
2013 Fogline Vineyards Pinot Noir Hillside Block / A- / similar, tending more toward a baking spice note
2013 Keller Estate Pinot Noir La Cruz Vineyard / B+ / a bit dusty, but solid berry underpinnings
2013 Keller Estate Rotie / B / 93% syrah; very aromatic, licorice notes on a big big body
2012 Kendric Vineyards Pinot Noir Reserve / B / lots of aromatics, dense finish is lackluster
2012 La Rochelle Wines Pinot Noir El Coro Vineyard / B / lots of aromatics, almost ethereal in body; some earthy overtones mar the finish
2013 La Rochelle Wines Pinot Meunier Parliament Hills Vineyard / A- / lots of acidity, plus some cocoa character, curious
2013 Loxton Syrah Griffin’s Lair Vineyard / B+ / spicy, bold raisin bread note
2014 Loxton Pinot Noir Griffin’s Lair Vineyard / A- / chewy and balanced
2013 Pax Syrah Griffin’s Lair Vineyard / B+ / big and mouth-filling with coffee and chocolate notes, still tannic; try in 3-4 years
2014 Pfendler Vineyards Pinot Noir / A- / bold and rich in style; dark fruit, chocolate notes
2013 Ramey Wine Cellars Syrah Rodgers Creek Vineyard / B / meaty, a classic Rhone syrah style; very bold, lasting finish
2012 Trombetta Family Wines Pinot Noir Gap’s Crown Vineyard / A- / very fruit forward, quite acidic with a flick of licorice and dark chocolate
2013 Trombetta Family Wines Pinot Noir Gap’s Crown Vineyard / A- / quite similar; a bit more punch
2014 Trombetta Family Wines Pinot Noir Gap’s Crown Vineyard / A- / slightly bigger herbal character
2014 WALT Wines Pinot Noir Gap’s Crown Vineyard / C+ / licorice nose; somewhat flabby body; very bitter finish
2014 Waxwing Wine Cellars Pinot Noir Spring Hill Vineyard / B- / modest, simple but quite bitter edges
2013 Waxwing Wine Cellars Pinot Noir Spring Hill Vineyard / C+ / very very dry; dusty to an extreme

Review: Morocco’s Ouled Thaleb 2013 Signature and 2012 Aït Souala

ouled-thaler-signature-and-ait-souala

Quick, what’s the wine hot spot of the Arab world? Morocco, it turns out, where Domaine Ouled Thaleb is the country’s oldest working winery. Ouled Thaleb has been pushing into the States of late, and recently the company began exporting two new blends to our shores. Curious how Moroccan wine — here represented by a pair of blends that mix together both oddball varietals and better-known international grapes — fares? Read on.

2013 Ouled Thaleb Signature – 50% marselan, 35% petit verdot, 15% carmenere. (Marselan is a cross of cabernet sauvignon and grenache.) Rustic but well-rounded, this blend offers a core of dark fruits alongside a significant earthiness, loading up notes of leather and tar, with a finish that echoes violets and some balsamic notes. A mixed bag, but for the most part it’s approachable and engaging. B / $28

2012 Ouled Thaleb Aït Souala – 50% arinarnoa, 25% tannat, 25% malbec. This is a much more approachable wine (arinarnoa is a cross of merlot and petit verdot), starting with heady, aromatic aromas of cloves, baking spice, and ginger — but cut with some tarry character — that then moves into a lush, fruit-forward body. Raisins, plum, and raspberries all mingle with notes of cinnamon, vanilla, and a gentle touch of leather. The finish is very lightly sweet, but that sweetness integrates well with all the fruit and spice that comes before. A very versatile wine, I could drink this with just about anything. A- / $24

nomadicdistribution.com

Review: Kuvee Wine Preservation System

kuveeideo3x

How to deal with the conundrum of leftover wine has been an issue that has dogged us for ages, and while numerous solutions work well, none is perfect.

Kuvee thinks it has the answer with this: A high-tech wine dispenser that lets you pour one glass at a time while ensuring the wines inside last for weeks.

The solution is quite a cutting-edge one. Kuvee is a sleeve that goes on top of a custom (this is key) bottle of wine. On the front of the sleeve is a web-connected color touchscreen that provides copious information about the wine, including a picture of the label, a winemaker bio, tasting notes, and more. The screen shows you when the bottle was opened and even keeps track of how much is left. A base station recharges the Kuvee every time you set it down, much like an electric toothbrush. Want more wine? You can actually buy it directly from the Kuvee, which is perhaps the first time I’ve had a bottle of wine offer to sell me another one.

I tried Kuvee with a white and a red, pouring out about half, then waiting two full weeks to see how well the wines fared. Both sailed through without an issue, tasting as fresh on day 14 as they did on day one. If you like to have multiple bottles in rotation and don’t like existing preservation methods, Kuvee is a winning solution.

The problem however is that Kuvee only works with those custom bottles (plastic canisters with a collapsing bladder inside), and there are only a couple dozen wines available. Most of those are relatively low-end. Exceptions like Chamisal, Round Pond, and Clos Pegase exist, but these aren’t the norm. I had never heard of the red I was sent, a $15 wine called Cartlidge & Browne, and it wasn’t terribly drinkable no matter what day I tried it on.

It’s nice that Kuvee requires no argon or other consumables, but the requirement of buying custom bottles will be a deal-breaker for most consumers. Unless Kuvee manages to expand to several hundred wineries at a minimum, it’ll be best reserved for restaurants with limited wine-by-the-glass programs where customers don’t get through a whole bottle every night.

$199 (with four wines) / kuvee.com

Three 2013 Red Wines from Portugal: Passa, Assobio, and Titular

big_v6esporaassmag

Best known for dense Ports and crisp whites, Portugal is also home to a bustling red table wine production. Today we sample three reds from Portugal, including selections from both the Douro and the Dao regions.

2013 Quinto do Passadouro Passa Douro Red Wine – A traditional blend of touriga franca, tinta roriz, and touriga nacional. Notes of dark cherry and licorice find a curious companion in some sweet almond character, with the wine lightening up on the palate as it evolves to show off strawberry, some cloves, and a bit of vanilla. Short on the finish, but lively and pleasant. B+ / $15

2013 Esporao Assobio Douro – Another blend of touriga franca (40%), tinta roriz (40%), and touriga nacional (20%). Fresh blueberry notes fade into a licorice and clove character, adding body to an otherwise quite fruity attack. It’s a relatively straightforward wine, all told, but a versatile one that works in a variety of dining scenarios. B+ / $15

2013 Caminhos Cruzdos Titular: Dao Red – This blend from the Dao region comprises touriga nacional (45%), tinta roriz (15%), jaen (10%), and alfrocheiro (30%). Youthful, heavy on blackberries and brambly notes, with heavy tobacco, leather, and licorice notes bursting forth on the rustic finish. B- / $9

Review: Wines of Lazy Creek Vineyards, 2016 Releases

prt_956113_prtbigpic_20160129_151628

Lazy Creek Vineyards, part of the Ferrari-Carano family of wines, is an Anderson Valley winery focused on pinot noir. Winemaker Christy Ackerman makes all of its wines as well as all of Ferrari’s pinots, and she invited a number of wine writers to sit in on an online tasting to sample the winery’s wares and learn more about what makes Lazy Creek so darn lazy.

First, some back story:

Lazy Creek Vineyards sits on a 95 acres ranch in Mendocino County’s bucolic Anderson Valley. Its vineyards were first planted more than 100 years ago, by the Italian Pinoli family. The winery was established in 1973 by Hans and Theresia Kobler, and quickly earned its reputation for excellent pinot noir and Alsatian-style gewurztraminer. In 2008, Lazy Creek Vineyards was acquired by Don and Rhonda Carano, who have continued a winemaking program emphasizing single-vineyard, terroir-driven pinot noirs and gewurztraminer, under the direction of winemaker Christy Ackerman. In 2014, Lazy Creek Vineyards was designated a California Certified Sustainable Winery (CCSW) by the Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA).

And now let’s taste some wines!

2015 Lazy Creek Vineyards Rosé of Pinot Noir – A beauty, very lively and fresh, closer to a white wine than a classic, fruit-driven rose. Strawberry notes meld with sea spray and slate here, with a fresh and lightly floral finish. A- / $22

2014 Lazy Creek Vineyards Lazy Day Pinot Noir – This is the only Lazy Creek wine in broad distribution and comes from a blend of various estate vineyards. Fairly standard-issue for Anderson Valley, loaded with notes of cherries, raspberry, and some vanilla. A little licorice edge on the back end gives this some tannic grip and a bolder profile that is more aggressive than more inland pinots. Highly drinkable. A- / $35

2014 Lazy Creek Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir – As weighty as the Lazy Day pinot is, this expression pushes things much further. Big notes of licorice, coffee bean, and some smoky wood notes dominate, giving the wine a body closer to a syrah than a typical pinot noir. The bittersweet finish offers a respite in the form of dried cherry and light cocoa notes, but what comes before is quite aggressive and needs careful attention, particularly if attempting to pair it to food. B / $58

2014 Ferrari-Carano Anderson Valley Pinot Noir – A point of comparison for the tasting, as this is bottled under the primary Ferrari-Carano label, but still comes from Anderson Valley fruit. Again the licorice kicks off right from the start, with darker blackberry notes forming the core. Spicy clove and black pepper give it an aggressive edge, along with some balsamic character. The finish is rougher than Lazy Day, but not as bold as the Estate pinot. B+ / $38

lazycreekvineyards.com

Drinkhacker’s 2016 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for Christmas

Our ninth year is under our belt, and that means our ninth annual installment of the Drinkhacker holiday gift guide — our “best stuff of the year awards” — is here. As always, the list gives you the lowdown on some of the best-rated products we reviewed over the last 12 months, with at least some eye toward availability and affordability. (Though, as you’ll see, some selections can cost a pretty penny…)

As always, the offerings below comprise a small selection of our favorite wines and spirits from the last year, and there are many other worthwhile products on the market worth considering. Feel free to sound off in the comments with suggestions for alternatives or questions about other categories or types of beverages that might be perfect for gifting.

Again, happy holidays to all of you who have helped to make Drinkhacker one of the most popular wine and spirits websites on the Internet! We look forward to providing our guidance on the world of wine, beer, and spirits as we begin our 10th year on the web and approach our 5,000th post! Stay tuned for the appropriate festivities come the big anniversary in September 2017.

And don’t forget, for more top gift ideas check out the archives and read our 2015201420132012201120102009, and 2008 holiday guides.

of-1920-rendering-jpegBourbon – Old Forester Whiskey Row Series – 1920 Prohibition Style Bourbon ($60)  As inventory pressures continue to pound bourbon country, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find solid “giftable” bourbon bottlings on the market. Rarities like the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection sell out before they ever hit shelves. This year I’m naming to my top pick something that you ought to have more luck finding, but which is just as good as anything else out there: Old Forester’s most recent Whiskey Row expression, meant to mimic bourbon made during its “medicinal” Prohibition days. Other top tipples: Col. E.H. Taylor Seasoned Wood ($70 on release, $500+ now), Blood Oath Pact No. 2 ($100), Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Brandy Cask Finish ($100, often available for less), and, for the budget-minded, 1792 High Rye Bourbon ($36).

Scotch – Compass Box The Circus ($300) – You want to wow your loved one this year? Give them The Circus, a blend that comes complete with its own infographic outlining all the whiskies inside. It’s a complex but truly outstanding whisky worth every penny. Other top picks for 2016 aren’t going to come cheap, including Chivas Regal Ultis ($200), The Glenlivet Single Cask Edition Pullman Water Level Route ($350), Chieftain’s Linkwood 1997 17 Years Old Oloroso Sherry Finish ($90), and your best bet for an easier-to-find bottling, Glenmorangie Milsean ($130 on release but easy to find for $100 or less).

Other Whiskey – Booker’s Rye “Big Time Batch” ($300 on release) – You know who nailed it this year? Jim Murray! The crazed whiskey critic is known for his outlandishly goofy “best of the year’ picks, but he hit it perfectly with his pick of the first ever release of Booker’s Rye. The bad news: It was already a cult hit, and whatever’s left on the market is going to cost you at least $600 a bottle. More sensible options include Redemption Aged Barrel Proof Straight Rye 8 Years Old ($90), High West’s latest release of Bourye ($80), and Clyde May’s Alabama Style Whiskey Special Reserve 110 Proof ($70), which is lightly flavored with apples in the “Alabama style.”

oregonbarrelagedginbottleworkGin – Big Bottom Oregon Gin Finished in Oak Whiskey Barrels ($38) – We’ve been drowning in gin this year, which means there’s plenty of solid and unique bottlings to choose from on the market. My top pick is this one from our pals at Big Bottom, which is aged solera-style and is perfect for wintertime sipping thanks to a fun holiday spice character. For unaged expressions, check out Graton Distilling D. George Benham’s Sonoma Dry Gin ($40) or Spain’s Gin Mare ($38).

Vodka  Stolichnaya Elit Vodka ($47)  It’s more than just a fancy bottle; Stoli Elit is very good vodka, too. Beyond that, check out Vikre Lake Superior Vodka ($35) or Hangar 1 Mandarin Blossom Vodka ($35), one of the best citrus vodkas around.

Rum – Angostura Caribbean Rum 1824 12 Years Old ($60)  Great rum needn’t break the bank. Angostura 1824 is a top-notch 12 year old with all kinds of versatility. Plantation Rum Extra Old 20th Anniversary ($43) and Ron Zacapa 23 ($48) both make for awesome alternatives.

martell-blue-swift-largeBrandy – Martell Blue Swift ($50) – Martell wasn’t the first to put brandy into whiskey barrels to develop a more sophisticated, deeper flavor, but it is doing the best at it at the moment. This expression is gorgeous and cheap when it comes to Cognac. Another great, budget option is Gilles Brisson’s VSOP, a steal at $35. For the other direction, consider Hardy Noces d’Albatre “Rosebud” ($2250), one of the most exquisite sips I had this year.

Tequila – Tequila Herradura Seleccion Suprema Extra Anejo ($340) – Tons of great tequila hit this year, but I have to give the nod to Herradura and its extra anejo bottling of Seleccion Suprema, a luscious experience that every tequila lover needs to try. A smattering of top agave alternatives across the price board includes Pasote Reposado ($59), Mezcalero Release #16 Don Valente Angel Mezcal ($96), Milagro Tequila Select Barrel Reserve Anejo ($100), and Asombroso Ultrafino The Collaboration Barrel 1 ($2500).

cynar 70Liqueur – Cynar 70 ($37/1 liter) – Cynar gets a proof upgrade and a flavor boost in this new edition, which I think is an even better rendition of this classic amaro. I also can’t stop raving about Grand Poppy ($30), another amaro. Iichiko Bar Fruits Yuzu Liqueur ($11/375ml) is also highly worth picking up, as is Few Spirits Anguish & Regret Liqueur ($30), a unique spiced liqueur.

Wine  A smattering of giftable picks for the wine-lover in your life, with California showing incredibly strongly in 2016.

Need another custom gift idea (or have a different budget)? Drop me a line or leave a comment here and I’ll offer my best advice!

Looking to buy any of the above? Give Caskers and Master of Malt a try!

Review: 2016 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau

g-duboeuf-41

I’ve been hearing good things about the 2016 Beaujolais Nouveau releases — and can now confirm that, yes, they might be on to something.

As usual, Georges Duboeuf is first out the gate with this ultra-young, ultra-fruity wine, but the nose features a lightly bitter astringency that one doesn’t usually find in Nouveau. While the nose is candylike and jammy, the body is more refined, offering some tannin and tea leaf to complement blueberry and strawberry notes. The finish is surprisingly clean, though not without a touch of lingering bubble gum, which is a helpful way to make you forget, at least in part, the clip-art appearance of the bottle label.

B+ / $12 / duboeuf.com

Review: 2015 Matchbook Old Heads Chardonnay Dunnigan Hills

matchbook-chard-large

Matchbook’s latest Chardonnay, born in the heat of Yolo County, California, is dubbed “Old Heads” because it is aged for 8 months in barrels previously used for an older vintage of the wine. So, older bodies, too. The used barrels give this wine a softer — and much-needed — attack, offering gentle floral notes on the nose and a plump fruitiness on the tongue. Notes of lemon and pear find a counterpart in a light pineapple note, with gentle vanilla notes emerging more as the wine warms up. An outstanding value.

A- / $15 / crewwines.com

Review: Beaujolais Wines of Georges DuBoeuf, 2015 Vintage

georges-duboeuf-domaine-les-chenevieres-macon-villages

Georges DuBoeuf is an icon of France’s Beaujolais, and every year around this time the winery’s new releases hit the market. Today we look at six of them, including two offerings from DuBoeuf’s Domaine selection — smaller producers owned by the winery and still bottled under their own labels.

2015 Georges DuBoeuf Macon-Villages – Brisk and acidic, this wine is loaded with lemon and grapefruit notes, delving from there into a lightly herbal character, plus some light notes of brown sugar. The finish is heavy with slate notes, and lightly bittersweet, which dials back the impact of the finish a bit. B+ / $20

2015 Georges DuBoeuf Pouilly-Fuisse – Lovely fruit and light mineral notes find balance here atop a moderate to bold body that offers distinct buttery notes. Relatively California-esque in style, it builds to a vanilla-scented crescendo. The finish is a bit too brooding making it a bit overpowering on its own, but it does stand up well to food. B / $35

2015 Georges DuBoeuf Beaujolais-Villages – The focus is squarely on fruit here, but it’s dialed back unlike, say, a Beaujolais Nouveau’s brash and overpowering jamminess. Light cherry and currant meld with fresher, juicier strawberry notes, dusted with a bit of lavender and a touch of orange peel. A solid wine at a great value. A- / $13

2015 Georges DuBoeuf Fleurie – Youthful, with a simple structure that focuses on dried plums, violets, and overtones of saddle leather. The body is fine but nothing special, round and a bit flabby with a gumminess that tends to stick to the sides of the mouth. B- / $22

2015 Emile Beranger Pouilly-Fuisse – A fine Pouilly-Fuisse, offering ample minerality, to the point of light saltiness, plus overtones of melon and hints of roasted meats. Notes of slate and bouqeut garni alternate on the finish, which give the wine an uncommon complexity. B+ / $40

2015 Domaine les Chenevieres Macon-Villages – A gorgeous wine, loaded with notes of lemon, quince, and tangerine, and layered with alternating notes of brown butter, baking spice, and a hint of woody vanilla. A perfectly balanced body kicks out floral notes and a touch of white pepper from time to time, all beautiful accompaniments to the fruit-forward main event. Beautiful on its own but a standout with lighter fare. A / $22

duboeuf.com

Review: Graham’s Tawny Port 10 Years Old (2016)

grahams-10-year-tawny-large

Graham’s 10 year old tawny has been repackaged and relabeled in a squatter, fatter bottle since we last saw it in 2012, but little seems to have changed with this engaging, entry-level tawny. (Though prices are coming down a bit.) Prominent notes include the expected raisin notes, backed up by spicy gingerbread, cloves, and tea leaf notes. The finish is leathery and cherry-driven… all of which makes for a lot of consistency in this venerable brand, despite the altogether new look.

A- / $25 / grahams-port.com

Review: 2014 Cloudy Bay Pinot Noir Marlborough

cloudy-bay-pinot-noir-nv-bottle-shot-large

Cloudy Bay’s latest pinot noir is a simplistic affair, quite acidic up front but lacking much structure underneath. Instead of focusing on fresh fruit, the wine showcases dull notes of forest floor, indistinct vegetation, and just a small amount dried, almost Madeirized berries. The finish is surprisingly astringent but otherwise unremarkable. That said, the acidity helps it to work well enough as a mealtime companion, but on its own I feel like all I really experience are its faults.

B- / $35 / cloudybay.co.nz