Category Archives: Wine

Tasting Report: 6 Spanish Garnacha Wines

Some say Garnacha, the Spanish inflection of Grenache, is the next “It Wine.” (It doesn’t hurt that most Garnachas are extremely inexpensive.) Is it so? We tasted six Garnachas (one of which is a Garnacha/Syrah blend), from 2009, 2012, and 2013 vintages, to see where this varietal is headed.

2009 Bodegas y Vinedos del Jalon Alto Las Pizarras Garnacha Vinas Viejas – Engaging, exotic, almost perfumed on the nose. Notes of violets and raspberry mingle with hints of black tea and coffee to create a surprisingly rousing and rounded whole. The finish heads toward more of a candied violet character, but there’s plenty of tannin here to keep things out of jam territory. A / $9

2009 Castillo de Maluenda Punto y Seguido Garnacha Vinas Viejas – The embarrassingly simple label wouldn’t cue you in to how impressive the wine in this bottle is, a showy, fruit-forward wine that simultaneously offers depth and balance. Notes of tea leaf, cola, and leather are layered atop blackberry and cherry forming a core that drinks with lushness but which features muted, well-smothered tannins. The finish is complex, echoing everything that’s come before with a fresh denouement. A / $15

2009 Vinas del Vero Secastilla Somontano - A little pruny and overcooked, almost stewed. Very dense fruit competes with balsamic notes and runs up against a finish that offers coffee bean and dense, oily leather notes. C- / $25

2012 Castillo de Monseran Carinena Garnacha – Very fruity, almost like a Gamay-based wine. Thick strawberry jam leads to a finish that’s almost sickly sweet and unbalanced. C- / $8

2012 Pagos del Moncayo Garnacha – A very easy-drinking garnacha, offering a refreshing mix of strawberry and currant notes, backed with light chocolate, some tea leaf, and gentle tannins. Though not entirely complex, it’s lovely from start to finish, and ready to go immediately. A- / $12

2013 Bodegas Paniza Agoston Garnacha & Syrah – A blend, as the name suggests, with a surprising amount of fruit from the start — it almost comes across as candied berries with a dusting of chocolate sprinkles. More herbal notes take hold as the wine develops on the palate — think thyme and rosemary on a Sunday roast — but that youthful spirit and dense fruit maintains the focus through to the finish. B+ / $8

When J. Lohr Chardonnay Met Lindt Chocolates

J. Lohr Estates Riverstone Chardonnay 431x1200 When J. Lohr Chardonnay Met Lindt ChocolatesChocolate and wine are a classic match — but which chocolate, and which wine? Chocolatier Lindt and California winemaker J. Lohr have been working on figuring that out, and they think they have it down, now.

Among the half-dozen pairings they have devised, the duo sent this one for me to try out for myself: 2013 J. Lohr Chardonnay Riverstone Arroyo Seco Monterey paired with Lindt Excellence Dark Chocolate with Pineapple.

At first I didn’t think these two were going to pair well together. Chardonnay is not a natural companion with chocolate, but many white wines do feature tropical notes that might pair well with pineapple. The J. Lohr, however is a more traditional California style Chardonnay, with notes focused on vanilla, wood, and fresh apples, with very little tropical character to it at all. But surprisingly the wine does do an admirable job of really enhancing the pineapple in the chocolate. I am not sure if it’s the acid and fruit in the wine, or merely the presence of a liquid to help separate the chocolate from the fruit embedded in it, but I did find the pineapple and other citrus notes were much more powerful — and longer-lasting on the finish — when taken together with the Chardonnay. Neat trick. Give it a whirl.

Review: 2011 La Jota Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain

La Jota Cabernet Sauvignon bottle shot 81x300 Review: 2011 La Jota Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Howell MountainIt’s not every day we get a bona fide cult wine here at Drinkhacker HQ, but La Jota is the kind of thing that sells for well into the hundreds of dollars on restaurant wine lists and shows up on auction sell sheets with equal probability. Today we look at the 2011 Cab from this storied Howell Mountain operation.

Initially quite pungent with tarry and dense notes of fresh leather and blackberry jam, decant or give this at least an hour in glass before truly exploring. After time with air, the 2011 La Jota’s charms really start to reveal themselves. That includes notes of lush blackberry fruit, black tea, cocoa nibs, cigar box, and a touch of Sunday evening fireplace smoke that wisps along on the finish. This is a wine with amazing depth and, ultimately, a spot-on balance between its fruit-driven core and its savory finish. Well done.

A / $70 / lajotavineyardco.com

La Jota 1900 Vintage Original Label Review: 2011 La Jota Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain

La Jota’s 1900 vintage label.

Tasting the 2012 Vintage Cabernets of Hourglass Vineyard

Deja vu? No. We just wrapped a tasting session with Hourglass a few months ago. Now proprietor Jeff Smith is back with the full lineup of his winery’s 2012 vintage Cabernets, including its two cult-status estate bottlings, Blueline Estate and Hourglass Estate. As we noted previously, 2012 is the winery’s first vintage with Tony Biagi (ex of CADE and Plumpjack) as full-time winemaker. (Bob Foley was the prior winemaker here.)

The winery’s trademark Cabernets weren’t ready for tasting in our prior meeting. But now they are — including a first look at HGIII, Hourglass’s new second label wine that’s composed of “odds and ends” from around the winery.

2012 Hourglass HGIII Red Wine – A non-estate blend of merlot, cab, and malbec. Initially quite dusty and restrained, some time in the glass helps elevate the subject matter. Lightly peppery on the nose, HGIII reveals notes of chocolate, cedar chest, and dense blackberry. The body is chewy, offering a blend of jam and chocolate sauce, finishing with some lightly astringent tobacco leaf character. Fine for a second label, but nothing shocking. (Aka HG III.) B+ / $50

2012 Hourglass Blueline Estate Cabernet Sauvignon – 91% cabernet, 9% petit verdot from the Blueline Estate Vineyard. Dark as night. The nose is exotic and instantly different than your typical cab, offering intense violets and baking spice. There’s plenty of this to go around on the blueberry-focused palate, with a flinty character emerging late on the finish. Soothing and lush without becoming overly fruited, it also offers nice mineral notes as a companion. A / $125

2012 Hourglass Estate Cabernet Sauvignon – 100% cab from the Hourglass Estate Vineyard, this is a classic, opulent, and beautiful wine that somehow manages to avoid the huge, fruit bombiness of the typical Napa cabernet. Light mint chocolate notes on the nose lead you to a lush body that’s ripe with blackberry, juicy currants, and stone fruit. More mint, fresh tobacco leaf, and lightly sweet vanilla emerge on the adroitly balanced and almost elegant finish, giving this a great complexity but also an easy, gorgeous drinkability. Collectors looking for a massive tannin structure may balk, but those who want to drink beautiful cabs today need look no further. A+ / $165

hourglasswines.com

Review: 2011 Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

sequoia grove 128x300 Review: 2011 Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon Napa ValleyA fine, if unremarkable, Cab from Rutherford’s Sequoia Grove. This wine features an indistinct fruit medley at its core, plums and blackberries mostly, dancing with modest oak notes and gentle to moderate tannin structure. The finish is dusty and slightly chalky, the tannins finally building up some body to support the wine through to the finish. I’d suggest aging this for a few years, but I’m not sure what limited fruit is present would hang on that long.

B / $38 / sequoiagrove.com

Tasting Report: When Sake Met Cheese

Sake is traditionally thought of as a pairing for Japanese cuisine… but how about cheese? SakeOne put together a little sampler in conjunction with the Marin French Cheese Company (plus friends) — an amazing producer that’s all of 8 miles from my house here in Northern California.

We’ve reviewed most of these sakes before, so today I’m just looking at the concept of pairing rice wine with rich cheese. Here are some case-by-case thoughts on a quartet of duos.

Momokawa Organic Junmai Ginjo ($14) with Marin French Petite Breakfast Brie – This is an interesting combination and great first exploration, coming across a lot like the way that melon and parmesan cheese can match up swimmingly. The brie is beautiful alone, and the sweeter sake does work as nice foil to the umami in the cheese.

Momokawa Organic (Unfiltered) Nigori ($14) with Laura Chenel’s Chévre – Fresh, moist, and creamy, this slightly grainy cheese pairs nicely with the cloudy, more savory sake. Overall it’s less of a counterpoint though, and more of a happy companion with the cheese.

Kasumi Tsuru Kimoto Extra Dry ($27) with Laura Chenel’s Ash-rinded Buchette – This very pungent cheese might have been a bit spoiled during shipment to me. That said, this sake is also more pungent than those preceding it here, balancing its melon notes with some deeper, funkier character — so I can see how the combo would work.

Yoshinogawa Winter Warrior Junmai Ginjo ($27) with Rogue River Blue Cheese – Sake + blue cheese? Another surprising winner. This recalls the first pairing — a little sweet meets salty/savory — but amps things up quite a bit. Winter Warrior is a lively and balanced sake on its own, but this is a wonderful example of how a big, punchy cheese can elevate a quality sake into new and exciting territory.

Review: 2012 Smith & Hook Cabernet Sauvignon Central Coast

smith hook cabernet Review: 2012 Smith & Hook Cabernet Sauvignon Central CoastA blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah from the San Antonio Valley, Arroyo Seco, and Paso Robles AVAs, this inky black wine is simply overflowing with blackberry jam and liquid chocolate. There’s no structure here to speak of. Instead it’s all juicy berries and a quick, lightly-tart finish that serves to lightly cleanse what quickly becomes a palate overwhelmed by sweetness. When pairing, think of cheese plates and chocolate mousse, not steak and rack of lamb.

B / $30 / smithandhook.com

Review: Nicolas Feuillatte X’Ploration 2014 Brut Reserve Champagne

nicolas feuillate XPloration Bottle 109x300 Review: Nicolas Feuillatte XPloration 2014 Brut Reserve ChampagneThis limited edition bottling of Nicolas Feuillatte’s Brut Reserve is all set for the holidays, available in two, fancy sleeves (the gold one is shown at right; there’s also a black version). It’s a special edition for 2014 (at least the packaging is), but the wine itself is not vintage dated.

I’m a fan of Feuillatte in general, but this expression of Champagne hits all the right points for fresh, fun, holiday tippling. Crisp apple notes on the nose start things off, with lively touches of lemon peel and rhubarb joining the party after. The finish is clean and fresh, offering slight herbal notes on the finish that balance the citrus character up front. Delightful.

A / $36 / nicolas-feuillatte.com

Rueda Wines Reviewed: Shaya and Jose Pariente

Shaya Habis 376x1200 Rueda Wines Reviewed: Shaya and Jose ParienteFret not if you’re unfamiliar with Rueda. This region, directly to the west of Spain’s Ribera del Duero, is the home to a white wine that is beginning to find favor overseas. Long a favorite in its homeland, Rueda wines are made primarily from the verdejo grape (viura and sauvignon blanc are also grown here, as are some red wine grapes). Best of all, the wines are quite affordable and designed for everyday drinking (much like Ribera reds).

Think of verdejo as somewhere between sauvignon blanc and viognier. For a more detailed look at what this wine is like, we examined two recent vintages straight outta Rueda.

2010 Bodegas Shaya Habis Verdejo Old Vines Rueda – Somewhat buttery and nutty on the nose at first, the wine’s aromatics eventually take hold on the tongue, offering light perfume mingled with notes of apricot, lime zest, and a touch of tropical character. Hazelnuts make an appearance as the wine’s finish fades, bringing things full circle. A- / $25

2013 Jose Pariente Verdejo Rueda – A touch musty, this wine offers peaches and apricots on the nose. A touch of caramel and cotton candy get the palate started, and then more of a citrus and tropical character takes hold. Pleasant, simple, and fruit-forward. B+ / $10

Review: 2011 Matchbook Tempranillo Dunnigan Hills

matchbook tempranillo 83x300 Review: 2011 Matchbook Tempranillo Dunnigan HillsHere’s a surprisingly lovely little wine from JL Giguiere’s Matchbook brand, made from Tempranillo in Yolo County, grown in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

The restrained nose features notes of tanned leather, stonework, touches of smoke, and dried fruits. On the palate, things are more fruit-forward: dark cherries, plums, tobacco, and cranberry notes lead to a well-rounded, moderately big finish. This wine offers balance as well as lasting fruit notes that polish off a food-friendly, imminently drinkable wine that drinks like a considerably more expensive bottling.

A- / $15 / crewwines.com

Review: 2011 Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG

avignonesi nobile2011 114x300 Review: 2011 Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCGThis 100% Sangiovese wine from the Montepulciano region is a beautiful introduction to both the grape and the region. Bright cherry notes mingle with a touch of raspberry, plus touches of vanilla, flinty stone, coffee bean, and some cinnamon on the finish. Over time, hints of chocolate emerge — give it some air. Lush without being overpowering, the wine is a perfect solo fireside companion but also works perfectly with food.

A- / $29 / avignonesi.it

Review: 2013 Complicated Pinot Noir Sonoma County

complicated pinot 96x300 Review: 2013 Complicated Pinot Noir Sonoma CountyA dustier expression of Pinot, this Sonoma County bottling offers notes of black cherry, orange peel, and currants, but is undercut by some rougher, lumberyard notes that leave a distinctly drying character on the palate. This is distinctly at odds with some of the sweeter elements in the wine — these become quite thick on the finish — which creates either a curious juxtaposition or a contradiction. You make the call.

B- / $20 / takenwine.com

Review: Jardesca Blanco California Aperitiva

jardesca 525x700 Review: Jardesca Blanco California Aperitiva

Drinkhacker pal Duggan McDonnell — of Encanto Pisco fame — is up to some new tricks. His latest project: Jardesca, a lightly fortified, aromatic wine. Esseentially part of the vermouth/Lillet category, Jardesca is a blend of sweet and dry wines plus a double-distilled eau de vie that is infused with 10 different botanicals. The big idea: Find a balance between the cloyingly sweet stuff and the grimace-inducing bitter apertifs.

Jardesca’s bittersweet character is at first surprising because it’s so different from other aperitif wines. A bit off-putting, I found myself struck first by notes of dill, eucalyptus, and dried apricot. That’s a weird combination of flavors, and it takes some processing — and some time exploring the product to really figure out what’s happening here. The wine develops in the glass and on the palate, offering rich honey notes, grapefruit, and a nose that’s increasingly heavy with floral aromatics — lavender and honeysuckle, plus rosemary notes.

Like I said, lots going on here, and sometimes it comes together beautifully, and sometimes it comes across as a bit much. Actually I found myself enjoying the more herbal components of Jardesca over its sweetness, which helps it to shine quite brightly in a vodka martini. It works well on its own, but I think its true destiny is a spot on progressive bar menus as a more intriguing vermouth.

18% abv.

A- / $29 / jardesca.com

Review: 2014 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau

2014 Georges Dubouef Beaujolais Nouveau Bottleshot 153x300 Review: 2014 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais NouveauAnother year, another Bojo-Nouveau, the “first wine of the harvest,” as Georges Duboeuf’s less-garish-than-usual label reminds us.

This year’s Beaujolais Nouveau is the usual shade of grape juice-purple, with a jammy nose redolent of grape jelly, strawberry, some violet notes, and mud. The body runs through all of the above paces, introducing some shades of tea leaf, cocoa bean, and cranberry, before settling into a brambly, slightly dusty finish. The finish is less sweet than expected, but what fruit notes are there rapidly run from pulp to pits.

As always, this wine is perfectly palatable but for only one night, primarily as a celebratory novelty. Here’s to another harvest in the books!

B- / $12 / duboeuf.com

Review: Austerity 2013 Pinot Noir and Chardonnay

austerity wines 300x200 Review: Austerity 2013 Pinot Noir and ChardonnayTwo new bottlings from Austerity, a Monterey County-based operation. Thoughts follow.

2013 Austerity Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands – Classic SoCal Point structure, rich with cherry jam and strawberry preserves. But the flabby body and overly sweetened finish mar an initially appealing character. Notes of tea leaf and coffee bean add a touch of mystery, at least. B / $17

2013 Austerity Chardonnay Arroyo Seco – An unfortunate misfire. The nose smells just fine, typical of California Chardonnay with buttery, woody, fruit. The body starts off with brisk apple and vanilla notes, but this quickly takes a turn into less delightful character, with notes of canned fruit, sugar syrup, and aluminum foil. Meh. C / $17

cecchettiwineco.com

Review: Bee d’Vine Honey Wine

BeeDvine Brut 750 HIGH 200x300 Review: Bee dVine Honey WineYou can make wine from just about anything, but honey wine has a long and rich history, dating back some 2000 years to Africa, where the honey seems to flow freely.

If you’ve ever had mead at a Renaissance festival (or your crazy uncle’s house), you basically know what you’re in for. Honey wine is essentially the same thing. Depending on who you ask, the addition of water to dilute the alcohol level is what separates mead from the lighter, gentler “honey wine.”

Bee d’Vine is a product made by The Honey Wine Company, based in San Francisco, California. The company’s fermented honey drink is blended in two varieties — a dry Brut and a sweeter Demi-Sec version. (Those terms are typically used with sparkling wines, but Dee d’Vine is still, not fizzy.) They were produced in 2013, but regulations prevent the inclusion of vintage dates on non-grape wines.

How you enjoy them will depend on your tolerance level for exotic oddities in your gullet. Thoughts follow.

Also of note: The company supports farming and environmental initiatives in California and in Ethiopia, the birthplace of honey wine.

(Updated 11/23 with factual corrections to The Honey Wine Co.’s location and its charitable initiatives.)

Bee d’Vine Brut Honey Wine – A dusty, earthy nose offers a dusting of familiar honey character but the overwhelming character is one of low-grade white wine, a muddy mix of old apples, earth, simple florals, and industrial elements. It’s pleasant enough at first — particularly when ice cold — but you have to be utterly nuts about honey to polish off a full glass once the more raw components take hold. D+ / $43

Bee d’Vine Demi-Sec Honey Wine – A semi-sweet expression of this wine, and probably more in keeping with what you’d be expecting of a product made out of honey. The nose is similar to the Brut — earthy and a bit musty, with honey overtones. The body blends its honey character with something akin to orangey Muscat wine, leading to a finish that is at first sweet but which quickly fades to an unwieldy combination of syrup and mud. C- / $43

beedvine.com

Review: XXIV Karat Grand Cuvee and Rose — Sparkling Wine with Gold Flake

karat bottles 525x679 Review: XXIV Karat Grand Cuvee and Rose    Sparkling Wine with Gold Flake

What, sipping Cristal ain’t baller enough for you? Kick back some XXIV Karat (that’s 24 Karat if you ain’t down with Roman numerals), a sparkling wine that is infused with “indugent 24-karat gold leaf.”

Yeah, Goldschlager wrote this playbook, and El Cartel Tequila tore it up. Gold flake in spirits is becoming common these days. Gold flake in wine is something I’ve yet to see before.

But here we are.

XXIV Karat takes Mendocino-sourced grapes (varietals are not disclosed) and adds real gold flake to the bottles. (For extra fun, the sample bottles we received actually light up thanks to a battery-powered bulb in the base.) The wines are also bottled without vintages, but let’s be frank: If you’re buying one of these, you’re getting it exclusively for the gold flake concept.

It seems almost silly to consider how such a novelty might taste, but we’re gonna do it anyway. Here goes.

XXIV Karat Grand Cuvee Sparkling Wine – Surprisingly pleasant at first, this wine starts off with apple notes but devolves into extreme sweetness in short order. What emerges is akin to a combination of applesauce and Splenda, with a palate-busting finish — but did we mention there’s gold in here? C- / $30

XXIV Karat Rose Sparkling Wine – Pink stuff! (And gold.) The gold leaf effect is not nearly as interesting in the pinkish slurry, but the wine is at least more palatable. Fresh strawberries mingle with plenty of vanilla-focused sweetness, but here that sugary rush is dialed back enough to let the fruit shine through, at least somewhat. B- / $30

xxivkarat.com

Rioja Review: 2008 Rioja Bordon and 1998 Vina Albina

Franco Espanolas Reserva Bordon 2008 160x300 Rioja Review: 2008 Rioja Bordon and 1998 Vina AlbinaWhen it comes to upscale wines, Rioja is a category that is often overlooked. But these Spanish wines, primarily Tempranillo with a smattering of other Spanish regional grapes, like Mazuelo and Graciano, thrown in, can often be aged for a decade or more, particularly at the Reserva level or higher.

Today we look at a 2008 Reserva and a 1998 Gran Reserva (the only major production difference is time spent in barrel and bottle before release). Both are now available on the market.

2008 Bodegas Franco Espanolas Rioja Bordon Rioja Reserva – There’s good age on this bottling of a classically-structured Rioja Reserva, offering a nose of dusky, dried fruits, charred wood, and roasted meat. The body is lightly balsamic with tart cherry character and more of those meaty/slightly smoky notes on the finish. A- / $15

1998 Bodegas Riojanas Vina Albina Rioja Gran Reserva – At 16 years old, this one’s starting to feel its age, with some oxidation starting to creep in on an austere and brambly experience. Notes of balsamic, dried figs, and cherry jam emerge, along with a heavily tannic, licorice-flecked finish. Still showing well, but it is beginning its downswing. B+ / $50

Review: NV Menage a Trois Prosecco

Menage a Trois Prosecco LO Res Bottle Shot 83x300 Review: NV Menage a Trois ProseccoOne is wise not to expect a whole lot from a $12 Prosecco, but this DOC-classified bottling is perfectly acceptable for a quick punch of sparkly stuff. The nose offers modest yeast and bready/toasty notes, with modest hints of apple beneath. The body is more pear-like, with notes of lemon jellybeans and just a hint of white floral character. Crisp, tart, and refreshing on the finish — what it lacks in complexity it makes up for in approachability and value.

B+ / $12 / menageatroiswines.com

Review: 2012 Frank Family Vineyards Pinot Noir Carneros

Frank Family Napa Valley Pinot Noir 131x300 Review: 2012 Frank Family Vineyards Pinot Noir CarnerosA lighthearted and light-bodied Pinot from Frank Family, this Carneros offering features plenty of jammy fruit — strawberry and cherry intermingled — along with notes of tea leaf, cinnamon, and vanilla candies. A bit flabby in the body, it’s a bit hamstrung by those jammy elements that unfortunately push it too far into fruit juice territory.

B- / $35 / frankfamilyvineyards.com