Review: Wines of Stonestreet, 2015 Releases

STONESTREETStonestreet is a high-elevation vineyard and winery in California’s Alexander Valley — all three of the wines below are made from 100% estate fruit. Let’s taste.

2014 Stonestreet Sauvignon Blanc Alexander Valley – Not especially Californian in makeup, but rather quite tropical with melon, mango, pineapple, and standard citrus fruit notes, with a quite sweet — coconut custard and sugar buns — underpinning. The finish is lightly bitter with slight ammonia notes, but by and large it’s a fine example of a New Zealand-style sauvignon blanc. Just, you know, not from NZ. B / $35

2013 Stonestreet Chardonnay Alexander Valley – Big, California style chardonnay — with vanilla, oak, and brown butter to burn. Some lychee notes develop on the body, then a lemon sweet-and-sour note hits on the back end. Candylike at times, but not overblown. Much more cleansing than most chardonnays, thanks to that touch of citrus on the finish. B+ / $40

2011 Stonestreet Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley – A stylish cab, with a dense layer of fresh herbs and a currant backbone. It layers in notes of vanilla and charcoal atop modest tannins. Drying on the finish. Easy to enjoy alone or with a meal, and it probably has a few years to continue maturing in bottle before it hits its peak. B+ / $45

Review: Maloney’s Irish Country Cream

Maloneys-Irish country cream (1)Like your Irish Cream with a double helping of sugar? You’ll love Maloney’s, another entry into the incredibly popular dessert liqueur category.

Something’s immediately off with Maloney’s from the moment you sip it. First there’s the heavy butterscotch notes, then the lengthy brown sugar and creamy, light whiskey character. The butterscotch is a little odd, but the body is more or less on target.

Then comes the finish, and something ain’t right. It’s hard to place — a little bitter, slightly metallic, with a sour edge as it fades away. An aftertaste starts to build after a minute or so, and Maloney’s takes on the unmistakable funk of oxidized white wine. The kind of flavor of a bottle of white half-drank, then recorked and left for a few days. This is what my aunt would serve us with the warning, “Watch out, it’ll bite ya back!”

Maloney’s doesn’t quite bit you back, but I kind of wish it did. Instead that pungent finish wipes out most of what came before, ruining any goodwill it might have had.

Why does Maloney’s taste like old wine? Because it is made from wine! No joke: This is a grape wine flavored with Irish cream additives. That keeps the alcohol low — at 13.9% it’s lower than most table wines (Bailey’s is 17%) — so the bridge club can down a whole bottle with no ill effects. To the liver, anyway.

C- / $8 /

Review: Carpano Dry and Carpano Bianco Vermouth

Carpano Bianco HRes FrontThe company that makes Punt e Mes and Carpano Antica also makes some more pedestrian vermouths, including these two white styles — both made from ancient, secret recipes.

Let’s try both!

Carpano Dry Vermouth – Classically dry, sourly winey nose, with notes of dried, savory herbs (absinthe notes are described in the tasting notes, but your mileage may vary). Light on the palate, with some bitterness lingering on the finish. Simple and versatile, but much better as a companion with gin than with vodka. 18% abv. B / $22 (1 liter)

Carpano Bianco Vermouth – Carpano’s sweet white vermouth (made from wine using trebbiano, cortese, and chardonnay grapes) is restrained on the nose, with similar herbal and “old wine” notes as the dry vermouth. The body pairs up these bitter and winey elements with a layer of sweetness, which works to elevate this vermouth considerably, particularly when drinking it solo. Again, it’s a relatively simple vermouth, but it works well with both vodka or gin — though somewhat better with gin, particularly more floral styles. 14.9% abv. B+ / $22 (1 liter)

Review: HoneyMaker Dry Mead

MMW_DryMeadIs mead going to be a thing again, for the first time since the 1200s?

Maine’s HoneyMaker is the latest company making a go at making honey-based wine, and this Dry Mead is just one of nearly a dozen offerings. “Dry” meaning exactly that: almost no residual sugar makes this a much different experience than you’re likely familiar with if you’ve tried mead in the past.

That said, it’s still not exactly to my tastes. The nose has vague honey notes that play over a damply earthy, mushroomy core. The body has just the lightest touch of honey sweetness, though it pairs nicely with some florals on the nose that emerge as the mead warms up. So far so good, but the finish leans strongly toward notes of spinach and canned green beans, which aren’t the most engaging tastes to have cling to the palate.

12% abv.

C / $15 /

Tasting: Schiava Wines of Alto Adige – Abbazia di Novacella, Cantina Andriano, Nals Margreid

Cantina Andriano BocadoSchiava is a grape also known as Trollinger — and it’s one of the more heavily grown red wine grapes in Germany. It also finds a home in the north of Italy, where it is turned into this exotic and odd wine. Let’s take a look at three 100% Schiava wines from Italy’s Alto Adige region.

2014 Abbazia di Novacella Schiava Alto Adige DOC – A classic, slightly sour, young Italian red. Notes of thyme and nutmeg dust a tart cherry core, with a finish of leather, tobacco leaf, and gentian. Mild finish. Pairs well with food. B / $16

2013 Nals Margreid Galea Schiava Alto Adige DOC – Jammy, and reminiscent of rapidly fading Beaujolais Nouveau, with a gamy and balsamic-heavy undertone. Of minor interest only. C+ / $18

2013 Cantina Andriano “Bocado” Schiava Alto Adige DOC – Both sweet and tart, with strawberry and some cherry notes. Approachable, though the heavy acidity makes it somewhat off-putting at times. On the finish, a dusting of baking spices add a bit more complexity. B- / $21

Review: Wines of Barton & Guestier, 2015 Releases

barton g_cotesdurhone_passeport_NVBarton & Guestier is France’s oldest wine merchant company, but it’s also a wine producer, too. B&G makes a wide range of wine varieties, including wines from Bordeaux, the Loire, Provence, and the Rhone Valley under a number of labels. Today we look at a couple of new wines and a couple of older labels. Thoughts follow.

2014 Barton & Guestier Vouvray – This low-alcohol, 100% chenin blanc wine has quite a bit of sweetness to it, so arrive with your palate forewarned. Crisp apple is backed with notes of peaches, lychee, and pineapple, with some restrained florals particularly evident on the nose. Simple all around, but easy to enjoy. Summer wine. B / $10

2014 La Villa Barton Cotes de Provence Rose – 45% grenache, 30% syrah, 25% cinsault. Surprisingly dry, this wine cuts a profile of gentle florals, some melon notes, and some tart grapefruit on the finish. Simple and featuring a short finish, this one’s best ice cold. B / $20

2014 Barton & Guestier Cotes-du-Rhone – 50% grenache, 30% syrah, 20% carignan. This is a meaty, traditionally styled wine from the Rhone Valley that offers an earthy, leathery core that complements some simple but lively, strawberry-focused fruit elements. Simple and easy-drinking, but well structured and balanced between its two primary elements; particularly appealing at this price. B+ / $11

NV Barton & Guestier 290th Heritage Rhone Blend – Technically a non-vintage wine. 80% syrah, 20% grenache. Surprisingly restrained, with a leathery, tobacco-laden core that is dotted with some light fruit notes, cigar smoke, and a touch of sea salt. Dried blueberries and some chocolate on the finish add some nuance, but overall this wine is dialed way back. B / $20

Review: Wines of Francis Ford Coppola, 2015 Releases

VendettaIt’s a bumper crop of new releases from Coppola. Here’s a look at something old and something new from this always-busy operation.

2014 Francis Ford Coppola Sauvignon Blanc Diamond Collection Yellow Label – A workmanlike, even gentlemanly, sauvignon blanc. Quite sweet, with marshmallow notes, lemon juice, and creamy orange Dreamsicle notes. Simple but with a lightly herbal edge to the finish, it’s classic yet cheap summer wine (if the bright yellow label didn’t cue you in). B / $16

2014 Francis Ford Coppola Pinot Grigio Diamond Collection Emerald Label – A rather tropical pinot grigio, melding mango and banana notes into a festive shell. Simple, lightweight, lightly sweet, and rather refreshing, but better as an aperitif than with food. B+ / $12

2013 Francis Ford Coppola Claret Diamond Collection Black Label – Surprisingly on point, the 2013 claret — a Bordeaux style blend that nonetheless reads “California Cabernet Sauvignon” on the back label — has youth and austerity, both in moderation. Bright red strawberries and raspberries seize the day — there’s not too much currant character here — with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar and tea leaf (sweet tea, maybe?) lingering on the finish. Mostly dry but with a short, quick finish, this is as gentle an entry to this style of wine. B+ / $21

2014 Francis Ford Coppola Sofia Rose Monterey County – Pleasant, summery, and refreshing, this rose of syrah and pinot noir is an easy sipper with strawberry and blackberry notes, atop a fresh apple juice core. Probably the best thing you’ll find under the Sofia sub-label. A- / $19

2014 Francis Ford Coppola Pinot Noir Director’s Sonoma Coast – (Not the same as “Director’s Cut.”) Not a bad effort here, and it evolves to show more charm in the glass as it gets some air. Cherry up front, with some dusky brewed tea and cracked pepper notes. Nice balance, with a lightly bitter kick on the finish. B+ / $21

2013 Francis Ford Coppola Zinfandel Director’s Cut Dry Creek Valley – A reserved and quite tannic zinfandel, this wine features muted bramble notes, leather, and mild currants. Quite drying on the finish, with a licorice kick. B- / $17

2013 Francis Ford Coppola Vendetta – The new kid on the block. A cab-merlot blend, packaged in the oh-so-trendy paper-wrapped bottle. An often horrifying wine, doctored and pumped up (IMHO) with artificial sweeteners. Chocolate and cinnamon notes mingle with a cloying sweetness that positively coats the palate. Was the vendetta against me? D / $21

Review: Wines of Liberated, 2015 Releases

Liberated_Pinot Noir 2013I’m not sold on the Hitchcock-meets-James Bond labels (or the name), but the prices of Liberated’s wines are hard to beat. One doesn’t often find wines of this quality at the $20 or lower level, but these guys are putting together a solid product. Thoughts follow.

2014 Liberated Sauvignon Blanc Sonoma County – Lightly tropical, with big mineral notes and plenty of acidity. Some coconut notes add an exotic touch to an otherwise straightforward, New World sauvignon blanc. Refreshing and easy-drinking, without some of the ammonia notes that California sauv blancs typically exhibit. A- / $13

2012 Liberated Pinot Noir Monterey – A classically structured pinot, with dark cherry tempered by black pepper and a touch of tobacco. Gentle acidity leads to a relatively lengthy finish that echoes pepper and a touch of balsamic. Surprisingly complicated for a Monterey pinot, and worthwhile. A- / $15

2012 Liberated Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County – A well-crafted but milder expression of cabernet, with currant notes, some black tea, vanilla, and a bit of dusty wood that builds over time. Relatively drying, it still keeps the fruitier components alive on the palate, finishing with some baking spice. B+ / $20

Review: 2013 Madrona Chardonnay and Zinfandel

Madrona_Zin_Four-Blocks_201El Dorado County, just southwest of Lake Tahoe, is home to Madroña Vineyards (mind the tilde), a boutique winery with a wide range of offerings. Zinfandel, of course, is a focus, and today we look at its 2013 zin as well as its chardonnay.

Madroña is brought to us today by Gold Medal Wine Club, which sent these wines as exemplars of the kind of wines you can expect with your membership. Prices start at $37 a month for two bottles. Check them out and see what you think!

Prices below are for standalone bottles.

2013 Madrona Chardonnay El Dorado – Lots of fruity tropical notes on the nose raise expectations, but the body doesn’t follow through. Instead, on the palate it’s studded with astringent hospital character, stale nuts, and notes of earthy gravel. Some sweetness on the finish comes across more in the form of canned fruit than fresh juice. C- / $24

2013 Madrona Zinfandel Four Blocks El Dorado – A full-bodied zin, loaded with currants and cocoa and infused with strawberry jam. Surprisingly dense and not overly fruity, this zin offers secondary notes of tea leaf and blackberry, all coming together as a cohesive whole. The finish is a little short and muddy, but otherwise it’s a knockout zinfandel. A- / $26 /