Review: 2012 Mullan Road Cellars Red Wine Blend Columbia Valley

mullanThe Cakebread empire’s latest acquisition is Mullan Road* Cellars, a Washington winery focusing on this Bordeaux-style red blend. The 2012 vintage of Mullan Road Cellars Red is 51% cabernet sauvignon, 37% merlot, and 12% cabernet franc.

Mullan Road may be young, but it’s already showing some impressive chops with this blend. The wine is initially heavy with notes of tobacco and leather, then — gentle relief as notes of cassis, rhubarb, and blackberry take hold. Some pepper and cloves hit on the back end. All told, it’s a wine that jumps between both sweet and savory with considerable dexterity, offering a touch of the brooding character so common in Washington wines with a more southernly liveliness. Well done.

* Per Wikipedia: “Mullan Road was the first wagon road to cross the Rocky Mountains to the Inland of the Pacific Northwest. It was built by U.S. Army troops under the command of Lt. John Mullan, between the spring of 1859 and summer 1860.”

A- / $40 /

Review: 2011 Masciarelli Marina Cvetic Trebbiano d’Abruzzo Riserva

MC Trebbiano RiservaA curiously late release for an Italian white wine, this trebbiano from the Abruzzo region in south-central Italy pours a deep gold, offering notes of deep oak, roasted apples and pears, vanilla custard, and quite a few herbal notes. The big body dives into hardcore brown butter, coconut, and just a touch of tropicality. You are readily forgiven for assuming this is California chardonnay — and a readily drinkable one, at that — if you sample it blind.

B / $19 /

Review: 2012 Justin Isosceles Paso Robles

Justin_Isosceles_Red_Blend_Paso_Robles_2011_Bottle-900x900This latest release in Justin’s Bordeaux-style Isosceles line is a blend of 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot and 11% Cabernet Franc that spends 21 months in new French oak. Surprisingly sweet at first, it loads up with gentle pepper, baking spice, molasses, and some coffee bean notes. Lots of cassis and a touch of violets give this a fruity depth that is coaxed out with time in glass, but a somewhat bitter finish tends to dampen the encounter.

B+ / $70 /

Review: 2014 Paramus Verdejo Rueda

Paramus Verdejo BottleThis wine from Spain’s Rueda region is made from 85% verdejo and 15% viura, classic varieties from this area that’s largely unknown in the U.S.

If more wines like this make it here, that could change quickly.

Paramus Verdejo is a crisp white that balances fruit, minerals, and herbs all in a single bottle. The nose is lemony with notes of rosemary and a bit of a slate edge. The finish brings out some tropical pineapple notes along with a light, breezy sweetness. Beautifully balanced, this showcases a side of Spain that most of us never knew existed.

A- / $15 /

Tasting Report: Robert Parker’s Matter of Taste, 2015

Wine events are a dime a dozen, particularly in Northern California, but Matter of Taste, launched in 2014 by Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, is something worth your consideration. The idea is simple: With a focus on (but not exclusive to) Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from California, Oregon, and New Zealand, every wine poured at the event had to score at least 90 points from Parker’s crew.

Does this keep the swill out and the quality in? Sure does: At Matter of Taste it was tough to find a wine that wasn’t good, and some of the biggest blue chip names in the business were in attendance, pouring their pricy bottlings for the masses. Kistler, DuMOL, Signorello (which had my favorite wine of the event)… all on hand with top shelf bottles to share.

Keep an eye out for this show, which landed in nine cities worldwide this year and will likely hit even more in 2016. It’s well-run, not too crowded, and well worth the price of admittance.

Brief thoughts on all tasted wines follow.

Tasting Report: Matter of Taste, San Francisco, 2015

2012 Anaba Wines Chardonnay / B+ / big oak but gentle fruit and herb notes shine through
2012 Auteur Durell Chardonnay Sonoma Coast / A / outstanding; dense fruit with golden peaches and bright apple notes
2013 Auteur Savoy Pinot Noir Anderson Valley / B / cola and pepper notes, some tobacco
2011 Bell Hill Chardonnay / A- / some acid here and layered fruit notes
2012 Bergstrom Vineyard Pinot Noir Bergstrom Vineyard / A- / dense and peppery, dark cherry notes; lots to love
2012 Bergstrom Vineyard Chardonnay Sigrid / B+ / a bit dry, slightly unripe and herbal
2012 Bethel Heights Pinot Noir Casteel Reserve / B / quite fruity, some candied violets, vegetal notes on the finish
2013 Bevan Cellars Chardonnay Ritchie Vineyard / A- / caramel-focused, some coconut; lots of French oak influence
2009 Brittan Vineyards Pinot Noir Gestalt Block / B+ / quite racy, dense with spices and pepper; some balsamic notes
2009 Brittan Vineyards Pinot Noir Basalt Block / A- / bright cherry and berry notes, tea leaf and spice
2007 Calera Mt. Harlan Ryan Pinot Noir / A / supple fruit, chocolate-covered cherries
2009 Calera Mt. Harlan Ryan Pinot Noir / A- / more herbal, bitter edges
2012 Calera Mt. Harlan Ryan Pinot Noir / B+ / lots of tea, some coffee and herbal notes
2012 Calera Mt. Harlan Jensen Pinot Noir / B+ / tempered, drinking well now; light herbs and fruit
2013 Calera Mt. Harlan Viognier / A- / intense and racy, tons of spice
2006 Dog Point Vineyards Section 94 / A- / mellowing out a bit, nice sweetness on the lovely finish
2012 Dog Point Vineyards Section 94 / B / intense tropical nose, with minerals on the back; a bit weedy on the finish
2012 Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir / A / almost perfect, with bright fruit, some chocolate and a touch of vanilla; a breath of fresh mountain air
2013 Domaine Serene Chardonnay Evenstad Reserve / B+ / long, with some minerals and quieter, restrained fruit
2013 Donelan Chardonnay Nancie / A- / lots of fruit collides with huge wood notes; best of both worlds
2012 Donelan Syrah Cuvee Christine / B / 100% syrah, nice density, lots of fruit, and a bit of acidity on the back end
2012 Donelan Richards Family Vineyard Syrah / B+ / spicier with licorice and dense, dark chocolate notes; bittersweet
2013 Donelan Syrah Obsidian Vineyard / B+ / none more black, this smoky, tobacco-laden dark horse is nothing but dense weight; try it in 2020
2012 DuMOL Vineyard Estate Chardonnay / A / beautiful, with fresh fruit galore and gentle sweetness
2010 DuMOL Vineyard Pinot Noir “Eoin” / A- / menthol, more fresh fruit
2013 DuMOL Vineyard Estate Pinot Noir / A- / big and bright, long finish
2012 DuMOL Vineyard Eddie’s Patch Syrah / A- / lush with dense chocolate and dark fruits, killer syrah
2012 Fort Ross Vineyard Chardonnay / B / some mushroom notes seem off; woody, forest floor character pervades
2012 Gary Farrell Chardonnay Rochioli Allen Vineyards / A- / lovely lime notes meet apple
2012 Gary Farrell Chardonnay Durell Vineyard / A- / quite bright, similar to the above, with a longer finish
2012 Jeff Cohn Cellars Rockpile Vineyard Syrah / A- / epic chocolate notes, dark brown sugar; very exotic, almost unreal
2013 Kistler Vine Hill Vineyard Russian River Valley Chardonnay / A / a perfect melding of bright apple, pear, and vanilla — minerals strong on the finish; there’s a reason this is one of the most famous Chardonnays in the world
2013 Kistler Kistler Vineyard Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / A / big and bright, some floral notes; fresh raspberries and cherries, very long finish
2012 Landmark Vineyards Rodgers Creek Chardonnay / B+ / lots of spice up front, oaky in the back
2012 Landmark Vineyards Damaris Reserve Chardonnay / A- / some florals, brighter, with stronger fruit notes
2012 Martinelli Pinot Noir Three Sisters Vineyard / B / slight meatiness here, with notes of canned fruit; lighter body
2013 Morlet Family Vineyards Chardonnay Coup de Coeur / A- / lots of power, aromatics galore, fruit and some spice add balance
2012 Morlet Family Vineyards Pinot Noir Joli Coeur / A- / lots of extraction here; blueberry fruit and chocolate
2013 Morlet Family Vineyards La Proportion Doree / A- / semillon-sauv blanc blend; strongly floral, slate notes; some mushroom
2012 Morlet Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Passionnement / B+ / dense, marshmallow ceram mixes with drier, tannic fruit notes; very big structurally
2013 Patz & Hall Chardonnay Hyde Vineyard / A- / classic Patz and Hall, lightly buttery but full of caramelized fruit
2013 Patz & Hall Chardonnay Zio Tony Ranch / A / more sedate, more balanced, with coconut notes, some almond, and a bright, acidic finish
2013 Patz & Hall Pinot Noir Hyde Vineyard / A- / bright acid and chewy fruit, tea leaf and cola notes
2013 Patz & Hall Pinot Noir Jenkins Ranch / A / loads of flavor, peppery with dense fruit
2013 Patz & Hall Pinot Noir Gap’s Crown Vineyard / A- / lighter on its feet; more fruit, slightly sweeter
2012 Paul Hobbs Chardonnay Ellen Lane Estate / A / lovely balance, some coconut, fresh apples, crisp and acidic on the finish
2012 Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard / A- / epic, dark chocolate and nuts, dense red fruit, and tobacco on the back
2013 Paul Lato Chardonnay le Souvenir Sierra Madre Vineyard / B+ / moderate oak, with a solid fruit core
2013 Paul Lato Pinot Noir Seabiscuit Zotovich Vineyard / B / a little flabby, dialed back on the fruit
2012 Peirson-Meyer Chardonnay Charles Heintz Vineyard / B+ / fresh green herbs, bit with coconut notes, and more herbal notes on the finish
2012 Pyramid Valley Lion’s Tooth Chardonnay / C- / the sole miss of the show; a fishy, cheesy white with some frizzante; very funky
2012 Rex Hill Vineyards Pinot Noir Jacob Hart Vineyard / A- / heavy body, thick and rich; spicy and long with blackberry fruit
2012 Rex Hill Vineyards Pinot Noir Rock Rose Vineyard / A- / lots of spice, red fruit, and a medium body
2012 Signorello Estate Padrone Proprietary Red Wine / A+ / best wine of the show, an incredibly dense with rich fruit, some violets, blueberries, cocoa, and more; lovely balance with a lengthy finish
2014 Signorello Estate Chardonnay Estate Unfiltered Hope’s Cuvee / A / oldest Chardonnay vines in Napa; baked apples head into vanilla notes and some baking spice
2012 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon SLV / B+ / chocolate candy atop strawberry and blueberry notes; drinking a bit sweet
2012 Staglin Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Estate 30th Anniversary / A- / nice balance, with long fruit and some floral notes
2013 Staglin Family Vineyard Chardonnay Estate / B / a big wine, lots of wood and an unctuous body
2013 Turley Wine Cellars Zinfandel Dragon / A / more baking spice and vanilla, coconut cookies and some cocoa
2013 Turley Wine Cellars Zinfandel Salvador Vineyard / A- / vines from 1896; really opens up with jam and fruit, plus a smattering of herbs

Drinkhacker’s 2015 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for Christmas

We at Drinkhacker have been busier than ever this year, and yet it seems impossible that it’s time for our eighth annual edition of the Drinkhacker holiday gift guide — our “best stuff of the year awards.” As always, the list comprises some of the best-rated products we looked at over the last 12 months but is also focused on products that are 1) actually available, 2) worthwhile as gifts, and 3) not entirely out of the realm of affordability.

This year, by popular demand, we’re adding wine to the gift guide. It’s one of the busiest categories on the site, one of the most popular gift items on the market, and something we’ve overlooked for too many years.

As always, the offerings below are only a tiny selection of our favorite spirits from the last year, and we welcome both your suggestions for alternatives and questions about other categories or types of beverages that might be perfect for gifting. Chime in in the comments, please!

Happy holidays to all of you who have helped to make Drinkhacker one of the most popular wine and spirits websites on the Internet! As always, thanks for reading the blog!

And don’t forget, for more top gift ideas check out the archives and read our 201420132012201120102009, and 2008 holiday guides.

Rhetoric 21-Year-Old_Hi-Res Bottle ShotBourbon – Diageo Orphan Barrel Project Rhetoric 21 Years Old ($100) – So many amazing bourbons hit this year, and so many are already impossible to find. While Diageo took some early drubbing for its curious Orphan Barrel project, this year it really hit its stride. Rhetoric 21 is the best of the lot to date — and part of an ongoing project that will see older and older expressions of Rhetoric shipping every year. It’s still widely available at its original selling price, as is its near equal in the Orphan Barrel project, Forged Oak 15 Years Old ($75). I loved Col. E.H. Taylor Cured Oak ($75 on release), but you’ll be lucky to find it for $500 today. That makes the over-the-top (but delightful) Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Century ($400/1 liter) seem like a downright bargain.

Scotch – The Exclusive Malts Ben Nevis 1996 17 Years Old ($140) – I’m not going to break the bank this year with my malt whisky pick and rather send you hunting for the 17 year old Ben Nevis from The Exclusive Malts, an indie bottler that has been absolutely on fire with a string of amazing releases. The exotic fruit, sweetness, and cereal notes combine in an inimitable and very compelling way. A big hand is due to Diageo again in this list for its 2014 limited editions (which hit the U.S.) in March this year. If you have the cash, check out Rosebank 21 Years Old ($500), Strathmill 25 Years Old ($475), or Brora 35 Years Old ($1,250), all three from that series. Finally, peat fanatics should head directly for whatever Laphroaig 15 Years Old ($70) they can still find.

journeyman ThreeOaks_750Other Whiskey – Journeyman Distillery Three Oaks Single Malt ($47) – Craft whiskey in the U.S. is finally, finally, arriving, and this year it’s landing a top spot on our best of the year list. Michigan-based Journeyman is showcasing how single malt should be made in America with this young but exuberant spirit that any whiskey fan owes it to himself to try. For another top craft pick, consider Craft Distillers Low Gap 2 Year Old 100 Proof Whiskey ($75), a young wheat whiskey that is the best of this series so far. The Irish Yellow Spot ($95) maintains a special place in my heart next to its Green sibling — and don’t forget that rye is making leaps and bounds. One of the best is Woodford Reserve Rye ($38) — where it is actually made instead of trucked in from another state.

Gin – Oppidan American Botanical Gin ($30) – Our top gin pick this year comes from a Chicago microdistillery where a bounty of botanicals is used to spice up a London Dry style gin, giving it a delicate, floral character that should not be missed. Other great options include Tanqueray Bloomsbury ($33), Anchor Distilling Old Tom ($30), and the exotic Painted Stave South River Red Gin ($22/375ml), which really is red.

Vodka  Square One Bergamot Vodka ($35) – If you must give vodka this year, try this unusual, citrus-flavored vodka from Square One. Other good (and unflavored) options include Vodka Mariette ($30) and Tigre Blanc Vodka ($90), proceeds of which go in part to support large cats in the wild.

DP30yrs_white_USAhighresRum – Don Pancho Origenes Rare Rum 30 Years Old ($425) – New rum brands don’t pop up every day, and when they do rarely do they have a legend in the business attached. Don Pancho (aka Francisco Fernandez) is putting his name on a finished product for the first time, and it’s a doozy not to be missed. For less ritzy outlays, consider the well-aged offerings in the form of Kirk and Sweeney Dominican Rum 23 Years Old ($50) or Ron Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva ($40).

Brandy – Cognac Paul Giraud Grande Champagne Tres Rare ($179) – A tough call from among these three stellar Cognacs, and really you can’t go wrong with any of them. My slight preference ultimately goes to Giraud and this well-priced rarity. Close runners-up: Majeste L’Empereur Cognac XO ($110) and Domaines Hine Bonneuil 2005 Cognac ($100).

dulce vida extra anejoTequila – Dulce Vida Extra Anejo ($160) – Another solid year for tequila, with a flood of excellent extra anejos really showing their stuff in 2015. My favorite of the bunch is from Dulce Vida, aged 5 1/2 years in used wine barrels. Great tequila with a great story behind it, too. Also worthwhile are Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia 2015 Rolling Stones Tour Pick ($150, also available for less sans the Stones imagery), El Mayor Reposado ($30, amazing bargain!), and the luxe Patron Extra Anejo 7 Anos ($299).

Liqueur – Spirit Works Sloe Gin ($40) – It’s a light year for quality liqueurs, but I have to give the nod to my hometown heroes Spirit Works and their killer sloe gin. Other top picks include Maraska Maraschino ($27) and Tempus Fugit Creme de Cacao ($31), both of which should be home bar staples.

Wine As promised, this year we’re adding a smattering of ideas for some of the best wines we’ve seen this year that would be appropriate for gift-giving. It’s hard to pick a single “winner” (and probably not fair because availability will vary widely) but here are my top seven wines of the year, in no particular order:

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: J Vineyards 2014 Pinot Gris and 2013 Pinot Noir

CA_Pinot_Gris_2014-220x680Two new release from J Vineyards in Sonoma, California — a pinot gris and a pinot noir. Let’s try them!

2014 J Vineyard Pinot Gris California – A simple white, quite herbal and touched with notes of camphor and menthol. Light lemongrass notes up front give way to rosemary and sage. Best with food. B / $15

2013 J Vineyards Pinot Noir Russian River Valley – A soft and fruity wine, classically structured with cherry fruit, some raspberry, and some sweet tea. It’s a bit sweeter than I’d like, and the sugary backbone really starts to take over after a while. Ultimately that robs the wine of some of the grace that it exhibits up front, though it’s still a food-friendly sipper. B+ / $35

Review: 2012 Matchbook The Arsonist and Tinto Rey

71jzazc7YdL._UY490_CR0,0,450,490_Two new releases just arrived from our friends at Matchbook in Zamora, California. One of them blew my socks off. Keep reading to find out which one!

2012 Matchbook The Arsonist Red Blend – 52% petit verdot, 24% cabernet sauvignon, 24% merlot. You’ll be hard pressed to find a better wine at this price level. Petit verdot at this concentration is very rare, but Matchbook makes it work far beyond all expectations. Brilliant violets and plum mingle with notes of chocolate and spice, melding together in the context of a fruity but balanced palate. Modest acidity and a lengthy, satisfying finish give this wine elegance and long-haul legs. It drinks well on its own, but it’s a gorgeous food wine — pair with just about anything. A / $22

2012 Matchbook Tinto Rey Red Blend Giguiere Family – 50% tempranillo, 27% syrah, 11% petit verdot, 8% graciano, 4% tannat. A less masterful wine, but it works well enough. A little thin on the palate, it offers notes of green vegetable and hemp rope, with a backbone of cherry, tea leaf, and dark chocolate. Somewhat scattered, it never comes together the way I’d like, and it exits on a relatively lackluster, moderately bitter finish. B- / $17

Review: NV Cockburn’s Special Reserve Porto

Cockburns_Special_Reserve_75clCockburn’s Special Reserve is a widely available ruby Port, nothing fancy, but workable in a pinch. The wine offers a largely standard nose of raisins, with a bit of dried blueberry. On the palate, the wine comes across as less dense than many nonvintage Ports, a touch watery, but still full of flavor and life. Again, juicy raisins mingle with light milk chocolate notes, plus a smattering of herbs on the finish. The fade-out is moderate to short, but never unpleasant. A fine way to invest less than 20 bucks in an after dinner drink for the sideboard.

B / $18 /

Tasting the Wines of Lodi Native, 2013 Vintage


Lodi is an area that most California wine fans are familiar with, especially if they enjoy a glass of Zin once in a while. 40 percent of all Zinfandel grown in California comes from this region, and it has the highest proportion of old vine Zin in the state – with some active, still-producing vines dating back to the 1880s.

But Lodi isn’t often thought of when it comes to high-end or natural winemaking. Many of the wines here are unabashedly manipulated and doctored, attempts to make them palatable while keeping prices low.

Lodi Native is an altogether different idea. The project got its start in 2012, when a half-dozen winemakers got it in their head to try natural winemaking in Lodi. This wasn’t a terribly popular idea, but these folks charged ahead nonetheless, putting together a series of six single-vineyard Zinfandels from all around Lodi with the intent of showcasing Lodi’s terroir. These wines are all natural, with only sulfur dioxide added – the wines have all native yeasts, no inoculation, no acidification, no oak chips or similar, no water, and so on. These are predominantly Old Vine Zins meant to showcase exactly what that means.

2012’s wines were a hit – though this is not really designed as a commercial project; rather it’s primarily an educational opportunity – and the group is back with a second round. Recently I had the opportunity to taste the 2013 vintage of Lodi Native wines — complete with discussion with all of the winemakers — and here are my thoughts on the lot.

2013 Lodi Native Stampede Vineyard Fields Family Wines – Smells a bit corky (as do all of these wines, actually… all a little funky on the nose), with lots of earth and vegetal notes. Give the body time and fruit finally emerges. B

2013 Lodi Native Wegat Vineyard Maley Brothers – Lots of dense berry fruit here, massive in body, with classic chocolate notes. Quite sweet, very much in line with Lodi Zin. B+

2013 Lodi Native Trulux Vineyard McCay Cellars – An earthier expression, with herbal notes and a sultry body. Restrained and balanced. B+

2013 Lodi Native Marian’s Vineyard St. Amant – The big winner of the group, with amazingly ripe and juicy blueberry notes. Balanced with wood character on the long finish, a real delight. A

2013 Lodi Native Schmiedt Ranch Macchia – Lots of red fruit, tea leaf, and some baking spices. Long and lightly sweet finish. A-

2013 Lodi Native Soucie Vineyard m2 Wines – Classically dense, extracted Zinfandel, almost loke a dessert wine. Intense, but quite enjoyable with loads of flavor. A-

$180 for the case of six wines /