Review: Alessio Vermouth di Torino Rosso and Vermouth Chinato

Alessio_Vermouth_TORINOTempus Fugit Spirits has turned to vermouth for its latest products, importing from Italy a pair of fortified, aromatic wines: Alessio Vermouth di Torino Rosso and Alessio Vermouth Chinato, both “inspired by a true ‘Renaissance man,’ Alessio Piemontese.”

These vermouths are both produced in a considerably more bitter style than the typical Italian or sweet vermouth on the market. Both feature added bittering agents in the form of wormwood and, in the case of Chinato, cinchona bark. As such, they straddle the line between vermouth and amaro, and can be easily consumed on their own much like the latter. (They’re best chilled.)

Alessio Vermouth di Torino Rosso – “Based on a classic di Torino recipe from the late 19th century, Alessio Vermouth di Torino Rosso is designed to be enjoyed as what was commonly called a ‘Vino di Lusso’ (luxury wine), a wine thoroughly consumed on its own. Created with a fine Piedmont wine as the base, this authentic Vermouth di Torino contains both Grande and Petite Wormwood, along with over 25 other pharmaceutical-grade herbs, roots and spices.” It’s quite dense and dark, with intensely bitter amaro notes on the nose — licorice root, stewed prunes, and cloves — and not much in the way of sweetness. The body offers a more bittersweet character, however, tempering the heavy bitter components with some raisin and baking spice notes. A fairly dark chocolate character comes along on the finish to add some mystique. I really like how it all comes together, and it works well as a cocktail ingredient and drinks beautifully on its own. 17% abv. A- / $22

Alessio_Vermouth_CHINATOAlessio Vermouth Chinato – “Alessio Vermouth Chinato is also based on a classic di Torino recipe from the late 19th century combined with the additional bittering of Cinchona bark and more than 25 other balancing herbs, including Grande and Petite Wormwood, and reflects an almost-lost style of bitter vermouth.” The nose is somewhat less appealing, lacking some of the intensity of di Torino, but otherwise cuts a similar aromatic profile. The body seems to miss out on some of the di Torino’s depth, trading the back-and-forth of sweet and bitter for a focus that veers more toward sour cherries with a strongly bitter undercurrent. The finish is lengthy and mouth-coating, rather than the bitter cleansing character you get with the di Torino. Better as a mixology ingredient. 16.5% abv. B / $25

Review: 2014 Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc – Icon and Regional Collection

Nobilo Icon Sauvignon Blanc Bottle Shot Hi ResTwo new releases from New Zealand’s Nobilo, including the budget Regional Collection bottling and the flagship Icon expression. Thoughts on these 2014 vintage releases follow.

2014 Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc Regional Collection Marlborough – Moderately tropical, with strong lemon overtones and just a touch of vanilla. Bright acidity lends the wine an easy, festive finish. Uncomplicated, but not hard to enjoy. Great value. B+ / $9

2014 Nobilo Icon Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough – Exceptionally tropical: Mango on the nose, pineapple on the palate. A creamier, chewier body — with a touch of caramel on the back end — gives this expression a bit more muscle than the prior wine, but the acid on the finish keeps things fresh and lively. Even harder not to enjoy. A- / $15

Review: Wines of CrossHatch, 2015 Releases

10586853Santa Barbara’s Carr Winery recently launched this second label, CrossHatch, named in honor of antique winemaking equipment — and inspired by the “co-fermenting” system Carr uses in “harvesting multiple varietals on the same day then crushing and fermenting them together.” All of the CrossHatch wines are blends — though the wines have no individual names, so check the fine print on the label to see which one you’re getting.

All are very small production wines (under 300 cases). Thoughts follow.

2012 CrossHatch 60% Merlot 40% Cabernet Franc Santa Ynez Valley – The Cabernet Franc is having its way with this one, with some dense licorice, plums, and bittersweet chocolate dominating the blend. Some floral notes, with Merlot’s characteristic violets, bring up the rear, which is moderately sweet with raisins, milk chocolate notes, and some vanilla. A bit clumsy, but plenty drinkable. B- / $28

2012 CrossHatch 60% Grenache 40% Syrah Santa Ynez Valley – Intensely fruity, with chocolate notes on the nose. The body’s a mishmash of styles, offering jammy plums and cherries, more chocolate, red pepper, mint, and some raisiny, Port-like notes on the back end. A bit wide-ranging, but surprisingly drinkable (and food friendly). B / $25

2014 CrossHatch 70% Viognier 30% Marsanne Santa Ynez Valley – Intensely astringent and medicinal, with a skunkiness underneath. Some of the viognier’s peachy elements muscle through the muddiness, but the finish is all dirt and funk. Not entirely tenable. C- / $17

Review: 2012 Forward Kidd Red Wine

forwardI’m going to start by noting that “Forward Kidd” is a terrible name for a wine. (Forward and Kidd both refer to types of loamy soil common in the mountains of Napa, neither of which any wine drinker has heard of.) And this wine also has an even worse label. (“Forward” and “Kidd” are in different fonts, and none of this is explained on the back.) But Forward Kidd — a Merryvale-owned wine in its inaugural release — is a fantastic wine. So, as the saying goes, don’t judge a book by its cover.

The blend is an intriguing one: 30% Petit Verdot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 20% Malbec, 3% Syrah, 2% Petite Sirah.

Somehow this works out really well.

Pretty florals on the nose lead things off, violets and lavender, hinting at some lush fruit underneath. On the palate, the floral notes add nuance to a panoply of richly layered fruits — cherries and plums, strawberry, currants, and a bit of lychee. The wine is soft and fruit-forward, but neither sweet nor jammy, with a gentle but lasting finish. All seduction. No pandering.

A / $50 /

Review: Wines of Brazil’s Salton, 2015 Releases

Salton Intenso Cabernet Franc 2013Yes Virginia, it’s not all cachaca. They also make wine in Brazil. Vinicola Salton is my first exposure to Brazilian wine, via this trio of bottlings that span a range of styles from classic Old World expressions to oddball blends I’ve never seen before.

Thoughts on all three follow.

2012 Salton Intenso Cabernet Franc – 100% cabernet franc. Slightly lean, with a nose of red berries, leather, and some smoke. The body offers more structure, with more of a tobacco character, strawberry fruit, and a pleasantly floral, vaguely sweet finish. Not what I was expecting from a 100% cab franc wine, but interesting in its own right. B+ / $15

2013 Salton Classic Tannat – 100% tannat. Best known as a tannic blending grape in France, tannat has become quite international and has made its way to Brazil in this 100% varietal wine. Woody and slightly dusty with a somewhat leathery core. Some green vegetation on the nose. Some dried fruits peek through here and there, but overall this is a better match with food. B- / $15

NV Salton Intenso Sparkling Brut – A sparkling wine from 70% chardonnay, 30% riesling. Quite an enjoyable tipple, with gentle sweetness, clear honey/tropical riesling notes, and a floral bouquet. The finish is just a touch muddy, but this would make for a great wine — and quite a conversation starter — on a hot summer day. B+ / $17

Review: 2013 Wines of Les Dauphins, Cotes du Rhones Reserve

dauphinsLes Dauphins is a new label being produced by the Union des Vignerons des Cotes du Rhone, a 1920s bistro-inspired brand that’s priced to move. The Cotes du Rhones wines — all heavily grenache-based — all share the same name, so you’ll have to rely on your eyes to figure out which one’s which. (You can do it!)

While the “Reserve” moniker might be pushing things, these are all drinkable wines with price tags that are tough not to like. Thoughts follow.

2013 Les Dauphins Cotes du Rhones Reserve (White) – A simple, entry-level table white wine composed of 65% grenache, 15% marsanne, 10% clairette, and 10% viognier. Somewhat green, with notes of old wood. Fair enough with food but otherwise undistinguished. B-

2013 Les Dauphins Cotes du Rhones Reserve (Rose) – 80% grenache, 10% syrah, 10% cinsault. The best of the Les Dauphins line, this is a fresh, mildly fruity rose with notes of strawberry and rose petals. Lightly sweet, but balanced with gentle herbs and some perfume. Pretty and well-balanced. B+

2013 Les Dauphins Cotes du Rhones Reserve (Red) – 70% grenache, 25% syrah, 5% mourvedre. This is ultra-ripe, super-fruity juice that’s loaded with notes of strawberry jam, plump raisins, and some black pepper — particularly on the finish. Overbearing at first, but it settles down with time, particularly when accompanying food. B-

each about $10 /

Review: NV Fizz56 Brachetto Spumante

fizfizz56-bottlev1300dpiMost of us (myself included) can probably count on one hand the number of sparkling red wines we’ve consumed. If you’ve never given one a try, the oddly-named Fizz56 is a good place to start.

This is a sparkling Brachetto, a grape grown predominantly in the Piedmont region of Italy, and which is usually used in the production of (still) table wines there. It’s also used to make this frizzante wine, a light-bodied but quite sweet sparkler that will undoubtedly generate plenty of conversation.

Fizz56 is definitely a pre-dinner drink, sweet with fresh berry notes (particularly strawberry) plus perfumy floral elements, including rose petals and a bit of violets. The finish is candylike, with notes of maraschino cherry, sweet and unforgiving as it has its way with your palate. Thankfully, the light fizziness lifts away that sugar-coating, though, giving Fizz56 more of a refreshing quality than you otherwise might expect.

Definitely worth a taste.


Review: 2008 Kaiken Mai Malbec Mendoza

KaikenMai10This 2008 wine from Argentina’s Kaiken is 100% malbec and is definitely starting to show its age. The fruit is extracted and dense, loaded with black pepper, cedar, and tar notes on the nose. The body is rich with currants and fresh herbs, but it also has some Madeira characteristics starting to emerge. This is offset by some incredibly thick tannins plus a smoky, almost meaty element. Based on the tannins it needs more time in the bottle, but the fruit won’t last long enough for them to catch up. (2010 bottling pictured.)

B / $60 /

Review: 2010 Montes Alpha M

MontesAlphaM11Here’s a gorgeous release from Montes, the (almost) top of the line of the well-regarded Alpha line, Montes Alpha M. This 2010 bottling is a blend of 80% cabernet sauvignon, 10% cabernet franc, 5% merlot, and 5% petit verdot. A “Chilean first growth,” this wine has all the hallmarks of a Bordeaux blend, offering dense currants up front, then spicy black pepper, a touch of sour cherry, and a bit of mushroomy earth at the back end. Deep and complex, it’s got notes of black tea, rhubarb, dark chocolate, gooseberry… it goes on and on. Enjoyable at first pour, it only gets better and opens up as it evolves with exposure to air.


Tasting Report: In Pursuit of Balance, 2015

If you like good pinot noir, there’s one wine tasting experience you don’t want to miss: In Pursuit of Balance, a consortium of producers who eschew overblown, extracted wines in favor of more delicate, nuanced wines that show off what pinot (and its Burgundian cousin, chardonnay) can really taste like. Only pinot and chardonnay are allowed to be poured at the IPOB event, so cabernet lovers need not apply.

I recently attended IPOB’s 2015 stopover in San Francisco and had the luxury of sampling wines from some of the brightest names in wine today. Special shout-outs to Coapin, Ojai, and Peay (always on fire), all of which were pouring some amazingly expressive bottlings at the event.  Thoughts on everything sampled follow. If you have a chance to attend an IPOB event, do so!

Tasting Report: In Pursuit of Balance, San Francisco, 2015

2009 Au Bon Climat Clendenen Family “Le Bon Climat” Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley / A- / bright, slight mustard note; clear with acidity and fruit
2011 Au Bon Climat “Nuits-Blanches au Bouge” Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley / A- / bright, melon and tropical notes
2013 Calera Chardonnay Central Coast / B / very fruity, quite sweet
2013 Calera Chardonnay Mt. Harlan / B+ / a little thin, steely
2013 Ceritas Peter Martin Ray Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains / A- / lots of acid; a bit buttery
2013 Ceritas Charles Heintz Vineyard Chardonnay Sonoma Coast / A / a beauty – fruity, with especially fresh apples
2013 Copain DuPratt Vineyard Chardonnay Anderson Valley / B+ / edging too far into butter and oak
2013 Copain Brosseau Vineyard Chardonnay Anderson Valley / A / racy, lots of minerals and baking spices
2012 Drew Family Cellars Weir Vineyard Pinot Noir Yorkville Highlands / A- / big and hush, deep with blackberry notes
2013 Drew Family Cellars Fog Eater Pinot Noir Anderson Valley / B+ / a sugar bomb, cocoa notes
2013 Drew Family Cellars Morning Dew Ranch Pinot Noir Anderson Valley / A- / lush with fruit and tea leaf
2012 Drew Family Cellars Valenti Vineyard Pinot Noir Mendocino Ridge / B+ / lovely fruit up front, pushes into sweetness
2005 Drew Family Cellars Ashley’s Vineyard Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills / B / oxidizing; some vinegar notes developing amid stewed fruit
2013 Failla Chardonnay Sonoma Coast / B+ / some butter, lots of vanilla, good minerality
2013 Failla Estate Vineyard Chardonnay Fort Ross-Seaview / B+ / more oak, vanilla, good balance
2013 Failla Haynes Vineyard Chardonnay Coombsville / A- / nice balance, very rich, tropical and coconut notes
2012 Flowers Camp Meeting Ridge Estate Chardonnay Sonoma Coast / B+ / quite tropical, butterscotch notes, nice acidity on the back
2012 Flowers Camp Meeting Ridge Estate Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / A- / vanilla touches, then baking spices; lush and fruit forward
2011 Flowers Sea View Ridge Estate Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / A- / lighter body, fresh fruit and herb notes
2013 Hanzell Sebella Chardonnay Sonoma Valley / B+ / some coconut; lemony, nougat notes
2012 Hanzell Chardonnay Sonoma Valley / B+ / richer, bigger body; more vanilla
2012 Hirsch San Andreas Fault Estate Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / B- / considerable barnyard here; big earth for days
2012 Hirsch East Ridge Estate Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / A- / very bright, some balsamic and savory spice notes
2012 Hirsch Reserve Fault Estate Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / B+ / touch of barnyard, lots of barrel influence
2013 Liquid Farm La Hermana Chardonnay Santa Maria / A- / very pretty, lovely citrus and lime notes
2013 Liquid Farm White Hill Chardonnay Santa Maria Hills / A- / some candied flowers, more citrus
2013 Liquid Farm Golden Slope Chardonnay Santa Maria Hills / A- / bigger vanilla character, some tropical notes
2013 Liquid Farm FOUR Chardonnay Santa Maria Hills / B+ / even more vanilla, woodier
2013 Liquid Farm Bien Nacido Bien Bien Chardonnay Santa Maria Hills / B / pushing heavy into wood, some bitter elements emerging
2013 Littorai Charles Heintz Vineyard Chardonnay Sonoma Coast / B+ / some bigger wood notes here; vanilla and coconut
2013 Littorai Thieriot Vineyard Chardonnay Sonoma Coast / B / balance is a bit off
2011 Native9 Rancho Ontiveros Vineyard Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley / B / some barnyard on the nose; lots of frest fruit on the body; canned veg on the finish
2012 Native9 Rancho Ontiveros Vineyard Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley / A- / fresher, some baking spice with fresh herbs
2013 Ojai Solomon Hills Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley / A / elegant structure, tropical and mineral notes together
2013 Ojai Bien Nacido Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley / A- / bolder with some coconut elements
2012 Ojai Solomon Hills Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley / A- / fleshy, quite bright raspberry
2013 Ojai Bien Nacido Clone 22 Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley / B- / slightly flabby, huge jammy notes
2012 Peay Estate Chardonnay Sonoma Coast / A / very delicate, flowers and gentle citrus
2013 Peay Chardonnay Sonoma Coast / A- / creamier, bolder
2012 Peay Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / A / raspberry tea notes, well balanced
2012 Peay Scallop Shelf Estate Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / A / lots of depth, dense fruit with a long finish
2013 Peay Pomarium Estate Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / A / very big, dense jammy fruit with a long finish
2013 Peay Savoy Estate Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / B+ / more sweetness here, lots of fresh red berries; not as well balanced
2013 Peay “Cep” Pinot Noir / A- / chocolate and violets, cherry notes; great value wine
2013 Twomey Pinot Noir Russian River Valley / A- / quite lush, dense fruit with a gentle finish
2013 Twomey Pinot Noir Anderson Valley / A- / slightly bolder, bit of chocolate influence
2013 Wind Gap Gap’s Crown Vineyard Chardonnay Sonoma Coast / A- / woody, with fruit notes; bright and ripe finish
2013 Wind Gap Woodruff Vineyard Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains / B / strawberry, tea leaf, too sweet
2013 Wind Gap Sun Chase Vineyard Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / B+ / brighter structure, touch of licorice
2012 Wind Gap Gap’s Crown Vineyard Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / B+ / simple nose, nice blackberry and some herbs