Review: Decadent Saint Sangrias and Wine Concentrates

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Decadent Saint is a company run by Michael Hasler, an enologist from Australia whose letter to me in impeccable calligraphy introduced a unique product: concentrates made from wine intended to be diluted into sangria and other fanciful beverages.

These are all natural products, packaged in swing tops and designed to be mixed on the fly. Directions generally suggest adding one part mix to 3 to 5 parts water, sparkling water, or sparkling wine — each option will give the finished drink a different tone. Some bottlings can be served either on ice or warm.

We tried all four of Decadent Saints’ offerings. Each is bottled at 20.5% abv as a concentrate, so expect a much lighter finished product once they’re watered down.

Decadent Saint White Sangria – White wine, fruit, and spices. Very heavy with peaches and apricots — even with water it comes across at first like a mimosa. Some light citrus ekes through late in the game, with mango heavier on the finish. This is a simple concoction, but it’s really quite lovely and overflowing with an abundance of fruit. I like it just fine as a still beverage (no sparkling water or wine), but it works well both ways. Reviewed twice: Batch #7 and #8. A

Decadent Saint Red Sangria – Red wine, fruit, and spices. Heavy with red berries, with raspberry especially prominent. Citrus, mango, and even some banana notes make a showing later in the game. It’s a bit sweeter than I expect from sangria — this drinks a bit more like a wine cooler than a sangria — but those who like their sangria on the fruity side will probably gravitate heavily to this concoction. Water is fine, but sparkling wine gives this a much-needed kick. Reviewed: Batch #3. B+

Decadent Saint Fire or Ice Sangria – Another red sangria — also billed as containing red wine, fruit, and spices — with a twist. “Drink hot or cold,” hence the name, so it could work as either a chilled sangria or a holiday glogg. I tried it at a bit below room temperature but can totally see the appeal as a hot beverage, its plummy/raisiny core and a healthy slug of cinnamon and nutmeg giving it a distinct holiday feel. Sparkling wine helps to cut through some of the sweetness here, which is amped up above that of the white sangria, but with less of that classic apple/berry/citrus character one expects in a standard sangria. Reviewed: Batch #9. B

Decadent Saint Rocky Mountain Rescue – Here we find Hasler going straight up loco. This is a blend of red wine, dark chocolate, decaf coffee, berries, and spices. The taste is, perhaps unsurprisingly, exactly what you are expecting: a nutty, mocha-heavy coffee experience with a finish that leans toward dried berries and jam. There’s more raisin and cinnamon on the somewhat gummy palate, particularly on the back end, and lengthy, lingering notes of gingerbread and milky coffee. I like all the flavors in this bottle… I’m just not really enchanted by them all mixed together. Reviewed: Batch #6. B-

each $20 per 750ml bottle / whatwelove.com

Review: 2013 Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford Napa Valley

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This is one of the highest-end wines from Napa’s Freemark Abbey that are in widespread release. Give this one some breathing room before diving in. Initially a bit tight and tannic, the wine takes 20 minutes or so to find its footing, which reveals itself in layers: dense tobacco leaf, then sweet currants, then notes of plum and cloves. The finish is drying and austere — this is a wine that will benefit from at least 4-5 years in the cellar — but pleasant and lengthy, with echoes of exotic spice and dried figs, a clear sign of great things to come.

A / $70 / freemarkabbey.com

Review: NV Astoria Prosecco DOC

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Never mind the overly dramatic decanter, Astoria Prosecco is a straightforward example of the grape, though it seems quite fizzy while being drier than most Proseccos. That’s not a bad thing, as many drinkers gravitate to the heavily carbonated style. The gentle notes of apple and pear, with a squeeze of lemon and a splash of pineapple, give it a pleasant body and easygoing finish.

B+ / $11 / prestigebevgroup.com

Review: Wines of Mark Ryan Winery, 2016 Releases

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Today our minds and palates turn northward, to Washington state, where Mark Ryan Winery has recently put out its fall releases. Let’s take a spin through three of them, all members of its lower-cost Board Track Racers series.

2015 Mark Ryan Winery Board Track Racers “The Vincent” Chardonnay Columbia Valley – A pretty, unoaked chardonnay, loaded with notes of pear, red apples, and light honey notes. Florals emerge as the wine opens up and gets warmer, the finish coming across as particularly (and perhaps a bit overly) perfumed. Hints of lemon peel and grapefruit round out the finish. B+ / $15

2014 Mark Ryan Winery Board Track Racers “The Vincent” Red Wine Columbia Valley – A blend of unknown red varietals, but which tastes cabernet-heavy. This is a simple wine — “pizza wine,” if you must — which offers ample earth, some clove notes, and a dark fruit core, featuring blackberry and currants. The dusty, wood-influenced finish is lackluster, but innocuous. B / $20

2014 Mark Ryan Winery Board Track Racers “The Chief” Columbia Valley – A blend of 85% cabernet sauvignon, 10% merlot, and 5% petit verdot (per the label; the website has cab franc listed too). This is a more upscale blend, with violets and other mixed florals making a strong showing against a backdrop of black and some red berries. Initially a little dusty, the fruit opens up with time in air, but the finish echoes licorice. B+ / $28

markryanwinery.com

Review: Wines of JaM Cellars, 2016 Releases

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This new brand of supermarket-friendly wines comes from John Anthony and Michele Truchard — and together they are JaM Cellars. If that isn’t catchy enough, the names of the wines — Toast, Butter, and Jam — and black-plus-one-primary-color labeling are likely to stick with you.

JaM may wear its obviousness on its sleeve — or, on its label at least — but let’s see how it does on the palate.

NV JaM Cellars Toast California Sparkling Brut – Extremely dry, its fruit takes its sweet time to make an appearance, eventually coming forward with simple notes of apple, lightly browned butter and sage, and — indeed — notes of toasted bread. The finish is simple and short, nearly devoid of the sweetness I expected to find despite the Brut indication on the label. A credible, yet very simple, California sparkler. B / $25

2015 JaM Cellars Butter Chardonnay California – Buttery, yes, but more restrained than you’d think. Simple fruit and brown butter is spiked with notes of allspice, plus a touch of grapefruit peel. The finish is a bit chewy, with some unfortunate green bean character on the back end. Fair enough for a Tuesday evening, though. B- / $16

2014 JaM Cellars Jam Cabernet Sauvignon California – Again the name doesn’t lie. Completely overblown with chocolate syrup, overripe plums, and juice currants, this sugar bomb hits the palate with a vengeance and never lets go. Frankly I couldn’t get through half a glass… but what are you expecting, anyway? D- / $20

jamcellars.com

Review: Wines of Portugal, 2014 Quinto Elemento and Fiuza

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Portugal is more than just Port and vinho verde. Here’s a look at two bottlings from off the beaten path, both hailing from the Tejo region, near the Spanish border to the far east of the country.

2014 Quinto Elemento Arinto Reserva Vinho Branco Tejo – Made from the arinto grape, this racy white offers a lightly tropical/pineapple core studded with lots of aromatics and perfume notes, to the point of mild astringency. The finish mixes in notes of sweet peaches with honeysuckle and roses, the florals becoming particularly pronounced as the wine warms up a bit. B / $8

2014 Fiuza Premium Alicante Bouchet Tejo – A funky, vegetal red with barnyard and vague smoke overtones. Alicante bouchet isn’t the world’s most beloved grape, and its iffy nose leads to an almost bizarre body, which takes notes of prune and rhubarb and folds in tobacco and tar character. Highly acidic, but the wacky flavor profile takes some real getting used to. C / $13

Review: Flora Springs Ghost Winery 2013 Red Wine and 2014 Malbec

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Each year, Flora Springs celebrates its supposedly haunted old stone winery with fall-released wines released under the sub-moniker of “Ghost Winery.” We received two samples of current releases from the label, just in time for Halloween.

2013 Flora Springs Ghost Winery Red Wine Napa Valley – A blend of 52% cabernet sauvignon, 20% merlot, 17% syrah, 8% petit verdot, and 3% cabernet franc. This is a dark and dense wine, enigmatic with notes that might make you think of malbec, petite sirah, or something else altogether. Turns out it’s mostly a Bordeaux-ish blend, plus some syrah, which doesn’t really come through to the finish. Instead, the dense color of the petit verdot makes the strongest impression, with violets and other florals from it and the merlot making quite a showing. This is all layered over intense blackberry notes, touched here and there with menthol and chocolate syrup. Bold and mouth-filling, it needs a decent meal to keep it from becoming overwhelming. B+ / $40

2014 Flora Springs Ghost Winery Malbec Napa Valley – 100% malbec. An initially fruitier style of malbec, lightly floral but studded with blackberry and blueberry notes. The finish offers hints of tobacco, cloves, and licorice — it’s quite dry, which makes for an interesting counterpoint to the slightly sweeter attack. It’s atypical for a malbec but intriguing nonetheless, food friendly but also worth exploring as a solo experience. B+ / $55

florasprings.com

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