Category Archives: Wine

Review: Iichiko Shochu

frasco main 1 249x300 Review: Iichiko ShochuShochu is something we see so seldomly here at Drinkhacker that we don’t even have a category for it. (I’m putting it in the sake category for lack of a proper one.)

Shochu has many of the same flavor characteristics as sake, but it can be made from other starches than rice — namely barley, potatoes, or even chestnuts. The shochus reviewed here are all barley-based.

As with sake, the barley is polished until just a core remains, purifying the grain. It is fermented and mixed with a specific type of barley mold, then (unlike sake) distilled, typically just once, and can be . This raises the alcohol level to 25 to 30 proof, considerably higher than sake, while keeping that unmistakable melon character intact.

The two shochu bottlings below are from Iichiko, the best-selling shochu bottler in Japan. Thoughts follow.

Iichiko “Silhouette” Shochu - Polished to 60% of the original grain. A typical shochu, with modest, crisp melon on the nose. Underneath there’s fresh grain character — think white whiskey — but more of that melon on the finish along with a touch of dried herbal character. Nice and fresh, a solid example of what a simple shochu should be like. 50 proof. B+ / $23

Iichiko “Frasco” Shochu (pictured) – Polished to 50% of the original grain and produced with a more delicate and expensive method that I won’t try to explain here. This is a fruitier and slightly sweeter style of shochu, with a lasting finish that offers lots of melon but also pepper, and — late in the finish — neat butterscotch notes. Very silky and well-balanced, a lovely and elegant sipper. A / $70

Review: 2012 Sonoma-Cutrer Late Harvest Chardonnay Winemaker’s Release

 Review: 2012 Sonoma Cutrer Late Harvest Chardonnay Winemakers ReleaseSonoma-Cutrer produces some of the best-selling white wines from California, and now this winery on the rise is expanding into an interesting new area: Dessert wines.

Its first release in a new range of limited-edition wines called the Winemaker’s Release Series is this, a sweet, late harvest Chardonnay. (Few dessert wines are made from Chardonnay — Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc are more common, particularly in California.)

Some thoughts follow.

A lovely “sticky,” with pretty floral, orange, and honey notes, all in perfect balance — with plenty of acidity left behind to keep the sweetness from overpowering the wine. Made very much in the Sauternes style, I never would have pegged this as Chardonnay had I not seen the label firsthand. Infinitely drinkable, it was a huge hit with the crowd for which I popped the half-bottle open. Snap it up! 10% abv.

A / $30 (375ml) /

Review: O Wines Chardonnay and Red Blend

o wines red 162x300 Review: O Wines Chardonnay and Red BlendThis Columbia Valley (Washington) winery recently changed ownership (it’s now part of the Ste. Michelle empire) and is now making a bigger push into the market. Only two wines are offered; the latest releases of both are reviewed below.

Also of note: O also has a huge scholarship program that any wine-friendly families with looking for college support should look into. (Only for female highschool seniors.) Bonus points for doing something good for our students!

2011 O Wines Chardonnay Columbia Valley – Lemony, with some herbal character, atypical of Chardonnay. A light body winds toward an odd cookie (Fig Newtons?) character on the back end, which is fine until an ultimately somewhat weedy finish. B- / $14

2010 O Wines Red Wine – A blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah. Chewy, with lots going on. Dark fruit, some bittersweet chocolate, even cherry character in there. Mellows quickly as it’s exposed to air, leaving behind a relatively straightforward and somewhat bland wine which is perfectly harmless, yet not entirely inspired. Tasted twice; first bottle was clearly off. B- / $16

Review: Chateau Tanunda Grand Barossa Wines

chateau tanunda Grand Barossa Shiraz NV 87x300 Review: Chateau Tanunda Grand Barossa WinesChateau Tanunda, “Icon of the Barossa,” doesn’t look like your typical Australian wine. For starters, there are no animals on the label. Rather, there’s a line-art drawing of a chateau. Very French.

The wines, however, are pure Australia through and through. While the winery says its inspiration lies in Europe, its fruit is out there in Oz, baking in the sun. Here’s how these ultra-ripe wines shake out.

2010 Chateau Tanunda Grand Barossa Cabernet Sauvignon – Very fruit-forward, loaded with jammy strawberry and blueberry notes, with a touch of greenery on the back end. Once your teeth stop hurting from the sweetness, this reveals itself to be a fairly drinkable little wine. It’s tough to pair with more savory dishes, but if you’re looking for a pre-dinner Cabernet (never easy to find), this could work out. B / $25

2010 Chateau Tanunda Grand Barossa Shiraz – Unlike any Shiraz I’ve ever tried. Big wood notes from the start, then pepper, earth, and charcoal notes. Fruit comes along way in the back — a somewhat unripe, plummy character with overtones of figs. Not my bag. C- / $25

Review: 2011 Banfi San Angelo Pinot Grigio and 2010 Banfi Belnero Red Blend

belnero Review: 2011 Banfi San Angelo Pinot Grigio and 2010 Banfi Belnero Red BlendHere are two new affordable, but surprisingly high-quality wines from Banfi. Thoughts follow, as always.

2011 Banfi San Angelo Pinot Grigio Toscana - An exceedingly drinkable Pinot Grigio. Lightly tropical nose. On the body, modest acidity, then lots of fruit. Peaches, some mango, and interesting nougat and biscuit notes on the finish — like shortbread cookies. Solid as both an aperitif and with dinner. A- / $15

2010 Banfi Belnero Toscana IGT – A red blend, clearly made on the cheap, but with surprisingly capable results. Very fruity — fresh plums, not jam — with highlights of vanilla, some tobacco, and a bit of cedar. Nothing complicated, but easily approachable on pizza or spaghetti night. B+ / $20

Review: 2010 Noble Vines 337 Cabernet Sauvignon Lodi

337 cabernet 81x300 Review: 2010 Noble Vines 337 Cabernet Sauvignon LodiNoble Vines uses cryptic numerology to name its wines… but savvy wine drinkers will recognize these three-digit numbers as grape clone varieties, 337 being a French vine stock from Bordeaux.

Transplanted to Lodi, Noble Vines puts 337 to good use. It’s a very food-friendly wine, big raspberry and blackberry on the nose, with a dusting of allspice. The body is jammier than the nose would indicate, though it’s not so sweet that it loses its backbone. At $12 a bottle, it’s even harder not to like.

B / $12 /

Tasting Report: Darioush and Beaulieu Vineyard of Napa Valley

A recent day trip took me to Napa, where I took the opportunity to visit two of the region’s premier winemakers and see how they’re latest releases were coming along. Darioush and BV were both incredibly welcoming to the Drinkhacker crew. Thoughts on the current releases being poured follow.

2011 Darioush Signature Chardonay / $43 / B / a behemoth; big butter and nut notes

2010 Darioush Signature Merlot / $50 / B+ / peppery, with licorice character; good tannins

2009 Darioush Signature Malbec / $60 / B+ / very distinct blackberry, tar, leather, and licorice notes

2009 Darioush Duel / $55 / B+ / a blend of Cabernet and Shiraz; very fruity raspberry, silky sweet, not totally refined

2009 Darioush Signature Cabernet Sauvignon / $95 / A- / 78% Cab; a dense wine that’s drinking young; cherry is strong, but also a bit herbal

2010 Beaulieu Vineyard Carneros Reserve Pinot Noir / $45 / A- / fresh, big cherry character, but easy; slight cocoa notes

2009 Beaulieu Vineyard Tapestry Reserve / $60 / A / much more chocolate here; some earth and blueberry character; great balance

2009 Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Cabernet Sauvignon / $125 / A- / drinking very young, deep chocolate notes, some cola

2007 Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Cabernet Sauvignon / $125 / A / more cola, and much more fruit; strawberry and blueberry, with a milk chocolate finish; perfect now

Tasting Report: Zuani Vertical Tasting

Patrizia Felluga is wine royalty. The matriarch of a wine dynasty that began in the late 1800s, she is a fifth generation winemaker who decided not to wait around to take over dad’s operation (Marco Felluga), but rather struck out on her own in 2001 to start her own label. Zuani is that wine. Felluga works a 30-acre vineyard in the Collio zone of the Friuli-Venezia-Giulia region of Italy and makes — believe it or not — one wine, a white blend of Fruilano, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc.

Felluga came to San Francisco to present a very rare vertical presentation of her white wines — four regular bottlings and two reserves. The difference: They’re the same wine, but the reserves are aged in barriques for 8 to 9 months. The standard Zuani bottling sees only steel.

I wasn’t familiar with Zuani before this tasting, which included a lunch at SF’s Waterbar, but I’m certainly a fan now. Thoughts on the wines tasted follow.

Tasting Report: Zuani Vertical, 2009-2012

2012 Zuani Vigne Collio Bianco / B+ / just bottled; fresh apples and lemons on the nose; substantial floral notes; brisk and summery

2011 Zuani Vigne Collio Bianco / A- / milder, more honey, less aromatic but easier in structure; more creaminess, well balanced – my favorite wine of the group

2010 Zuani Vigne Collio Bianco / A- / distinctly tropical and peachy, like the 2011 it is chewier, with a touch of butter

2009 Zuani Vigne Collio Bianco / B+ / some green notes, a clear connection to the 2012 bottling; tart; some honey and vanilla on the finish

2011 Zuani Riserva Collio Bianco / B / pre-release bottling; a much different experience; Chardonnay-like on the nose, but the body is tighter; green with some bittersweet character that dulls the freshness you get with the Vigne bottlings; needs time

2010 Zuani Riserva Collio Bianco / B+ / some of the bigger vanilla notes have faded, leaving more herbal character behind; better balance

Review: Gnarly Head “Authentic” White and Red Wines

Gnarly Head Authentic White Jpeg 86x300 Review: Gnarly Head Authentic White and Red WinesGnarly Head extends its budget “Authentic” wine collection from Red to White this month. “Authentic” seems to be a euphemism for “Big Blend of Everything in the Field,” which I guess doesn’t look as good on the label. Thoughts on the new Authentic White and the already-out Authentic Red follow.

2011 Gnarly Head Authentic White California - A big blend of Lodi and Monterey Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Colombard, Muscat, and Viognier. Fresh, the Viognier is crystal clear, with light peach and mango notes. Easygoing, good acidity, but not too tart. A real thirst-quencher and friendly with seafood, too. The surprisingly long finish offers notes of vanilla and lemon. Great balance overall. Another winner from Gnarly Head. A- / $10

2010 Gnarly Head Authentic Red Lodi California – A Zinfandel-heavy blend that includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petite Sira. Surprisingly light, but moderately fruity, with raspberry and blueberry jam character. A light touch of sweet tea both on the nose and the finish. Easy drinking, but uncomplicated. B / $10

Review: 2011 Alto Cinco Garnacha

alto cinco 138x300 Review: 2011 Alto Cinco GarnachaA lively wine from the Cariñena region in the north of Spain, this 94% Garnacha/6% Tempranillo bottling is loaded with character. Fresh fruit is at the core, with some tar and licorice notes underpinning it, particularly on the nose. Extended time with air brings out more earth and a rubber-like character. The finish remains fresh and fruity, but I suggest drinking this one while it’s young.

B+ / $16 /

Review: MacMurray Ranch 2013 Releases

MacMurray Ranch 2011 R. River Valley Sonoma County Pinot Noir 750ml 88x300 Review: MacMurray Ranch 2013 ReleasesTwo new releases from Russian River-based MacMurray Ranch. Some thoughts:

2010 MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir Reserve Russian River Valley – Juicy, with tons of strawberry character. Overly jammy, actually bursting with character closer to Jolly Ranchers than anything else. Surprising in its lack of restraint, this is the kind of approach I expect from Zinfandel, not a Russian River Pinot. Drinkable, but not entirely fulfilling. B- / $37

2011 MacMurray Ranch Chardonnay Russian River Valley – A restrained Chardonnay that’s done a tour in oak, but not an overly long one. Modest lemon and apple notes play with a bit of vanilla. Sizable body, with a chewy, apple pie-like finish. Fine, but somewhat flabby on the finish. B / $20

Review: 2011 Georges Duboeuf Clos des Quatre Vents Fleurie and Pouilly-Fuisse

Georges Duboeuf Clos des Quatre Vents Fleurie 100x300 Review: 2011 Georges Duboeuf Clos des Quatre Vents Fleurie and Pouilly FuisseToday we consider a couple of recently-released value bottlings from Les Vins Georges Duboeuf, one of the biggest producers in France’s Beaujolais region (and beyond). Thoughts on these wines, a red and a white perfect for summer drinking, follow.

2011 Georges Duboeuf Clos des Quatre Vents Fleurie – Ample fresh berry jam character, punctuated with dense earth and leather. These more guttural notes (along with touches of mint) become more prominent as the wine opens up with air, ultimately coming together into a somewhat balsamic body, rather typical of Cru Beaujolais — sweet and savory in a somewhat uncomfortable detente. B / $16

2011 Georges Duboeuf Pouilly-Fuisse – Light tropical and honey notes on the nose, which lead to a modest, light body. The honey character builds in the glass, culminating in a somewhat herbal and modestly earthy finish. B+ / $20

Review: Wines for Dummies

wines for dummies 282x300 Review: Wines for DummiesSurely you’ve known there was Wine for Dummies. Now there are Wines for Dummies. Actual wines, made for dummies to drink.

Don’t act so shocked. You knew this was coming. In fact it’s a pretty good idea: Package up cheap wine in a familiar package so utter novices can get their feet wet with the stuff. At $10 a bottle, it’s a harmless — if inelegant (and, well, far from “discriminating”) — way to explore the world of vino.

To even consider drinking these wines you really do need to be an utter, rank novice. None of them are particularly good, and the iconic black+yellow+red/green labels (complete with pronunciation guides — “kee-yahn-tee“) are not something you’re going to bring to Easter brunch. Instead, they are purely for investigative purposes. Try the wines, then hide the bottles at the bottom of the recycling bin so the garbage guys don’t judge you.

That said, from a business standpoint, how great an idea is this! It’s genius, really… but why stop at wines? Where’s my Microwave for Dummies? My TV for Dummies? My Car for Dummies? If nothing else, the Dummies people should be dominating the entire grocery store. Who needs to think about what to put on their salad when they could be using Dressing for Dummies!?

Ah, progress. Thoughts on the wines follow.

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Review: Wines of Donelan, 2011 Vintages

2011 Donelan Two Brothers Pinot 95x300 Review: Wines of Donelan, 2011 VintagesWe’ve covered Sonoma-based Donelan before, and today we turn to the winery’s 2011 vintage releases, all three of which have just been released. Thoughts follow.

2011 Donelan Pinot Noir Two Brothers North Coast – A dead solid Pinot from (all over) Northern California. Black cherry and rhubarb notes give way to spicy black pepper and fresh herbal notes. Lots going on here, with a very lightly sweet finish that adds curiosity. A- / $55

2011 Donelan Venus Sonoma County – A rarity, Roussanne from Sonoma (97%, with 3% Viognier). Fragrant with peach and vanilla notes, and rich in body like a Chardonnay. Chewy, almost chalky on the tongue at times, with a cantaloupe character on the finish. Food-friendly… and pricy. B+ / $45

2011 Donelan Chardonnay Nancie Sonoma County – Strange. Some unripe banana notes on the nose, with intense tropical character. Lightly herbal on the back end, all packed into a big, big body. Intriguing for Chardonnay but not overly easy-drinking. B+ / $45

Review: White and Rose Wines of Cline, 2013 Releases

cline 300x231 Review: White and Rose Wines of Cline, 2013 ReleasesIf you’re driving to Sonoma, Cline is always worth a stop, not just because it’s one of the first wineries you encounter as you drive into the area. We got our hands on four affordable, summer-friendly whites (one’s a rose). Thoughts follow.

2012 Cline Cool Climate Pinot Gris Sonoma Coast – Crisp and refreshing, with lots of fruit. Very slightly pink, something you see in a few Pinot Gris wines, particularly those produced in Alsace. Lovely pear notes here, plus a little peach, with a bit of a creamy, nougaty back end. Think marshmallows. Very nice. A / $13

2011 Cline Marsanne Roussanne Sonoma Coast - This Rhone blend is classically structured with both peach and apricot notes, backed with an aromatic perfume character. The backbone hints at tree bark and rhubarb. Nice complexity and a fresh, easy complexion. A- / $22

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Review: NV Angoris Villa Locatelli Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso Friuli

villa locatelli refosco pedunculo rosso comp 159x300 Review: NV Angoris Villa Locatelli Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso FriuliAn unusual red made from 100% Refosco grapes indigenous to the Friuli region just north of Venice. The nose is slightly perfumy, with blueberry underpinnings. n the body, ample smoke and earth notes are backed up cherry and spice character. A moderate to big body, with lots going on. Surprisingly complex — if not wholly balanced — for a value wine.

B / $12 /

Review: 2004 Bodegas Franco Espanolas Rioja Bordon Gran Reserva

rioja bordon reserva silueta 154x300 Review: 2004 Bodegas Franco Espanolas Rioja Bordon Gran ReservaA great value on an old Gran Reserva Rioja from Bordon. Surprisingly fresh for a wine nearly a decade old. Just showing the first hints of oxidation, and then only after substantial time in glass. On the nose, dark cherries, black tea, and some earth. The modest body offers fresh berries, light vinegar notes, and more tea leaf. A great food wine.

B+ / $25 /

Review: 2010 Mira Pinot Noir Napa Valley Stanly Ranch-Carneros

mira pinot noir 300x300 Review: 2010 Mira Pinot Noir Napa Valley Stanly Ranch CarnerosAn unusual Pinot (especially one from the Carneros area), very fruity, but also very tannic. This wine reminds me more of some Syrahs than anything I’ve encountered recently in the Pinot world, and that’s… OK. The big body is something I can get my arms around, but the heavy fruit — juicy and over-ripe — is the more jarring element of the wine. With time exposed to air it reveals more charms, but Mira’s sense of balance remains elusive.

B- / $42 /

Review: 2012 Justin Rose

justin rose 139x300 Review: 2012 Justin RoseOur friends at Justin have taken a big step into a new world of wine that’s completely foreign to them: Rose.

This rose of Cabernet Sauvignon is made from Paso Robles fruit, and the beefy backbone shows. A heavy shade of peach, the wine features a moderately floral nose followed by a palate that features citrus notes, crisp apple, and a touch of apricot on the back end. At first a bit incongruous, the wine develops some balance — oddly — as it warms up a bit. While rose is normally at its best straight from the fridge, this is one that works better when it’s not quite so chilly.

B / $20 /

Lot 18 Relaunches as a Customized Wine Club

lot18 300x298 Lot 18 Relaunches as a Customized Wine ClubLot 18 was once one of many in a sea of “flash sale” websites focused on deep wine discounts. That business model didn’t pan out, so Lot 18 went back to the drawing board. The result was a new plan and a partnership with (which we’ve covered here a few times), which was also experiencing some growing pains. Lot 18 ended up acquiring the company and combining the two into a unique kind of wine club.

Here’s how it works: Sign up for a $9.95 introductory tasting kit and Lot 18 sends you a six-pack of 50ml minis which you use to “calibrate” your palate. In the kit (at present): A Sauvignon Blanc, a Chardonnay, two Pinot Noirs, a Merlot, and a Zinfandel. Using Lot 18′s website, you walk through the wines and tell the site which ones you like best. A little tech voodoo puts you into a category with the company uses to select which wines it will send you in its quarterly shipments — $85/case for your first one, then $149/case (plus $20 shipping) thereafter.

Interesting stuff, and Editorial Director Eric Arnold walked me through the setup at Drinkhacker HQ. I thought the overall approach was solid and certainly better than the usual “I like whites” or “I like reds” questionnaire… although it’s terribly difficult to distill someone’s entire palate in just two whites and four reds. The description of my palate was only about half right (there are only a handful to choose from, after all), but when my wife walked through the same setup, hers was way off. Still, it’s an interesting way to get started — and Lot 18 says you’ll be able to sub wines in and out of your case to fine-tune your shipments over time.

The service went live on May 1. Give it a whirl, wine guys!