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.

A / $85 / monteswines.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM WINE.COM]

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

Tasting the Wines of Round Pond, 2015 Releases

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The brother-sister team of Miles and Ryan MacDonnell have grown grapes at their Rutherford property in Napa as part of their family’s business since 1983 and began running the Round Pond Estate together in 2003. In 2002, Round Pond branched out from growing grapes into making its own wine, and today the family continues to expand its winemaking operation as well as selling grapes to some of the region’s blue chip wineries.

Round Pond grows primarily Cabernet Sauvignon but also cultivates a smattering of other wines, a number of which we tried at a recent lunch at the Gotham Clubhouse, a private club located in the outfield of San Francisco’s AT&T Park. Round Pond also offers a lunch called Il Pranzo at its winery, where you can experience its wines paired with a meal as well as its estate-made olive oils and vinegars.

Miles led us through the afternoon, with Gotham’s chef pairing each of these wines with a small plate. The food was uniformly excellent. More detailed thoughts on the wines tasted follow.

2014 Round Pond Rosato di Nebbiolo – One doesn’t find a lot of Nebbiolo in Napa, much less Nebbiolo rose. This wine is so pretty and lush, with fresh berries, peaches, and floral notes, that I wish you could get it somewhere besides Round Pond’s winery. A-

2014 Round Pond Rutherford Sauvignon Blanc – A crisp and herbal Sauvignon Blanc, nice acidity and a bracing finish; great pairing with a smoked salmon dish. A-

2012 Round Pond Kith & Kin Cabernet Sauvignon – Round Pond’s entry level Cabernet (priced at $30), powerful and dense with notes of chocolate and tons of jam. A straightforward wine, but quite a delight. A-

2012 Round Pond Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon – This mid-level wine offers more nuance, with some pepper notes amidst the currants. Silky and lush. A-

2012 Round Pond Proprietary Red – A red blend, and surprisingly light on its feet, with its silky tannins pairing nicely with a small filet of beef. Raspberry on the finish. A-

2010 Round Pond Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon – The top of the line, but this was the only wine in the lineup that wasn’t quite on fire for me. Dense with lots of tannin and menthol notes, it offers opulence but needs several more years in the bottle before it hits prime time. B+

roundpond.com  [BUY THEM NOW FROM WINE.COM]

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Review: Freaker Bottle Koozies

freakerThat foam canister is boring. Next time you need to keep a beer (or other beverage) cold on a hot day, check out a Freaker.

Freaker Koozies are knit like socks and are emblazoned with everything from sports logos to drinking-centric memes. “Forget Me Not” makes your beer look like a prescription pill bottle. My personal favorite, “Shark Tube,” has a shark emerging from a Super Mario style green pipe. The koozies are designed to work on bottles but also work with cans if you tuck the neck in.

Freakers work well enough, but probably not as well as a traditional foam koozie — though note I didn’t do any scientific testing — and also do double duty at making it easy to figure out which bottle on the table belongs to whom. Great for grown-ups and kids alike!

$10 to $15 each / freakerusa.com  [BUY ONE NOW]

Recipe: 2015 Cinco De Mayo Cocktails

Another trip around the sun, another year of back-to-back celebrations of the Kentucky Derby and Cinco De Mayo. As such, there’s plenty for everyone to drink, and we’ve got more than a few recipes for your consideration. Party, Karamu, Fiesta, Forever.

Spicy Cerveza CocktailSpicy Cerveza Cocktail
1 1/2 parts Hornitos Plata tequila
1/3 part lime juice
3/4 part simple syrup
1 slice jalapeño
4 parts Mexican lager
Salt (for rim)

Muddle jalapeño in a glass with a salted rim, combine remainder of ingredients except Mexican lager in a shaker, shake vigorously, strain over fresh ice and add Mexican lager.

image001Amante Picante Margarita
Courtesy of  Juan Martinez (Toca Madera)
2 oz. DeLeón Platinum tequila
.75 oz. agave
1 oz. lime juice
Serrano pepper
Cilantro

Muddle two pieces of serrano pepper and clap 5 pieces of cilantro in a tin. Rim a highball with Tajin/Ghost pepper salt, shake all ingredients together and strain into a the highball glass. Garnish with a serrano pepper and sprig of cilantro.

Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 7.57.43 PMPina-Ta
1.5 oz. Botran Reserva rum
.75 oz. lemon juice
1 oz. pineapple juice
.75 oz. rosemary syrup

Mix ingredients, shake and strain over crushed ice in a rocks glass. Garnish with lemon wheel and rosemary sprig.

image001Jalapaloma
Courtesy of Goodfriend Beer Garden and Burger House in Dallas, TX
1 ½ oz. Blue Nectar Silver tequila
½ oz. Grand Marnier
1 jalapeno
½ oz. lime juice
¾ oz. agave nectar
2 oz. grapefruit juice
Crushed orange slice

Chop jalapeno and infuse in Blue Nectar. Add infused tequila, Grand Marnier, lime juice, agave nectar, and grapefruit juice to a shaker. Shake well. Garnish with an orange slice.

Camarena Caliente
2 oz. Camarena Silver tequila
¾ oz. Triple Sec
½ oz. sour mix
1 slice pineapple, muddled
1 dash of cayenne and cinnamon (Can substitute chili powder for cayenne)

Mix ingredients, shake and strain over ice. Sugar rim and garnish with a spice-dusted pineapple spear.

Nuevo Manhattan
(created by Leo Robitschek)
1 ½ oz Riazul Plata Tequila
½ oz Dolin Blanc
½ oz Punt e Mes
½ oz Combier
½ oz Nonino Amaro
3 dashes Angostura Bitters

Stir and strain into a coupe.

Review: The Manhattan: Barrel Finished Cocktail from Jefferson’s and Esquire

ESQ-BAM-Front

I don’t necessarily think bottled, fully-made cocktails are lazy. I use them a lot when entertaining or when I’m short on fresh ingredients. Some of them are really well made, too.

The jury is out on whether The Manhattan: Barrel Finished Cocktail is taking things a bit too far afield. This collaboration between Jefferson’s Bourbon and Esquire magazine — complete with silkscreened signatures from Trey Zoeller and David Granger on the back along with a ton of other, hard-to-read, typographically messy text — couldn’t be more pandering in its upscale aspirations. From the dark glass bottle to the wood stopper to the metal band around the neck, this is a drink that’s designed to look really, really expensive. Which it is.

So what’s inside? Jefferson’s Bourbon, of course, plus dry and sweet vermouth (making it a Perfect Manhattan) and barrel-aged bitters. The resulting concoction is barrel aged for 90 days before bottling. (This reportedly took two years of experimentation to get right.) There’s also the not-so-small matter of this, which is printed in all caps at the bottom of the back label copy: COLORED WITH CARROT EXTRACT.

Now that statement gives me some pause. This is a 68 proof cocktail made with basically just bourbon and vermouth, so why would extra coloring be needed? (And why the carrot, by God?) A typical Manhattan recipe would hit around 65 proof or lower, so this isn’t a case where the drink is watered down and Jefferson’s/Esquire is trying to pull one over on us. This is a fairly high-proof cocktail that’s mostly bourbon… so why with the carrots, guys?

I’ll leave that question for the commenters to wrestle over and simply get on to the tasting, which I sampled both straight and on the rocks. (It’s better shaken with ice and strained, served very cold.) The nose is heavy on winey notes, almost a madeirized character that overpowers the whiskey surprisingly handily. On the palate the dry vermouth is surprisingly clear, with bitter herbs muscling past the bourbon’s gentler vanilla notes. That classic whiskey sweetness is quite fleeting here, replaced with pungent notes of licorice, overripe citrus, and a touch of lumberyard character. I liked this well enough at first, but over time the vermouth became so dominant that I found myself left with a vegetal, slightly medicinal aftertaste that got considerably less appealing over time.

And yeah, it is pretty orange.

68 proof.

B- / $40 / esquire.com

Bar Review: Third Rail, San Francisco

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Here’s a cute idea: A bar that specializes in custom cocktails… and bespoke jerky.

Third Rail, in San Francisco’s Dogpatch region, is a cozy little joint where you can get a small beer, shot, and a bit of jerky all for 10 bucks during happy hour. This seemed like the most popular choice among the post-work regulars during my recent visit, but I focused on the cocktails during my encounter.

It’s rare, but in sampling four different libations, I didn’t have a single bad drink. Arguably my favorite was the Crossbow (tequila, blood orange, lime, Punt e Mes, and bitters, on the rocks), but the Evil Twin (mezcal, grapefruit, lemon, Aperol, chili bitters, served up) gave it a run for its money. Whiskey-based cocktails including the eponymous Third Rail (bourbon, Lillet, honey, lemon, orange bitters) and the Bone Machine (bourbon, oloroso sherry, amaro, bitters) were both quite good.

Then there’s the jerky — we tried the Sonoma Smoke and it vanished into our gullets all too quickly. It’s closer to chunks of smoked meat rather than anything you typically think of as jerky, sweet, salty, and succulent as all get-out. Artisan chicharrones (pictured) are also on the menu, but these aren’t house made and include quite a bit of sugar used to dust the puffy bits of pork. In an understated bar filled with excellent options, it’s the only item that’s even close to a miss.

Tasting Report: Wines of Duckhorn, 2015 Releases

duckhorn

Noted California winery Duckhorn has become quite an empire of late, with operations under a number of brand names spanning all over California and stretching up to Washington state. The winery recently put together a tasting of virtually every wine it has now in current release, almost all of which we sampled — poured by the winemakers themselves. Tasting notes on the full Duckhorn slate (plus a few older rarities — including a gem of a cabernet from 2003) follow forthwith.

Tasting Report: Wines of Duckhorn, 2015 Releases

2013 Decoy Chardonnay Sonoma County / A- / buttery with some acid, too; touch of nougat
2013 Decoy Pinot Noir Sonoma County / B+ / simple; on the tannic side with notes of dried herbs
2013 Decoy Zinfandel Sonoma County / B- / roasted meats, chewy and funky; damp earth
2013 Decoy Merlot Sonoma County / B- / dried, crushed flowers; some vegetal notes
2013 Decoy Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County / B / lots of meaty character, heavy tannin, coconuts on the finish
2012 Decoy Red Wine Sonoma County / B / very dry and tart, cherry notes and tea leaf
2013 Migration Chardonnay Russian River Valley / B+ / dialed back but still showing some apple tart character
2012 Migration Chardonnay Sonoma Coast / B+ / puchy with vanilla and coconuts, light fruit
2011 Goldeneye Pinot Noir Anderson Valley / B+ / dense tea and coffee notes, dark blackberries
2012 Goldeneye Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Estate / B / lots of tannin here, dark fruit, tea, coffee
2012 Goldeneye Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Ten Degrees Estate / A / gorgeous, balanced fruit with notes of tea, cinnamon, some flint; quite supple
2012 Canvasback Cabernet Sauvignon Red Mountain Washington State / B+ / lush and fruit forward, dense red berries
2013 Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley / A- / huge tropical notes, vanilla kicker
2013 Duckhorn Chardonnay Napa Valley / A- / easygoing chardonnay, buttery but balanced
2012 Duckhorn Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc Knights Valley / A- / rich honey, marshmallow, nougat, and almonds
2012 Duckhorn Merlot Napa Valley / B+ / nice balance, chewy with vanilla and a little root beer character
2012 Duckhorn Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley / B+ / drinking young but well, big tannic profile
2011 Duckhorn Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Rutherford / A- / punchy, lots of acitidy, peppery notes
2012 Duckhorn Merlot Napa Valley Three Palms Vineyard / A+ / gorgeous violet notes, lush blueberries, lengthy finish
2011 Duckhorn The Discussion Estate Napa Valley Red Wine / A / baking spices, floral notes, and fruit, well balanced all around
2007 Duckhorn Merlot Napa Valley Rutherford / A / some violets, nice structure with dialed-back vanilla and restrained tannin
2003 Duckhorn Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley / A+ / so pretty, lush and floral and loaded with red fruit, vanilla, and cocoa; perfectly balanced
2011 Paraduxx Proprietary Napa Valley Red Wine / B+ / very dry, easy fruit notes, some fresh herbs
2011 Paraduxx Howell Mountain Napa Valley Red Wine / B- / smoky on the nose, wet earth, some greenery

[BUY THEM NOW FROM WINE.COM]

Review: Starr Hill Reviver Red IPA, Bandstand Barleywine, and Little Red Roostarr (2015)

Reviver_bottleStarr Hill keeps cranking them out. Here’s a look at three limited and seasonal releases for spring 2015.

Starr Hill Reviver Red IPA – A hybrid, amber-hued IPA, this is a great example of how blending beer styles can turn out well. Up front, the brew offers semi-sweet notes driven by malty caramel and chocolate note… then the hops take hold, slowly turning things bitter and slightly citrus-focused. There’s no big piney notes like you see in the typical IPA but rather a more harmonious bitter finish that balances out the sweeter notes up front. Really well-balanced and deftly crafted — and just 6.2% abv, too. A / $NA

Starr Hill Bandstand Barleywine Ale Volume 1 – A big American barleywine, dry-hopped and aged in bourbon barrels from Smooth Ambler Spirits. Unsurprisingly massive, this bomb of caramel and chocolate offers gentle coffee notes and a touch of bitter on the back end. Nice little number with a solid balance between its sweet and savory components — but a glass of this will go an awfully long way. 13.5% abv. A- / $8 per 22 oz. bottle

Starr Hill Little Red Roostarr Coffee Cream Stout (2015) – This is our third annual look at this coffee stout, and it doesn’t cut a terribly different profile in 2015 as it has in the last couple of years. It may be a little milder in 2015 than in previous years — with a bit less malt, slightly more watery coffee notes, and a touch of dark chocolate on the back end — but my primary issue, the lack of “creaminess” promised by the name, remains. Drinkers will likely remain divided. 5.8% abv. B / $7 per 22 oz. bottle

starrhill.com

Review: 8 Poliakov Flavored Vodkas

poliakov

Poliakov may look and sound Russian, but this is a French product (from the same company that distributes Label 5 Scotch), and it’s a big, low-cost seller in that country. Little is known about its production except for a vague “triple distilled” label. While there is a straight, unflavored version, we only received a passel of flavors — excuse me, “flavours” — to review.

Some are completely clear, some are slightly tinted in color, and some are quite colorful — as the photo above will demonstrate. Thoughts on eight varieties follow.

All are bottled at 75 proof.

Poliakov Lemon Vodka – Pretty citrus nose, with a little mint. There’s less going on on the palate, though, which offers a vaguely bitter/sour profile with some cleaning fluid notes on the back end. B-

Poliakov Peach Vodka – The nose has chemical overtones, and the body is quite astringent. Peach by way of disinfectant. C-

Poliakov Mandarin Vodka – Clear orange, veering toward mandarins, on the nose — with some woody notes underneath it. The body is punchier with orange character than the lemon version is with its citrus. Perfectly pleasant, with an uncomplicated finish. B+

Poliakov Green Apple Vodka – Overly sweet on the nose, with distinctly artificial apple notes. The body is sweet and sour, with a chewy, woody back end. Undistinguished. C

Poliakov Strawberry Vodka – Bright red/pink in color. Very, very sweet up front. The nose is easily mistaken for cherry, and the body could just as well be melted hard candies. Inoffensive, but usable mainly as a sweetener rather than a flavoring agent. C+

Poliakov Cranberry Vodka – Cranberry is a very difficult flavor to work with, and this one has clearly been doctored up the way most cranberry juice has, too. That’s not such a bad thing, as what’s in the bottle is a curious and compelling blend of tart cranberry and slightly sweet cherry/red berry notes, which together create a balanced and compelling little mixer. B+

Poliakov Vanilla Vodka – This one’s pushed right to the edge of the dessert cart, and just about falls over. Smells and tastes like a bakery confection, with chocolate and coconut notes backing up the vanilla. Some charred wood elements infect the nose, but that actually helps to add a little balance to the concoction. B-

Poliakov Caramel Vodka – Another colored vodka, this one an amber brown. As expected, it’s pushy with sweetness on the nose, but the palate is gentler than you’d expect, offering some touches of sweet tea, coffee, licorice, and other unexpected nuances. Again that characteristic char is here, giving a bottle of erstwhile panty peeler a little something extra. B-

each about $10 (likely) / vodka-poliakov.com