Review: 2010 Marques de Riscal Rioja Reserva

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A bit flabby for a Rioja, its fruit undercut by dull notes of licorice, leather, and burnt butter. Some quiet aromatics emerge with a little time exposed to air, but the finish never really materializes, going out on a somewhat gummy note that evokes burnt matches and roasted vegetables. That said, it’s mostly innocuous. Best (by far) with food.

B- / $20 / marquesderiscal.com

Review: Craneo Organic Mezcal

craneo-mezcalDavid Ravandi, the man behind 123 Tequila, has at long last stepped into the world of mezcal. Craneo is a 100% organic espadin mezcal that is harvested at 5600 feet in Santiago Matatlan, Oaxaca. Traditionally processed, it is bottled at slightly-above average proof, at 42% abv.

Classically structured on the nose, the mezcal offers aromas of sweet barbecue smoke character layered with hints of citrus. The palate is fairly traditional, though it dances on the tongue thanks to a light and silky body. Notes of orange and grapefruit peel, green banana, and spun sugar punctuate the modestly sweet smokiness, while the finish adds on hints of iodine and a touch of anise.

What is most striking about Craneo is how light on its feet it is. While many mezcals can be overpowering with their intense smokiness, Craneo is balanced and quite restrained. Some may see this lightness as a sign that this is intended as a “starter” mezcal, but ultimately I think its gentle body it adds a ton of versatility to an often difficult spirit — try it in a cocktail — while ensuring it can serve quite nicely as a less overbearing sipper, too. Definitely worth a look.

84 proof.

(Note: If the tasting notes on the Craneo Mezcal website seem familiar, that’s because they were adapted from an earlier version of this review, based on a preliminary sample tasted earlier this year. This review has been updated based on the final, shipping version.)

A- / $60 / mezcalcraneo.com

Review: Gary Farrell 2014 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir Russian River Valley

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Iconic Russian River winery Gary Farrell is out with its 2014 vintage wines, a chardonnay and a pinot noir. These are both the entry-level bottlings; single vineyard options abound if you want to go upscale. Let’s taste!

2014 Gary Farrell Chardonnay Russian River Valley – A gorgeous chardonnay, rich and full of fruit, with just the right amount of wood exposure to give it depth and body. Fresh apple finds a nice counterpart in big lemon notes, which add acidity and intrigue. The finish is round and lasting and just a touch herbaceous, which gives the wine balance while elevating it above the usual fare. Really, really well done. A / $35

2014 Gary Farrell Pinot Noir Russian River Valley – Surprisingly thin for a Russian River pinot, but with time in glass its simple cherry (both fresh and dried) notes become more forceful, tart and moderately acidic. The finish isn’t particularly engaging but finds some interesting companions in light notes of dried herbs, some licorice, and a touch of cocoa nibs. B / $45

garyfarrellwinery.com

Review: High West Valley Tan Utah Whiskey

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Don’t look now, but you can actually get an (aged) whiskey that is really made at High West’s Utah location instead of brought in on a truck from someone else. Is that a good thing? While High West makes some lovely unaged whiskeys, its biggest home-grown barrel-aged product, Valley Tan, is clearly still a work in progress. The spirit is made from a mash of wheat, oat, and malted barley, and is blended from barrels aged from 1 to 6 years.

Heavily malted, granary notes kick things off. The nose is loaded with fresh, grassy cereal and lightly-smoky notes of dried hay, plus a significant amount of barnyard character. On the palate, it’s more of the same, though a touch of sweet breakfast cereal and hints of dried apple cut some of the harsher notes. That said, the finish is a bit pungent and offers some diesel notes — neither of which is entirely in line with what I’m looking for in a “sippin'” whiskey.

87 proof. Reviewed: Batch #3.

C / $59 / highwest.com

Review: Rioja Wines of Hacienda Lopez de Haro, 2016 Releases

 

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Bodega Classica Hacienda Lopez de Haro is a classic producer of traditional wines in Rioja, spanning a variety of wines representative of the region. Today we look at three Rioja reds, a 100% tempranillo, and an older Crianza and Reserva bottling, both blends. Let’s dig in.

2015 Hacienda Lopez de Haro Rioja Tempranillo – This is a young, fresh 100% tempranillo (a “cosecha” wine with 4 months in barrel), that is pedal-to-the-metal fruit from start to finish. Think strawberry jam, with a touch of cinnamon, yet still quite dry and balanced, with a surprisingly gentle finish. Definitely worth a look. B+ / $10

2013 Hacienda Lopez de Haro Rioja Crianza – This is a bold wine for a Rioja, forthright and powerful, loaded with fruit-forward character you’d expect from a California red. That said, the bold red berries, plus notes of licorice candy, cinnamon, and cloves all come together to make for a cohesive wine that finishes strong, and which works quite well with food. B+ / $12

2009 Hacienda Lopez de Haro Rioja Reserva – In the early stages of oxidation, this reserva is already austere and starting to decline from its peak. The nose of tobacco and baking spice is engaging, but the moderately astringent body keeps the spices in check. What emerges on the finish is more of a dried herbal character, with ample licorice and Madeira-like notes. B- / $13

bodegaclassica.com

Review: Gin Mare

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Gin Mare is billed as a “Mediterranean Gin,” distilled in Barcelona. “Made in small batches in a copper pot still with 250 liters of capacity per batch, Gin Mare’s key botanicals include Arbequina olive, thyme, rosemary and basil, each sourced from four different Mediterranean countries.” (Citrus fruit and green cardamom are also components.) “Distinguishing itself from traditional London dry gins, the spirit highlights its botanicals through the use of premium barley base, delicate maceration, individual distillation and authentic blending.”

The key takeaway in all of that is a single word: olive. By using olives as a flavoring agent, Gin Mare takes a martiniesque shortcut that I haven’t really encountered before. The nose has a distinct olive note, plus a lacing of black pepper, mixed dried herbs, and a bit of green onion. Quite savory on the nose, the body finds room for some sweeter stuff, with light notes of simple syrup that fade into clearer notes of rosemary, earthy cardamom, and lemon peel. The finish remains restrained and savory and reminiscent of an olive tapenade with a lemon twist upon it. Note however that there’s scarcely a hint of juniper throughout the experience.

What a unique, quirky, and curious gin! It’s several big steps off the beaten path, but it’s so intriguing — and enjoyable — that it hardly matters. Whether you think of this as gin or olive-flavored vodka is completely beside the point. Try it in your next martini.

85.4 proof.

A / $38 / ginmare.com

Review: Zonin 1821 Prosecco “Dress Code Collection”

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Quick, what grape is Prosecco made from? If you said Glera, well, you know more than most drinkers — but it turns out Prosecco can be made from more than just this varietal. In fact, Italian law specifies that up to 15% of the juice in a bottle can come from a number of grape varietals, including Verdiso, Bianchetta Trevigiana, Perera, Glera Lunga, Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, and Pinot Noir.

How does the secondary grape impact the finished product? Zonin attempted to find out by bottling a trilogy of nonvintage Proseccos, each using a different secondary varietal. Bottled as the “Dress Code Collection,” each in a different-colored bottle, the trio showcase how much a tiny bit of something else can change the finished product. (Turns out, plenty!)

Zonin 1821 Prosecco White Edition – 91% Glera & 9% Pinot Bianco. Crisp and pretty, with bold apple notes. Fresh and fruit-forward, with a slight herbal edge on the finish. The closest wine in this group to “classic” Prosecco, it’s a lush wine tailor-made for celebrations. A-

Zonin 1821 Prosecco Grey Edition – 87% Glera & 13% Pinot Grigio. A bigger body here, with slight tropical overtones. The more aggressive body also offers a clearer display of yeastiness, and leads to a somewhat plainer finish. B+

Zonin 1821 Prosecco Black Edition – 90% Glera & 10% Pinot Noir. The dryest of the bunch, the fruit is quite restrained here, showing notes of pear, fresh herbs, and a touch of baking spice. Very clean and crisp, it finishes with aromatic notes and hints of perfume. Quite elegant. B+

each $16 / dressyourfeelings.zoninprosecco.com

Review: Barbed Wire 2014 Red Wine Blend and Cabernet Sauvignon

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Trinchero’s latest brand is Barbed Wire, a budget offering from California’s North Coast (a region that encompasses pretty much anywhere on the northern half of the state). Nonetheless, Barbed Wire is trying to push quality higher, despite the reasonable price tag. We tried two releases from the 2014 vintage.

2014 Barbed Wire Red Wine Blend North Coast – This is a blend of cabernet sauvignon from Alexander Valley and merlot from Napa Valley. A rather innocuous wine, this blend offers a dusty, fruit-restrained attack with notes that focus on leather, tar, and bushy brambles. The finish brings out some black and blue berries, but remains quite dry and short, fading away within seconds. B- / $11

2014 Barbed Wire Cabernet Sauvignon North Coast – This is a lackluster cabernet, flabby with an unctuous, mouth-coating character and dialed back when it comes to fruit. Over time some engaging blackberry notes come to the fore, plus a dusting of juicy currants, but it’s awfully late in the game, after a generalized, gooey sweetness and vague forest floor notes have already taken hold. C / $11

tfewines.com

Review: 2014 Apothic Inferno

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What hath Robert Mondavi wrought? Wines aged in whiskey barrels are following its lead and pouring out of the woodwork, the latest being this California blend, which is aged for 60 days in ex-whiskey barrels. The particulars of the whiskey are a mystery, as is the wine itself. Not that it really matters — no grape could withstand the assault of two months of heavily-charred ex-bourbon casks, though the zinfandelishness of this offering makes a strong case for that varietal.

Tasting notes are hardcore: Prune, dried red berries, wet leather, chewing tobacco, and pulverized dried figs. A big vanilla-heavy and maple syrup-infused sweetness hits hard on the lengthy and overpowering finish, reminding one of the whiskey casking the wine has undertaken. As for the 15.9% alcohol level, well, best not to think about that too much.

As trends go, this one has yet to make much of a positive impression.

C- / $12 / apothic.com

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: Rebel Yell Single Barrel Bourbon 10 Years Old

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Once a largely ignored bottom-shelf bottling, Rebel Yell continues its march up-market with this latest release, a 10 year old single barrel bottling crafted from its wheated bourbon recipe. 2000 cases will be made available this year. In 2017, production will expand to 4000 cases.

The nose offers oak first, then layers of anise and tobacco leaf. The iconic vanilla caramel character is here, but it is burnt and crispy, with mild eucalyptus notes — though all in all, fairly steady hallmarks of well-aged bourbon. The palate is where things start to get more interesting. The anise character is distinct and heavy, before notes of peppermint, cloves, and cinnamon red hots come along. The finish is burly with wood, but not overpowering — more barrel char than sawdust — though there’s a bit of lingering gumminess that mars things a bit.

All told, this is a bourbon for fans who like things on the distinctly — even heavily — savory side, and even though it’s not exactly an everyday sipper, it marks a nice change of pace from some of the sugar bombs that tend to be more popular.

Reviewed: Barrel #4744359, distilled September 2005.

100 proof.

A- / $50 / rebelyellbourbon.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