Now in its fourth year, the Berkeley Wine Festival features a series of weekly dinners hosted by California winemakers. The dinners and the big kickoff takes place at Berkeley’s iconic Claremont Hotel, which I attended. Packed with attendees, the opening night featured tastings of over 180 wines, plus a smattering of foodstuffs prepared by Claremont chefs. With proceeds benefitting the Alameda County Food Bank, it’s not just a good time to mingle with friends, drink some wine, and watch the sunset from perhaps the best vantage point in the San Francisco Bay Area… it’s also doing something good. Thoughts on the wines I tried — nothing you probably haven’t seen me write about before — follow.
Tasting Report: 2013 Berkeley Wine Festival
2011 Amapola Creek Chardonnay Russian River Valley Jos. Belli Vineyards / B+ / see blog
2010 Clos du Val Merlot Napa Valley / B /
2010 Clos du Val Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley / B- /
2011 Patz & Hall Chardonnay Sonoma Coast / A- / lively, solid lemon notes
2011 Patz & Hall Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast / A- /
2010 Domaine Carneros Pinot Noir Carneros / B+ /
2010 Barnett Vineyards Chardonnay Savoy / B+ / good body, a bit herbal\
2010 Palmaz Vineyards Chardonnay Napa Valley / B /
2012 Tres Sabores Sauvignon Blanc / B / huge acid, herbal
2010 Tres Sabores Zinfandel / B+ / supple, easygoing
2009 Tres Sabores Perspective Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford / B+ / big, dry-farmed 100% cab; Bordeaux style
2011 Hahn Family Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands / B / rustic, earthy
2010 Capture Chardonnay Ma Vie Carol Sonoma County / A- / huge and rich, lots of nutty nots, light wood
2011 Capture Sauvignon Blanc / A / massive depth, lush, lemons and figs
2011 Capture Dark Rose / A- / rose of Cabernet Sauvignon, very fruity nose, chocolate and caramel
2011 ZD Winery Chardonnay / A- / lots of apple fruit
2011 Acacia Pinot Noir Carneros / B / simple
2011 J Vineyards Pinot Noir Russian River / B+ / very earthy, big finish
2008 Rosenblum Zinfancel Rockpile Road / B / dense, hefty
2011 Hook & Ladder Pinot Noir Russian River / B+ / easy, mild
Posted in Reviews, Wine
Why brewers keep putting apricots in their beers I’ll never know. If asked to choose a fruit to eat, the apricot will invariably be the last on my list. Fresh or dried. Meh.
Aprihop is Dogfish Head’s IPA, brewed using the fruit that dare not speak its name and finished with whole leaf hops. Up front it’s got solid bitterness, with lots of heavy apricot notes on top. Almost overwhelming, these fruity bits blow off after a few minutes and leave behind a more gentle fruitiness.
Still, the sizable hop character and the somewhat sickly sweet apricot notes never quite mesh. The finish is long and ultimately turns sour, coating the mouth. The only cure is another slug, which brings enough bitterness to wash it away. Rinse and repeat.
B / $3 per bottle / dogfish.com
Indio: Not from India, but from Mexico. Born south of the border in 1893, Indio only made it to the U.S. in 2012, courtesy of owner Heineken (which makes Tecate, Dos Equis, Sol, and a ton of other familiar beers in the same brewery). Now that Indio’s here, how’s it taste?
This curious, darker Mexican lager is at first appealing. The body is brisk, mildly bitter but nutty and lightly earthy — corn husks, perhaps? Things go along well enough until the finish, which gets progressively more and more bitter — too much so, really. This finish is not so much hoppy as it is weedy and vegetal, almost acrid in some bottles that I encountered. Quality seems to be erratic and the beer, overall, is just so-so.
B- / $8 per 6-pack / facebook.com/IndioBeer
In its minimalist, narrow, aluminum bottle, the immediate assumption is that this is water for your bike ride, not a kooky liqueur — based on vodka and flavored with caramel.
Available in three flavors (including chocolate and “silk”), Lovoka (la-vah-cah) is an incredibly popular South African “vodka liqueur” that recently expanded distribution internationally. It’s now also being made under license in Fairfield, California (noteworthy as the home of the closest Chick-fil-A to San Francisco), the base for its U.S. distribution. While the dessert theme may throw you, be advised these are not cream-based liqueurs. The caramel (the first to be sold in the U.S. and the only one we tasted) is the color of light whiskey. Which is to say, caramel colored.
Continue reading “Review: Lovoka Caramel Liqueur” »
Forget acai and yumberries. Cheribundi is doubling down on good old fashioned cherries as a juice and a cocktail mixer. We sampled a flotilla of cherry juice-based concoctions. Thoughts follow.
Cheribundi Cherry Juice – 100% juice (mostly cherry, with a bit of apple juice added for sweetness), so you better prepare your palate for the tart rush of authentic, smashed cherries. (The company says there are 50 cherries in an 8 oz. mini-bottle. Sour-sweet, authentic, and a big rush of fruit. Use sparingly as a mixer. 130 calories. A- / $12 for four 8 oz. bottles
Continue reading “Review: Cheribundi Cherry Juice Mixers” »
Hibiscus flowers are the improbable Next Big Thing in spirits flavoring, and now Absolut is getting into the business with this new vodka, continuing the succession of equally improbably-spelled liquors.
Absolut Hibiskus is infused not just with hibiscus flower but also with pomegranate, a wise choice that gives this vodka some much-needed sweetness. Absolut’s flavored vodkas, bottled at 80 proof, tend to be a bit burly and rough around the edges, making their flavor components somewhat difficult to perceive well.
Continue reading “Review: Absolut Hibiskus Vodka” »
Not getting enough froot in your diet? Now you can up your intake with one of the nuttiest vodka flavors to hit the market yet: Three Olives’ “Loopy” Vodka.
Designed specifically to taste (and look) like a certain breakfast cereal, Loopy is unmistakable when you crack open the bottle. The aroma of sugared, berry-flavored cereal is dead-on uncanny as you pour out a glass. Whoever concocted this flavor (it’s natural, people!) deserves a medal.
Continue reading “Review: Three Olives “Loopy” Vodka” »
This Belarusian vodka dates back to 1993, and hails from a 100-year-old distillery in Minsk. Distilled six times “for your pleasure” from a blend of 75% rye and 25% winter wheat, this budget brand offers lots of quality plus Eastern European street cred.
Belaya Rus (literally “White Russian”) is surprisingly easy, especially considering its birth in a former Soviet nation. The nose offers a bracing medicinal character balanced with sweetness — more like a sweet cream than typical sugar. On the tongue, more of the same, but leaning more toward the sweet side. The finish brings in some vanilla notes, and some slight nuttiness.
Those anticipating a bracing, Stoli-like character will find this a far different experience, milder, sweeter, and easier to both sip on and mix with. At all of 11 bucks a bottle, that’s a tough value to ignore.
A- / $11 / belayarusvodka.com
Journeyman Distillery operates in Three Oaks, Michigan, where it makes a wide range of white spirits and this rye, its only “brown” liquor at present (though numerous more are on the way).
Formerly made at the Koval Distillery, Journeyman is now making it at home. The mashbill is an unusual blend of Minnesota rye and (heavy) Michigan wheat, no corn. It is aged for an unstated amount of time in 15-gallon new oak barrels, then bottled at 90 proof.
Continue reading “Review: Journeyman Ravenswood Rye Whiskey” »
We last encountered Olmeca Altos in our preview of its silver tequila in 2010, but this Euro-focused brand has only now finally started its expansion into the States. We took a fresh look at both the Plata and the Reposado (there’s no Anejo yet). Both have refreshed packaging but the agave and methodology (read about it here) to make the stuff haven’t changed. Fresh thoughts on the silver and new thoughts on the reposado follow. Both are 80 proof.
(Don’t confuse Olmeca Altos, a 100% agave tequila, with Olmeca, a mixto, which is made by the same company.)
Olmeca Altos Plata Tequila – Unaged, fresh blanco. I’m picking up more banana on the nose this time out, with an agave kicker and a little white pepper. Similar notes on the body: Very fruity, with fresh fruit. Creamy, like a smoothie, with plenty of citrus. Not much of an agave kicker, which makes it dangerously easy to sip on. A- / $25 (prior rating B+)
Olmeca Altos Reposado Tequila – Aged 6 to 8 months in ex-Bourbon barrels. Modest amber color. More agave on the nose here. Some citrus, too. Lots and lots of vanilla on the body, with a big and creamy finish that comes across a bit like a cream soda float with vanilla ice cream. Delightful and light — this is actually pretty much exactly what I thought the Plata would taste like as a Reposado. A- / $25
Get your mind out of the gutter. The big rack in question refers to deer antlers. Of course.
The only spirit I know of that’s packaged in a camouflage-wrapped bottle — and is this ready to go for sipping a martini in your deer lease — Big Rack is six-times distilled from “the finest American grain” in Kentucky, then charcoal filtered and bottled at a standard 80 proof.
Continue reading “Review: Big Rack Premium Vodka” »