Tasting Report: 2016 Vintage Port (and Beyond)

For the first time since 2011, a Vintage Port year is being widely declared for 2016. (A smattering of 2015 vintage wines were also released in limited rotation.)

2016 was a hot, hot year for the Douro — I know, because it’s the summer we were touring there — but numerous producers, who visited San Francisco together in a rare showing of camaraderie to put on a tasting event, insist that the heat worked wonders, thanks to rains earlier in the season and perfect harvesting weather, making for some great wines.

Today we look at 11 Vintage Ports from the new 2016 release lineup. Tasting notes follow, though they come with a caveat: Vintage Port is of course built to age; it’s almost criminal to review them in 2018. That said, I’d happily try all of these again in 2028 to see how they’re developing!

Tasting Report: The 2016 Vintage Port Declaration (and Beyond)

2016 Cockburn’s Vintage Port – Juicy prune, red fruit, chocolate, and some spice. Lots of grip and tannin, leading to a very dry finish, with restrained sweetness. Built for aging. B+
2016 Croft Vintage Port
– Stylistically a massive shift from the above, a classic Croft of bold fruit — strawberry, passion fruit, and cinnamon notes. Vanilla and spice linger on the finish, but it still finds some grip, almost chalky at times on the tongue. B
2016 Dow’s Vintage Port – A classic expression of Dow, lush with a bold backbone that showcases chocolate and cherry, before a raisiny conclusion. Gentle florals emerge alongside a lot of acidity. This one will be very long-lived in the bottle. A-
2016 Fonseca Vintage Port – Hints of menthol here, with mild chocolate and a relatively restrained fruit profile. The body feels on the thin side, with some green notes showing. B
2016 Graham’s Vintage Port
– Heavily fruity with loads of classic raisin character, plus some figs and dates. Quite floral and perfumy on the nose, with notes of candied flowers giving it a youthful feel. Some mint chocolate notes on the back end. B+
2016 Quinta do Noval Vintage Port
– This single quinta port loads up prunes and raisins plus lots of chocolate. There’s a notable licorice note here, plus some menthol and cherry cola on the finish. Lovely balance. A-
2016 Quinta do Noval Vintage Port
Nacional – This rarity is drawn from Noval’s most prized plot, producing just 100 cases of wine this year. Similar to standard Noval, but more opulent, with bolder chocolate notes and an herbal edge. There are florals here, but paradoxically more dried fruit as well, all adding complexity to an already complex Port that is loaded with both tannin and acidity. Very ageworthy, but delightful today. A
2016 Quinta da Romaneira Vintage Port
– Reminiscent of Croft, with chocolate and spice notes drowned out by heavy fruit — strawberry namely — and fresh flowers. Lively but very youthful, almost impudent. B
2016 Taylor Fladgate Vintage Port
– Lovely, classic Taylor, showing notes of chocolate, caramel, and blueberries, plus plenty of currants and spice. There’s a hint of licorice here, adding a bitter complexity, but it’s still quite fresh, even at this young age. That said, ample tannin ensures this will hang on for ages. A
2016 Warre’s Vintage Port
– Simpler in style, with raspberry and blueberries quite heavy, chocolate notable on the finish. Tannins are modest, with lingering vanilla. A-
2016 Quinta do Vesuvio Vintage Port
– Quiet on the nose, with ample figs, Christmas spice, vanilla, and some anise. Lots going on, but I keep returning to the fig, amplified by mild tannins. This is one of the most immediately approachable Ports in the 2016 lineup. A-

As noted, Vintage Port is designed for aging, and what makes a tasting like this fun is the chance to wander through decades past to see how various vintages have evolved. Eight older wines were offered, reaching back nearly 40 years. Additional thoughts continue.

2007 Fonseca Vintage Port – Licorice notes; mellowing well, showing more clove and anise character. Spicy, almost woody at times. A-
2003 Croft Vintage Port
– Surprising density for Croft, with lots of mint. Tannins are starting to soften, letting the red fruit settle in a bit. A-
2000 Quinta do Noval Vintage Port – Lots of mint up front, leading to a weirdly bacon-heavy note. Starting to feel past its prime, though it’s actually quite young for Vintage Port, all leather and licorice. A huge disappointment considering how vaunted 2000 was meant to be. B
1997 Warre’s Vintage Port – Feels fresh, with a little bubblegum character. Dried fruit and dark chocolate notes emerge, hinting at meaty, leathery notes, though they’re still in check. B+
1994 Quinta do Noval Vintage Port Nacional – Still youthful, lush with chocolate and cinnamon, all brown sugar and spice. Ripe with raisins and fresh cherries, plus a bit of lavender. Really firing perfectly now. A
1985 Taylor Fladgate Vintage Port – Significant eucalyptus notes lead to black fruit jam, graphite, licorice, and ample spice. The finish really smolders, though it shows ample acidity. Gorgeous now, but with astounding life ahead, to be sure. Best of tasting. A+
1983 Graham’s Vintage Port – Immediate acetone notes feel off. Heavily perfumed, with overwhelming floral notes. Not really to my liking, though it’s shocking youthful at 35 years old. B-
1980 Dow’s Vintage Port – Drinking its age, this is one of the last years of “old-fashioned” production in the Duoro, before modernization began to take hold. Moderately oxidized now, the sherried notes mingle with old wood to ultimately become seductive and austere, though the fruit is fading fast. B+

Review: Stone Scorpion Bowl IPA

Stone’s latest is inspired by tiki culture, and was originally intended to include actual fruit in the brewing process. According to the company, once it the experimentation started, they realized no fruit was needed to give Scorpion Bowl a tiki feel. It carries its fruity character solely from the inclusion of Mosaic, Loral, and Mandarina Bavaria hops.

There’s for sure a tropical vibe here at the start — passion fruit and pineapple, particularly — though the beer is not nearly as fruity as many a New England style IPA hitting the market today. That’s largely due to an earthy, resinous note that invades the finish and lingers for quite a while, ultimately keeping that initial fruit well in check as a heavily ruddy, almost dirty flavor develops. This is one of those beers that I loved for the first third, but found the remainder less and less enchanting as I approached the bottom of the glass.

7.5% abv.

B+ / $5 per 22 oz bottle / stonebrewing.com

Review: Stillhouse Black Bourbon

While I have trouble believing that “America’s Finest” anything is packaged in the same type of can that they sell turpentine in, I am pleased to see that Stillhouse — best known for its increasingly chaotic line of flavored moonshines (mint chip whiskey, anyone?) — is taking things upmarket. Now Stillhouse is out with a wholly new line, ditching the red can for a black one, which is appropriate because it’s called Black Bourbon.

What’s Black Bourbon? Black Bourbon is a real bourbon (well, “blended bourbon”), made with corn, rye, and barley and then aged in new charred oak, which is then “rested & mellowed” in roasted coffee beans. Yes, there are a lot of questions here about how and where the bourbon is made, how old it is, and what “rested & mellowed” means, but when you’re drinking out of a paint thinner can, one has little need for the answers to such questions. One is mainly concerned with how the stuff actually tastes.

The answer: OK. I’ve had worse cheap whiskey, and I’ve had better. The nose here is fairly basic, quite hot with rough popcorn notes and plenty of raw alcohol/petrol character. On the palate, nothing particularly special leaps forward, either: Heavy popcorn indicates youth, as does the harsh burn on the back of the throat. (This is not a whiskey that anyone is going to describe as “smooth.”) There is a coffee element here, but it’s fleeting at first, and frankly it’s overwhelmed by notes of roasted peanuts, blackstrap molasses, and clove cigarettes. You’ll find a lot of the same elements in bottom-shelf bourbons on the market, but Stillhouse does have a reprise hint of coffee that lingers on the back end, helping to distinguish the whiskey from the fray, at least a little.

80 proof.

C / $30 / stillhouse.com

Review: Wines of Ironstone, 2018 Releases

Ironstone Vineyards can be found in the Gold Country town of Murphys, California, part of the Lodi appellation. Today we look at four whites and one red from this affordable producer, part of the 2018 release cycle.

2016 Ironstone Chardonnay Lodi – Very bacony, with notes of oxidized apples, lemon, and old wood. Texturally a bit gummy, with a harsh finish that screaems of wood oil and cooking sherry. C- / $11

2017 Ironstone Sauvignon Blanc Lodi – Tropical and approachable, with fruit and acidity in check. A burst of lemon and some grapefruit are fully in line with expectations, though the finish is a bit ruddy and rough. B / $10

2016 Ironstone Chenin Blanc Lodi – Very crisp and floral, this chenin blanc offers notes of honeysuckle and buttercups, with a tart fruit backbone that’s driven by white peach and pineapple notes. Very easygoing — the best white in the collection by far. B+ / $10

2016 Ironstone Merlot Lodi – A heavily savory merlot, overloaded with notes of bacon, roast beef, and muddy earth. It’s very green, almost dirty, with virtually no fruit or much of anything else to engage the palate. Hard pass. D / $12

2016 Ironstone Obsession Symphony – Bottled under a second label, with different branding. This is a blend of 85% symphony grapes (a hybrid of muscat of Alexandria and grenache gris), 10% muscat, and 5% chenin blanc. Quite sweet, but with an herbaceous edge, a mix of tropical fruit, melon, honeysuckle, and a hint of rosemary. Interesting as a dessert-friendly wine. B- / $12


Review: Glenmorangie Grand Vintage Malt 1990 and 1989

Last year, Glenmorangie launched a new series of whiskies called the Bond House series, because it’s the last stocks named after the original production facility the distillery ever used. The Bond House series is open ended, and will contain whiskies aged between 25 and 30 years — with each designed to be very different from one another.

Stocks are low, and with Bond House #1, the Grand Vintage Malt 1990, they were so rare we never got to taste it when it was released in 2017. Today we are fortunate to bring you coverage not just of Bond House #1, but also of the newly released Bond House #2, 2018’s installment in the series.

Both were tasted at a live event in Sausalito, California.

Glenmorangie Grand Vintage Malt 1990 – This 2017 release is a 26 year old whiskey, a vatting of bourbon barrel and Oloroso sherry barrel stock, both fully matured (i.e., this is not a finished whisky). The nose is downright gorgeous, a mix of sharp citrus, light raisin notes, and sweet dates, lush and inviting. On the palate, the whisky totally explodes, showing lots of lemon and orange fruit, apricots, some almonds, and a bit of coconut. Nougat notes layer on more chewy sweetness on the finish, keeping the focus squarely on delighting the palate and the mind. 86 proof. A+ / $600

Glenmorangie Grand Vintage Malt 1989 – The date is older, but don’t get confused, this is the 2018 Bond House #2 release, released at 27 years of age in bourbon barrels, with an unusual finishing stint in Cote Rotie wine barrels. This wine (a modern release was tasted at the event) is funky, with a gamy, peppery note that dominates heavy red and black fruit elements. Its impact on the whisky is evident, giving it a much darker color and a bolder nose — sharp, with some of that pepper coming through. The palate is nutty, with toasted coconut notes and more hints at that wine finish, which provide some notes of roasted meat and a lingering earthiness. Sultry on the finish, it smolders more than it lingers. 86 proof. A / $800


Review: Garofoli 2015 Podium and 2017 Macrina

Garofoli is the oldest family-owned winery in the Marche region of Italy, where it’s been producing wines since 1871. Today we look at its best-known wine — verdicchio — in two expressions (and from two different vintages).

2015 Garofoli Podium Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore DOC – 100% single vineyard verdicchio, all stainless. Sharp on the tongue and a bit sour at times, this wine is loaded with lemon/lime notes, edged with an herbal character that recalls rosemary and a hint of anise. Very tart finish. B+ / $25

2017 Garofoli Macrina Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore DOC – The everyday version of the above wine, a blend of various vineyards, but still 100% verdicchio. Heavy on citrus — orange and apricot — but loaded with acidity, it’s got an earthiness underneath the fruit that recalls forest floor and a bit of the anise found in Podium. B+ / $14


Review: Cihuatan Rum Reserva Especial 12

El Salvador isn’t a country one typically associates with rum, but it turns out they’re making some interesting stuff here, at Cihuatan Ron de El Salvador.

Cihuatan, which was established in 2004, focuses on solera aged rum, and though this bottle notes it was “aged in bourbon casks for 12 years,” as with most solera products, it’s unclear if all of the rum spends that long in barrel, or if that’s an average or even a maximum age.

It comes across rather on the youthful side, with an immediate focus on the nose on banana, nutmeg, and clove notes, all with a slightly floral bent. The palate is quite light (much lighter than the relatively dark color would indicate), again heavy on the banana notes, though here it sees the addition of some coconut and light chocolate character. The finish is exotic, with lingering creme de banana liqueur, cafe au lait, and Bit-O-Honey candies.

While there are a lot of unique elements here, the experience is marred a bit by a relatively gummy body, which lingers a bit on the finish alongside all that fruit, which ultimately turns a bit overripe, almost cloying with too much sweetness. While it’s still worth a look, it’s more capable as a mixer than a straight sipper.

80 proof.

B / $55 / cihuatanrum.com

Review: Beers of New Belgium, 2018 Releases

Today we present four new beers from the ever-cranking innovators of New Belgium Brewing. Probably safe to say you’ll see plenty more from these guys later in the year.

New Belgium The Hemperor HPA – The wildest brew in this lineup, this “world’s dankest ale” is an IPA brewed with both hops and hemp hearts (seeds) to create, indeed, a very dank beer. Though the beer does not contain THC, it will sure make you smell like it. Pungent and weedy (unlike, say, Medicator), it’s bongwater in a bottle, at least at the funky start. As the beer evolves in the glass, more of the hop character comes into focus, layering in piney hops and a touch of citrus. The finish even finds room for a bit of dark chocolate character. And, you know, a toke. 7% abv. B / $12 per six-pack

New Belgium Mural Agua Fresca Cerveza – This is a collaboration between New Belgium and Cervecería Primus in Mexico City. The idea: “To brew a revolutionary new beer style in the spirit of international collaboration … an innovative new concept in craft beer that merges the tradition of Mexico’s refreshing agua fresca drinks with the ingenuity and craftsmanship of two breweries.” It’s a weird combo, mixing in watermelon, lime, hibiscus, and agave with a Mexican style lager. While the lime and lager are natural friends, the edge of watermelon and hibiscus-driven florals take things into a strange territory, where fruit gives an unnatural sweetness to the proceedings and the floral notes feel a bit too perfumed. I get the idea of mixing beer and agua fresca… but why all the agua frescas at once? 4.2% abv. B- / $8 per six-pack

New Belgium Bicycle Kick Kolsch – This is a massive (and limited) worldwide collaboration among six breweries: New Belgium, Adnams (England), Baird (Japan), Bodebrown (Brazil), Devil’s Peak (South Africa), and Primus (Mexico). And yet it’s decidedly simple. Though chamomile and lemongrass are added to the brew, it drinks largely like an exemplar of the style. Moderately sweet with malt and gently fruity, you can pick out some of the herbal touches driven by the chamomile, but otherwise it comes across as crisp and fresh, with just a dollop of salted caramel. Definitely one to grab while you can. 5.1% abv. A- / $15 per 12-pack (cans only)

New Belgium Tartastic Strawberry Lemon Ale – This latest addition to the Tartastic series is much less sour than most entries in the line, with a more restrained fruit character. It’s more like a shandy than other Tartastic expressions, the strawberry notes giving it a piquant kick on the back end. While few of the Tartastic beers do a lot for me, this one comes across as refreshing and summery. 4.2% abv. B+ / $8 per six-pack


Review: Don Q Double Aged Rum Vermouth Cask Finish

Puerto Rico’s Don Q continues to show itself as one of the most innovative producers of rum in the business. Its latest is this almost bizarre bottling, a blend of rums aged 5 to 8 years in bourbon barrels, then finished in Mancino Vermouth Vecchio wine casks. (Mancio Vecchio is a sweet vermouth barrel-aged in Italian white oak.)

Let’s give this thing a try!

Do you like vermouth? I hope so, because DonQ’s latest wears the stuff on its sleeve. The nose is pungent with aromatics — bitter herbs, oxidized white wine, and lots of anise — very little of which you’d ever find in a glass of rum, no matter what the origin. The palate finds a way to meld those characters with more traditional rum trappings, melding the wine notes with coconut and vanilla, berries in syrup, and baking spice.

It’s a strange combination — particularly the wholly unorthodox nose — but it works better than you would expect. A mild gumminess that clings to the finish mars what is otherwise a light and lively rum, but it’s that heavily perfumed character that sticks with you for ages, both in the air and lingering on the tongue.

The question: What to do with this oddball spirit? Sipping straight is a little off-putting, so what about cocktails? If you have any ideas, I’d love to read about them.

80 proof.

B+ / $49 / donq.com

Review: 2015 Kay Brothers Basket Pressed Grenache McLaren Vale

Imagine plump currants juiced into a glass and you have this wine, an incredibly sweet and, well, very fruity experience from Australia’s Kay Brothers. Some time in glass isn’t a bad thing to help bring out some complexity. While still quite sweet, it settles down a bit on the finish after a spell, showing some sour plum notes, a touch of herbs, and an edge of toasted oak.

B- / $35 / quintessentialwines.com

Review: Brenne Ten French Single Malt Whiskey

Brenne is perhaps the best known single malt whiskey made in France, unique thanks to its finishing in Cognac barrels. While regular Brenne doesn’t carry an age statement (it’s typically about 7 years old), Brenne Ten, obviously, does, spending a guaranteed 10 years in a combination of virgin French Limousin oak barrels and barrels previously used for aging Cognac.

That said, compared to Brenne’s NAS version, I don’t see a huge difference between the two expressions.

The extremely pale whiskey nose sees big notes of apples — reminiscent of Calvados — alongside notes of toasted almonds and scorched caramel, plus a vegetal undertone, reminscent of camphor. The palate is a bit gamy, with a harder spice edge and notes of cooked apples, cloves, and spiced nuts. The finish is all applesauce and nutmeg, with hints of tannic oak and more of that meaty gaminess.

Did I mention the apples? That’s the main flavor profile here, through and through, and though I like apples just fine, it just doesn’t give you much to hold on to at a whopping $100 a bottle.

96 proof.

B / $100 / drinkbrenne.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: 2016 Lusco Albarino Rias Baixas

Very tart for albarino, this Spanish white from Adega Pazos de Lusco exudes lime zest and grapefruit rind, built atop a core of lemon and pear fruit. Racy with acidity, it’s almost sour at times, puckering the lips on the intense finish while clinging to the back of the throat. If you’re looking for a wine that’s palate cleansing, almost to a fault, you’ve got it.

B / $21 / opiciwines.com