Tasting the Wines of Onward, 2017 Releases

Onward is a wine brand run by winemaker Faith Armstrong, who creates these wines sustainably, organically, and biodynamically. During a recent live tasting, Armstrong talked through a collection of five new releases, with a special focus on her most beloved baby, Pét-Nat.

Thoughts follow.

2016 Onward Pét-Nat of Malvasia Bianca Suisun Valley – If wine writers truly have their finger on the pulse of the consumer, pétillant-naturel wine, or Pét-Nat, is all the rage in New York. (Think orange wine, but this year.) This is the first bottle I’ve ever actually encountered in California. Pét-Nat is a sparkling wine, made via a primitive process that predates Champagne. Namely, it undergoes only one fermentation, which is completed in the bottle without added sugar (making Pét-Nat a completely dry, but fizzy, wine). Pét-Nat is hazy and relatively low in alcohol — this one’s 12.6% abv — and crown-capped, not corked. This wine from Onward offers crisp notes of melon and pear, with no sweetness whatsoever. It’s quite an alarming experience, not to have that sugar, because the initial fruit rush messes with your mind. The fizzy melon notes give way to a very dry, herbal, somewhat mushroomy finish. Let the fizziness subside a bit (and the wine warm up a little) for the best — and wholly unique — experience. B+ / $24

2015 Onward Suisun Valley Malvasia Bianca – Basically the same wine as above (different vintage), without the sparkling treatment. Here more of the herbal notes are evident, along with strong lemon/lemongrass character. The melon-heavy core remains, but the fresh herbs make a big return on the finish. Quite acidic. B / $20

2016 Onward Rosé of Pinot Noir – Immediately a little funky, again showcasing some mushroom notes atop a core that is less strawberry and more cantaloupe, with grassy, herbal, and some oddly savory character to boot. While refreshing in its own way, this rose grabs at the back of the throat in a strange manner, finishing on a heavily vegetal note. B- / $22

2013 Onward Hawkeye Ranch Redwood Valley Pinot Noir – So thin in color you can see right through it. Earthy on the nose, with dusty flavors of tart cherry, licorice, and some cinnamon leading the way to a finish that is awfully bitter and rustic (for better or worse). C+ / $38

2014 Onward Casa Roja Carignane Contra Costa County – A rustic expression of an already rustic wine, this carignane bottling showcases the wines meaty core, folding in roasted nuts, mushroom, licorice, and miscellaneous vegetation. Drinkable, but not showing much fruit. B / $30

onwardwines.com

Review: Warship Rum

Warship Rum is a sourced spirit that originally hails from Paraguay, where it is made from fair-trade, organic blackstrap molasses. That rum is shipped at 189.5 proof in drums to Portland, Oregon, where proprietor (and Canadian native) Olivier Beaulieu-Grise brings it down to 80 proof and filters it, then hand-bottles the finished product. The rum is otherwise bottled as is, without aging, and without any added sugar (but with a fancy paper wrapper).

As you might expect, the nose on this uncolored rum has the funk of an unaged white rum, heavy with notes of decaying vegetation, overripe fruit, and white vinegar notes. It’s a youthful slap to the face, but the body offers much more finesse: cutting the hogo with the silky sweetness of spun sugar, tropical fruit, coconut-studded chocolate bars, and even a bit of raspberry jam. The finish is a banana bomb, with hints of burlap-like coconut husk.

For an unaged white rum, Warship shows a surprising depth and versatility that merits some exploration.

80 proof. Reviewed: Barrel #2.

B+ / $22 / warshiprum.com

Review: 2015 Robert Mondavi Private Selection Chardonnay Aged in Bourbon Barrels

Now that red wine aged in ex bourbon barrels is a real thing, it’s natural that it would extend to something new: white wine.

Robert Mondavi Private Selection Chardonnay is sourced from Monterey County, then aged in standard oak barrels for nine months. A portion of this is then further aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels, instead of new or neutral oak, for two months, then blended back with the regularly-aged wine before bottling.

The results here are more successful than with Mondavi’s prior bourbon-aged cabernet. The vanilla and caramel of bourbon are a more natural fit with buttery chardonnay than cabernet. Fans of big butter and bigger oak on their wine will find nothing to complain about here, the heavy vanilla character giving this a real dessert-like character. I’m glad Mondavi took the foot off the gas after two months; too much more and this wine would have been blasted out of the water with those hefty whiskey notes. On the flipside, fans of more acidic wines will want to avoid this one.

On the whole, the bourbon effect is rich and present — clearly noticeable from start to finish — but it still lets a bit of the underlying fruit, here showing as green apple and some tropical pineapple, shine through. There’s nothing fancy at work, to be sure, but it works well enough for a $11 wine.

B / $11 / robertmondaviprivateselection.com

Review: Ledaig 19 Years Old 1996

Ledaig, produced at Tobermory on the Isle of Mull, makes an 18 year old expression as a standard bottling. This is a vintage expression distilled in 1996, bottled at 19 years old. So, one louder. This expression is aged in Oloroso sherry casks (though it’s unclear if that is full maturation or just a finishing).

The whisky has a significant similarity to the 18. I don’t have the 18 on hand for side by side comparisons, but my notes are quite similar on the whole. On the nose it’s thickly peaty, with sea spray and iodine making only a minor impact against the dense and smoky/rubbery core. The palate finds more nuance, the sherry notes giving a velvet wrapping to the peat underneath, though here the whisky has more sweetness than you’ll find in the 18. That helps even out some of the briny seaweed and coal smoke character and gives it a suppleness that rounds out the finish and elevates the spirit above more straightforward peat bombs.

92.6 proof.

B+ / $159 / tobermorydistillery.com

Review: Guinness Irish Wheat

Guinness’s latest addition to its ever-expanding lineup of novelty brews is, per the company, a first for any brewer: A beer made with 100% Irish wheat malt.

No big surprises then with Guinness Irish Wheat. It’s a Hefeweizen fermented with Guinness’s custom yeast. That makes for a curious combination — malty, fruity with orange peel, and herbal with notes of caraway seed. But most of all it’s got those big, toasty bread overtones. The funny part is that there’s a slightly sour edge to it. Nothing overbearing, just a hint of tart cherry that comes along a bit unexpectedly.

The finish is bready and a bit pungent at times, which makes for a more powerful wheat beer than you might be used to, with a funkier punch than that bottle of Blue Moon.

5.3% abv.

B / $8 per six pack of 11.2 oz bottles / guinness.com

Review: 2013 Beaulieu Vineyard Rarity and 2013 Georges de Latour Cabernet Sauvignon (and More) with Winemaker Jeffrey Stambor

We’ve been fans of Beaulieu Vineyard for years, but after nearly three decades at the winery, winemaker Jeffrey Stambor is passing the reins to someone else. Trevor Durling takes over now, and he’s faced with the mighty task of producing high-quality wine at an operation with 117 years of history behind it.

Recently I met both Stambor and Durling in San Francisco to taste a very special release: BV Rarity, the fifth ever release of this wine, and the first ever bottled as a Cabernet Sauvignon (the rest were field blends). 2013 Rarity began its life as a sub-selection of the highly regarded Georges de Latour Cabernet Sauvignon bottling (which is also reviewed below), and is bottled only in magnums (and carries a four-figure price tag).

Thoughts on everything tasted at our hour-long meetup follow.

1975 Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Cabernet Sauvignon – Well here’s a fun way to start the day, with a 42 year old bottle of cab. Brick red and well oxidized, this is a delicate and quite faded wine with notes of Madeira, lilacs, jasmine, and walnut oil. Austere with amontillado sherry notes and ample, old wood character, it fades from leather to motor oil to, ultimately, just a hint of fruit — blueberries, mainly. Moments of genius remain in this wine, but they’re incredibly fleeting and available only to those with ample patience. B+ / $120

2012 Beaulieu Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Clone 4 – This is a semi-experimental wine designed to test the vinification viability of a single clone of a cabernet grape, in this case Clone 4. The nose is full of chocolate and boysenberry, with a palate bold with vanilla, cocoa powder, walnuts, and currants. Lots of grip, but a worthwhile endeavor. B+ / $165

2012 Beaulieu Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve  Clone 6 – Now consider another clone, Clone 6: This wine is so much softer and well rounded, with rich blueberry and cassis giving the wine a lively but fruit-forward structure. Chocolate and caramel sauce notes grow in time. You can see the family resemblance with the Clone 4 bottling, but here the wine is elevated to another level. A / $165

2013 Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Cabernet Sauvignon – The 77th vintage of this wine, it’s a bold cabernet but lively and surprisingly ready to drink today. Immediately familiar (see our reviews of 2006 and 2010 GdL), with a clear menthol nose to it, it offers chocolate sauce and caramel (hints of Clone 6?), silky tannins, spice, and more — and has plenty of life left in the bottle for those who want to wait a few years. A- / $100

2013 Beaulieu Vineyard Rarity – Immediate notes of earthy terroir and an incredible amount of tannin hit the senses immediately, yet some acidity is detectable beneath the surface. There’s so much potential here, bound up in the dense currants and delectable notes of roasted meats, supple oak, and stony backbone that it’s hard to fairly judge today. Stambor’s best guess is to drink this seven to 15 years from now; it’s a bit unfair to guess at a rating today, but such is the work of a critic… A / $1000 (magnum)

bvwines.com

-->