Tasting the Wines of Crocker & Starr, 2017 Releases

Crocker & Starr is a small outfit in St. Helena, owned by Charlie Crocker (who handles the grapes) and Pam Starr (the winemaker). Together they work the organic vineyard to pull together the best of both the Old World and New World with a goal of showcasing a bit of Napa’s unique terroir.

With a gentle, hands-off winemaking approach, Starr walked a few wine writers through an online tasting of the winery’s current releases. Thoughts on four exceptional wines follow.

2015 Crocker & Starr Sauvignon Blanc – Quite brisk and acidic, but balanced with big peach, pineapple and some vanilla notes, the lattermost of which linger on the finish. Citrus peel notes add nuance. Fun stuff, easy to love. A- / $34

2014 Crocker & Starr Cabernet Franc – Quite a dense wine and a bit of a bruiser; give this one time to open up to showcase its charms, which include coffee and licorice notes atop dusty blackberry bramble, chocolate syrup, and a hint of roasted meats. Incredible depth and length. One to savor as part of a lengthy, lingering meal. A- / $80

2014 Crocker & Starr Stone Place Cabernet Sauvignon – The winery’s centerpiece, this is an old vine cab with notes of blueberry and currants, with ample oak up front but layers of lush, fresh fruit lingering on the back end. While still youthful, this is approachable now and highly worthwhile. A / $120

2014 Crocker & Starr “Casali 6” – 92% malbec, 4% cabernet sauvignon, 4% petit verdot. Casali is Italian for “farmhouse.” This is a lush and nicely balanced wine, one which rides the line between sweet and savory with aplomb. The nose is densely spicy, with cloves and some more savory notes, but on the palate it’s blueberry, some cherry, and a bit of strawberry that sets the agenda. The slightly sweet back end is an intriguing counterpart to what’s come before. A- / $80

crockerstarr.com

Review: Monteru French Brandy – Sauternes Finish, Sherry Finish, and Triple Toast

Maison Monteru makes French brandy and “has its roots” in Cognac, but it’s not a Cognac nor an Armagnac. Monteru is actually based in the town of Pons, a quick 15 mile trip to the south from Cognac, where it produces small batch brandies outside of the strict rules of the big names. Double distilled in Charentais copper pot stills and finished in unique cask types, “this innovative and modern spirit range combines both authenticity and tradition while creating a new product category of brown spirits somewhere between the most traditional brandies and single malt whiskies.”

Arriving first in the U.S. is a trio of small batch brandies (all under 3000 bottles in total production, each hand-numbered), each with a different aging regimen — though all are four years old in total, distilled in 2012 and bottled in 2016. For all three of these brandies, the vast majority of the aging actually takes place in the “finishing” barrel.

Coming soon after will be a series of brandies based on single varietals of grapes. We look forward to bringing you our report on these in the near future. Until then, thoughts on three of Monteru’s inaugural releases hitting our shores follow.

Maison Monteru French Brandy Rare Cask Sauternes Finish – Aged briefly in refill French oak, then finished in Sauternes wine casks. Results are impressive for what must be a relatively young brandy. The nose offers light aromatics in the floral space, with elements of nuts and honey. On the palate, you’ll find some slightly rustic/alcohol-heavy notes, which lead to notes of candied walnuts, golden raisins, more honey, and sugar cookies. Incredibly drinkable yet relatively simple and light on its feet, it’s an everyday brandy that has enough of a spin to it to merit a solid recommendation. 81.6 proof. Reviewed: Batch #002. 1926 bottles released in the U.S. B+

Maison Monteru French Brandy Rare Cask Sherry Oak Finish – This expression, also aged for a few months in refill French oak, is transferred to sherry casks to finish the maturation process. It drinks a lot more like a traditional Cognac, perhaps because sherry has a closer flavor profile to brandy than Sauternes. The nose is again a bit nutty, though here tinged with distinct orange peel notes, so much so that you can see a strong kinship with single malt Scotch. On the palate, the sweeter, dried fruit notes of the brandy mingle with that citrus-driven sherry character to really pump up the fruit, with a finish that offers light baking spice notes and hints of caramel, banana, and sweet cream. As much as love Sauternes anything, everything gels just a bit better in this expression, making it a real, yet modest, treasure. 83.4 proof. Reviewed: Batch #001. 1998 bottles released in the U.S. A-

Maison Monteru French Brandy Triple Toast – Again, a few months in refill French oak lead to a finishing barrel, this one a “triple toast, heavily charred American oak barrel,” which is, I think, a fancy way of saying “old bourbon barrels.” The most whiskeylike of the bunch — understandably — this brandy offers clearer lumberyard and charcoal aromas mingled with sweet wine notes — almost Port-like — alongside some floral elements. The palate settles down on the barrel char notes and lets the burnt sugar and stone fruit character shine through, at least for a time. By the time the finish arrives, the oily viscosity returns and offers a wood-heavy reprise, some menthol notes, and a bit of coconut husk scratchiness. All told it’s a significantly more dense brandy than the two expressions above, charming in its own way but not quite as unique and compelling. 85.4 proof. Reviewed: Batch #003. 1572 bottles released in the U.S. B

each $58 / maisonmonteru.com

A Duet of Spanish Wines Reviewed: 2015 Beronia Rueda and 2013 Torres Celeste Ribera del Duero

No particular theme here, just two wines from along the route of Spain’s Duero River, including a white from Rueda and a red from Ribera del Duero. Thoughts follow.

2015 Beronia Rueda Verdejo – This verdejo is grassy and acidic, drinking a lot like a western sauvignon blanc, with crisp lemon notes up front, followed by honeysuckle and some spice to give it a little spin to one side. A versatile wine, it has a slightly bigger body that hints at marshmallow syrup, but only as an afterthought. B+ / $15

2013 Torres Celeste Ribera del Duero Crianza – Not my favorite wine. A very young nose offers notes of overripe fruit and blunt milk chocolate, while the palate is blown out with bitter herbs, orange peel, and a muddy, almost dirty, finish. Skip. D+ / $14

Review: Redbreast Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey 12 Years Old

Backfilling the database with a review of a much-loved classic from Ireland.

A classic pot-distilled whiskey made from malted and unmalted barley, this triple-distilled spirit is aged in a combination of ex-bourbon and sherry casks (mainly Oloroso), then blended together to create something that has a distinct and unique character in the world of Irish whiskey.

Redbreast 12 is an essential Irish bottling to explore and understand. The nose is nutty, citrusy, and spicy all at once, with significant hints of the underlying grain lying beneath the surface. On the tongue, Redbreast 12 immediately strikes you as a departure from the typical style of gossamer-thin Irish bottlings with its bold and rounded body, offering a power and creaminess that few Irish whiskies can (or, arguably, want to) muster. Here we find flavors of banana, coconut, and sweet marshmallow cream giving way to vanilla-dusted cinnamon toast, butterscotch, and dense nougat notes. It drinks like a deftly sweetened breakfast cereal, with light caramel and chocolate notes lingering on the lasting finish.

Redbreast is a whiskey that’s easy to enjoy and, again, essential to try if you really want to experience the true range that Irish whiskeys have to offer. Redbreast itself calls the 12 year old expression the “definitive expression of traditional Pot Still whiskey,” and, to be honest, it’s hard to debate that claim.

80 proof.

A- / $55 / irishdistillers.ie 

Review: Fuller’s Vintage Ale 2013 Limited Edition

England’s Fuller’s has been brewing its annually-released Vintage Ale since 1997, when it was “created to explore how ‘live’ bottle-conditioned beers mature over time and to provide a vertical tasting experience that focuses on the finest malts and hops of each year.”

And evolve it does. With this brew, now cracked open after more than three years in the bottle (when Fuller’s says its Vintage Ale peaks), Fuller’s old ale has developed a patina of austerity, driven by figs, prunes, and notes of oxidized wine. Layers of cinnamon bread, molasses, dark chocolate syrup, and loads of malt extract make their way to the surface in short order. The finish is very lightly bitter, just enough to temper the malty sweetness that comes before.

Fun and rare stuff… but the question is: Can your palate keep up with the onslaught of flavor and the overwhelming depth of the body? It ain’t easy.

8.5% abv.

B+ / $10 (500ml) / fullers.co.uk

Review: Benromach 35 Years Old

Speyside-based Benromach’s 10 year old expression is a lively but entry-level whisky that’s clearly made with love thanks to owners Gordon & MacPhail, one of Scotch whisky’s most noteworthy independent bottlers. G&M acquired this property, built in 1898, only in 1993 and began producing whisky in 1998. That makes this 35 year old expression a bit of an anachronism; this is stock from an old barrel that came along with the distillery purchase and is only now seeing release.

Matured entirely in first-fill sherry casks, this is a vastly different experience than modern Benromach, which focuses heavily on granary notes tinged with peat. In the 35 year old we find intense, almost overwhelming sherry notes kicking things off on the nose — ample flamed citrus peel galore but also oiled leather, some freshly-mown grass, and a hint of green banana. The palate is rich and fruity, offering notes of fresh tangerine and blood orange, backed up with ample notes of clove-and-cinnamon-heavy baking spices, gingerbread, raisin/prune, walnuts, and a bit of furniture polish creeping on the back end

The finish is spicy, racy, and alive with flavor, providing a callback to the nuttier elements that come to the fore earlier in the experience, ending on a note of coconut and nougat. All told, this is a stellar whisky that, I would be remiss not to mention, you will have to pay handsomely to experience.

86 proof.

A / $700 / benromach.com

Review: 4 Tuscan Wines from Tenuta di Arceno

An Italian outpost of Jackson Family Wines, Tenuta di Arceno is an Italian winery we’ve covered from time to time, with generally stellar results. Today we check out a quartet of new releases, including two of Arceno’s most prized bottlings.

2013 Tenuta di Arceno Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG – A fresh, lively, cherry-heavy wine, it drinks like melted Sucrets (in the best possible way) blended up with savory garden herbs, some licorice, and a dusting of baking spice on the back end. Quite drinkable on its own, and it pairs well with all manner of foods. A- / $25

2010 Tenuta di Arceno Strada al Sasso Chianti Classico Reserva DOCG – Indeed, a classic Classico, with clear tannins up front and notes of wet earth, tobacco, and old wood, atop a cherry-centric core. Brambly and rustic, with some barnyard overtones, the wine is starting to show some age, with touches of balsamic on the finish. Drink now. A- / $35

2011 Tenuta di Arceno Valadorna Toscana IGT – A super-Tuscan of 60% merlot, 25% cabernet sauvignon, and 15% cabernet franc. Very silky and quite floral, the merlot here is front and center, gushing with notes of candied violets, with a back end that offers milk chocolate, licorice candy, and blueberry notes. Though heavy on the fruit, it finds balance in the form of its lacy body and light notes of florals and herbs that weave in and out of the experience. A / $80

2011 Tenuta di Arceno Arcanum Toscana IGT – The top of Arceno’s line — Arcanum is a mix of 60% cabernet franc, 25% merlot, and 15% cabernet sauvignon. Lush and fruity, with chocolate-covered blackberry notes front and center, the wine is studded with notes of cloves, vanilla, and raspberry. Silky and on point, it’s a slightly bolder but more straightforward counterpoint to Valadorna’s more floral expression. A / $100

arcanumwine.com

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