Review: 2016 Sonoma-Cutrer Rose of Pinot Noir Russian River Valley

This rose of pinot noir is Sonoma-Cutrer’s latest limited edition Winemaker’s Release — crafted from fruit in Block C of Owsley Ranch, which was cultivated to become Sonoma-Cutrer’s first rosé. Designed to loosely mimic a Provence rose, it’s a floral wine, loaded with strawberry but with a hint of orange to add some nuance. Brisk and acidic, with only a touch of brown sugar on the finish, it’s a beautifully balanced rose that’s just right for springtime.

A- / $25 / sonomacutrer.com

Review: Don Q Oak Barrel Spiced Rum

The latest product from Destilería Serrallés, the Puerto Rican producers of Don Q Rum, is a natural line extension: spiced rum.

The catch? Don Q Oak Barrel Spiced Rum is an aged, spiced rum. The spirit is made from “a blend of Puerto Rican rums that have been aged for a minimum of three years and up to six years.” The aged rum is them spiced with a blend of vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. It’s also bottled slightly overproof — not at 70 proof like many mainstream spiced rums on the market.

The rum is immediately quite dry, even on the nose, which is laden with baking spices, particularly nutmeg, plus notes of toffee, gingerbread, and hints of black tea. Barrel influence is evident in the form of bold vanilla aromas as well. This leads to again a quite dry palate that has only a modest amount of sugar, those baking spices and the natural fruit character of the rum working to provide what sense of sweetness the rum has to offer. Lightly nutty and a little floral, the spice and fruit work side by side to give the rum a complexity not often seen in spiced rums. A little brown butter and some smoldering notes of cloves and barrel char on the back end serves to complete a surprisingly elegant and approachable package.

90 proof.

A- / $30 / donq.com

Review: Wines of Columbia Winery, 2017 Releases

 

We last met with Columbia Winery in 2014  Since then, the winery has dramatically revamped its labels, so you might not recognize these bottlings are from the same company. As always, Columbia focuses on affordable yet authentic wine from Washington’s Columbia Valley. Let’s taste four new releases.

2014 Columbia Winery Chardonnay Columbia Valley – A workable chardonnay, with hints of butterscotch and spice amidst the otherwise butter/vanilla combo that you’ve probably come to know quite well. The body is reasonable in body without being overbearing, and the finish is lightly woody and a bit chewy. Worthwhile at this price. B+ / $14

2014 Columbia Winery Merlot Columbia Valley – Soft but enjoyable, this wine offers ample herbal notes, light florals, and a cherry-heavy core. The finish shows off more bitter grip than what’s come before, but that’s probably a good thing, as it provides some much-needed complexity. B- / $16

2014 Columbia Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley – Again, a workmanlike cab (catching a theme here?), with ample tannin atop cherries and currants, lightly jammy on the finish but showing some good grip. B / $16

NV Columbia Winery Red Blend – A blend of merlot and syrah, which showcases both the floral character of merlot and the meatiness of the syrah. Not a bad combination, which shows a bit of smoked bacon, cherry fruit, and some rhubarb. Simple, lightly bittersweet finish, with hints of white pepper. A solid value wine. B / $14

Review: Tequila Codigo 1530 Complete Lineup

Tequila Codigo, launched in late 2016, has plenty of industry power behind it, but it also finds support in the form of country icon George Strait, who is an investor and brand ambassador.

Made in the region of Los Bajos, these are all 100% blue agave tequilas. Curiously, all of the aged expressions spend time not in ex-bourbon barrels, which is traditional, but rather in used French oak Napa cabernet sauvignon wine barrels. This takes Codigo’s tequilas in an entirely new direction, for better or for worse.

Five expressions in total are produced. Four are reviewed here — all save for Rosa, which is aged for just one month in those wine barrels and is colored pink. All expressions are bottled at 80 proof. Thoughts on the primary four expressions follow.

Tequila Codigo 1530 Blanco – Unaged. Very peppery on the nose, with overtones of overripe fruit. The body is unusual, with notes of baked apples, roasted meat, and ripe banana. Some cinnamon character endures on the finish, but the overall impact is a little disjointed and tough to fully engage with. B- / $49

Tequila Codigo 1530 Reposado – Spends six months in Napa cabernet barrels. Lots of dessert notes here, though they find a strange bedfellow in the nose that also showcases peppery and agave-laden notes. The palate is heavily influenced by brown sugar, banana, caramel, and some toasted marshmallow notes. Though the body’s a little on the gummy side, but it offers some fun tart and spicy notes on the finish — with hints of chocolate. B+ / $69

Tequila Codigo 1530 Anejo – 18 months of oak give this a nose of well-integrated agave and caramel, in equal proportions, The anejo pumps up the ripe fruit character of the reposado, layering in more baking spice notes and lots of vanilla. Hints of coffee on the back end — with lots of cream. B+ / $119

Tequila Codigo 1530 Origen – This is Codigo’s extra anejo, aged a whopping 6 years in those cabernet barrels. The nose here takes things in an entirely new direction, with intense aromas of camphor and antiseptic. None of the sweetness or even the base agave is present aromatically. On the palate, a similar hospital character is heavy, pungent with alcohol, rubber, and notes of motor oil. I can’t say that I’ve ever experienced a tequila that has spent too much time in wood (whiskey yes, tequila no), but I guess there’s a first time for everything. D / $249

codigo1530.com

Review: Virginia Distillery Port Finished Virginia Highland Malt Whisky

Virginia Distillery — which takes authentic single malt from Scotland and finishes it in unique barrels in Virginia — is back with another release, and like its inaugural release, this one finished in Port wine barrels. (Again, note that this expression differs from that first release and carries a different label.) The first Virginia release to carry a batch label (this one’s #3), the malt is finished in Port barrels from King Family Vineyards, Horton Vineyards, and Virginia Wineworks, for 12 to 26 months depending on the particular barrel.

The deep amber color is enticing, leading into a nose that is salty, a bit sweaty even, with hints of seaweed, roasted grains, and banana bread. The nose is a bit floral at times, much like Virginia’s Cider Barrel Matured release, though there’s no real hint of the raisiny Port notes from the finishing barrel.

There’s more evidence of the Port barrel on the palate, but even here it’s quite restrained, allowing more toasty cereal notes, vanilla-heavy barrel char, citrus peel, and hints of iodine to show themselves more fully. The Port influence becomes clearer as the finish approaches, though it takes on a chocolate character primarily, along with some hints of nutmeg and cinnamon. All told, it does bear significant resemblance to the original Virginia bottling, though here everything seems less well-realized, less mature, and generally a bit undercooked. While it’s still got plenty to recommend it, it simply lacks the magic of some of Virginia’s other releases.

92 proof.

B / $58 / vadistillery.com

Bar Review: Mezcalito, San Francisco

You needn’t think too hard to figure out what the spiritual focus of San Francisco’s Mezcalito, a bar and restaurant which opened seven months ago. It’s right there in the name.

At a recent tasting, bar manager Adam Mangold walked us through a good chunk of the extensive cocktail list here, almost all of which involves healthy doses of mezcal.

Mangold welcomed us with a small pour of Union Uno, the house mezcal, served with chili-spiced pineapple and orange slices. This is a fresh and clean starter mezcal, light on the smoke and earthy notes, with a restrained body. It was an excellent entry to the broader list, when things get more exciting.

Straight out of the gate, Mangold hit a home run by crafting the establishment’s Maracuya Sour, which blends Siete Misterios mezcal, passion fruit, vanilla agave, lime, and egg whites. Peychaud’s bitters are spritzed across the top of the frothy drink, using a stencil to leave a big red M across the drink. Tropical, with a big lime kick, it’s a fresh and fun drink with a subtle smokiness, growing in power as the volume of liquid left in the glass drops.

The Fresita de San Felipe was originally made with gin, but the bar recently swapped it for reposado tequila, which pairs with a strawberry jalapeno shrub, ginger, and lime. It’s a solid drink, but I found the herbal notes a little hefty, overwhelming the strawberry notes, which I’d love to see more of.

The Tequila Pimm’s Cup is exactly what it says, a Latin spin on a classic Pimm’s, with cucumber-infused blanco tequila, Pimm’s No. 1, mint, lime, ginger, and ginger beer to finish it off. The presentation of the drink is gorgeous, and the character is akin to a spiked iced tea, punchy with an herbal kick on the back end. Summery but bold, it’s both curious and refreshing.

Jonathan’s Gin & Tonic (that’s the official name) is just now debuting on the cocktail list, and it’s a Barcelona-style G&T, spiked with mezcal (of course). Gin, mezcal, and Fever Tree Mediterranean Tonic Water are the core of the drink, but it’s the addition of dried hibiscus that takes this to another level. Bold and bitter at first, the hibiscus slowly infuses into the drink over 10 to 15 minutes to give it a fresh, floral character — and coloring the initially clear cocktail a lovely shade of pink. Your patience is rewarded on this one with a complex and vibrant cocktail.

Closing off the night after a dinner of traditional and not-so-traditional Mexican dishes, ranging from fresh oysters with smoked mignonette (a killer combo with mezcal) to a lobster role with chili butter on the side, Mangold brought by the Xoco-Mil, a dessert cocktail made with mezcal, Aperol, creme de cacao, yellow Chartreuse, and cream soda. A very grown-up milkshake, it’s a sultry, spicy chocolate kick that is fun and filling. Pro tip: Ditch the straw and drink it from the top to get bits of the cocoa garnish with every sip.

None of these sound like they’re to your liking? Check out one of the dozens of mezcals, many of which are incredibly hard to find, on the mezcal list.

Review: Michter’s Single Barrel Bourbon 10 Years Old 2017

A new release of Michter’s top-shelf 10 year old single barrel bourbon is here, approved for release by new Master Distiller Pamela Heilmann, who has taken over for Willie Pratt. Same story as always: This is sourced bourbon (from whom, Michter’s doesn’t say), but it is bottled at a full 10 years old, which isn’t something you see too much of these days.

Michter’s 10 year old single barrel is always a whiskey with a lot going on (and plenty to recommend it), and Heilmann has not missed any strides en route to this release. The nose is relatively restrained, offering modest notes of cinnamon red hots and ripe banana, atop a somewhat gentle vanilla/caramel core. The palate is spicier — is there more rye in the bill or is it just me? — with fresh ginger and mint, more of those red hots, and some smoldering, burnt sugar notes that linger for a while. The finish is a bit crunchy with barrel char and a hint of flamed orange peel, but also a touch gummy on the fade-out, sticking a bit uncomfortably to the cheeks.

While the 2015 release is marginally better, this 2017 expression is plenty enjoyable on its own terms.

94.4 proof. Reviewed: Barrel #17B302.

A- / $170 / michters.com

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