Review: 2015 Schloss Johannisberg Gelblack Riesling Feinherb Rheingau

Drinking a riesling like Schloss Johannisberg’s Gelblack bottling reminds me that I should be drinking more (German) riesling. This Rheingau-sourced wine is just a bit tropical, its nearly dry but honey-flavored core layered with notes of baking spice and gingerbread. The finish is dry but satisfyingly refreshing, again hinting at those pineapple-dusted tropical notes.

A- / $18 /

Review: Scrappy’s Bitters – Seville Orange and Chocolate

Like any good bitters brand, Scrappy’s focuses on natural infusions and uses organic ingredients whenever possible. Produced in Seattle, the Scrappy’s line now runs to at least 11 varieties of bitters. We received two of the most popular — orange and chocolate — for review.

Thoughts follow.

Scrappy’s Bitters Seville Orange – Check out the little chunks of orange peel on the bottom of the bottle. This is a bitters with the focus squarely on the bitter element: Orange notes are filtered through a heavily bitter edge, with secondary notes of clove and licorice filling in the cracks. If you like an orange bitters that isn’t really a syrup in disguise, Scrappy’s is an excellent pick. 47.5% abv. B+  [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Scrappy’s Bitters Chocolate – These bitters aren’t as overwhelmingly bitter as the orange, finding more of a balance between clear dark chocolate notes and some sweeter character that’s driven by brown sugar. The finish offers a touch of coffee character that could add some nuance to a cocktail. 47.6% abv. A- [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

each $18 /

Review: Wines of Francis Ford Coppola, 2017 Releases

I never get too excited when the massive box of Coppola wines show up, as quality tends to be all over the map. Well, with the 2017 releases (all from the 2015 vintage), that’s changed. Someone is clearly paying attention to quality at Coppola, and things have improved across the board, sometimes dramatically.

Let’s look at the latest wines from FFC: 3 reds, 3 whites.

2015 Virginia Dare Chardonnay Russian River Valley – A brisk and minimally oaked chardonnay, this lemon-scented wine offers a touch of marshmallow character and some butterscotch to sweeten up the proceedings — but ample acidity on the back end tempers the wine and gives it some length. B+ / $20

2015 Francis Ford Coppola Reserve Chardonnay Dutton Ranch-Jewell Vineyard – This is a bold and buttery chardonnay, but it finds balance in notes of pear and cinnamon-dusted apple, and crisp minerality that gives it a more acidic edge than expected. A squeeze of lemon lifts up the finish. A- / $38

2015 Francis Ford Coppola Chardonnay Director’s Cut Russian River Valley – A super-buttery and woody expression of chardonnay, though notes of grapefruit and allspice lift it out of that overly obvious experience and give it some acidity to grab onto. B+ / $17

2015 Francis Ford Coppola Pinot Noir Director’s Cut Russian River Valley – A moderate to dense pinot noir, this wine features a spicy nose that gives way to a considerably fruit-forward core, featuring brambly blackberry, cherry, and more baking spice layered into it. Slightly on the sweeter side of the aisle, it’s nonetheless a crowd-pleaser (despite the unorthodox bottle choice). B+ / $20

2015 Virginia Dare Pinot Noir Russian River Valley – As with the 2014 release, this is a perfectly pleasant pinot that would fit in perfectly well on any table. Ample notes of cherry, cola, and tea leaf give the wine plenty of depth, all atop a body of ample density and power. The finish is lightly spicy and only a touch on the sweet side. All told, this wine deserves a better label than it was given. B+ / $23

2015 Votre Sante Pinot Noir Anderson Valley – Don’t look now but Votre Sante now has an Anderson Valley designation instead of a rotgut California one. It’s a far better wine than before, too, leading with herbs and spice and venturing from there into notes of dried fruits and gentle tannin. A restrained wine, but it’s really quite compelling. A- / $35

Review: Galliano L’Aperitivo

Campari knockoffs — or, if you prefer, homages — continue to flood the market, and the latest one comes from an unlikely brand: Galliano.

Bottled in the classically conical decanter, Galliano L’Aperitivo is “is a unique blend of 50 ingredients including herbs and Mediterranean citrus such as orange, bergamot, bitter orange, chinotto, tangerine and grapefruit.”

On the amaro spectrum, Galliano is a bit sweeter than Campari, with floral overtones on the nose that segue into more citrus aromas — particularly bitter orange peel and grapefruit. There’s more of that bitter citrus on the palate, classic bitter root and quinine notes, cinnamon, and a reprise of dried florals on the finish. All told, it’s a surprisingly drinkable amaro on its own, and its punchy citrus character makes it a delightful mixer, too.

A- / $17 (375ml) /

Review: Wines of Amazon’s Next, 2017 Releases

If you know Oregon wine, you probably know King Estate, which has been producing quality (but not outrageously-priced) wine since 1991. Now the King family has launched a new brand: Next, “the first wine ever developed from conception to release with Amazon Wine.” (Four more new labels are also in the works.)

So, don’t call it a second label, I guess, but let’s dig into the three initial wines — all available on Amazon! — and see how they fare.

2016 Next Pinot Gris Willamette Valley – This is a fresh expression of Willamette pinot gris, lightly floral with modest tropical notes, the pineapple and mango leading the way to a brightly acidic core that’s studded with touches of cinnamon and a finish that’s crisp, clean, and aromatic. Really quite lovely. A- / $20  [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

2015 Next Pinot Noir Oregon – The generalist “Oregon” AVA sounds suspect, but Next turns in a respectable little pinot with this bottling, loaded up with well-rounded notes of roasted meats, menthol, and an ample, if lightly oxidized-tasting, note of blackberries layered with spice. B+ / $40  [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

2014 Next Red Blend Columbia Valley – A Washington blend, 39% Syrah, 38% Merlot, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon. A bolder wine, but well-balanced with notes of clove, sweet plum, currants, and a dense but fruit-filled finish. B+ / $30  [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Review: Chateau Montelena 2014 Zinfandel and 2013 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

Some of the first big reds of the season are here — here’s a look at two new wines dropping from Napa icon Chateau Montelena, including the winery’s flagship estate cabernet release.

2014 Chateau Montelena Zinfandel Calistoga – A dry expression of zinfandel, with notes of cassis and black cherry, with a peppery nuance to the nose particularly. The body is loaded with fruit without being jammy, with a finish that evokes some fresh herbs and a touch of barnyard on the back end. Atypical of zin, though quite expressive. A- / $39

2013 Chateau Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Calistoga – A very dry cab, this wine’s notes of currants, dried flowers, and baking spice are restrained but vibrant and alive, finishing on something of a cherry note. The wine right now is a bit tannic and relatively closed off, but some time in bottle should help develop what feels to be an exceptional core. I’m particularly interested to see if those floral notes develop into something bigger with a bit more age. A- / $160

Review: 2015 Vale do Bomfim Douro DOC

This is a dry red wine produced by Symington’s Dow’s operation, best known for its Port wine production. The grapes (30% Tinta Barroca, 25% Touriga Nacional, 25% Touriga Franca, 15% Tinta Roriz, and 5% Tinto Cão) are grown in the same Douro Valley and is made from the same grapes as Port, only it is vinified to be totally dry. (Initially the wine was not for commercial sale but just used internally by the family.)

Notes of sweet licorice and a slight green pepper are surprisingly engaging on the nose. This leads to an engaging palate of roasted meats, peppery grilled vegetables, more of that licorice, and a sultry, charred wood character on the finish. There’s lots of complexity here, and it’s a wine that drinks well above expectations considering its extremely low price.

A- / $13 /