Review: 2015 Mia Bea Chardonnay and Petite Sirah

Barra Family Vineyards is a small, family-owned vineyard in Mendocino County. In 2014, the vineyard owners decided to use some of the harvest to make their own wine, a chardonnay. This year, they’ve expanded and are now offering their first red, a petite sirah.

We tasted both wines from the newly released 2015 vintage. Thoughts follow.

2015 Mia Bea Mendocino Chardonnay – Buttery and thick with vanilla, but dialed back enough to let a bit of spice and some herbal notes push through. A slightly syrupy body gives it a very lengthy finish, which works against it a bit, letting some lingering bitter notes creep up in the end. B / $22

2015 Mia Bea Mendocino Petite Sirah – While densely purple, this wine drinks with more delicacy than expected from a petite sirah, giving its dense raspberry and blackberry notes at the core a slightly floral touch. The finish is a touch earthy, with some licorice notes on top and a smattering of fresh thyme. A- / $28

miabeawines.com

Review: The Spice Lab Special Touch Premium Mixology Case

Nothing’s more fun than ordering a high-end cocktail at a bar and receiving it with a wacky ingredient or garnish — maybe a flaming star anise or an edible flower, slowly leeching its color into your drink.

Well good news, campers: Now you can recreate some of these experiences at home, thanks to The Spice Lab’s “Special Touch” Premium Mixology Case.

It’s a very simple idea: This attache-style case contains a dozen rare or high-end garnishes, each provided whole and packaged in its own individual plastic case. The dozen includes the following: cardamom seeds, giant coffee beans, cocoa seed, allspice (whole), star anise, dried kumquat, juniper berries (whole), mini cinnamon cassia sticks, whole mace, and three dried (whole) flowers: hibiscus, Persian rose, and mallow blossom.

The case includes a deck of cards, one giving some basic usage ideas for each ingredient. The top lid includes five barware pieces: a jigger, bar spoon, tongs, peeler, and a cylindrical grater for dried spices.

What can you do with all of these? The Spanish-designed kit is designed for use with vermouth, rum, and gin, and just about all of these garnishes pair well with gin concoctions, particularly the Spanish staple of gin and tonic. Pick any of the flowers and drop one in your glass to open up new aromatics and give your drink a breathtaking color. Other ingredients, like kumquat and mace, present more of a challenge. And of course, items like star anise, cocoa bean, and cinnamon are all very versatile, well being the world of gin and tonic. From top to bottom, all the ingredients are extremely high end — but remember, dried spices and flowers will lose flavor and potency over time, so don’t be afraid to use them liberally.

At $200, this is an awfully luxe kit, but if you don’t need the full collection, Special Touch offers some simpler kits that are more targeted (and which cost quite a bit less), and individual botanicals can be purchased as well. My only complaint: The case itself is a bit flimsy, though it’s decked out in leather and metal trim.

That aside, I know I’m having fun with this kit. Order a drink at my house these days and who knows what kind of garnish you’ll get!

A- / $200 / thespicelab.com

Review: Breckenridge Brewery Barrel Aged Imperial Cherry Stout

This second entry in Colorado-based Breckenridge Brewery’s Brewery Lane Series is a cherry stout — “aged 50% in whiskey barrels and 50% in Port wine barrels, Imperial Cherry Stout features sweet-sour Montmorency tart cherries which play on the dark fruit flavors prevalent in a traditional Imperial Stout.”

This is a huge beer but quite an enchanting aged stout, offering a richly coffee-laced and heavily nutty approach that quickly winds its way down a rabbit hole of flavors. Chocolate-covered cherries emerge immediately, followed by more of a mocha coffee character. After a moment, the initially sweeter attack fades and lets in an herbal note punctuated by a red wine character — the Port at work — and some lingering bitterness. Quite a complex monster, though it’s so bold on the palate that I recommend enjoying it in small doses. Bring a few friends.

9.5% abv.

A- / $12 per 25.4 oz bottle / breckbrew.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

Review: Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Batch B517 (May 2017)

As we reported in January, Heaven Hill recently revamped the way Elijah Craig Barrel Proof was being presented, and that bottles would now carry a batch ID on each label, the first being A117 in January.

Now the second release of the 12 year old Elijah Craig Barrel Proof for 2017 is here: B517, signifying May 2017. Here’s a look at this offering, compared side by side with the 127-proof A117 release and the original 2013 release of this whiskey.

Though lighter in proof than even the comparatively quiet A117, this is an Elijah Craig release that’s bold and full of flavor. On the nose, the whiskey is immediately redolent of buttered popcorn, tempered with lots of baking spice, dried ginger, barrel char, and butterscotch. The palate follows along in lockstep — though it ultimately shows itself to be a bit more bittersweet than expected, with quite strong and tannic notes of scorched wood on the back of the palate. Water’s a huge friend here, bringing out notes of brown sugar, orange peel, and sweet licorice candy — and going a long way toward taming that bitter, barrel-driven element in the bourbon.

As with earlier expressions of Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, this is a cask strength release that benefits from a careful hand, exposure to air, and a healthy amount of water at the ready. Give it a try, no question.

124.2 proof. (Updated photo unfortunately not available.)

A- / $90 / heavenhill.com

4 Vinho Verde Wines Reviewed: Afectus, Quinta do Ferro, Varanda do Conde, and Vilacetinho

Vinho verde is the delightful white wine from Portugal’s far northern region of Minho plus areas south of there — crisp, lively (it’s called verde because it tastes “green”), and — most importantly — incredibly inexpensive. A wide variety of grapes are used in the production, so keep a close eye on the label to see what you’re getting.

These low-alcohol wines, as low as 10% abv, are real crowd pleasers that pair well with anything but, most of all, are designed for easy drinking, on their own, in warmer weather.

Like, you know, right now.

Thoughts follow.

2013 Afectus Vinho Verde Branco – 75% lourciro, 15% trajadura, 10% arinto. Classic vinho verde structure, with tons of minerals, some dried herbs, lemon peel, and just a bit of sweetness to round things out. Vibrant and incredibly drinkable at a mere 11.5% alcohol, it’s the perfect wine to kick off summer. A / $11

2015 Quinta do Ferro Vinho Verde – 100% arinto. A more rustic wine, with significant herbal notes finding compatriots in notes of kumquat and lime, and a finish that offers notes of figs and lively acid. There’s a lot going on here — more than in the Afectus — but it doesn’t gel quite as beautifully, the herbal/citrus peel combo lingering a bit too long on the back of the throat. A- / $NA

2013 Varanda do Conde Vinho Verde – 70% alvarinho, 30% trajadura. A more buttery style of wine, made largely from the Spanish classic albarino (same thing as alvarinho), it drinks a bit like a chardonnay, with lemons and peaches melding into vanilla-dusted cream. More food friendly than aperitif-styled, with just a hint of a bitter edge on the finish. B+ / $10

2015 Vilacetinho Vinho Verde – Made from avesso, arinto, and azal e loureiro grapes (proportions unknown). Another brisk bottling, very lemony and acidic, with some pickling spice notes. The finish evokes lime peel and a bit of herbal bitterness. On the whole, though, it’s fresh and vibrant, and easy to sip on no matter what the environs. A paltry 10% abv. B+ / $8

Review: Lockhouse Barreled Gin, Single Hop Spirit, Ibisco Bitter, and Revolution Coffee Liqueur

Lockhouse Distillery is a craft operation, the first distillery to open in Buffalo, New York, since Prohibition. While the company offers some garden-variety stuff (like this grape-distilled vodka we previously reviewed), the company also offers a collection of spirits (many of which are limited editions), many of which fall fairly far off the beaten path. Today we look at a collection of four such offerings, all decidedly unique.

Lockhouse Barreled Gin – Distilled from grapes and grain, then barreled in an unspecified cask for an unspecified amount of time. Quite dark in color compared to most barrel-aged gins, with an appearance close to a lighter whiskey. Initial notes of traditional juniper and citrus peel quickly give way to aromas of hops, and hints of apple cider. The palate is big, forward with juniper and more of those hop notes, plus notes of cloves, cinnamon,, and dark chocolate. There’s a pungency here, though, which develops in time to reveal notes of eucalyptus, motor oil, and plenty of barrel char. The finish is bold and somewhat astringent, pushy with both acidity and less exciting notes of young, raw wood. 90 proof. Reviewed: Batch #17. B / $45

Lockhouse Single Hop Spirit (Cascade – Big Ditch) – Distilled from grain with hops added. This is a hop-flavored neutral spirit, made in collaboration with local breweries. The catch? It’s a single hop spirit, so only one hop varietal from one brewery is used in each of six batches that were produced. This sample includes Cascade hops from Big Ditch Brewing Co. Hoppy on the nose, but surprisingly not immediately bitter, it offers ample notes of red berries, grapefruit, brown sugar, and mushy banana. All of this is overlaid by notes of mushroom and some earth. The palate takes things in a different direction. There’s quite a bit of sweetness here, fruity and sugary with notes of lemon-lime and toasty cereal before changing gears and building to an amaro-like bitterness, a bit funky with some herbal hops notes. The finish is just the lightest bit medicinal, an the way that a glass of Campari can be, though the distinct earthiness of the hops give it a curious and unique spin. This one’s a lot of fun, and it really grew on me. Give it some time. 80 proof. Reviewed: Batch #2. A- / $NA

Lockhouse Ibisco Bitter Liqueur – Campari-red in color, but sweeter on the nose, with a distinct orange peel overtone to go along with an ample sugar character. On the palate, the sweetness hits first, a simple honey/syrup character, before the bitterness grips your palate like a vise. Bitter orange peel, traditional bitter roots, and some sour cherry notes. As the finish emerges, notes of rhubarb and grapefruit start to emerge, ending things on a lingering note that’s more bitter than sweet. 50 proof. Nice balance in an amaro. Reviewed: Batch #3. A- / $30

Lockhouse Revolution Coffee Liqueur – Made in conjunction with Public Espresso and Coffee, this is a cold-infused coffee liqueur that sure smells like the real thing right from the get-go. Heavy duty coffee bean notes, tempered with some sugar, kick off the experience, and the palate keeps it going with more of the above — intense, lightly bittersweet coffee that endures for days. You can almost feel the roasted coffee grounds scratching your tongue, it’s so powerful with the essence of pure, dark roasted coffee. Secondary notes (aside from basic sweetness) are elusive. The bottle label claims “dark chocolate,” but I get none of that. Instead, just pure diner drip that, for better or worse, turns increasingly bitter as the lengthy, enduring finish comes to a head. Designed, to be sure, for coffee purists. 60 proof. Reviewed: Batch #12. B+ / $30

lockhousedistillery.com

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