Review: 2014 St. Francis Merlot Sonoma Valley Reserve

Don’t let them tell you that merlot is dead. St. Francis’s 2014 Sonoma Valley bottling is loaded with character, starting with floral aromatics and, on the palate, gentle leather and tobacco notes. After a slug of modest tannin the wine bursts forth with blackberry and rhubarb character before revealing some lingering coffee notes on the finish.

A- / $40 /

Review: A Trio of 2013 Italian Value Wines – Masi, Montessu, and Salviano

Italy has its share of cult wines, but it’s also loaded with bargains, like these three wines (all imported by Kobrand), which showcase a tour of different Italian wine regions, all coming in at less than $20 a bottle. Let’s take a look!

2013 Masi Campofiorin – A “Superveronese” blended from corvina, rondinella, and molinara grapes (the same used for Amarone). A beautiful and balanced wine. Lush berry fruit notes pave the way toward light hints of vinegar, fresh herbs, and a finish that nods at nutmeg and ginger. A beautiful wine that drinks with more complexity than its price tag would indicate, the 2013 expression is one of the best examples of this wine in recent years. A- / $16

2013 Agricola Punica Montessu Isola dei Nuraghi IGT – A Sardinian blend of mainly carignane plus other grapes. This wine is a bit flat, its berry fruit filtered through a bit of applesauce and, emerging on the nose with time, some tar and leather elements. The body is muted, heavy on cherry fruit and meatier notes, with a fairly short finish. Tastes like a lot like the “house wine” at your favorite Italian restaurant. B- / $15

2013 Tenuta di Salviano Turlo Lago di Corbara DOC – A blend of 50% sangiovese, 30% cabernet sauvignon, and 20% merlot. This Umbrian blend is one of the best values I’ve ever found out of Italy. Beautiful cherry and raspberry fruit is deftly balanced with notes of fresh herbs, a touch of tobacco, a hint of vanilla, and a few green notes around the edges. Even the greenery doesn’t detract from what is a surprisingly lush and balanced experienced, perfectly quaffable on its own but an excellent companion to pasta dishes, as well. A / $13

Review: Mount Gay 1703 Master Select Rum (2017)

Barbados’ Mount Gay Rum was launched in 1703, and it reserves the name for its rarest rum, a series launched in 2009 that is now called 1703 Master Select. This has become an annual release that has evolved over time, and 2017’s version is now here. (For example, in 2010 it was known as 1703 Old Cask Selection.)

This year’s rum is “a blend of copper column and copper pot rums from Mount Gay’s oldest reserves – ranging from 10 to 30 year old rums – created and hand-picked by Master Blender Allen Smith.” For 2017, 12,000 bottles or so will be released worldwide.

The rum’s nose is dense and rich, loaded with cloves and dark brown sugar, barrel char and salted licorice. The palate is dry — this isn’t a rum that’s been loaded up with sugar — but along with its more savory elements emerge notes of red fruit and some tropical character, particularly grilled pineapple. On the finish, cinnamon is evident, along with hints of red pepper atop a somewhat winey character.

1703 Master Select becomes more complex and alluring over time, with a light but lingering sweetness that really draws you in. Great stuff.

86 proof.

A- / $150 /

Review: Wild Turkey Master’s Keep Decades

About a year ago, Wild Turkey announced the release of Decades, a rare blend of whiskies blended from Turkey stock up to 20 years old. And then… it disappeared. The whiskey was pulled right before it was supposed to hit the market, postponed to 2017.

Well folks, 2017 is here, and so is Master’s Keep Decades, the follow up to Wild Turkey Master’s Keep, a 17 year old straight bourbon. Decades is a blend of bourbons aged 10 to 20 years old, drawn from some of Wild Turkey’s oldest stock and bottled in honor of Eddie (the younger) Russell’s 35th anniversary at the distillery.

Decades is a mature whiskey to be sure, but it’s surprisingly demure considering its age. The nose is fresh and loaded with lots of aromas familiar to Wild Turkey veterans, including toffee, orange peel, clove-heavy baking spices, and ginger. The palate is initially lightly sweet with immediate and heavier overtones of ample barrel time, but as the wood settles down more of those sweeter elements manage to come through — milk chocolate, lemon oil, and more of those gingerbread and baking spice notes. It doesn’t come across as over-oaked or overbearing in any way. If I was tasting it blind, I wouldn’t have pegged this as a whiskey of advanced age.

If you like Wild Turkey or Russell’s Reserve, Decades is an expression that doesn’t disappoint, though — as with the original Master’s Keep — you’ll certainly pay for the privilege.

104 proof. Reviewed: Batch #1.

A- / $150 /

Review: Wines of Stags’ Leap Winery, 2013 Vintage

Note first that Stags’ Leap Winery (cursive label) is not the same thing as Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars (block text label). It’s the apostrophe that’s important. Stags’ vs. Stag’s.

Both are of course found in the Stag’s Leap District of Napa, and both are excellent wineries. Today we look at the wines of the plural possessive — Stags’ Leap — all 2013 vintage bottlings released in early 2017.

2013 Stags’ Leap Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – Silky Napa cab, overstuffed with red fruit and currants, but with an acidic edge that’s often lacking in blown-out Napa cabernet. The finish runs toward raspberry and blackberry, with some lightly sour plum shrub notes lingering on the finish. This wine is balanced with a bit of tannic grip, saving it from being a fruit bomb, though it’s still got plenty of that sweetness to go around. A- / $35

2013 Stags’ Leap Winery Petite Sirah Napa Valley – Black-red in color and loaded with notes of tar, bitter roots, and (very) dark chocolate. The tannins find some relief in the form of notes of currants and dried blueberries, both lingering on the finish with more of those chocolate notes, here bordering on mocha coffee. Intense, you say? B+ / $37

2013 Stags’ Leap Winery The Leap. – With a period. A cabernet sauvignon bottling with no mention of any blending grapes, this austere wine offers lots of ripe fruit, cassis and blackberry all the way, backed up by an incredible amount of tannin, cola, and dry spices. The cola, plus cloves and some smoky bacon notes, linger on the finish. A wine to save for that iconic “steak night.” A  / $100

Review: Anchor Distilling Junipero Gin San Francisco Strength

Craft gin arguably got its start with Junipero, one of the earlier products to come out of San Francisco’s Anchor Distilling. Made in the London Dry style, it was the first post-Prohibition craft gin to be distilled in the United States, and it’s still going strong.

Now 20 years old, Anchor Distilling’s Junipero Gin brand has long kept its botanical bill close to the vest. Well, two decades of sales have finally convinced someone to open the books. At last, Junipero’s botanical ingredients have been revealed, and they are: juniper berries, coriander seed, angelica root, orris root, dried lemon peel, sweet orange peel, seville orange peel, cubeb, cassia bark, cardamom, anise seed, and grains of paradise. Nothing too surprising in there, but the real secret with Junipero is not what’s inside the bottle, but rather what proportions are used to so deftly balance this spirit.

The nose is equal parts juniper and citrus — a rarity in a time when gins tend to swing wildly one way or the other — with smoldering, peppery aromas lingering underneath. The palate is bold, thanks to a near-50% “San Francisco Strength” abv, again with a bold juniper character that really defines the experience. The peppery cubeb and coriander come on strong after that, leading to a finish that is modestly bitter with citrus peel notes and savory herbs.

All told, it’s a definitive craft gin worth stocking on the back bar — and it comes at a completely reasonable price.

98.6 proof.


Review: Pyramid Brewing Railroad Avenue Imperial Porter and Triangulate Citrus Pale Ale

As 2017 hits its stride, Seattle/Portland/Rochester-based Pyramid is out with two new brews, both now available. Let’s take a spin through both.

Pyramid Brewing Railroad Avenue Imperial Porter Brewer’s Reserve – A big and burly Imperial porter, this beer has a base of heavily roasted malt but is tempered by the addition of vanilla, cinnamon, and dark brown sugar. The overall effect is impressive, the beer exuding notes of roasted nuts, dark toasted wheat bread, dark chocolate, a touch of espresso, and just a sprinkle of cinnamon that catches in the throat on the finish. Porter fans will love the depth of flavor here, though Pyramid also keeps it from becoming too gooey and cloying, with enough bitterness to dial down all of the above. 8.2% abv. A-

Pyramid Brewing Triangulate Citrus Pale Ale – A pale ale made with Lemondrop, Apollo, and Cascade hops, with both wheat and oats in the malt bill. There’s a lot going on here, with lots of citrus and tropical notes at the fore, though they attempt to find balance in the form of a moderate bitterness and some earthiness as well. What lingers on the end is a bit of both worlds, lemon and orange peel notes with just a nod toward evergreen notes from the Cascade hops. 5.5% abv. B

prices NA /