Review: 2014 Invivo Pinot Noir Central Otago

New Zealand pinot noir can be hit and miss, often landing too heavily on a meaty note, but this bottling from Invivo fires on all fronts: Lightly peppery, loaded with dusky cherries, blueberries, and some raspberries, fading into notes of tea leaf and baking spices. A classic New World pinot, you wouldn’t be out of line assuming it hailed from Carneros or elsewhere in California. Which I mean as a compliment.

A- / $25 /

Tasting Report: Wines of Addendum, 2014 Vintage

Addendum is a brand new (and standalone) wine label from the team at Fess Parker. The winemaking operation is in Santa Barbara, but unlike Parker’s main label bottlings, these grapes come from Napa up north. The goal of this unique project: To make high-end, Bordeaux varietal wines from California fruit… though you’ll find a little syrah in the mix in the last wine in this collection of four Cab-focused releases from this inaugural vintage, 2014. (The rest of the wines are all 100% cabernet.)

We recently tasted the wines along with Blair Fox, winemaker and Rhone varietal pro, and Tim Snider, the president of the winery. Thoughts on all wines tasted follow. (Note: Less than 800 combined cases were made across all four of these wines… and all are aged 28 months before bottling.)

2014 Addendum Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford Skellenger Lane – For legal reasons, the actual vineyard can’t be named on this label, for legal reasons. Quite fruit forward at first, the lush blackberry and currant notes eventually give way to chocolate, vanilla, and some baking spice. Mint comes in on the back end, but  a moderately tannic backbone remains omnipresent through to the end. A classic Napa bottling that probably will really hit its stride in four or five years. A- / $95

2014 Addendum Cabernet Sauvignon Atlas Peak Stagecoach Vineyard – Even juicier and fruitier than the Skellenger Lane bottling, this wine avoids the overwhelming tannin that mountain fruit can bring, showing zippy raspberry and blackberry notes that eventually segue into some of the mint that the Skellenger Lane bottling also shows. The finish here is surprisingly acidic, but also opulent, with a silky and lush texture that lingers on the tongue. A- / $95

2014 Addendum Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – Essentially a hybrid of the previous two wines — 2/3 from Rutherford, 1/3 from Stagecoach. Here the Skellenger chocolate absolutely attacks the nose, a modest milk/dark cocoa blend that guides the way to strawberries, blueberries, and plenty of currants. It just goes on and on… pivoting a bit on the finish to a touch of citrus. A real best of both worlds. A / $90

2014 Addendum Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah Atlas Peak Stagecoach Vineyard – 56% cabernet, 44% syrah. An almost syrupy bomb of chocolate, vanilla, and butterscotch, layering in baking spice, caramel, and raisin notes. I’m reminded of whiskey when sipping on this wine, which is a good and a bad thing, but ultimately this showcase of fruit — which, by the way, is neither particularly heavy with either cab or syrah — tends to lean a bit too far to the sweet. B+ / $80

Review: Wines of San Simeon, 2017 Releases

San Simeon is a sublabel of San Antonio Winery, which makes a vast number of wines from grapes sourced from all over California — in Paso Robles, Monterey, and Napa Valley. Today we look at a mere three of them, part of the San Simeon label (that’s where Hearst Castle is, which you should go see in person).

Thoughts follow.

2015 San Simeon Chardonnay Monterey – More of a northern California style chardonnay, this wine offers butter, lemon, and a modicum of baking spice — creamy but with a lightly bitter kick — leading to a happily food-friendly finish. B+ / $19

2014 San Simeon Pinot Noir Monterey – A lively wine, this pinot finds notes of black pepper sprinkled atop cherry, currants, and a touch of rhubarb. The palate is just a touch gummy, but secondary notes of cola and cloves give it added depth, and the lasting finish — moderately tannic — offer lingering intrigue. Drink slightly chilled. A- / $19

2015 San Simeon Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles – A gentler style of cabernet, full of fruit, with notes of fresh raspberry and strawberry, with a vanilla cream kick. The palate is lush without being overbearing, with just a hint of tannin (particularly after the wine has time to open up). The finish shows some sweetness, with touches of graphite. I liked this wine more and more as I experienced it, especially at this price. A- / $19

Review: Rock N Roll Tequila – Platinum and Mango

Tequila has no shortage of novelty bottlings. In a world of tequila bottled in decanters shaped like human skulls and machine guns, why, a series of tequilas in bottles that look like electric guitars is almost boring.

Rock N Roll is a new line of triple-distilled tequila that hails from the Jalisco Highlands, made from 100% blue agave. Three versions are sold, but not what you’d expect: These include a standard silver (Platinum) expression, a mango-flavored expression, and Cristalino, an anejo tequila filtered back to clear. Our Cristalino bottle broke in shipping, and we never received a replacement. The Platinum and Mango expressions are reviewed here.

Fun fact: Dan Marino is one of the brand partners!

Rock N Roll Platinum Tequila – A clean blanco, the nose is peppery and rich, with racy agave notes and hints of cinnamon. On the palate, more of that cinnamon comes to the fore, melding nicely with a rather buttery body that leads to notes of fresh-baked pastries, lemon pepper, and mixed baking spices. The finish is short but expressive — far more interesting and enlightening than you’d expect from something bottled in a giant “Flying V” guitar. 80 proof. A- / $37

Rock N Roll Mango Licor de Tequila – The press release says this is made with natural mango flavoring, but the bottle says that “artificial flavor” is used. Either way, the mango is out of place here, coming across as phony and off-putting in the way that cherry flavoring is used in cough syrup. This melds unsatisfyingly with notes of thyme, bitter lemon, and milk chocolate. None of this ever comes together in a meaningful way, but it’s not completely offensive in the end, at least. 64 proof. C- / $33

Review: Viva XXXII Tequila – Joven and Reposado

Viva XXXII — or Viva 32, if you’re not Roman — is a new tequila brand with some interesting goals. Created by Yvonne Niami, the tequila claims to be “disrupting the tradition of charging more for a bottle than the tequila inside it. Crafted so you can savor, priced so you can indulge, the brand’s motto is transparency in a bottle. It is luxury that is accessible – more than just liquid in a glass.” Aside from that, 10 percent of net proceeds donated to animal abuse prevention (SPCALA, ASPCA, and START).

Two expressions of Viva XXXII are available, a joven and a reposado. Straight blanco and anejo expressions are not available, at least not yet.

Both are 80 proof. Thoughts follow.

Viva XXXII Tequila Joven – This is a blend of blanco tequila with three-year-old anejo tequila (proportions are not disclosed), filtered to clear. There’s tons of pepper on the nose — both black and cayenne — but also some sweetness, lots of lime, and a bit of baking spice, to boot. The palate pumps of the sweet fruit with exotic notes of pineapple, cinnamon, fresh rosemary, and a bit of butterscotch coming up the rear — but with lots of pepper throughout. The fruit can be a bit much, though — as it tends to dull the agave to some extent. That said, the body is rounded and supple, an appropriate carrier for the sweet-and-heat experience. The heat is what lingers most on the finish, lip-searing red pepper with a subtle undercurrent of crispy bacon. It’s less weird than that sounds. B+ / $40

Viva XXXII Tequila Reposado – Rested six months in new American oak barrels. This is very light in color — through the triangle pattern etched on the bottle, it’s hard to see the color of the tequila at all. The nose is peppery like the Joven, though here the sweeter notes are more traditional vanilla and caramel, with herbal agave underpinning it all. The palate follows suit, impregnating the vanilla with clear lime notes and a hint of coconut. A gentle, sugar-forward reposado, it finds tart citrus notes on the finish that elevate it beyond the typical. A- / $45

Review: Wines of Frank Family Vineyards, 2017 Releases

It’s never a bad day when Frank Family Vineyards’ annual releases show up for review. Today we look at a field of four wines from this delightful Napa producer.

2015 Frank Family Vineyards Chardonnay Carneros – A solid expression of chardonnay sourced from 65% Carneros-Napa and 35% Carneros-Sonoma (as the appellation spans both regions), bold and buttery with strong vanilla notes, but not overblown at all. Light apple and some fig offer nuance as the palate evolves, with lemon-scented butter dominating the lengthy finish. A- / $24

2015 Frank Family Vineyards Pinot Noir Carneros – A brisk pinot, this is loaded with notes of black currants, black cherries, and black tea. As a pinot goes, it may seem like it’s none more black, though there’s lingering sweetness to cut through some of the more dusky characteristics, finishing on a nice little blackberry note. To be honest, it’s less black than you’d think. A / $30

2014 Frank Family Vineyards Zinfandel Napa Valley – A beautiful zin from Frank Family, though creamy and clearly loaded with alcohol (at 14.6% abv), it remains expressive (though indulgent) with notes of dense cassis, brambly blackberry, molten chocolate, and ample vanilla. Big and bold zin, to be sure, but an exemplar of the style. A- / $37

2014 Frank Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – A misfired vintage? A little weird and surprisingly thin, this cab is overloaded with fruit but lacks the structure and tannin one comes to expect from Napa cabernet. The jammy strawberry notes give way to some rhubarb, orange peel, and a few savory herbs, but they’re hard fought given the surfeit of fruit. B- / $40

Review: Wines of Lake Sonoma Winery, 2017 Releases

My hunch is that you can figure out where Lake Sonoma Winery is based — but you might not know that this under-the-radar operation makes wine from all over the county, not just near the lake.

We tried six new releases from the winery, with almost unanimously impressive results. Thoughts follow.

2014 Lake Sonoma Winery Tributaries Blend Russian River Valley – A blend of 88% pinot blanc, 7% chardonnay, and 5% sauvignon blanc. A huge, summer crowd pleaser, this fragrant blend features white flowers, melon, some lemon, and a nougat character that creeps in late in the game. The finish seems some forest floor elements that sully an otherwise impressive blend, but otherwise it’s a big hit. A- / $19

2014 Lake Sonoma Winery Chardonnay Russian River Valley – A surprisingly beautiful chardonnay, not overblown with vanilla and oak, which lets some of the inherent fruit in the grape shine through: Lemon, with a dollop of marshmallow creaminess on top. A great food wine. A- / $18

2014 Lake Sonoma Winery Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast – This pinot offers a classic Sonoma Coast structure, melding gentle earth and cola notes with a moderately fruity core. Some black tea leaf emerges late in the game, with the finish seeing some meaty character adding a somewhat beefy note. B+ / $21

2014 Lake Sonoma Winery Malbec Sonoma Valley – Initially I found this wine to be a little gummy, but after giving it a slight chill, this malbec really opened up and showcased its lush fruit: blackberry, dense plum notes, currants, and lingering chocolate and cola notes on the finish. Worked perfectly with steaks with a chili-spiced butter. A- / $35

2013 Lake Sonoma Winery Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley – Lots of acidity gives this zin a more approachable density and mouthfeel, with hints of orange and tart cherry mingling with the more traditional, plump red berries at the core of the wine. There’s a little dark chocolate on the back end to give it some length. B+ / $20

2015 Lake Sonoma Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley – My least favorite wine in this group, this is a somewhat dimwitted cab, over-fruited and showing some green underbelly that lingers well after the simple red berry fruit has faded. A touch of tannin and a hint of dried mushroom are welcome on the back end, but it’s not enough to elevate this beyond a mere B- / $25