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

frankfamilyvineyards.com

Review: Proyecto Garnachas de Espana – Salvaje and Olvidada, 2017 Releases

Proyecto Garnachas de Espana — or the Spanish Grenache Project, if you will — is a curious series of wine releases meant to celebrate the grenache wines of the Ebro Valley. A project of Spanish wine company Vintae, the idea is to showcase different vineyards in the Aragon region, to show how terroir and microclimates can expressions of 100% garnacha.

While a number of these wines are on the market, we received two to check out. (Note they are from different vintages.) Thoughts follow.

2015 Proyecto Garnachas de Espana La Garnacha Salvaje – A surprisingly thin wine for grenache, particularly given the aromas of tobacco and spice that lead to a rather watery and limpid body. Here flavors of fresh cherries and blonde wood notes lead to a somewhat off-putting finish that showcases beef jerky and boiled vegetables. A bit of a blown opportunity. C / $12

2013 Proyecto Garnachas de Espana La Garnacha Olvidada – A strikingly different (and much better) wine than the above, much bolder on the palate with notes of cassis, tea leaf, cola, and some lingering mint. The body is rich and the finish is lasting, offering a tribute to the earth in the form of lingering hints of cassis, mushroom, and dusky tree bark. Well balanced between sweet and savory, with a lightly drying conclusion. A / $12

garnachasdeespana.com

Review: A. Smith Bowman Abraham Bowman Sequential Series Bourbon

 

Bourbon finishing is becoming a huge trend today, and Buffalo Trace-owned A. Smith Bowman has been finishing its Virginia-made whiskeys pretty much for as long as we’ve been writing about them.

Up next in the Abraham Bowman line is a duet of bourbons, both traditionally aged in new oak barrels, then finished in used barrels (of different types). The question really isn’t though what used to be in the barrels, but how many times those barrels were used. The first of these whiskeys were finished in barrels that had already been used for bourbon (aka second-use barrels). The second whiskey is finished in barrels used to age bourbon, Port wine, and bourbon again (aka fourth-use barrels). Can a barrel’s character stand up to all that abuse?

Before we find out, here’s the nitty-gritty from Bowman on the full experiment:

This limited release explores how flavor profiles are affected when bourbon, first aged in new charred white oak barrels, is then finished in different kinds of used barrels for its final years, and also explores how the barrel entry proof affects the finish.

This release is comprised of two expressions, each finished in two different kinds of barrels. The first expression was aged for nine years in new charred white oak barrels before being transferred into barrels that had previously held bourbon for nine years. Half of those bourbon barrels were barreled at 125 proof and half were barreled at 115 proof, before finishing for three years and five months.

The second expression was aged for nine years in new charred white oak barrels before being transferred into barrels that had previously been used to age bourbon and port wine, and then were used to finish their Abraham Bowman Port Finish Bourbon, which went on to be named the 2016 World’s Best Bourbon by Whisky Magazine. Half of these fourth-use barrels were barreled at 125 proof and half were barreled at 115 proof before finishing for three years and five months.

And now on to the tasting. Both are bottled at 100 proof.

Abraham Bowman Sequential Series Bourbon – 2nd Use Barrels – This bourbon has a bright nose with some clear orange notes, lots of vanilla, and classic baking spice character. The palate sees some fun chocolate notes, sweet caramel, and a reprise of those citrus notes. The finish is clean but a bit hot (this is 50% abv, remember), but otherwise a really lovely expression of well-aged bourbon. Finishing a nine-year old bourbon in another, old bourbon barrel shouldn’t really have much of an impact, though there are some unusual characteristics in this whiskey that at least make me wonder whether something percolated through all those years and into the spirit. Well done, regardless. A-

Abraham Bowman Sequential Series Bourbon – 4th Use Barrels – The nose on this whiskey is immediately duskier, with a stronger wood-driven aroma and a clear tobacco character. Chocolate is here on the nose — but it’s a very dark cocoa, not the silky milk chocolate of the 2nd Use Barrel bourbon. The palate feels less hot (and more complex) than the 2nd Use, and it’s loaded with cigar-room flavors of tobacco, more dark chocolate, and dark cherries (the clearest sign of the Port wine influence). I love this whiskey — though it’s a totally different experience than the 2nd Use Barrel expression, with a lingering, fruit-filled finish that hangs on for quite awhile. Grab this one if you can. A

For kicks, I mixed the two, roughly 50-50. I didn’t like the blend nearly as much as either whiskey on its own, which just goes to show… blending is tough!

each $40 (375ml) / asmithbowman.com

Review: Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch Bourbon 2017 Edition “Al Young 50th Anniversary”

The latest Limited Edition Small Batch release from Four Roses has arrived. Featuring a radically revised bottle and label, the whiskey is bottled in honor of Al Young, who has been with the distillery for a full 50 years.

Who’s Al Young, you ask? Says Four Roses:

Al Young has served in a variety of roles at Four Roses for the past 50 years. In 1990, he became Distillery Manager and in 2007 was named Four Roses Brand Ambassador, a role that has him crossing the country sharing the story of Four Roses and its Bourbon. He is also historian for the storied 129-year-old Kentucky Bourbon brand, having researched archives, distillery records, news accounts, photos and artifacts in order to write the coffee-table book Four Roses: The Return of a Whiskey Legend, published in 2010. Al Young was inducted into the Whisky Magazine Hall of Fame in 2015 and is also a member of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame.

The whiskey released in his honor is a blend of:

  • 20% 12 year old OBSF
  • 50% 13 year old OESV
  • 25% 15 year old OBSK
  • 5% 23 year old OBSV

Let’s get on to tasting!

The nose of the whiskey is exotic, offering notes of Asian spices, dried flowers, intensely dark caramel, vanilla, and dark chocolate notes. This heady experience leads you into an equally intriguing palate that features raspberry and strawberry fruit, coffee bean, and ample sweetness driven by slightly salty caramel and chocolate notes — with a distinctly butterscotch-fueled finish, with lasting overtones of mint and thyme. As those descriptors might indicate, there’s a massive amount of complexity in this bourbon, and it invites repeated exploration and investigation. While the flavors and aromas come at you from left field, the whiskey itself is balanced and offers so much character it’s impossible to put down.

All told, it’s one of the best Four Roses Small Batch releases in years. Love it. Congrats, Al!

108.98 proof. 10,000 bottles produced.

A / $150 / fourrosesbourbon.com

Review: Kavalan Amontillado, Manzanilla, and Pedro Ximenez Sherry Cask Single Malt Whisky

Taiwan’s Kavalan is on a tear of late, winning award after award as it shows that great whisky can come from unexpected places. The latest from Kavalan is a series of five whiskies called the Sherry & Port Cask Series. As you might expect, these all spend time in fortified wine casks — what’s not entirely clear is whether these are fully matured in their respective casks or if they’re finishing barrels, though the former seems to be the case. As usual with Kavalan, none of these releases is bottled with an age statement.

Three of the new whiskies are reviewed below. Two — Moscatel Sherry and the Port cask release — are sadly missing.

Thoughts follow. Bring your Visa card.

As these are single cask releases bottled at cask strength, all are noted on my review samples as “50 to 60% abv,” so figure 100 to 120 proof, depending on the bottle.

Kavalan Amontillado Sherry Cask Single Malt Whisky – Intensely colored, it’s perhaps the darkest shade of mahogany I’ve seen in a whisky in a long, long while. The nose is incredibly nutty, with aromas of walnut, old wood, flamed orange peel, and classically burly, lightly spicy Amontillado notes. The nuttiness is the strongest of these by far, and on the palate this takes on an austerity and intensity that is hard to fully elucidate. Rich with coffee notes, it also showcases salted caramel, gunpowder, and cloves — but those rich, spiced nuts hang on for days. Truly unique. A / $599

Kavalan Manzanilla Sherry Cask Single Malt Whisky – Manzanilla is a very dry sherry, but the relatively dark color of this whisky could fool you into thinking you’re drinking something else. While the Amontillado pushes you around, the Manzanilla coaxes you in with a nose of bright citrus fruit and pungent spice, leading the way to a palate of toasty almonds, more classic sherry citrus, and a briny, spicy conclusion. It’s a more gentle sherry cask bottling, but it’s still got a ton going on. A- / $599

Kavalan Pedro Ximenez Sherry Cask Single Malt Whisky – PX casks are relatively common as finishing barrels, but this expression is a departure from the usual fare from Scotland. The nose is nutty like the Amontillado, but filtered through toffee, espresso, and cola notes. The palate is similar, but gentler than expected with notes of chocolate, cherries, and loads of fresh gingerbread. A rich coffee note emerges on the lengthy finish. Again, compelling and enticing stuff through and through. A / $699

avalanwhisky.com

Review: Wines of Lula Cellars, 2017 Releases

We’ve been fans of Mendocino’s Lula Cellars since discovering their pinots and zin last year. Now the winery is out with two new single-vineyard pinot noirs from the 2014 vintage. Thoughts follow.

2014 Lula Cellars Pinot Noir Costa Vineyard Mendocino – Like the 2013 bottling, this single vineyard pinot is a knockout, pretty and restrained on the nose, but bold with notes of cherry, tea leaf, baking spice, and some currants on the body. Lingering notes of gunpowder and graphite hit as the finish evolves, while sweeter blueberry emerges on the finish, if you give the wine some time. Another standout. A / $45

2014 Lula Cellars Pinot Noir Docker Hill Vineyard Mendocino – This is a softer expression of pinot from Lula, more fruit forward, but with fewer secondary notes of interest — sweeter than you might think, with light marshmallow notes and a lacing of strawberry jam. As the finish emerges it offers some cola notes, a clearer cherry character, and some brambly blueberry hints. It’s less complex and less elegant than the Costa, but still a highly worthwhile wine on the whole. B+ / $50

lulacellars.com

Review: Nine Single Barrel Tequilas from the New Hampshire Liquor Commission – Patron, Herradura, and Casa Noble

In case you missed our previous reviews, New Hampshire — the Granite State — is one of the most enthusiastic consumers of private label, single barrel spirits in the world. Recently the state’s liquor commission loaded up on 15 barrels of Jack Daniel’s whiskey, the biggest single barrel purchase of JD ever made.

Tired of whiskey? Maybe not, but the NHLC is at least extending its horizons to another hot spirit category: Tequila. Its latest purchase? Nine single barrels of tequila sourced from Patron, Herradura, and Casa Noble. The total haul is about 2,862 bottles — and we got to sample all of them.

Thoughts on the full collection, all 80 proof except the one Casa Noble as noted, follow.

Patron Reposado – Barrel #219 – Aged 8 months in new French oak. It kicks off as one of the most straightforward tequilas in this roundup, a toasty, vanilla-forward spirit with a sweet but agave-sharp nose and a palate that blends nicely its flavors of caramel and vanilla with ample notes of black pepper. Ultimately complex, with notes of banana and green olive emerging, it manages to remain balanced, a study in agave and wood finding harmony at just the right time. A / $57

Patron Anejo – Barrel #140 –  Aged 26 months in new American & new French oak. The first of three studies on different wood types used to age tequila — in this case, Patron. Quite citrus-forward on the nose, with big lemon peel notes and a hint of smoke. The body folds in more of that smokiness, plus some notes of apricot, lemongrass, and some mint. On the whole, a straightforward reposado. B+ / $62

Patron Anejo – Barrel #134 –  Aged 26 months in new (French) Limousin oak. The nose of this one offers notes of green banana, soft smoke, and lightly vegetal agave notes. The palate is more peppery, but balanced with a modest caramel and vanilla. Drinks more like a reposado. B / $62

Patron Anejo – Barrel #114 –  Aged 31 months in used American oak. Billed as a monster, and yeah, there’s plenty of wood on the nose, but it’s well filtered through butterscotch, vanilla, and caramel, with hints of fresh fruit. The palate is spicy, with red pepper and cloves, some notes of molasses, and a finish that again echoes toasty wood. Drinks more like an extra anejo, perhaps, with a more savory edge to it. B+ / $62

Herradura Double Reposado – Barrel #1224 – Aged 11 months in used American white oak, then spends an additional 30 days in new American white oak. The first of two identically aged barrels. There’s straightforward agave on the nose along with some buttery pastry notes, with a relatively soft approach on the palate’s attack. The finish is creamy and sweet, with mild herbal overtones, altogether drinking a lot like a typical, dialed-back reposado. B+ / $50

Herradura Double Reposado – Barrel #1225 – As above, aged 11 months in used American white oak, then spends an additional 30 days in new American white oak. While it has some of the same sweetness, this tequila is immediately much more peppery on the nose and the palate, with a more classically agave-forward profile. The finish finds a balance of sweet and spice, with notes of cloves and lemon peel — but the finish is all dusky pepper and a bit of smoky bacon that lingers on the finish. A somewhat more interesting expression of reposado, though it was just one barrel over. A- / $50

Casa Noble Joven – Barrel #808 – Aged 6 weeks in new French Oak from the sought-after Taransaud region — new oak of any sort being an unusual move for tequila. A clean tequila with a bold nose of green agave and lime peel, the sharp palate leading to some light notes of almond, toasted marshmallow, and blonde wood. Quite pungent on the finish, with a spritz of citrus, ample black pepper, and lingering alcohol overtones. 102 proof. B+ / $45

Casa Noble Reposado – Barrel #691 – Aged 364 days in new Taransaud French Oak, just under the reposado limit. A very supple and surprisingly gentle tequila, aromas of soft brown sugar, vanilla, and gentle wood lead to a soft but highly drinkable palate that mixes up notes of lemongrass, honey buns, peppery agave, and butterscotch. Lithe and mellow on a finish that turns almost decadent, particularly for a reposado. A / $58

Casa Noble Extra Anejo – Barrel #556 – Aged 5 years in new Taransaud French Oak. “The Director’s Pick.” There’s a surprising amount of agave left here considering the advanced age of this extra anejo. Grassy and almost green, it’s a tequila that comes across at first like a reposado both on the nose and the palate… at least until the barrel influence becomes more evident as notes of cinnamon, mixed baking spices, raisins, and some notes of raw sugar cookie dough, which linger on the finish. This is a fun tequila but it seems at times a bit scattered, perhaps even lost. B+ / $130

liquorandwineoutlets.com

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