Review: Wines of Cline, 2017 Releases – Mourvedre Rose, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel

 

Three new releases from our friends at Cline, based in Sonoma County. Two of these wines however hail from the other side of the bay, Contra Costa County (home of Oakland’s suburbs).

2016 Cline Ancient Vine Mourvedre Rose Contra Costa County – Very strawberry-forward, with note of vanilla whipped cream and just a hint of lemon peel and thyme. Perfect for Sunday on the porch, but best as an aperitif. B+ / $10

2015 Cline Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast – Big and meaty, with a leathery backbone, this pinot is both brash with youth and austere with the windswept funk of the Sonoma Coast. The body’s a bit thin, which is means it’s tough for the wine’s intensely earthy flavors to stand up to its somewhat watery structure, but paired with food it’s more impactful. B- / $13

2015 Cline Old Vine Zinfandel Contra Costa County – Fresh with fruit, but also a little salty brine, giving the wine a touch of seaweed character. The finish finds notes of black tea, cola, blackberries, and violets — all of which work well enough, but which clash at times with the salty notes. B / $11

clinecellars.com

Review: Starr Hill King of Hop Series 2017

Previously encountered in 2015 and 2016, Starr Hill is back with another round of King of Hop releases. Like it did in 2016, four variations are being released, available in a mixed four pack so you can try them all. Naturally, things all get started with the straightforward Imperial IPA bottling, a base from which the remaining trio can build… Thoughts follow.

Starr Hill King of Hop Imperial IPA 2017 – Ultra fruity this year, loaded with pineapple, lemon, and even some coconut notes, all of which serve to temper the hoppy, lightly briny IPA underneath. I love fruit-heavy IPAs, but this one actually takes things a bit too far, dulling the bitterness (and making for a less clean finish). 7.5% abv. B+

Starr Hill King of Hop Orange Imperial IPA – A typical, even expected spin on IPA is to squeeze some orange into it. Here it’s done with a very soft hand, though the orange element isn’t bitter (peel-like) at all, but rather quite sweet and juicy — though compared to what we’re starting with, it already had plenty of that to go around. Ultimately, a somewhat gummy finish makes me like this version a bit less. 7.5% abv. B

Starr Hill King of Hop Mango Habanero Imperial IPA – Last year’s Habanero IPA from this series was a heat-packing bruiser. This version tones down the spice considerably, with both the mango and the chili pepper really just afterthoughts that follow that fruit-forward pale ale attack. It’s actually quite delightful, the touch of spice giving the beer a playful kick. 7.5% abv. A-

Starr Hill King of Hop Coffee Imperial IPA – This didn’t sound like a good combination from the start, and I was right — it’s not. The sweet and syrupy coffee overwhelms the full experience, and the bitterness from the hops just makes the whole experience muddy and confusing. While it’s drinkable in its own way, there are better brews in this box. 7.5% abv. C+

$11 per mixed four-pack / starrhill.com

Review: Deschutes Brewery Swivelhead Red and Hop Slice (2017)

A new duo from our buddies in Bend.

Deschutes Brewery Swivelhead Red India Style Red Ale – Swivelhead Red is a beer designed to keep you guessing. The amber body looks like any classic, brownish-red lager, but one whiff and you know something’s up. India style? That’s right, it’s an IPA with eight different hop varieties in it, which find a foil in a significant amount of burly malt underneath. What percolates through is a greatest hits of two different styles. There are plenty of piney and citrus-forward hops, which attack the palate with ample bitterness before letting the sweet and nutty malt wash it away. The finish is a bit funky with mushroom notes as well as some chewy molasses character. 6.5% abv. B+ / $10 per six-pack

Deschutes Brewery Hop Slice Summer Ale (2017) – A semi-sessionable pale ale infused with lemondrop hops (among others). Quite piney, but not particularly lemony, as some smoldering, earthier elements tend to dominate. Nonetheless it’s a refresher with a surprisingly bold body and a slightly spicy finish — that goes down real easy. 5% abv. A- / $10 per six-pack

deschutesbrewery.com

Review: Interrobang Vermouth

An interrobang is a punctuation mark that is both an exclamation point and a question mark. It’s also the name of a new, artisanal vermouth from a small craft producer in Newberg, Oregon (in the heart of Oregon wine country). The company offers two varieties covering both of the classics — one white, one red. We tasted them both. Thoughts follow.

Both are bottled at 17.5% abv.

Interrobang White Vermouth No. 73 – “Based on a traditional Southern French recipe, this white semi-dry vermouth includes cinchona, cinnamon, and five other organic or sustainable botanicals. It took us 73 times through the recipe to perfect the production.” Lots of quinine on the nose, with a restrained underbelly of savory and grassy herbs and a brightness driven by aromatic white wine. The palate is appropriately bittersweet, though it leans a bit more toward the cinchona than any other element in particular. The finish keeps things clean and fresh; if you like a drier style of white vermouth, this may be right in your wheelhouse. B+ / $18 (375ml)

Interrobang Sweet Vermouth No. 47 – “Based on a centuries-old German recipe, this sweet vermouth includes wormwood, gentian, and ten other organic or sustainable botanicals. It took us 47 times through the recipe to perfect the production.” An unusual sweet vermouth, it’s really quite bitter and far from what we expect from most classically sweet vermouths. The nose is bright with red berries and flowers, but the palate is stuffed with those classic bitter root notes, hints of balsamic, and a minty finish. Fun stuff, but give it a sip before you use it in a Manhattan. B / $18 (375ml)

whatisinterrobang.com

Tasting Report: Ram’s Gate Vineyard Designate Wines, 2017 Releases

Visitors to Sonoma County know Ram’s Gate well, even if they’ve never been there. Why? It’s the first winery you pass as you come into the region, and now — since it was purchased from Roche, which used to have a tasting room here — it’s even harder to miss. The “gate” of Ram’s Gate is a real thing, towering dozens of feet into the air like something out of Game of Thrones.

Ram’s Gate is available to visitors by appointment only, and numerous tasting options abound, including some with meals served from the full kitchen on the premises. When we visited, we stuck with a short tour and wine, five selections from Ram’s Gate’s Vineyard Designate lineup. Thoughts follow. (Note: All of these wines improve with air and time in glass.)

2014 Ram’s Gate Chardonnay Hyde Vineyard Carneros – Almond and tropical notes abound; bold and buttery to be sure, but it has a bit of acidity. B-

2014 Ram’s Gate Chardonnay Green Acres Hill Vineyard Carneros – Bold with honey, some bitter citrus peel notes, and an unctuous, buttery finish. B

2013 Ram’s Gate Pinot Noir Gap’s Crown Vineyard Sonoma Coast – Burgundy in style, with some earthiness that finds a companion in notes of lavender and cocoa powder. Intense, give it 2 to 3 years before drinking. B+

2013 Ram’s Gate Pinot Noir El Diablo Vineyard Russian River Valley – Muted on the nose, with some chewy bacon notes, dark chocolate, menthol, and camphor. B-

2013 Ram’s Gate Syrah Parmelee-Hill Vineyard Sonoma Coast – Minimal fruit on this one — it’s all licorice and meaty sausage notes. B-

ramsgatewinery.com

Review: Whiskeys of Reservoir Distillery – Bourbon, Rye, Wheat Whiskey, and Gray Ghost

When deciding how to formulate their mashbills, Reservoir Distillery took one of the more unique approaches among craft whiskey-makers. They decided to not use a mashbill. Well, at least not a complicated one. Defying tradition, they concentrated on 100% grain expressions in their line up, all bottled at 100 proof. Their bourbon, for example, is 100% corn. Their rye is 100% rye. You get the idea.

Usually a flavoring grain is an important component, particularly in bourbon, but surprisingly Reservoir has managed to create a flavorful spirit out of just high quality, locally sourced grains and small, heavily charred barrels (no larger than 10 gallons and all with a #5 char). For those that would argue Reservoir’s approach to whiskey-making limits the potential complexity of their whiskey, distillery co-founder Dave Cuttino counters that their technique actually allows them to cater to the entire spectrum of whiskey drinkers by giving them the ingredients to make whatever “mashbill” they prefer (high rye, low rye, wheated, or even a wheated rye).

The potential for in-home blending aside, Reservoir Distillery’s whiskeys stand up just fine on their own. Thoughts follow. (Again, note all are 100 proof.)

Reservoir Bourbon Whiskey – Corn-sweet on the nose with notes of toasted cinnamon, pepper, and gingerbread. It’s bright on the palate and hot; caramel apple and candy corn notes evolve into sweet butter, maraschino cherry, and vanilla on the finish. Underneath the heat, there’s a lot to admire. A- / $45 (375ml)

Reservoir Rye Whiskey – Clearly 100% rye on the nose here with citrus fruit notes all over it. The palate is spicy but not overpowering with layers of bubblegum, cracked black pepper, and some licorice. The finish is warming but a little short. B+ / $45 (375ml)

Reservoir Wheat Whiskey – This may be the most “wheaty” of wheaters. There’s oak, fresh mint, and cinnamon red hots on the nose. The palate is soft despite the proof, with notes of honey, confectioners’ sugar, and vanilla. The finish is syrupy with some slightly grassy notes. B+ / $45 (375ml)

Gray Ghost Whiskey – The Gray Ghost line is a limited release showcasing Reservoir Distillery’s own experiments with different blends. My sample had an effective mashbill of 75% corn, 20% rye, and 5% wheat. It was aged in eight 3-gallon barrels for 3 to 3.5 years, which is exceptionally long for such a small barrel. There’s a slight, but not unpleasant, warehouse funk on the nose, followed by honey and orange marmalade notes. The palate is initially hot and full of cloves, but it develops into a generous finish with cinnamon and toffee notes reminiscent of a much older whiskey. Reviewed: Year 17, Batch 2. A- / $90 (375ml)

reservoirdistillery.com

Review: Wines of Columbia Winery, 2017 Releases

 

We last met with Columbia Winery in 2014  Since then, the winery has dramatically revamped its labels, so you might not recognize these bottlings are from the same company. As always, Columbia focuses on affordable yet authentic wine from Washington’s Columbia Valley. Let’s taste four new releases.

2014 Columbia Winery Chardonnay Columbia Valley – A workable chardonnay, with hints of butterscotch and spice amidst the otherwise butter/vanilla combo that you’ve probably come to know quite well. The body is reasonable in body without being overbearing, and the finish is lightly woody and a bit chewy. Worthwhile at this price. B+ / $14

2014 Columbia Winery Merlot Columbia Valley – Soft but enjoyable, this wine offers ample herbal notes, light florals, and a cherry-heavy core. The finish shows off more bitter grip than what’s come before, but that’s probably a good thing, as it provides some much-needed complexity. B- / $16

2014 Columbia Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley – Again, a workmanlike cab (catching a theme here?), with ample tannin atop cherries and currants, lightly jammy on the finish but showing some good grip. B / $16

NV Columbia Winery Red Blend – A blend of merlot and syrah, which showcases both the floral character of merlot and the meatiness of the syrah. Not a bad combination, which shows a bit of smoked bacon, cherry fruit, and some rhubarb. Simple, lightly bittersweet finish, with hints of white pepper. A solid value wine. B / $14

-->