Corsica isn’t a wine region that many Americans are familiar with. (Hint: It’s part of France, not Italy.) That’s a shame, because this island produces some stellar stuff, and at the head of the class is Yves Leccia, a veteran winemaker whose products are widely considered ‘the Rolls-Royce’ of Corsican wines.”
Leccia doesn’t need me to validate what everyone already knows, but here are some tasting notes for two new releases, for those unfamiliar with Corsica and Leccia’s wares. (Also note that these are essentially just the entry-level wines from Leccia!) Patrimonio is a region near the northern tip of Corsica, where nielluccio and vermentino grapes comprise nearly 100% of the varietals grown.
2015 Yves Leccia Patrimonio Blanc – 100% vermentino. A gorgeous wine. Aromatic with white flowers, a spritz of perfume, and a grating of lime peel on the nose, the wine evokes a complexity seldom found in today’s whites. On the palate, the lush body is reminiscent of a chardonnay, but the notes of apricot, more florals, nougat, and soft vanilla sugar cookies give it a whole new dimension. The finish is ripe with fruit but cleansing and refreshing. Hard to put down, it’s a benchmark of French winemaking but also quite a bargain. A / $29
2013 Yves Leccia Patrimonio Rouge – 90% nielluccio, 10% grenache. Less complex than the Blanc, but quite engaging thanks to lively acidity, a fruit-forward character that’s heavy on currants, strawberry, and raspberry, and a finish that offers hints of tea leaf and cloves. There’s just enough tannin here to give the wine some meat on its bones — both figuratively and literally, thanks to hints of roasted sausages laced with savory spices. B+ / $30
Mendocino’s Lula Cellars is the brainchild of winemaker Jeff Hansen, who produces a number of traditional Anderson Valley varietals in his Philo facility. Today we look at three of the winery’s new releases (all from late 2016), a pair of pinots and a zinfandel.
2013 Lula Cellars Pinot Noir Mendocino – Fairly burly, even by Mendocino standards, offering notes of blackberry, tea leaf, bitter herbs, and tobacco all wrapped up in a slightly earthy, mushroom-tinged body. The fruit endures to the end, but it’s tempered by a powerful grip that, at times, feels a bit out of place. B+ / $45
2013 Lula Cellars Pinot Noir Costa Vineyard Mendocino – This single-vineyard pinot is a clear step up from the more general bottling, and it finds a bolder body pairing nicely with expressive blueberry, cherry, and a denser, more powerful tea character. The blackberry notes in the above wine are more evident on the juicy finish, which is tempered with just a touch of herbal, earthy bitterness. A beautiful, versatile wine through and through. Oddly, it’s the same price as the non-single-vineyard Mendocino bottling; absolutely this is the one to get. A / $45
2014 Lula Cellars Zinfandel Mariah Vineyard Mendocino – A softer zin, Lula’s Mendo bottling offers notes of cola, chocolate-covered cherries, and a touch of vanilla, particularly evident on the back end. Some tannins give the wine a bit of grip, but they’re kept in check by the lightly sweet body and silky finish. B+ / $29
We were big fans of Sonoma-distilled D. George Benham’s gin, so it made natural sense to take a spin with its vodka. The title above isn’t a typo: This is “Vodka Vodka,” or “vodka-flavored vodka,” in the parlance of Graton Distilling, a nod to the purported purity of the spirit. That moniker didn’t pass legal muster, though, so “Vodka Vodka” it was.
This is a curious vodka, with four individual distillates of grapes, organic white wheat, rye wheat, and red cracked wheat all blended together, proofed, and filtered through charcoal. The nose is simple but pleasant, lightly dusty with charcoal notes and hints of grain but otherwise it’s quite neutral.
On the palate, you can see why they wanted to call it “vodka-flavored vodka.” Quite neutral and flavorless at the start, it nods to old world vodkas with a light medicinality, before slowly passing through a gentle vegetal note, finally settling on a lightly lemon-sweet finish. Easygoing to a fault, its round and lightly creamy body is probably better designed for mixing rather than sipping straight, where a sharper spirit works better, but all told it’s a versatile spirit that will work for just about anything, in a pinch.
B+ / $28 / gratondistilling.com
Darnley’s View is a London Dry style gin made in Scotland by the Wemyss family (of Wemyss Malts fame). Two versions are produced, a relatively standard expression and a “spiced” gin. We’ll discuss the botanicals of each in turn.
Darnley’s View Gin – Aka Darnley’s View Original, this spirit is flavored with just six botanicals: juniper, lemon peel, elderflower, coriander seed, angelica root, and orris root. Only the elderflower is a slight departure from the standard botanical bill of London Dry, though there are a few omissions, namely orange peel. It’s a simple gin, the elderflower making a pretty and lightly fruity impact on the nose, along with a muted juniper kick. The palate is also light and fresh — this is a great gin to use in a tall drink like a gin and tonic — the juniper even more restrained as the lemon peel makes a stronger showing. At just 40% abv, it’s also feathery light on the palate — to the point where it comes off as a bit watery at times — so don’t go overboard with your mixers. 80 proof. B+ / $34
Darnley’s View Spiced Gin – Out with the elderflower, orris root, and lemon peel, in with nutmeg, ginger, cumin, cinnamon, cassia, grains of paradise, and cloves. The impact is immediate, the upshot being, oddly enough, that Darnley’s Spiced Gin, at least on the nose, comes across more like a traditional London Dry than its non-spiced counterpart. The juniper is stronger, and the cinnamon/cassia elements make it more pungent. A bevy of spices do come across clearly in the body, but fresh ginger, cloves, and more juniper are the most immediately visible. Unlike the relatively tepid Original Gin, the Spiced Gin is long on the finish and pungent with peppery notes. While the Original may be a great fit for a tall drink, this is the one to reach for to put in your martini. 85.4 proof. A- / $34
Guinness is back at it, with two new limited line extensions that further distance it from its best-known product. Both part of its skunkworks “Brewers Project,” the beers launched at the end of 2016.
Guinness Rye Pale Ale – A pale ale made with Mosaic and Cascade hops, plus rye. Originally brewed for Guinness’s Open Gate Brewery in Dublin, it was reportedly such a hit that it merited a broader release into the market. The rye and more traditional bittering agents make for a fun mashup, giving some gravity and weight to a moderately hoppy intro. While citrus peel is more evident, it’s light on the piney resin notes, showcasing notes of mushroom, cedar planks, and leather on the finish. A nice diversion. 5% abv. B+
Guinness Antwerpen Stout – Previously only available in Belgium, where it is known as Guinness Special Export, Antwerpen Stout was first brewed here in 1944 and has never before been made in the U.S. While one should not confuse this with the somewhat different Guinness Foreign Extra, they drink with some similarities. Antwerpan Stout is carbonated (not nitrogenated) drinks as a fruit-forward beer, moderately hoppy but featuring layered notes of roasted coffee, licorice, raisin, and cloves. It’s all surprisingly well balanced, with a lasting, lightly spicy finish that echoes the coffee and clove notes the strongest. Worth looking into. 8% abv. B+
each $9 per four-pack of 11.2 oz bottles / guinness.com
Just because it’s cold outside doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a good rose with dinner tonight. Here are four rose wines from France’s Provence, all 2015 vintages, worth a look.
2015 Domaine de la Sangliere Cuvee Speciale Cotes de Provence – Lightly grassy and herbal on the nose, this wine exhibits a bold berry profile on the palate featuring fresh notes of strawberry, plus hints of jasmine and a bit of thyme. Exotic and complex for a rose, and quite worthwhile. A- / $11
2015 Xavier Flouret Nationale 7 Cotes de Provence – A very light-bodied wine, with floral notes prominent up front and a somewhat duller, lightly vegetal body. Lively enough at mealtime, but it lacks zing on its own. B / $20
2015 Mas de Cadenet Cotes de Provence Sainte Victoire – Strawberry heavy on the nose and the palate, with an undercurrent of toasty grains. Arguably the most straightforward rose in this collection, it goes down with little fuss en route to a short but wholly inoffensive finish. B+ / $16
2015 Chateau d’Esclans Rock Angel Cotes de Provence Rose – This is a much bolder wine than the 2014 release, showcasing big fruit flavors in the realm of peach, apricot, and pear, all folded into a slightly palate that ultimately turns somewhat sour on the back end. The finish is rustic and a bit tart. Best with food. B- / $20
In December of 2016, Beam Suntory informed the public that enjoying a bottle of Booker’s batches in 2017 will come affixed with a price increase of an additional $40 over suggested retail, resulting in a $99 price tag. The explanation included the customary press release rhetoric of supply/demand and a reduction in release schedule from six to four times per year. The news was not met well with everyone, from consumers and critics all the way up to distributors and store buyers. Beam Suntory’s not so subtle attempt to elevate Booker’s unto the ranks of Pappy van Winkle backfired and flopped, and the company backed off weeks later. Given the recent fanfare surrounding the brand, it seemed an appropriate time as any to test drive the final two batches of 2016.
Booker’s Batch 2016-05 “Off Your Rocker” – A most appropriate nickname for this expression. This is very much a “Noe holds barred” bottle, deceptively powerful for only being 6 1/2 years old. The near-65% abv is quite evident right from the nose with a nice blend of charred oak and the signature combination of vanilla and tobacco that was customarily present in the pre-nickname Booker’s era. The alcohol refuses to sit back unless you add a bit of water to the mix, which brings out dark chocolate, pepper, and a little bit of cherry. The finish is long and strong, with more black cherry and vanilla that eventually eases up over time to provide a mild relief. A big and boisterous affair, much like the bourbon’s namesake himself, if legend is to be believed. 129.7 proof. $60 / A-
Booker’s Batch 2016-06 “Noe Hard Times” – Taking the volume down from Off Your Rocker’s 11 to about 8 1/2, “Noe Hard Times” (a tribute to Noe’s highschool football nickname) has plenty of vanilla dancing about on the nose, but it’s a tad lighter on the oak and alcohol notes when contrasted against other releases in the class of 2016. A bit of toffee, burnt brown sugar and a lovely medium length finish of dark cherry and vanilla. 127.8 proof. $60 / B+
This is not the last we will see of Beam Suntory’s strategic moves regarding Booker’s. Price increases are still slated to happen gradually and will reach the higher tier price points by late 2017/early 2018. If Booker’s is your brand, it may be best to stock up now. These two would be suitable places to start.