Review: 2015 Mia Bea Chardonnay and Petite Sirah

Barra Family Vineyards is a small, family-owned vineyard in Mendocino County. In 2014, the vineyard owners decided to use some of the harvest to make their own wine, a chardonnay. This year, they’ve expanded and are now offering their first red, a petite sirah.

We tasted both wines from the newly released 2015 vintage. Thoughts follow.

2015 Mia Bea Mendocino Chardonnay – Buttery and thick with vanilla, but dialed back enough to let a bit of spice and some herbal notes push through. A slightly syrupy body gives it a very lengthy finish, which works against it a bit, letting some lingering bitter notes creep up in the end. B / $22

2015 Mia Bea Mendocino Petite Sirah – While densely purple, this wine drinks with more delicacy than expected from a petite sirah, giving its dense raspberry and blackberry notes at the core a slightly floral touch. The finish is a touch earthy, with some licorice notes on top and a smattering of fresh thyme. A- / $28

miabeawines.com

Tasting the Wines of Onward, 2017 Releases

Onward is a wine brand run by winemaker Faith Armstrong, who creates these wines sustainably, organically, and biodynamically. During a recent live tasting, Armstrong talked through a collection of five new releases, with a special focus on her most beloved baby, Pét-Nat.

Thoughts follow.

2016 Onward Pét-Nat of Malvasia Bianca Suisun Valley – If wine writers truly have their finger on the pulse of the consumer, pétillant-naturel wine, or Pét-Nat, is all the rage in New York. (Think orange wine, but this year.) This is the first bottle I’ve ever actually encountered in California. Pét-Nat is a sparkling wine, made via a primitive process that predates Champagne. Namely, it undergoes only one fermentation, which is completed in the bottle without added sugar (making Pét-Nat a completely dry, but fizzy, wine). Pét-Nat is hazy and relatively low in alcohol — this one’s 12.6% abv — and crown-capped, not corked. This wine from Onward offers crisp notes of melon and pear, with no sweetness whatsoever. It’s quite an alarming experience, not to have that sugar, because the initial fruit rush messes with your mind. The fizzy melon notes give way to a very dry, herbal, somewhat mushroomy finish. Let the fizziness subside a bit (and the wine warm up a little) for the best — and wholly unique — experience. B+ / $24

2015 Onward Suisun Valley Malvasia Bianca – Basically the same wine as above (different vintage), without the sparkling treatment. Here more of the herbal notes are evident, along with strong lemon/lemongrass character. The melon-heavy core remains, but the fresh herbs make a big return on the finish. Quite acidic. B / $20

2016 Onward Rosé of Pinot Noir – Immediately a little funky, again showcasing some mushroom notes atop a core that is less strawberry and more cantaloupe, with grassy, herbal, and some oddly savory character to boot. While refreshing in its own way, this rose grabs at the back of the throat in a strange manner, finishing on a heavily vegetal note. B- / $22

2013 Onward Hawkeye Ranch Redwood Valley Pinot Noir – So thin in color you can see right through it. Earthy on the nose, with dusty flavors of tart cherry, licorice, and some cinnamon leading the way to a finish that is awfully bitter and rustic (for better or worse). C+ / $38

2014 Onward Casa Roja Carignane Contra Costa County – A rustic expression of an already rustic wine, this carignane bottling showcases the wines meaty core, folding in roasted nuts, mushroom, licorice, and miscellaneous vegetation. Drinkable, but not showing much fruit. B / $30

onwardwines.com

Review: Winc Wine Club

Winc subscription box wines
Winc is a monthly wine club from Northern California that, like most, works via an online subscription service. We had the opportunity to give them a try and were fairly impressed with the offering.

First, a bit about Winc. When you first sign up, you are asked several questions to determine your “Palate Profile.” They ask about how you like your coffee; your salt and citrus preferences; how much you like berry and earthy flavors; and how adventurous you are with trying new foods. The wine recommendations sent are based upon these questions. Most of their wines are around $13 a bottle but can be as much as $35. Rate the wines you get and you’ll improve the next set of recommendations. If you don’t want any wine this month, you can skip it.

A basic subscription includes three bottles plus a flat rate shipping. We received four bottles and a copy of the Winc Journal. The journal is particularly interesting. This one contained articles on terroir and an interview with winemaker Markus Bokisch. The journal talks about their featured wines with food pairing suggestions and rates the wines with regards to body, fruit, woodiness, earthiness, and sweetness.

Inside the journal are also cocktail recipes, using wines from your subscription box. Of our four, two were featured in cocktails in the journal and so we gave them a try as well. (See below.)

But first, on with the wines.

First up is 2015 Forma di Vida Graciano, a Spanish style red wine. Light on the sweetness, this wine has fruit flavors like dark cherry and plum. If you like your wine with lots of body, you’ll want to try this one, though it may be too heavy for people who don’t like strong flavors like we do. A / $13Summer Water cocktails

Next, we have 2016 Summer Water Rosé, which is aptly named as it is so light the alcohol content is barely noticeable. The cocktail included using Summer Water would be nice for the warmest summer days ahead. It gives the impression it would be right at home poolside. B / $15

Summer Water Shim
½ oz. fresh tangerine juice
1 ½ oz. Jardesca or Lillet Blanc
3 oz. Summer Water
1 fresh Bay Leaf

Chill the cocktail glass. Fill a shaker with ice and pour in the tangerine juice and Jardesca. Shake until the shaker feels frosty to the touch. Then strain into the glass and top with Summer water. Garnish with a Bay Leaf before serving.

Our third wine is 2015 Field Theory Abariño, a white wine from Andrus Island Vineyard. This one is extremely fruity and a touch sweet, but not overly so. It might be a favorite of the ladies. B /$18Finkes Widow cocktails

The fourth wine is 2016 Finke’s Widow Sparkling White Blend. A little sweeter than the Field Theory, it has a slight earthy undertone (like mushrooms) which gives way to the fizziness. B- / $13

Avocado-Do Slushy
¼ avocado
1 oz. shiso syrup
1 oz. fresh lime juice
¼ oz. fresh cucumber juice
4 oz. Finke’s Widow
2 shiso leaves

Shiso is Japanese basil but has a mixture of basil, anise, and mint flavors with grassy elements. You can substitute fresh mint if need be.

This recipe called for cucumber juice in the ingredients but coconut juice in the instructions. We chose to make it with the cucumber and adjusted the instructions. You could probably substitute coconut instead.

Puree a cucumber in a blender and then strain to extract the juice. Then combine all the other ingredients, except the shiso leaves, with the juice and stir. Pour into a medium sized glass and garnish with the leaves.

Negroni Spritz
3 oz. Finke’s Widow
2 oz. Campari
splash of soda
1 orange slice

Fill a rocks glass with ice, along with the orange slice. Pour the Campari and sparkling wine into the glass and top with a dash of soda. Mix gently before serving.

Winc’s website includes a recipes section for great food to serve with your wine. Here’s one example:

Garganelli with Lobster and Caramelized Fennel PureeGarganelli with Lobster and Caramelized Fennel Purée
serves 4
1 lb Garganelli pasta
1 1/2 pounds of lobster meat
salt
2 Tbsp. olive oil
¼ tsp. red chili flakes
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 bulbs fennel, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, crushed
½ cup white wine
¼ cup heavy cream
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
¾ cup toasted slivered almonds
4 Tbsp. butter
½ cup torn basil leaves
lemon zest

Find a pot that is large enough to fit two live lobsters and fill it with water. Set the pot over high heat and bring the water to a boil. Lightly salt the water. Add the lobsters to the pot, reduce the heat so that the water is gently simmering, and cook for 7 minutes.

Remove the lobsters and run them under cold water to stop the cooking process. Extract the meat from the lobsters—kitchen shears work great for this task. Cut the meat into bite-size pieces. Store the lobster meat in the refrigerator until you are ready to use it.

In a large skillet, over medium heat, add the olive oil and the red chili flakes. Wait one minute while the skillet gets hot, and then add the onions. When the onions are soft and translucent, add the fennel. Season with salt. When the fennel begins to soften, turn the heat down to low.

Slowly caramelize the fennel and onion, transforming them into something very soft and sweet. When the vegetables are sufficiently caramelized, add the garlic and the white wine; increase the heat, and cook until the wine has almost entirely evaporated. Add the heavy cream and cook until the cream has partially reduced.

Transfer the contents of the skillet to a blender and add the lemon juice. Puree until smooth. Add scant amounts of water if the puree is too thick. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary. If you want, you can store this puree in the refrigerator for a day or two ahead of time before completing this dish.

Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the package, except under cook the pasta by one or two minutes. While the pasta is cooking, set a large skillet over medium heat and add the fennel puree, stirring occasionally.

When the pasta is cooked, transfer it to the skillet with the fennel puree, making sure to reserve a cup of the pasta water. Add a little of the pasta water to the skillet and stir. Add the butter and the lobster. If you know how to flip the pasta in skillet with your wrist, do that now. Otherwise, keep stirring. Add the almonds and basil. If the pasta looks too dry, add more of the pasta water.

Taste the pasta while it is still in the skillet and adjust the seasoning as necessary. Before serving, garnish the pasta with lemon zest.

winc.com

Review: 2015 Robert Mondavi Private Selection Chardonnay Aged in Bourbon Barrels

Now that red wine aged in ex bourbon barrels is a real thing, it’s natural that it would extend to something new: white wine.

Robert Mondavi Private Selection Chardonnay is sourced from Monterey County, then aged in standard oak barrels for nine months. A portion of this is then further aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels, instead of new or neutral oak, for two months, then blended back with the regularly-aged wine before bottling.

The results here are more successful than with Mondavi’s prior bourbon-aged cabernet. The vanilla and caramel of bourbon are a more natural fit with buttery chardonnay than cabernet. Fans of big butter and bigger oak on their wine will find nothing to complain about here, the heavy vanilla character giving this a real dessert-like character. I’m glad Mondavi took the foot off the gas after two months; too much more and this wine would have been blasted out of the water with those hefty whiskey notes. On the flipside, fans of more acidic wines will want to avoid this one.

On the whole, the bourbon effect is rich and present — clearly noticeable from start to finish — but it still lets a bit of the underlying fruit, here showing as green apple and some tropical pineapple, shine through. There’s nothing fancy at work, to be sure, but it works well enough for a $11 wine.

B / $11 / robertmondaviprivateselection.com

Review: 2013 Beaulieu Vineyard Rarity and 2013 Georges de Latour Cabernet Sauvignon (and More) with Winemaker Jeffrey Stambor

We’ve been fans of Beaulieu Vineyard for years, but after nearly three decades at the winery, winemaker Jeffrey Stambor is passing the reins to someone else. Trevor Durling takes over now, and he’s faced with the mighty task of producing high-quality wine at an operation with 117 years of history behind it.

Recently I met both Stambor and Durling in San Francisco to taste a very special release: BV Rarity, the fifth ever release of this wine, and the first ever bottled as a Cabernet Sauvignon (the rest were field blends). 2013 Rarity began its life as a sub-selection of the highly regarded Georges de Latour Cabernet Sauvignon bottling (which is also reviewed below), and is bottled only in magnums (and carries a four-figure price tag).

Thoughts on everything tasted at our hour-long meetup follow.

1975 Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Cabernet Sauvignon – Well here’s a fun way to start the day, with a 42 year old bottle of cab. Brick red and well oxidized, this is a delicate and quite faded wine with notes of Madeira, lilacs, jasmine, and walnut oil. Austere with amontillado sherry notes and ample, old wood character, it fades from leather to motor oil to, ultimately, just a hint of fruit — blueberries, mainly. Moments of genius remain in this wine, but they’re incredibly fleeting and available only to those with ample patience. B+ / $120

2012 Beaulieu Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Clone 4 – This is a semi-experimental wine designed to test the vinification viability of a single clone of a cabernet grape, in this case Clone 4. The nose is full of chocolate and boysenberry, with a palate bold with vanilla, cocoa powder, walnuts, and currants. Lots of grip, but a worthwhile endeavor. B+ / $165

2012 Beaulieu Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve  Clone 6 – Now consider another clone, Clone 6: This wine is so much softer and well rounded, with rich blueberry and cassis giving the wine a lively but fruit-forward structure. Chocolate and caramel sauce notes grow in time. You can see the family resemblance with the Clone 4 bottling, but here the wine is elevated to another level. A / $165

2013 Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Cabernet Sauvignon – The 77th vintage of this wine, it’s a bold cabernet but lively and surprisingly ready to drink today. Immediately familiar (see our reviews of 2006 and 2010 GdL), with a clear menthol nose to it, it offers chocolate sauce and caramel (hints of Clone 6?), silky tannins, spice, and more — and has plenty of life left in the bottle for those who want to wait a few years. A- / $100

2013 Beaulieu Vineyard Rarity – Immediate notes of earthy terroir and an incredible amount of tannin hit the senses immediately, yet some acidity is detectable beneath the surface. There’s so much potential here, bound up in the dense currants and delectable notes of roasted meats, supple oak, and stony backbone that it’s hard to fairly judge today. Stambor’s best guess is to drink this seven to 15 years from now; it’s a bit unfair to guess at a rating today, but such is the work of a critic… A / $1000 (magnum)

bvwines.com

4 Vinho Verde Wines Reviewed: Afectus, Quinta do Ferro, Varanda do Conde, and Vilacetinho

Vinho verde is the delightful white wine from Portugal’s far northern region of Minho plus areas south of there — crisp, lively (it’s called verde because it tastes “green”), and — most importantly — incredibly inexpensive. A wide variety of grapes are used in the production, so keep a close eye on the label to see what you’re getting.

These low-alcohol wines, as low as 10% abv, are real crowd pleasers that pair well with anything but, most of all, are designed for easy drinking, on their own, in warmer weather.

Like, you know, right now.

Thoughts follow.

2013 Afectus Vinho Verde Branco – 75% lourciro, 15% trajadura, 10% arinto. Classic vinho verde structure, with tons of minerals, some dried herbs, lemon peel, and just a bit of sweetness to round things out. Vibrant and incredibly drinkable at a mere 11.5% alcohol, it’s the perfect wine to kick off summer. A / $11

2015 Quinta do Ferro Vinho Verde – 100% arinto. A more rustic wine, with significant herbal notes finding compatriots in notes of kumquat and lime, and a finish that offers notes of figs and lively acid. There’s a lot going on here — more than in the Afectus — but it doesn’t gel quite as beautifully, the herbal/citrus peel combo lingering a bit too long on the back of the throat. A- / $NA

2013 Varanda do Conde Vinho Verde – 70% alvarinho, 30% trajadura. A more buttery style of wine, made largely from the Spanish classic albarino (same thing as alvarinho), it drinks a bit like a chardonnay, with lemons and peaches melding into vanilla-dusted cream. More food friendly than aperitif-styled, with just a hint of a bitter edge on the finish. B+ / $10

2015 Vilacetinho Vinho Verde – Made from avesso, arinto, and azal e loureiro grapes (proportions unknown). Another brisk bottling, very lemony and acidic, with some pickling spice notes. The finish evokes lime peel and a bit of herbal bitterness. On the whole, though, it’s fresh and vibrant, and easy to sip on no matter what the environs. A paltry 10% abv. B+ / $8

Shaken or Stirred: Which Makes the Best Martini?

“A dry martini,” he said. “One. In a deep champagne goblet.”

“Oui, monsieur.”

“Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon-peel. Got it?”

-Ian Fleming, Casino Royale

Like a manhattan or an old fashioned, a martini is on its surface a simple drink to make: dry vermouth, gin (traditionally) or vodka (modern), and an olive as garnish. But a martini is something special; it’s lodged in the popular imagination, through no small fault of the man quoted above, Ian Fleming’s super spy James Bond. Whether through Fleming’s novels or film adaptations featuring Sean Connery, Daniel Craig, or countless others, if there’s one thing the average person knows about James Bond, it’s his preference of martini: shaken, not stirred.

The question is: Why? Does shaking vs. stirring change the taste of the martini? And if so, which is better? Naturally for this question we decided to hold a tasting to see how a martini fares when shaken or when stirred. For this tasting, we went with two gin martinis, made with Bombay, one shaken and one stirred.

Stirred Martini

Nose: The nose of a martini is a lovely thing, subtle and herbal and bitter. The stirred martini had notes of pine, bitter orange peel, and juniper — not too overpowering. The aroma of the vermouth was almost indistinct, and served mostly to highlight the aromas of the gin.

Palate: The initial taste of the stirred martini was briny, lightly acidic sea salt from the vermouth. Then came the gin, with the promise of the nose being borne out by juniper, bitter citrus peel, and a light Christmas-tree pine. Gin can be a tough thing for an alcohol novice to wrap their heads around, but a martini is a good, aromatic, interesting way to try something new.

Shaken Martini

Nose: The nose of the shaken martini was similar to the stirred martini, if perhaps a bit more piney. The decision of shaking or stirring didn’t seem to factor much into the nose.

Palate: Here’s where things get radically different. To start, the shaken martini was much colder, as a result of the gin being shaken up with the ice. (Many shaken martinis will even have ice chips in the drink, which some drinkers consider offensive.) The chill of the drink translated over to the taste, which was light and very, very subtle, almost to the point of not tasting like much of anything at all. There were slight notes of juniper and peel and pine, but they were buried beneath a watery simplicity. As the martini warmed up, the flavor became a bit stronger, but it was still more jumbled and indistinct than the stirred martini was.

Conclusions

So why did the drinks turn out this way? A lot of it has to do with the cold: Like a glass of white wine, it’s easy to over-chill a martini by shaking it, and the primary result of a too-cold martini is that it becomes much more thin and tasteless. This is compounded by the fact that shaking introduces more water into the drink via melted ice; a stirred martini will be a bit stronger, and thus more flavorful. As well, gin is a sensitive spirit and vigorous shaking has the result of muddling its taste. (There’s much talk of “bruising the vermouth” if you shake a martini, but it’s the gin that has the bigger problem.) All in all: A stirred martini is indeed more interesting and flavorful than a shaken one.

If there’s not much to recommend a shaken martini over a stirred one, then why does James Bond order them? The answer is twofold: first of all, Bond is the ultimate bad boy, and that extends to his choice in drinks. He doesn’t follow our rules, and from his first appearance in Casino Royale back in 1953, he was a man that blazed his own path. If society tells us to stir our martinis, of course Bond is going to be the type of guy who drinks them shaken. The other reason is more mundane. Look at his recipe again. In addition to the gin and vermouth, Bond requests a measure of vodka, making it a drink that he named The Vesper, after that book’s femme fatale. Vodka is a much heartier spirit than gin is, and if you’re drinking a vodka martini, shaking might actually be good for it, since vodka is best when it’s ice cold. Of course, given that Bond is drinking a martini with both gin and vodka in it, perhaps he just prefers a weaker drink with some water in the mix.

So that’s another taste test done, and another curious corner of the history of spirits explored. If you feel like trying this experiment yourself, let us know in the comments which style you prefer, and why!

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