Review: 2014 Cavalier & Sons Chardonnay Vin de France

Another Vin de France release for your approval: This one, a straightforward chardonnay, surprisingly aromatic on the nose with notes of fresh rosemary, peaches, lemon peel, and banana. On the palate, the lightly creamy body offers some toasty marshmallow notes and a little zing of citrus behind it, with a hint of white pepper.

A solid wine that drinks well above its price band.

A- / $7 /

Is Boxed Wine Any Good? Tasting Boxes from The Naked Grape, Vin Vault, and Liberty Creek

Don’t look now, but boxed wines have come leaps and bounds since you last snuck a sip from that box of Franzia in your parents’ refrigerator. Designed for big groups, low budgets, beach venues, or for folks who just want a glass every now and then without a whole bottle going bad (most large-size boxes will last for a month due to the airtight construction of the bag inside), boxed wine is a credible solution for any number of occasions.

That is, if the wine inside is any good. We put three recent bottlings — er, boxings — to the test. Let’s start sipping!

NV The Naked Grape Pinot Grigio California – A perfectly credible “house white,” this spritely wine is brisk and acidic, with notes of pineapple, melon, and lingering lemon and lime on the back end. Cleansing and fresh; uncomplicated but plenty pleasant. B+ / $20 (3 liters)

NV Vin Vault Cabernet Sauvignon California – This one’s barely drinkable, a fruit bomb that tastes more like strawberry-flavored syrup and jelly than it does any wine I would rank as palatable. Chocolate, marshmallow, and vanilla notes give it a distinct dessert-like bent, particularly on the gummy finish. D / $20 (3 liters)

NV Liberty Creek Chardonnay California – This is a workable chardonnay, minimally oaked (or treated) and featuring just a hint of vanilla that works fairly well as a companion to a lemon-heavy palate, which is otherwise lightly sweet but approachable enough for afternoon porch-sipping. Nothing complex, but I wouldn’t be ashamed to serve it. B / $4 (500ml)

Review: St. Mayhem Craft Wine Cooler – Ginger Loves Company

It’s hard to hear “wine cooler” without thinking back to the 1980s when virtually every major liquor company mixed cheap wine with fruit juice to make a party alternative to inexpensive beer. St. Mayhem’s newest wine cooler bears virtually no relation to the earlier beverages with which it shares a name. Ginger Loves Company is made with quality wine, includes virtually no fruit juice, has a much higher alcohol content (14.1%), costs more, and tastes good. Ginger Loves Company begins with Chardonnay sourced from Napa and Clarksburg and then is aged with organic peaches and organic dried ginger root. The result is not a college party drink, but a glass of wine with an unusual profile.

The nose on Ginger Loves Company reveals typical chardonnay character as well as clear notes of ginger. The palate opens like a California chardonnay, with some buttery creaminess. The slightly sweet flavor of peaches follows, but it isn’t overpowering. Finally, ginger appears in the finish, which I think some may appreciate, but which I didn’t enjoy more than a good chardonnay.

I don’t know if I’m sold on Ginger Loves Company, but it’s enjoyable and worth trying. More importantly, I am impressed by St. Mayhem’s creative innovation as they take quality wine into bold new territory.

B / $25 /

Review: Barefoot Sangria

Here’s a cold hard truth: Bottled sangria is almost always better than you think, and Barefoot, which is hardly renowned for its luxe bottles of standard wine, produces a perfectly drinkable one here, a fruit-forward wine made even fruitier through the addition of extra citrus flavors (featuring lots of lime), plus hints of tropical fruits — pineapple and, especially, some mango. What’s the base wine for this sangria (which says merely “grape wine” on the label)? And just how natural are those “natural flavors”? At 9 bucks a bottle, you should know better than to ask. Your guests won’t care if you chop up an orange and toss it in a pitcher with this stuff.

B+ / $9 /

Review: Ferdinand’s Saar Dry Vermouth, Dry Gin, and Quince

Newly available in the U.S. is this collection of products from Germany’s Avadis Dsitllery. Bottled under the Ferdinand’s label, these products all involve a unique ingredient: Riesling wine from the Mosel region, where the distillery is based.

Some additional details from the company:

Ferdinand’s Saar Dry Gin is crafted from grain to bottle at Avadis Distillery located in Germany’s Mosel Region. Only the highest-grade late and select harvest grape wines from the neighboring steep shale slopes of the Saarburger Rausch vineyards are used for the gin’s wine infusion. These semi-sweet Rieslings from the Saar are not just known for their elegance and fruity complexity, but also exhibit the maximum degree of extract density, providing a refinement characteristic to Saar Dry Gin. The raw distillate produced from the grain is distilled several times to form the basis for a selection of 30 hand-picked herbs, spices and fruits, which are carefully macerated to produce an eau-de-vie. The additional use of a steam infusion of freshly harvested herbs adds unique fresh floral notes to this gin, and it is rounded off with a precise measure of Schiefer Riesling to guarantees a high-quality product.

We tasted three products in the Ferdinand’s line. Thoughts follow.

Ferdinand’s Saar Dry Vermouth – Dry vermouth made from the riesling grape. Quite dry, and surprisingly bitter given the riesling base. Notes of oxidation, rosemary, and quinine all mix together a bit unevenly, finishing on a Meyer lemon note. Scattered and off-balance, with too much wormwood in the mix, it has a certain charm but doesn’t add a whole lot in a mixed drink. 18% abv. B- / $23

Ferdinand’s Saar Dry Gin – This is the riesling-infused gin, with 30 (undisclosed) botanicals. The nose is intense with juniper, lemon peel, and thyme — largely traditional, with the riesling not making a major showing. On the palate, the wine character is far more evident, a bittersweet character that offers a lemon syrup note, followed by layers and layers of savory herbs, leading to a surprising, very bitter finish. Daunting on its own, it’s an intensely herbal experience that needs a lot more citrus in the bill to find balance. 88 proof. C+ / $45

Ferdinand’s Saar Quince – This oddity, an homage to traditional sloe gin, is an infusion of Saar Dry Gin (though the label says “vodka”) with estate-grown quinces and 2011 Kabinett class riesling. The exotic nose combines sweet white wine, honey, lemon and grapefruit (or quince-ness), and a smack of herbs to create a truly unusual but not unappealing aroma. The palate is quite sweet, again laced with a rather intense amount of herbs but cut with lots of that lemony citrus character. The finish is bittersweet, a bit sour, and quite herbal, but it all fades out on a sweet lemon sherbet note. Not really a substitute for sloe gin, but you might see what you can do with it in lieu of triple sec — or half-and-half with a regular gin. 60 proof. B / $50 (500ml)

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