Friday, September 18, 2020

Fall Is Coming: Time For Malbec?

With the weather (finally) cooling in parts of the country, our meals and wines will begin to change. Whereas summer heat demands refreshing whites and light-footed reds, fall fare will want for a little more heft and a little more depth. Perfect timing for a transition to wines like malbec. Case in point is the Trapiche Medalla.

2017 Trapiche Medalla Malbec Mendoza $19 (Sample)
Made of 100% malbec grown at an altitude of close to 4000 feet in Tupungato. Predictably inky in the glass, but surprisingly expressive with floral aromatics and high-toned spices on the nose that reflect its new French oak regimen. Coy in the mouth; it needs time to blossom. Precise delivery of still tightly-wound red and blue fruit, and green vegetables framed by tightly-integrated tannins indicate longevity and greater accessibility in the coming years. As it benefits from air, the nose offers a preview of the complexity that awaits the patient consumer willing to cellar this well-made red that is clearly still in its infancy.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Traverse City Whiskey Co

Any longtime Ohioan will tell you that it goes against our grain to admit any flattery to our rival state to the north. But when the whiskey of the north proves to be of more than respectable quality, you've just got give credit where credit is due. 

Traverse City Whiskey Co has been making bourbons and other whiskeys since its opening in 2014, though the recipe and techniques underlying their distilling process can be traced back to co-founder Chris Fredrickson's great-grandfather who patented them during prohibition. TCWC bottles five different whiskeys, three of which I had a chance to review and enjoy. In addition to these, they bottle a rye and a port barrel-finished bourbon, both of which sound very yummy. These samples also arrived with a jar of the region's famous cherries, prepped for cocktail making.

Quick confession: that jar of cherries was too much to resist. In fact, it was half empty before I cracked the first of the whiskeys. Deep, dark (almost black) violet in color and soaked in a viscous bourbon-based syrup, having one is easy, but having just one is impossible. You've been warned. 

Traverse City Whiskey Co Straight Bourbon $33/43% abv (Sample)
Relaxation in a bottle. Super clean nose showcasing the 25% rye in the mashbill and a round, vanilla-laced shape no doubt thanks to being in the barrel for three or more years. All those same qualities carry through the the palate, which is illuminated by bright acidity and a languid finish. Think sitting in an Adirondack on the dock watching the sunset while on vacation. This bourbon is unstitched and laid back. Sip and chill.  

Traverse City Whiskey Co Barrel Proof Bourbon $79/58.3% abv (Sample)
This is next level. With a depth and sophistication that builds on its younger sibling, this slightly more corn-forward bourbon is a few shades darker and much more seductive on the nose thanks to its four-plus years in barrel. Hiding its strength well, it hits its deep notes with rich baritone and its high notes with aching clarity. Oh, so good. 

Traverse City Whiskey Co American Cherry $30/35% abv (Sample)
Cherry? Yes, cherry. Stick your nose into a tumbler of this stuff and you’ll think you just opened a jar of maraschinos, but the similarities end there. Instead, the flavors are dominated by textbook quality bourbon framed delicately with a dark sour cherry fusion. If it were the other way around (as I had sort of dreaded) the result would not be nearly as drinkable. Using the same mashbill as the straight bourbon, plus a boat load of Montmorency cherries, this is surprisingly clean, light, and dry. And sip after sip, all I could think was what a kick-ass Manhattan this would make.


Friday, September 11, 2020

Baby Chablis (Or Chablis, Baby!)

Burgundy is where chardonnay first found fame. And while Chablis, at the north end of Burgundy, is home to the most famous vineyards, chardonnay is the main white grape grown throughout the region. Some of it is insane - both in brilliance and cost (some grand cru Chablis can set you back upwards of $300,) but it's a risky bet, too. So, anytime I come across an affordably-priced white Burgundy, I like to give it a try.  Occasionally you find a winner, as was the case with this little find.

2018 Vignerons de Bel Air Chardonnay 'Grande QV' $13 (Purchased)

Nothing at all like chardonnay grown in the New World, this entry level Burgundy is a textbook example of why experimentation with these wines is worth the effort.  Little in the way of flab and with balanced acidity, this falls short of complex, but doesn't need to be at this price. Unexpectedly delightful and poised, it shows shades of brilliance and energy with no shouting or no show-boating. Just plain tasty.  BONUS: They make a 100% gamay red that's equally worth your efforts to find.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

My New Favorite Bourbon

Still Austin Straight Bourbon 'The Musician' $45 (Sample)

The deep amber hue of this straight bourbon offers an enticing preview of what awaits in the glass where the inviting, warm, caramel-laced aromas beckon. Given 20 minutes to absorb an ice cube, the scents unfold further into a relaxed, seductive on-ramp for the palate. The first taste’s initial heat is muted, allowing the precise, yet mellow flavors to settle in for the duration. Here the barrel's vanillin and spices complement rather than compete with a core spirit that is mercifully clean and absent any hint of cloying. The added rye (25%) and barley (5%) have an out-sized influence, amping up the sophistication factor. While a single slurp’s finish easily lasts minutes, only the most patient will be able to resist a rapid cycle of enjoy-drain-refill. Guessed it to be a $75 bottle, so delighted by how reasonably priced it is. Beautifully packaged, and very, very good indeed.



Friday, September 4, 2020

Youthful Vigor For The Win

Looking for something refreshing and exceptional to drink while you're tending to the grill this weekend?  Some of the most amazing wines I've had this decade have been Portuguese whites.  And when you factor in their affordability, this category is a haven for mind-blowing wine drinking experiences.  Selection, however, has not been all that terrific, but that's beginning to change.  Case in point is this albariño from Vinho Verde's Monção e Melgaço subregion:

2019 Quinta do Regueiro Alvarinho Foral de Melgaco $16 (Sample)

The youthful vigor and energy in this exuberant white are exciting. Snappy and alive, the intersection of vibrating fruit and salivary gland-inducing acidity pops like fireworks. Plenty of citrus and springtime grass cuttings, this is a European cousin to Northern California sauvignon blanc. Dry, crisp, and precise. Very enjoyable!


Wednesday, September 2, 2020

A Rum Like None Other

Chalk it up to a misspent youth in Puerto Rico and general aversion to sweet things, but I’ve never been much of a rum person. So, why is this one is so darn appealing? 

Montanya Distillers Oro High Mountain Rum Colorado $30 (Purchased)

With a nose that sits somewhere between Caribbean molasses and blended Scotch, one whiff lets you know this is no ordinary spirit. Distilled in Crested Butte from Louisiana sugar cane and Colorado mountain water, the Montanya Oro ($30) is aged in American white oak for a year before bottling. That cooperage plays an important role, imparting a peppery framing for the fleet-footed body. The effect of the combined factors is layered complexity and sophistication fitted over a focused core. With lingering spiciness, the finish is crisp and dry.  From Montanya Distillers.


Sunday, August 30, 2020

Aperitivo Power

NV Famiglia Pasqua Romeo & Juliet Passione Sentimento Prosecco Brut $16 (Sample)

I’m not sure what I want more, another pour of this or a bottle of Aperol to finish my teleportation to Piazza Bra at aperitivo hour. Super light platinum in the glass, less effervescent, and more deliberate than your average prosecco, this makes for both easy drinking and a bit more depth than I’d expect at this price point. Love the edgy packaging, too.


Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Me Gusta Tequila Blanco

A wise man once told me that you can't separate sensation from experience, explaining why a drink might taste so wonderful under some conditions (where, when, and with whom), yet later lack the same mystique.  If you've ever enjoyed a tropical cocktail while vacation in the tropics, then attempted to reproduce it back home, you understand this phenomenon.

Occasionally, however, a sensation can produce its own experience.  Case in point: if you close your eyes after popping a fresh, quality oyster in your mouth, it can transport you to that layer of sea water just under a wave's foam - magic that can be purchased for the mere cost of a bivalve. Turns out the right tequila can have strikingly similarly properties.

La Adelita Tequila Blanco $50

The crisp nose exudes precision and clears the stage for the sensory ride that follows. The attack on the palate is an intense laser beam, channeling magical saline qualities and shining like a beating sun smiling on a breezy stretch of deserted beach. Bright, clean, dry, and crackling with energy, it’s hard to put down. Given the chance to mellow over ice, the midsection unfolds into meaty substance, which will appeal to some more than others. That same substance, however, will benefit any mixers/cocktail ingredients, though my preference for a quality product like this is to enjoy it neat, preserving the intensity and saline flavors. Need to know more? Get your own bottle - it’ll be the cheapest beach vacation you’ve ever taken.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Rodano: Better (And Less Expensive) Than Its Sibling

This wine's more pedigreed sibling was one I recommended a few months ago, so when I saw this less-expensive declassified bottling from the same producer, I thought it would be worth the chance.  As it turns out, this one's even better.

2017 Fattoria Rodano Rosso Poggialupi $15

Made from organic grapes grown outside Castellina in Chianti, this easy-going red manages a rounded, full flavor thanks to its 30% merlot, but retains unmistakable Tuscan character from the remaining 70% sangiovese. While not as serious as the Chianti Classico, its approachability and quenching acidity make this a sensational value.


Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Heads Up: Spirits Coverage Coming!

Regular readers may recall my lamentation over the wine industry's steadily declining value proposition. The price of wine has outpaced inflation and income levels by pretty much any measure, making wine increasingly elitist. Meanwhile, very high quality craft beer and spirits have become increasingly accessible, bringing to market compelling alternatives to wine. Don't get me wrong, wine remains a fixture on my dinner table, and the hunt for discoveries and value will continue to dominate the writing you'll find here. But you will also begin to see some diversity on these pages, starting with some spirits coverage soon. The idea here is to introduce you to some of the other imbibing products out there that may be deserving of your exploration. 


A point of clarification, or disclaimer, perhaps: While I appreciate a good cocktail as much as the next thirsty desperado, fancy-pants mixology shan't be a focal point of spirits reviews here. There are just too many variables external to a liquor product that impact the enjoyment thereof to make mixed drinks a fair way to evaluate, so all bottles submitted for review will be tasted solo (and/or with ice.) Besides, I'm more of a purist anyway.

Have a specific request? Fire away!

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Cameron Hughes Reboots: Phoenix Rising

The first time I learned of de Negoce, (tip of the hat to Jeff Siegel, the Wine Curmudgeon), I thought,  "Man, I'll bet Cameron Hughes wishes he still had his company at a time like this."  Of course, Hughes is the man behind this new venture which, while branded as de Negoce, is appropriately named Phoenix Wine Company.

Following a fantastic run fueled by incredible discounts on high quality excess wine during the great recession, Cameron Hughes Wine found itself in financial trouble.  After going into receivership, the company was purchased out of bankruptcy by Vintage Wine Estates, which lists around 40 brands under its umbrella.  Is it a coincidence that the acquisition was almost exactly five years ago?  Expiring non-compete, perhaps?

Regardless, current conditions are ripe for a repeat of Hughes' approach, which, in 2010 led me to ask if he wasn't the smartest guy in the wine business.

This time around, though, he seems to be taking what was an innovative approach and adding touches of genius informed by tough experience.  De Negoce sells only by the case and only on futures, which means very limited financial risk to Mr. Hughes.  It'll be interesting to see how he does with it.

Special thanks to my buddy Pete for the gift of OG No. 17, my first introduction to this new label. 

2018 de Negoce Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley OG No. 17 $12

Classic Napa cab done well and priced even better.  Deep, dark fruit aromatics are accented by pretty floral perfumes on the nose. This gives way to more black fruit and cassis flavors framed by structured  tannins and refined oak. All of these attributes make for a lovely wine, but what wraps the package nicely is how no single attribute is overblown; instead, all exist in harmonious balance. Such a banging value!


Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Holding On To Summer

2018 Pieropan Soave $16
This entry-level wine is from a producer with real chops in the world of Soave. The more expensive classico version of this wine was my first introduction to Pieropan, and I've swooned over their labels many times since.  It's bottled summertime; carefree, fresh, and full of round, white flower aromas and fruit.  Perhaps a bit pricey for a declassified Soave, but worth it.