01 October 2014

2013 Line 39 Sauvignon Blanc

Founded in California in 2007, the Cecchetti Wine Company produces wine under five different brands: Austerity, Backhouse, Exitus, Redtree, and the source of this bottle, Line 39. As I mentioned in my 2013 review, this label is named after 39°N latitude, which runs right through Lake County, north of Sonoma and Napa.

Most people think of Sauvignon Blanc as a summer beverage, but I find it refreshing in the darker, colder days of fall. It's a reminder of sunshine and green grass and picnics. And a bottle invariably ends up on the Thanksgiving table, where it provides a tart accompaniment to ham and turkey.

2013 Line 39 Sauvignon Blanc
Lake County, California
100% Sauvignon Blanc
$11, 13.1% abv.

This Sauvignon Blanc opens up with aromas of grapefruit pith and lime peel. Tart and crisp with a quick and tangy finish. Perfect with a smoked chicken salad full of grapes and diced apples.

Note: This wine was provided as a sample for review.

29 September 2014

Five Wines from Coppola

Over the years I've tried a lot of wines from Francis Coppola Winery. The names and brands have changed over time, but these five labels appear to be sticking around.

I visited the Sonoma winery back in 2009 and have often recommended these bottles as reliable choices that are widely distributed throughout the United States.

2011 Francis Coppola Diamond Chardonnay
Monterey County
100% Chardonnay
$16, 13.5% abv.

Buttered popcorn, touch of vanilla and caramel. Bright acidity but a fairly round body with a woody aftertaste.

2011 Francis Coppola Diamond Malbec
89% Malbec, 7% Syrah, 4% Petite Sirah
$18, 13.1% abv.

Bright plum aroma with touches of leather and coffee. Round mouthfeel, low tannins, and a tart finish. Inky black color, but lighter than expected on the palate.

2011 Francis Coppola Diamond Claret
79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Petit Verdot, 3% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc
$21, 13.5% abv.

Blackberries, blueberries, cassis, chocolate, coffee, medium tannins, long dark fruit finish.

2012 Sofia Rosé
Monterey County, California
55% Syrah, 35% Pinot Noir, 10% Grenache
$19, 12.5% abv.

A favorite of mine, and one that I love to give as a gift. Light strawberry flavors with bright acidity and a generally fun wine. Adaptable to a wide range of foods.

2012 Francis Coppola Director's Pinot Noir
Sonoma Coast, California
100% Pinot Noir
$21, 13.5% abv.

Very light garnet color, delicate wild strawberry aromas, mild acidity, low tannins, long finish.

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

26 September 2014

Spell Winery Pinot Noir

At Spell Estate, German-born winemaker Andrew Berge produces a portfolio that is almost entirely Pinot Noir sourced from Sonoma and Mendocino. (The exception is a Chardonnay.) Spell is a small operation, producing 1500 cases a year. The wine can be purchased from their website, and tasting is only available by appointment at their custom crush facility.

I was contacted by Spell after tasting the Pinot Noir from La Pitchoune, where Berge also works as a winemaker. These four bottles show an impressive range of styles that are distinctly California yet demonstrate the versatility of this grape.

2012 Spell Nichole's Blend Pinot Noir
Sonoma County
100% Pinot Noir
902 Cases Produced
$39, 14.3% abv.

Profile of black cherry and a hint of leather. Medium tannins and a long finish. Excellent quality-price ratio.

2012 Spell Weir Vineyard Pinot Noir
Yorkville Highlands
100% Pinot Noir
194 Cases Produced
$50, 14.3% abv.

Deep and meaty with savory notes, a dark strawberry with just a dash of reduced balsamic vinegar on it.

2012 Spell Alder Springs Vineyard Pinot Noir
Mendocino County
100% Pinot Noir
149 Cases Produced
$50, 14.2% abv.

Really bold dark fruit with a firm body, one that benefits from an hour of decanting. Touches of tobacco and coffee are quite enchanting.

2012 Spell Terra de Promissio Vineyard
Sonoma Coast
100% Pinot Noir
148 Cases Produced
$72, 14.3% abv.

Rich and deep with a profile of berries backed up by hints of spice. Incredibly smooth and perfectly balanced. Highly recommended.

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

24 September 2014

Bickering Brothers Blended Whiskey

I recently had the pleasure of having an early dinner with Dave Rickert. I hadn't seen him in years and it was good to catch up over beer and sandwiches at a local bar. His brother Mike now lives in South Dakota, and from an earlier visit Dave brought me the last few ounces of a bottle of the most famous South Dakota whiskey.

Well, the only legal South Dakota whiskey.

Dakota Spirits Distillery has been in operation since 2006 but only in the past few years have they been able to sell their products in South Dakota (previously they trucked it across the border to Iowa). Their product line includes Ringneck Vodka, Coyote Light 100 Whiskey (a moonshine), Bickering Brothers Brandy, and this whiskey...

Bickering Brothers Blended Whiskey
Pierre, South Dakota
40% abv.

Half Bourbon, half grain spirits. Golden in color with a nose of oak and vanilla. Bracing like a young Scotch with a thin body but a long finish. On the palate I pick up a little spice and smoke. Definitely one that begs for a cigar on the back porch.

The whiskey is available mostly in South Dakota and due to state restrictions on how much they're allowed to produce, you're probably not going to see nationwide distribution anytime soon. But if you find yourself in the state to visit Mt. Rushmore or to ride at Sturgis, definitely check it out.

22 September 2014

Cider Brothers "William Tell" Hard Cider of Lodi

The Cider Brothers are Michael and Paul Scotto, 5th generation members of a Lodi wine family. They've recently branched out into hard cider production.

Cider was for a long time America's most popular alcoholic beverage, but lost favor with Prohibition and changing tastes after WWII. I was first exposed to it when it re-emerged as a curiosity in the 90s with brands like Woodchuck and a few British imports. Since then, the market has grown alongside the enthusiasm of the craft beer industry and there's more interest in traditional small production ciders made from fresh apples rather than concentrated juice. The Cider Brothers use a combination of five apples.

From the press release:
  • Golden Russets enhance the bouquet and aromatics, and contribute complexity and fruit flavor
  • Granny Smiths add tannic structure and tartness, adding to the mouthfeel
  • Galas help deliver a clean, refreshing finish
  • Fujis lend just the right amount of sweetness
  • Red Delicious brings rich mouth feel and distinct appley, aromatic qualities

Right now the bottles are available in the 22 oz. format, a little smaller than a 750mL wine bottle. But hard cider is usually a low alcohol beverage, so this is perfect for splitting between two people at dinner. (UPDATE: 12 oz. bottles are also available.)

William Tell Hard Apple Cider
Lodi, California
$9/22 oz. 6% abv.

Bright and slightly yeasty nose, with a clean, crisp, tart mouth feel. The dominant flavor is akin to a Golden Delicious. Completely lacking the sour note found in many mass-produced ciders.

William Tell Pinot Grigio Hard Apple Cider
Lodi, California
$9/22 oz., 6.5% abv.

This one is made with 85% Hard Apple Cider, 15% Pinot Grigio. Very similar to the first one, but the wine is definitely present with a rounder, smoother mouthfeel. I was skeptical of this kind of blend at first but after tasting found that I preferred it over the pure apple version. This would be phenomenal to serve at a BBQ.

Note: These ciders were provided as samples for review.

20 September 2014

Tannoor Grill in Cordova, Tennessee

A new restaurant popped up in the neighborhood recently, and because I only saw the sign while maneuvering rush hour traffic, I thought there was a new Indian place with a Tandoori grill. But upon further inspection the place is called Tannoor Grill, and is a Mediterranean/Middle Eastern version of the Brazilian churrascaria restaurant. Large skewers full of grilled meats are brought around to your table over and over until you say "stop!"

Tannoor Grill
830 N. Germantown Parkway
Cordova, TN 38018
(901) 443-5222

I stopped in for lunch by myself. Although the restaurant is all-you-can-eat, the place is classy and all food is brought to you. For dinner, they have an expanded menu and it's a little more expensive, but I must stress to all of my readers that the following feast was brought to my table for the bargain price of $13 (plus tax and beverages), and at any time I could request more of any of the courses.

First up was a freshly prepared fatoush salad full of tomatoes and cucumbers:

Followed by a slice of grilled eggplant topped with ground beef and yogurt:

Mezze! Pita, baba ghanoush, hummus:

Then chicken legs, served off the skewer:

Nicely seasoned ground beef kebabs:

Moist and succulent chicken breast:

Slices of rare sirloin. I could have kept going for a long while with this:

Chunks of well-done beef (chuck roast?):

After modest portions of everything I signaled defeat and Chef Shadi Alrammal came by with a whole pineapple, peeled, coated in brown sugar and grilled. I had two slices:

While this is an amazing bargain for lunch (and you can try everything without hurting yourself), I can't wait to try it for dinner to sample the lamb and all of the other extra options. That's the kind of dinner that requires fasting for a few days ahead of time and a lot of time on the exercise bike for the following week. Check it out, and tell 'em I sent you.

Flying Dog Pearl Necklace Oyster Stout

Part of me always thought that oyster stout might be an urban legend, one of those footnotes in a book that happens to get repeated and accepted as fact over time like the phantom island of Frisland. Beer brewing depends on cleanliness, so why would you throw a bunch of live oysters in there?

Years ago someone figured out that leftover oyster shells could be used as a clarifying agent, just like how fish bladders, milk, and bull's blood have been used to keep wines from being cloudy. And then someone started dumping in whole oysters, and a very odd drink was created. When making oyster stout, you open the bivalves and put them in during the wort boiling stage, and all solids are removed before fermentation.

While the concept seems a little repulsive (and I love oysters), I have always wanted to try one. I hadn't been to The Flying Saucer recently, but while meeting up with a friend I noticed an oyster stout on the menu. I knew I'd have to come back later and try it.

Flying Dog Pearl Necklace Oyster Stout
Frederick, Maryland
35 IBUs
$10/6-pack, 5.5% abv.

Made with local Rappahannock River oysters. Proceeds from the sale of this stout go to the Oyster Recovery Partnership that's working to regrow oyster beds in the Chesapeake Bay. As with all Flying Dog beers, the label contains the wonderfully twisted artwork of Ralph Steadman. And yes, go ahead and giggle at the name of the beer, but there's an added reference: the stout is made with Perle hops.

It's not particularly bitter, with more focus on dark malts leading to flavors of coffee and chocolate and toast. But I immediately detected the scent of oysters. It's not strong, it's more like eating oysters, taking a sip of beer, and realizing that the scent from your hands is on the glass and interfering with the aroma of the beer. As it warms up and you get to the bottom of the glass, the oyster flavor intensifies but is never the dominant note.

The biggest problem is the salt. I love salt when properly used. Here it imparts a briny note to the beer which is interesting but problematic, particularly when drinking the beer alongside pub grub. I'm certain that about 5 minutes after the discovery of beer the inventor figured out that serving salty food would encourage more beer consumption. My choice of two brats (Usinger's and a beer brat), sauerkraut, and hot German potato salad was perhaps not the best pairing, though still delicious with copious amounts of ice water.

I'm glad I tried the oyster stout, but I don't see myself returning to it in the future. I would encourage any curious beer lover to try at least one if you get the opportunity. Now, Wynkoop Brewing's Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout is a whole other ball of fun...

19 September 2014

Hourglass Tasting

For the second year in a row, I've gotten the chance to taste a quartet of half bottles from Hourglass Vineyard in Napa Valley. My first tasting was in January 2013 and these were sampled a few months ago.

Napa is still recovering from the recent earthquake, so if you want to support those winemakers, growers, and everyone involved in the local industry, consider drinking a Napa wine this weekend. There has been a lot of damage to barrel rooms and cellars throughout the region, and your wine dollars do make a difference.

2013 Hourglass Estate Sauvignon Blanc
Napa Valley/Calistoga
100% Sauvignon Blanc
$40/750ml bottle

This is one of those bottles that I'd love to pour for a blind tasting. Unlike a lot of California Sauvignon Blanc, it is light, gentle, and restrained. There are slight elements of citrus and herbs but the presentation is so delicate. I would serve it with grilled quail and a simple salad.

2012 Blueline Estate Merlot
Napa Valley/Calistoga
91% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Petit Verdot
$75/750ml bottle

The Merlot opens up with aromas of stewed fruits and pencil shavings. The tannins are extremely mild, leading to a soft but long finish. Outstanding with a veal chop seasoned with Herbes de Provence.

2012 Blueline Estate Malbec
Napa Valley/Calistoga
75% Malbec, 25% Petit Verdot
$75/750ml bottle

This is a great Bordeaux blend of two grapes that you don't often see in the forefront in that region. Dominant profile of black cherry, with touches of dried cranberry on the back. On the nose there is a pleasant earthiness, while the strong tannins show a wine that should develop beautifully over the next few years. For now, this is a great Saturday night steak wine.

2012 Blueline Estate Cabernet Franc
Napa Valley/Calistoga
83% Cabernet Franc, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petit Verdot
$135/750ml bottle

The price might seem high for a Cabernet Franc but it will show you just how expressive this tiny grape can be. It is rich and dark with a pronounced cassis flavor. A sniff yields touches of black pepper, chocolate, and leather. The tannins are firm but not overbearing and again, it is one that will only improve with proper aging. Highly recommended.

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.