21 October 2014

2012 Gnarly Head Authentic Black

Usually when you've got a blended red table wine and a blended white in your portfolio, the next entry is always going to be a blended pink. Gnarly Head decided to go in a different direction with black. Pair it with a trendy orange wine for a festive Halloween theme. The suggested music pairing is blindingly obvious.

The wine is not, of course black, no more than a Pinot Noir is really noir. But it is a deep, dark shade of red thanks to a lot of Petite Sirah in the blend and a lot of skin contact. I've always enjoyed the rich depths of the smallest red grapes, bottles made from Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and of course, Petite Sirah. They're not always the same, being made in a wide range of styles but distinctive for being noticeably darker than your average Merlot.

2012 Gnarly Head Authentic Black
Lodi, California
Proprietary blend dominated by Petite Sirah
$12, 14.5% abv.

The wine has a bold profile of blackberry and chocolate, though it is not particularly tannic thanks to 12 months of oak aging and a little decanting ahead of the tasting. It has a round body with a focus on dark fruit elements and a long, lingering finish. There were times when I was reminded of fruit wines made from blueberry or blackberry but without the usual sweetness. Pair with slow-smoked pork ribs.

Note also the prominent placement of Lodi on the label. I have noticed this on Gnarly Head wines going back several vintages, but increasingly wineries that source from Lodi for traditionally "California" wines are starting to specify where the grapes came from. Expect to see more of this in the future, even from brands that may surprise you.

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

18 October 2014

Leaf Vodka

Michigan's ironically named Temperance Distilling Company produces Leaf Vodka, a new brand in the specialty spirits market. Both of their products are distilled from organic wheat, with the ethanol making up 40% of the bottle, while the remaining 60% comes from distinctive water.

There are a lot of studies out there debunking the ability to differentiate various vodkas as well as various waters in a blind tasting environment. To be fair, some of the more public denunciations involve innocent civilians who are just trying to be polite. Vodkas can and do have individual aromas, and if you ever want an example, purchase the cheapest one you can find and enjoy the alluring aroma of lighter fluid.

As for water, not all H2O tastes and smells the same, and this can be proven by any 3 year old who is taken on vacation to a different state: "The water tastes weird!" You don't even have to travel far from home before the tap water starts to strike you as noticeably unusual. Hard, soft, fizzy, mineral, sulfurous, sometimes it's a shade other than perfectly clear... I think the worst I ever experienced was in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where the water smelled so horrible I wanted to take a shower after my shower.

Leaf Vodka
Michigan
Certified Organic
$17/750mL bottle, 40% abv.

I tasted these two on my own as well as in a blind environment. In both cases it was easy to distinguish between them.

The green bottle is made using Alaskan glacier water, while the blue bottle comes from a Rocky Mountain mineral spring. The Alaskan is sweeter with a touch of citrus, and more of a pronounced grain aroma. The Rocky Mountain version has a darker, more stony and drier profile that reminds me of great Austrian Grüner Veltliner. Both are quite smooth, however I fear that the subtleties will be lost in cocktails. But for the price, these are both fantastic bargains.

Note: These bottles were provided as samples for review.

14 October 2014

Fee Bros. Cardamom "Boker's Style" Bitters

The story of Boker's bitters is a familiar one in the history of American alcohol production. For nearly a hundred years from the early 1800s until Prohibition, Boker's was popular in the United States as well as throughout the world, and then the company went out of business and multiple generations passed. Perhaps the most popular implementation was the Japanese Cocktail from the 1860s, which calls for two dashes of Boker's bitters. That means that since 1920, no one who is dedicated to strictly following recipes has been able to make this brandy-based beverage.

Fee Bros. has recently come out with a Cardamom bitters, subtitled as "Boker's Style". Only a few people in the world have actually sampled the few rare remaining bottles of Boker's, but they contributed to the development of this cocktail flavoring.

I'm not sure of the exact recipe, but the short version would be a delightful cross between gin and root beer, which is to say that there are lots of different botanical aromas including, from my sniff test: cardamom, pepper, sassafras, orange peel, coriander, and more. I won't ask for the secret recipe, but rest assured that you can add a few drops to a shot of vodka and you've effectively made a shortcut version of gin.

I tried it in a gin and vodka martini, and preferred it in the latter where the flavors didn't clash with the established spice combination in the gin. I have not tried it yet in a Japanese cocktail, mainly due to my residual irritation at making homemade orgeat syrup, the third ingredient beyond brandy and Boker's. However, I have many old cocktail books and will find the perfect one with which to use this rare and antiquated ingredient. I'll keep you posted.

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

13 October 2014

"Where've you been, Ben?"

The scene is a dentist's office in 1993. Dana, the dental hygienist, asks me, "Where've you been, Ben?" and laughs. Even I, a fan of puns, cringe slightly.

It was a joke that I heard roughly once a month for five years as I dealt with the regular schedule of tightening braces. Towards the end I could actually sleep through the procedure. It was also a pediatric practice, so I was the only patient driving himself to appointments.

I thought about this phrase recently because I feel like I've been neglecting the wine blog while at the same time doing more writing than I've ever done in my life. Here's what's going on in addition to my previous piece on working with Microsoft and the day job that keeps Bella fed.

I've picked up a freelance gig writing for Snooth.com, the company that has previously sponsored my press junkets to New York and Lodi. My first article for them is about 5 Wines for Prime Rib. I'm looking forward to more work with them in the future.

I'm also writing content for Nomacorc, the synthetic cork factory I visited back in February. I've written several pieces for their new blog, and the two that have been published are interviews with winemakers about five wines they love. One from Michael Honig and one from Ben Mayo.

This main site will always be the clearing house for everything that I write, and as I rapidly approach the ten year mark I am committed to continuing reviews of wines here at BWR. There are many great wines awaiting review downstairs, and I know that many more will be coming in the next two months during the holiday rush.

Thanks to everyone for reading, and be sure to check out my freelance pieces!

11 October 2014

Touring Lodi's Bechthold Vineyard with Microsoft Sway

As part of the Microsoft Office Insiders group, I get the opportunity to test out some new technology. Microsoft is getting ready to release a new Office application called Sway. Disclaimer: I'm receiving no compensation for this test and what you're seeing here is a preview of the technology. It's not completely ready, but I'm excited about it. Sway is sort of like PowerPoint but designed in such a way that you can easily create and display projects on mobile devices. The layout and format of the entire project can be changed with a tap, and it will also adjust itself to whatever device you're using.

For my first attempt at this new application, I thought it would be fun to put together a Sway about the Bechthold Vineyard in Lodi, California. I have lots of pictures that I'd not previously used, and thought that this was a fun way to present them. Bechthold was my first stop on my press tour earlier in the year, and recently we had an online tasting featuring four wines from that small patch of land:



Be sure to click on this link for the full screen experience which is easier to read:

A Sway About the Bechthold Vineyard in Lodi

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

10 October 2014

2012 Edna Valley Vineyard Chardonnay

As much as I love Vietnamese food, I don't eat it as often as I should, especially given the many great restaurants here in the greater Memphis area. Last weekend I stopped by Green Bamboo in my local neighborhood for takeout. Pictured here are hủ tiếu and gỏi cuốn: the former is a savory soup that includes shrimp, squid, and pork, while the latter is a lettuce and shrimp roll dipped in a peanut sauce.

It was my first time ordering hủ tiếu, and I think I've got a new favorite. I've always gone with the beef versions (phở bò viên, phở tái gầu) or the all-seafood implementations (like phở hải sản), but I think that the pork/shellfish/cephalopod model is pretty incredible.

The factor that always brings me back is the use of fresh vegetables. Bright basil, spicy peppers, crisp lettuce, crunchy bean sprouts... It's almost like having salad and soup at the same time and being able to enjoy the best elements of both. Upon arriving home, I decided that I would really enjoy this meal with a Chardonnay...

2012 Edna Valley Vineyard Chardonnay
Central Coast, California
100% Chardonnay
$15, 13.9% abv.

Buttery with a touch of caramel and vanilla on the nose. On the palate it is mild with gentle white peach flavors. Classic California Chardonnay profile. A perfect match with the lunchtime meal and a wine substantial enough to stand up to the bold flavors of the soup.

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

08 October 2014

Silly Glassware

I've given this advice in the past, but this is a great time of year to indulge in silly glassware. At right are a pair of glasses that I grabbed at Kroger for about a buck apiece: a goblet festooned with owls and other woodland critters, and a sturdy stemless glass with a frosted leaf.

Why do I keep buying these things, and even still have Champagne flutes emblazoned with 2007 on them?

#1) They're inexpensive. Nice glassware breaks over time, and while I always try to pick the perfect piece of crystal with the appropriate wine, there are far more casual occasions when non-fanatics just want to enjoy a glass, and these are perfect.

#2) They're indestructible. I've watched an expensive piece of Austrian stemware just crumble at the table. These glasses will survive the dishwasher, being employed as water glasses at Thanksgiving/Christmas, and can tip over without showering your dining room with tiny shards of pricy glass.

#3) Wine glasses don't always have to match. True, I enjoy a proper table setting with perfect stemware at all eight seatings. This is rarely how I enjoy wine in the real world.

#4) You'll always have extra glasses. Sometimes a friend comes over with a dozen bottles, or you're a wine writer and you receive three dozen bottles in one week and don't want to swirl and spit from the same glass all afternoon. It's helpful to have some generic red glasses, white glasses, and then assorted oddballs for dessert wines and sparklers that require thorough rinsing before sampling other types of wine.

#5) They're fun. I've always wanted wine to seem like a less threatening topic for the novice, and sometimes pouring the really nice, well-aged splash of Burgundy in a goofy glass covered in owls is the best way to make someone feel comfortable. I've seen people get really nervous around expensive stemware and end up breaking it, while a cheaper goblet style is more approachable and, referencing point #2, unlikely to break under normal conditions.

When it all comes down to it, the holidays are a time to have fun with friends and family. But I'm not suggesting you run out and buy Thanksgiving and Christmas glassware--the time is right to buy glasses covered in spiders, ghosts, and things that go bump in the night.