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Thursday, June 8, 2017

Scottish Gin with a German Twist

New gins hit the market frequently and, sadly, many of them are not very good, or they so deviate from what gin is, it’s merely a clear spirit. So leave it to the Scotts to make some cool gin. Distilled at Balmenach Distillery in the Speyside region of Scotland (known better for whisky) the CaorunnSmall Batch Scottish Gin includes five specific botanicals including Rowan berry, heather, bog myrtle, dandelion and apple, all from the region, and so unlike other gins in that they simply don’t have these natural resources. Think of it as a New World London Dry style. No these elements are not specifically distinguishable but together they produce a lively gin with a clean, pure expression. There are back notes of pepper spice, juniper, menthol, and fresh mint. It deviates from heavy juniper gins instead providing more zesty citrus, slightly sweet and a great sipper on its own. It’s 83 proof and runs about $35.
Since gin is colorless, why not use the Nachtmann Highland Tumbler in Reseda (that’s the green color) that is made of Bavarian machine-cut un-leaded crystal. Sure, tumblers come in many styles but holding this glass is nice to the touch, the grooves not so deep that it’s awkward in your hand. It’s also not a heavy tumbler (some have such thick glass it’s like you’re doing free weights). This is cool looking, with a soft rounded lip and it’s dishwasher safe. Nachtmann started in 1834 producing glassware and today has an extensive line of glassware, of which this tumbler is a nice addition to my bar set. Retail for a single glass is $19.99.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Love Whisky but not sure about Japanese Whisky? Let me make it a little easier for you...Read my review of Whisky Japan from The Whisky Reviewer here:

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Getting Zapped. Zinfandel. The Experience.

Flights of older & newer Zins
Zinfandel is considered “America’s grape” because it was widely planted when the California wine industry began to grow in the mid to late 1850s, but it is not, however, a truly American grape; it’s an immigrant – it originally came from Europe. Though heavily planted in California, you see far too many iterations that are all jammy fruit and sweetness. Nothing wrong with that, but Zinfandel can also be elegant, structured, earthy and subtle; a wine of diversity breaking away from typical Cabernet/Merlot flavors, and nothing like Syrah at all. But most people’s perception is Zin as a pizza and burger wine. Oh, the horror. Yes, I’m a ZinFan. And any ZinFan should really attend the annual ZinEx - the Zinfandel Experience - in San Francisco, as I did in February 2017 to get a well rounded, truly authentic look (and taste) into how diverse and exceptional Zinfandel can be.

Dedicated Zinfandel fans
ZinEx is like most multi-day festivals; there are special “flight” tastings with older vintages (I had some 2002, 2004, 2007 vintages), winemaker dinners, an evening auction, and grand tasting. But what sets this apart is the near fanatical nature of Zinfandel fans. You don’t really get this from Cabernet or Pinot - sure there are die-hards – but Zinfandel excites a primal sense in wine lovers; there’s something nearly visceral, emotional and instinctual. During ZinEx there were events at the terrific One Market Restaurant (including some of the best calamari I’ve had outside of Crete), the Bentley Reserve (formerly the San Francisco Federal reserve bank) not to mention the Grand Tasting held at Pier 27 overlooking the San Francisco Bay, which saw more than 1,500 attendees. Over the course of that day, over 20,000 appetizers from 18 artisan purveyors and chefs were available – of which I had maybe five or six, which reminds me to eat more next year. Rounding out the afternoon were more than 600 different Zinfandels poured from California growing regions and appellations from diverse places including Mendocino, Redwood Valley, Lake County, Napa, Sonoma, El Dorado, Amador County, Shenandoah Valley, Calaveras County, Lodi, Contra Costa, Livermore, Paso Robles, and as far south as Cucamonga. So if you are addicted to Zinfandel, or if Zinfandel is still something of a mystery, a visit to ZinEx will open your mind and your palate to California’s First Grape, so do check it out.

My Top Zinfandel Finds at ZinEx/2017
NV Lava Cap River Red (Zin blend), $18
2013 Steele Old Vine Mendocino County, $19
2014 The Federalist, Bourbon Barrel Aged, $25
2015 Day Zinfandel Sonoma Coast $30 
2014 Dashe Cellars Todd Brothers Old Vine, $35
Terra d‘Oro 10 Year Tawny Port, $50
2014 Miraflores Trilegato, $55

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Locations, Locations, Locations…Wine

Wine is a global affair, yet most wine production facilities/wineries, only make wine from one place – where they are located. Some have a few vineyards in say France and California, or something like that, (Paul Hobbs for example has vineyards in California and Argentina) but few wineries offer wines made by them from places across the globe in a single portfolio. Yes, it’s been done before, but with little success. But Locations Wine is finally getting it right.

Just after the 2010 harvest, Dave Phinney was at the Charles de Gaulle airport, lamenting how existing wine regulations were limiting his ability to make the kind of wine he wanted. He joked about possibilities, imagining what he could do if there were no rules. What if you could blend across French appellations? What if there were no rules. Standing at the airport a taxi pulled curbside and he noticed the very distinctive “F” sticker on the license plate. His mind exploded with thought and possibility. What if he could take this idea and do this not only in France, but also in Italy, Spain, and Portugal? Since great wine is made all over the world, what if you could produce a range of wines across all of the major wine regions of the world paying homage to each country? Enter Locations, with wines from California, France, Portugal, Texas, Italy, Spain, Argentina, Oregon, and Washington. Pretty impressive. I sampled through three of the wines – line priced at $19.99 - the Portuguese being my favorite of the three, though terrific quality with all of them.

The Italian, a blend of Negromaro and Nero d’ Avola offers black berry, brambleberry, pomegranate and cedar, bing cherry.
The Portugal blend of Touriga Nacional, Trincaderia, and Touriga Franca is full of black cherry, black berry, rhubarb, cassis, boysenberry and is earthy and vibrant.
The French Rosé, all Grenache, is strawberry, hibiscus, rose water and violets with a bold acidity, and that mineral/earthy quality that Grenache offers. Locations Wines is a capital idea that lets you travel the Big World of Wine.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Moon-Shining: Sugarlands Distillery Shines On

Moonshine, white lightning, hooch – whatever you call it, there is a burgeoning industry these days making the stuff. Sure, it’s not true moonshine in that you can legally obtain it, but it still hearkens back to the good ‘ol days of guys illegally distilling something in the mountains of Tennessee while evading the authorities. Now you can proudly walk directly into Sugarlands Distilling Company in downtown Gatlinburg, Tennessee and taste samples of their Sugarlands Shine, 2o versions in fact. And there’s behind the-scenes tours of the production facility, live music, Appalachian storytelling, and outdoor adventure tours in the Sugarlands, an area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I recently sampled two of their ‘Shines, the Root Beer Moonshine and their Appalachian Sipping Cream, what they call Electric Orange Sipping Liqueur. Using mainly corn and rye as their base for a neutral spirit, they then add in various flavors (they have a Peanut Butter and Jelly, Blueberry Muffin, and Coffee versions as well) to create a proprietary moonshine. And I can tell you this, these are damn good.

With the Root Beer you are immediately hit with the noticeable smell of root beer. You still get the notes of sassafras, molasses, and cinnamon and there is a slight sweetness to this, which underlies the idea that you don't really notice much of the alcohol note. This also means it’s easy to drink and it’s ideal for a grown-up root beer float.

Admittedly, I’m not a fan of orange drinks and as a kid if there was orange sherbet or an orangesicle bar or cream soda, I would avoid it. And then I tried the Appalachian Sipping Cream, and wow, what a great surprise. The Orange is wonderfully creamy with notes of orange, nutmeg, citrus zest and so compelling and terribly fun to drink. I’m a huge fan of limoncello crema (where they add cream) and this is exactly like that, smooth and velvety and the orange is light, bright but not heavy or acidic. And if you’re like me, this will be gone quickly. Bottom line? You’ll grow sweet on Sugarlands.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

On Your Mark: Markham’s 35th Birthday

I don’t recall what I did for my 35th birthday. And I’m guessing you really don’t care. But Markham Winery’s birthday is a different story, you know, cause they make wine…wine that you buy. It was 1980 when the first vintage of Markham Merlot hit the shelves, and Merlot--that underappreciated grape--has been Bruce Markham’s success since then. The winery in St. Helena traces it’s roots (pun intended) back to the 1870s when it was founded. Bruce and Kate Markham rebooted the old winery as Markham in 1978, keeping the history alive, and creating new wines. Sure there are other wines in their portfolio, Chardonnay, Cabernet, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Pinot and others, but it is Merlot they are known for, and what they do exceptionally well. So we’re celebrating with Merlot and cake (no, it’s not merlot-cake, it’s a lovely chocolate cake from WeTakeTheCake) but more importantly it’s the 2014 Markham Merlot that you should get your hands on. It offers ample mild fruit of bing cherry, blueberry, boysenberry and rustic sweet cedar, beautifully integrated tannins and a mild acidity and ultimately is a terrific value - a wine that is truly worth getting to know. Happy birthday, Markham!
ORIGIN: Napa, California
PRICE: $25/ 750ML
ALCOHOL: 14.2%

Bruce and Kate Markham

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Straw-beery: Belgian Beer & Strawberry Surprise

Two words: fruit beers. For most people, skepticism comes quickly, including me. So when the Früli Strawberry Beer from Belgium showed up, I had reservations. Actually, I admit I rolled my eyes. I’m a purist and adding flavors to beers or spirits usually makes me cringe. But I can announce here – I was wrong. The nose is more floral, more perfume-ish, but then that translates to a delightful beer with soft, under the radar strawberry notes - the Dutch know subtlety. The carbonation is milder than many beers providing a better sensory experience. It starts as a white beer, then is brewed with strawberry juice, orange peel and coriander, making it very light and refreshing, unique and appealing because it’s so harmoniously balanced. This can work as a cocktail too (two ideas below), or even a marinade for, say, chicken on the grill. If you too are skeptical, I strongly encourage you to try this. It will definitely change your mind.
Fruburry Martini: Früli, black raspberry liqueur and vodka, garnished with fresh black raspberries and a lime twist;
Frulirita: Früli, tequila, triple sec and fresh lime juice, garnished with a lime wheel and a fresh strawberry, topped with orange zest sprinkles:
Origin: Belgium
Average Price:  $13.99/4 Pack
ABV: 4.1%
IBU: 6.5