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Saturday, January 12, 2019

White Out: Mr. Black Coffee Liqueur Erases the Competition

Mr. Black - no I don’t care for the name either - is a coffee liqueur. Think you’ve been there and done that? No you haven’t. This is, hands down, the single best coffee liqueur on the market. It’s made with cold brew coffee using a bittersweet blend of Arabica coffees and Australian wheat vodka. The math means it has half the sugar and ten times the coffee of ‘old-world’ liqueurs, so if you’re a coffee purist, you’ve found what you’ve always been looking for.
Mr. Black got its start in 2012 between fashion designer Tom Baker and distiller Philip Moore of Distillery Botanica in New South Wales, Australia. It took over 230 attempts to come up with the product that won a gold medal at the International Wine & Spirits Competition in London in 2012. But you may not have heard of it. Let’s change that. It was Crowdfunded in Australia, then distributed in the UK, and finally in 2019 has limited distribution in California and New York. Once roasted the coffee is ground, cold brewed, and mixed with alcohol, and left to sit. Then liquid is press-extracted, coaxing out as much raw flavor as it can provide.
What I appreciate about this is the lack of viscosity. This is more in line with coffee with added alcohol, not a thick liquid that leaves a gluey film over your mouth, which is true of the majority of coffee liqueur brands. Yes, the nose is potent coffee, which is good. The resulting effort of deep roasted coffee, semi-sweet without being syrupy, clean without being cloying and simple without being boring. Ideal for after dinner, maybe before dinner, hell, maybe before breakfast depending on your leanings, this is coffee done right, with added vodka, also done right, resulting in an ideal coffee drink unlike anything you’ve had before. ($40/750 ML, and worth every penny).

Friday, December 14, 2018

Wine Each Week: 2017 Wrath EX Unoaked Chardonnay

No doubt you’re not familiar with San Saba Vineyard up in Monterey County, but this little vineyard has been producing stellar fruit for decades. Under the umbrella Wrath Wines label, I first covered them in my 2010 travel book, Santa Barbara & The Central Coast. They have re-worked their Ex Anima label, morphing to simply EX and you’re going to need to find these wines (they have tasting rooms in both  Soledad off Highway 101 and in Carmel). What’s immediately apparent on this Chardonnay is a vitality, a freshness you encounter from the first sip. Guava, pineapple, tropical fruits, lemon-lime, orange zest, and Red Delicious apple all conspire to make a bright, clean and refreshing wine. As the name suggests, there’s no oak treatment. These are 35 year old vines (Clone 4 for the wine geeks) and are sustainably farmed under the SIP Certified Program, insuring that you can feel confident of a do no harm mentality to our environment. And at a meager nineteen bucks, you literally cannot go wrong.

ORIGIN: Monterey, California – Santa Lucia Highlands
PRICE: $19/ 750ML / 814 Cases
ALCOHOL: 13.5%

Friday, November 16, 2018

Wine Each Week: 2016 Amici Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

I gotta say, I love a good California Cabernet, and California Cabs come in a dizzying array of styles; some austere and tight, others, jammy and alcoholic, most rather forgettable. But Amici strikes the correct balance. It represents what Napa Cab should taste like while presenting solid structure and a pleasant drinking experience.
You’ll find notes of blueberry, black cherry, blackberry, cedar and vanilla, cigar box, with back notes of plum, herbs and wildflowers. 
Comprised of Cabernet Sauvignon, with 6% Malbec, 6% Merlot, 3% Petite Verdot and 3% Cabernet Franc, it’s aged for 20 months in 70% new French oak barrels, which might sound like a lot of wood, but it merely supports the fruit. The Amici is that tried and true Cabernet, one that will always be in style.
ORIGIN: Napa Valley, California
PRICE: $50/ 750ML

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Wine Each Week: 2013 Las Positas Vineyard Coccineous

The irony of the Livermore Valley is that it’s still an under-the-radar wine region, in spite of it being one of the oldest planted areas to vineyards in California. So it’s really no surprise that gems are hidden there. A case in point is this Coccineous (which translates as “scarlet”), a blend of 43% Tempranillo, 36% Petite Sirah, along with small amounts of Syrah and Malbec. Though currently on the market this 2013 defies its age and is drinking incredibly well. It offers mature notes of black berry, raspberry, cedar, black cherry, with back notes of mulberry, pomegranate and quiet notes of rhubarb. There’s a still vibrant acidity, and harmonious balance. Using a mere 30% new French and American oak, the balance between fruit and wood is impressive. This wine is also a rather unique look into a blend that seems it shouldn’t work on paper, but does work in the glass and on the palate, a wine that takes you off guard and makes you believe in small producers who toil away in the far reaches of the industry. It also shows how large distribution networks often overlook the little guy, ignoring intriguing wines with small production. Fortunately, Las Positas will keep making their wine.
ORIGIN: Livermore Valley, California
PRICE: $48/ 750 ML

Limited availability, 290 cases.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Wine Each Week: Canned Oregon Pinot Gris

Wine in cans is actually not a new idea. In fact it has been around since at least 1996. But the wine industry and now the public are embracing canned wine, new ideas, new packaging. Some of the first canned wines over the last decade did have a metallic taste to them, and no one wants that. That’s what always turned me off. But technology has improved and joining the pop-tops is this new version out of Oregon made by Canned Oregon. Their Pinot Gris (they also offer a sparkling rose’ and sparkling white) offers up notes of citrus, lemon-lime, mango, hints of guava and pineapple, lemon grass with a bright clean acidity, best consumed after the chill of the can has worn off a few minutes to really get the bright, crisp nature of this wine. The fruit is from a variety of Willamette Valley wineries, whole-cluster pressed to mitigate the phenolics and fermented in stainless steel. It’s not national just yet, but expect a full 20 states to offer this by fall of 2018 including California, Oregon (of course), Washington, Minnesota, Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, North Dakota, the Carolinas, and Ohio.
ORIGIN: Willamette Valley, Oregon
PRICE: $5.99 - $7.99/ 375ML
ALCOHOL: 12.5%, 3700 cases.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Wine Each Week: 2013 Cuda Ridge Malbec Reserve

Little known, the Livermore Valley wine region is actually one of the oldest in California, with commercial plantings first starting in the 1840s, well before the Sierra Foothills and Napa. One of the grapes they have been successful with has been Malbec, an odd-ball grape, even by today’s standards. Malbec is often planted to blend into other wines, occasionally used as a stand-alone wine, but typically sold only at winery tasting rooms. With the exception of Argentinean Malbec, U.S. Malbec is not a successful category. Which is why it’s impressive that Cuda Ridge has made a commitment to produce Malbec.
This wine offers touches of plum, cranberry, raspberry, black cherry, with vanilla, cedar and herbal notes, a slight cola note, and a spicy pepper note accentuating the back palate. The result is a rather sensual and pleasing wine. Aged a staggering 32 months in American oak barrels (both used and neutral, not new), a mere 49 cases were made. Though on the pricy side (given its extensive barrel aging) it nonetheless offers a unique and intriguing drinking experience.

ORIGIN: Livermore Valley, California
PRICE: $55/ 750ML
ALCOHOL: 13.7%

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Wine Each Week: 2016 Columbia Winery Chardonnay

Chardonnay is the most popular wine, white or red in the U.S. Always has been. Yes, there are luxurious examples well over $50, but the bulk of wine sales are not in that price range. So this 2016 Chardonnay not only gets the price right, it also get Chardonnay right. I’ve had multiple vintages of this wine and it has never disappointed me. Made of Chardonnay with 2% Viognier and 1% Muscat for a delicate, floral nose, this stainless steel fermented wine offers notes of Anjou pear, red delicious apple, tropical fruits, honeysuckle, brown-spiced vanilla, summertime flowers and a mild but bright acidity. A terrific wine at an exceptional price.
ORIGIN: Columbia Valley AVA, Washington State
PRICE: $14/ 750ML
ALCOHOL: 13.8%