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Saturday, June 30, 2018

July 4th Bad Boy

The 4th of July is a time to celebrate and in America we do that by drinking what we damn well please. The 2015 Freelance Wines Coup de Grace Proprietary Red Blend is one wine to consider. Never mind the fact that none other than George Washington is on the label, this wine unites different grapes – e pluribus unum - out of many, one…wine! From Lodi, this is comprised of Old Vine Zinfandel, Cabernet Franc, Petite Sirah and Petite Verdot.
Much like the founding fathers of this country, this is a big boy, bold brash, in your face kind of wine, one that is not shy, but happy to announce itself. There’s tons of blackberry cobbler, blueberry compote, raspberry and plum with back notes of tobacco, licorice. It’s been barrel aged for just over a year and a half. It’s thick and viscous, like a oil coating your throat with jammy, ripe fruit and unashamed to be a crowd pleasing wine. $29.99

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Summertime Rose’- The Livin’ and Drinkin’ is Easy

To borrow the above phrase from George Gershwin and tweak it a little, summer is ideal for rose’ however let me be clear, it’s for any night of any year (sorry about the rhyme, Mr. Gershwin seems to be floating in my ether right now).

So for your consideration, here are four rose’ wines to explore this summer.

The 2017 Tres Chic ($16.99) from Le Grand Courtage is light and summery, fresh cut strawberries, lemon-lime, red currants, guava and a balanced acidity. Made of Grenache Noir and Cinsault. The fruit is from Sud de France (South of France) in the Pays d’Oc region.

The Edna Valley Rose’ ($16/Tempranillo, Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre) takes the idea of the Tres Chic and puts a new world spin on it. It offers similar strawberry and lemon-lime notes, but with more minerality and deeper fruit flavors.

The 2017 Fleur de Mer Cotes de Provence Rose’ ($20) then accentuates the Edna Valley with a brighter acidity and strong minerality. The strawberry and lemon lime are quieted by the more floral notes of lavender and honeysuckle.

The culmination of all this finds its expression in the J Brut Rose’ ($45/Pinot Noir and Chardonnay), which combines all the best of the three wines listed above, but adds bubbles. What’s not to love? So check out any of these bottles and enjoy summertime livin’.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Doorstep Cocktails: Does Shaker & Spoon Deliver?

Though the origin of the cocktail - both the word and the drink - is still murky the present proliferation of cocktails and bar culture is alive and well. But it wasn’t always that way.
Prohibition lasted from 1919 to 1931 and there are still antiquated laws across the U.S. making some cities and counties “dry.” Now however, 100 years later we have cocktails delivered to your doorstep. Ah, progress.
The cocktail renaissance is undeniable. But not everyone has the time nor the inclination to be a proficient bartender at home. Shaker & Spoon changes that, allowing anyone to create cool mixed drinks. Think of it as Blue Apron for cocktails. Each month a box shows up on your doorstep, sans alcohol and bartending utensils, along with original recipes from bartenders across the U.S. Each box is themed for the month, and comes with three recipes allowing enough ingredients for approximately 12 cocktails per box, four for each recipe. I sampled the Rye Oh My - featuring rye whiskey - and the Austin Without Limits - featuring aged tequila recipes - to see if Shaker & Spoon shakes out. The recipes typically use 4-5 ingredients, some as many as 8. The instructions are easy to follow, clear and concise making it uncomplicated for anyone to craft a quality cocktail right in your own home. I had suspected that the boxes would be filled with unimaginative items, and I was wrong. Some of the ingredients included lapsang souchong syrup, candied fennel, dried star anise, fig-raisin syrup, bitters and extracts, which helped to create compelling drinks. Happily surprised by the quality of the ingredients and the recipes, being your own bartender has never been more fun, easier or foolproof. I highly recommend it. Monthly boxes run $40-50.

Monday, April 23, 2018

A Heart for Franc

Cabernet Franc is one of those grapes that people either know and love, or say, “Cabernet what?” While the best-known expression of Franc come from the Loire Valley, California has long worked with the grape and there are over 300 wineries in the Golden State alone that produce a Franc. Many are rather under the radar and this is true of the 2016 Luna Hart Cabernet Franc. Winemaker Gretchen Voelcker made just 53 cases, sourced from Camp 4 Vineyard in the Los Olivos District of Santa Barbara County. She used native fermentation; a six-week extended maceration, then aged the wine in neutral French oak for 16 months.
This offers restrained blueberry and black berry, lingonberry, darker hints of resin and anise and it fills the mid-palate and extends well into the finish. The acidity hides until the end, being almost subversive. The oak treatment is there, but properly framed, and in fact offers a mature smoked note.  I prepared veal pork loin with apricot reduction for this wine. Imagine what you could do.  
ORIGIN: Santa Barbara, California
PRICE: $34/ 750ML
ALCOHOL: 13.7%

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

“Shooting at the Walls of Heartache”…with Port

High school – I remember the cool song from Scandal with Patty Smyth, The Warrior. Still love the song (the video is so dated it’s either funny or creepy depending on your perspective).
Anyhow what is a warrior? Simply put, someone who fights for a cause and in the case of the song, it’s for love, hence shooting at the walls of heartache. I’d rather fight for wine. Port to be specific. And Warre’s Warrior Port is the reward for any battle. This widely available Port offers rich, but not overactive, fruits of blackberry, candied cherry, mulberry, and boysenberry tempered with an earthiness and sweet cedar. So it’s not “sweet” fruit, but mildly sweet fruit back-ended by a strong acidity, making this a much better Port for foods. A terrific value this is ready to drink now and ready to be drunk often. So whether you’re having a bad day, a great day or just one of those days, fight for your right to a terrific wine at a terrific price.
ORIGIN: Upper Douro Valley, Portugal
PRICE: $19/ 750ML

Friday, April 13, 2018

The Right Bank of Paso Robles

The 2014 J. Lohr Cuvee St. E called the Cuvee St. E (for “Saint Emilion” on Bordeaux’s right bank) is, interestingly, all culled from J.Lohr’s “right bank” of Paso Robles since Highway 101 essentially divides Paso Robles into an Westside (left) and Eastside (right) as it’s been known for decades - notwithstanding the relatively new sub appellations formed in 2014.
When you break away from mass-produced wines you understand that every vintage offers you, the consumer, a unique snapshot into that vintage: the weather, those months when grapes on the vine grow into wine. I’ve tasted J.Lohr wines for years, written about them often and had the Cuvee St. E many times over many vintages. But the 2014 rises above the others. This Cuvee is the most balanced of their cuvee offerings with subtle fruit, oak treatment and acidity all sharing a focused goal - to make a wine worth of anyone’s dinner table.  You easily pick up black berry, blueberry, boysenberry, lingonberry and raspberry notes, but the fruit is muted, not being “fruity” meaning it’s not a candy apple one-trick pony. The acidity maintains itself through the glass - from the moment it enters your mouth - to the lingering moments after you’ve swallowed it. And the oak, while being evident, does not mask the fruit instead, like a proper scaffolding, supports it. 65% new French oak was the order for aging the wine, comprised of Cabernet Franc with some Cabernet Sauvignon (33%), Malbec (7%) and a wee bit of Petite Verdot (1%).
ORIGIN: Paso Robles, California
PRICE: $50/ 750ML
ALCOHOL: 14.7%

Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Double Indemnity of Pinot Gris

Actor Fred MacMurray was best known for a diversity of his films, from the classic Film Noir Double Indemnity from 1944, to Disney’s The Absent Minded Professor, and Son of Flubber, to the TV show My Three Sons. But MacMurray was also an avid fisherman and he bought a parcel of land in Sonoma to get away from Hollywood. He raised cattle and had plans to plant vines, but those dreams never materialized while he was alive. However other generations saw the planting of vines on the MacMurray Estate and today Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir form the basis of MacMurray’s dream.
The 2016 MacMurray Estate Pinot Gris utilizes six different clonal selections of Pinot Gris (1, 3, 4, 5, 146, and 152, if you really need to geek-out on this) to create a California classic approach to this old grape.
Presenting tropical fruits like lemon-lime, honeysuckle, pear, mango and guava, and back notes of kiwi, peach and fig, this is a bright, cheery wine with enough acidity to make it very food compatible (I made Cajun/Panko crusted Ahi tuna, with lemon-dill pasta, and garlic-butter China peas) but with enough diversity to make it stand out and not get lost. So with Easter around the corner, this is a versatile choice. The success is its overwhelming complexity and layers of flavors, which is even more impressive in that this is 100% stainless steel fermented and aged - so no oak - but it did spend some time on the lees helping to creating a tangible viscosity. For the price you’re getting a suburb wine. I think Fred would be proud.
ORIGIN: Sonoma, California
PRICE: $20/ 750ML
ALCOHOL: 14.5%