Category: Beverage Reviews



Gold juice.

My goal was to dress up a meal of diner-style open-faced roast turkey breast sandwich with mashed potatoes and gravy. That’s easy. Pairing is trickier than it seems because you want to avoid overt fruitiness and neutralize the saltiness of the dish while provding enough body richness to stand up to the full, earthy flavors. Fair roll of the dice, here.

  • Aroma: deep golden hay
  • Nose: beeswax, Bosc pear, lemon, delicate apricot
  • Taste: muted apricot and lemon pulp coated with (not-sweet) honey essence
  • Mouthfeel: viscous with a bit of mineral prickle cutting through a delicate waxiness
This is a classic Saint-Péray blend of of 50% Marsanne/50% Roussanne and all the requisite flavors and textures are here. On it’s own, many consumers might find this a bit too subtle fruit-wise and that is Marsanne doing its thing, providing the prevalent beeswax muting Roussanne’s fruity components. Paired against some salty food, though, the fruit pops beautifully while the wine retains its richness.
This is a lovely wine made from underrecognized varieties from an uner-the-radar Rhône region. Can be found in Maryland for $25-$30.

 

Hardy’s 2nd Label

It’s winter, so it’s time for rich brown spirits. Not that winter is a legit excuse for me—whiskey, añejo tequila, aged rum, and brandy et al. need no excuse for year-round consumption as far as I’m concerned. Anyway, I had grown somewhat weary of the Bourbons, ryes, and Scotches I had been drinking of late [though my hankering for some specific top-notch Irish whiskies will be sated shorty—review(s) to come] and thought I’d go in the direction of tried-and-true, great value brandy. 

Scanning the shelves for high QPR, straight drinkable and broadly mixable brandy, I chose a dry but intensely flavored entry-level Cognac. Maison Rouge is Hardy Cognac’s second label and flat-out represents some of the best values on the market.

  • Appearance: deep, varigated copper/mahogany
  • Nose: leather, sweet cigar wrap, cinnamon, Bosc pear
  • Palate: orange pekoe tea, candied dates, honey, cinnamon, and nutmeg
  • Finish: lingering sweet honey and spice sliding into orange zest, boozy but with a viscosity that quells the heat
Really, you can’t do much better for less than $25, this has been a go-to for me for a few years now as an intro to Cognac for customers or as an everyday bar stock for me. With most anything else at this price you would likely have to settle for an almost syrupy-sweet brandy from elsewhere, but this is legit Cognac. Simple satisfaction with a seriousness married with drinkability hard to find at this price. Pretty much a must-buy.

 

Entry-level Cab Franc from François Plouzeau

 

It’s a rainy, early-Autumn day and I want to unwind with a bottle, damn’ it! After spending far too long cruising the aisles of a local shop, hemming-and-hawing (to myself, in my addled noggin)’ I finally settled on this.

I didn’t know what to expect, really. Loire Cabernet Franc seemed like a good idea—warming without being heavy or too brooding when at it’s best—but also a crap-shoot as it can be nigh undrinkable when executed poorly. However, it should be noted by all who read this, I trust Roy Cloud of Vintage ’59 Imports not to let me down.

 

Biodynamically-produced 100% Cabernet Franc from limestone soils in Touraine. No oak, as far as I can tell. Should find this for less than $25.

Appearance: medium plummy garnet

Nose: underripe blackberry, mineral-tinged pepperiness, a bit of alcohol

Palate: riper and lusher black cherry and blackberry on front-palate than expected but keen balsamic acidity cuts through from mid-to-back carrying on through the finish; roasted tarragon, maybe

Mouthfeel: pretty satiny on the front-end but the acidity brightens it up nicely

Finish: loooong and carried by a fruitful cherry and lime zest acidity with pleasant bitter herbs and anise on the very end showing soft tannins

 

This is perfect! Exactly what I wanted and better than expected. Juicy, mouthwatering, more complex than expected and never green or astringent. Thanks, again, Roy!

 

 

 

QWR: 2012 Paxis Red Blend


Bulldog? “Paxis!”

 

The goal was simple: find a fruity, no-fuss wine to pair with tacos and burritos (made with pork, jalepeños, avocado, tomato, red onion, cheddar, and a spicy yogurt sauce I like to make). The original plan was to go with Garnacha from NE Spain but I saw this on the shelf and just felt it was right. I had brought it into a shop I consult with several months ago and remembered its sweet fruit and thought of it as a nice spice-quelling match for the meal.

Appearance: ruby with a deep violet core

Nose: overt ripe, black cherry and plum

Palate: super-ripe black cherry and blackberry, not too heavy but hinting toward syrupy

Mouthfeel: ridiculously supple with sufficient fruit acid to peek through

Finish: vaguely velvety tannins and a touch of licorice-y astringency

Fun, early Autumn meal.

Well, it is certainly as fruity as I remembered. The sweetness definitely worked well with the spice of the dish, but those sugars provided a body richness that came close to being too much.

Plenty to like here as a sipper and will certainly appeal to the modern American red blend drinker despite Portugal (Lisboa, to be specific) nor the grapes Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo) and Caladoc—neither listed on the bottle—being part of the typical knowledge-base. Nothing spectacular, but I certainly can’t argue with the relative value with the price at around $10.

 


Come to me, la Comme!

From a lovely little winery I visited in Beaune, March 2013 (see this post for details about the visit).

I had the fortune to impress upon a (now defunct) distributor to bring into the Maryland market a selection of these wines from a (now defunct) importer. Another fortune bestowed upon me was the opportunity to bring a six-bottle cross-section of these home for personal consumption. Down to my last two, I was faced with two premier cru Pinot Noir bottlings: a Pommard (which, by my estimation, likely has several years more life in bottle—for another, special day) and this, a Santenay (which by some accounts is in the latter third of its drinking window).

 

Appearance: deep, black-cored ruby—like The Dark Crystal

Nose: bright red cherry, cinnamon, licorice

Palate: high-toned red cherry, lemon, blood orange, pomegranate, delicate cinnamon/clove, licorice

Mouthfeel: lean and acidically gripping—like sucking a fresh lemon

Finish: fine, chalky tannins; long-lingering citrus acidity and delicate, high-toned pomegranate spice

 

Tasty, but the acidity demands food. Lean and not readily approachable solely due to the bracing acid as all other elements are really quite pleasant. Still young yet—well within its drinking window (I’d say, another decade lies in this bottle) despite the gentle tannins given the assertive acid. The fruit may never come into balance with the acid here, however.

I like this, but another several years may not be enough to make it accessible to the masses.


ommgot3erSpring is coming.
Winter is a technicality. It hit the mid-6o’s here in Baltimore today and I figured I better get the last of the winter in now. Thus, I cracked open this dark saison from Ommegang. Coincidentally, this particular bottle was packaged on February 22, 2015—a year and six days ago. Ommegang first released these beers to coincide with seasons of the Game of Thrones TV series, but this one comes to me late. To be fair, it was colder this time last year and it is always a bit colder up in Cooperstown where this is brewed, so this would be a pretty good late-winter beer as a matter of style.Now, I know this beer pretty well.

Always a fan of Ommegang, I brought this in on draft for our growler program in the store I worked in when it was first released in the winter of late-2014/early-2015. I remember liking it a lot more then. Perhaps it was simply the newness of it back then. Perhaps it was colder (the beer this time, not the weather) as, today, I am pouring this five-ten degrees warmer than I should be per bottle instructions. Perhaps it was the wonder of draft presentation. Whatever the case, it is solid and inoffensive, if not particularly engaging.

Poured from a cork & cage finished 750mL bottle.
Lots of billowy tan head with a deep walnut color. The nose is decidedly high-toned—almost orange zest—with fresh rye bread and toned-down cinnamon/nutmeg aromas. These character are reflected on the palate along with licorice, pecan, and finishing with slightly astringent dark-roasted coffee. Acid is high (as expected from a saison) but tinged in a acidic coffee kind of way. Perhaps due to its temperature, it is showing a hard metallic edge, too. None of these perceived negatives undo the beer, though. It is just fine and there is nothing particularly off-putting. It is simply solid and that’s about the best I can say about it.

I have noticed my tastes changing toward lighter, crisper styles of late and I am drinking this by itself when it begs for food. But on a cold winter day with a plate of barbecued ribs or a hearty root vegetable stew, this would hit the spot. I just might be more inclined to share this one than others.


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Origin: Era Valley, Chianti Superiore, Tuscany, Italy

Composition: 80% Sangiovese, 20% Canaiolo

Appearance: deep black-cored violet

Nose: closed dried lavender and rich licorice

Palate: black cherry reduction sauce, delicate baking spice, back-palate acidity followed by a long sweet anisette/lavender finish

Mouthfeel: pretty full-bodied for a Chianti, sleek front-end with velvety tannins

Matteo Cantoni visited my old wine shop a few years ago and gifted me with this signed bottle. No sense in not giving it the treatment it deserves: sharing with my wife on a snowy day off at home over a dinner of mixed left-overs and scrounged possibilities (pumpkin soup, grilled cheddar cheese sandwiches, chili, and thick-cut potato “chips”–all homemade, of course).

This is just lovely. The dark richness is a testament to the Cantoni family’s commitment to the Canaiolo grape and attention to detail in the vineyard and winery. Showing about as spot-on as it could right now. The balance of rich, dark fruit, back-palate acidity and velvety tannins shows what an incredible value this was at about $17 upon its release. You could probably get away with a few more years of cellaring with this, but it is drinking so well now, why wait?

Day 2: flintiness comes on strong. Nice to see some of that rusticity show itself, but the fruit is still super-ripe and lush. Better day on two, I’d say.


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A delicious, modern-style, juicy Cab made by my friends Charles and Tony in a home winery. Loads of ripe cherry and plum with a toasty caramel undertone. Medium-full bodied with a silky texture. Proof that lovely fruit is grown in Maryland and skilled amateurs are capable of wonderful things.


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Origin: Pauillac (Medoc),Bordeaux, France

Composition: 66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc

Appearance: deep red-black with a black core and burnt orange/sepia edges

Nose: toasted nutmeg, kirsch liqueur, rye toast, freshly oiled leather

Palate: dusty leather, cigar box, ripe but buried kirsch liqueur, and substantial iodine at pop-and-pour — fruit really comes to the fore after an hour in glass, leather softens to licorice-y tones

Mouthfeel: medium-full bodied, silky, with sleek front-to-back acid and fine-grit tannins

I chose this wine from the cellar of the shop I used to manage (Wine Underground in Baltimore, MD) as a holiday bonus in 2010. This was stored in the natural temperature/humidity control of that cellar with its 14″ thick stone walls from 2002 until 2010 and followed into my wine fridge for the remaining three years.

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This is the cork. No prettier could be expected of this bottle at 11+ years. After bottling.

It’s easy to aggrandize and mythologize a Bordeaux, so I’mma do it:
Still showing a touch young, but, man, this beauty is opening up rapidly in my glass with the dense kirsch-y fruit unfolding over the once-dominant secondary oak characteristics noted above. Just gorgeous dried black cherry fruit now lying on a chaise of leathery spice. The acid is present from front palate to back, but plays like a flute line weaving through the French horn, viola, and cello of the fruit, spice and leather. The overall texture of this wine has softened and plumped nicely, too, into lush and warming — much like the syrupy kirsch liqueur that makes up the fruit palate. About an hour-and-half in and the fruit is dominant and sweet and baking spice has become the key secondary component.

This is pairing wonderfully with our locally-farmed New York Strip steak with garlic butter and parsley-ed potatoes. Iron and iodine. Cherry and red meat. Leather and garlic. Baking spice and butter. Marriages made in my mouth while I preside and abide.

I will likely nurse this for a few hours before moving on to my New Year’s bubbly and may have updates to follow.

Happy New Year, everyone! May 2014 bring you and yours health and joy.


Kinda on the fly and in a hurry, but here goes…

Origin: Princess Anne, Maryland, USA

Composition: 100% Heyser Farm Spencerville Red apples

Appearance: foggy green-tinged straw yellow

Nose: ripe red apples, ginseng, honey

Palate: same as nose, super-clean, dry, and crisp

Mouthfeel: round front-palate with a lean, but long and fruitful finish

This is a cider I have been in love with for a couple of years now (a consistent gold medal winner at the Maryland Governor’s Cup wine competition). Not easy to find, even in our immediate market, but well worth going out of your way for. Crisp and refreshing for the Summer, but not un-shy at 8% alcohol. A fine breakfast cider that pairs well with a mixed-veggie frittata and potatoes.

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