All posts by Amber LeBeau

Product Review – Perfect Pop


One of my favorite (and clearly apocryphal) quotes about Champagne is attributed to Oscar Wilde.

“The sound of Champagne opening is like a content woman’s sigh.”

While I’m skeptical as to the breadth of Wilde’s experience with content women sighing, I nonetheless love the sentiment behind the quote that the art in opening up Champagne and other sparkling wine is not in the POP but, rather, in keeping it to just a gentle hiss so as not to lose the beautiful aromas and bubbles.

As the holidays approach, more and more folks are reaching for a bottle of bubbles to spread some holiday cheer. While there are many tutorials online about how to open a bottle of sparkling wine, there will always come a time when the pesky cork just doesn’t want to come out. Outside of reaching for a sabre, what do you do?


I put one tool that is out on the market to the test – the Perfect Pop Champagne Opener– available from Amazon right now for $5.99 and eligible for Prime shipping.

I tested it out on the 2013 Levert Frères Crémant de Bourgogne Brut that I recently reviewed.

I had difficulties at first in putting the tool over the cork with the cage attached and getting it to line up straight. It wasn’t until I removed the cage that I could get the device to feel securely fit.

Instructions for the Perfect Pop


Once I got it on, it took awhile for me to feel comfortable getting a grip on it to turn with the bottle tilted at a 45° degree angle. This is because while usually you wrap your hand around the side of the cork like you are holding the ends of a jump rope, and twist the bottle not the cork, this device requires you to get your palm more over the top with your fingers in the groves to twist the cork itself.

So it is a bit awkward to get the hang of at first.


But it works.

The “pop” is a bit louder than the ideal open. It’s sounds more like a busy mother’s “Oops!” when the baby food on the spoon misses it target. Still, very little aromatics and bubbles get lost. Despite the awkwardness at the beginning, by the second usage I was able to get the device on, twist and have the bottle open in less than 7 seconds. Most importantly, I could do this without the soreness and redness on my hands from struggling with the cork.

That’s a winner in my book and well worth the $6.

60 Second Whiskey Reviews – Edradour 10 year

A few quick thoughts on the Edradour 10 year Single Malt Scotch.

The Geekery

Located in Milton of Edradour in the Highlands region of Perthshire, the distillery has a very colorful history according to Charles MacLean’s Whiskeypedia, beginning with its founding in 1825 as GlenForres and continuing through its time as part of J.G. Turney & Sons where it was featured in the blends of House of Lords and King’s Ransom.

During this time, the whiskey was frequently smuggled into the US during Prohibition by “sales consultant” and known mafioso Frank Costello who is rumored to be one of Mario Puzo’s inspirations for Vito Corleone in The Godfather.

It was first release as a single malt in 1986 by Campbell Distillers (owned by Pernord Ricard) and in 2002 was purchased by current owner Andrew Symington of Signatory Vintage Scotch Whiskey.

The whiskey is aged in a blend of Sherry and Bourbon casks before bottling at 40% ABV.

The Whiskey

Medium plus intensity aromatics. Extremely honeyed. You feel like Winnie the Pooh breaking into the honey jar. There are some Sherry wine notes but it is more like honey toasted almonds than the usual “Sherry-bomb” style of Macallan or Glenfarclas.

From Wikimedia Commons by Sylvia Berger released under  CC-BY-SA-4.0

Barrels in the Edradour warehouse


The palate is smooth and noticeably sweet. More vanilla comes in but the honey is still dominant. This isn’t as sweet as something like the Glenmorangie Nector d’Or, Balvenie Caribbean Cask or the Ainsley Brae Sauternes Finish but its not far off. Thankfully some spice comes out on the long finish to add balance to the sweetness. It’s a tad light at 40% ABV and I find myself craving a bit more weight.

The Verdict

It’s a sweet Scotch, no doubt, but it is very well made. At around $68 for a bottle, it falls inline with the Glenmorangie Nectar d’Or ($70) and Balvenie Caribbean Cask ($75) but is a bit higher than the non-age statement (NAS) Ainsley Brae ($35) made by Alexander Murray. The spice is a bonus in the complexity department but this is definitely a whiskey for when you are craving something smooth, light and sweet.

60 Second Wine Reviews – Levert Freres Cremant Bourgogne


A few quick thoughts on the sparkling 2013 Levert Freres Cremant de Bourgogne Brut.

The Geekery

An old estate dating back to 1595 in the commune of Mercurey in the Côte Chalonnaise region of Burgundy. Today it is part of the Compagnie Vinicole de Bourgogne based in Chagny with Gabriel Picard managing and David Fernez making the wine.

Sourced from around 22 acres (9 ha) of vineyards in Mercurey, the 2013 vintage is a blend of 42% Chardonnay, 38% Pinot noir and 20% Gamay. The wine spent 24 months on the lees. This is far beyond the minimum 9 months currently required for Cremant de Bourgogne and is inline with the aging required for the upcoming prestige Cremant ranking of Crémant de Bourgogne Eminent that was announced in 2016.

The Wine
Medium plus intensity aromatics. Lots of fresh citrus with some subtle toastiness underneath. It smells like a freshly baked lemon roll with a glazed puff pastry. Underneath there is a white floral component that adds complexity.

The back label of the Levert Freres


The palate features a smooth mousse but it is quite dry. I couldn’t find the exact dosage but I would estimate it in the 7-8 g/l range, making it a legit Brut and a very well balanced one at that. The freshness from the nose carries over and it is quite lively and immensely charming. The floral notes are more pronounce and strike me more as daisy petals versus lillies.

The Verdict

Charming is the reoccurring theme. It’s certainly simple but it has enough character to engage the senses and is a bottle that can be happily shared (and emptied!) at any setting. At around $15 dollars, it is an excellent buy but this bottle could easily hold its own against other wines up to the $20 range.

60 Second Wine Reviews – Segura Viudas Cava

Some quick thoughts on the Segura Viudas Brut sparkling Cava.

The Geekery

The Segura Viudas website is pretty useless when it comes to finding out information about grape varieties, time spent on the lees or dosage with the page on the Brut Cava dedicated more to “lifestyle” uses instead of actual details about the wine.

From Essi Avellan and Tom Stevenson’s Christie’s World Encyclopedia of Champagne and Sparkling Wine, I learned that since 1984 Segura Viudas has belonged to the huge mega-corp of Freixenet which controls nearly 50% of all Spanish sparkling wine production, making over 200 million bottles a year.

In addition to Segura Viudas, Freixent makes Castellblanch, Canals & Nubiola and Conde de Caralt.

Production of the Segura Viudas Brut is around 7 million bottles and is usually a blend of 50% Macabeo, 35% Parellada and 15% Xarel-lo.

The Wine

Medium minus intensity on the nose. Citrusy lemon and pommelo with a little apple notes as well.

On the palate, it feels very fresh without any toasty or biscuity notes which hints that the aging is closer to the bare minimum of 9 months required for Cava rather than much beyond it. It has a nice roundness to the mouthfeel with a hint of sweetness which also suggest that it is probably closer to the 10-11 g/l dosage that would put it at the “sweeter end” of Brut.

By John Knox - originally posted to Flickr as Grapefruit and Orange Juice Mimosas, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8046882

The best use for this sparkler is with cocktails.


The Verdict

Very pleasant and easy sipping sparkler. It will hold its own as a brunch time bubble and as a great mixer for mimosas, Bellini or other sparkling cocktails. At around $8 a bottle, it certainly offers more character than your basic Korbel and is leaps and bounds better than other budget sparklers like Cook’s and Andre’s.

However, there are certainly other Cavas and even Proseccos around the same price point that deliver a bit more value.

60 Second Whiskey Review – Glenfarclas 30 year

Some quick thoughts on the Glenfarclas 30 year Single Malt.

The Geekery
Owned by J. & G. Grant, this Speyside distillery has a long history dating back to 1787 as illicit still in Ballindalloch. It came into the Grant family’s possession in 1865 when John Grant bought it and hired John Smith, formerly of Glenlivet, to manage it. Today it is ran by the sixth generation of the Grant family.

The name “Glenfarclas” means “the valley of the green grass”, refering to its location in the valley at the foot of Ben Rinnes with the mountain’s snowmelt being the key water source of the distillery.

According to Charles MacLean’s Whiskeypedia, the distillery is noted for having the largest stills in Speyside that are fueled by direct fire as opposed to gas. In 1968, it was the first to release a cask strength single malt. It was awarded Distiller of the Year in 2006 by the Icons of Whiskey Awards.

The whiskey is aged in majority ex-Oloroso Sherry casks with about third aged in ex-bourbon cask.

Smelling this whiskey reminded me of the coffee houses in Kuşadası, Turkey


The Whiskey

Beautiful dark color. Hugely aromatic nose with lots of spice and brown sugar. It makes me think of cooking gingerbread cookies at Christmas time. The sherry wine notes are present but they smell richer and deeper than typical sherries–more PX than Oloroso–with dried raisin and Turkish coffee aromas.

The palate is delightfully seductive. Creamy and silky with lots of weight. The spices carry through to the palate but the brown sugar and Turkish coffee aromas seemed to have morphed more into a rich, dark chocolate note that is far less sweet than what the nose suggested. The long finish delivers a load of freshness like freshly brewed herbal tea that was unexpected and entrancing.

The Verdict

A bloody fantastic dram! It’s a bit pricey at around $437 on Master of Malt but it is simply exquisite. I would say the cost is justifiable if you think of the years of pleasure you can get nursing it but it is so utterly scrumptious with its combination of power, depth and freshness that I fret the bottle wouldn’t last long in anyone’s house.

Cristal Clarity


On November 29th, Esquin Wine Merchants in Seattle hosted a tasting featuring the Champagnes of Louis Roederer. The event featured 7 wines that was highlighted by a sampling of the newly released 2009 Cristal and curated by Roederer brand ambassador Cynthia Challacombe and Esquin’s Arnie Millan.

It was a wonderful evening of trying some truly outstanding Champagnes. I left the event not only with several bottles but also with two important lessons learned.

1.) The Roederer vintage Brut and Blanc de Blancs are some of the best bang for the bucks not only in the Roederer portfolio but also among all premium Champagne.

2.) Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to open their Cristal too soon.

The Geekery

There is a big dichotomy in the world of Champagne between the huge mega-corp producers like Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy (LVMH), which produces tens of millions of cases across its various brands like Dom Perignon, Veuve Clicquot, Moët and Chandon, Krug, Ruinart and Mercier, and smaller growers and producers.

While the wines of huge négociant houses like those of the LVMH stable aren’t bad, some, like Ruinart, in particular, are outstanding, it is a fair argument that sometimes the produce of these Goliaths can lack some of the character, heart and excitement of what you can find in the Champagnes of smaller growers. I say sometimes because magnificent wines can be found in many different incarnations–including in the cloths of Goliaths–but there is a reason why the marketing of the big mega-corps is more about the image and the brand than it is about the story of the vineyards and the people behind it.

As a sommelier friend of mine once aptly noted, “You buy the big houses for the name, you buy the growers for the wine.”

That said, while the house of Louis Roederer and its MTV-ready prestige cuvee of Cristal is often grouped as one of the big Goliaths, I can’t help but admire the twinkle of a “grower’s soul” that peaks out underneath the glitzy exterior of these wines.

The Champagnes tasted


Founded in 1733, the house is still family owned with Frédéric Rouzaud, great-grandson of Camille Olry-Roederer, being the 7th generation of the Roederer-Rouzaud family to run the estate. While officially a négociant, Louis Roederer owns a substantial amount of vineyards including nearly 600 acres of Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards that supply the vast majority of their needs. I was very pleasantly surprised to hear from brand ambassador Cynthia Challacombe that the only Champagne that Roederer uses purchased grapes for are for its entry-level non-vintage Brut Premier and even that is 70% estate fruit.

While Roederer does make around 3 million bottles of Champagne a year (or 250,000 cases), that doesn’t even crack the top 10 in production/sales in the Champagne region–lagging behind not only Pommery and Piper-Heidsieck but also far behind the 48 million bottles combined produced by the LVMH mega-Goliaths of Moët and Chandon and Veuve Clicquot.

This relatively small scale of production and majority control of grapes allows Roederer to be more hands on throughout the winemaking process from grape to bottle. This can also be seen in the house’s push towards converting eventually all of its vineyards to biodynamic viticulture. By 2012, they were Champagne’s largest biodynamic grower with around 160 acres (65 ha) being farmed under the system. Ms. Challacombe noted that the estate is now 41% biodynamic (around 246 acres) with the rest still being farmed organically and sustainably.

The Wines
Prices listed were the event pricing for the evening at Esquin.


NV Brut Premier- ($49) A blend of 40% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot noir and 20% Pinot Meunier that is aged 3 years on the lees and bottled with 9-12 g/l dosage. Considering that the minimum aging requirement for non-vintage Champagne is only 15 months on the lees, it is admirable that Roederer holds their entry-level non-vintage to the same minimum of 3 years aging that is expected of vintage Champagnes.

The extended aging does pay off with a medium-plus intensity nose with aromas of tree fruit, candied ginger and apple pastry tart. On the palate, the mouthfeel is round and smooth with more apple notes coming out. It’s a tasty Champagne but my qualm is with how quickly the flavors fade and how short the finish is. I was expecting more persistence on the palate with how aromatic the nose was. For a sub $50 Champagne it is solid but I wouldn’t pay above that price.

2009 Brut Nature (Philippe Starck edition)- ($79) A blend of 66% Pinot noir/Pinot Meunier and 33% Chardonnay that is aged 5 years on the lees and bottled with no dosage. Sourced from a single vineyard in the village of Cumières in the Montagne de Reims, with a label designed by French designer Philippe Starck, this wine stands out from the rest of the Roederer line-up in both aesthetics and in profile. With its zero dosage and intense acidity, this was a sharply controversial wine at the tasting with many people not preferring this style.


I, on the other hand, absolutely adored this wine. It was by far the most mineral-driven and complex wine of the evening. High intensity aromatics of spiced pears, white flowers coupled with Turkish figs and graham cracker crust. On the palate, another chapter of the story unfolds with apple peels, water chestnuts and white pepper all backed by a bracing streak of rocky minerality. Even after the glass was empty, you could still smell the intense aromatics of the Champagne inside the glass. Stunning wine. It’s not for everyone but, for someone like me, it is a remarkable value for how much complexity it delivers.

2010 Blanc de Blancs- ($79) 100% Chardonnay from declassified vines in the Grand Cru villages of the Côte des Blancs, particularly Avize, that are usually allocated for Cristal. The wine is aged 5 years on the lees and bottled with 9 g/l dosage. Again going above and beyond the minimum aging for a vintage Champagne (3 years), the Blanc de Blancs is treated like a Tête de cuvée and, in many ways, this bottle of Champagne outshines many houses’ Tête de cuvée–even Roederers!

Essentially a “baby Cristal”, the medium plus intensity nose is extremely floral and fresh. It smells like Spring time with a neighbor baking cookies next door and the warm air bringing you a waft of that aroma intermingling with flowers and fresh cut grass. On the palate, the floral notes continue with an incredibly satiny mouthfeel that actually feels like you are drinking flower petals. The cookie notes on the nose morph into more brioche on the palate, still serving as a back drop to the overwhelming floral notes. Liquid lillies. Considering that this wine outshone the $200+ Cristal, and easily puts many other $100+ Champagnes to shame, this wine is an absolute steal for its quality level.

Tasting Sheet


2011 Brut Rosé- ($67) A blend of 63% Pinot noir and 37% Chardonnay that is aged 4 years on the lees and bottled with 9 g/l dosage. For the rosé color, both short maceration and blending with red Pinot noir wine is used. The keynote of “freshness” being part of the Roederer house style strikes through with this rosé taking me back to Plant City, Florida outside Tampa for their Strawberry Festival held every March.

Medium intensity on the nose with fresh strawberries and an intriguing streak of basil as well. Unfortunately the aroma fades rather quickly which made it a bit of a let down following the downright intoxicating bouquets of the Brut Nature and Blanc de Blancs. The mouthfeel is smooth and well balanced with the strawberry and basil notes carrying through. But, again, it fades with a short finish. There is always a bit of a premium when it comes to the pricing of rosés but this one is a bit of a stretch for delivering quality that matches its near $70 price point.

2008 Vintage Brut- ($70) A blend of 70% Pinot noir and 30% Chardonnay that is aged 4 years on the lees and bottled with 9 g/l dosage. Like the Blanc de Blancs, this Champagne also gets some of the declassified lots (presumably Pinot noir) that are allocated for Cristal as well as being sourced from it owns dedicated estate vineyards in the Grand Cru villages of Verzy and Verzenay.

Medium plus intensity nose that was only bested by the 2009 Brut Nature for best nose of the night. Cream puff pastry and hazelnuts. What was most enthralling was how it evolved over the short sample tasting to show the many different stages of making cream puff pastry from the fresh dough to baking the golden puffs and filling them. The freshness of the cream is also quite noticeable on the nose and carries its way to the palate where it is met by a little orange zest.


The mouthfeel was knee-bendingly silky, bested again only by one other wine–the 2010 Blanc de Blancs. Between the nose and mouthfeel, this Champagne was as close to a complete package as you could get and overall was my wine of the night. At around $70, this is an absolute steal that should leap frog on any Champagne lover’s purchasing list many, many Champagnes that are much more expensive.

NV Carte Blanche Demi-Sec- ($44) A blend of 40% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot noir and 20% Pinot Meunier that is aged 3 years on the lees and bottled with 38 g/l dosage. As any sommelier or retailer who inwardly cringes when consumers request dry Brut bubbles to be served with their sweet wedding cake will tell you–the Demi-Sec category of sparklers is often woefully overlooked. I truly think it is because most people haven’t experience these wines and have painted a picture in their mind of wines that taste much more overtly sweet than they actually do.

The key to demi-sec wines is balance and the Roederer Carte Blanche is one of the most exquisitely balanced demi-sec bubbles that I’ve ever had. Medium intensity note redolent of fresh peaches with apple pastry tart mixed in. Focusing on the tip of your tongue, you can pick up the sweetness but it is so subtle and balanced by the acidity and bubbles that I would wager that even many experienced tasters would think it was more in the 12-17 g/l Extra Dry category than a Demi-Sec. Many Proseccos taste far sweeter than this elegant and exceptionally well made Champagne.


Unlike the premium pricing for rosés, this under-the-radar category is exceptionally undervalued with the Roederer Carte Blanche being a screaming good deal for under $60 much less under $45.

2009 Cristal ($232) A blend of 60% Pinot noir and 40% Chardonnay that is aged 6 years on the lees and bottled with 8 g/l dosage. Sourced exclusively from Grand Cru vineyards in the villages of Avize, Aÿ, Beaumont-sur-Vesle, Cramant, Mesnil-sur-Oger, Verzenay and Verzy this is the crème de la crème of the Roederer portfolio. It’s a wine with a legendary history that was created for Russian royalty and is featured in music videos, movies and the Instagram pics of anyone wanting to show off. It elicits “oohs and ahs” whenever it is brought out. It truly is one of the Champagne world’s top prestige cuvees.

It’s also one of its most disappointing.

To be fair, this is because Cristal’s Veblen and “bling-worthy” status encourages people to pop and pour them almost as soon as they hit the market. Despite wine writers and Champagne lovers repeatedly urging people to hold onto their Cristals, these wines are often opened far too young. As Antonio Galloni of Vinous noted in his survey of Cristals from 1979-2002, this behavior is “… ironic, if not downright tragic, considering Cristal is a wine that starts peaking around age 15-20, and that can last much longer under ideal storage conditions.”

Now my experience with Cristal is no where near as extensive as Galloni’s but the opportunities I’ve had to taste of now four different vintages of Cristal (the 2004, 2006 and 2009 soon after release and the 1994 when it was 12 years of age) have followed a consistent pattern. The newly release Cristal Champagnes that I tried when they were 6 to 8 years old were very underwhelming with my tasting notes littered with descriptors of “short” and “simple”. While the 1994, which was still relatively too young and from a rather sub-par vintage, was vastly more intriguing and has ranked as one of the best wines that I’ve ever had.

This 2009 Cristal, while undoubtedly well made and with immense potential, ranked only above the entry NV Brut Premier in its showing at the tasting. And that’s not an indictment on the wine. It’s just a reality of tasting a wine that is miles away from it peak drinking window.


But it is not like the wine was undrinkable. It was just exceedingly simple. Medium minus intensity nose with vague floral and tree fruit notes. Some slight pink peppercorn. Its strongest attribute at the moment is the mouthfeel that shows hint of the silky flower petal texture you with get the Blanc de Blancs. In fact, the whole profile of Cristal is its litany of hints.

It has hints of the nose of the 2008 Vintage Brut.
It has hints of the mouthfeel of the 2010 Blanc de Blancs.
It has hints of the complexity of the 2009 Brut Nature.

If you could combine those 3 Champagnes into one bottle, and tell folks that it was Cristal, you would have legions of happy Champagne drinkers who would gladly shell out $200+ and feel like they’re getting more than their money’s worth. But, instead, you have a bottle that is drinking at this moment on par with what you can get from the Roederer house already for between $49 (NV Brut Premier) and $67 (2011 Brut rosé).

It truly is about this moment.

But, again, the 2009 Cristal is not a bad wine and I’m not saying that this is a wine that you shouldn’t buy if you have the money and inclination. I’m just saying that this isn’t a wine that you should open right now. The pedigree is there. The terroir is there. The care and dedication of the Champagne house is there. But if you are going to invest the money and your personal pleasure into getting a spectacular bottle of Champagne than you have to have patience and/or be willing to splurge for the premium of an aged example of Cristal that has been properly cellared.

Otherwise, do yourself a favor and save a boatload of cash by checking out some of the far less heralded and less “bling-worthy” bottles of vintage Champagnes from Roederer. There is truly some spectacular stuff coming out this house that over deliver on pleasure.

My Beer of the Year


There is still 28 days left but I’m going to be hard-pressed to find a beer more utterly scrumptious than the 2017 edition of the Firestone Walker Anniversary Ale. With all apologies to the Samuel Adams Utopias, which I’ll continue to enjoy well into the next year, this beer hits it out of the park and is actually something that I would call beer.

First some geekery.

The Anniversary Ale is a limited release done each year by Firestone Walker that blends together several of their vintage barrel-aged brews into a unique expression. I couldn’t find the exact amount of cases produced but the 2009 edition had around 1000 cases and the 2016 edition was around 3500 cases. However, all those previous editions were bottled in 22 oz bomber size bottles with the 2017 edition following the pattern of the other 2017 vintage-series releases and now being packaged in smaller 12 oz bottles.

Being located in Paso Robles, a well known wine-making region, the brewmasters at Firestone Walker invite local winemakers to help participate in the blending process. The 2017 blending committee featured an impressive cadre of winemaking talent including Justin Smith of Saxum Vineyards, Neil Collins & Chelsea Franchi of Tablas Creek Vineyards, Fintan Du Fresne & Mike Callahan of Chamisal Vineyards and Kevin Sass & Molly Lonborg of Halter Ranch.

The blending was done as a competition with the winemakers and brewers split up into teams with the winning blend for the 21st Anniversary Ale being crafted by Anthony Yount of Denner Vineyards and Jordan Fiorentini & Kyle Gingras of Epoch Estate Wines.

Info sheet that came with the Anniversary Ale detailing the blend and winemakers that took part in the blending.


The final blend for the Anniversary Ale XXI included:

42% of the Velvet Merkin, an Oatmeal Stout aged in bourbon barrels with 8.5% ABV and 32.5 IBUs.
18% of the Parabola, a Russian Imperial Stout aged in bourbon barrels with 13.1% ABV and 80 IBUs.
17% of the Stickee Monkee, a Central Coast Quad aged in bourbon barrels with 12.5% ABV and 45 IBUs.
14% of the Bravo, an Imperial Brown Ale aged in bourbon barrels with 13.5% ABV and 35 IBUs.
9% of the Helldorado, a Blonde Barley Wine aged in rum barrels with 13.5% ABV and 32.5 IBUs.

The Beer

Now I must confess that I am not a big stout fan. I love malty Belgians, dopplebocks, scotch ales and barley wines but many stouts I encounter often have too much bitter roasted coffee or burnt chocolate notes on the nose that turn me off. Often when I smell a stout, I feel like I’m trapped inside a burning Starbucks.

Looking at this blend with with the Velvet Merkin and Parabola being the majority components, I wasn’t optimistic about this beer being my style. But pouring the beer into the glass, I was entranced by the smell of fresh Mexican chocolate with its subtle smokiness and cinnamon and nutmeg spices. From the bourbon barrel components, I could also get noticeable vanilla but it wasn’t a syrupy sweet vanilla like you get with Bulleit bourbon but more of a robust spicy vanilla like with a Basil Hayden bourbon. Around the edges there was the slightest twinge of coffee but it plays a very minor role. What I loved about the nose is that the savory components of spice and chocolate were at the forefront with the sweeter elements wrapped underneath as a cushion instead of blanketing it.

Photo from Nsaum75 at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

This ain’t your momma’s Hershey chocolate.

On the palate, the intermingling of savory and sweet continued. The beer is downright mouthwatering!

The vanilla morphs a little more into caramel in the mouth but unlike with the Utopias, there is not really a salted element, but rather its the spiced Mexican chocolate flavors that compliment it.

The flavors from the rum barrel of the Helldorado make an appearance with a dried citrus fruitiness and more exotic spices that really persist throughout the finish. Relatively low in hops, there is just enough there to add a balance of freshness and structure.

But the star of the beer is truly the mouthfeel. Silky, creamy and very sexy, this beer rolls around your tongue and continues to tease you all along the way. It begs you to immediately want to take another sip even though you want to wait to savor the long, lingering flavors on the finish. It becomes a bit of an internal battle between wanting to intellectually enjoy and unwrap all the flavors the beer can provide (especially as it warms up) and it being so irresistibly delicious that you just want to indulge your inner hedonist and chug. Despite being a hefty 11.8% ABV, the beer is inimitably session-able.

Verdict

Delicious. Scrumptious. Mouthwatering. Smooth. Complex. This beer delivers in spades and is bloody fantastic. Yeah, it is a bit pricey at around $13 for a 12 oz bottle (though that is a fraction of the price of the Utopias) but it is a treat and would make a great stocking stuffer for a beer lover.

60 Second Whiskey Review – Alexander Murray

Some quick thoughts on a few Scotch whiskeys from independent bottler Alexander Murray.

The Geekery

Founded by Scottish native Steve Lipp in 2004, Alexander Murray is a notable source behind many of the private label Scotches found at Costco (Kirkland Signature) and Total Wine & More (Ainsley Brae).


The whiskeys

The 20 yr Glentauchers is a really light and elegant, floral “breakfast Scotch”. Something between a Glen Moray and Glenfiddich style. Around $150 a bottle which is a bit high for this light style, in my opinion.

The 23 yr Allt-a-Bhaine (used by Chivas in their high end blends) has a good balance of malt with light peat–sort of a more powerful Oban. A lot of layers and complexity with a long smooth finished. Around $150 a bottle which is an outstanding value for a 23 year that easily outclasses many 21 yr whiskeys in the $200+ range.

The 21 year Braes of Glenlivet is a bit shy on the nose but had good weight on the palate. Nothing like regular Glenlivet. Rather more like a Fine Oak Macallan. Around $180 a bottle which is a little too much for my taste.

The 19 year Cask Strength Linkwood is a much spicier and more powerful driven Scotch then typical Linkwood. I strongly suspect Sherry casks. This is like a Macallan 18 yr but with way more depth and power. It holds it proof really well for a smooth finish that doesn’t need to be watered down. Around $150 a bottle which is an outstanding value especially considered the Macallan 18 is around $230.

The 26 yr Bunnahabhain is very savory and meaty. More in a Mortlach or Glenfarclas style than anything I tasted from Bunnahabhain. Something to contemplate over while rolling it around your tongue. Around $290 a bottle which is a bit steep but I can’t deny the uniqueness of this expression of Bunnahabhain.

The 28 yr Cask Strength Bunnahabhain is classic Old School Bunnahabhain before they started adding more peat. A touch of peat but it’s all about the beautiful dried fruit, fresh cereals and long, subtle spice on the finish. Very smooth for a cask strength. Around $320 a bottle which is certainly because of its age. It’s a very tasty whiskey that delivers a lot of pleasure but you’re going to pay a premium for it.

In Defense of Evil Empires


Recently Esther Mobley of The San Francisco Chronicle wrote of the blockbuster Pinot noir producer Kosta Browne’s new direction away from their super-lush and highly extracted style to something less “over-the-top, opulent, blow-your-lid-off wines.” The catalyst for this change, according to Kosta Browne’s president Scott Becker, is changing consumer demand, particularly among Millennials.

“We were at the risk of becoming victims of our own success…To be relevant and successful for the next 20 years, we have to recognize that the consumer is changing.” –Scott Becker as quoted by SF Chronicle 11/7/17

A sharp motivation also seems to be a bit of ego bruising that Kosta Browne has taken over the years for being one of the poster child of the high alcohol, super-ripe and hedonistic wines that flooded the market in the last few decades. Mobley quotes founder Dan Kosta concerns over his namesake winery being used by winemakers in Oregon and by organizations like In Pursuit of Balance as an example of what not to do with Pinot noir. The Chronicle article also includes an interesting anecdote about a sommelier at the NYC restaurant Breslin being ignorant that a winery named Kosta Browne even exist.

Quick look–is this Pinot noir or Syrah? Sometimes it’s hard to tell with wines as well.


Let’s set aside how poorly it reflects on the quality of the wine knowledge for a restaurant’s program when their sommeliers are completely ignorant of a winery that has not only won Wine Spectator’s Wine of the Year (and been featured in their Top 100 list numerous times), is regularly in the top half of most collectible wines from California according to Vinfolio’s Collectibility Index and is, for all practical purposes, part of the pantheon of “cult producers” of Pinot noir in California with a 2 to 5 year long waiting list just to be able to buy a bottle.

Even if you don’t like Kosta Browne and don’t feature them on your wine list, it’s beyond pale to shrug your shoulders at the name as if you never heard of them.

I say that as someone who really doesn’t like Kosta Browne’s wines and would roll my eyes at seeing them on restaurant wine lists with their exorbitantly marked up prices just waiting for an expense account ego to order them.

Particularly a big-fish whose name rhymes with “Stiancarlo Ganton”


But even if Kosta Browne is not my style, I’m a bit sadden to read about this “change in direction.” It’s not that I don’t think pursuing more balanced wines isn’t a worthwhile goal. But seeing Kosta Browne trying to become “more restrained” in style is a bit like following the Hot Stove League in Baseball in the post-Steinbrenner years as the New York Yankees aim to be more “fiscally restrained”. Yeah, you’ve got the LA Dodgers and Boston Red Sox’s trying to fill in the gap with their best Belle Glos and Sea Smoke like efforts but as a fan of an old school small market Joseph Swan-like team (the St. Louis Cardinals), the excitement of potentially landing a big-fish is not quite a thrilling when one of the Goliaths of the game is sitting on the sideline. David isn’t David if the sling shot is never used.

“Good is a point of view…. Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator are similar in almost every way, including their quest for greater power. ” — Chancellor Kofi Parker, Jr.


Likewise, how exciting would the Star Wars movies be if the Galactic Empire changed philosophies all of the sudden and started espousing Kofi Annan style diplomacy?

The world needs Evil Empires like the New York Yankees and Kosta Browne because the little guys, the outsiders, the rebels, the hipster snobs need something to aim for. The world needs balance between good and evil and you can’t have one without the other. So why should we root for Kosta Browne to shed it evil ways and try to become something….else? Do we think that people will suddenly stop wanting to drink lush, full-bodied and highly extracted Pinot noirs? Of course not! Just like matter can be neither created nor destroy, so too, is evil and the taste for residual sugar in wines constant.

And as we’ve seen from history, when a vacuum of evil is created, there can be consequences when a new force tries steps in.

You can argue that a lot of the world’s recent problems can be traced to the Chicago Cubs winning the 2016 World Series by trying to out-Yankee the Yankees.

If I could photoshopped him twerking on the Camaro, I would.


They went from being the lovable, lowkey Eraths of the Pinot noir world to the big budget and crass-commercialized Meiomi. They changed their style, trying to become the “New Evil Empire” and it messed up the cosmic order. Now we have women twerking on top of cars, folks dropping turkeys from planes and idiots launching home-made rockets trying to prove the world is flat. Yes, the world is out of whack and I place the blame squarely on Ben Zobrist.

A New Hope.
AKA winemakers of the Eola-Amity Hills.


Sure, big over-the-top wines can be boring and lack “character” just like big, cash-rich organizations that can buy or trade for any stud player can be infuriating and soulless. But doesn’t knowing the fact that these Evil Empires exist make it all the more satisfying when you find the gem of a bottle that tells a story to your palate or when your plucky rag-tag team of no-names finally scale the summit?

Sure, we want to root for the underdogs. But we also need those Big Dogs to still be casting their long shadow of evil like the Death Star. The world works better this way. It’s has balance even if that balance is dripping with sugar, extract and alcohol.

There is a place in the world for the Kosta Browne Yankees just like there is a place for my Joseph Swan Cardinals, the Merry Edwards Twins, the Beaux Freres Giants, the Argyle Mariners and the Williams Selyem Braves.

There is even a place, begrudgingly, for the Meiomi Cubs. Well, once they’ve been dethroned and relegated to the bottom of the shelf.

60 Second Wine Review – 2012 Au Pied du Mont Chauve Les Chenevottes

Some quick thoughts on the 2012 Au Pied du Mont Chauve Chassagne-Montrachet from the Premier Cru vineyard of Les Chenevottes.

The Geekery

Made by Domaines Famile Picard, owners of 35 hectares (86.5 acres) in the Côte d’Or, most of which are farmed organic and biodynamically. Since 2010, the wines have been crafted by Fabrice Lesne, former winemaker of Maison Nicolas Potel.

The 1er vineyard of Les Chenevottes in located on the northern end of the village of Chassagne-Montrachet, just southwest and slightly upslope of the Grand Cru vineyard of Le Montrachet with the sites sharing similar orientation and exposure. The Picard family’s plot contain 60+ year old vines that are farmed biodynamically.

Other notable producers that make wine from this Premier Cru include Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey, Domaine Leroy, Marc Colin et Fils, Louis Latour, Henri Boillot, Louis Jadot, Bouchard Aine & Fils and Gerard Thomas & Filles.

The 1er vineyard of Les Chenevottes highlighted with star


The wine
Glistening golden hue. Very visually inviting. The nose is medium-minus intensity. Some tree fruit and white floral notes. A little subtle spice.

The palate is tight. Medium-plus acidity and medium body. You really have to work it in your mouth, rolling it around your tongue to coax out the fruit. The tree fruits become more defined as honey crisp apple and d’Anjou pear. You also start to pick up some oak spice and a little vanilla cream. On the finish, the acidity leaves you salivating and brings out mineral notes. Once the wine gets going, you start to see an impressive balance of weight & presence coupled with freshness and verve.

Everything about this wine is screaming that is a bit young. Its clear that this Chardonnay has a lot of life ahead of it and more story to tell. It’s well worth seeking out a bottle.

Right now, the Wine Searcher average price is $74 which is fair for this quality level. I can see it going up to $90 with the wine still over delivering as a “baby Montrachet”.