A Winey Whiskey For The Rest Of Us: Glenmorangie Nectar dOr Highland Single Malt Whiskey Scotland

Hi wine nerds! Don’t like Whiskey? Or want something more than your piddly 20% ABV Port? Well, you’re in luck. Scotland’s Glenmorangie, having perfected the 12 Year Single Malt, happens to work within Moët Hennesey’s empire.  With that extra bank, Glen could go wild and buy wine barrels to finish their spirits.  This ruffled Scottish feathers a few decades ago. But today, distilleries enjoy adding wine spice to their still’s cupboard.

Today’s spirit, Glenmorangie’s Nectar d’Or, wiggled its way into Sauternes barrels. Yes, Sauternes: Bordeaux’s golden gift to dessert wine.

For those not Sauternes savvy: Bordeaux fog makes a fungus, aka noble rot, aka botrytis. It dries Sauvignon Blanc and Semillion grapes into funky, cheesy, hyper-sweet magic: aka Sauternes.  Barrels tame it, absorbing sugars, aromas and flavors over years.  The funny thing is, LVMH’s empire houses another icon that happens to come from Sauternes: Château d’Yquem.

Yquem stands upon the pinnacle of dessert wine (Premier Cru Supérieur (“Superior First Growth”). They carry over two hundred years of prestige as the only Sauternes producer included in 1855’s classification of Bordeaux’s best wines.

If rumor holds weight, after living a decade in Bourbon barrels, Yquem’s barrels might just finish Glen’s spirit for two more years. Does this give them the magic touch?

Glenorangie, Nectar d’Or, Highland Single Malt Whiskey, Scotland

Glenmorangie Nector D'Or

The APPEARANCE looks a clear, mild, amber wheat color with brassy highlights. Intense, sexy AROMAS sit on a base of almond croissant, burnt honey, vanilla powder, with ginger and clove spice clanging overhead. I pick a whiff of gooseberry, lemongrass hanging on from Sauvignon Blanc touching those barrels. The PALATE has a slight crystalized sugar sweetness, but finishes dry, with slightly woody tannins, a lilting acidity, and a viscous round but medium body, punctuated by edgy 46% ABV heat. The FLAVORS inch in, slow and sweet, with pure golden honey, dried chamomile, gold raisins, turning to hot coals, pepper, and charred vanilla that last a medium plus length.

Glenmorangie’s Nectar D’Or is far from perfect. The high alcohol burns and the Bourbon barrels nod too heavily to Scotch’s past. It tries the impossible, to dip a foot in Whiskey and the other toe in dessert wine royalty. But taming the heat and char could render it sickly sweet and one note. The marriage may not seem seamless, nevertheless, Nectar d’Or is very good (4 of 5) and admirably ambitious. Skip dessert and sip this instead. Or pair it with funky cheeses drizzled in honey.


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Mellen Meyer Oregon Bubbly

Can Oregon wine catch Champagne’s coattails? Our climate is too warm, our soil too rich, and our winemakers too impatient, but our grapes are Pinot and Chardonnay. So, why not try?

Well, most Oregon bubbly from Argyle to Argyle tastes nice, dry, but a bit fruity and simple. That sexy, nutty, chalky, dry, autolytic character that Champagne can have seemed elusive.

Luckily, I stumbled onto a bottle of Mellen Meyer Brut. The maker behind it is Bobby Rowett. He left philosophy, then a wineshop launched his tour of France, next apprenticeships with the wine world’s precious producers: from France’s, cheap geek staple Mas de Gourgonnier, Australia’s answer to S. France, Hewitson Wines, Idaho’s edgy Cinder Wines, and Portland’s darling, Goodfellow.

Bobby now makes about a thousand cases above Winter Hill’s winery in Dundee. He has a website and club and a few placements around town, but no brick and mortar.

Mellen Meyer, Brut, Willamette Valley OR NV $26-$30

Age is key to making MM’s Brut echo Champagne. Even before the long (and costly) 27 months of bottle aging, Bobby sneaks 30% of the wine from a tank topped off, solera-style, from multiple vintages (he claims to be inspired from grower champagne, but this is a classic negociant move). 20% is from a Dundee vineyard, the rest comes from a mix of clones from biodynamic Johan Vineyards south near Van Duzer.

Pinot Noir leads the blend at 65%, with 35% Chardonnay. Oak also tacks on complexity. The Chard ferments in used Oregon oak barrels.  Meanwhile old French oak barrels tame the Pinot Noir.


Mellen Meyer Brut Willamette ValleyThe APPEARANCE looks a mild bright straw with a rapid super fine fizz. Medium intense AROMAS smell the color of green, very green: green pear, granny smith apple, limoncello, clove, and shaved almond. The PALATE feels dry, cracking with medium plus acidity, mild alcohol, and a medium minus body, and fine vivacious . FLAVORS jump at you with fresh cold pear, green apple, lemon zest thankfully balanced by classic autolytics: baguette core, almond, and chalk ash that carry a long while.

In sum, Mellen Meyer’s Brut is bebop jazz, still lively yet serious, fresh yet aged. It is very good, nay outstanding fizz (5 of 5) for its complexity and ringing tone. It tastes different than Champagne but is as good as many.

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Chinese Wine Review: Chateau Rongzi 2013 Shanxi China

Picture China. Depending on where your from, a collage of pandas, red flags, chopsticks, tea, rice bowls, Mao portraits, and bamboo groves may pass through your mind.

Not this:


Rongzi Vineyards

Yup. Vineyards. Since at least 7,000 BCE, China has been making alcohol from grapes. Yet wine remained a fringe product, more an exotic treat for the elite than a mass produced, daily beverage for the masses. It took until 1980 for French wine to crack into China, but public interest only swelled by 2000 with China’s global rise. Production has hovered around 7th place worldwide, sandwiched between Argentina and South Africa at 11.5 million hectoliters.

But I am not worried about volume. Can they make quality vino? Today’s tipple comes from Shanxi: a high plateau, with deep loess soil, kept dry by mountains with wide temperature ranges, below the Great Wall, southeast from Beijing.

China Wine Regions

Today’s winery is Chateau Rongzi.  Zhang Wenquan founded it with billions he had made in coal mining after the recession hit. And he did not mess around. He spent a cool $92 million on 400 hectares with a massive, and I mean massive castle.

He also hired the best, Jean Claude Berrouet: the winemaker of Bordeaux’s Petrus. So can ambition, money, talent, and worthwhile land make great wine?

Rongzi WineLineup

Let’s try their cabernet,

Chateau Rongzi, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shanxi, China 2013 

Hand picked 75.85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18.63% Marselan (a Cab/Grenache crossing), and 5.52% Merlot aged 12 months in oak barrels.

APPEARANCE: A clear but abnormal ruby cranberry color with cranberry highlights
AROMAS: smell a bit quiet, dusky, with rhubarb, black cherry, dried wood, spice, and fox musk .
PALATE: Feels dry, with medium plus acidity, tame medium tannins, a medium body, and rustic linen texture.
FLAVORS: range from raspberry and twangy cranberry, a slight soy, to fox musk and ash that cary into a dry, spicy, medium plus length.
Chateau Rongzi Bottle
Rongzi’s Cab blend is a bit wild, a bit tame, but very good (4 of 5). It reminds me of cool vintage, young vine Bordeaux, or Cabernets from fringe cool climates like New York or the Loire where wild yeasts fight fruit and oak for attention. However, $139 is a hefty price. Although it’s cheaper than a flight to China.
Not your wallet’s cup of tea?
$39 will get you Rongzi’s rosé. Your guess of what the grapes are is as good as mine.
Rongzi Rose
It looks neon pink. It tastes sweet yet acidic, like grapefruit and those strawberry candies. Like a white Zin, Rongzi’s rosé is somehow horrible but everything it should be: like a sweet tart, or sweet and sour pork. You know it is gross but you feel guilty liking it. It fits a niche (3 of 5) even if that niche is a deep, dark crevice that I never wish to enter ever ever again.
In summation, Rongzi has taken a “great leap forward” (apologies) for Chinese wine. They risk pricing into a luxury market they do not yet deserve. But a ton of Champagne, Napa Cab, and Bordeaux disappoints relative to its hefty price. So Rongzi, and by association China, have enough potential, ambition, and money parallel to upwardly mobile consumers to be the next premier wine producing nation.
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Break Work With Chardonnay From Italy

Be honest with yourself: it has been a long day. You deserve a drink. But the last thing you want is more work. It can be interesting, sure. But complexity, tannins, grip, and food pairings sound horrid.

Let me whisk you to Italy. Specifically, Tuscany: land of rolling hills, Chianti, Renaissance palazzi, and rustic food. But leave the sweat, art, dust, gelato, and tourists of Firenze (aka Florence) behind.  Head northeast, into the mountains, and you will find Pomino DOC: a few miles from where I use to excavate an Etruscan temple.

Pomino MapEstablished in 1983 Pomino, as a DOC, oddly focusses on French grapes Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco (Blanc), Pinot Nero (Noir), and Sauvignon Blanc.  At 700 meters above sea level, in the middle mountainous, peasant-ridden nowhere, this is an odd place to sit on the cutting edge of international wine style.

Yet, enter Frescobaldi: a family living here since the 1300s, who made wine for Henry VIII, and today dominate production around Rufina and Pomino. Their Chardonnay comes from their highest vineyard surrounded by sequoias, firs and chestnut trees. It becomes wine in stainless tanks, with a dash in barrels seeing malolactic fermentation, in just four months. It will solve your dreary day.

Frescobaldi, Chardonnay, Pomino DOC Italy 2016 $22

Frescobaldi Pomino Chardonnay 2016

Colors looks a clear, pale straw glinting with steel and washing the glass. Aromas flit and lilt delicately, hinting at orange blossom, jasmine, kiwi, candied lime, and white pear that amplify and become more honeyed when drunk. Yet the palate remains dry, clean, round, and a touch fleshy, but with good acidity. The length is medium plus.

Frescobaldi’s Pomino Chardonnay is Spring in a glass. Florals and fruits stop short of becoming cloying. The body teeters on voluptuous but stays clean and silken. It is very good (4 of 5).

If you must, you can pair it up with some delicate, young cheeses, mild mixed nuts, white fish, salads. But honestly, just enjoy it and forget the world.

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Mourvedre Part 3: Wine Review of Kenneth Volk, Mourvèdre, Enz Vineyard, Lime Kiln Valley, California 2012

Monday Mourvèdre madness sees a new wine in our glasses. The rare grape of Bandol and Southern France has found a small niche in warm Central California. After trying the light Croad (here) and plump Terry Hoag (read here), it is time to turn to one of the smallest AVAs with the oldest Mourvèdre: Lime Kiln Valley.

Lime Kiln Valley AVA

Lime Kiln Valley sits like a Russian doll in the Cienega Valley, which sits in San Benito County, in Montery, in Central California, in California, in America (*phew). Lime Kiln Valley lives up to its name: rich with limestone and dolomite. Temperatures range an extreme 50 degrees. The perfect recipe for torturing vines to make quality grapes.

And only one family farms Lime Kiln Valley: The Enz family. They started in 1895, and planted Mourverdre 1922: one of the oldest Mourvedre vineyards anywhere. Currently there are 40 acres of vineyards, including a 15 acre parcel of head-trained Mourvèdre.

Lucky for us Kenneth Volk made some in 2012.

Kenneth Volk Vineyards, Mourvèdre, Enz Vineyard, Lime Kiln Valley, California 2012 $25-$36

Kenneth Volk Mourvedre Lime Kiln 2012

A deep purple-colored core is crowned by thin wash legs. Aromas crackle with dried herbs, especially fennel, a whiff of honeyed bacon, tobacco, pomegranate and blackberry fruit leather. The palate is dry, popping with medium plus acidity, dried reed-like medium tannins, medium 13.2% alcohol, the body is medium,  Medium plus flavors cut about with the fennel, pomegranate, dried cherry skin, white tobacco ash, and salt that carry a medium plus length.

Volk’s Mourverdre is juicy, bright, yet edgy, and well-bodied. It reminds me of a lighter  Bandol. It is outstanding stuff (5 of 5).  But unless you are a masochist, it cries for food. Poultry with a bit of char and balsamic glaze, wild foul, venison, black mushroom and truffle dishes, or serious cheeses are a must.


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