Wednesday, July 31, 2019

The Face Of Toro Tempranillo

"Strength, nerve and courage" is on the label of the Matsu wines from Spain's Toro region.  Matsu means "wait" in Japanese, says the winery.  It's a tribute to "all the viticulturists who have been working" - and waiting - "in the vineyards for generations."   The label also features images of real life viticulturists, to a somewhat startling effect.

D.O. Toro has a dry climate, extreme temperatures and 100-year-old vines which combine to make for some pretty bold juice.  Matsu's 2015 El Viejo is made from Tinta de Toro grapes.  That's what they call Tempranillo in Toro.  The wine was vinified in concrete tanks and aged in new French oak barrels for 16 months.  Alcohol tips 15% abv and the sticker price is $47. 

This wine's color is medium-dark ruby in the glass.  The nose displays huge black fruit - berries and plums - with savory leather, smoke and cigar box notes.  On the palate comes blackberries and sweet oak tones.  The tannins provide great structure, begging for a pairing with beef.

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Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Cal-Italia Aglianico From Lake County

At first glance, the name Prima Materia doesn't look like an Oakland winery, but it is.  Winemaker and owner Pietro Buttitta grows his grapes two and a half hours to the north, in Lake County's Kelsey Bench AVA.  He focuses on Italian varieties - from Sangiovese to Barbera to Refosco to Negroamaro.  Buttitta says he planted most of those grapes himself and has worked the vineyard for the last eleven years.  He claims to find a clear Lake County voice for his minimally handled wines, one that maintains a "distinct Old World finish and feel."

Prima Materia Aglianico 2014

Buttitta says the Aglianico grapes were planted in 2003 and have evolved into his signature variety, along with Barbera and Sangiovese.  The grapes were grown in soil laced with deposits from Mt. Konocti's past volcanic eruptions.  Does that make the Kelsey Bench the Sicily of California? 

The 2014 Aglianico vineyard is interplanted with 7% Montepulciano grapes.  The wine was vinified and aged on its lees in Hungarian oak, 225-liter vats that are anywhere from two to ten years old.  Alcohol tips 14.3% abv, while the wine retails for $38.

This wine is quite dark in the glass.  A whiff of nail polish remover greeted me when I opened the bottle, but after sitting a bit, the more expected aromas of dark fruit, white pepper, spice and trampled leaves overtook the problematic initial whiff.  The alcohol came on strong in the sip, and the tannins need time to smooth out.  There is definitely an Old World feel to the wine, and I am reminded of other excellent Aglianicos I have had from Santa Barbara County, Texas and, oh yeah, southern Italy.  I'd love to try it in ten years, when aging will have softened its rustic edges.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Albariño, Please. Hold The Flowers

The folks from the Spanish wine region Rias Baixas have a great product to push.  Albariño is not only a delicious white wine on its own, but it’s one of the more food-friendly grapes you'll find.  In fact, Albariño seems to crave a food pairing so it can show its best.

The Pazo Pondal winery is in the Galicia area of northwest Spain, the Miño Valley, the Rias Baìxas wine region, the Condado do Tea subregion.

The 100% 2016 Albariño grapes were harvested from the lower altitude Leira Longa plot, carefully crushed and the juice fermented in both stainless steel tanks and French oak barrels.  These particular grapes are grown with less acidity and more body than those from higher elevations.  The vines are as young as 20 but as old as 60 years.  The wine stayed in wood, on the lees, for some ten months.  Alcohol is a restrained 13% abv, and the wine sells for $20.

This wine carries minerals and Meyer lemon on the nose, and plenty of both.  The palate shows citrus and a great salinity, with none of the floral notes Albariño is known for, the notes that generally push me away.  The savory aspect of this one is very different from most Alabariños, and it really sets the wine apart.  The mouthfeel is quite full, almost creamy.

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Friday, July 26, 2019

Spanish Wine: Rioja To The Rescue

It was Spanish wine that started my own interest in the broad spectrum of vino.  It dragged a self-described "beer-only" guy into the wide world of wine after attending a tasting of Spanish wine on a lark.  I think about that tasting every time I have a glass of Rioja.

Under the umbrella of Bodegas González Byass, Bodegas Beronia operates sustainably in La Rioja as well as Rueda.  The 2013 Beronia Rioja Reserva was made from 95% Tempranillo grapes, 4% Graciano and a 1% dash of Mazuelo.  The wine was aged for three years, in French and American oak barrels and in the bottle.  Alcohol is pretty reasonable for Rioja, at 14% abv and it sells for about $20, not bad for a wine of this quality.

The Beronia Rioja Reserva is a dark garnet in the glass, with a nose of black cherries and plums, abetted by leather, vanilla and a nice oak spice.  The palate is rustic and savory, its age showing already.  Black fruit tangles with tobacco and earth notes.  There’s a good tannic structure and a lengthy, savory finish.  Pair it with pork, sausages and Manchego cheese.

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Wednesday, July 24, 2019

New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc

New Zealand was spotlighted in a recent online virtual tasting event, specifically Villa Maria winery.  Winemaker Kathrin Jankowiec guided us through a half dozen of her creations, including the Private Bin Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.

Marlborough is located on the north end of New Zealand's South Island.  It's New Zealand’s sunniest spot.

For the 2017 Villa Maria Private Bin Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, Villa Maria took grapes from their estate vineyards in the cool-climate Awatere Valley as well as the warmer Wairau Valley.  Alcohol stays reasonable at 12.5% abv and the wine sells for less than $10.

The 2017 Villa Maria Private Bin Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc shows the expected grassy, herbal nose with tropical fruit and minerals included.  The palate is also full of those mineral notes, as well as lemon, lime and guava flavors.  Acidity is brisk, and the lengthy finish is fresh and citrusy.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Zinfandel For The Barbecue

Artezin winemaker Randle Johnson is billed by the Hess Family as a "champion of heirloom varietals," which makes him a likely guy to work with some ancient California vines.  His 2017 Artezin Old Vine Zinfandel was made from grapes pulled out of vineyards in Mendocino County, off of vines which were planted by Italian and Swiss immigrants - whose families still tend the crops today. 

The winery says the old growers would plant Zinfandel around the perimeter of the vineyard, to hide from sight the other grapes they were growing.  They apparently considered their field blends to be proprietary information.

The wine consists of 85% Zinfandel grapes and 15% Petite Sirah.  The folks at parent company Hess Family Wine Estates says this Zinfandel is as good at a summer barbecue as it is at Thanksgiving - just throw it in a cooler for a half hour or so before grilling.  The wine was aged in neutral French oak barrels, hits 14.8% abv on the alcohol scale and sells for $16.

The 2017 Artezin Old Vine Zinfandel Mendocino is medium-dark and sports a playful nose of strawberry and boysenberry with a cinnamon twist.  On the palate, raspberry and cherry play off of one another in front of a spicy backdrop.  The tannins are smooth.  The wine drinks young and breezy.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Great Cabernet From Atlas Peak

A seven-acre plot of Tokay grapes was the start of Stonum Vineyards in the late 1970s.  Sibling vintners Mike and Kathy Stonum started making wines in 2006.  Those ancient vines of Mediterranean origin, by the way, were ripped up to make way for Zinfandel.  Lodi Wines says Tokay was once very heavily planted in the region and was primarily used as a table grape, not a source for world-class dessert wine.  Zinfandel is now the hook on which Lodi hangs its ranch hat.

The 2014 Stonum Napa Valley Cabernet is made from grapes grown in the Atlas Peak appellation.  The wine hits a rich 16% abv in alcohol, but does not taste boozy.  It sells for $60.

This wine is dark purple around the rim and nearly black everywhere else.  The nose gives off smoke, blueberries, cassis and a faint graphite note.  The palate shows a delicious dark fruit profile, with a savory streak of leather, rosemary and spice running through it.  The acidity is lip-smacking and the tannins are firm without taking over.  You won't forget it - the finish won't let you.  Pair with a steak or roast, of course, but pork or roasted chicken will work as well.

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Friday, July 19, 2019

Nice Cab From Nice - California

The little town of Nice, California sits on the northern shore of Clear Lake in Lake County, northwest of Sacramento.  Wikipedia cites a source saying that the town was originally named Clear Lake Villas, until Charles William Bayne renamed the spot after his former hometown in France, around 1930.

Dennis Kreps owns the Samuel Charles label there along with his father, Stephen.  The brand's name comes from the names of Dennis' sons.  Noted winemaker Bob Pepi creates the wines.  The brand is reportedly launching nationwide distribution for the first time this year, with a separate single-vineyard Cab and a Sauvignon Blanc, both sourced in Lake County.

The 2017 Samuel Charles Cabernet Sauvignon is all North Coast grapes - 91% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petite Sirah, 4% Malbec - grown in volcanic soil about 2,100 feet up in the mountains.  The wine was aged for nine months in French and American oak barrels, about a third of them new, and alcohol sits at 14.2% abv.  The Cab retails for about $30.

This North Coast Cabernet Sauvignon blend has a dark and savory nose with a bit of a chemical smell poking through the black fruit and spice.  The palate is better, still dark and savory, with a rustic edge which reminds me more of Paso than Napa - but is actually somewhere metaphorically in between.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Dark Horse Merlot

The Dark Horse marketing department calls winemaker Beth Liston a renegade.  They say she mixes classic technique with game-changing innovation.  Her colorful tattoos up both arms are not exactly outlaw territory anymore, and she claims a fairly sedate wine-family upbringing.  Liston says she grew up in vineyards and was always covered in mud.  She also resists taking full credit for the Dark Horse wines, choosing to spread the love amongst the entire winemaking team.  The Modesto winery produces a full line of wine styles, including a Merlot, which I sampled. 

The grapes for the 2015 Dark Horse California Merlot are harvested before the Cabernet Sauvignon fruit, which the winery says is an unconventional move.  The Merlot is blended with Petite Sirah, Petit Verdot and Dornfelder to help bring a bigger, bolder flavor profile.  Dornfelder, by the way, is a grape created by German horticulturists and is used to beef up the red wines of that country.  Aged in French oak, this Merlot's alcohol tips only 13.5% abv and the wine sells for around $10.

This wine comes on strong, with a nose of blackberry and anise, joined by lesser touches of smoke and leather.  On the palate, watch out for those early tannins.  They bite, but settle down considerably after the bottle's been open for awhile.  Jammy dark fruit carries a ton of spice notes with it.  Oak is noticeable, to be sure, but it's a sweet effect rather than a savory one.  The wine is medium-dark ruby in color at the edges, blackening nearer the core.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Lodi Pinot Noir

The tiny town of Murphys, California is home to one of the nation's biggest wineries.  Ironstone Vineyards is located east of Lodi in Calaveras County, in the Sierra Foothills.  It may be out-of-the-way, but there's a better than average chance you've had some of their brands, or at least seen them on the supermarket shelf.

The Kautz Family are fourth-generation growers, not unusual in that part of the state, and the family-run winery’s corporate officers are known simply as John, Gail, Kurt and Jack.

Ironstone Pinot Noir Lodi 2017

The 2017 Ironstone Pinot Noir shows as almost medium-dry on the back label scale.  The wine spent only three months in new French oak, hits 13.5% in alcohol and sells for $14.

This Lodi Pinot colors up medium dark ruby n the glass.  The nose features black cherry, tea and light spices, while the palate is borderline bold, with cherry, raspberry, clove and cola. It's a bit brawny for my taste in this grape, but it is easy drinking with light tannins and a smooth dark finish.  The winery suggests you try it with cedar plank salmon, mushroom dishes, pork, lamb or game birds.

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Monday, July 15, 2019

CA Négociant Delivers Great Rosé At A Bargain

California wine négociant Cameron Hughes owns no vineyards and has no official winery.  He buys already produced wine from established makers on the down low, with an agreement not to reveal the source.  He then sells the wine online through his wine club, which he calls a wineocracy, bringing top-shelf wines to lower-shelf wallets.  Hughes says he keeps prices low by removing the middleman, the distributor and retailer through which store-bought wines must pass.

The sustainably farmed grapes for the 2017 Cameron Hughes Lot 639 Rosé were grown in California's Central Coast region, specifically the Arroyo Seco AVA in Monterey County.  Hughes says the pink wine was made by "perhaps the most famous producer on the entire Central Coast," without giving up the identity.  Hughes claims he's selling the wine for nearly half its original price.  The grape is Valdiguié, which not commonly found outside of the south of France.  Alcohol tips in at a reasonable 12.8% abv and the wine sells for $13.

This rosé is a rich salmon pink, a really beautiful hue.  The nose shows ripe cherry and melon aromas, while the palate brings strawberries and apricots to the table.  It's a very complex pink wine.  The acidity is gentle, so it's a great sipper.  However, you can pair it with a salad, light appetizers or white meat with no problem. 

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Friday, July 12, 2019

Grandma's Red Wine

Bella Grace Vineyards is located in the Sierra Foothills region of California's Amador County.  Run by Michael and Charlie Havill, their vineyard sits on 20 acres in those granitic rolling hills.  The winery says Michael is "one of the few elite female winemakers in California," while husband Charlie is credited with being the mastermind behind the vines.  The winery was named for their two grandmothers.

The Havills grow Primitivo, Zinfandel, Grenache, Vermentino, Grenache Blanc, Syrah, Petite Sirah and Mourvedre sustainably without pesticides, as well as three types of olives. 

Bella Grace Bella's Red Wine, Amador County 2015

The 2015 Bella's Red Wine blends 41% Barbera grapes with 38% Zinfandel, 13% Grenache, 5% Syrah and 3% Petite Sirah.  Aging took place over a year and a half in Frenck oak barrels, but only a fifth of them were new.  Alcohol tips 14.4% abv and the wine retails for $20.

Let it open up, and you are rewarded with a nose of cherry, leather, tobacco and clove.  The palate offers black cherry, vanilla, cinnamon and allspice.  It's a real showstopper, a tough thing to find at the price point.  It paired beautifully with roasted rosemary chicken.

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Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Naked Michigan Chardonnay

The locals call it paradise on a peninsula.  Michigan's Old Mission Peninsula wine region sticks out of the northwestern edge of the state's main body into Lake Michigan.  Situated on the 45th parallel, about the same latitude where you'll find Bordeaux, it's a 19-mile spit which juts northward and forms the east and west sides of Grand Traverse Bay.  It's only four miles wide at its broadest point. 

They grow wine grapes there.  The blue waters surrounding the land are some 600 feet deep, that produces what they call a "lake effect" which I am told protects the vines with snow in winter, slows bud break in spring to avoid frost damage, and extends the growing season by up to four weeks.

There's a thriving wine AVA on the strip of land, along with breweries and distilleries.  I've tasted Michigan wines before and found them to be of very high quality, so I had high expectations when the OMP reps sent some of their wines to me for review.  I was not disappointed.

The Bowers Harbor wine business was established in 1991, four years after the Old Mission Peninsula was granted AVA status.  The estate sits on a former horse farm, with 20 acres of grapes now growing.  The vines include Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Grigio, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.  The property is owned by Linda Stegenga and her son, Spencer.

The 2017 Bowers Harbor Unwooded Chardonnay presents the grape unadorned by the effect of oak barrels.  The stainless steel fermentation includes full malolactic creaminess at a very reasonable alcohol level of 12% abv.  The wine sells for $16, and is a steal at that price.

This straw-colored Michigan Chardonnay smells of nothing but fruit, since it was never introduced to oak.  Meyer lemon, stone fruit and tropical notes rise up from the glass.  On the palate, that's where it really takes off.  The fruit flavors jump right out, but it's the full malolactic fermentation that steals the show.  The wine is so full and creamy, you'd swear there had to be some oak barrels somewhere along the way.  Racy acidity adds to what is already an embarrassment of riches.

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Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Sparkling Albariño

The Laxas bodega has been in the family since 1862, and they watch over their 13-acre estate vineyard with careful eyes.  The vines grow on steep terraces which look south over the Miña River in sandy, mineral-laden soil.  Winemaker Jorge Dominguez Hervella works with great fruit and makes the most of it, producing an Albariño that speaks of its land.

The 2016 Sensum Laxas Sparkling Albariño is made from 100% estate-grown Rias Baìxas Albariño grapes. It is fermented in the traditional method, the way it’s done in Champagne.  Alcohol tips 12.7% abv, and the price hits nearly $30.

This sparkler has intense bubbles and a nose of green apples, citrus and floral notes.  On the palate, minerals abound.  There’s a very nice acidity, with a creamy aspect on top of it.  This wine will pair with any type of seafood, but try it with oysters.

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Monday, July 8, 2019

Reborn Zinfandel

The back label of the Saucelito Canyon Estate Zinfandel says grapes were first planted at Rancho Saucelito in 1880, on the ocean side of the coastal range in the cool-climate Arroyo Grande Valley of California's Central Coast.  The Zinfandel vineyard survived Prohibition, but it was abandoned in the 1940s, then ravaged by fire and animals.

Although the vines were decimated, the roots kept sending new growth shooting upward each spring, and the original vineyard was restored in the 1970s by Bill Greenough.  His son, Tom, now makes the wine from those revitalized, dry-farmed grapevines.  The 2015 Estate Zinfandel hits only 14.1% abv and sells for around $35.

This deep, ruby red wine has enough black pepper on the nose to prompt a sneeze.  There's a ton of intense black fruit as well, along with licorice, tobacco and some rustic oak.  The palate shows off its country side, too, with black and blue berries and an oak treatment that does not go overboard.  Tannins are not extremely forceful, but there's enough structure to make it worth your while to pair it with lean meat dishes or pasta.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

New Mexico Wine Toasts Feminist Artist

A New Mexico winery is toasting feminist artist Judy Chicago with a wine bearing her name.  Jaramillo Vineyards is releasing the wine this month in New Mexico's Middle Rio Grande Valley.

Owners Robert and Barbara Jaramillo met when he was stationed with the Navy in Long Beach, California.  After a career as an airline pilot, Jaramillo decided to grow grapes and make wine, continuing a family precedent.  His father was a home winemaker, but his grandfather had been the largest producer of wine in the area before Prohibition.

Jaramillo Vineyards has plantings of the Norton Cynthiana grape, which has reportedly not been grown west of Missouri until now.  Norton is considered to be "America’s grape," and was championed by Thomas Jefferson.

Judy Chicago's art will be shown on July 20-21, 2019 at the opening of the Through the Flower Art Space in Belen, New Mexico.  Chicago and her husband have lived in Belen for a quarter century, and the town is also the home of Jaramillo Vineyards.  The art space is right across the street from the tasting room. 

The winery plans to release the Judy Chicago red and white wines on July 21st.  Both will feature a label and bottle design conceived by the artist herself.  She chose a cobalt blue bottle which she feels compliments her label design.  Chicago was personally involved in selecting the final blend for each wine.  I haven't tasted them, but I'm told the Judy Chicago red will be a Petit Verdot blend and the Judy Chicago white will be a dry blend of Chenin Blanc and Arneis. 

You can read more of the Now And Zin effort to taste wine from all 50 states in the Wine Country series.

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Friday, July 5, 2019

Spanish Red To Drink Quickly

The 2016 Pagos de Galir Mencia is made in the Spanish region of Valdeorras from 100% Mencia grapes. Mencia is the main red grape in the DO, which is in Galicia's Ourense province in the northwestern part of the country.  The Romans mined for gold in the area, then planted grapevines when they felt they had gotten all the precious metal out of the earth.

The 2016 harvest was down by nearly a third from the previous year, thanks to spring rains, hot temperatures and summer hail. The wine spent six months aging in American and French oak barrels, and another six in the cellar.  Alcohol sits at 13.5% abv and the wine retails for a reasonable $17.

Mencia grapes once produced a relatively light and fragrant wine, but in recent years winemakers have been getting much more concentration.  In fact, this wine is downright inky. 

Upon opening, this Spanish wine has a tight nose that offers only a whiff of red fruit and bit of spice.  After breathing for awhile, things loosen up considerably.  Six months barrel aging didn't take over the fruit.  There are plenty of those Mencía grapes to smell.  Plenty to taste, too, although the oak spice comes through a tad stronger on the palate.  Tannins are firm initially, and the wine feels fresh and young in the mouth.  However, the structure softens quite a bit after a couple of hours in the glass.

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Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Get Your Wine Kicks With D66

Dave Phinney's Department 66 Grenache hails from the Cotes Catalanes region in Languedoc-Roussillon, in southern France.  The wine is made by Dave Phinney, who says he fell in love with the land around Maury on his first visit there.  He boasts that the red soil is peppered with black schist, granite and limestone.  He not only fell in love with the dirt, but also the people.  So much so that he has a home there.

The vines used in sourcing grapes for this wine range from 10 to 65 years old.  The blend of Grenache, Syrah and Carignan was aged for a year and a half in French oak barrels, nearly a third of which were new.  Another five months aging took place in the bottle.  Alcohol is heavy at 15.2% abv and the wine sells for $38.

This is a big, bold wine.  On the nose, blackcurrant and blueberries take a lot of leather, tobacco, allspice and licorice along for the ride.  The palate is rich with blackberries and plums, with savory aspects equally forceful.  The tannins are somewhat stiff, but would be welcome with a big, fatty steak on the plate.  A zippy acidity embraces the wine’s minerality, providing a lip-smacking refreshment.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Spanish Vermouth Deserves Larger Role

Vermouth is an aromatic, fortified wine which is flavored with such things as herbs, roots, flowers, bark or practically anything that grows.  It originated in the 18th century as a medicinal aid.  Over the years, vermouth dropped from the pharmacy to the bar, where it became an aperitif and now resides as a necessary component of cocktails like martinis, Manhattans and negronis.

White vermouth - dry - is sometimes called French, while the red, sweet kind is called Italian.  Those two countries produce most of the vermouth that you'll find on the shelf, although it's also made in Spain as we will see.

The Jerez firm of Gonzalez Byass produces a pair of fine and surprising vermouths, dry white and sweet red.  The winery claims the century-old recipes are kept under lock and key.

La Copa Vermouth Extra Seco - the white - is made from 100% Palomino grapes - Fino sherry, actually - which was aged an average of three years in American oak casks in the traditional Solera system.  In addition to the grapes, La Copa Extra Seco includes wormwood, clove, cinnamon and the herb called savory.  Red fruits were added for a "balsamic aftertaste."  Alcohol in the extra dry vermouth tips in at 17% abv and it retails for $25.

This is completely different from every other white Vermouth I've tried.  It is aromatic and flavorful to a fault.  I smelled smoke, I smelled burnt caramel, I smelled thyme, cinnamon, clove, jasmine.  I tasted a burnt caramel or maple sap note.  It was actually one of the more expressive and interesting wines in my experience.  It sure as hell livened up a martini.  Don't spend extra on the gin - let La Copa white vermouth do the work.

La Copa Vermouth Rojo is made from 75% Palomino grapes and 25% Pedro Ximénez variety.  It's produced from Oloroso and Pedro Ximénez soleras, more than eight years old.  As in the Extra Seco, wormwood, savory, clove, and cinnamon are in the mix, along with orange peel and nutmeg in the sweeter blend.  Alcohol sits at 15.5% abv and it retails for $25.

The red vermouth smells of burnt raisins and tangerine.  The palate is sweet with a savory sword cutting down the middle.  The fact that it’s made from sherry is inescapable.

I used these vermouths in cocktails made with Beefeater London Dry Gin, which contains botanical elements like juniper, coriander, orange peel, lemon peel, angelica root and seed, licorice, almond, and orris root.  In a three-to-one gin blend, the white overpowered the gin.  I used the red in a one-to-one blend, which let the gin speak for itself but still allowed the sweet vermouth to contribute amply.  Both are also fine to sip all on their own.

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