Botanically Delicious Soda

Ready to step it up from flavored fizzy water? Eschewing alcohol but still craving that bittersweet pucker of a spritz or negroni? Chill down a bottle of Casamara Club Amaro Soda. Delicious and very food-friendly.

Four flavors are available; I found the differences quite subtle. (Naturally I got the variety case to sample the quartet.) The Alta caught my attention because it’s the name of the ski resort where I lived (eons ago) for two memorable winters and one underrated summer. Let’s look at its ingredients to give an idea of what Casamara Club is all about:

Sparkling Water, Lemon Juice, Demerara Cane Sugar, and Extracts of Italian Chinotto, Juniper Berry, Orris Root, Mandarin Orange, Allspice Berry, Clove Bud, and Anise, with Mediterranean Sea Salt.

Very little sugar here; just enough to balance the botanicals. The pinch of salt is a nice touch, too. Speaking of salt, these sodas are wonderful with salty snacks. Popcorn, Doritos, all the crunchy things etc.

If you’re looking to get creative with these amaro club sodas, the options are numerous. Hey, if you buy Casamara Club you’re already showing some flavor initiative. All you need is a bottle opener to become a maestro of mid-afternoon. But I do like the recipe on the website for a N/A drink called Tan Lines, which adds a splash of tea bitters to some Alta club soda.

Botanically Delicious Soda

This cocktail is adapted from Julia Bainbridge’s Good Drinks, a book I recently purchased. The refreshing subtitle is “Alcohol-Free Recipes for When You’re Not Drinking for Whatever Reason.” I’m just diving into the book, but I will say I like the recipes have a noted “Commitment Level.” Mix up something on the easy-peasy side, prep-wise or buckle down for for a drink involving some kitchen sessions. Let your mood and motivation be your guide.

Casamara Club Amaro Soda: Can-Do

I should also point out you can get the Alta in cans! Woo-hoo! Break out the can koozies. I haven’t had the Alta in this format, but interestingly the website notes the cans are more mellow in the bubbles department. But you’ll look super-cool with these stylish cans at the beach/lake/park/picnic table so don’t sweat it, ok?

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Wine Reviews: Weekly Mini Round-Up for May 31, 2021

I taste a bunch-o-wine (technical term for more than most people). So each week, I share some of my wine reviews (mostly from samples) and tasting notes in a “mini-review” format.
They are meant to be quirky, fun, and (mostly) easily-digestible reviews of (mostly) currently available wines (click here for the skinny on how to read them), and are presented links to help you find them, so that you can try them out for yourself. Cheers!

Upscale your palate! My new books are now available from Rockridge Press!

Copyright © 2020. Originally at Wine Reviews: Weekly Mini Round-Up for May 31, 2021 from - for personal, non-commercial use only. Cheers!

Vinography Unboxed: Week of 5/23/21

Hello and welcome to my weekly dig through the pile of wine samples that show up asking to be tasted. I’m pleased to bring you the latest installment of Vinography Unboxed, where I highlight some of the better bottles that have crossed my doorstep recently.

Let’s start this week with a really excellent Chardonnay from husband-and-wife Erica Landon and Ken Pahlow, who started Walter Scott in 2008 after emptying their retirement accounts to do so. It’s the kind of tiny family operation that Oregon’s Willamette Valley hosts more than a few of. They make small quantities of excellent wines, with great attention to detail.

Speaking of tiny outfits run by husbands and wives from Oregon, I’ve got a few of the current releases from Big Table Farm, including a couple of very delicious Pinot Noirs, and a deep dark Syrah for those who like their Syrah on the inky end of the spectrum.

Continuing the family-run-theme, and dodging back to white wines for a moment, we’re on to the Two Shepherds Pastoral Blanc, a lovely white Rhone blend that’s a pleasure to drink. It features Vermentino, an Italian grape that continues to make inroads in Southern France under the synonym Rolle.

And last, but certainly not least, let’s spend a little time with husband and wife Paul Gordon and Jackie Bracey, who haven’t quite managed to quit their day jobs, but scraped together enough money to buy a vineyard way up in the Yorkville Highlands AVA of Mendocino County. Planted with Syrah (and a lot of love) on decomposed schist, Halcón Vineyards has become (IMHO) one of the best sources for organically-farmed Syrah in California, which until recently I had only tasted in bottles with other people’s names on them. But Bracey has also been making wines under their own label, which I am happy to say are pretty exceptional. I’ve got a few of them to share this week, including their knockout Syrah called “Alturas” which references the 2500 feet of elevation that distinguishes their site.

Before we leave the world of Rhône grapes, I’d like to recommend the latest vintage of the venerable Tablas Creek‘s “Cotes de Tablas” red blend, which is an excellent and reliable homage to a grenache-dominated Côtes du Rhône.

Last but certainly not least, I’ve got two more Steve-Matthiasson-shepherded Cabernet Francs from Ashes and Diamonds, my favorite of which is the 2015, which soars with expressive aromatics that are beginning to emerge as it ages. The 2016 is no slouch either, offering juicy, tart plum skin and green herbs.

Notes on all these below.

Tasting Notes

2019 Walter Scott “Freedom Hill Vineyard” Chardonnay, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Palest greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of lemon pith, melted butter, and white flowers. In the mouth, intensely bright and juicy flavors of lemon pith, lemon curd, pink grapefruit, and white flowers are positively bursting with acidity. Notes of dried herbs, kumquat, and white flowers, tinged with a hint of butterscotch linger in the finish. Crackling, crystalline, and utterly delicious. 13% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $65. click to buy.  

2016 Two Shepherds “Pastoral Blanc – Saralee’s Vineyard” White Blend, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Light greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of apricots and lemon bars. In the mouth, notes of apricot swirl with herbal flavors of chamomile and warm hay. Hints of pear and kumquat linger in the finish. Excellent acidity, with just a faint sour bitterness. A blend of 45% Viognier, 25% Roussanne, 25% Marsanne, and 5% Vermentino (or should we say, Rolle?). 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $28. click to buy.

2019 Big Table Farm Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of forest floor, potting soil, and crushed berries. In the mouth, earthy flavors of cherry and raspberry are shot through with green herbs and notes of dried flowers. Lithe, elegant, and quite delicious. Excellent acidity and faint, velvety tannins. 12.8% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $45. click to buy.

2019 Big Table Farm “Pelos Sandberg Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Eola Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of forest floor, dried flowers, and dried herbs. In the mouth, silky-textured flavors of cedar, mulling spices raspberries, and cherries have faint velvety tannins and gorgeous acidity. Quite aromatic, this wine lingers with the scent of redwood duff for a long finish. 13% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $75. click to buy.

2016 Ashes and Diamonds “Number 3” Cabernet Franc, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of plum and green herbs. In the mouth, smooth, suede-like tannins wrap around a core of plum and tart plum skin flavors tinged with green herbs. Lovely acidity and balance, with just a hint of nut-skin bitterness in the finish. The fruit for this wine comes from a select few vineyards in the southern part of Napa Valley. Aged for 20 months in 18% new French oak. Made by Steve Matthiasson. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $75. click to buy.  

2015 Ashes and Diamonds “Number 2” Cabernet Franc, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of beautifully perfumed candied plum and roasted nuts. In the mouth, gorgeous plum and dried herbs mix with dried flowers and citrus peel. Fantastic acidity and wonderful length with a faint salinity in the finish to make it extra gulpable. Opening up beautifully. The fruit for this wine comes from a select few vineyards in the southern part of Napa Valley. Aged for 20 months in 25% new French oak. Made by Steve Matthiasson. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $75. click to buy.  

2019 Tablas Creek “Cotes de Tablas” Red Blend, Adelaida District, Paso Robles, Central Coast, California
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry, plum, and blueberry fruit. In the mouth, juicy bright flavors of blueberry and blackberry have a zingy bite, thanks to excellent acidity. Hints of dried sage and dusty road linger in the finish with gauzy tannins that add some texture and complexity. Quite tasty. A blend of 44% Grenache, 30% Syrah, 17% Counoise, and 9% Mourvedre. 14% alcohol. 1000 cases made. Score: around 9. Cost: $36. click to buy.  

Vinography Unboxed: Week of 5/23/21

2018 Halcón Vineyards “Alturas” Syrah, Yorkville Highlands, Mendocino, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of grilled meat, black cherries, and white pepper. In the mouth, white pepper, blueberries, black cherry, and dried herbs have a fantastically saline quality to them and excellent acidity that keeps the mouth-watering. Faint, powdery tannins hang in a gauzy haze in the back of the mouth, while herbs and dried flowers linger in the finish with a touch of white pepper. Killer stuff. 13.4% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $35. click to buy.

2018 Halcón Vineyards “Elevación” Syrah, Yorkville Highlands, Mendocino, California
Medium to dark cloudy garnet in the glass, this wine smells of bloody steak, incense, and blackberry fruit. In the mouth, intensely herbal flavors of blackberry, blueberry, and sawdust emerge from a cloudy haze of tannins that seem to fill every nook and cranny of the mouth. Distinctly herbal and slightly bitter notes of licorice root and tarragon linger in the finish. The wine leaves me thinking “maybe just a few fewer stems, please.” A selection from the vineyard of a single “heritage” clone, whole cluster fermented in a neutral puncheon. 13.3% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $35. click to buy.

2018 Halcón Vineyards “Esquisto” Red Blend, Yorkville Highlands, Mendocino, California
Medium ruby in color this wine smells of strawberries, herbs, and cedar. In the mouth, juicy strawberry, dried sage, and dried flowers have a citrus-peel brightness thanks to excellent acidity. Powdery, voluminous tannins coat the mouth but remain more of a texture than a force on the palate. Expansive and complex. Quite beautiful. A blend of 60% Grenache, 20% Mourvèdre, and 20% Syrah. 13.9% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $32. click to buy.

2018 Big Table Farm “Funk Estate Vineyard” Syrah, The Rocks District of Milton Freewater, Oregon
Very dark purple in the glass, this wine smells of iodine and black cherry, cassis, and wet iron. In the mouth, meaty flavors of black cherry and blackcurrant mix with sage and oregano amidst velvety tannins. There’s not as much acidity here as I would like, so the wine ends up being a bit plushy for me. A bit of a change from the lean brightness of Big Table’s Pinots and Chardonnays. The flavors, though, are tasty, with kalamata olive lingering in the finish. 15.1% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $48. click to buy.  

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Wine Reviews: Ashes & Diamonds Cabernet Francs

I’m a big fan of Cabernet Franc. My palate tends toward those earthy, olive-laden, spicy and brisk iterations out of the Loire Valley, especially a well-aged one with some dusty tannins. But, living in Washington, DC, I’ve also spent many years browsing Cabernet Francs from Virginia and Maryland, too. There’s a of mediocrity out there, and some weird stuff for sure, but I’ve also found really delicious ones, which I will stand up for if I hear Mid-Atlantic wines disparaged.

California Cabernet Francs for me have been pretty hit-or-miss over the years. I have a handful of favorites, but I’m always looking for someone from somewhere to craft a wine that awakens that Cabernet Franc excitement in me. Well, I’m here to report a “hit” today: Ashes & Diamonds’ Cabernet Franc.

I recently tasted three vintages of this Napa producer’s Cabernet Franc, and have to say, they are fantastic. We’re talking structured tannins, vibrant acidity, moderate alcohol (around 13%), tangy fruit, and a bunch of earthy, savory, spicy tones to unpack. The wines have old-school Napa vibes, the kind of wines that leave freshness on the finish and beg for a big spread of food and a group of friends.

This project was founded by California native Kashy Khaledi, a media and advertising executive, in 2013. At the winemaking helm is renowned winemaker Steve Matthiasson and Diana Snowden Seysses, enologist at Domaine Dujac and winemaker at Snowden Vineyards. The several vineyard sources seem like truly special sites, from the gravelly, clay and loam soils of the Ashes & Diamonds Vineyard in Oak Knoll to the thin, rocky soils of the Mountain Peak Vineyard in the Atlas Peak appellation.

Using fruit from Carneros, Oak Knoll and Yountville districts, winemaker Steve Matthiasson has made something really special with these three wines. They will reward the patient in the cellar, and would be a delightful addition to any wine dinner with your Loire nerd friends.

I received these were as trade samples and tasted them single-blind.

2015 Ashes & Diamonds Cabernet Franc No. 2 USA, California, Napa Valley
SRP: $75
This is so wonderful on the nose: airy elements of tart cherries and red currants, with savory notes galore (tobacco, portobello mushrooms, black pepper, sage) along with tones of clay, rocky earth and graphite. On the palate, this is a vibrant and tangy wine, structured well tannin-wise, with nice grip, but rounded edges. The balance and freshness are fantastic and there’s lovely concentration of tart red and black cherry fruit. Such a racy and spicy wine with pepper, paprika, mushroom, soy and sage. There are these mineral, graphite and iron tones that add complexity. Lively, vibrant, with a lot of time ahead. This really is exceptional, and something I’d personally prefer to drink over so many Cabernet Sauvignons that cost quite a bit more. Includes 15% Merlot, aged 20 months in 25% new French oak. 13.5% alcohol. (95 points IJB)

2016 Ashes & Diamonds Cabernet Franc No. 3 USA, California, Napa Valley
SRP: $75
The nose shows deep cherries and tart plums, along with complex tones of campfire, scorched earth, tobacco, iron, pencil shavings. Deeper fruit than the ’15 but still so fresh and inviting. Velvety on the palate, structured but no harshness, tangy acidity, again, the balance is great. A compote of black cherry and plum fruit meets complex notes of iron, smashed rocks, tilled soil and pencil shavings. Complexities of violets, clay and black tea come out with time. Great depth and concentration, this could use at least two or three years and will reward the patient even more. Includes 20% Merlot, aged 20 months in 28% new French oak. 13.5% alcohol. (93 points IJB)

2017 Ashes & Diamonds Cabernet Franc No. 4 USA, California, Napa Valley
SRP: $75
Beautiful aromas of red plums, red and black cherries, along with a host of interesting nuances: rich earth, iron, campfire, cigar box, along with some rosemary, oregano, hints of cedar. On the palates this gushes with ripe but tangy cherries, solid tannic backbone met with vibrant acidity. The fruit is laced with notes of roasted red peppers, clay pots, clove, earth – gorgeous. There are these black olives in brine with violets, potting soil, all sorts of stuff that gets more expressive with air. Gorgeous balance and texture, this is a long-ager for sure, but still exciting and delicious at this point. Aged 19 months in 30% new French oak. 13% alcohol. (94 points IJB)

Vinography Images: Wood Tasting

A pair of hands (and palate) hard at work doing cooper trials at Favia Wines in Napa. Cooper trials involve tasting the same wine aged in different barrels made by different cooperages. One of the more personal and subtle aspects of winemaking, winemakers often develop strong feelings about which barrels are suited for the fruit from specific vineyard sites. Favia Wines is the personal label of consulting winemaker Andy Erickson and his wife Annie Favia.

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The work of photographer Jimmy Hayes can be further appreciated in his forthcoming monograph, Veritas, which will be published in 2021 by Abrams Books / Cameron + Company. Pre-order the book from the Abrams web site.

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OBOCOB Podcast: Rocker Chicks with Dr. Nicolette Rohr

Stub is in the umpire’s chair this week as he and Kern welcome back VERY SPECIAL GUEST-music historian and lecturer-Dr. Nicolette Rohr for a playlist called “Rocker Chicks!”

This week’s playlist includes:

Try (Just A Little Bit Harder) – Janis Joplin

Hell Is For Children – Pat Benatar

Because The Night – Patti Smith

Reasons To Be Beautiful – Hole

Nutbush City Limits – Tina Turner

Barracuda – Heart

Somebody To Love – Jefferson Airplane

Remember—One Bourbon, One Chard, or One Beer is a drinking game you can play along with at home. Full details and rules available at

If you find yourself liking, singing along to, or playing along with One Bourbon, One Chard, or One Beer, please Please PLEASE rate and review us on iTunes, Stitcher, Soundcloud, or wherever you found our podcast. It helps other lushes like you find our podcast and to build our community. If you rate and review us and we ever meet you, we’ll buy you one bourbon, one chard, or one beer (our choice).

Daily Wine News: AI Wine Tasting

CNN reports on Tastry, a California startup that taught a computer to “taste” wine using artificial intelligence. “Axelsson agrees that Tastry is not a substitute for a sommelier. But she says the scalability of her product makes it possible to analyze more wines per year than a human could ever taste.”

In the New York Times, Eric Asimov offers notes on the most recent Wine School, Txakolina, and announces what’s up next: Chenin Blanc from three places.

After tasting more than 800 wines, Jane Anson offers her Bordeaux 2020 en primeur overview in Decanter. (subscription req.)

In the Wall Street Journal, Lettie Teague reports on sommelier Yannick Benjamin’s new restaurant, Contento, which aims to be accessible to everyone. (subscription req.)

In Eater, Brooke Jackson-Glidden reports on Oregon’s new winery, Cho Wines. “In recent years, some of the new generation of winemakers in the Willamette Valley have moved away from making pinots, dabbling in less-represented varietals or blends. However, the Chos wanted to experiment more with pinot noir grapes, to expand what people expect of the varietal.”

In Travel + Leisure, Sean Patrick Flynn explores Portugal’s Algarve wine region.

In Wine Spectator, James Molesworth checks in on Long Island’s North Fork wine region.

In Paper City Magazine, James Brock talks grapes with winemaker Dan Petroski.