I drank to many things this year: love, frustration and everything in between. Nonetheless, I drank. I found my passion for wine again, and became giddy when comprehensive beer lists were handed over. It was a good year to sip and savor, but only five made the list. Here's what I remembered to write down.
5. Rossana Sparkling from Horsehill Vineyards
As the seasons grow warmer, our need for lighter tastes reminded us of a bottle of rosé. In limited production, our particular Horsehill Vineyards varietal was a partnership between Cal Poly Pomona's Collins College of Hospitality Management and College of Agriculture, and South Coast Winery in Temecula. To appease thirsty oenophiles, they recently released a kissing cousin: Rossana sparkling wine.
11.5% ABV, Rossana is named in homage to one of Will K. Kellogg's (Yes, that Kellogg) Arabian mares. A classically styled Brut Rosé, Zinfandel grapes are picked from the onsite vineyard at the university. The first press draws out strawberry and cherry characteristics, in addition to a blush tint. Using a bottling process called the Charmat method, carbonation occurs biologically due to the decomposition of sugar. As a result, the natural fragrances of the grapes are better preserved.
4. Heavenly Hendrick's at Stonehill Tavern
Divided between classic and modern cocktails, the desire for savory found us requesting a Heavenly Hendrick's. Our track record with liquor was not the most reliable, but a recent foray into this particular gin egged us on.
Freshly squeezed lemon juice and a simple syrup sounded more neighborhood lemonade stand, less sophisticated pour. The use of egg whites, while initially unsettling, made sense after our server elaborated. Included not as a flavor, but for a foamy texture, the airy contribution breathed life into our ethereal drink. That hint of cucumber offered a refreshing quality, even doubling as a neutralizer for our potent gin base. By themselves, the handful of ingredients would be pedestrian. Together, they made for one fine cocktail.
3. Studio Garden at Studio
For Studio's bartender Tashina Bross, a big part of her creativity comes from the fresh ingredients grown steps away from the restaurant. She handpicks fruits, vegetables and herbs, making a difference in the taste of all her concoctions. Bross explains it best when we inquired about her enticing selections: “It is a seasonality cocktail menu that provides fresh flavor profiles and complexity that suits everyone!”
Studio Garden's homegrown taste stems from a blend of muddled, organic strawberries and Ketel Citroen, naturally infused with lemon and lime. Bross then mixes it up with Wonka SweeTart flavors of lavender syrup, juice from Meyer lemons as well as fresh lemonade. A minty accent finishes this farmers market find. To call it refreshing wouldn't do it justice. We likened it to a recent spa experience: energizing to start with a calming finish.
2. Sangria at Lost Vine Wine Bar
Owner Bodie Rasmussen's decision to expand his business not only into the adjacent space, but adjust the concept for wine lovers, was an unexpected move in the plaza at the corner of Newport and Old Irvine. On our most recent excursion, the glass container was not easily accessible. It was fetched from the depths of their wine refrigeration unit, and our order was simply ladled over crushed ice into stemless drinkware. Possibly the only time a glass of red is intentionally served chilled, we savored every drop, then ordered another.
The actual makings of a good sangria not only include red, red wine and a melange of fruit, but the flavoring of brandy and splash of carbonation. After some investigating (and buddying up to some of the staff), it's disclosed that effervescent blood orange soda and the occasional inclusion of champagne contribute to our liquid nourishment. The potency of our drink is just how we prefer it, noticeable but not overpowering.
1. 10.5 MPG from Valiant Brewing Company
My knowledge of its origins comes from Cody Storts' kitchen gang known as the Culinary Militia, as they consulted on this particular blend. Despite an unusual combination, the 10.5 ABV is legit. As I'm sipping, it tastes less like a fruity cider and more robust–like a beer should.
Co-owner Brian Schroepfer sought out a cinnamon flavor without the spicy bite. Working with a textured product like graham crackers produced the desired effect. After Valiant posted a Facebook request for persimmons, they extracted the fruit's delicate sweetness using a sous vide method. Its presence can be detected in both the bouquet and delicate mouthfeel. Rich molasses rounds out the taste, making for one drinkable treat.