Category Archive: TASTING NOTES

The Best Drinks of 2017

Posted on December 21, 2017


Beverages that made me smile in 2017

Do you remember the end of 2016, everyone was complaining that it was the worst year ever? 2017 rolled in as an extension of 2016 keeping everyone on edge.   2017 has been a tough one to swallow if we consider the state of affairs in politics, social-economic issues, racial and immigration tensions and the threat of nuclear war.  But I am a beverage guy and although I do think about these issues, I prefer to keep people’s mind on the good things in life, fermented beverages. If I look back there where quite a few beverages that made me smile in 2017. In fact 2017 was actually a pretty good year to swallow.

What was good in 2017 is not the best stuff you will ever have, but the memorable beverages which made me smile. This day in age, that’s all we can ask for, to drink stuff that makes us smile! I broke it down by month. These are my monthly highlights for 2017.


My  month of January is devoted to meeting with suppliers as I try to finalize our yearly program which goes into effect in April. These meeting consist of very little tasting as I had already tasted their products in December.  These meetings are merely to finalize the details of our program. However, last year while talking with a beer distributor, Craft Beer Guild, they showed me a line of new tequilas which they had just begun distributing. I was very impressed. So January goes to Villa Lobos Blanco.

Villa lobos Blanco

Distilled by Carlos Camarena at the same distillery as El Tesoro, Tequila Ocho and Tapatio. This Tequila is soft and round on the palate with aromas of green agave, lemon, earthy and sweet spices in the finish.



I am not doing this for the plug, but it was really exciting to make the second vintage of Costa Tierra, and it came out even better than the first vintage. Costa Tierra is the wine I blended with my team, Ashley Phillips, Luis Garcia and Tammy Wong in Baja. It is a blend of Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Barbera. You can find this at many of the Cohn Restaurants.

Costa Tierra Red Blend

A ripe medium body wine with red fruit flavors and juicy tannins.


I had two delicious wines this month. I tasted with a good friend of mine from San Francisco, Emily Wines MS who represents Skipstone Vineyards. The wines were big and delicious. However, they are not wines I can afford to drink all the time. So I decided to feature Jonata “Todos” Red Blend from Santa Ynez Valley. It too is expensive, but a bit less than Skipstone. I love wines from Santa Ynez Valley. I think they are some of the most balanced wines in California.

A blend of Bordeaux and Rhone red varietals all tied in with a touch of Viognier. Juicy black and red fruits, violets, coco, rich texture all coming together with sweet flavors of charred French oak.



During this month I was busy putting together the wine program for the new Bo Beau + Cache Restaurant. I was looking for inexpensive French wines I could serve by the glass for a budget minded neighborhood. I came across this wine from the Roussillon, it is what wine should be like. I really enjoyed the Carignan, however I ended up putting the Grenache Syrah blend on the menu. It made more sense the way the menu had come together.

La Fage Tessellae

Silky texture with cherry and bright fruit. fruity but at the same time rustic.


In May I took a trip to the Alexander Valley and participated in the Alexander Valley Cabernet Academy. I met many winemakers from the valley and learned about the unique terroir and geology of the region. One wine stood out from the rest. The Hawkes Stone Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.  I was so impressed with this wine I later used it as a sample in my California Wine class at SDSU to show the difference between Napa and Alexander Valley.

Hawkes Stone Cabernet

Another juicy wine with fruit flavors of cassis, black berry, wild flowers and all tied in with a savory herbal note. Very long finish.



Every 4 months I sit down with my team at Coasterra and select a single barrel from Casa Noble Tequila. Our good friend Lisa Hickson brings us several barrel samples. We taste each one side by side and see which barrel is best suited for our program. We look for two things, a tequila that makes a great sipper but also one that stands out in our Noble Margarita. It’s not easy. This June I found my favorite barrel to date, barrel #641.

casa noble repo

A reposado with honey, sweet roasted agave, sweet oak spices, and melting tannins creating a smooth and long finish. And holds up in a margarita excellently.


This is a tough one. I spent July in Spain and Italy. I visited Arinzano Winery  in Pamplona where I came across some of the best wines in the region of Navarra. The wine which stood out was the Arinzano Chardonnay. Who would have thunk that Spain made delicious Chardonnays. However, I must make another shameless plug for the Pinot Grigio a sourced while in Italy. Marevento is a Pinot Grigo from Delle Venezia and is an easy drinking crisp wine. It is not complex, but it can only be found at the Cohn Restaurant Group. This wine was sourced from a small family winery, Domus Vini who has been growing grapes since 900 ad.  From one small family to another small family, this wine fit in perfectly at the Cohn Restaurant Group.

Marevento Pinot Grigio

Red apple. Golden delicious apple, vibrant acidity and a perfect patio sipper.


In August I had the pleasure of sitting down for a blind tasting dinner with Matt Lane, VP of the Americas for Torbeck Vineyards. Matt sourced some of the best expressions of Rhone style wines in the world such as Grange, Cote Rotie and Sadie Family’s Columella and put them up against Torbreck wines . All were fantastic, but the wine that stood out was Torbeck “The Pict” Mourvdere from the Barossa Valley in Australia. It was a fantastic expression of a Rhone variety in the new world.

Torbreck the Pict

A beautiful aromatic wine with aromas of blue fruit, cocoa and violets. Super rich on the palate with woody, nutty finish brought together with lively acidity and mint on the back palate.



August and September were really tough. I tasted so much cool stuff. I actually think that Torbreck was at the end of July and not August, but that would mean I could not put my shameless plug from July. Other great swallows in August and September were You and Yours Gin, a local gin in downtown SD.  I went to LA to taste Rieslings with Rudi Weist and had some stellar wines such as 2012 Siefersheimer Hollberg GC, Gunderloch Pettenthal GG 2016 and Sauer OVO Sylvaner. I had a $300 Tequila, Casa Dragones Joven and Silver. But I decided to list Resident Brewing Chasing Citra IPA. I love beer and drink probably more beer than anything else. I also like beer that is balanced and true to style. Their Perky Blonde is an excellent blonde, but the Chasing Citra is what I would order.

Resident Brewing Chasing Citra

A citra hopped IPA with piney and citrus aromas, tangerine and melon on the palate finishing with just the right amount of bitterness.



Somm Con was right around the corner and I had to get ready for my Agave Seminar. I met with Jaime Mateo from Los Javis Distillery to look over the selections of Mezcals we were going to show at the seminar. I had tasted with Jaime before and this time was no different from the rest. Again the Mezcal which stood out was the Los Javis Tobala. The Tobala is a wild agave which grows in the high mountains of Oaxaca in among boulders and cracks in the hillsides. It can take up to 20 years to mature. And when it does, the piña remains small, like a basket ball with intense flavors.

Los Javis Tobala

Low smoke aromas, green agave, chilies, lemon and pepper. It is sweet on the front end and explosive in the back palate.


Well this is going to be tough. This was the month of Somm Con. I tasted so many great wines at Somm Con, this is a very difficult task. Wines like Torello 225 Cava de Paraje Calificada Brut nature 2013 and Freixenet Casa Sala Cava de Paraje Calificada Brut Nature 2007 which Marnie Old showed in her Cava seminar were definite stand outs. Brouilly Jean-Louis Dutraive Domaine de la Grand ‘Cour Vielles Vigne 2015 was delightful. The Albariño seminar with Jill Zimorski turned me on to Pazo Senorans Selección Anada 2009. Esteban’s Morale’s Derrumbas Blue Webber Mezcal from Zacatecas was also mind blowing. However, the best thing I swallowed was on my time off with Kevin Aarestad at the Aero Club. He bought us two glasses of Hibiki 17yr and Hibiki 21 yr Japanese whiskies. Although the 21 yr was more expensive and it had much more oak influence. I really enjoyed the 17 yr, it really showed the magic of Japanese whisky. That being said, it is not everyday you get taste to a 21 yr old Hibiki, so that is the best thing I swallowed in November.

Hibiki 21 yr

Complex flavors of sherry, caramel, plum, apple and cedar. There are numbing tannins with sweet finish just aching for a cigar.


December 3rd was #SDSOMMDAY. #SDSOMMDAY is a day when many of the San Diego’s sommelier get together and share bottles. This year it was held at Juniper and Ivy. Thank you to Brandon Bohgosian for hosting us and Max Kogod for organizing this affair. As one might imagine there was great juice being poured that afternoon. However, in the midst of Burgundy, Etna and Riesling one wine blew me away. The Raul Perez Albarin Blanco from Northwest Spain in an area known as Tierra de Leon, was mind-blowing.  Albarin Blanco is not Albariño, some believe that it could be closely related to Savagnin and was brought to Spain by French winemakers after the phylloxera attack at the end of the 19th century.  This wine is special in that Raul Perez takes on a whole other approach to white wine production. After fermentation the wine spends 4-5 years under Flor (a film of yeast laying over the wine sealing it from oxygen commonly used in Sherry production).   I’ll say it again, this wine was mind-blowing; it made me smile from ear to ear.

Raul Perez Albarin

This wine was bright with acidity, funky on the nose and explosive on the palate with lingering flavors of citrus, herbal grassy notes, funky yeast and extremely long finish.

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Stand Outs from the San Diego Wine and Spirits Challenge

Posted on June 9, 2016

Wine and Spirits Challenge

The San Diego International Wine Competition had a face lift this year.  It now features a spirit competition. The new name after decades of existence is the San Diego Wine and Spirits Challenge. I had the pleasure of judging both wine and spirits this year.  There were about 10 tables with 3 judges per table.  My fellow judges were Nick Passmore from Forbes Magazine and Michael Cervin from the Hollywood Reporter.  The wines and spirits were brought out to us in flights of 6-10 glasses.  We judge each fight blind.  The flights were served in order of type.  For example, we started with a flight of Pinot Noir and then a flight of Red Bordeaux Blends.  This year we were not told the price of the wine, so there could have been $8 Pinot along side $40 Pinot.  I guess that makes sense, we judge the wines on what they are, Pinot Noir and not what they should taste like for their price.

So how do the medals work?  Each wine receives a numeric score between 87-100.  An over all score of 87-89 is awarded a Silver Medal, 90-93 a Gold and 94-100 a Platinum or Double Gold if it is spirits. The scores were done individually.  After we tasted and rated the flight, we each gave the wine a score.  I may give an 88, another judge gives a 93 and another no award.  Our moderator would take an average of our scores and award the wine that number. So a wine as in this example received a Silver medal with a score of  88.  There were times where we all agreed and other times when we were way off each other, as in the example above.

You can see the full results from both competitions here.  What I would like to do today is show you the wines and spirits which I scored highly.  Some received the medal I awarded them and some did not.  It is very humbling to see the results.  If I saw some of these wines at the store, I would not buy them because I am a prejudice wine snob.  It just goes to show that you cannot judge a wine by its label.

Organizer extraordinaire, Robert  Whitley did a nice article on the wine which won best of show, Trinchero Forte. Check it out here.


Boschendal “The Rose Garden Rose” Coastal Region South Africa ’15  Awarded 94 pts…received 94pts $16

Chateau d’Esclans “Whispering Angel” Provence France ’15  Awarded 90 pts…received 90 pts $22

Handley Cellar Pinot Noir Rose Anderson Valley California ’15  Awarded 90 pts…received 88 pts $25



Reustle “Prayer Rock Vineyard” Gruner Veltliner Umpqua Valley Oregon ’14  Awarded 90 pts..received 88pts $29

Zocker “Paragon Vineyard” Gruner Veltliner Edna Valley California ’14  Awarded 90 pts…received  no award $20

Rebel Coast Winery “Sunday Funday” White Blend California ’13  Awarded 90 pts…received no award $12.99

Little Lakes Chardonnay Russian River Valley California ’14  Awarded 92…received 90 pts $14.95

Frei Brothers Reserve Chardonnay Russian River Valley California ’14  Awarded 90 pts…received no award $20

Kendall-Jackson Grand Reserve Chardonnay Monterey/Santa Barbara ’14  Awarded 94 pts…received 87 pts $20

Kendall-Jackson “Avant” Chardonnay California ’14  Awarded 90 pts…received 94 pts $17

Talbott “Kali Hart” Chardonnay Monterey California ’14  Awarded 92 pts…received 90 pts $23

Chateau St. Jean “Robert Young Vineyard” Alexander Valley California ’13  Awarded 92 pts…received 88 pts $25

Chateau Ste. Michelle & Dr. Loosen “Eroica” Riesling Columbia Valley Washington ’14  Awarded 90 pts…received 89 pts $20



Chateau Elan Winery Reserve Pinot Noir American ’15   Awarded 90…received 91 pts $24.95

D&L Carinalli Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir Russian river California ’14  Awarded 92 pts…received 95 pts $25

Gallo Signature Series Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands ’14  Awarded 91 pts…received 91 pts $13.99

Randall-Monroe Pinot Noir California ’14  Awarded 90 pts…received 89 pts $8.99

Dry Creek Vineyard “The Mariner” Meritage Dry Creek California ’12  Awarded 90 pts…received 89 pts

Opolo “Rhapsody” Reserve Meritage Paso Robles California ’13  Awarded 93 pts…received 90 pts $47

V. Sattui Winery “Paradiso” Bordeaux Blend Napa California ’12  Awarded 90 pts…received 90 pts $85

Raymond Reserve Selection Merlot Napa California ’13  Awarded 90pts…received 88 pts $24

Columbia Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley Washington ’13  Awarded 90 pts…received 90 pts $16

Frei Brothers Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley ’13  Awarded 91 pts…received 91 pts $27

Peju Cabernet Sauvignon Napa California ’13  Awarded 90 pts…received 90 pts $50

Kendall-Jackson Grand Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma California ’13  Awarded 91 pts…received 91 pts $28

Gallo Signature Series Cabernet Sauvignon Napa California ’13  Awarded 92…received 90 pts $40



Scoring the spirits was a bit different. They too were judged blind.  If all three judges gave an award of gold, then it automatically received a double gold and no point is attributed.  Otherwise, our scores are tallied and it receives the average score of the three judges. For final results visit here.  Below were my favorites of the bunch.


Johnnie Walker Double Black Blended Whisky Scotland  Awarded Gold 91 pts…received Double Gold $42

Glenmorangie Single Malt Highland Scotland  Awarded 93 pts…gold 93 pts $40

Kichoman Single Malt Sanaig Islay Scotland  Awarded 94 pts…received Double Gold $80

Ardberg Single Malt Islay Scotland  Awarded 90 pts…received 90 pts $55

Domaine de Papolle Armagnac Hors d”Age France  Awarded 92 pts…received 89 pts $110

Krupnik Spiced Honey Liqueur American  Awarded 93 pts…received 89 pts $25

Boyd & Blair Potato Vodka Pennsylvania  Awarded 90 pts…received 88pts $33

Purity Wheat Vodka Sweden  Awarded 93 pts…received Double Gold $40

Familia Camarena Blanco Tequila Mexico  Awarded 93 pts…received 88pts $50

Tres Agaves Reposado Tequila Jalisco  Awarded 91 pts…received 92 pts $33

Tequila Chamucos Reposado Tequila Jalisco  Awarded 92 pts…received 88 pts $50

New Amsterdam Gin American  Awarded 92 pts…received 88 pts $14

Beefeater 24 London Dry Gin London  Awarded 91 pts…received 91 pts $30

Kinahan’s Irish Blended Whiskey Ireland  Awarded 94 pts…received Double Gold $40

The Irishman Blended Whiskey Ireland  Awarded 93 pts…received Double Gold $30

Canadian Club Rye Canadian Whiskey  Awarded 93 pts…received Double Gold

John Barr Reserve Blend Blended Whisky Scotland  Awarded 92 pts…received 92 pts $25

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A List of Down Right Cool Wines, Beers and Spirits of 2014

Posted on December 31, 2014

wines beers and spirits

This past year my area of focus took me in different directions.  Although my job still requires I taste and select wines, I also need to stay on top of the latest trends in spirits and beer.  Last year I posted the top wines of 2013, this year I want to share some of my favorite wines, beers and spirits from our family of restaurants at the Cohn Restaurant Group.

I mentioned last year that its is impossible to pick a favorite.  Everything tastes different from  day-to-day.  Our mood and our environment are important factors in the way we perceive flavors.  The slightest change in our mood or environment can make what was divine one day rather uninteresting the next.  When I put this list together, I could not say that the winners were absolutely the best I had tasted all year.  However, I could say that my choices were some of my favorite and most consistent wines, beers and spirits of 2014.  I hope you get a chance to try them.

Coincidentally, you will notice this year I went back to my Mexican roots.


Wine of the year:  Delgadillo Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley.  One of the best events of the year was held back in July when I had 8 Mexican American wine makers from Napa Valley at Island Prime and Vintana.  They told their stories of making their way from the vineyards to the cellars.  These fine wine makers have heart and soul, something that has been lost by others in Napa.  Delgadillo Cellars showed their latest release, a 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon.  Finally, a wine released when it is ready to drink.  You can find this wine at Vintana and Island Prime, but hurry, last I saw supplies were dwindling.

Xocoveza Mocha Stout

Beer of the year: Stone, Chris Banker and Insurgente Brewing XOCOVEZA Mocha Stout.  It was available for a short time at OB Warehouse, but it is no longer available.  However, I was in Tijuana this past week visiting Insurgente Brewing and they are planning on releasing their version of Xocoveca in January.  Xocoveza is a mocha stout brewed with Chocolate de Abuelita.  This new version will have a lower alcohol and will be lighter than the collaboration verision with Stone. If my grandma were still alive, I know she would have sipped on this instead of hot chocolate.  The guys at Insurgente are from my high school Alma Mater, St. Augustine.  It was an honor to support them and carry their beer at OB Warehouse.  I can’t wait to see the new version, I hear that Insurgentes will be available in the USA this coming month.


Thank you to the SD Reader for the image.

Cocktail of the year: Sledgehammer at OB Warehouse. This year we opened several restaurants with a cocktail focus.  The one cocktail that stood out was the Sledgehammer.  I guess it stood out because I love Tequila and I love beer.  I drank it with my flat iron steak one night and it was delicious.  The Sledgehammer is a beer cocktail made with IPA, Cazadores Tequila, Ancho Chile Liqueur, Agave Syrup, Lemon juice and a spray of Laphroiag Scotch.  It has a balance of bitterness from the IPA, sweetness from the Agave, sour from lemon, smokiness from scotch and the deliciousness from the Tequila.

Olmeca Altos Tequila

Spirit of the year: Olmeca Altos Reposado.  It is not the greatest Tequila I have ever tasted, but it is the best value out there.  Olmeca Altos is made in the traditional Tahona process which gives it delicate fruity flavors. I chose this tequila because, I can sip on it and enjoy the sweet agave fruit aromas or mix into a cocktail.  Either way you serve it, it is a solid tequila.

Volcan Cellars

Runner up wine of the year: Volcan Cellars Napa.  It too was part of the Mexican Winemaker’s event, however; the Delgadillo won the top slot since it was ready to drink.  The Volcan is incredible, but it does need some time to soften up.  I cannot wait to see it again 5 years down the road. It too is available at Island Prime, Vintana and at the new Indigo Grill.

 duchesse de bourgogne

Runner up beer of the year: Duchesse de Bourgogne Flanders Red.  I tasted so many great beers this year. It is hard to remember them all.  I chose the Duchesse de Bourgogne, for several reasons.  First of all, I am a wine guy and this beer taste like wine.  Secondly, I did a lot of beer training for our restaurants this year and each time we got to the sour beer part, this beer was my go to.  Each time I tasted it with the staff, I was always impressed. Thirdly, sours are coming in a big way, and if you have not tried them yet, start with this beer. It is the way a sour should taste.  You can visit Bo Beau Kitchen & Garden in La Mesa, they will surely have a glass for you.

 Raicilla La Venenosa

Runner up spirit of the year: La Venenosa Raicilla “Maximillian”.  You are probably wondering what I am talking about.  I will reiterate, I am a wine guy so there for I am a big fan of agave based spirits. They are vintage harvested then crushed and pressed to release their nectar. Finally, they are fermented and distilled.  Agave spirits are unique in flavor and aroma and are a far cry from grain based spirits.  To get even geekier, I chose Raicilla, a Tequila/Mezcal-like spirit from the region of Tequila.  The agave used for this spirit grows in the mountains where the farmers have to ask for permission from the narco-traffickers to enter the jungle and harvest these massive agave plants. The result is a handcrafted, smooth agave spirit separating itself from the hot burning flavor of Tequila and smokiness of Mezcal.  It just made its way into the USA this year.  Keep an eye out for it, we will have plenty on hand at our new restaurant opening this summer, Coastera.

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Standout Wines of 2012 the best of the rest

Posted on December 27, 2012

Standout Wines of 2012

Selecting the best of anything is a daunting task.  How many times does someone ask you what is your favorite band?  What is your favorite movie?  You always answer, “I don’t have a favorite, I like everything.”  However, when the question is first asked something does pop into your mind.  You immediately dismiss it because although, it is one of your favorites, there are so many others that are not fresh in your mind.  Instead of being pigeonholed, you give the easiest answer, “I don’t have a favorite”. (more…)


Wine Tasting Notes September 2012

Posted on October 5, 2012


I am getting close to reaching one year of posting my tasting notes.  I get to taste a  lot of wine. I am also responsible for writing different types of wine lists.  Not all the wines I taste deserve the time it takes to re-write my notes into this blog format.   So, from here on out, I will only post the wines that really stand out.   I feel very comfortable  adding any of these wines to the proper wine list.  I hope you enjoy my notes.  Cheers!

PL & JF Bersam Sauvignon Blanc Saint-Bris Burgundy ’10 

A village of Burgundy known for Sauvignon Blanc.  The village lies along a base of Kimmeridgian limestone stretching from the Dover cliffs.  This producer has made wine since 1453 and is imported by Aliane Wines.  It has aromas of lemon, citrus and pears with mineral notes.  I tasted this one day after being opened so it lacked vibrancy.  That being said, it has great acid and the fruit was still intact. All I could think was this wine must rock when you first open it. (more…)

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