Sterling Vineyards 2013 Cabernet

Sterling Vineyards

Sterling Vineyards – Vintner’s Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Sterling Vineyards is a brand that I have heard quite a bit about, but have not yet tried. Based in Calistoga, California, Sterling Vineyards is in Diageo’s portfolio of wines, and something of an underrated gem, in my opinion, overshadowed by its better known brands.

The Sterling Vintner’s Collection Cabernet opens with a deep, heavy aroma of black cherry and blackberry. The nose lightens as it breaths, but becomes more complex.

The color and clarity are a full, rich red. There is no sediment that I found, and the legs show a slow, think run that alludes to a higher than usual alcohol content (13.9% ABV), and full, smooth mouthfeel.

The flavor opens fruitier than many cabernets, but with a thick berry flavor and just a touch of tart cherry on the end. This rounds out into a smooth, rich taste as you sip it, leaving you with a sweet flavor of blackberry and a finish of licorice and currant.

As a cabernet lover, this wine is quite respectable. It is smooth and pleasant, full without being heavy, and overall very nice. I’d rate the Vintner’s Cabernet as a 6+, and will look to purchase again.

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Let it Breath – Clos du Bois 2013 Cabernet

Clos du Bois – 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon

There are a very few wines that I truly allow to breath and air the way that they ought to in order to get the fullest extent of their flavor. I say this in full candor, and not because I am somehow ignorant of the charms of fully aerated wine, but rather because I enjoy wine too much, and I am typically not nearly patient enough to actually stand by and allow a wine to open up the way that it properly should.

When I pop a cork, I am ready to partake. That is all that there is to it. By the second or third glass, often the wine has breathed sufficiently to achieve the appropriate levels of nuance and flavor that it is known for. I am also, by this time, more receptive to the intricacies of what I am drinking.

In another completely candid moment, I very seldom see the marginal difference in an hour of opening up as being worth an hour without wine. Sometimes the wine is significantly better after it breaths, sometimes it is not. In my favorite wines I know this time table and adjust my drinking accordingly, but in new wines, it is something of a hit or miss, and in truth I enjoy some of the subtleness that builds up as I sip.

I mention all of this as something of a lead in towards my current review – the Clos du Bois 2013 Cabernet.

Never have I enjoyed a wine that has had such a marked difference between when it is freshly opened and when it is finally finished. My first glass, quite literally, left a bad taste in my mouth. I pulled the cork and began to sip after an admittedly shortened interval, and was greeted with a sour, doleful flavor that was nothing like what I have come to expect from my beloved Cabernet grape. This was something of a cross between a pinot noir (with none of its smoothness) a merlot (though without the hearty body) and a beaujolais nouveau – which has no redeeming quality that would recommend it. To say I was disappointed is something of an understatement. I winced my way through the glass only as an accompaniment to the meal I was having, and then only because I needed something wet.

I am, however, not one to waste alcohol, and as Lisa Birnbach will tell you, thrift and frugality are hallmarks of prep-dom, so I corked the bottle and resigned myself to finishing it off the next day. I am glad that I did.

What was once sour, harsh, and raw, became smooth, sweet, and overall quite pleasant.

The body didn’t improve, but was never all that much of an issue to begin with. The nose gave off the dark fruit and cherry aromas that I have come to enjoy from a cabernet. The flavor, however, opened up and blossomed. It was sweet, without any saccharin tones like some hypersweet wines tend to display. It was smooth and round, with a good mouth feel, and had a lingering softness with just a touch of tannin on the back end.

This was not an outstanding wine, by any means, and I don’t mean to compare it to the Monte De Oro’s, Beringers, or J. Lohr’s that I use as benchmarks for excellent but affordable wines, but it was quite good. If the price is right, then I would certainly purchase it again – if for no other reason than to allow it to once again open up and show its true colors.

Overall rating 6… maybe a 6+


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Out with the Old, In with the New

Out with the Old, in with the New

This is not one of those “New Year, New Me” posts… nor is it a listing of goals or accomplishments that I made in 2015 or plan to make in 2016.

2015 was a fairly typical year – as far as a year can really be typical anyway. I hit a few goals, to include some major achievements. I made a lot of mistakes, and hope that I learned from them. I made a few people happy, and I am quite sure that I angered a few more. Long ago I discovered that people who say that they live with no regrets don’t take nearly enough risks, because yes, I have regrets. I second guess myself, and rightly so. This is how you improve, but you cannot let it shake your decisiveness or confidence.

With 2015 behind me, I am looking forward to 2016 with determined anticipation. There are a lot of things I want to get done, and I hope that I have the fortitude to see them all through. One of the things that I would like to do is write more. I say this a lot, and I really do need to make a concerted effort to put pen to paper more often.

I understand that this post is intentionally vague, and that is done with the intent not to be rude or mysterious, but rather to avoid being condescending, garish, arrogant, or viewed as anything other than a man with flaws, drive, and occasionally unrealistic expectations of himself.

I will be moving ahead this new year, and I hope that you will be too. Cheers!

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Drew Estate Undercrown

Drew Estate Undercrown

This is a cigar that I have reviewed several times and I am fond of. I don’t want to go back through my old posts to see if I have written on it before for a number of reasons – one of which is that it is always good to get a second review, which you can then compare to old notes and see how your palette is developing.

Using matches rather than butane, this was not the easiest to light, but that might have had something to do with it being slightly plugged, and I cut it a second time to get a decent draw. Plugging happens with even the best rolled cigars, and while sometimes frustrating, I don’t think that I will let it shape my opinion on the Undercrown as a whole.

Once the cigar was lit and the draw was taken care of, the smoke was a joy to behold. There was a high volume or rich, velvety smoke that was well worth the effort to get out. Because of the draw, I wouldn’t fully call the cigar smooth, but the flavor certainly was.

Medium bodied, but not intense, the Undercrown certainly requires focus. There are more subtle flavors at play in this cigar, rather than the overpowering leather or oak that one often associates with a smoke of this caliber. There are some floral and honey notes, along with a hint of mocha that I really enjoyed.

The sweet spot is definitely in the middle of the cigar, but each section has its own nuances and none are anything but enjoyable. There is no harsh aftertaste, and the burn remains even and well-formed throughout the smoke.

This is a big cigar, but not huge, and a slow smoke. I was puffing for well over an hour, but enjoyed every minute of it.

Once again, I remember why I like Drew Estate cigars, and the Undercrown in particular. Do yourself a favor and try one out.

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The Military Used to be so Fashionable. What Happened?

Brooks Brothers Officer's UniformThe military used to be so fashionable. What happened? I’m not being sarcastic either. Brooks Brothers was tailoring uniforms for officers long before they made a suit for the President. Burberry’s ubiquitous trench coat was first made for the British Army during World War I. The first jump wings given to American Paratroopers were sterling silver and made by Tiffany’s & Co. Military service was a respected, fashionable vocation. Service during a time of war or emergency was not only encouraged, it was expected. It was seen as one’s duty.

Admittedly less prevalent the United States than in British society (where military service has long had a burberry_trench_coat_ww1connection with the nobility and stylish classes) in Victorian and Edwardian England former or retired soldiers carried their martial affiliations like the badges of honor that they are. Regimental lapel pins, swagger sticks, rep ties, and regimental plaid pocket squares were all regular accouterments. What jewelry was worn by men of the day was adorned and influenced by their military service: Regimental crests on
flasks, buttons, belt buckles, or a pocket watch. Even calling cards of the day showed a veteran’s rank or regiment. It was not pretentious or showy; it was simply pride of service. It was not even meant to be recognized or acknowledged by the general public, but it brought a knowing nod and instant bond with a fellow veteran.

In the US, by contrast, military service was thought of more as a duty – a solemn obligation to a country that has given us the freedoms to prosper and grow. It was thought of as a given, or foregone conclusion that healthy young men would go into the military whenever their country had need of their service, without the associated trappings of nobility or status. This was the militia concept that has  far more an association with America than it does with other countries. We are a free people, we are not subjects, and, as such, we are expected to fight for our freedoms.

These days the popular attire for veterans seems relegated to Affliction or Tapout T-shirts and tan Velcro “cool guy” hats. Viking beards may be great for the field, but they don’t score us any points in polite society. – The general response from veterans to this is that they don’t want to be in polite society. We’re door kickers, snake eaters, and face shooters. Why would we want to wear a suit and sip cocktails at an art gallery or have constructive conversations with out of touch liberals? Quite simply, because there is more to life, and more to our role as soldiers or veterans than what is directly required to slay the enemies of our nation.

The title of this blog is The Gentleman and Scholar. I post about fashion, wine, cigars, whiskey, and other things that a modern gentleman should know about. But a large part of the original role of a gentleman was soldierly bearing and a certain amount of swagger that said he is not one to be trifled with. We might think of a well-dressed man as a fop or a dandy, but not too terribly long ago, call him that and you would have found yourself facing pistols at dawn or sabers at sunset. Warriors of the past were not always paid as well as they are today (as crazy as it sounds given the poverty of most of our armed forces) and on top of that, many were expected to field their own weapons, equipment, and uniforms. They had to be gentlemen in order to fight. They had to be fashionable, well off, and even stylish, because if they weren’t then they couldn’t afford to train themselves or their sons, put them into the field, or survive a battle. The concept of a gentleman soldier is not a new one, and nor does it only apply to an aristocratic officer class. Service brought immediate honor and dignity – far more than laborers or tradesmen could claim. What sets us apart, even today, is a willingness to do what others do not, the courage to face down the hard, the challenging, and the dangerous. We thrive on risk – and have the tenacity and skill to see those risks through to success. We need more gentleman soldiers – veterans who take their service and do not rest on it, holding all others in contempt, but leverage it into something more, and something greater.

Battle of Rocroi

I am still serving in the military, but wear a suit to work at my day job (okay, maybe khakis and a polo most days, but nice suits more often than body armor) – no matter what else I do with my life, my first and one true profession will always be the profession of arms, and while I am proud to have my service be a defining piece of my character, it is not all that there is to me, and it shouldn’t be the only thing about themselves that veterans recognize and appreciate. If it is, then it is all others will see as well.

The t-shirts with skulls and lightning bolts and machine guns are fine. I wear my regimental shirts too, but mainly to the gym or to the beach… not when I want to be viewed as a professional, or as the gentleman that I am. I wear miniature airborne wings as a lapel pin on my suits. I had regimental crests made into cuff links. I’d like to have the colors of the Iraqi Campaign Medal made into a tie bar. I have a gold watch with the Academy crest on it. These items don’t scream “I am a veteran!” but rather they are classic, understated, subdued, and often only recognized by other veterans. Civilians view them as a unique piece that they often have never seen before. It starts a conversation, and that conversation ought to show them your character. If you dress shabbily, they’ll remember the attire. If you dress impeccably, they’ll remember the man.

Be confident, not cocky. Dress well. Take pride in your service, but it shouldn’t be the only thing you take pride in. Be a gentleman soldier. We need more of them. The military used to be so fashionable. Let’s bring that back.

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Wine Series: 2006 Monte De Oro Cabernet Sauvignon

A continuation of my attempts to digitize and publish the handwritten remarks in my wine books. Yes, I have wine books. Yes, I use them. They force me to think about what I’m drinking rather than just knock it back.

Monte De Oro is a winery that I am somewhat fond of in that it is relatively local (Temecula, CA) and the experience of the winery itself was quite enjoyable. This bottle was emptied quite a while ago, but thankfully I have my notes and I am able to remember how much I liked both the wine, and the company.

WP_20150505_003Monte De Oro Cabernet Sauvignon

Vintage: 2006

Country & Region: California, Temecula Valley

Tasted When & Where: 28 May, 2013 at home, on my patio, with enjoyable company

Color: Very red, with a lighter, woody tint to the edges. Very strong legs

Clarity: Very clear. Light enough to even see through the center

Aroma: Strong, deep, and full. Heavy nose of currants and cherries, but it mellows out as it breaths

Flavor: The taste is much lighter than expected. It opens sweet and incredibly smooth. There is a flavor of sweet cherries at the front, filling out to plum at the back.

Comments: This is a bottle that I received directly from the vineyard in Temecula. It was excellent when I tasted it there in the tasting room (as often is the case – the environment often lends its influence) and I had hoped the bottle would remain just as good after having laid it down for a few years.

The color and aroma mellow out considerably as it breaths. There are defined flavors of cherry and currants, with plum in the tannins and aftertaste. This cabernet has a lighter flavor than I had expected, and would pair well with duck or lamb. I hope to enjoy a bottle again soon.

Rating: 8+

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Kentucky Derby, After the fact…

I am sorry to say that my credibility as a writer and gentleman of the south has come into serious question. The Kentucky Derby, the storied Run for the Roses, one of the most dearly loved southern traditions has come and gone without so much as a single written word from me. I am ashamed. Not only is this a beloved piece southern, and, indeed, American culture, but it is also a celebration of my favorite potent potable – Bourbon. The saddest part is that I had been preparing for it. I had done my research, made my handicaps, polished my julep cups, gone through several drafts for posts, and when the time came to pull the trigger, nothing. I didn’t even watch the race (well, not live anyway.) Life just got in the way. There is, of course, no excuse for this, and there must be major atonement before I feel fit to sip bourbon from a silver cup once again.

I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the posts from all the numerous sources I follow that covered the Derby. Garden & Gun did a great job with write ups leading up to Churchill Downs. Brooks Brothers had exquisite seersucker all lined up for Derby Day. Vineyard Vines was at Lexington in force. But alas, this year, I did not participate at all.

Congratulations to American Pharaoh for the Derby win. Not that it matters, but my picks did well too. I never like picking the favorite. It’s too obvious, the odds are never good, and it’s just not as much fun.  I had both Dortmund and Firing Line to show (meaning make it into the top three… one of my favorite bets, as it requires significant research, but not the meticulousness that comes from those pros who win trifectas… with no small amount of luck.) so had I placed a bet, I would have walked away a winner.

I am considering wearing a white linen suit to work as a way of making up for my lack of a southern drawl this past weekend. Any other suggestions for retribution would be greatly appreciated and heartily entertained.

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Cinco De Mayo! (Plus Tequila Review)

As Cinco de Mayo draws to a close I feel I would be remiss in not making at least some note of it… especially considering I currently find myself in Southern California, where the Mexican holiday has no small amount of traction.

Contrary to popular belief, and as I am sure my readers have heard many times today, Cinco de Mayo is not, in fact, the Mexican independence day. Rather is commemorates the Battle of Puebla, and the Mexican victory over the forces of Emperor Maximillian I of France. I know, I know, it was the French… big deal right? Actually, yes, it was. Keep in mind that during this period of history the French army was not that far removed from the age of Napoleon. They had one of the finest and most modern armies in the world, and they were still more than a decade away from being crushed by Germany (the first time) in the Franco-Prussian War. Mexico held their own with a military that was still recovering from a significant thrashing (The Mexican War) that was far more recent than Waterloo. It is also worth noting that Mexico’s defeat of France was a good thing for the United States as well, since it ensured European powers would no longer dominate colonial holdings in the Western Hemisphere. The US likely would have become involved on the side of Benito Juarez against Maximillian’s troops, had we not already had a full dance card fighting in the Civil War.

So, by all means, raise a glass to Mexico and their victory in the Battle of Puebla. The last thing we want is French influence right there on our door step. (oh… ummm… Sorry Canada. Well, this is awkward)

Anyway, in recognition of General Juarez’ victory, tonight I will be sipping some Comisario Anejo Tequila. Note that I said sipping, not taking shots. Anejo tequila gets its dark caramel color from barrel ageing, much the same as a fine scotch or bourbon does, which imparts all the smooth, subtle flavors that we have come to associate with that long, respected, and labor intensive process.


The Comisario Anejo has a solid, complex nose, with notes of caramel and toasted sugar to go right along with the peppery aroma that tequila is so known for.

The flavor is spicy with sweet undertones, and a more subtle agave bite than other, less refined tequilas. It resonates heat the same as a good bourbon, but without the chewy mouthfeel,  The richness is there, but thinned out by the agave’s spice.

It finishes with a peppery, sweet palate that is subtle, complex, and thoroughly enjoyable. Do yourself a favor the next time you’re in the market for a tequila and indulge in an anejo. Ditch the shot glass and sip it from a whisky tumbler. You won’t be disappointed, and you’ll never think of Cancun the same way again.

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Bespoke Suits and tailoring in the United States

I saw this article a few days ago and I found it really interesting: Want a Custom Suit? Good Luck Finding a Tailor!  – without reading through it line by line, the article discusses how the art of fine tailoring is in danger of dying off, and there are just far too few people willing to go through the training that it takes to build a custom suit from scratch. There is a reason for that though.

A good suit is certainly a thing of beauty, but a bespoke suit – something made to measure, specifically for an individual, is something on an entirely different level. Reading this I thought to myself that there just has to be a pretty fair amount of tailors in the US, right? I mean places like Brooks Brothers, Gary’s, and Ermenegildo Zegna all pride themselves on custom tailored suits. But, for the most part, these are not bespoke per-se. Certainly the tailors at these storied institutions can take an off the rack suit and form it perfectly to a discerning customer, but most anything that would be made to measure would be outsourced significantly.

Thinking more about this, I realized that I have two bespoke suits, and both of them were purchased overseas. The process was long and time consuming, but elegant and dignified. Choosing the cloth from bolts of fabric, the initial measurements, and the discussion with the tailor of what I wanted – two button, slanted breast pocket, no pleats on the trousers, uncuffed legs, etc. Then remeasuring, forming, fitting, and several more bouts of measuring and tailoring until everything was perfect. The suits had the added advantage of coming with tailored dress shirts, also made to measure, and French cuffed, at my request. I have had these suits for several years, and still love them. My fiancé has pointed out several times that I have had them a while, and I might need to invest in some newer suits, but every time I put one on she admits that they do, indeed, still look great. In hindsight, this process is not really something that can be done in the US at what most would consider a reasonable price. The tailors of Savile Row in London are famous for their outrageous prices, and the same could be said for many boutique shops in New York City or Los Angeles.

There does seem to be a shortage of tailors in the US, but a part of that may be that there has also been a shortage of demand in the last few years – or even the last generation or so. It is not an easy profession to break into, and the training and skill required are significant, but as with any product or service in a capitalist society, a demand will create a market. A bespoke suit is an experience unto itself. When people start to realize that, and begin to be willing to pay more for something other than “off the rack” then tailors will see more demand, hire more apprentices, and the process might, through competition, become more cost effective and efficient. It all begins, however, with the consumer knowing what he wants in a good suit, and being willing to go out of his way to get it.

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How I smoke, or, The Art of Smoking a Cigar

What do I look for when I smoke a cigar? How do I evaluate it?

I have had some questions recently as to how I rate or evaluate the cigars that I smoke, and overall, what I look for in a puro. There are lots and lots of resources out there that can tell you what cigars ought to be evaluated on. There are some very impressive charts and graphs that smokers are encouraged to fill out every time they light up a cigar. Just as there are wine snobs and beer snobs, there are, indeed, cigar snobs too. I do evaluate the cigars I smoke. This post, however, isn’t about all the intricacies that go into rating a smoke, or putting a score to it. This is more about what I look for when I am simply enjoying one.

Oliva Serie V

First I look at the appearance and feel of the wrapper. Is it smooth? Ridged? Oily? Dry? Does it have a soft give when you squeeze it, or does it crack? Good cigars should be tight, but still soft, and with a bit of a give. If you hear cracking when you squeeze it, then it might be a bit dry. I like mine a little oily to the touch, but this is by no means a must.

The pre-light aroma can tell you a lot about the cigar. This is the actual aroma of the tobacco leaves. Once it is lit, that’s where the magic happens, and the artisan blends really come together to give off a luxurious smoke, but before hand, that is when you get the real feel of the growing, the curing, and the aging. Soft leathers, hints of coffee or tea, woody or oak aromas, these all come out before a cigar is lit, and they are what I look for.

When lighting a cigar I look to make sure that it lights quickly and without much effort or puffing, but yet doesn’t flare or start to burn immediately. I toast the end before I start to draw in, making sure that the tobacco is hot enough to take the flame and begin to smolder. The first, initial draws, can be hit or miss, and I generally ignore the nuances of the smoke when I am still lighting it. They can come off as harsh or too hot, and I don’t find them to be a good indication of the rest of the cigar.

Many smokers tend to divide a cigar into thirds as they smoke it – subconsciously if nothing else.   This rule is a good general base, but sometimes I find the pieces and parts to be a bit more complex than simply well-defined thirds. Like a wine that gets better as it breaths, you can see the nuances and complexities of a cigar change and open as it goes on. Please do not take this to mean that the best part of a cigar is in the end – indeed, there is typically a sweet spot in any smoke, where the flavor and enjoyment hits a peak and then begins to drift away. Keep smoking until you no longer enjoy the experience – more often than not, this will lead you right past the wrapper.

The first third of a cigar is typically where it opens up. This will give you sharp, clear, distinct flavors that really bring your senses into play. In this third you will start to look at the way the cigar burns. Even if it was poorly lit, the burn should start to even itself out and balance itself. This is the mark of a well-made cigar, and the burn line should stay somewhat level all the way towards the end.

As you smoke it down more towards the middle, the flavors will start to mellow, smooth out, and mix together. This is where a lot of the complexities and nuances come in, so you’ll want to pay attention to what you’re smoking. The second third, I have found, is typically where the sweet spot is located. This is the point where I find the most enjoyment and the richest, smoothest flavors.

Be careful around this point not to let your cigar go out. Tradition says, and this may very well be the Irishman in me, that if your cigar burns out, then you’re talking too much and not listening enough. I hate having to relight a smoke. The taste is typically bitter and rough, and while it can mellow itself out and return to a state of bliss somewhat quickly, I never enjoy the experience of bringing it back around. Take a break from your part in the conversation and relish your cigar. This is where the very best smoke comes from. Savor the velvet.

You’ll also want to pay attention to the construction of the cigar. Don’t knock off the ash, but rather, let it fall off on its own. This is one of the big differences you will see between experienced cigar smokers and those who just puff occasionally, as an expensive substitute for the inferior tobacco that is a cigarette. A long, firm, grey/white ash is the mark of a well-made cigar. If it starts to fray or deteriorate quickly, then there may be an issue with the filler, binder, or any other aspect of the construction.

The last third of the cigar should be the finishing touches – like coming down from the climax of a good book. It should tie all the flavors together and slowly wind you down into a satisfied state of relaxation, not end abruptly and leave you wanting more.

Rudyard Kipling – one of my favorite poets, also penned some of my favorite lines when describing cigars in his poem “The Betrothed”:

“Counsellors cunning and silent – comforters true and tried…

…Thought in the early morning, solace in time of woes,
Peace in the hush of the twilight, balm ere my eyelids close”

That is what I look for when I light up, and how I enjoy a cigar. Drop me a line if you’d like, and let me know what you think, and how you smoke. I hope you got something out of this, and enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

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