Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Virginia Wine Chat - Virginia Governor's Case Wines - Part 1

The 2020 Virginia Governor's Cup Competition is currently being judged and the results will be released next month, so the 2019 Case Club Awardees are taking a final victory lap appearing in Frank Morgan's Virginia Wine Chat.  The specific chat actually involves two sessions with the first held January 12th at Horton Vineyards, the reigning Governor's Cup winner for their 2016 Petit Manseng. Shannon Horton, daughter of founder Dennis Horton, represented the winery and was joined by two winemakers - Ben Jordan of Early Mountain Vineyards and Matthieu Finot of King Family Vineyards.  Their presence provided participants the opportunity to present questions on a range of topics particularly on the nature of Virginia Petit Manseng and the methodology behind blending trials.

The three presenters described the merits of Petit Manseng with Shannon Horton describing her loose clusters which provide an easier opportunity for the grapes to dry during humid weather. Horton also mentioned the grape's versatility with the inherent acids allowing a multitude of styles along the sweetness scale. And Ben Jordan mentioned how Petit Manseng is not a thirsty grape with respect to late-season rains. Growers do not need to fear grape degradation with Petit Manseng as she won't quaff the late summer or autumn rains and become bloated. According to Jordan, that is useful since other grapes could be harvested before the rains and Petit Mansen left for afterward.

As a response to my question regarding the methodology behind blending trials, the Early Mountain team responded via twitter.   To paraphrase, they develop ideas during fermentation and in January assemble trial blends (w/o actually blending). In the spring, they revisit the original ideas and blend again (different varieties, oak treatments). The goal is to finish the trials by the next harvest. I hope consumers appreciate the time and methodological nature involved when crafting your favorite blended wines.

The second session of the 2019 Virginia Case Club Wines continues on #WineChat this Thursday,  January 16th at 7:30pm ET. Hope to see you online. Cheers

Horton Vineyards Petit Manseng 2016 ($25)
The wine maintains the grape's inherent bright tropical characters and provides a newly discovered depth and weight.

Glen Manor Vineyards 2015 Cabernet Franc ($31.99)
Luscious, full-bodied, velvety, finishing with lifting acids and firm tannins. The wine is also devoid of the inherent green vegetal character and while receiving some oak, not overly so.

King Family Vineyards 2016 Mountain Plain ($69.95)
Beautiful wine, fresh and velvety red fruit, mint and leather, and integrated tannins.

King Family Vineyards 2016 Meritage ($36)
Big chewy wine, dark fruit, some tobacco, solid acids, and firm tannins.

Early Mountain Vineyards 2016 Eluvium ($39.99)
Great mouthfeel, dark bold fruit with some spice, leading to a light and dusty tannins. Thank you acids.

Paradise Springs Winery 2015 Meritage ($49)
Gripping leather surrounded by blackberries and baking spices. Long, lingering finish.

Monday, January 6, 2020

River Outpost Brewing - the Hudson Valley's Entertainment Center

River Outpost Brewing may be the most entertaining family venture brewery in the U.S. This New York brewery features about a dozen craft beers, a kitchen, an adventure park with a rock-climbing wall and rope course, and a full-throttled gaming area including virtual reality stations. There's also plenty of live music and big-screen televisions - making this as much an adult escape. As for the beer, the Beast-Club Porter is delicious. Its development is reminiscent of the stories where porters would grab a quick beer by combining a portion from each tap. In this case, the porter is a 50/50 blend of their Basic Beast and Dub-Cub, the former a stout brewed with pumpkin, spices, vanilla, coffee, and milk sugar and the later a rather interesting English Brown Ale on its own. The Toad Alley ESB is an extra special bitter that also nails the English pub-style - and goes down quite smoothly. Finally, the Haze BAE is a New England styled IPA that is brewed with NY grown oats - and with lots of citrus and pineapple and not over the top with hop characters. Cheers.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Demarest Hill Winery & Distillery - The Everything Store for Craft Beverages

Francesco Ciummo is a pioneer - yes they still exist. He learned how to graft vines at 17, moved to Belgium at 20 to work as a coal miner, then emigrated to Venezuela and learned the auto body trade. In 1961, at 26 years old, he came to the United States eventually purchasing a body shop in Bergenfield, NJ. Ciummo retired at 55, and soon afterward purchased 135 acres in Warwick, NY where he planted a vineyard. He opened Demarest Hill Winery in 1998 then started tinkering in other craft beverages such as distilled products in 2006 and hard cider more recently. Not satisfied with a limited portfolio, Ciummo has explored the boundaries of wine, spirits, vinegar, and flavorings currently offering over 90 distinct products for sale - 33 of which are distilled spirits and liquors.

During a Christmas Break visit, we sampled many of these offerings with a keen interest in the unique distilled products. For instance, Ciummo distills a rather tasty Clear Grappa but also sells versions augmented with honey, raisins, or figs. He follows a similar pattern with grape brandy, selling versions aged in Cherry Tree wood and our favorite the Triple Tree Plus Brandy ($22) – aged from maple, oak, apple, cherry and cedar trees from his property. I also enjoyed the Dandelion Brandy ($22) distilled with a dandelion flower mash and serves as a suitable digestif. The Sherry is suggestive of Jerez and the Tropical Liquore - a version of the Dominican drink "Mamajuana" is a blend of rum, red wine, and honey aged in the bottle with tree bark and herbs. And his fruit brandies, Cherry and Peach are sweet - but loaded with flavor.

As for wine, a majority of the products are on the sweeter scale but there are several dry offerings that are pleasant. The estate Dry Aurora - a white hybrid grape variety produced by Albert Seibel - is complex and interesting. And the off-dry Riesling comes across drier as the acids enable a crisp and clean finish. For reds, the Bacchus Noir made from Baco Noir was our favorite followed by the Warwick Black Pearl and Warwick Red Deer composed of De Chaunac and Marechal Foch respectively. For a final, try the Apple Cider and Rum ($14) which is only 2% alcohol but provides a delicious and deep apple flavor.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Dry Petit Manseng Ascends in Virginia During 2019

"Petit Manseng is one of the key white grape varieties of South West France. Used predominantly in Jurancon and Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh, it is most commonly vinified as a richly sweet wine with stonefruit characters such as peach and apricot, citrus and sweet spice." -- Wine-searcher.com
Twenty years ago, two Virginia wineries planted plots of Petit Manseng using cuttings from Virginia Tech’s Alson H. Smith Jr. Agricultural Research and Extension Center experimental vineyard near Winchester.  The extension agents recognized that the grape's thick skins and loose clusters would be advantageous during Virginia's humid summers.  Soon afterward Jennifer McCloud of Chrysalis Vineyards petitioned the precursor to the Alcohol and Trade Tax Bureau (TTB) to approve Petit Manseng as a valid grape variety so that the grape's name could be used on a wine label. However, before approval was granted,  Horton Vineyards was able to label their first Petit Manseng vintage as that grape name because it had submitted the wine label as a place name and not as a grape name. Pretty sneaky. Over the succeeding years, Petit Manseng made small strides in the Virginia wine industry, but primarily as a dessert or off-dry offering as its inherent acidity balances residual sugar -- reminiscent of Riesling.

However, today it is dry Petit Manseng that has elevated the grape to public consciousness within the Commonwealth as two were included in the 2019 Governor's Case Club. During the 2019 Denver BevFluence Experience, we received samples of these wines which consisted of the Governor's Cup winning Horton Vineyards Petit Manseng 2016 ($25) and the gold-winning Michael Shaps Petit Manseng 2016 ($30). What makes these wines exceptional is that they maintain the grape's inherent bright tropical characters and provide a newly discovered depth and weight. he Horton version includes five percent each Viognier and Rkatsiteli which help explain some stone fruit character and both were fermented primarily in oak introducing Burgundian techniques.

These two wineries are linked with other interesting facts. In 1991, when Horton's first crop was harvested, they leased Montdomaine Cellars as a production facility for the next 5 years and used the Montdomaine trademark during that period. In 1995, Michael Shaps moved to Virginia to work at Jefferson Vineyards as head winemaker and general manager and in 2007 he and a partner purchased that same Montdomaine facility to open Virginia WineWorks. And recently longtime Horton winemaker Mike Heny, who started production of the 2016 Horton Petit Manseng, left in late 2017 for a similar position at Virginia WineWorks. Heny was then replaced by Andy Reagan who conducted the final blending trials for the Petit Manseng and it was Reagan who had previously succeeded Shaps at Jefferson Vineyards. Plenty of winemaking talent making the rounds in Virginia. Cheers to 2019.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Tenth Ward Distilling Company and Christmas in Frederick

Christmas is celebrated in remarkable fashion on December Saturday nights in Frederick Maryland with lighted streets, smores stations, photo ops, boat lights, and local craft beverages like those produced by Tenth Ward Distilling Company. The name “Tenth Ward” is a reference to the division of Frederick City during the late 19th century and recently the distillery moved to that city's historic epicenter: near Patrick and Market Streets. On a placard located just down Patrick Street from Tenth Ward is a copy of the only known photograph of Confederate troops as they marched through Frederick, most likely on their way towards either Antietam or Gettysburg.

This woman-owned distillery - thanks to Monica Pearce -- produces an interesting range of spirits like Smoked Corn Whiskey, Caraway Rye, Genever Style Gin, Applejack, and Absinthe. This last shows its quality by turning cloudy and releasing aromatic while using the French method of a water drip with a sugar cube. The Smoke Corn Whiskey was polarizing with most overwhelmed by the firepit flavor, yet I thought it had an interesting Mezcal feel. Its main focus seems to be as a cocktail ingredient like the Perfect Penicillin and Triple Smoked Toddy.

Like our previous post on The Albeisa Bottle, in this age of global conglomerates dominating the inputs to the craft beverage industries, Tenth Ward support local farmers and industries. All the grain is grown and malted at Ripon Lodge Farm in Ripon West Virginia. The apples are sourced from local McCutcheon’s Apple Products.  Other local sources are Orchid Cellar for mead and Hay’s Apiary for honey. Used barrels are obtained from Fredericksburg's A. Smith Bowman Distillery whereas new barrels are derived from Michigan's The Barrel Mill. And finally, as most craft beverage bottles are produced by three international conglomerates, Tenth Ward sources their bottles from Piramal Glass out of the Park Hills, MO manufacturing plant.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and cheers to a safe and healthy New Year.

Monday, December 16, 2019

The Albeisa Bottle - A BOCG for Langhe

Photo Credit: Please The Palate
Alba, Asti, Barolo, Barbaresco, Dogliani, Langhe, and Roero. These are a few of the iconic Piedmont regions where, in the late 18th-century, wine producers desired "a unique and recognizable bottle of their own, a Bottiglia d’Origine Controllata e Garantita (BOCG) for their own wines. And requested it from the master glaziers of the renowned Vetrerie di Porino firm just outside the city of Turin". This effort lead to the Albeisa Bottle - a hand-made bottle, produced piece by piece, and included elements of the popular a Bordeaux and Burgundian bottles. The bottle enjoyed a brief period of popularity but suffered due to ill timing as the industrial revolution ushered in large scale glass manufacturing pricing the Albeisa Bottle out of existence.

Photo Credit: Please The Palate
That changed in 1973 when 16 wine producers resurrected the "BOCG" of the Langhe region not just to reproduce "an old bottle but rather that of tying it to a territory and regulate its use within the confines of that territory. The new 1973 version indicates its name in a clear and precise way through letters in relief on the glass repeated four times on the shoulder of the bottle in order to be seen from any viewpoint. Its use is governed by the 'Association of Producers of Alba' which indicates how it can be utilized along with details on which appellation (DOC-DOCG) wines it can contain". There is also just one legal glass manufacturer - Verallia - the successor to Saint-Gobain Vetri.

Since that 1973 moment, the organization has grown from the 16 original members to over 300 member associates. These voluntary members of the association must adhere to strict requirements such as using an Albeisa bottle at least once a year for - an only for - wines made from grapes grown within the Langhe denomination and furthermore have a production facility within Langhe.

Earlier this month, the Albeisa Association told this story through a trade tasting of various wines using the Albeisa bottle.  This tasting featured Arneis, the white wine grape once on the verge of extinction, the difficult cultivar Dolcetto, the acid lovers Barbera, and the royal Nebbiolo. These wines represented Langhe, Dolcetto d'Alba, Dogliani, Roero, and  Barbera d'Alba - among several others.

I was immensely impressed with the friendly, fruit-forward, and fresh wines from Barbera d'Alba.  These wines are characterized by low tannins, high acids, and an accompanying rich and bold fruit context. Some excellent examples were from Franco Conterno, Diego PressendaAscheri, and Punset. Those who enjoy fruit-forward wines with a little more tannic structure should seek out Dolcetto d'Alba. Diego Pressenda, La Ganghja, and Punset provided solid contributions from this region. Finally, the Nebbiolo from Barbaresco stood out. These are approachable wines but with ample acids and tannins to hold for aging if one has patience. Once again look to La Ganghja and Punset. Cheers.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Bodegas Fundador Pedro Domecq Brandy de Jerez

We've been augmenting our eggnog with Portuguese or Spanish brandies this Christmas season; they just seem to blend in nicely.  This Bodegas Fundador Pedro Domecq Brandy de Jerez ($22) should be widely available as this is Spain's largest export brandy. Fundador is the oldest bodega in Jerez, founded in 1730 and they were the first brand to be marketed as "Brandy de Jerez" in 1874. Hence the Domecq family choose Fundadour which translates to founder.

 The brandy itself is made from the Airen grape with lesser amounts of Palomino. The distilled spirit is then aged in the traditional Solera system in used sherry casks. At the price, there's plenty of rich flavors complimented by the smooth finish with little burn.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Belgium Beer: Gueuze Lambics with the Gueuze Tilquin à l’ancienne

Belgium has provided the world with a plethora of historic beer styles most likely because the industry wasn't hampered by government degrees like the German reinheitsgebot. Their brewing history, starting with Trappist Monks, has supplied us with Dubbel, Tripel, Quad, Saison, Witbier, Flanders Red, Belgian Dark Strong Ale, Belgian Blond Ale, Belgian Pale Ale, Belgian Golden Strong Ale, Oud Bruin, and Lambic beer styles. American consumers most likely think that the last style must contain fruit, however, that is not necessarily so. In fact, Lambics can be further segmented into framboise (raspberries), kriek (cherries), straight lambics, and gueuze.

Gueuze beers are created when blenderies purchase freshly brewed worts from different producers, combine them into oak barrels, and allow them to naturally ferment. Then 1, 2 and 3 years old lambics are blended together and because the young lambics are not fully fermented, the blended beer contains fermentable sugars, which allow a second fermentation to occur in the bottle. The end result is the "Champagne of Belgium" which tends towards a yeasty slightly sour and barnyard profile.

One of the most prolific producers of this style is Gueuzerie Tilquin -- the only gueuze blendery in Wallonia. Their flagship beer is the Gueuze Tilquin à l’ancienne (7% abv) which starts as wort brewed by Boon, Lindemans, Girardin and Cantillon. The blended worts are then fermented and matured in oak barrels at the blendery. After blending the different years, the lambics are then allowed to re-ferment for six months in the bottle.

One local Northern Virginia restaurant, Rustico, carries this beer in different size bottles from 37.5cl ($45) to a magnum ($90).  The profile is very bready - almost grainy with a slightly sour core that stays through the tail. This finish also exhibits a dry tannic bitterness that should be alluring to wine drinkers.  Starting Friday, December 13 Rustico is hosting their annual 12 Days of Christmas Beers where all bottles are 50% off. Since Gueuze beers are priced on the high side, this is a great opportunity to sample these delicious beers. Cheers.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Why is Saint Nicholas the Patron Saint of Brewers?

St. Nicholas giving dowry gold
© Elisabeth Ivanovsky
And that is not a rhetorical question, I honestly do not know why Saint Nicholas is considered one of the many patron saints of brewers? Today, December 6th is the feast day for this Greek saint who eventually morphed into the Nordic Christmas legend. Nicholas was born in the Greek city of Patara in the late 3rd century to wealthy parents and was raised in Myra - a port city now known as Demre, Turkey. Tragically his parents died during an epidemic and Nicholas was raised by his uncle - the Bishop of Patara.

The youngster vowed to distribute his inheritance through works of charity and his most well-known effort led directly to his reputation for giving gifts and indirectly to a possible claim for being the patron saint of brewers. Here is Catholic Online to describe the traditional story of the Gift of Gold for the Three Daughters.
An opportunity soon arose for St. Nicholas and his inheritance. A citizen of Patara had lost all his money, and needed to support his three daughters who could not find husbands because of their poverty; so the wretched man was going to give them over to prostitution. Nicholas became informed of this, and thus took a bag of gold and threw it into an open window of the man's house in the night. Here was a dowry for the eldest girl and she was soon duly married. At intervals Nicholas did the same for the second and the third; at the last time, the father was on the watch, recognized his benefactor and overwhelmed Nicholas with his gratitude. It would appear that the three purses represented in pictures, came to be mistaken for the heads of three children and so they gave rise to the absurd story of the children, resuscitated by the saint, who had been killed by an innkeeper and pickled in a brine-tub.
Saint Nicholas
© Elisabeth Ivanovsky
Afterward, Nicholas would be ordained a priest and be elected Archbishop of Myra where he was tortured, exiled, and imprisoned by the Romain authorities. He was eventually freed with other Christians when Constantine converted to the faith and Nicholas served the remainder of his life as Archbishop of Myra. During that time so many miracles and good deeds were attributed to his intercession that he became known as the Wonderworker. After Nicholas passed on December 6, 343 he was buried in Myra's cathedral church where a unique relic, called manna, formed in his grave. According to the St. Nicholas Center, "this liquid substance, said to have healing powers, fostered the growth of devotion to Nicholas". For close to 750 years his remains served as a pilgrim destination. But, depending on your point of view, on May 9, 1087, his relics were stolen or rescued after Constantinople fell to the Saracens. The thieves or liberators were sailers from Bari. In that Italian city, Nicholas' relics were buried in a new church: the Basilica di San Nicola.

From Bari, both the factual and legendary stories surrounding Nicholas spread throughout Europe. The resuscitation myth led to paintings of Nicholas surrounded by children which in itself led people to conclude he was the patron saint of children. And combined with his gift-giving, St. Nicholas Day became an early advent fixture in European countries where behaved children's boots were filled with candy and toys. On the other hand, naughty children received a visit from the Krampus and a literal tongue lashing. In America, the Dutch Protestants of New Amsterdam turned the saint into the Nordic magician - Santa Claus.

Great story, but what about brewers? None of the classical authors associate Nicholas with beer or brewers. One modern discernment concludes that the images of Nicholas shown with a barrel led people to conclude that he was the patron saint of brewers. Flimsy. Maybe even too flimsy to raise a beer in his honor. Instead, sip a Turkish Arak, the distilled spirit made from grapes and aniseed or a glass of wine from Puglia perhaps the Gioia del Colle DOC. In any case, cheers to Saint Nicholas.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Follow the Old Valley Pike to Box Office Brewery

Looking for a Hallmark Christmas destination that has the one important feature that these movies lack? I'm referring to a craft beverage establishment like Strasburg Virginia's Box Office Brewery.

Craft beverage establishments have been repurposing abandoned buildings in small towns throughout the U.S... In the Shenandoah Valley, the owners of Box Office Brewing renovated the defunct Strasburg Theatre which was originally built in 1918 as the Strand Theatre. They reused both internal and local materials including a 1930s Lucky Strike bowling lane for the main bar.

As for beer, the Old Valley Pike American Pale Ale is solid and is named after US Route 11 that runs in front of the building. The road was previously the Old Valley Pike, a dirt road originally used by the local Indians then predominantly by troops during the Civil War. The German styled Prohibition Pilsner is also exactly what one would expect.

But if you are really lucky the Curtain Call Coconut Porter is still on tap. The name speaks for itself. Cheers.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Cotton & Reed: DC’s First Rum Distillery

This month Cotton & Reed Distillery celebrated its third anniversary as DC’s First Rum Distillery. One of their many celebration activities included a release of just 102 bottles of 102-proof Sherried Cask Strength Rum ($50). The process starts with their White Rum ($29) made from Lousiana grown raw cane syrup and blackstrap molasses (6,000 pounds per batch) and fermented with a Rhum Agricole yeast strain and a Chenin Blanc yeast strain. The rum is then aged in used bourbon barrels just like their Mellow Gold Rum ($29). Afterward, the aging rum is transferred to PX Sherry-seasoned casks where PX refers to Pedro Ximénez grapes aged in a solera system where the grape brandy undergoes oxidative aging for an Oloroso. This process involves bottling some of the oldest casks, then refilling with grape brandy from younger casks. Cotton & Reed will follow a similar approach with their Sherried Cask Strength Rum augmenting their first cask with rum from a younger cask.

In addition to their very unique Dry Spiced Rum ($29) that is infused with mostly gin inspired botanicals like juniper instead of baking spices, their Despaccino 2018 ($29) is delicious. The coffee beans come from Counter Culture which are then cold-brewed from Junius Coffee. The rum is also infused with rhubarb, dehydrated orange, and cacao all contributing distinct rich characters.

Finally, don't neglect their cocktails.  I chose a light and refreshing Rumba Palumba made from their White Rum, mezcal, grapefruit, and lemons.  Excellent.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

#ThankfulForVino with Argentinian Chardonnay & Pinot Noir

Be honest. When you think of wine from Argentina you think Malbec.  That's what I thought, that is, until this week during a  #ThankfulForVino tweet-up moderated by Master of Wine Christy Canterbury. The chat focused on new frontiers beyond Malbec particularly since that grape accounts for only 21.4% of plantings in Argentina. Chardonnay & Pinot Noir are two of these new frontiers and are particularly attractive during the Thanksgiving holiday.

Starting with two important facts -- Argentina is the world's 8th largest country and the 5th largest wine-producing country in the world. According to Canterbury, grapes were first planted in the 16th century when Spanish colonizers brought over vines to produce sacramental wine. More recently the wine industry has grown exponentially as the export value grew from $24 million to $821 million and production from 25 million liters to 275 million liters.

There are four main grape-growing regions: the North, Cuyo (Mendoza's home), Patagonia and the newest, Atlantic. In general, precipitation is low, even in El Niño years with Patagonia and the Atlantic regions receiving more annual rainfall than the North and Cuyo. Day-to-night temperature variations (diurnal) are some of the most dramatic on the planet. These temperature fluctuations vary as much as 20C/36F degrees with the swings due to altitude as in Mendoza or high latitude as in Patagonia. See Wines of Argentina.

During this tweet-up, we sampled five wines - three from Mendoza and two from Patagonia.

Catena Alta Mendoza Chardonnay 2017 ($18)
"Alta" means high in Spanish and refers to the two high altitude vineyards from where the grapes are sourced and this cool climate and porous soils are "the promised land of Chardonnay".  The Adrianna Vineyard (80%) is located at almost 5,000 feet in the Andean foothills and the vines are planted in calcareous soil.  The Domingo Vineyard, Lot 7 (20%) is situated at "only" 3,675 ft with alluvial and gravelly soil with limestone deposits in the topsoil.  The wine is simply delicious with soft citrus and green apples, textured, and refreshing acidity.

Mascota Vineyards Unanime Chardonnay ($15)
The grapes for this wine come from the alluvial calcareous soils in Gualtallary Uco Valley, Mendoza, another high altitude and cool climate site at 4,200ft.  Canterbury remarked that Uco Valley wines are very fragrance driven and that describes this wine with its strong floral aroma. On the palate, it is citrus-driven with a slightly buttery and creamy texture, and spices linger with lifting acids. Four hours of skin contact bolster the aromas whereas fermenting in concrete eggs and large French oak foudres create the creamy texture.

Bodega Tapiz Wapisa Pinot Noir 2017 ($19)
The Los Acantilados Estate (San Javier, Atlantic Patagonia, Río Negro) is located very close to the Atlantic Ocean and at only 328 feet above sea level receives plenty of maritime cooling. It is also noted for its lime clay soils that lack organic matter. The proximity to the ocean is reflected in the drawing of a whale's tail on the label.  The wine is initially fruit-forward with red-berries then texture mid-palate finishing with firm yet approachable acids.

Alfredo Rocas Finacas Pinot Noir 2018 ($12)
Sourced from the Finca Santa Herminia vineyard in San Rafael Mendoza, which is lower in altitude but because of the south-facing slopes, cooler than comparable vineyards. But still at 3,000 ft above sea level. The winemaking approach allows the grapes to speak which shows delicious red berries, sweeter spices, some chalk and dust, and a long finish of easy tannins.

Schroeder Family Saurus Select Pinot Noir 2017 ($18)
The vineyards of Familia Schroeder sit in the San Patricio del Chanar valley, a new region in Patagonia. Canterbury believes this will be the next important wine region to emerge from Argentina due to its attractive grape growing attributes: light stony soils, irrigation from pure melt-water, intense sunlight, and a substantial diurnal temperature difference. And lots of wind. The Saurus label is named for the 75 million years old fossilized dinosaur bones that were found near the winery site. The wine itself is complex with dusty cherries, chewy tannins, and fresh acids. A great finish to the evening.

Monday, November 18, 2019

St. Martin of Tours, Croatia, & Komarna Wine

On the days preceding and subsequent to Monday, November 11th, Europeans and Catholics celebrated the Feast of St Martin -- in honor of the patron of the poor, soldiers, conscientious objectors, tailors, and winemakers. One of these celebrations occurred at the Embassy of Croatia in Washington D.C. where Croatian Premium Wine Imports poured several wines from the newly designated Komarna appellation to honor St. Martinje.

Saint Martin of Tours was born in Pannonia (present-day Hungary) in either the year 316 or 336 AD.  His father was a high-ranking officer in the Imperial Horse Guard and a pagan, but at the age of 10, Martin converted to Christianity as the gospel expanded throughout the Roman empire.  Roman law required full participation in military affairs so, at the age of 15, Martin followed his father into the cavalry corps were tradition claims he served in Gaul, Milan, and Trier (Treves).
Courtesy of Catholic Online

His inspirational moment occurred while still young when he encountered a beggar in Amiens, France. The beggar was practically naked and freezing so Martin cut his cloak in half with his sword and gave one piece to the beggar and retained the other half for himself. That night, Martin had a vision in which Christ appeared to him and said: "Martin, a mere catechumen has clothed me.". A catechumen is one who undergoing the long process of instruction in the Christian faith but Martin was well aware of Matthew 25:45.

Afterward, Martin made clear to his superiors that he would no longer fight because of his Christian conscience. He refused his military pay and announced he would not join in future combat, thus becoming the first recognized conscientious objector in recorded history. He was accused of cowardice but Martin countered that to prove his sincerity he would ride into battle unarmed.  Fortunately, a truce was signed shortly before an upcoming battle and Martin was subsequently released from military service.

Courtesy of Catholic Online
He traveled to Tours where he began studying under an eventual doctor of the Church, Hilary of Poitiers. Over time he brought his Mother into the church and became a defender against the Arian heresy which denied the divinity of Jesus. He was forced to flee to an island in the Adriatic where he lived as a hermit for a while but eventually returned to Tours after the Council of Nicea. In 371, the faithful called Martin to the office of Bishop which he reluctantly accepted and served until his death in 397.

During his years as Bishop, Martin nurtured an immense love for wine and began blessing the beverage in order to make it more popular among laypeople. Throughout Europe, this tradition has continued with winemakers giving thanks to St. Martin for a good harvest. In Croatia, Martinje celebrates the day that must, or young wine matures into wine fit for drinking.  But before indulging the wine must first be baptized and turned into chaste wine, since must is considered impure.

At the Croatian Embassy, the community celebrated St. Martinje and the indulgence of Croatian wine though the Croatian Premium Wine Imports (CPWI). Their portfolio consists of wines from the Komarna winegrowing area where the vines were first planted in 2008 with a formal appellation designated in April 2013. The region is located in South Dalmatia between Split and Dubrovnik where the vines overlook the Adriatic Sea -- sometimes on 30-degree slopes. The grape varieties are primarily the indigenous Plavac Mali and Pošip with lesser amounts of international varieties Syrah, Chardonnay, Tempranillo, Cabernet, Viognier.

There are currently seven wineries in the Komarna appellation, and most unique, all seven are certified by the EU for organic production. This development was accelerated because the wineries starting near the same time and were able to leverage the same resources when surveying plots, planting the vineyards, and building out production and tasting room facilities. Economies of scale in action. Their youthfulness also allowed them to adopt the latest in technological advances pertaining to vineyard management and winemaking chemistry where even some laboratories are utilized by Croatian state wine officials.

During the St. Martinje Celebration, we sampled six wines from four of these winemakers: Saints Hills, Rizman, Volarević, and Terra Madre.  Starting with the later winery, the Terra Madre selection consisted of a Pošip 2018, Plavac Mali Rose 2018, and a Plavac Mali Premium 2015.  Besides being unique in offering a rose, this winery is known for adding a small percentage of international varieties into their indigenous wines. They added a little structure using Chardonnay with the Pošip and roundness using the Cabernet Sauvignon with the Plavac Mali. In fact, the four Plavac Mali were all completely distinct in style with the Rizman Plavac Mali 2016 being elegant with elevated fruit and the Volarevic Plavac Mali 2016 being complex with a fruit on the tongue and spices and tannins dominating the tail. Finally, the Volarevic Plavac Mali Gold 2013 is a bolder, full-bodied wine which consists of 30% raisined grapes and the wine aged 24 months in oak and four years in the bottle before release.  Think raisins and figs and structured tannins.

The CPWI online store will be available very soon and will be augmented with Croatian wines from Istria shortly. Cheers to St. Martinje.

Update: The Croatian Premium Wine Imports online store is now available.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

A Day Trip Along the Shenandoah Spirits Trail

The Shenandoah Spirits Trail consists of 49 breweries, cider houses, distilleries, and wineries within the Shenandoah Valley and located between Harrisonburg and Winchester. These destinations are an easy day trip from the DC Metro area and are worth leveraging when visiting the Valley's Civil War sites, scenic roads, and outdoor activities. And try to stay for the sunsets. Here are a few we visited recently.

Old Hill Cider - Timberville
The is an outgrowth of Showalters Orchard where the Showalter family has been growing apples for over 50 years on a century-old orchard. Cidermaker Shannon Showalter established the first cider house in the Shenandoah Valley by fermenting various heirloom apples such as Pippen, Winesap, and Stayman. These are the blend for the refreshing Yesteryear dry cider. Full a fuller cider, try the Cidermaker's Barrel where the juice is fermented using wild yeast then racked into barrels -- developing texture and depth. And walk out back to sip and enjoy the scenic valley.

Swover Creek Farms and Kitchen - Edinburg
Swover Creek Farms was established just over a decade ago by Lynn and Dave St.Clair, diversifying their 100+-year-old family farm into berries and about 6 years ago 14 hop varieties. In 2014 they opened a small brewery operation using a 3.5 barrel brew system with 2 fermenters and 4 bright tanks. These are located in a renovated barn with a former cow loafing shed used for outdoor covered seating. Inside enjoy house-made pizza, Swover Creek smoked sausages and several styles of beer. Our favorites were the Saison and Lager.

Wolf Gap Vineyard - Edinburg
Willard and Diane Elledge founded Wolf Gap Vineyard and Winery 15 years ago on a 48-acre estate. The views of Wolf Gap and the Great North Mountains from their deck is worth a visit in itself, but an added bonus is the well-crafted wines offered. The 50-50 2017 Viognier-Traminette blend is refreshingly unique while the 2016 Chardonnay is textured and crisp. Nut the dry reds are their strong suit starting with the 2015 Chambourcin Reserve. Smokey and spicy but not jammy. The 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve proves that this grape can excel in pockets in the Commonwealth and the 2013 Mariage Reserve (Chambourcin and Cabernet Franc) is delicious.

Reminder: theCompass Craft Beverage Finder will guide you to these destinations. 

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Comparative Cabernet Franc - Colorado vs Virginia

"I'm not a huge enthusiast of the sexual stereotyping of wines but even I can see that Cabernet Franc might be described as the feminine side of Cabernet Sauvignon. It is subtly fragrant and gently flirtatious rather than massively muscular and tough in youth. Because Cabernet Sauvignon has so much more of everything – body, tannin, alcohol, colour – it is often supposed to be necessarily superior, but I have a very soft spot indeed for its more charming and more aromatic relative, Cabernet Franc." -- Jancis Robinson
Whereas Cabernet Franc is mostly known from its Bourdeaux (St-Émilion and Pomerol) and Loire (Chinon) homes, this black-skinned wine grape has been widely planted in the United States - particularly in wine regions such as the Finger Lakes, Long Island, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and Colorado.

Colorado Case Club Wines
These regions provide challenging conditions for grapevines such as short growing seasons, frost, and humidity. Cabernet Franc's relative thick skins and loose clusters allow the grape to withstand humidity; yet frost and short growing seasons are still detrimental since the grape buds and matures earlier than say, Cabernet Sauvignon. These conditions heighten the inherent green vegetal character of Cabernet Franc due to the increased presence of the chemical pyrazine in these unripened grapes.  Winemakers can attempt to compensate for this overly green vegetal character by increasing oak treatment - in many cases leading to overly oaked and dull wines.

Virginia Case Club Wines
During the BevFluence Experience Denver, we sampled several Cabernet Franc wines, a few from the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board and another from the Virginia Wine Board.  This provided a small, yet interesting, sampling of comparative Cabernet Franc.  The grapes from the Colorado wine were sourced from the Grand Valley located on the western slope of the Rocky Mountains - basically a high altitude desert at over 4,500 feet with sunny days and cool nights.  In Virginia, the grapes were also grown on the western slope of a mountain range, in this case, the Blue Ridge Mountains and between 1,000 and 1,400 feet above sea level.  Besides elevation, another difference is the lush green environment and potential humidity common to the Commonwealth.

Out of the four wines sampled, two were very similar - one each from Colorado and Virginia.  Both were luscious, full-bodied, velvety, finishing with lifting acids and firm tannins. Both wines were devoid of the inherent green vegetal character and while receiving some oak, neither was overly so.  Two home runs from uniquely distinct regions.

BookCliff Vineyards 2015 Grand Valley Reserve Cabernet Franc ($26.99)
In 1995, John Garlich and Ulla Merz purchased a ten-acre peach farm just outside of Palisade in Colorado's Grand Valley AVA and quickly planted grapevines on six of these acres. They sold off most of their initial grape harvest but soon established the winery and named it after the Book Cliffs, a series of desert mountains and cliffs in western Colorado and eastern Utah. They also strove to produce 100% Colorado-grown wines and have slowly increased their holdings to 37 acres planted with 14 different varieties. The Cabernet Franc grapes were harvested from the estate vineyard that benefits from sunny days and cool nights at this high altitude desert. It's easy to see how this wine won Best of Show in Colorado's 2018 Governor’s Cup Wine Competition.


Glen Manor Vineyards 2015 Cabernet Franc ($31.99)
Around the same time as the establishment of BookCliff, Jeff Raymond White planted vines on a parcel of land that had been in his family for over a hundred years and which was originally part of a larger land grant owned by Lord Fairfax of England. Chief Justice John Marshall eventually purchased a share of these holdings and through various sales cascaded to Stephen Clifton Lawson (Jeff’s great-grandfather). Since 1995, White has planted his Cabernet Franc in different lots experimented in slope, soil, exposures and canopy cover which eventually lead to two plantings that combined to produce this Governor's Cup Case Club wine.