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Monday, July 21, 2014

Approachable Value Wines from Arrogant Frog

Last week I discovered four solid value wines from Domaines Paul Mas through an #ArrogantFrog twitter tasting. Fourth-generation vintner Jean-Claude Mas launched the Arrogant Frog brand in 2005 and all wines are priced at $10. The wines come from the Languedoc region in southern France and are labelled Vin de Pays d'Oc - meaning "country wine". But don't think these wines are plunk. Mas stated that in order to gain traction in the value wine market a $10 wine wine be worth $20 and from my tasting these wines fit within this range. Each of the wines below were approachable, likeable, and consistent for that grape variety. 


  • 2013 Arrogant Frog Sauvignon Blanc  - grassy grapefruit on the nose and palette with some creaminess. Mas says creaminess comes from the maturity of grapes (combination of acids, sugar, flavors at harvest) plus three months on less.
  • 2013 Arrogant Frog Chardonnay - pineapple and vanilla aroma and flavors finishing with lemon acidity. 25% was fermented in new American oak and and underwent malolatic fermentation.
  • 2013 Arrogant Frog Pinot Noir - toasty cherry aroma; some earth and lift - medium tannins. Mas stated that this is a red wine masquerading as a white wine. The oak treatment was 60%-40% American-French oak. The grapes were harvested at night and then processed through cold maceration to extract flavor without tannins and fermented at cold temperatures. Aged in  neutral oak.
     
  • 2013 Arrogant Frog Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot (55%-45% blend) - layers of blueberry jam aroma - slight spice; mocha (almost raspberry chocolate) - very soft. Another 60%-40% American-French oak with some staves.

Friday, July 18, 2014

#WBC14 Paso Robles Excursion: Tablas Creek Vineyard

One of my favorite experiences of participating in the Wine Bloggers Conference Paso Robles Pre-Excursion was our visit to Rhone Ranger favorite, Tablas Creek Vineyard. Although Gary Eberle of Eberle Winery was the first to plant Rhone varieties in Paso, Tablas Creek was the first to make their Rhone styled wine commercially viable in the Paso Robles AVA.

Tablas Creek Vineyard is a joint venture between Château de Beaucastel and Robert Haas, as they planned to create a Châteauneuf-du-Pape style vineyard in California. The partners eventually found a site in Paso where the elevation and limestone soils (a rare soil type in Paso) resembled those at Beaucastel. In 1990 the winery imported a substantial number of Rhone vines (Mourvèdre, Grenache Noir, Syrah, Counoise, Roussanne, Viognier, Marsanne, and Grenache Blanc) and handed them over to the USDA. Three years later the vines passed the quarantine testing program and Tablas Creek began propagating their nursery. The vines from this nursery were eventually sold to many well known California Rhone producers.



Robert Haas' son Jason is the current winemaker and a former Wine Blogger Awards winner. His Tablas Creek blog won in the Winery Blog category in 2008 and 2011. On our arrival to the winery he briefly described to our group the winery's history and the vineyard's physical characteristics - demonstrating how the limestone soil absorbs water that the vines can then access later. Afterward he lead the group past the popular baby llama - llamas are used as "guard dogs" to protect the weed eating sheep from coyotes to a rootstock grafting demo. Rootstock and vines do not have to be taped together in the modern era.  Pretty informative.



Small Viniferia Nursery

Rootstock and vines grafted

Rootstock



After the rootstock demo, we headed inside to sample the wines from Tablas Creek, as well as three other Paso Rhone producing wineries: Calcareous Winery, Écluse Wines, and Caliza Winery. My favorite Caliza wine was their 2011 Azimuth, a delicious GSM (Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre) blend. The 2010 Lock Vineyard Syrah from Ecluse madee a powerful statement of "here I am and don't forget me"; whereas the Calcareous Lily Blanc (Viogner, Greneache Blanc and Roussanne) and Tres Violet GSM were more subtle but equally tasty.  The Tablas Creek Esprit Blanc was the first American Picpoul Blanc for me, although it incorporates only 5% to the majority Roussanne and Grenache Blanc blend. And it was also a thrill to taste my first 100% Terret Noir - usually a blending grape - but this barrel sample show promise with its tart cherry flavors. Cheers to Paso Robles, Tablas Creek, and Rhone styled wine.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

#WBC14 Bike Tour: Santa Barbara County -> Buellton - Solvang

On Sunday of the conference, I took a few hours off and rented a bicycle at the Marriott. I wanted to explore both Buellton and Solvang since theCompass Winery, Brewery, Distillery Locator app showed that each is home to multiple establishments; and a bicycle seemed the best form of transportation.  I had planned to bike directly to Solvang on Route 246, but the valet recommended a more scenic route.

Starting on 246 and heading east, the first option you hit is the famous Hitching Post Wines available at the Hitching Post II. (I'll post more about these wines in a later post.) Shortly after is the joint Loring Wine Company & Cargasacchi tasting room. The majority of grapes from both of these wineries come from Sta. Rita Hills, so expect cool climate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. When leaving this tasting room take an immediate left on Ballard Canyon Road which will take you through a hilly, but scenic tour of part of the Ballard Canyon AVA. One of the vineyards you will ride by are those from Larner Vineyard & Winery whose proprietor, Michael Larner, participated in several informative sessions at #wbc14. In order to sample these wines you will need to take a left to continue on Ballard Canyon Road at the intersection of Chalk Hill Road and continue on to Los Olivos.  In any case, I would recommend turning left at this intersection and biking the two miles to  Rusack Vineyards. They weren't open yet, but based on tasting their Reserve Syrah during the Ballard Canyon Syrah seminar, worth a visit.

 



Upon leaving, retrace your route but continue onto Chalk Hill Road which will lead you directly into Solvang. Your first stop should be Lucky Dogg Winery which will be on your left at the intersection at 246. Brent Melville is part of the Melville Vineyards and Winery clan and spun this winery off to focus on the family's Verna’s Vineyard which is located just north of Los Alamos. Brent uses a minimalist approach with short periods of oak treatment for his reds and a stainless steel Viognier - all are very nice. You won't have trouble finding other wineries, Casa Cassara Winery and Vineyard is practically next door and Presidio Winery and Royal Oaks Winery are across the street. I would recommend crossing over 246 and then a left on Copenhagen Drive to visit Lucas & Lewellen Vineyards. I tasted several of their wines over the weekend - and definitely worth a visit. Other Solvang wine options are Sevtap Winery, Toccata, and Carivintas Winery. To return to Buellton, just head west on 246. The one brewery, the Solvang Brewing Co, will be in your path on the right.  Although it's in a perfect location, and the wheat ale was refreshing, my experience was not pleasant. The bartender was a complete ass - arrogant and obnoxious - so I will never be returning.


Leaving Solvang look out for Shoestring Vineyard & Winery on the left as you get closer to Buellton and discover a little Italy in Santa Ynez. When entering Buellton, cross over Route 101 and hit straight until you see Ken Brown Wines on the right. No incentive more than the fact that Brown is one of the founders of the modern day Santa Barbara wine industry. Here you can taste several vineyard specific Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Syrah. Moving on, turn left on Industry Way for four more tasting options. Alma Rosa Winery and Vineyards, a Richard Sanford enterprise, is immediately on the left. Sanford started the Sta. Rita Hills Pinot movement and his wines were predominately featured in Sideways.And in addition to the Pinot Noir, try the Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris.



Continue down Industry way to Figueroa Mountain Brewing and Santa Barbara's first post-prohibition distillery Ascendant Spirits.  My visit to FMB was the complete opposite of Solvang Brewing, hospitality at all levels - even Judie Dietenhofer approached to say hello after seeing me snap some photos.  The Kolsch was solid and the Wheat - spot on. There's even hard cider and bbq outside. I had to force myself to leave the walk next door to Ascendant Spirits. The distillery is a shade over one year old - but has made a large impression already (multiple awards). The corn whiskey is all sweet corn with little burn; while the Semper Fi is made from red, white, and blue corn and is even smoother. Their bourbon is highly rated and check out the American Star Caviar Lime Vodka, where the Caviar limes are cooked in the mash. This is not your ordinary flavored vodka. And to us Washington DC folks, their portfolio is available in DC and Maryland. At the end of the street, Terravant Wine Company & the Avant Wine Bar are waiting. I didn't stop in, but would expect a nice setting.

The last two stops are in the same building, Cold Heaven Cellars and  Standing Sun Wines. To navigate there, retrace to 246, turn right, then turn left on Avenue of Flags, and finally right on 4th street. Get ready for Viognier at Cold Heaven as well as some Pinot Noir. Standing Sun has a wider portfolio, and I suggest anything with a GSM in the name. The final stop before heading back to the Marriott is also a no brainer - the Firestone Walker Brewing Company Taproom. Try one of their barrel fermented and aged beers - and no, not all heavy used bourbon barrels. In fact, try the Bretta Weisse if available - a little oak goes a long way.

That's it - about 15 total miles so not a major undertaking, but check out the options. And if cycling isn't your thing, then check out the free Santa Ynez Valley Loop Shuttle courtesy of Figueroa Mountain Brewing. Safe travels. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The United Grapes of America - Oklahoma - Canadian River Vineyards and Winery Merlot

Since the annual Wine Bloggers Conference draws participants from across North America, one major benefit is the chance to taste wines from inaccessible states. During this year's conference,  Mika and TomJoe from The Vineyard Trail brought along an Oklahoma wine: the Canadian River Vineyards and Winery NV Merlot ($17).  The Sooner state is home to about 50 wineries, with the largest number of vineyards located in central Oklahoma where CRV is located. The Merlot is estate grown and is a jammy fruit forward wine that races to the finish quite quickly.  There are very little tannins and it's fruit character is most likely popular in the local Oklahoma market.  Cheers to drink local wine and The Vineyard Trail for sharing.

The United Grapes of America
StarChefs.com: The United Grapes of America

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Cruising for Beer & Wine Along the W&OD Bike Trail: Ashburn to Leesburg

After publishing Cruising for Beer & Wine Along the W&OD Bike Trail: Falls Church to Ashburn, I learned that Old Ox Brewery was planning to open adjacent to the trail in Ashburn, so another trip. This time I started at the W&OD parking lot near mile marker 24 and didn't have to pedal long (or need theCompass Winery Brewery Distillery Locator mobile app) before seeing the Old Ox sign on that trail (between markers 25 & 25.5). The brewery's official opening celebration is Saturday July 19th, but they are open for visitors Thursday and Friday evenings and all day on weekends. The currently plan on having four everyday beers, but at the time of my visit the two choices were a Belgium Golden Ale and IPA Session - both low alcohol and suitable for a bike ride. I chose the session beer and it had a strong citrus aroma and a refreshing tail - nicely done. Old Ox's brewer is an ex Old Dominion brewer - so expect more good beer in the future. For food, Jennifer's Pastries from next door delivers or stop by Carolina Brothers BBQ at mile marker 27.5. 


Heading west, you could turn on Smith Switch Road and head to Lost Rhino Brewing Co. or continue to Leesburg. And practically nine miles from Old Ox near mile marker 34 head up the hill on Harrison Street for the Leesburg beer quad. Ya got craft beer centric restaurants in Tuskies and Fireworks Pizza; German flavor with the Döner Bistro; and a somewhat brewpub - Mud Hound Brewing Company at MacDowell Brew Kitchen. I say a somewhat brewpub because they brew one beer and this day - none was available.But for me, turn left just before Tuskies for Crooked Run Brewing. This is a small operation, excluding the Shadow of Truth - which is brewed at Beltway Brewing Company for a larger distribution. Today, there were five beers on tap; all approachable - with my favorites being the Hopsail Pale Ale and Commando Imperial Classic American Pilsner. The former is lighter - but full of flavor and aromas with a low abv; whereas the Commando is a big beer - tons of flavor balanced nicely with plenty of hops - with neither overwhelming the palette. With such a small operation, available beer styles change often - weekly in fact - and don't miss their one year anniversary, also on July 19th.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Off to #WBC14 and @SBCWines & @PasoRobles #Wine

Wine Bloggers Conference
I'm off to attend the 2014 Wine Bloggers Conference, held in Buellton, Santa Barbara County, California and sponsored by the Santa Barbara County Vintners' Association. Santa Barbara County consists of five AVAs (Happy Canyon, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Ynez Valley, Ballard Canyon and Sta. Rita Hill); has more than 200 wineries and 20,000 acres of vineyards; and grow over 60 grape varieties. I tasted a few of these wines a couple weeks back in the Santa Barbara #WBC14 Preview on #Winechat. A ton still to learn. In addition, I will be participating in the Paso Robles pre-excursion - sample 100 wines 24 hours. Thanks to the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance for sponsoring that whirlwind tasting. And that's not all. There will be dozens of wineries from around the world (I'm particularly interested in Wines of GeorgiaNew Wines Of Greece and Wines of Portugal) and I'll catch up with favorites such as Cornerstone Cellars, Jordan Winery, Westerly Wines, Gypsy Canyon Winery, and many more.  Then there are the after-parties. I'm bringing some Virginia Wine to share (Horton Vineyards, Hiddencroft Vineyards, & CrossKeys Vineyards & Estates), but I'm also looking forward to all the other local wines other participants are bringing. Then there's the more formal gatherings like Austrian Wine USA and Blue Danube Wine Company pouring Blaufrankisch and Gruner Veltliner at Cold Heaven Cellars. Jordan Winery and J Vineyards are sponsoring a reception as well and I hope they have Jordan's hilarious videos streaming. And our friends at Nomacorc are in the house. Follow the action on twitter @WineCompass, #WBC14, @SBCWines, & @PasoRobles. And below are maps of the area cities as found on theCompass Winery, Brewery, & Distillery Locator. Cheers.



Sunday, July 6, 2014

Ballparks & Brews: Wrigley Field Chicago

When talking about Chicago's Wrigley Field and craft beer, it's all about the Goose Island. Starting outside the stadium, all the surrounding bars carry some type of Goose Island product, usually the 312 Urban Pale Ale or Wheat and the Green Line Pale Ale. All three are drinkable, but at times you might be able to find their IPA or Honkers Ale - both more pleasurable. To ensure a better Goose Island selection, head to Goose Island Wrigley, their brewbpub located near the main gate. During our visits there were usually 6-7 beers on tap, plus an assortment of specialty brews. I became quite fond of the Pepe Nero, Pere Jacques, and Class of '88 Belgium Style Ale - the later a collaboration with Deschutes Brewery where the ale is aged in used muscat wine barrels. Love the Belgium and love the sour.


Outside the stadium - for us at Murphy's Bleachers and then the CubbyBear -  we discovered Old Style beer - the beer of choice for most locals. Originally brewed in Wisconsin by the G. Heileman Brewing Company, production shifted to Chicago in 1935 and in 1950, Old Style began a Cubs sponsor. This is a very drinkable Pilsner - more of a light lager actually - but pleasant - particularly when consuming frequently.

Inside the stadium, InBev seems to hold a monopoly which helps the Goose Island presence. the 312 Urban series and Green Line are served immediately in the bleachers entrance and throughout most Wrigleyville Brew House stands.

Between games, if you find yourself in the Courthouse district, check out Bub City and their Whiskey Bar. Quite the selection and great staff. Too bad the ran out of Black Maple Hill but plenty of High West and much, much more.

There are also several breweries within an easy cab ride from Wrigley.  Revolution Brewing, Piece Brewery, the new Lagunitas Brewing Company Chicago, Ale Syndicate Brewers, and Atlas Brewing Company are just a few samples. Check outh theCompass Winery, Brewery, & Distillery Locator for the complete list. Cheers to Chicago and Wrigley Field.