Tuesday, September 18, 2018

New Zealand's Wairau Valley and the Wairau River 2015 Marlborough Pinot Noir

New Zealand's modern wine industry began in Marlborough in the 1970s with growers planting Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir vines in the southern Wairau Valley. Nowadays, Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir are world famous and the Wairau Valley is home to some of New Zealand's most famous producers. One of these early growers was the Rose family who planted their estate vineyards on the banks of the Wairau River.

"The Wairau Valley is one of three zones – along with the Southern Valleys and the Awatere Valley – which make up the heartland of New Zealand's Marlborough wine region. It accounts for approximately 45 percent of plantings within the wider region. It is a wide river valley that follows the Wairau River from the Spenser Mountains in the west to the Pacific at Cloudy Bay. The Richmond Mountains in the north separate it from the sunny region of Nelson, and the Wither Hills in the south protect the valley from harsh weather systems from the south-east. The Wairau Valley has a warm, dry climate that is moderated during the growing season by sea breezes from Cloudy Bay. Hot sunshine during the day and cold ocean winds at night extend the ripening period in the grapes, leading to a balance of fruit complexity and acidity. This diurnal temperature variation is essential to the terroir in the Wairau Valley – without it, much of the classic punchiness of the wines made here would be lost." -- via Wine-Searcher.

After supplying popular producers with grapes for most of the 1980s, Phil and Chris Rose established Wairau River Winery in 1991 taking its name from the river on whose banks Phil and Chris Rose hand planted their first vines in 1978. In total they maintain ten estate vineyards all benefiting from different numerous meso-climates within the Wairau Valley sub-region. The winery is a complete family operation with siblings winemaker Sam Rose handling the cellar and Caroline Rose responsible for the Wairau River restaurant. I recently received a sample of their Wairau River 2015 Marlborough Pinot Noir ($24.99).

This wine is 100% Pinot Noir sourced from three estate vineyards located along the Wairau River: Home Block, Spring Creek, and Winery Block. The vines are cropped to enhance the intensity and color and after fermentation the wine was aged 10 months in large French barriques. The result is a generous velvety cherry fruit profile which transitions to soft spices and then very approachable tannins. Nicely done.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Do You Know Your Croatian Grape Varieties?

I'm less familiar with Croatian grape varieties as I am with Hungarian, but this last trip to Hrvatska expanded my knowledge. Like Hungary, Croatia has a long wine tradition dating back to pre-Roman periods with many wins favored by nobility throughout Europe. Here is a subset of Croatian grape varieties to start your studies.

Crljenak Kaštelanski (Tribidrag) (r)
Crljenak Kaštelanski was an almost extinct Dalmatian grape varietal until DNA fingerprinting revealed that it was an exact DNA match to both Zinfandel and the Italian grape Primitivo. It was once the most dominant red grape in Dalmatia with written records reaching back to the 15th century but susceptibility to disease lead to its decline. Yet after the DNA match the grape is being replanted with the advantages of ripening early and needs less sun than its child Plavac Mali (plus produces less tannins). Try the Dubrovački Podrumi Crljenak Kaštelanski.

Plavac Mali (r)
Grown throughout Dalmatia as a replacement to the disease ridden Crljenak Kaštelanski and now the most important red wine grape in Croatia. Plavac means blue, and Mali means small but this offspring of Crljenak Kaštelanski and Dobričić packs a punch with cherry flavors, spice, and tannins. The high alcohol and acidity lead to solid aging potential as in the Plavac Mali wines from Miloš Winery.

Graševina (w)
Although not indigenous to Croatia, Graševina (Welschriesling, Olascsrizling in Hungary, and Laški Rizling in Slovenia) is the most widely planted wine grape - particularly in Slavonia where it thrives on cooler soils and a continental climate. It is intended to be consumed young and shows its popularity and the Croatian equivalent of boxed wine. However for those producers producing a deeper style, minerality replaces some of the fruity and flowery characters with the remaining crisp acidity. The Krauthaker Graševina Mitrovac was one we discovered. There's also the Adžić Winery Graševina available in the U.S.

Malvasia Istriana (w)
Malvazija (Malvasia in Italian) comes from the Istria peninsula and is known for creating intense wines that can be drunk young like a fresh Sauvignon Blanc or barrel aged for a more complex style. One of these with excellent minerality is the Piquentum Malvazija Blanc.

Debit (w)
Debit grows best in the central and north coast of Croatia and is characterized by golden yellow grapes that provide green apple flavors and abundant citric acidity. Try the Bibich Winery Debit

Pošip (w)
A popular grape coming from Dalmatia and associated with islands of Hvar and Korčula. These wines are flavorful, rich and textured with strong aromas and refreshing notes. Toreta Winery is a large producer of this grape.

Babić (r)
Babić are blue wine grapes grown mostly in Dalmatia. These are full bodied wines featuring dark berries, plums, and figs, as well as distinct spices. The Bibich R6 Riserva blend is a great example.

Bogdanuša (w)
This grape is native to the island of Hvar in Central Dalmatia, translates to “a godsend”, and is traditionally drunk during religious festivals. The Carić Vina is the only version of this wine exported to the U.S.

Dobričić (r)
This grape is from the island of Šolta (near Split) and with Crljenak Kaštelanski is the other parent of Plavac Mali. The grapes are extremely dark red and creates a purple wine -- sometimes called “the darkest wine of Dalmatia”. The grapes do not produce much sugar so varietal wines are low in alcohol as well as extremely low in acids. But be prepared for a tannic tail to create s bitter sour cherry finish. While visiting Šolta stop by Agroturizam Kaštelanac to taste different styles of Dobričić.

Vrbnička Žlahtina (w)
Vrbnička Žlahtina is mostly grown on the island of Krk, the largest of Croatia’s 1000+ islands, and benefits from colder climates. It produces light, refreshing white wines with floral and white fruit aromas. Try the Šipun Žlahtina.

Teran (r)
Up until a century ago, this grape was the most widely planted in Istria. In best of times the wine is "ruby-red, almost purple wine of a typical, fruity aroma that is easy to recognize, and has hints of berries and pepper, unusually high acidity and high tannins and not too high alcohol content: 12 – 13%". Good luck finding it outside of Istria since there is an EU dispute with Slovenia over naming rights.

Dingač (r)
Dingač is not a grape but a Plavac Mali wine produced in the Pelješac sub-region of the Middle and South Dalmatia wine growing region. Its included here because there can be some confusion on its definition.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

#TasteTheNew with German Summer Wines

In 1985, just 16% of German Rieslings were dry and German white wines were known for their general sweetness. Since that year, consumers have demanded drier wines and German wine producers have responded accordingly such that as of 2016, 46.3% of German Rieslings were produced in a dry style. Wines of Germany is publicizing this fact; as well as the increased quality and dryness of other white varietal wines such as Muller-Thurgau, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Blanc; through the #TasteTheNew promotion. Partnering with Snooth they are offering a German-4-pack for $47.80 which can be purchased here. And this week Matthew Kaner (Wine Director & Partner of Good Measure LA, Bar Covell, Augustine Wine Bar, and Dead or Alive Bar) led a discussion and sampling of these wines for various influencers. Here are my thoughts on the wines. Cheers.

Borell-Diehl Muller-Thurgau 2017, Pfalz ($12.99)
Muller-Thurgau was developed by Hermann Müller of the Swiss Canton of Thurgau in 1882 by crossing Riesling and Madeleine Royale - the latter an early ripening table grape. The grape eventually became one of the most widely planted grape varieties in Germany as farmers planted over deflated sugar beets. they found that Muller-Thurgau basically grows like a weed and provides generous yields. Today wineries such as Borell-Diehl crop yields to enhance quality and plant in appropriate locations regarding elevation and soil chemistry. The vines are also grown without systemic pesticides or herbicides and are dry farmed - no irrigation in the vineyards. The resulting wine is delicious heavy with lemon-lime fruit, wet stone, and abundant acids. Kaner recommends enjoying this bargain with oysters.

Koehler Ruprecht Pinot Blanc 2016, Pfalz ($20)
The Pfalz region of Germany has a long history of viticulture where traces of winemaking have been found in Celtic graves as far back as 550 BC. In contemporary history, the Koehler-Ruprecht winery is one of the oldest in the area continually producing wine since the 1700's. Inspired by his grandfather, current winemaker Bernd Phillipi utilizes similar methods as Borell-Diehl with no irrigation, fertilizers or herbicides and systemic treatments against pests or fungal illness are kept to a minimum. In the cellar, Phillipi utilizes long spontaneous fermentations in large, old German oak barrels with extended lees contact. Pinot Blanc shows that this technique produces fuller and creamier white wines without oak influences penetrating into the wine's profile. The wine is floral, creamy, with green apples and lively acidity. Excellent.

Weinreich Basisweiss Pinot Gris 2017, Rheinhessen ($12)
In German speaking countries, Pinot Gris goes by Grauburgunder and specifically in Germany as Ruländer named after Johann Ruland -- who in 1711 discovered wild Pinot Gris vines in a now non-existent vineyard.  Marc and Nina Weinreich created a certified organic version labelled Grauburgunder that is an absolute steal. For $12 you receive a fantastic wine with layers of creamy

Von Winning ‘Winnings' Riesling 2015, Pfalz
Riesling is Germany’s most widely-planted grape variety and the 'Winnings' explains why the dry style is the current rage.  Although the wine is vinified dry, its character oscillates between sweet and dry with tart lemon, steely minerals and acids. The grapes are grown on the Von Winning Grosses Gewächs vineyards -- these GG sites are considered the best vineyard plots according to the German VDP classification system that is overseen by a group of producers called the Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter (VDP). Winemaker Stephan Attman employs a minimalist approach in the cellar naturally fermenting the juice in oak and the gravity flow creates a "distinctive indigenous and very elegant style". I agree,

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Do You Know Your Hungarian Grape Varieties?

I thought I did, at least until this last trip to the Heart of Europe.   Like most European countries, Hungary has a long wine tradition dating back to pre-Roman periods where indigenous or central European grapes have slowly matured and propagated to fit the climate.  And like all wine regions, international grape varieties have been imported, however in Hungary, this occurred in the past two centuries particularly in regions such as Villany. Yet it is the indigenous that I find most interesting particularly when you discover a new varietal such as Kéknyelű. Thus I decided to compile this compendium of Hungarian grape varieties that I have sampled over the years including some favorite producers.

Furmint (w)
Most known for its plantings in Tokaj (70% of vines) but also grown in Somló, Badacsony, Balatonfüred–Csopak, and Eger. Furmint is best known for being one of the three grape varieties used to make the sweet botrytised Tokaji Aszú wines that have been the wines of Kings for centuries. Lately dry Furmint has become increasingly popular displaying the and acidity inherent in the grape as well as the minerality of the growing region.  Patricius Winery, Fuleky, & Hétszölö in Tokaj; Apátsági Winery in Somló

Kékfrankos (Blaufränkisch) (r)
This grape is generally the primary grape variety in the Eger and Szekszárd Bikavér blends but is also well suited in the Villany and Sopron regions where the later has the largest plantings in the world. The dark skinned grape provides juicy fruit with noticeable acids and tannins. See Pfneiszl Winery in Sopron & Böjt winery in Eger.

Kadarka (r)
Before the Communist terror, this was Hungary's most famous red wine grape. However, due to its extreme late ripening, susceptibility to disease, and the need to control its vigour, the Communist regimes preferred other red grape varieties. It is still a common component to the Bikavér blends providing minimal tannins, but decent acidity, ripe red fruit flavours, and a spicy tail. There are also several wineries producing excellent 100% varietal Kadarka wines such as Eszterbauer Kadarka Nagyapám and the Heimann Winery Kadarka.

Hárslevelű (w) The other grape variety in Tokaj (18%) where it is a component of Aszú wines and planted throughout Hungary usually creating off-dry wines. Translates to "linden leaf" and expect floral aromas and a more elegant wine with texture and spice.  Fekete Winery in Somló; Demeter Zoltán Winery in Tokay

Portugieser (Kékoportó) (r)
Most popular when produced in Villány, Hungary’s most southerly and hottest wine region, but also a component in Bikavér wines. The previous name Kékoportó was disallowed due to EU regulations because of the inclusion of port in the name. When produced as a 100% varietal wine it is meant to drink young with its ruby red fruity, texture, and easy drinking style. Nyolcas Bor in Eger;

Olaszrizling (Welschriesling, Graševina in Croatia, Laški Rizling in Slovenia) (w)
The most widely planted grape in the Carpathian basin and introduced into Hungary earlier in the 20th century. Does particularly well around Lake Balaton, Somló, and Eger and it's full body is compatible with oak aging to alleviate its unique bitter almond character.  Gere Attila Winery in Villany; Káli-Kövek Winery in Badacsony.

Királyleányka (w)
Translates to little princess, Királyleányka originated in Transylvania and this hybrid of Leányka and Kövérszőlő was introduced into Hungary in the 1970s.  Although now grown throughout Hungary, it is popular in the Egri Csillag blends from Eger.  It is a delicate wine,  slightly aromatic with fresh acids.  Böjt winery & Bolyki Pinceszet in Eger

Kéknyelű (w)
Unlike most of the grapes that start with “kek” (which translates as “blue” in Hungarian), Kéknyelű translates as “blue stalk.” This grape was once widely planted but almost disappeared during the Communist era as it was replaced due to its limited yields and temperament.  It is now found almost exclusively on the north shores of Lake Balaton, where it produces elegant wines with creamy structure and subtle acidity. Think Viognier with minerality as in the Szaszi Birtok Badacsonyi Keknyelu 2017.

Juhfark (w)
Grown almost exclusively in the small volcanic hill of Somló and to a lesser extent in Balatonfüred, the name refers to a sheep’s tail as the long cylindrical shape of the bunches resemble that object.  Exceptional examples contain racy minerals with high acids that follow a green apple and sometimes smokey profile.   Fekete Winery in Somló; Kreinbacher Birtok in Somló

Szürkebarát (Pinot Gris) (w)
This grape is included in the list because of it's Hungarian name that translates to "grey monk"  - most likely a result of monks bringing the wine to the volcanic soils surrounding Lake Balaton. A modern version from VáliBor in Badacsonyors is rather tasty.

Irsai Olivér (w)
Developed in the 1930s by crossing the Pozsony and Pearl of Csaba grapes as an early ripening, Muscat-like grape with juicy tropical fruit characters. Grown in Kunság, Mátra, Balaton, Etyek–Buda, Neszmély, Sopron. Szõke Mátyás Winery in Matra; Nyakas Pince in Etyek-Buda

Tramini (Gewürztraminer) (w)
Gewürztraminer or Tramini in Hungarian is grown in cooler sites in the Pannonhalma wine region. as well as north of Lake Balaton.  The wines display the characteristic aromas and spicy nature of the grape.  Apátsági Pincészet Pannonhalmi Tramini

Monday, September 3, 2018

Department 66: Dave Phinney's Côtes Catalanes Brand

Languedoc-Roussillon, the wine region in southeast France lies adjacent to the Mediterranean coastline and runs from the Spanish border to Provence. According to Karen MacNeil's The Wine Bible, this region is considered the single largest wine producing region in the world and accounts for a third of total French wine production. Roussillon refers to the French part of historic Catalonia corresponding to the administrative Department 66 Pyrénées Orientales. Côtes Catalanes is a sub-region or IGP (Indication Géographique Protégée) in Roussillon snuggled next to Spain with vineyards covering the eastern foothills of the Pyrenees mountains. The Mediterranean provides a hot and dry clinate with generous sunshine: 320 days of per year. The soil is driven by the mountains and consists of "black schist, with small deposits of granite and limestone in red, rocky soils known as angile". And with its ties to Catalonia -- Grenache, Carignan, and Mourvedre grapes are major players.

Dave Phinney discovered the region about a decade ago while visiting friends near Maury and immediately purchased a plot of vines. A year later he started constructing a winery and enlarging his holdings to 120 hectares (300 acres) where Department 66 Wine now calls home. I recently received samples of three of their releases which were all well made and delicious. Cheers to Department 66.

2017 Fragile ($18) - a blend of Grenache with small percentages of Syrah and Carignan. Simply delicious. Strawberries and grapefruit are positioned within a nutty depth and persistent acids. The bottle was gone in a blink of an eye. 

2015 Others ($25) - a blend of Grenache, Carignan, Syrah and Mourvedre grapes harvested from 10 to 65+ year old vines. The fermented wine was aged in 30% new French oak for 18 months and aged five months in the bottle before release. A deep wine with dark fruit; herbaceous and spicy too. Finishes with lingering acids and tannins.

2014 D66 ($38) - a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Carignan grapes harvested from 10 to 65+ year old vines. The fermented wine was also aged in 30% new French oak for 18 months and aged five months in the bottle before release. A brilliant wine. As deep and dark as the Others, but more velvety and creamy texture with silky smooth tannins.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Discover Hungarian Wine at Budapest's The Tasting Table

If you are spending any time in Budapest and are slightly interested in Hungarian wine then I strongly recommend that you visit The Tasting Table. This establishment was founded by Gábor & Carolyn Bánfalvi that augments their successful Taste Hungary tour company and showcases the many Central European wines they have discovered while scouring the Hungarian countryside. In addition to wine, the venue also provides a wide range of cheese, charcuterie, jams, craft beer, and the essential Hungarian spirit: palinka.

During a recent trip to Budapest we stopped in to partake in a range of Hungarian wines styles and regions. Our host Tamas started by introducing us to three Brut sparkling wines beyond the more familiar  Törley brand. These wines were well made and delicious showcasing different wine regions and grape varieties. The Pelle Pince Tokaji Pezsgo is made using Furmint grapes grown in the far eastern Takaj region. The Rókusfalvy Birtok Nyerspezsgo is comprised of Pinot Gris and produced just west of Budapest in the white grape growing region of Eytek-Buda. And finally, the Frittmann Gold Brut is produced in the Great Plains in Hungary's largest wine region, Kunsági, where vines share space with the Hortabagy horses. This is a proprietary blend of grapes which add velvety texture to the wine's bready effervescence.

We then moved down the dry Furmint path featuring the Hétszölö Tokaji Furmint 2012 and Fuleky Tokaji Furmint 2014. The historic Tokaj region is most famous for the Tokaji Aszu dessert wines but the volcanic soils can also produce minerally driven and racy dry wines. That was particularly true with the Fuleky whereas the Hétszölö contained significantly more depth and texture for this style.

Tamas then presented a few wines creating excitement such as the Böjt Egri Bikavér 2015 and the Böjt Egri Csillag 2017. The Böjt winery is located in Eger - home to the historic Egri Bikaver once dominated by native grapes such as Kadarka and Kékfrankos but now produced with large percentages of Bordeaux varieties. The Böjt Egri Bikavér provides layers of texture as it is drawn from 25 barrels of differing size and toast. It is also predominately Kékfrankos (Blaufränkisch) blended with lesser amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon, Zweigelt (a cross between Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent) and Blauburger (a cross between Blauer Portugieser and Blaufränkisch). The white Böjt Egri Csillag has similar depth but with creamy stone fruit and fresh acids and is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Olaszrizling (Welschriesling), Leányka and Muskotály (Muscat Ottonel). Excellent.

Szekszard is an interesting region located on the left bank of the Danube in southern Hungary just to the northeast of Villany. It is best known for producing full-bodied and spicy red wines and is one of the oldest red-wine-growing areas in Hungary as the Celts first planted grape vines. The Németh János Sygno Szekszardi Bikavér 2015 is an excellent example of a spicy full bodied red as it is a blend of Kékfrankos, Kadarka, Zweigelt, Syrah, and Cabernet Franc.Nicely done.

The highlight of our visit however was the Szaszi Birtok Badacsonyi Keknyelu 2017. This is a very small release from a producer located in one of the micro climates on the hills north of Lake Balaton. Kéknyelű is grown almost exclusively in Badacsony, translates to Blue Stick, and exudes stone fruit -- peaches and apricots -- before finishing with racy minerals and juicy acids. This wine would be so popular in the U.S.; but for now you can only get it at The Tasting Table. Cheers.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Drink from the Comptrollers Cup at Catoctin Breeze Vineyard

Each year  the Maryland Wineries Association holds a state competition now named the Comptrollers Cup that is a blind tasting historically judged by fellow winemakers. This year other industry professionals such as sommeliers joined the panels and the Best in Show winner was a winery that I belong to their wine club: Catoctin Breeze Vineyard and their 2016 Estate Cabernet Franc

Catoctin Breeze is located north of Frederick Maryland on Route 15 between Thurmont and Emmitsburg.  It was founded in 2010 when Voytek Leon Fizyta planted two blocks of vines along a hill slightly east of the Catoctin Mountains. These blocks consisted of  Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Chardonnay, and Viognier.  The well draining, loose, alluvial soil contains some quartz deposits which assist in preventing frost prevention as well as the ripening of fruit.  The estate also receives a consistent breeze from Owen's Gap - keeping the vines ventilated helping to prevent mold formation - which is also limited by abundant morning sun. Today there are 7,000 vines carefully maintained by Vineyard Manager, Larry Sipe. The winery also augments their portfolio with fruit grown from a vineyard in St. Mary's Maryland - a sandy coastal region.

Visitors are normally either touring wineries or taking side trips after visiting Liberty Mountain Resort, Cunningham Falls State Park, or the Catoctin Zoo and are offered three tasting packages: Signature ($10), Premier ($12), or Sweet ($8) - the later including three Mead wines.  I generally prefer the Premier tasting as it usually includes wines available in the wine club. In my previous visits this has included different vintages of the Serenade Sauvignon Blanc ($24), Estate Chardonnay ($24), Estate Cabernet Franc ($36) , Concerto Bordeaux Blend ($35), and the Oratorio Barbera ($38). As you can tell, the brands have a classical music theme. The Comptrollers Cup 2016 Estate Cabernet Franc is a treat and while sampling you can view the actual cup behind the tasting bar. The wine starts with black fruit and leather on the nose which transitions into the mouth feel where hints of tobacco and dirt round in before seguing to a long and soft finish.  A cup worthy wine.

The Signature and Sweet tasting packages contain a range of Vidal, Chardonnay, a Merlot-Syrah blend in the Bolera Blend, and the three honey wines. These are all from a large 2010 vintage and each has a touch of sweetness without any clawing sugary aftertaste. The Honeymoon ($25) is blended with orange juice and feels like fall whereas the Amber ($23) is spiced with Christmas flavors. Both are solid meads. However, we came home with a bottle of the Dolce Vita ($24), a melomel mead made with blackberries. The berry flavors are prevalent with the sweet honey kicking in near the tail. Nicely done.

After sampling the wines kick back on their large back lawn to view the vines and let the kids and dogs play.  The winery hosts food trucks on weekends as it has no other food options and the food trucks are usually paired with a musical act. In conclusion, I make Catoctin Breeze Vineyard a regular visit; you should as well. And as always theCompass Craft Beverage Finder will help in that regard.

Catoctin Breeze Vineyard
15010 Roddy Road
Thurmont, MD 21788

Monday-Thursday: 11:30am-3:00pm
Friday: 11:30am-9:00pm
Saturday: 12:00-6:00pm
Sunday: 12:00-5:00pm

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Flor de Caña Rum: Benefiting From Nicaragua's Most Active Volcano

Over 125 years ago in 1890, Francisco Alfredo Pellas built the first distillery of what was to become Flor de Caña at the San Antonio Sugar Mill in Chichigalpa, Nicaragua.  Its location at the base of the most active in Nicaragua (San Cristobal volcano) provides a multitude of favorable conditions to creating a  fine aged rum. It starts with the rich volcanic soil where the sugar cane benefits from the warm, hydrated, and vitamin-rich soil  which also is naturally protected from insect predators and erosion.  Second, the distillery is able to use enriched volcanic water in distillation that not only contains a bit of calcium, magnesium and sulfate but is also filtered from impurities by the volcanic rock. And finally the hot volcanic climate exposes the small (180 liter) white oak barrels to varying levels of heat during the again process. 

I recently purchased two versions of their rum, the Flor de Cana 12 Year ($34) and the Flor de Cana 7 Year Gran Reserva ($18). As expected the 12 Year is much more integrated with a honeyed nuts and caramel aroma, sweet almonds and buttery vanilla in the middle, and finishing with a toffee and lingering smokiness. On the other hand the 7 Year had a more dispersed profile and more petrol but many of the same characteristics including more tropical notes. So pick your price point.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Campania's Feudi di San Gregorio: Aglianico & Falanghina

Many of the worl'd great wine regions contain a fair amount of volcanic soil and that includes the numerous DOCs in Campania - residing under the shadows of Mount Vesuvius.

Over 20 years ago the Capaldo and Ercolino families established Feudi di San Gregorio in the tiny village of Sorbo Serpico in order to produce wines from indigenous grapes well suited to the porous volcanic soils of Mount Vesuvius.  These high-altitude slopes also provide mild winters, long growing seasons with dry, hot summers, an abundance of sunshine, mild winters, large diurnal temperature variations -- all help to slowly mature the grapes and retain abundant acidity. The vineyards are situated in Campania, the "shin" of Italy's boot and anchored by its capital Naples. It is one of Italy's oldest wine regions - influenced by Greeks, Romans and Byzantines as well as possibly pre-Roman civilizations.  Aglianico is the most important grape variety and it grows throughout Campania, but particularly where the coastal Mediterranean breezes blow in from the Tyrrhenian Sea to cool the grapes in the evening. Further inland, the Falanghina grapes grows where there is more rainfall providing more fragrant notes. Recently I received two of these wines Feudi di San Gregorio that showcase the true nature of the region and the grapes. Cheers.

2017 Feudi di San Gregorio Sannio Falanghina DOC ($22.99)
Sannio is a DOC region within Campania situated in the hills north of Naples but still influenced by Mount Vesuvius and the DOC requires that the grapes be sourced from hillside vineyards. Thirteen years after Sannio gained DOC status, Falanghina del Sannio gained DOC status in 2010 as Falanghina was singled out as a key grape variety. This wine is fermented and aged in stainless-steel - the later on its lees - providing the clear characteristics of the grapes along with needs depth and texture to balance the wine's freshness. The floral aroma is intense followed by abundant stone fruits and finishing with racy mineral acids. A summer treat.

2017 Feudi di San Gregorio Rubrato Aglianico Irpinia Aglianico DOC ($19.99)
Situated west of Naples under Mount Vesuvius, Irpinia gained DOC status in 2005 and the grapes for this wine were gown between 1,000 and 1,600 feet above sea level in porous soil saturated in ash and fallen pumice. Rubrato translates to "brilliant ruby" which is immediately apparent when pouring a glass.  The wine encounters no oak treatment and is aged eight months in stainless steel and a minimum six months in bottle before release.  Thus the wine displays Aglianico's naked character - fruit forward dark cherries and plums, black pepper and tea, with a mildly silky depth and a fresh, spicy finale. This is some amazing juice - straight juice.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

#CoolDownwithCariñena #Wine: “Crafted in Stone”

Cariñena is not only the second oldest region in Spain, but is also home to its own varietal and appellation.

Cariñena (Carignane) is a Spanish Denominación de Origen (DO) located in the Ebro Valley of Aragón midway between Barcelona and Madrid that was designated in 1932 -- although it's winemaking traditions can be documented as far back as the early 15th century. In fact the region's vines survived the devastating European Phylloxera epidemic because the lousy mite that caused the disease couldn't survive the soil's stoney and sandy nature and a marketing mantra “Crafted in Stone” is now utilized. Grape quality is not only maintained from these well drained soils but also the large diurnal temperature swings due to the region's elevation, proximity to the Ebro River and the Cierzo winds. These factors help the Garnacha, Cariñena, Mazuelo, Tempranillo, Viura, Chardonnay, and Parellada grapes develop character and retain acidity. Today the Cariñena wine region boasts 1,600 growers; 35,000 acres of vines; with many of theses small growers belonging to cooperative wineries. I recently received two white wines and a rosé that the refreshing nature of wine from this region as well as a Cariñena Regional recipe.  It's time to #CoolDownwithCariñena. Cheers.

2017 Corona  D Aragon Garnacha Blanc D.O.P. Cariñena - includes some Chardonnay - lemon and fresh pear on the nose, stronger grapefruit and shades of minerals, before finishing with a fresh finale.

2017 Paniza Viura-Chardonnay D.O.P. Cariñena - this is a 50-50 blend of the two grape varieties that provides citrus, cream, and softness before leaving with a lingering and lively finish.

2017 Bodegas San Valero Particular Garnacha Rosé - is all berries throughout the experience, depth and minerals, and lively refreshing acids.

Monday, August 6, 2018

A Quad of New #VACraftBeer For Our #VABreweryChallenge

Creative destruction resides in the NOVA craft beer market as one brewery closes several open to take its place. And we recently visited four infants in Northern Virginia.  During a previous wave of new openings Brian Reinoehl visited Bad Wolf Brewery in Manassas and felt the bug.  He and partner Michael Frizzell spent the next five years immersed in the beer industry starting with a one-barrel system and eventually selling their IT business to open Audacious Aleworks (#60). They had intended to open in the Mosiac District where Caboose Brewing will soon open their second facility but found the City of Falls Church a more cooperative environment.  They officially opened about a month ago slowly increasing their portfolio to the present 15 beers.  That means plenty of opportunities to find one you like and I did with the Westminster Bridge ESB -- feels like sitting in a British pub.  Other solid beers are the Pretentious PorterKings Chance Saison, 7 Evil Exes Sour, and Conviction IPA.

Ashburn's House 6 Brewing Company (#61) was instantiated by a similar passion for craft beer this from volunteer firefighter, Rolando Rivera -- not surprisingly some years spent at Station 6.  However, Rivera took a less prolific model and opened last weekend with just four beers on tap.  And these beers are fantastic. The 4.6% El Bombero Kölsch is a light and fresh beer well suited for the cyclist venturing  off the WO&D.  The Firebreak Session IPA weighs in at a similarly low abv and packs plenty of flavor for this session beer.  The same is true for the ridiculously tolerant Off Duty English Mild (3.7%)  where the malt and caramel meld into a delicious beer. And equally so is the Smoke Eater Smoked Porter where the chocolate transitions to a rauchbier finish. Fantastic.

Our next stop, Phase 2 Brewing (#62), is a tiny brewery - a nano's nano - that pours to house brewed beers at Brew LoCo, an independent coffeehouse and homebrew shop opened in 2014 by sisters Cathy Frye and Mary Battaglia.  They normally have two or three beers surrounding their nitro coffee tap and during our visit it was the Mango Mama DIPA and Lunar Eclipse Imperial Stout.  Both weigh in at 8% and are quite interesting with the DIPA tasting like Werther's Original and the stout a nutmeg chili chocolate beer.  Quite interesting.

Our final stop, Rocket Frog Brewing Company (#63), has made a quick name around town and we visited the Sterling brewery to discover if its more than a flying frog. Twin brothers David and Richard Hartogs leveraged an affinity for Dogfish Head, a Belgium heritage, and another brother's west coast palate to create a well balanced lineup.  These dozen beers can be viewed on UnTappd and are worth a short detour off the WO&D to investigate. Start with their sours as their Warp Dive and Warp Drive w. Cherries are not over the top, just tastefully done. The Wallups Island Brown Ale and Croak at the Moon Saison are spot on regarding style but the Paper Wings Pale Ale was easily my favorite.  And for dessert finish with the Space Port Porter and he same on nitro.

And as always these breweries can be visited easily using theCompass Craft Beverage Finder. Sorry iPhone 11 iOS and iPhones 5S and greater users. Cheers.

Friday, August 3, 2018

A Beer Bloggers Guide to Loudoun County

Hosting the Beer Bloggers & Writers Conference provides the opportunity to leverage media influence to further position Loudoun as a must-visit craft beer destination alongside former hosts including Asheville, San Diego and Portland, Oregon - locations that have already gained national recognition for their robust craft beer scenes,” Visit Loudoun VP of Marketing Jackie Saunders

Over the past 15 years the wine industry in Loudoun County Virginia has gained wide recognition for producing consistently high quality wine.  This process was kick started by hosting a DrinkLocalWine.com conference and Wine Bloggers Conference excursion in successive years in 2010-2011.  The Loudoun Convention & Visitors Association is expecting a similar result for their emerging craft beer industry as they host the 2018 Beer Bloggers Conference August 10th-11th to augment the LoCo Ale Trail. Again from Visit Loudoun VP of Marketing Jackie Saunders: “Loudoun is a leader in Virginia’s craft beer industry and this conference provides a platform for the LoCo Ale Trail and our 25-plus breweries to get in front of top craft beverage writers who can take the Loudoun and Virginia story to a national level.”

Photo courtesy of Vanish
Farmwoods Brewery
The county is home to 30 breweries and tasting rooms ranging from pioneers like Lost Rhino Brewing Co. to nanos like Loudoun Brewing Company and Black Walnut Brewery, with a few farm to glass breweries in between. The county believes the later are vitally important for economic development as they not only preserve open spaces from housing construction but all help spur the local agriculture economy. Attendees will visit one of these farm breweries, Vanish Farmwoods Brewery, during the Friday night Loudoun County Reception & Dinner. eight-five percent of the county's breweries will be pouring and the host brewery will be pouring a "ton of variety of great beer!" says Tommy Skelly -- Director of Marketing, Sales, and Taproom Operations. They will have over 20 beers on top covering as many styles as possible and this time of year expect am IPA and Sour heavy lineup and Skelly emphasizes that their Lime Gose has been a hit.

There are also two other breweries hosting events Lost Rhino Brewing Co. and Crooked Run Brewing Sterling.  Lost Rhino was the first post-Old Dominion Brewery in Loudoun and were pioneers in not only starting their brewery but the first in the county to adopt canning. Their Rhino Chasers Pilsner and Face Plant IPA are well distributed and popular brews. Crooked Run started as a nano brewery in downtown Leesburg (see next paragraph) and quickly gained traction for their creative recipes. As demand increased they opened a larger facility where they are hosting a pre-conference lunch and tour excursion Thursday afternoon. Just hope that the Neopolitik Milk Stout and Double Vibes Berliner Weisse hasn't kicked.

For attendees who have flexible travel plans or who are arriving or departing with extra free time, then consider a walking brewery tour of downtown Leesburg.  Park or get dropped off near Market Station where both Crooked Run Brewing and Wild Hare Cider are located adjacent to each other. This is the original location of Crooked Run where they produce small batch and experimental beers and always something interesting n tap.  For a change of pace Wild Hare offers delicious hard ciders particularly their dry-hopped Hopscotch. Heading towards the Government Center Bike TrAle Brewing is on the left of Loudoun Street incorporating a bike theme (yards from the WO&D bike trail) with a nice range of styles. Take a left on Church street to discover the hidden oasis of Black Walnut Brewery or continue up Loudoun and hang a right on King Street to sample the European portfolio of Black Hoof Brewing Company. Then take a right on Edwards Ferry then E. Market past the historical Marshal House to Loudoun Brewing Company. Patrick Steffens can only brew eight beers at a time from his 160 recipes so the lineup is always in flux. And on your return walk, munchies are available at Mom's Apple Pie Bakery.  And as always, theCompass Craft Beverage Finder will assist in your beer travels. Cheers.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Discovering #BourgogneUnknown with Bourgogne Wines

"I normally shy away from white wines, but that one (Jean Chartron Rully Montmorin 2015) was delicious", Anonymous Neighbor 1

"This wine (Domaine Dominique Gruhier Bourgogne Epineuil 2015) is so good....we loved it", text from Anonymous Neighbor 2

I generally disperse wines I receive as samples amongst my neighbors once the official tasting session has concluded and a recent #BourgogneUnknown registered immediate and overwhelmingly positive feedback from the beneficiaries. That is Bourgogne and not Burgundy as Bourgogne Wines seeks to "re-affirm its identity as one of the most iconic ‘brands’ of France, the region and its producers are reverting back to the original French iteration of its name – Bourgogne".

This iconic region spans 230 km of territory from North to South and encompasses 84 distinct appellations. Of these, there are seven regional appellations, 44 village appellations, and 33 Grand Cru Climats. Some of these appellations, such as Chablis and Côte de Nuits are well-known so this tasting targeted smaller village regions such as Marsannay, Bourgogne Epineuil, Chorey-les-Beaune, Pouilly-Vinzelles, and Rully. And as all of Bourgogne, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the main players, yet variations in character occur across the different appellations. The wines discussed below were not only delicious but affordable ranging in price from $25-$30.

Around 250 million years ago, an emerald lagoon covered what is now the Bourgogne winegrowing region. As a result, the subsoil contains marine marl and limestone deposits. The roots of the vines go deep into this unique geological legacy, drawing from it the finesse, depth and minerality that are so characteristic of Bourgogne appellations.

 • Pinot Noir flourishes on marl soils that are more yielding and porous, that tend towards limestone and which offer good drainage. It will produce light and sophisticated or powerful and full-bodied wines, depending on the proportion of limestone, stone content and clay on the plot where it grows.

 • Chardonnay prefers more clayey marly limestone soils from which it can develop sophisticated, elegant aromas in the future wine. The clay helps produce breadth in the mouth, characteristic of the Bourgogne region’s great white wines.

Source:  Bourgogne Wines

Domaine Dominique Gruhier Bourgogne Epineuil 2015
The village of Epineuil is located in the larger Auxerrois regions, northeast of Chablis and sharing the same Kimmeridgian soils. Bourgogne Epineuil is a regional AOC that was created in 1993 and only recognizes 100% Pinot Noir. On the other hand, its neighbor Bourgogne Tonnerre features only 100% Chardonnay. This wine is very pleasant 100% organic Pinot Noir wine with juicy and chewy fruit, dusty and mild middle, and finishing with fresh acids.

Catherine et Claude Maréchal Chorey-les-Beaune 2014
The village of Chorey-les-Beaune is located just to the north of the town of Beaune and produces both red and white wines. This red wine is 100% Pinot Noir - not flashy - but steady integrated fruit and soft lingering tannins.

Maison Louis Latour Pouilly-Vinzelles "En Paradis" 2015
Pouilly-Vinzelles is a small appellation in the Mâconnais region where their white wines are full expressions of Chardonnay. Its famous neighbor, Pouilly-Fuissé, is actially around 20 times smaller in acreage! The name Vinzelles takes its name from the latin vincella which means small vine and these vines are planted in predominantly limestone soils. This wine is fantastic; completely integrated with creamy white stone fruit and citrus, minerals, and refreshing acidity.

Jean Chartron Rully Montmorin 2015
The Rully appellation is optimally situated in the northern part of the Côte Chalonnaise where light and sandy soils create fresh Chardonnay. this wine is 100% barrel fermented and maturing on its lees for 8 months in barrel and 4 months in tank. This helps produce a fuller slightly buttery body but with juicy white fruit and finishing with plenty of lift. Easy to see why my neighbor enjoyed the switch from red wines.

Domaine Bart Marsannay Chardonnay Musque Les Favieres 2015
Domaine Bart is run by Martin Bart, who has prime land in Marsannay, the northern most wine village in the Côte de Nuits in Bourgogne. This AOC was created in 1987 and is the most recent addition to the Côte de Nuits. This is a beautiful wine, my favorite of the group as it possesses more creamy stone fruit, a full mouthfeel, a touch of saline, and a long acid boost.

Friday, July 27, 2018

The DelMarVa Coast's Salted Vines Vineyard & Winery

The DelMarVa coast is not only beaches, boating, and fishing. There are a plethora of craft beverage producers in the area such as Delaware's Salted Vines Vineyard & Winery. The establishment operated for five years on Route 54 as Fenwick Wine Cellars on Route 54. By 2015 they had outgrown that location and found a 26-acre parcel near Frankford that now houses the winery -- rebranded as Salted Vines. The estate vineyard was first planted with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon vines and has slowly expanded with more two additional acres of grape varieties planted each year.

Salted Vines encourages families to visit  as children are allowed in the tasting room and leashed dogs are allowed on the outside grounds. They also host a summer concert series on weekends with popular local bands and food trucks. We've already missed the lower case blues and Love Seed Mama Jump shows - but that demonstrates the caliber of the lineup. 

At the tasting bar, the winery provides fifteen wines -- all included in the $10 tasting fee (that includes keeping the glass). Some of these wines are hold-overs from the Fenwick Wine Cellars brand and they range from dry to semi-dry to sweet. Until their estate is completely utilized, most of the fruit is sourced from various regions particularly for the labrusca based wines of Catawba ($15)  Niagara ($15), Steuben ($15), and Concord ($15).  These wines were clean and well made despite their inherent funky and jammy characters.  However, the dry Traminette ($19) and semi-dry Riesling ($19) and Reflections ($17) were my preferences. The first two were very representative of their respective grapes whereas the later was a refreshing summer beach wine. As for dry reds, their Chambourcin ($22) shows off quite nicely.  And if you do prefer a sweeter style, their Fredonia ($15) and Ambrosia ($18) are good choices.  Unfortunately, they do provide the dreaded wine slushies, but I guess these have a market. Besides that, this is an enjoyable stop at the Maryland and Delaware beaches.  Cheers.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Going Yard with Chateau Montelena's Potter Valley Riesling

The Potter Valley AVA is located in the northern section of California's Mendocino County and centered naturally on the town of Potter Valley. The appellation is elevated 200 feet higher than surrounding areas so is conducive to colder climate grapes such as our current topic Riesling. Calistoga's Chateau Montelena sources fruit from this region to produce their 2017 Potter Valley Riesling ($27) as "growing the right grape in the right place" has long been the guiding principle behind the wines from this storied winery. Thus decades ago the winery entered into a long term contract with an organic vineyard whose location provides the abundant sunshine and cool nights to ripen fruit and retain acidity. In fact the grapes are harvested fully ripe just before botrytis sets in and this ripeness provides both tropical and stone fruit notes minus the petrol often associated with ripeness and high sun exposure. The wine also maintains its dryness and a creamy texture throughout, elicits subtle spices and minerals, and finishes with abundant acids. Following the record setting MLB All-Star game, Chateau Montelena hit a dinger with this tasty Riesling. Cheers.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Borderless Wine from Harvest Ridge Winery

Straddling the border between Delaware and Maryland along the Mason-Dixon line lies Harvest Ridge Winery. Whereas the winery and a majority of the estate vineyards reside in Delaware, a significant block of estate vines are planted in the Free State. In fact, one of the original Mason-Dixon witness stone and crown markers, number 47, is located on the property. After fifteen years of home winemaking, Chuck Nunan converted his family farm to an estate vineyard by planting a series of vinifera grapes in 2011. After the winery opened in late 2013, he expanded the original planting of Chardonnay, Viognier, Malbec, and Merlot to include both Cabernets, Chambourcin, Vidal, Barbera, and several other grape varieties. He also hired Jason Hopwood, who had experience in Sonoma and the Finger Lakes, as the head winemaker. This growth enables Harvest Ridge to provide over fifteen wines in their tasting room as well as a new cider brand Rebel Seed.

I arrived on a Friday just after noon (Friday - Sunday they open at 12) and several visitors had beaten me to the tasting room. Harvest Ridge offers three different flights of eight wines for $7 (dry, sweet, and the mixed variety). There is also a cider flight at the same price and additional samples can be purchased as well as wine and cider by the glass or bottle. Children and outside food are allowed inside and on the outside courtyard but you will need to keep your dogs leashed outside.

I chose the mixed flight in order to gain an appreciation for the winery's many styles. For dry whites, they offer two styles of Chardonnay ($22), one unoaked, the other barrel fermented. I was more intrigued with the 2016 White Wine No. 47 ($17) - note the marker reference - that is a 90-10 blend of Vidal Blanc and Chardonnay. The wine has depth you normally don't associate with Vidal combined with the characteristic floral and spice profiles. A nice summer-beach wine. Similarly the 2016 Red Wine No. 47 ($17) is light and refreshing. This blend of Chambourcin, Barbera, and Landot Noir can also be served slightly chilled as there are few tannins. And as a single varietal wine, the 2016 Barbera ($25) shows excellent promise. It is, again, light bodied with subtle spice, moderate tannins, and abundant acids. Harvest Ridge offered two rosé wines with the Rosé of Chambourcin Country Bloom ($16) included in the tasting. The grapes macerate on their skins for 48 hours providing a blush like color and this clean wine is targeted more to that style with its 5% residual sugar. Also high in sugar is the 2016 Blue Hen Blue ($16) a blend of blueberries and concord grapes. Because of the berries acidity I was attracted more to this wine than the rosé as the grapey character of the concord was also restrained.

Finally, I was able to sample three dessert wines starting with the Portella ($18) made from a Muscat descendant Aromella -- which was recently bred at Cornell University. The wine possesses a raison-fig profile with a strong floral and spicy aroma. The 2015 Chamfort ($22) is a Chambourcin based ruby port styled wine fortified with neutral grape spirits and exuding chewy blackberries and chocolate. Last up was the 2013 Late Harvest Vidal Blanc ($15) that reminded me of the Tokaji styled dessert wines with the strong apricot flavor combined with smoked almonds. Quite Nice.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Live with Snooth & Robbie Meyer of Murrieta's Well

Joaquin Murrieta (1829 – July 25, 1853), also called The Robin Hood of the West or the Robin Hood of El Dorado, was a famous vaquero, and gold miner in California during the California Gold Rush of the 1850s.... In 1919, Johnston McCulley supposedly received his inspiration for his fictional character Don Diego de la Vega — better known as Zorro — from the 1854 book entitled The Life and Adventures of Joaquín Murieta: The Celebrated California Bandit by John Rollin Ridge. Wikipedia

One of the spots Murrieta would use to water his horses was a small well in the Livermore Valley in a parcel of land purchased by Louis Mel in the 1880s in which he planted a vineyard with cuttings from the famed Chateau d’Yquem and Chateau Margaux vineyards. He eventually sold the property to his friend Ernest Wente and years later in 1990 Philip Wente and Sergio Traverso revived the winery and opened Murrieta’s Well. They renovated the original winery keeping the original well close to the tasting room where visitors can still see original beams and stones -- dragged from the nearby river bed -- embedded in the walls.

Although the Wente name is now synonymous with California Chardonnay, the winemaker at Murrieta's Well, Robbie Meyer, specifically features multiple grape varieties to showcase not only the Livermore Valley but also the winery's estate vineyards. This 500 acre estate lies in the middle of the Livermore Valley in generally gravelly soil with morning fog cooling the grapes before the start of a typical sunny day. During a recent Snooth tasting, Meyer discussed five wines from the Murrieta’s Well portfolio where the grapes were harvested exclusively from these estate vineyards.

Murrieta's Well Small Lot Sauvignon Blanc 2017 ($35)
Their Sauvignon Blanc vineyard is from descendants of the original Chateau d’Yquem cuttings planted by Louis Mel in the late 1800s and is part of the original 92-acre parcel Louis Mel purchased when he first moved to the Livermore Valley. The Louis Mel vineyard features well-drained gravelly soils that are ideal for growing Sauvignon Blanc. The wine itself was fermented in neutral French oak barrels and then aged sur lie for four months, which allows the wine to mature during fermentation and early aging without imparting oak features. According to Meyer this adds texture and weight to the palate while maintaining the wines freshness. And there's plenty of depth and texture to this wine surrounded by a floral aroma and grapefruit and white peach driven fruit and solid acidity. A refreshing yet mature wine.

Murrieta's Well The Whip 2016 ($26)
This is a unique blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Chardonnay, Orange Muscat, Viognier with the grapes harvested from the estate's Hayes vineyard with the exception of the Louis Mel vineyard and Sauvignon Blanc. Interestingly, the Hayes vineyard is responsible for eleven of the twenty grape varieties planted at Murrieta's Well as the vineyard holds an array of soils, aspects and slopes. The grapes for The Whip were fermented and aged in a combination of stainless steel tanks and oak that Meyer says builds texture and mouthfeel as well as maintains freshness and acidity. The Viognier and Orange Muscat provide plenty of aromatics and the Sauvignon Blanc natural acidity and these enclose a complex, creamy, and round middle. An excellent wine.

Murrieta's Well Dry Rosé 2017 ($30)
This rosé is an exclusive Rhone blend of Grenache, Counoise, and Mourvedre. The first two grapes are harvested from the Hayes vineyard, the later from their Raboli vineyard where they are gently whole cluster pressed, cold-fermented separately, and then aged two months in steel tanks after the final blend. This is a luscious dry wine; cream strawberries, depth, mint, and healthy acids.

Murrieta's Well The Spur 2015 ($35)
A red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Merlot, Petite Verdot, and Cabernet Franc from the Louis Mel, Hayes or Sachau vineyards. The grape varieties were fermented separately in stainless steel then blended together and aged for 24 months in 50% new, 25% second use, and 25% third use French oak. Meyer stressed that this wine doesn't identify as a single varietal and this inviting wine starts with dark fruit and dried cherries, then coconut and spices, and concluding with a vibrant finish.

Murrieta's Well Small Lot Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($58)
The grapes were primarily grown in the gravelly, coarse, and sandy loam soils of the Sachau vineyard with a small percentage harvested from the historic Louis Mel vineyard. After fermentation the wine was aged for 18 months in 80% new French oak and 30% second and third use French oak barrels. Despite this oak regime, the wine provides great fruit expression -- mostly plums -- but also some earthiness and chocolate enveloped in layers of texture. This solid wine finishes with soft but lingering tannins.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Far Eastern Shore Winery: Slghtly Sweet, Fruit Infused Wines

Each year Maryland wine makers hold a competition that results in the Comptrollers Cup. In previous years, only winemakers served as judges, but for 2018 sommeliers and other industry professionals were added to the judging. The overall winner was Cactoctin Breeze Winery and a celebration was held at their winery where Gold Medal winners poured generous servings of these wines. The medal in the Sweet wine category was given to Far Eastern Shore Winery for their Dream NV Port-styled Raspberry Chocolate wine. The wine is delicious, not cloying nor gritty, and integrating the fruit and chocolate for a fine tuned wine. Whereas I had sampled many of their wines previously this wine induced me to visit the winery in Easton, Maryland using theCompass Craft Beverage Finder.

In fact the tasting room for Far Eastern Shore Winery is quite convenient to visit, right on Route 50 to the right when traveling east. When arriving visitors will instantly notice the East Asian influences that account for part of their name - Maryland's eastern shore being the other. Al the wines are fairly priced ($17 or $29 for the premium dessert wines) and a tasting of five wines costs $7. Each of the regular wines consists of a wine grape base infused with fruit juice. For instance the Summer is comprised of a Chardonnay base infused with peach and apricot juice; this is one to continue with heading to the beach. Like the other wines this weights in at a lowly 7% ABV and 1.8% residual sugar with plenty of acidity to mitigate most sweetness. On the red side of the house, try the Black (blackberries on a Cabernet Sauvignon base) or the Wild (wild berries on a Shiraz base). Or the staff specialize in blending portions of each wine so ask your pourer for their favorite blend. Besides the Dream port wine, I came home with a bottle of their Harvest a combination of local Talbot County Vidal grapes infused with cranberries. This is quite tasty, reminiscent of mostly Vidal characters with a tad of tartness from the fruit. This wine is only available at the tasting room which gives you another incentive to visit Far Eastern Shore Winery

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Hess Select Central Coast Pinot & North Coast Cabernet

Looking for wine to bring to a party? Then think of Hess Select wines; they are suitable because they are generally very approachable and boast an agreeable $20 SRP.  Whereas the Hess Collection wines are produced from the winery's Mount Veeder Napa estate, the Hess Select wines are produced from grapes sourced from other California appellations. Many of these are small family growers whom Hess Family Wine Estates has established long term relationships. Here are two such wines we received this month.

Hess Select Central Coast Pinot Noir ($20) - The grapes are sourced primarily from the Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey. Director of Winemaking Dave Guffy says these grapes are grown in the Sarmento Vineyard, "located on the benchlands of the Gabilan Mountains in Monterey, where the Pacific breezes boldly cross the range each afternoon to cool the vineyards". This results in an extended and moderate growing season. The wine is loaded with sour cherries, deep chewy fruit, slight pepper, and medium tannins. A fan favorite.

Hess Select North Coast Cabernet Sauvignon ($20) - The North Coast AVA encompasses several sub-AVAs and grape-growing regions in six counties located north of San Francisco: Lake, Marin, Mendocino, Napa, Sonoma, and Solano. The region boasts a mild Mediterranean climate with regular diurnal swings providing flavorful fruit finishing with refreshing acids and balanced tannins.  Lake and Mendocino counties were the sources for this wine and Duffy says the later provides the plummy spice characters and the inland Lake county the fruit forward dark berry flavors. And there is deep fruit in this wine, approachable, with spices and vanilla, and ending with smooth tannins.

Monday, July 9, 2018

#FirstSipNZ with Single Vineyard Taylors Pass Villa Maria Estate Winery

"Taylors Pass Single Vineyard wines are pure expressions of soil and climate and varietal interactions",  Kathrin Jankowiec Marlborough Winemaker at Villa Maria Estate Winery

The Villa Maria Estate Winery's Taylor Pass vineyard is located in Marlborough's Awatare Valley along the northern bank of the Awatere River. In the larger picture Marlborough is in the northeast of the South Island with the Awatare Valley in the southernmost section of this famous wine region. The river not only helped carve the vineyard plots but also gives the region its name as awatere means "fast-flowing river" in the local Maori dialect. The vines are planted on rugged terraces and with each terrace the soil type changes: stony gravels are nearest the river, whereas the mid terrace has silt over gravels, and the highest terrace is deeper silt over clay-papa base. The grapes benefit from a large diurnal temperature swing as cool ocean breezes roll in at night to cool the heated day time grapes - aka enhanced acids. The winds also help dry the grapes reducing the risk of rot and encourage low yields and thick skins. However the strong wind creates its own challenges as the vines need to be securely stabilized.

Villa Maria's Taylors Pass vineyard contains 14 acres of Pinot Noir, 14 acres of Chardonnay, and 120 acres of Sauvignon Blanc; however only a very small portion of the highest quality of grapes from these acres are made into their Single Vineyard wines. Here are three we received as samples for the Summer 2018 #FirstSipNZ"

2017 Taylors Pass Sauvignon Blanc ($26) - 2017 was a cooler vintage with the wine fermented in 100% stainless steel that produces a clean and crisp wine with a tropical nose, soft velvety and lemon characters, and finishing with balanced acids.

2016 Taylors Pass Chardonnay ($42) - the wine spends nine months on its lees with 28% in new French oak 78% seasoned oak which helps develop not only creamy characters but also enhances fruit and minerality. As the wine warms the oak character dissipates to reveal the enhanced grapefruit and peach flavors. The wine finishes with a creamy and nutty character elevated by tasty acids.

2015 Taylors Pass Pinot Noir ($42) - the plots reside on stony sections of the vineyard providing floral aromas with silt loam providing not only drainage but also structure, dark berry notes and earthiness in the wine. The is a solid light-medium wine with juicy cherry flavors, a pleasant lack of cola, mellow spicy tannins, and a lively acid boost at the tail.