Wednesday, September 11, 2019

The Federalist American Craft Wine and Candy

During a recent #BevfluenceExperience in Denver our group experimented pairing various wines with candy: Whoppers, Oreos, Twizzlers, Skittles, and several chocolates and candy bars. This is a fun concept where some items paired seamlessly and others terribly. Here are two examples from The Federalist American Craft Wine brand. 

The Federalist Honest Red Blend ($19.99)  is branded for Honest Abe Lincoln and is a blend of Merlot, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon from three northern California appellations.  This is a friendly fruit-forward wine, medium-bodied with dark fruit, spices, and approachable tannins. We found that crunchy candy such as Twix and Oreos worked best here as the cookie brought worth the fruit and tannins.

The Federalist Cabernet Sauvignon Lodi 2016 ($17.99) is branded for Ben Franklin, who today is popular in the meme culture where various quotes regarding wine and beer are attributed to colonial hero.  Lodi's most widely harvested grape is Cabernet Sauvignon so the brand owner's selected an appropriate wine region for this wine. It is a lighter-bodied wine with juicy fruit, some spice, and easy tannins.  But add a Hersheys dark chocolate nugget to the lineup and the wine builds texture and the spices become more pronounced.  Not true for milk chocolate, however, Nor an Oreo and Twix bar. Dark Chocolate is the pairing for The Federalist Lodi Cabernet Sauvignon.

Friday, August 30, 2019

A Family Visit to Gonzalez Byass for Tio Pepe

Regular readers of the WineCompass Blog will recognize the abundant number of posts regarding González Byass, the Jerez producers of Tio Pepe - a fino style of Sherry that the winery has created and exported since its founding in 1844. The winery is still owned and operated by the relatives of founder Manuel Maria González and over time has incorporated other wine brands representing diverse Spanish wine regions. But sherry is still their core product with over a dozen labels joining the famed uncle Jose Angel (Tio Pepe).

During a family trip to Seville, mutual contacts were able to schedule a private tour and tasting of the facility - still located within Jerez de la Frontera and an hour and change train ride away. The actual production is now conducted outside the city center, but the original Tio Pepe winery operated largely in the center adjacent to the Cathedral and Alcazar. This facility now hosts a tasting and event center, administrative offices, distillery, and barrelhouse. Lots of barrels stacked together based on several solera systems. Stone streets are covered by grape canopies creating a semblance of Tio Pepe as a town upon itself.

The staff was very gracious, taking time to accommodate our visit and providing a thorough and educational journey through ten sherry wines. Melanie, our tour guide, explained the history, topography, winemaking, and aging process while Neil provided an in-depth dissertation on each sherry and its origin. Their talents made the visit enjoyable and eye-opening to each of us - the wine geek, skeptic, and roguish and inappropriate teenager. Cheers to Tio Pepe, González Byass, their staff, and everyone who made the trip possible.

The Background
Even though the Jerez Regulatory Council stipulates that 60% of the grapes must come from Jerez Superior in order to be labeled Jerez Sherry, González Byass uses 100% grapes cultivated in the declared Jerez Superior area. The vineyards in Jerez are composed of a white soil called Albariza that consists of 60% chalk - which retains moisture that is critical during the region's long hot and dry summers.

Tio Pepe Flor
The grapes are Palomino and Pedro Ximenez (PX) and they are handled quite differently. The Palomino grapes are generally hand-harvested then sent directly to the press. On the other hand, the PX grapes are harvested later in the season and then sundried in a process called "soleo". The bunches are laid out on straw mats for up to two weeks where 40-50% of their volume evaporates. This is a labor-intensive process since the grapes must be covered in plastic at night, then uncovered and flipped each morning as a precaution from the morning dew. However, the reward is grapes with highly concentrated sugars -- ideal for the winery's sweet sherries.

All sherries are aged following the traditional Solera system where the wines are blended in 600-litre American oak casks and then moved through the system as wine is taken from the bottom casks. Many styles are produced with distinctive characters depending on whether they have been aged under the influence of the flor (a layer of natural yeast) or as an oloroso (in contact with oxygen). Here are the wines we tasted.

Tio Pepe Fino Palomino (15% abv)
This Fino (dry) style sherry is based on the free run and light first press of Palomino in order to obtain the juice most capable of creating an elegant wine. After the wine is fermented to 11-12% abv it is fortified to 15.5% abv and stored in American oak casks, leaving the top 100 liters empty. This allows the development of the flor, a unique layer of yeast produced naturally in Jerez. This layer protects the wine from oxygen and after four years of age, provides the wine with its unique aroma and character. This aroma actually resembles muscadine, whereas the core is green apples and almonds.

Viña AB Amontillado Palomino (16.5% abv)
The wine starts with a Tio Pepe base after the standard four years in the Tio Pepe solera system. The wine is then transferred to the Vina AB Solera where it remains for an additional eight years - basically a 12 year Tio Pepe. This longer aging extracts elements from the American Oak such as caramel and vanilla. The wine also features the essence of dried fruits and nuts while staying relatively dry.

Del Duque Amontillado VORS Palomino (21.5% abv)
This wine follows a similar process by taking 10-year-old wine from the Amontillado Viña AB Solera and transferring it to the Del Duque Solera where it is aged an additional 20 years making this a VORS = or very old sherry. The 30 years has condensed the wine, increased the abv, and expanded the mouthfeel and oak elements. An excellent sherry.

Alfonso Oloroso Palomino (18% abv)
The must for this wine comes from the second press which normally provides more structure and tannins (seeds, skins, and stems). After the wine is fermented to 11-12% abv, it is fortified to 18% and like the Tio Pepe housed in American Oak with an empty top layer of 100 liters. However, the flor does not develop because the yeast can not survive past 16% abv. The wine undergoes complete oxidization while extracting elements from eight years in the barrel. Complex and spicy, nuts and vanilla.

Leonor Palo Cortado Palomino (20% abv)
The wine is created like the Alfonso except it is made from the highest quality free-run juice (like the Tio Pepe) and spends 12 years in the Leonor Solera system. This is a unique, new style with a nutty aroma leading to a toasted cream palate.

Apóstoles VORS Medium Palomino/PX (20% abv)
This is an 87-13 blend where the Palomino comes from the Leonor Solera system. The PX grapes are firmly pressed (think of olive oil production) and the must ferments to 7% abv. After fortification to 15% abv, the wine enters the Pedro Ximenez Solera system where it ages for 12 years like the Leonor Solera. The wine is then blended and added to the Apostoles Solera where it ages an additional 18 years. The wine has a tremendous mouthfeel with dried fruits and caramel.

Solera 1847 Cream Palomino/PX (18% abv)
This 75-25 blend is derived from the first press of the continuous Palomino press in order to obtain a little more structure and tannic body. Following fermentation to 11-12%, the wine is fortified to 18% and enters the Oloroso Solera where complete oxidization occurs because of the empty 100 liters. The Pedro Ximenez wine comes from the Pedro Ximenez Solera system. Both wines are pulled from their respective solera systems after four years are blended and then aged an additional four years together in the 1847 Solera system. The wine picks up more fig and dried fruit characters with some caramel and vanilla - simply delicious.

Matusalem VORS Cream Palomino/PX (20.5% abv)
The Palomino and Pedro Ximenez wine in this blend comes from the Olorosa Solera and Pedro Ximenez Solera systems described above. However,  the wines remain in their respective solera systems for 15 years before being pulled, blended, and aged an additional 15 years in the Matusalem Solera system. The wine comes across drier than the Solera 1847 with a bittersweet flavor of spices, raisins, and dried fruit.

Nectar Pedro Ximenez (15% abv)
The sherry comes from the Nectar Solera system where the PX grapes were fermented to 7% and then fortified to 15%. After eight years of aging, this wine is full of fig flavors with enough acidity to help balance the sweetness. A family favorite.

Noé VORS Pedro Ximenez (15.5% abv)
For this sherry, the PX grapes were fermented and fortified as the Nectar, but the must enters the Noé Solera system for 30 years. This results in a complex and textured wine, sweet figs but nice acidity.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Extreme Viticulture: DOC Colares Portugal

Wines of Portugal
Gusty, salt-laden winds that can burn leaves. Heavy autumn rains. Nutrient poor, sandy soils. These are the conditions faced by vineyards in the historic DOC Colares  - the westernmost wine region in Europe situated a couple miles from the Atlantic Ocean and within the greater Lisboa wine region.

Viticulture has been practiced in Portugal's smallest DOC since the mid 12th century and the growers have learned many tricks to combat the elements. First, they erect dried-reed fences to protect against the persistent wind. Second, when planting, up to 15 feet of sandy soil is dug away so that the vines are anchored within the more nutrient-rich clay layer. And finally, growers have learned to gradually supplement with manure laden sand until the vines are productive.

The sand in itself provides two major benefits. First, it allows the autumn rains to drain quickly, but more importantly, the sand foils the phylloxera mites. In the mid-late 19th century when phylloxera was ravaging Europe's vines, vineyards in Colares were not affected as the mite can not survive in sandy or other loose-grained soils. Colares wine became the pride of Portugal even gaining the title "The Bordeaux of Portugal". In fact, the red Ramisco grape and the white Malvasia de Colares - which are only planted in Colares - may be the only Vitis vinifera grapes to have always been own-rooted.

Azenhas do Mar
At the time of the phylloxera epidemic plantings in Colares peaked at nearly 2,000 hectares but this figure has dwindled to only 20 or so hectares today. Obviously, as the European vineyards rebounded demand for Colares wine would slow but more recently the chief culprit has been real estate development.  The elderly owners of these small plots have financial incentives to sell to buyers interested in developing the beautiful coastline - particularly around Azenhas do Mar.

In the 1930s, when this decline began to be felt, the government decreed that growers must sell their grapes to the cooperative Adega Regional de Colares in order to maintain quality. Only wine from this cooperative could be called Colares. The cooperative is still the primary player today, but in 1994 the government allowed other Colares labels. One such is Adega Viúva Gomes, an entity that buys wine from the cooperative which it ages before bottling, and Casal do Ramilo, a four-generation grower expanding plantings where they will soon become the largest private producer of Ramisco from Colares.

While visiting Portugal, the best place to sample Colares wine is at the winery's themselves, but a terrific alternative is Binhoteca in Sintra - a Unesco World Heritage site. Here we were able to sample two Colares wines from Adega Regional de Colares and appreciate the affection that the staff had for the region. They described that despite the burdensome effects, the coastal environment also provides positive temperature-moderating effects slowing the maturation process (grapes are normally harvested in October) to create fresh, minerally driven and elegant wines.

The 2014 Malvasia de Colares Azenhas do Mar ($40) is complex with both lemon and orange citrus, the sea, creamy oats, and decent acids. Similarly, the 2010 Colares Ramisco Azenhas do Mar ($40) provides salt characters (odd for a red wine), rich red cherry creaminess, and chewy tannins. A fantastic wine.

It's safe to say that Colares wines are rare in the United States but try José Pastor SelectionsChambers Street Wines, Astor Wines & Spirits, or NLC Wines.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Extreme Viticulture: Bodega Colomé's Altura Maxima Vineyard

Source: Bodega Colomé
Imagine an ideal grape growing region. This would most likely be a Mediterranean climate with abundant sunshine, hot days transitioning to cooler evenings, and a strong diurnal shift that extends the growing season and helps retain acidity. The vines would be planted in a mixture of rich volcanic soils or loess or porous limestone. Hail storms, wind chill, and frost would be non-existent threats. Basically Napa Valley.

Source: Bodega Colomé
However, viticulture occurs throughout the world where grape growers operate under very extreme conditions -- from high altitudes to northern frost to crushing heat and humidity. There are beachfront vineyards in Colares Portugal, vines buried several feet below the surface in Prince Edward Island Canada, and vines planted between 7,000 and 10,000 feet in Argentina's Salta's Calchaquí Valley. These high altitude vineyards face a greater risk of frost damage and most importantly, failure of the grapes to fully ripen due to wind chill.
Source: Bodega Colomé

Bodega Colomé is one of the oldest working wineries in Argentina and home to the highest vineyards in the world (excluding Tibet, which recently planted high altitued vineyards). Located in Salta's Calchaquí Valley, the winery was established in 1831 when the vineyards were first planted on original rootstock imported from Bordeaux -- and these vines are still bearing fruit today. In 2003, the winery planted a trial one-hectare vineyard practically two miles above sea level.

Source: Bodega Colomé
This Altura Maxima Vineyard (“Maximum Height”) is perched at 3,111 meters (10,207 feet) and receives greater sun exposure as well as a wider diurnal variation where the temperature ranges between 18ºC and 33ºC between day and night. The extreme altitude actually helps facilitate the uniform and balanced development of the grapes. But which grapes? According to Martin Coscia, Brand Manager for Hess Family Latin America and an expert in high elevation vineyards, "We learned rather quickly that varieties which required long ripening cycles were not going to work – so we turned to Malbec".

Source: Bodega Colomé
The inaugural release of the Altura Maxima Malbec occurred in 2012 with the current release being the 2015 Altura Maxima Malbec ($135). The wine was barrel-aged for 24 months but Coscia states that "the true expression of terroir in this Malbec comes from the extreme altitude as well as soil composition – alluvial, sandy soils with a high percentage of gravel.” He continues, “with a semiarid-desert climate, grapes receive much more sun, much less UV protection and produce thicker-skinned grapes that deliver a robust mouthfeel supported by fresh acidity with surprising finesse.”

The Altura Maxima Malbec is pricey, so for more budget-conscious consumers, Colomé also produces wine from three other high elevation vineyards: La Brava Estate (5,700 feet), Colomé Estate (7,500 feet), and El Arenal Estate (8,800 feet). These vines and grapes face the same challenges but also receive equivalent sun exposure and acid inducing diurnal temperatures. That being said the La Brave vineyard is known for providing intense and ripe fruit, the Colomé Estate lends complexity and weight, and the El Arenal vineyard yields elegance and freshness. These vineyards are reflected in the Colomé Autentico Malbec 2017 ($32) and the Colomé Estate Malbec 2016 ($28). Cheers.

Friday, August 9, 2019

1718 Brewing Ocracoke: Jam Box for Brunch

1718 Brewing Ocracoke is well into their second summer and with an obvious demand, the brewery is operating at full capacity to continuously provide 10-12 beers on tap. During our weekly visit to this island, demand outpaced supply as several beers kicked and even a power outage didn't deter beer consumers. Garick & Jacqui Kalna opened the 10 bbl brewery in October 2017 and named it for the year Blackbeard was killed off Ocracoke's Springer’s Point. In July 2017, Garick gave a group a tour of the brewery, but it wasn't until this year that I was able to return.

The building itself fits neatly into the architectural feel of the village using mostly re-purposed wood, paneling, and shingles from the former Café Atlantic as well as reclaimed barn wood from Athens, Ohio. Other re-purposed items include the flight trays which were constructed from wine barrel stays and the tap handles from pieces of rough wood. And the seashells placed inside the filled-in knot holes in the wood floor are one of my favorite features.

Our first taste of 1718 Brewing's beer was at the Ocracoke Oyster Company where the Public AfterThoughts IPA was on tap while listening to Martin Garrish and Friends. This is a heavy IPA, even more than the 6.8% suggests. Next came a visit where I learned there's a major sour series in play as well as an old favorite -- the Brunch Coffe Kolsch. This beer is already a classic, the java flavors blend seamlessly into the minerality of the Kolsch - providing a flavorful and still refreshing beach beer. Another favorite of our family is the Happi-Jaq Juicy IPA - clean and more quaffable than the AfterThoughts. On the darker side, the Needs MoreCowBell Milk Stout and Mexican Chocolate Stout were solid with the Mexican providing just a touch of heat.

As for the sours, three kicked during our visit, the Prickly-Pear, Quat the Puck, and the Jam Box (Raspberry, Sea-salt, & Coconut). Each was excellent but the coconut in the Jam Box added just enough distinction to elevate above the others. Once the raspberry version kicked, it was replaced with the next in the series the Jam Box Blackberry Lemon. Once again, a nice sour - but the previous was a winner.

A few 1718 Brewing Ocracoke beers make their way up Highway 12 into Hatteras and the northern beaches but allocate time for a personal visit. Now that the Hatteras-Ocracoke passenger ferry and Ocracoke Trolley are running smoothly - there's no need to drive so feel free to imbibe. Cheers.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Kalfu Kuda and Chile's Leyda Valley

Kalfu means ‘blue’ in the language of the Mapuche, the indigenous inhabitants of Chile, and for the Mapuche, Kalfu is synonymous with the magnificent Pacific Ocean that borders Chile’s western coastline. A coastline blessed with an exceptional cool climate, constant refreshing breezes and early morning fogs that enforce a slow, steady ripening period for grapes, helping to create balanced, elegant wines.
Whereas Chile's Maipo Valley and Colchagua Valley seem to get the majority of wine recognition, be prepared to notice a new region coming of age: the Leyda Valley. This area is a small sub-region of the San Antonio Valley, itself a smaller region located in central Chile, 55 miles west of the capital, Santiago. Leyda is a cool-climate region where the grapes are affected by the Pacific's Humboldt Current (A cold, low-salinity ocean current that flows north along the west coast of South America from the southern tip of Chile to northern Peru). Although the terroir was suitable for viniculture, vines were not planted in abundance until the late 1990s when an irrigation pipeline was constructed to channel water from the Maipo River in the south. The cool ocean breezes and morning fog slow the maturation process and with abundant sunshine allow the grapes to fully ripen as well as develop complexity while still retaining acidity.

Kalfu is a brand from Vina Ventisquero - one of the vignerons who have leveraged the Leyda Valley to produce cool-climate wines, two which I received samples. This Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir are sourced from the Las Terrazas Vineyard, a site situated just 7 kilometers from the Pacific Ocean and close to the Maipo River - thus receiving the full force of the Pacific's cooling influences. According to Kalfu winemaker, Alejandro Galaz, "From the vineyard to the bottle, producing cool climate wines can be challenging, but I enjoy a challenge – always striving to produce wines that are a sincere expression of elegance, distinction, and subtlety of the grape varietal."

Kalfu Kuda Sauvignon Blanc 2018 ($19.00)
This wine is complex for its price with divergent citrus and tropical fruit aspects, mild minerality, and very clean and refreshing acidity.

Kalfu Kuda Pinot Noir 2017 ($19.00)
This medium-bodied wine is chalky and dusty merging with black cherry fruit and slight spices and finishes with noticeable yet rounded tannins.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Mititei, Barbecue, and Bodegas LAN

We have been eating Mititei for quite a while and for those unfamiliar with this Romanian Barbecue dish it is a mixture of beef, lamb and\or pork with spices rolled into cylindrical shapes. I use beef and lamb with prepackaged spices. Last year I learned that Croatians, Bosnians, and Serbs have a similar recipe called Ćevapi which they eat with Ajvar relish instead of spicy mustard.

And this year I discovered a very delicious pairing with Bodegas LAN Rioja Reserva 2012 ($20). The winery ages this 92% Tempranillo and 8% Mazuelo blend 18 months in hybrid barrels of French and American oak and 21 months in the bottle. And since 2012 is the latest release, the wine spends an additional four years conditioning in their cellar to be released at optimal potential.  This is a juicy wine where the bright cherries flow though the earthy depth and finishes with potent acidity and rounded tannins. Excellent on its own but with the Mititei, the two melt together.

Bodegas LAN suggests several other summer and barbecue pairings with more featured in their upcoming LAN Guide to Rioja. In the meanwhile here are four of their favorite Spanish dishes that are suitable with the classic wines from Rioja
  • Tomato salad. Tomatoes are in season during Spanish summers and make the ideal base for a tomato salad with fresh “pocha” beans. 
  • “Patatas a la Riojana” (Rioja-style potatoes). This dish features red pepper, chorizo, sweet and spicy paprika. It’s a specialty of the Rioja region and a favorite of the LAN team. 
  • T-bone steak. Just like the US, this type of cut is the king of meats that are made for robust Riojan reds. 
  • “Chuletada”. This Spanish dish is made from grilling lambs chops (chuletillas), chorizo, bacon and even sardines on the vine shoots.

Friday, July 26, 2019

The Michigan Wine Collaborative's Riesling Roundtable

"There are about 3,100 acres of wine grapes in Michigan, and approximately 700 of them are Riesling, the largest acreage for any of our wine grape varieties. *However* Michigan can grow so many varieties well, we’ve hesitated to name just one as our official grape." -- Tweet from the Michigan Riesling Roundtable
Last month the Michigan Wine Collaborative (MWC) hosted this roundtable via Twitter with a number of Michigan winemakers and wine influencers. The MWC is a non-profit organization with the following mission "to enhance the sustainability and profitability of the Michigan wine industry by supporting wineries, growers and other businesses and individuals connected to the industry – today and for future generations". One vehicle to this end was the Michigan Riesling Roundtable where influencers could purchase Riesling from a handful of participating Michigan producers and discuss these wines online.
Riesling has long been a fixture in the Michigan wine scene where the first vines were apparently Tabor Hill Winery planted the first Riesling in SW Michigan in 1969, which then lead to the first large scale plantings by Chateau Grand Traverse. Michigan Rieslings are known for their acidity as the cool climate slows ripening and allows the grapes to retain acids. These wines also contain subtle characteristics of minerality with bright tropic and or stone fruit notes. And some of the winemakers mentioned that Riesling is harvested last - particularly in very cool growing seasons - providing further acidity and flavor. Here are the wines that we purchased for the event:

St. Julian 2017 Reserve Riesling ($9.99)
This off-dry Riesling (1.2%) abv packs intense stone fruit and tropical flavors layered with minerals and slight petrol. The wine's abundant acidity balances the sugar for an easy-drinking experience.

St. Julian Mountain Road Winery 2017 Estate Riesling ($21.99)
Completely dry, but robust tropical, stone, and citrus character, again with light petrol, and refreshing acidity.

Amoritas Vineyards 2016 Dry Riesling ($20)
Similar notes as the Mountain Road - excellent fruit, minerals, and fresh acids.

Amoritas Vineyards 2017 Semi-Dry Riesling ($20)
This was a family favorite as the wine impresses with a drier profile because of the acidity and provides plenty of stone and tropical flavors.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Missouri Wine: Kansas City and the Crossroads of Craft Beverages

Kansas City is located in the epicenter of the continental United States and practically equidistance to our borders in each direction. For that reason, the City of Fountains became a central transportation hub for people and livestock with the latter terminating at the Kansas City Stockyards. The stockyards originated on the Kansas side but quickly spread into Missouri and at its peak in 1923 2,631,808 cattle; 2,736,174 hogs; 1,165,606 sheep; 377,038 calves; and 42,987 horses and mules were received at the stockyards (1). Nearby the Crossroads neighborhood developed that supported the spoils of this industry with numerous buildings now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, such as the TWA Corporate Headquarters Building, Western Auto Building, and Firestone Building. However due to the devastating 1951 flood, by the 1960s, the large packing companies had closed most of their plants and relocated - severely affecting each neighborhood.

With the assistance of Visit KC and the Missouri Wine and Grape Board, our group extended our excursion into Missouri Wine with a visit to two wineries that have settled in a rejuvenated Cowtown and Crossroads Art District. I also spent free time walking to an assortment of breweries and distilleries closely clustered near our base at the Crossroads Hotel - a repurposing of a Pabst Brewing Depot constructed in 1911. At that time, "Percheron horse-drawn teams paraded the streets with wagons loaded with beer. When Prohibition came, KC political boss Tom Pendergast bought both buildings, using them as an office and, according to legend, to bootleg liquor". Here's a short overview of each craft beverage establishment.

Amigoni Urban Winery is situated in rejuvenated Cowtown, specifically in the historic Daily Drover Telegram Newspaper building in the Stockyards District of the West Bottoms. In 2000, Michael and Kerry Amigoni first planting Cabernet Franc in their Leawood, Kansas backyard and later more European vinifera vines in land purchased in Centerview, Missouri. After launching commercially and realizing the Midwest was an erratic location for vinifera vines, they sought a more consistent supply of grapes from California’s Central Valley. The fruit arrives within 48 hours of harvest at the Stockyards production facility where Michael produces a plethora of interesting wines including a Cinsaut, Barbera, Tempranillo, and Sangiovese. Blended with 20% Cabernet, Cinsaut was well represented in their 2017 Urban Cepages ($20) -- a fruitful, earthy and approachable wine. Their 2017 Tribute Series - Urban Drover ($25) is a 50-50 blend of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot and memorializes the drover, a person who drives cattle or sheep to market. Expect more body and spices in this smooth wine.

KC WineWorks was the first full-scale production winery established in the Crossroads Arts District. James and Lindsay Lowery utilize only Missouri-sourced grapes, many from the estate vineyard first planted in 2002 in Lowery's great-grandfather's farm from the 1870s. These grapes include many of the traditional Missouri wine grapes such as Chambourcin, Norton, Valvin Muscat, Chardonel, and Vignoles but expect very non-traditional styles and packaging. For instance, KC WineWorks was the first in the state to release a canned wine, the Show Me Sangria using a Crossroads White wine base (Chardonel, Vidal Blanc, & Vignoles) augmented with natural strawberry, raspberry, pear, and prickly pear juices. They are also trendsetters in releasing a trio of single vineyard Chambourcin wines, showcasing the specific climate and geology of each site. Still more, the Lowery's have a sparkling wine program producing a Sparkling Rosé ($29) using Chardonel and a Pét-Nat ($26) - both delicious. Finally, hard cider is on the menu through their Hopped Apfel - IPA aromas with funky apple flavors. But let's not forget their traditional wines, the 2015 Reserve Norton ($27) is very drinkable, slight spices and deep cherry flavors - avoiding astringent and jammy characters. And the 2017 Vignoles ($19) is everything you expect from a Missouri Vignoles, tropical notes paired with refreshing acidity.

Mean Mule Distilling Co was frequently mentioned throughout our trip and was the impetus behind this walking tour of the Crossroads neighborhood. The references referred to their Silver Mean Mule American Agave Spirit, a rare example of an American made agave spirit. Not a Tequila by technical definition, this distillate, made from the syrup of 100% weber blue agave, possesses similar characteristics as its southern brethren. It lacks smokiness and funky - but packs plenty of smooth agave flavor. The distillery also resuscitates a family history of distilling as its name refers to the mean mule that stood upon the false floor hiding the family's distilling operation during Prohibition.

Lifted Spirits joins the Crossroads Hotel in once being associated with horses as the distillery was originally a stable for the Smith Brothers Steam Bakery. In the late 1800s, these horses delivered bread throughout Kansas City. Today Lifted Spirits utilizes grain in a different process, using soft red wheat from a small family farm in Wellsville, KS to produce French-inspired spirits like Absinthe. Their version includes wormwood and other botanicals and is served using the traditional French drip method with a Pontarlier glass and a sugar cube. I've learned to enjoy this spirit, both its history and flavor, and the Lifted Spirits Absinthe is no exception.

City Barrel was founded by a trio who had determined there was a missing link in the Kansas City brewing scene. As their website states, "No one was focusing on long-aged sours, crazy IPA’s and wild fermentation beers and creating a culinary experience". The tasting room is a literal work of art as the backdrop behind the bar is made from reclaimed wood from the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art. And local craftsman built custom tables and chairs made of Missouri white oak -- the same wood as our Foeders sour beer tanks. And sours galore, there were four available and I selected the tasty Foeder Blend #1 - Missouri White Oak Foeder-aged golden sour.

Double Shift Brewing opened in 2015 by a local firefighter who practically ran double shifts in opening this five-barrel brewhouse.  The brewery is located in an old bicycle shop which provides another reference to the brewery's name. I drank a pint of their well made and refreshing Kolsch at the Percheron rooftop bar at the Crossroads Hotel and had a small pour of the Ordiata Horchata Milk Stout. It was creamy smooth and quite delicious.

Border Brewing Co is the handiwork of Eric Martens, who leveraged his home brewing and chemical engineer skills to open the brewery in 2015. Furthermore, he and his co-owner wife Tracy had to navigate the legal environment as they were the first brewery in Kansas City to brew and sell on-site with no kitchen and no beer distribution.  Their lineup covers most of the craft beer map and I focused in our their Pub Dweller Nitro ESB - just like being in a pub in London.

See other posts of this trip at Missouri Wine.

1) How KC became 1 of great stock markets of the world

Monday, July 15, 2019

Natural Wine at the Old Westminster Winery's Summer Solstice Festival

"Natural Wine is farmed organically (biodynamically, using permaculture or the like) and made (or rather transformed) without adding or removing anything in the cellar. No additives or processing aids are used, and ‘intervention’ in the naturally occurring fermentation process is kept to a minimum. As such neither fining nor (tight) filtration are used. The result is a living wine – wholesome and full of naturally occurring microbiology." -- Raw Wine

On June 22nd, Maryland's Old Westminster Winery hosted the inaugural Summer Solstice Festival featuring natural wines from across the globe. The event was held at the winery's Burnt Hill Farm which is their second vineyard but the first farmed using biodynamic practices. Once mature, the harvested grapes will be processed with little or no intervention in the cellar and Old Westminster will produce Maryland's first natural wines.

But what is Natural Wine? When asked, representatives at the festival provided multiple definitions starting with either organically or biodynamically farmed grapes and finishing with various levels of winemaking intervention. Some stressed the importance of using zero sulfites which are used as a preservative and stabilizer. Others believe that a minimal amount of sulfites are allowable right before bottling but not during other stages of the winemaking process. Most representatives stressed the use of native yeast although some were inoculated with yeast cultures. Many of the natural wines were cloudy as a result of non-filtering whereas others were clean which suggest the use of a clarifying agent such as egg whites or isinglass (made from fish bladders).

As a result of these various practices, the wines were quite diverse ranging from cloudy and funky to clean and very traditional. I tended to prefer the latter as I felt the funkier styles provided excuses for traditional winemaking faults such as volatile acidity and reduction. These "faults" are counter-intuitive in the same wine since reduced winemaking is a method to prevent volatile acidity by reducing the amount of oxygen available for bacteria to create acetic acid.  However, in some cases, the reduced notes did not blow off after swirling and remained in tandem with the vinegar notes. In other wines where the effects of reduction did blow off, the funkiness sometimes overwhelmed the fruit flavors. But in the natural wine world, when the fruit and funk mingle more gracefully, the wines are greeted with acclaim.

During a pre-festival #WineStudio Twitter tasting that ran through June, we sampled the contrasting styles with the Old Westminster 2017 Home Vineyard Cabernet Franc and their 2018 Heirloom. Whereas both were bottled unfined and unfiltered the Cab Franc provided a more traditional profile full of fruit flavors with balanced tannins and acidity. I wish more East Coast wineries could replicate this excellent wine. On the other hand, the 77% Chardonnay, 12% Albarino, and 11% Muscat blend in the Heirloom was funkier in style perhaps from fermenting with native yeast and took quite a few sips to comprehend. I am well acclimated with this style in cider and beer - but not so much with wine.

So quite naturally at the Summer Solstice, I drifted towards the more traditional wines starting with Oregon's Brooks Winery. The Estate Vineyard for this Williamette Valley winery was certified by Demeter for Biodynamic farming principles in 2012. And in the cellar, they utilize low intervention winemaking practices but release very clean and traditional wines as evident by the Pinot Gris, Riesling, and Pinot Noir. These wines are delicious and represent the grape profiles perfectly. Brooks also provides an original profile indicator on their website which displays color-coded bar charts representing aroma and flavor.

Nearby, the Georgian Wine House was pouring similarly delicious wines from this ancient country located in the Caucasus region of Eurasia. The Georgian winemaking tradition is known for using qvevri vessels to ferment and age the wine. If a white wine is aged with prolonged skin contact then the resulting wine becomes light orange in color with more depth in flavor. Naotari Winery specializes in this technique and the family operation (Koba Kvatchrelishvili and his two sons, Rezo and Alex) releases the Khikhvi Blend 2016 natural wine. This blend of Rkatsiteli, Kisi, and Khikhvi is fermented with native yeast, is unfiltered, and undergoes zero intervention or added sulfite. Yet it is full of stone fruit aromas and flavors with no traces of volatile acidy or reduction.

Similarly, Chona’s Marani Winery is another family venture producing natural wines like the Rkatsiteli 2017 and Mtsvane-Rkatsiteli Blend 2017. Pure, clean, and delicious wines. Finally, sisters Baia and Gvanca showed two excellent wines in the Baia's Wine and Gvanca's Wine with Baia focusing on white wine and Gvanca red. The Gvanca's Wine Otskhanuri Sapere 2017 exudes sour cherries and not in a funky way. The Baia's Wine Tsolikouri 2018 is also fermented with wild yeast, unfiltered, and uses very low levels of sulfites that provides clean citrus and apple flavors with refreshing acidity.

Traveling towards the Mediterranean there was another brilliant natural wine from Turkey imported by Siema Wines. Mustafa Çamlica founded Chamlija Winery in "2000 in the small Thracian town of Büyükkarıştıran, and planted his vineyards throughout the decomposed granite soils of the Strandja Massif, near where Turkey meets Bulgaria". At the festival, Siema poured this winery's Papaskarasi Rosé - a rare indigenous Turkish grape variety. This delicate wine provides a soft texture to its strawberry profile finishing with refreshing clean acids. And the distinct label was drawn by Çamlica's daughter Irem - a renowned artist in Turkey.

Siema poured another clean and textured wine, this time from the Friuli region of Italy. Borgo San Daniele is operated by the brother and sister team of Mauro and Alessandra who do not use chemical products in their vineyard and minimalistic techniques during vinification. Their Mauri Vignaioli Friulano (formerly called Tocai Friulano) is complex with a soft fruit and almond profile and finishing with elegance.

So cheers to these clean and fresh natural wines and Old Westminster Winery for hosting a fantastic event.