Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The United Grapes of America - Rhode Island's Greenvale Vineyards 2015 Albariño

theCompass view of
Greenvale Vineyards

It's been difficult procuring wines to continue the United Grapes of America series, but them comes along the annual Wine America Congressional Tasting featuring dozens of wines from across the United States. This event included several interesting wines with one being the Greenvale Vineyards Albarino. This Rhode Island winery is located along the Sakonnet River in Portsmouth, RI, five miles north of downtown Newport and is a member of the Coastal Wine Trail. Apparently "Greenvale is a farm that has been in the same family since 1863. It is listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places". 

The United Grapes of America The United Grapes of America

For the past two months I've sipped plenty of Rías Baixas Albariño through #WineStudio's Rías Baixas sessions and the 2015 Greenvale Vineyards Albariño ($15) matches most of the characteristics I've come to expect in this style. It starts with tropical flavors with some lemon then transitions to a saline-mineral character before finishing with decent acids. Since the grapes are estate grown in the Ocean state (very close to an estuary), they share some similarities to their Galicia grown brethren. Cheers to American wineries producing wine from interesting grapes.

Monday, May 23, 2016

#VABreweryChallenge #36 - Arlington's Sehkraft Brewing

Saturday I made my second visit to Sehkraft Brewing and this time they had five of their house brewed beer. This brewery, restaurant, butcher shop, and music venue also carries an impressive list of Virginia and National beers to augment their house brews. First though, the food is unique and outstanding as Chef Jay Jenc melds Eastern Europe and Piedmont/Low Country cuisine - at very reasonable prices. On both my visits I went with the wild burger, the first bison, the second camel. And there's plenty of sausage and kielbasa straight from the butcher shop. Actually, all the meats come from the adjacent butcher shop.

As for the beer I was quite satisfied with four out of five. Their Amber Ale had a nice balance of malt to hops and not overly sweet as tends the style. It also was the best to pair with the camel burger.  The Good To Go Session IPA was both flavorful and aromatic; a low abv session without tasting watery. The Hoptastic IPA was fuller, hoppier, and not over the top. Then there's the Wicked Weiss, a fresh and mildly tart Berliner Weisse - seems like a great beer for their patio and post bike ride. (And Sehkraft isn't too far from the W&OD Trail)  The final beer was the Uber-Awesome IPL which just didn't suit me. I liked the individual aspects of the lager and IPA, but they just didn't seem to meld together and were fighting each other. Otherwise a talented lineup. Go visit soon - theCompass Winery Brewery Distillery Locator app will help. Cheers.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

theCompass Winery, Brewery, Distillery Locator App Release 2.1

This week we released the first major upgrade to the Android version of theCompass Winery, Brewery, Distillery Locator App. The new version includes several library upgrades - including Location Services - as well as several workflow patterns. First, the data is now stored on the device allowing for data access in the most isolated regions. Second, the location and zipcode\name searches have been separated to different activities. And along with the state\province module, these activities utilize a viewpager to display the lists and maps of establishments for an easier flow. The maps also include an upgraded cluster library used for California and Washington state and probably for Oregon in the near future. The Company Details activity is basically the same except easier access to social media sharing and a new Weather API that graphically illustrates a seven day forecast.  The next release will include social media logins which will then allow the user to check-in and save comments when visiting an establishment. That work will commence after the site is upgraded to a more stable platform. Cheers and safe travels.

Friday, May 13, 2016

#WineStudio Presents Galicia – “Green” Spain and the Celtic Influence of Rías Baixas

During the height of Greek civilization between 800-400 B.C., the Celts, who we now associate with Scotland and Ireland, ruled over most of Central and Western Europe. In fact, the Alps mountain range is named from the Celtic Alpes, which itself is derived from a pre-Indo-European base alb (hill). Over time the Celts were pushed to the extremes of Europe - including Galacia where the Romans referred to them as Celtiberians - regardless whether they were ethnic Celts or a mix with Iberian tribes. (See The Celts in Spain). The Celtic presence explains why many Galicians are fair-skinned and eager participants in the production of wine as the ancient Celts were fans of wine, mead, and beer - which they called cervesia. (See Story of the Celts: The Ancient Celts). 

This week #WineStudio's Rías Baixas session focused on Galicia being called Green Spain as"its wet and mild ocean-controlled climate produces lush pastures and sylvan forests". And whether by intention or coincidence, the landscape of Galicia more closely resembles Celtic regions of Ireland, Great Britain & the west coast of France than the rest of Spain.  This greenness results from winds from the Atlantic Ocean bringing moisture inland which is then trapped by the Galician Massif mountains.This wind also carries sea spray inland which "permeates everything; soils, air and vine". And Galician's diet is based on the sea: fish, shellfish, and crustaceans. As a result many Rías Baixas wines carries some allotment of salt and minerals and the wines are bred to pair with seafood. And the two wines featured this session validate this claim.

2014 Lagar de Bouza DO Rías Baixas ($16) - produced by Bouza do Rei which was established in 1984 and was one of the first wineries registered in the newly created DO Rias Baixas. The winery is situated in Val do Salnés - the western most and most maritime extreme of Rías Baixas sub regions. The vineyards are located on small hills, most only 100 meters above sea level. And the vines are trained on granite posts to protect from humidity. This wine consists of 100% Albariño and exudes minerals that blend with and intense lemon flavor and abundant acids. Give me clams and oysters.

2014 Eidos de Padriñan DO Rías Baixas - Val do Salnés ($22) - this wine was produced by Adega Eidos, also located in Salnés, and launched in 1993. Eidos refers to the "backyard garden arbors constituting the traditional ungrafted Albariño vineyard" mentioned above.  Their Padriñán vineyard is south-facing and  overlooks the sea and receives additional heat exposure from "reflection from the water and a wind-sheltering stand of eucalyptus at the top of the slope". Despite the similar growing conditions this wine is a complete contrast to the Lagar de Bouza. Whereas the former was aggressive and citrus, this is a laid back wine, with textured tropical flavors include creamed guava and milder minerals and acids.  A very self assured wine and my favorite of the entire series.

Other DO Rias Baixas wines in this series can be seen here.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Mother's Day at Harford Vineyard & Winery

Ladew Gardens
Mother's Day lead us to a day trip to Maryland's horse country and Ladew Topiary Gardens and Harford Vineyard & Winery. The gardens are quite impressive and the winery, a mere 10 minute drive away. Part of the Piedmont Wine Trail, Harford Vineyard was established in 2003 growing Vidal Blanc and Traminette and adding Merlot later to their estate property. In 2009 they started producing wine and augment their portfolio with grapes grown in other Harford County vineyards - except for the California sourced Malbec.

The winery generally has eleven wines available ranging from dry reds to semi-dry whites to sweet wine. Their Chardonnay ($15) is fermented to .5% r.s. Even with a little sugar this is a tasty wine, although I wouldn't recognize the grape. On the other hand, the Vidal ($16) and Traminette ($15) were spot on, floral and acidic for the former, a tad spicy for the later.  Their Cabernet Franc ($20) was my favorite: medium bodied with cherry over green pepper flavors. As for the sweet wines the Peach Kissed ($15) is the best - a blend of peach juice and Vidal with the stone fruit ever present. Cheers to Maryland wine.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Rioja Red, White & Pink from CVNE

It seems like Spanish wine is trending, with #WineStudio's Rias Baixas Wines, Finca Hispana, and a recent care package from CVNE and it's more modern sister winery, Viña Real. CVNE (pronouned Coo-nay) was founded in 1879 by brothers Eusebio and Raimundo Real de Asua in Haro, Rioja. The winery continues to be family owned and operated by Victor and Maria Umutia - 5th generation direct descendants of the brothers. About half of the grapes are grown in CVNE vineyards and the other from long term growers in Rioja. Here are three wines in their portfolio:

2015 Monopole Rioja 100% Viura ($13) - This wine is one smooth operator: laid back, self-assured, stony and creamy orange blossoms, with just enough acids to make you notice. It is the oldest white wine in Spain with CVNE has produced it since 1915. The Viura grape is also used in Cava and is known outside of Spain as Macabeo. But in Rioja it is the most widely planted white grape variety.

 2015 Viña Real Rosado ($15) - 85% Viura & 15% Tempranillo. Although the Viña Real brand was introduced in the 1920s, the winery in Laguardia is as contemporary as any Spanish winery.  This graphic explains all. The rosado is a very light rosé, starts off floral and ends citrus and decent acids.

2015 Cune Rosado ($13) - 100% Tempranillo. The darker color results from extended skin contact. This is an intense rosé with ripe strawberries throughout and a decent dose of acids. Comes across slightly sweet not from residual sugar but from the juicy flavor. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

#WineStudio's Rías Baixas with Albariño and Albariño Blends

Whereas the first month of #WineStudio's Rías Baixas focused on Albariño, this month we are discussing other allowable varieties even though they constitute only 10% of all plantings. According to the Rías Baixas website, these grapes are Treixadura (traditionally blended with Albariño), Loureiro (a high-quality local variety particularly associated with O Rosal), Caiño Blanco, Torrontes, and Godello. Caiño Blanco almost disappeared from Rías Baixas in the 1980s until Terras Gauda resuscitated it after discovering its inherit qualities. According to the winery, Caiño "adds aromas of exotic fruits, balsamic notes and, most importantly, great structure and singularity". The first week of the 2nd session on Rias Baixas featured two wines from wineries located in the O Rosal sub-region which borders Portugal and is adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean.
These two wines provide a distinct comparison between a 100% Albariño and an Albariño based blend. Cheers to Rías Baixas.

2014 Bodegas La Val Albariño DO Rías Baixas Condado do Tea ($17) - the winery is located in O Rosal, close to the Miño River. This 100% Albariño wine plows straight ahead with grape fruit flavors until the time delayed acids. A simple clean and refreshing wine.

2014 Terras Gauda O Rosal DO Rias Baixas ($24) - this wine is a 70% Albariño, 15% Caiño, and 15% Loureiro blend. Terras Gauda is located in the extreme southwest of the province of Pontevedra and the Loureiro comes from  high altitude and cooler vineyards This leads to more intense aromas and along with the Caiño helps produce a more complex wine with an interesting stone fruit interface. The finish provides a bit of citrus tang and decent acids.

Monday, May 2, 2016

#VABreweryChallenge #35 - Reston's Lake Anne Brew House

 I've lived in northern Virginia for almost two decades but I never knew to visit Reston's Lake Anne Plaza until the Lake Anne Brew House opened two weeks ago. It seems like the nanobrewery and taproom have been on verge of opening for a year now, but they finally navigated the winding and waving state and local regulations to open April 16th.   Jason and Melissa Romano are the proprietors with Jason transitioning from home brewer to professional brewer and Melissa responsible for the architecture. The best drinking spot is on the patio overlooking the plaza and lake tributary. There were only three beers available on my visit because the brewery ran dry on opening weekend. My favorite was the Simon's Stout (toffee focused dry stout with mellow creamy finish). The Reston Red Ale is a nice dry hopped amber ale and thankfully not malt heavy. Finally IPA lovers will be satisfied with the Live-Work-Play IPA (citrus and clean; hop heavy) and a tribute to Reston's founder Robert E. Simon. Looking forward to visiting when their expanding portfolio comes online in the coming weeks. Cheers.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

DO Rias Baixas Albarino - A Beachcombers Type of Wine

Since An Introduction to Galicia's DO Rías Baixas was published three weeks ago, I've been able to sample the half dozen wines through the weekly #WineStudio Twitter chat (Tuesdays 9 PM ET).  The primary conclusion so far is that the wines are generally bright, with a lemon character, various degrees of salinity, and racy acids. In other words, a wine to pair with seafood like oysters and clams or to sip in the sun: a beachcombers wine. Got that OBXers. I'm already looking forward to clamming in the Albermarle Sound.  These wines are 100% Albarino and excellent values as the suggested retail price in this group ranges from $14 to $17.  Keep following the #Winestudio session as it continues into May with Albarino blends and other wines from DO Rias Baixas. Cheers.

Adegas Gran Vinum, 2015 Nessa DO Rías Baixas ($17) - citrus and stone fruit, mellow minerals and saline, bright acids (favorite of the group)

Martin Codax, 2014 Martin Codax DO Rías Baixas ($17) - floral nose, multi citrus flavors, very crisp

Rectoral do Umia, 2014 Viñabade DO Rías Baixas ($15) - serve very cold to increase the floral appeal and acids (least favorite of the group)

Señorio de Rubiós, 2015 Robaliño DO Rías Baixas ($16) - creamy citrus lemon on the palate; minerals and salt in the acidic finish

Veiga Naum, 2014 Veiga Naum DO Rías Baixas ($15) - I received a cooked bottle, but others mentioned its racy acids and deep salinity

ATTIS Xion (Attis Bodega y Viñedos) 2014 DO Rías Baixas ($14) - extended lemon creamsicle, saline, bright acids

Monday, April 25, 2016

Caboose to Beltway Berliner Weisse on the W&OD

theCompass view of
the W&OD between
Sterling and Vienna
Beltway's selection on 4/23/2016
On Friday afternoons and Saturday, take a moderate bike ride from Vienna's Caboose Brewing Company to Sterling's Beltway Brewing Company and quench your thirst with a low abv Berliner Weisse. The tasting room at Beltway is only open during this period so plan accordingly. The brewery provides samples of their contracted brews plus two house offerings - one being the Berliner Weisse Sour Ale (4% abv). This is a refreshing ale, light, very fruity, and tart. Approximately 11 miles to the east, Caboose has been pouring their The "Zoo" Berliner Weisse (3.4%) since their inception last year. The latest iteration is a little less fruity and comes across dry and effervescent- but with a dose of sour and tartness. And as always, theCompass Winery, Brewery, Distillery Locator Mobile App can guide you to all the breweries and wineries off the W&OD Bike Trail and beyond.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Briney Melon Gose, Where Art Thou?

This week I failed to grab the newest Anderson Valley Brewing Company Gose release, Briney Melon Gose, so I decided to drown my sorrows with my existing Gose collection. This tart style is traditionally brewed with salted water, malted wheat, and augmented with Coriander and originated in Goslar and Leipzig Germany. The tartness is created using lactic bacteria and is normally comparable to a Berliner Weisse. And like the Wit beer style, Gose has been resurrected by the American craft beer industry.  My favorite American version remains the Anderson Valley Blood Orange Gose (4.2% abv) - which provides both tartness and tangy flavors.  Sierra Nevada Brewing Company Otra Vez (4.5% abv) is a new year-round offering that includes prickly pear cactus and grapefruit that is bittered and finished with experimental hops. Once again the tangy infusion of fruit completely compliments the tartness. There's also a pronounced hop presence at the finish which also blends nicely. The Victory Brewing Company Kirsch Gose (4.7%) comes across the tartest with cherries and cherry juice added after fermentation. The cherries dominate and the finish is a bot creamy sweet and dry.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Ernst Loosen Discusses Dry Riesling

The Mosel Valley is one of the few areas where phylloxera won't survive in its porous sandy soils. Thus vines are planted "ungrafted" on original rootstock. And many of these ungrafted vines are well over 100 years old. These were a few of the many facts I learned from Ernst Loosen during a recent Dry Riesling seminar at Cork Wine Bar. During this event, the popular and influential owner of Germany's Dr. Loosen winery discussed his family's history, the topography of Mosel as well as Pfalz (home to his Villa Wolf brand) and poured many delicious dry Rieslings.

In the Mosel Valley, vineyards are generally steep, south facing, and in many cases comprised of red or blue slate soils. Ernst spent considerable time discussing these slate soils -- particularly with a map displaying vineyards by soil type. Besides being well drained and nutrient poor (forcing the roots to dig deep), the slate also radiates heat creating mini micro-climates. The vineyards are also protected from "foul" weather drifting over from France by the Rhenish-Westphalian Slate Mountains. And as stipulated by an edict from the 1700s, only Riesling can be grown in the Mosel Valley.
Ernst also discussed the Dr. Loosen pedigree as the estate has been in the same family for 200 years. His grandparents had two separate estates and these were joined by marriage with the current winery coming from his grandmother's holdings. Interestingly one side of the family only produced dry Rieslings whereas the other only sweeter versions. Today, the winery's six major vineyards are designated as “Erste Lage” -- equivalent to grand cru -- as designated in the 1868 Prussian classification of Mosel vineyards.  Wines from these estates are designated single-vineyard whereas all other Dr. Loosen wines are labeled as estate wines. 

Ernst also stressed how Dr. Loosen Rieslings can age, both in the bottle as well as in the large oak casks used for fermenting and aging. In fact, through a friend of his grandfather's he learned about a method of extreme aging.. He conducted his own experiment and by creating a reductive environment with continual topping off and making sure the yeast were still active, he was able to validate that a wine could age 17 years in cask was still by lively and vibrant. The extended maturation in the cask, on full lees, stabilizes the wine naturally and provides time for it to develop structure and deeper complexity.  Seventeen years is by no means a standard practice but they do age most of their Rieslings on the lees for at least a year -- and usually for two.

2014 Dr. Loosen Riesling Dry ($12)
This is the winery's entry level wine made from contracted fruit that Dr. Loosen's vineyard manager oversees. Most of these vineyards reside in blue slate soils. For such an inexpensive wine there is a pronounced floral aroma, a touch of minerals and racy acids.

2014 Dr. Loosen “Red Slate” Riesling Dry ($18)
This wine is made from red slate estate vineyards in Erden and Ürzig and fermented on its less for 12 months in the 3,000-liter oak casks. This is a richer, rounder, and more elegant wine, with intense minerals that compliment the citrus profile. The finish is more subdued but plenty refreshing.

2013 Wehlener Sonnenuhr (The Sundial of Wehlen) Riesling GG Alte Reben ($54)
This single vineyard GG wine comes from the steep and rocky blue slate vineyard (VAY-len-er ZON-en-ooer) where the vines are well over 100 years old. The wine is fermented and aged in traditional 1,000-liter Fuder casks on less for one year. The result is a full bodied, yet feminine wine showing more apple over citrus and still plenty of acids for a refreshing finish. Ernst refers to this wine as a graceful ballet dancer.

2012 Erdener Treppchen (The Little Staircase of Erden) Riesling GG Alte Reben ($54)
Long ago, in order to tend the vines, workers built stone steeps into the hillside of this red slate vineyard. Ernst referred to this wine as a "mountain climber", not only referencing the stone steps, but also because it is a muscular wine - complex and intense. There is also a considerable mineral content - almost minty in flavor that helps transition the wine from its wet stone aroma to the finish.

2013 Ürziger Würzgarten (The Spice Garden of Ürzig) Riesling GG Alte Reben ($54)
The steep Ürziger Würzgarten (ERTS-ih-ger VERTS-gar-ten) vineyard was planted in red volcanic soil over 100+ years ago. Like the other GG wines, this one is fermented and aged in Fuder cask for one year before bottling. The herbal aroma is overpowering with the palate exploding with tropical and mineral driven flavors. Another intense offering.

2012 Ürziger Würzgarten (The Spice Garden of Ürzig) Riesling GG Alte Reben Reserve ($92)
 This reserve wine is the same fruit from the previous wine, but kept in oak for 24 months and then aged a year in the bottle before release. Whereas the GG version was intense, this wine is smooth and elegant - almost delicate. The acids are soft, but still refreshing. Fantastic.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Virginia Winemakers Discuss the 2016 Governor's Cup Case Wines

With the conclusion of the 2016 Governor’s Cup® competition, the Virginia Wine Board and Virginia Vineyards Association have organized four regional Governor's Cup Case educational series. These forums are designed to introduce the dozen wines in the Governor's Cup Case as well as to allow the winemakers and vineyard managers to discuss their practices that lead to their specific award winning wine. At the first forum this week hosted by Stone Tower Winery there was plenty of vineyard and winery conversations regarding trellis systems, cold soaking, yeast strains, pH, and racking.  And as Doug Fabbioli commented, "it was nice to see open secrets being shared" among the wine makers.

Only wines made from 100% grown Virginia fruit are eligible for the Virginia's Governor's Cup and at the 2016 competition 38 of these wines were awarded Gold medals (they scored an average of 90-100 points). The twelve wines with the highest average score were identified as the "Governor's Cup Case". The wine with the highest overall score is the Governor's Cup Winner and in 2016 that honor went to the Keswick Vineyards 2014 Cabernet Franc Estate Reserve. Congratulations to winemaker Stephen Barnard and the Schornberg family.

Master of Wine Jay Youmans directed the competition judging and will present the wines during these educational forums.  What is readily apparent in both the case wines as well as the list of gold winning wines was the dominance of Cabernet Franc, the ascendancy of Petit Manseng, and the absence of Viognier -- the commonwealth's allegedly signature grape. Cabernet Franc is well suited to the Virginia environment, from it's clay soils, early ripening, and loose clusters and Youmans noted that almost all the case club reds were either 100% Cab Franc or included some percentage of the grape if a blended wine.

The winemakers who attended the forum were very enthusiastic about Petit Manseng. Like Cab Franc, the grape grows in loose clusters allowing moisture to evaporate before inducing rot. The small, thick skins also protect from our summer humidity. The downside is these small grapes produce small yields - although it appears Horton Vineyards coaxes a larger yield than other vineyards. Neil Glaser of Horton also recounted how their winery was the first in the United States to sell Petit Manseng in 1999 when the grape variety was not registered with the TTB as a grape name. Thus the winery labelled the wine as a place name until the following year when Jenny McCloud of Chrysalis Vineyards petitioned to have the grape name added to the official registrar.

Since Petit Manseng can be produced in a range of styles from dry to semi-dry to a dessert wine, the winemakers discussed the difficulty in marketing the wine. For instance, the Michael Shaps 2014 Petit Manseng is completely dry whereas the Horton Vineyards 2014 Petit Manseng is made off dry, the more traditional style for this highly acidic grape. Youmans commented that unless Virginia winemaker's devise a labeling scheme the wine may encounter the same consumer confusion as Alsatian wines where the consumer has no idea of the wine's sweetness until the cork is pulled.

Virginia wine on theCompass
After tasting the dozen wines I was impressed with the breadth of quality from the older, more established wineries to the smaller or younger establishments. Stone Tower's first estate wine was impressive and a visit to relative newcomer Granite Heights must be planned. Bluestone has landed in the case club a couple times recently and demonstrates that as consumers we should not ignore the Shenandoah Valley. Also geographically, Loudoun County provided three of these wines and the Monticello region five. But cheers to all Virginia wine and the winemakers and vineyard workers who are making the industry successful.

Virginia's 2016 Governor's Cup Case Wines
Future Governor's Cup Case Educational Series

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Integrating Beer & Cheese at Right Proper Brewing Company

This weekend I returned to Right Proper Brewing Company - in reality the legacy Shaw Brewpub & Kitchen as the brewery has also opened a  larger brewing facility and tasting room in  Brookland. Good for you Catholic University folks. The occasion of my visit was to introduce Finca Hispana owner Peter Deutsch to the DC beer scene and Right Proper's "Beer for the Soul" seemed a good choice. I'm attracted to the brewery because of their portfolio of low abv funky and tart Belgium and French Farmhouse ales. A perfect example is their Ornithology Grisette (3.9% abv) fermented using a house mixed-culture of wild yeasts in 45 hl French oak foudres. This Saison-like beer was originally designed to server to miners as opposed to the farmhand target of Saison. Right Proper's includes a wheat based wort and the final product is light with funky flavors. I'm a Berliner Weisse fan and their Kick Kick Snare Berliner Weisse (3.5% abv) is solid with sharp tartness

After our Southern Fried Chick-Filet, Peter was interested in the numerous cheese offerings which I never realized was that expansive. We choose a sampling of three, one Caromont Red Row (raw cow’s milk) from Virginia, Spring Brook Reading (raw cow's milk) from Vermont, and a cheese to be named later. I paired these with the NABI Farmhouse Ale (4.5% abv) and an unwittingly excellent choice. The funky and yeasty ale paired well with each of these cheeses.  And for now the NABI is my favorite Right Proper beer.

Next stop, the Brookland location.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Lebanese Wine From Chateau Ksara

Last August during Wine Bloggers Conference 2015 I was able to sample a few Bordeaux styled red wines from Lebanon's Chateau Ksara.  They were the Château Ksara made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petit Verdot grapes and oak aged for 18 months; the Cuvée IIIème Millénaire Ksara’s flagship red; and the 100%  Cabernet Sauvignon. These wines were big and bold wines with structure and plenty of tannins.  And priced very reasonably.

Wine making in what is today Lebanon dates back nearly 9,000 years ago and in Antiquity, from 3000 BC until Roman conquest, the Phoenicians exported wine throughout the Mediterranean. This trade pattern continued into the Middle Ages facilitated by Venetian merchants. Even when Lebanon was absorbed into the Ottoman Empire wine making was permitted for religious purposes allowing the Christian community to continue the tradition. In the mid 1850s, even with political strife occurring often, the modern Lebanese wine making industry commenced when Jesuit missionaries introduce new viticultural and vinicultural methods as well as new vines from French-governed Algeria  These priests planted vineyards in the Bekaa Valley which is known for its Mediterranean climate consisting of hot dry summers with cool nights,and its own natural water table from melting snow from surrounding mountain ranges. Indigenous varieties grown since the Phoenician period such as Marami and Baytamouni were replaced by French varieties such as Syrah, Chardonnay, and Cabernet-Sauvignon.

One of these vineyards would eventually turn into Chateau Ksara, the oldest and largest winery in Lebanon. The name translates to fortress as the current winery was the site of a fortress during the Crusader era.  The Jesuit priests and other Lebanese wineries persevered through two World Wars and more recently civil war and Syrian & Israeli invasions. Eventually the Jesuit fathers sold Chateau Ksara to its present owners to conform with the directives of the Vatican II synod. Today there are 33 wineries operating in Lebanon all based in the Bekaa Valley.

Last week while browsing a local wine store I noticed the familiar Cuvée IIIème Millénaire label. Then I noticed another Ksara option, the Blanc de Blancs ($11), a Bordeaux-ish white blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Chardonnay. In general this is a nice wine, but a bit patchy with three noticeable sensations from nose to tail, but not fluid throughout. The nose is floral, the mid slightly nutty and creamy (four months in oak), and the finish is bright and acidic. For $11, well worth the buy.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

An Introduction to Galicia's DO Rías Baixas #WineStudio

Spain wine regions are usually noted for their dry desert-like conditions and bold red wines. The major exception to this rule is the Galicia region of north-western Spain, located along the Atlantic coastline and bordering Portugal to its south. This is a wet and green region, plenty of vegetation that feeds off the 71 inches of rain per year. In comparison, Bordeaux averages half that at 37.4 inches/year. In this  moisture rich environment red wines are a rarity and the white Albariño grape dominates. In fact it consists of 90% of all grape plantings and is the primary reason for the DO Rías Baixas denomination. 

During April and May we will be learning more about this region through the twitter based project #WineStudio. Protocol Wine Studio provides an agenda which elaborates on the many characters and pairings available with Rías Baixas Albariño. Below is some information you may have missed from last night. 

The DO was created in 1980, but when Spain joined the EU in 1986 the DO was changed to simply Rías Baixas as EU laws did not recognize a DO named for a single grape variety. I don't know why. In order to be labeled Rías Baixas, the wine must consist of at least 70% Albariño - and with the amount of this grape grown, a rather easy goal. The denomination also permits six other types of wines which includes the Rías Baixas Albariño - 100% Albariño from any sub-region. (See box.) According to Rias Baixas Wines, DO Rías Baixas encompasses five distinct sub-regions. Ribeira do Ulla is the newest (formed in 2000) and is the most northern region. Val do Salnés is known as the birthplace of the Albariño grape. This is the original and oldest sub-region and it's fingers reach out into the Atlantic.  Soutomaior is the smallest of the sub-regions and was registered in 1996. Soils are light and sandy over granite bedrock. Condado do Tea (The County of Tea) is named after the river Tea, a tributary of the Miño River which separates the border with Portugal. O Rosal also resides against the Miño River -- adjacent to the Atlantic.
DO Rías Baixas Wine Types:
  • Rías Baixas
  • Rías Baixas Albariño –100% Albariño, grapes can be sourced from any sub-zone
  • Rías Baixas Salnés
  • Rías Baixas Condado
  • Rías Baixas Rosal
  • Rías Baixas Barrica – wines aged in oak, can be red or white
  • Rías Baixas Tinto – red wine, less than 1% of all production

Because of the high rainfall and humidity grape vines are widely spaced and trained on stone pergolas and a wire trellis called a “parra".  These parras can reach up to seven feet tall, allowing breezes to prevent mildew and to promote even ripening. During harvest, workers must stand on grape bins in order to collect the grape bunches.

Despite the high rainfall amounts,  Rías Baixas vineayrds are blessed with ample sunshine - averaging over 2,200 hours of sunshine per year. This sunshine in conjunction with the cooler climate provides an environment for high natural grape acidity. Albariño wines are also known for their floral and mineral character, most likely impacted soil composition within Rías Baixas. The bedrock is primarily hard granite with a top layer of  mineral-rich alluvial (a combination of clay, silt, sand and gravel) formed from deposits eroded from running water.

Hope to see you online next Tuesday night 9PM ET. Cheers.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Spirits Review: Lunazul Reposado Tequila

I needed an inexpensive tequila for a party and choose the Lunazul Reposado ($21) - 100% Blue Agave. Being a reposado, the tequila rested between two and twelve months in oak. In this case used bourbon barrels. Lunazul was founded by Francisco Beckmann, a seventh generation descendent of Jose Antonio de Cuervo. In 1992 he sold his stake in the family dynasty but kept his share of agave fields in order to start Tierra de Agaves estate and the Lunazul (Blue Moon) label. Today the distillery is controlled by his son Jorge who grew up working all phases of the operation - from harvest to distillation. The master distiller is Francisco Quijano who's distillation philosophy is to keep things simple. The Lunazul Reposado has a light flavor profile; oily texture with some vanilla and caramel with a smoky burn. This is a very serviceable tequila, at the price, a perfect mixer and if tasting straight go neat or just a drop of water. Over ice gets too diluted. Cheers.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Wine of the Smokies - Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Moonshine isn't the only game in town in East Tennessee. Wine has gained traction west of the Smokies with over a dozen operating east of Knoxville. There's even The Rocky Top Wine Trail to guide you to five of these; although we still prefer the theCompass Winery, Brewery, Distillery Locator Mobile App. During a recent trip I was able to sample wine from three Tennessee wineries and yes, a majority of them are sweet. There's plenty of fruit wines, muscadine wines, hybrids, labrusca, and blends of all kinds. When vinifera did surface, the wine was usually made from left coast grapes -- although there was one wine that included locally grown Viognier. In general, the wines I sampled were well made and included several pleasant surprises.

Three wineries operate in the tourist mecca of Gatlinburg. We visited two starting with Tennessee Homemade Wines. As the name suggests, the family has been making homemade wines for over 100 years and the current batch consists of fruit, muscadine, and the world's most popular white labrusca grape Niagara. This wine wasn't bad, well made, just too much muskiness for my tastes. When in doubt, the Strawberry Stomp is excellent - comes across light and dry - and could pass for a dry rose. Well, maybe not completely - but close enough.

Sugarland Cellars was the second Gatlinburg winery on our agenda and provides a more traditional wine tasting experience with tours of the winery's operation. There's a plethora of unique choices from blended muscadine to fruit wines to sparkling Cayuga-Niagara - the Bliss. For fruit wines there's a sweet Cherry – Kee, but you have to try the Loganberry - a cross between a blackberry and a raspberry. And tasty.  The Century White was my favorite - a blend of local Seyval and Viognier, blended with Washington state Riesling and more Viognier from California.
Townsend is another entry point into the Smokey Mountains - about 20 miles west of Gatlinburg. Cades Cove Cellars is a nice post park excursion since alcoholic beverages are not allowed into the national park. Overall this was my favorite winery stop with all the wines getting positive reviews from our party. For whites, they produce a nice Riesling using Washington State grapes and a Seyval based Nature Excellence Bliss Adams Fall White.  Our companions enjoyed the muscadine based Rustic Cabin Red and we all enjoyed their dessert offerings - particularly the excellent Red Raspberry.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Spirits of the Smokies - Gatlinburg, Tennessee

We had planned a trip to the Tennessee side of the Smokey Mountains not realizing that one of the entrances, Gatlinburg, is the equivalent of a seaside boardwalk. The main street includes a rather intriguing aquarium, miniature golf,  sweet shops, stores, tourist traps and plenty of distilleries. Many times I heard the phrase "Disney for Adults". Unlike the Commonwealth there are no limits to shine tastings and each distillery provides a bit of entertainment - from the comical tasting staff to live music. These distilleries are all withing walking distance and more importantly distill their products on site; and in most you can see the shine or whiskey being distilled.

The Doc Collier Moonshine Distillery is based on the moonshine legend William "Doc" Collier's corn and sugar shine recipe. They claim to be the only Certified Craft Distillery in town and promote the pure English Mountain spring water. The spirits are only single distilled and the flavored shines utilize strictly juices and no artificial flavors and extracts. Thus, the straight shines were rather harsh - spicy with plenty of burn. Yet the flavored were quite good - even though I normally shy away from that style. The produce the always popular Apple Pie, Sweet Tea, Blackberry, Peach, Cherry, and Firecracker. The Peach and Blackberry were excellent with the former perhaps the best flavored shine I've tasted.

 I had the best experience at Sugarlands Distilling Company with James leading our group through a hilarious tasting. The distillery produces over a dozen mostly flavored shines many based off recipes from the Discovery Channel's Moonshiners series. For instance, there's Tickle’s Dynamite Cinnamon, Mark Rogers American Peach, Mark & Digger's Rye Apple, and Jim Tom Hedrick’s Unaged Rye. In addition, their Appalachian Apple Pie is probably the best offering. I went home with Jim Tom's shine - basically being a fan of the series.

Ole Smoky Moonshine operates two distilleries in Gatlinburg, "The Holler" and the Ole Smokey Barrelhouse - where the Ole Smoky Whiskey is made and laid to age. They claim that the Holler is America's most visited distillery and you've probably seen the distillery's television commercials. The staff was friendly and entertaining at both locations and at the Holler we listened to live music when tasting. Ole Smoky produces a plethora of flavored moonshine and whiskey - many that are only available at the distillery. I wasn't particularly a fan of most of these with the exception of the Mountain Java. For some reason that one spoke to me. I was also pleased with their straight shines, the Original (100 proof) and Blue Flame (128 proof), both clean and smooth at such high alcohol content.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

#VABreweryChallenge - Bristol Virginia

I've been attending the Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion annually for the past few years and have always wondered when the Virginia craft beer movement (#VABreweryChallenge) would hit that city. Two years ago I saw signs of an awakening and it looks like there are now two breweries operating within the festival's parameter.  On Piedmont Street adjacent to the festival's Piedmont stage, Bristol Brewery (#33) operates a 10 barrel brewing system.  On this visit there were 12 beers on tap, eight standard and four seasonal. My sampler included the Piedmont Pilsner, Barefoot Blonde, Helle Raiser Lager, Double Loco IPA, and Holiday Porter. The last was a little too holiday spicy for me, but the remainder were solid beers. The pilsner, blonde, and lager were all fresh and clean with a nice balance of hops and when appropriate salty minerals. The Double IPA was smooth - not overbearing with hops. My companion preferred the Sunset IPA (clean and citrus hoppy) and that's what we chose to fill the brewery's jug-like growler. Looking forward to hanging out at the brewery's outdoor patio during BRRR performances.

In recent festivals the organizers have expanded the festival grounds to include Cumberland Square Park where Studio Brew (#34) is now located. Their motto is "Beer is an Art" and is filled with an art - photo studio theme.  The beer styles are more aggressive and experimental but I started with a basic - the Das Pils. This is a nicely made beer - one of my favorites - with balanced minerals, salt, and hops. My sampler also included the Mexican Backfire, a lager augmented with agave, but the agave is very subtle - wishing there was a little more. The King's Porter is a standard light toffee porter and the IRA Hop Bomb a clean hoppy IPA. The most aggressive beer was the Dancing Monk Barrel, a Belgium Specialty Ale aged in used bourbon barrels. The bourbon's presence is noticeable throughout from the aroma to the burn at the finish. This is easily the most bourbon infused beer I've tasted - drink last because all other beers will taste weak and dull afterwards. Cheers to Beer as Art.