Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Finally, a Trip to Dogfish Head Craft Brewery

This month I finally was able to visit the holy grail of east coast brewing, Dogfish Head Craft Brewery.  In my opinion, this brewery isn't lionized because of its iconic brands such as the 90 Minute series but because co-founder Sam Calagione freed us from the Reinheitsgebot. Before Dogfish Head opened in 1995, almost all American beers adhered to the key features of this German law -- brewing with just malted barley, yeast, hops, and water. Calagione blew this stagnation out of the water by not only creating non-conformist beers but also becoming a mini-archeologist and brewing craft beverages enjoyed by ancient cultures. Think of excellent and provoking beers such as Midus Touch, Chateau Jiahu, or Theobroma. Then there is his innovation combining wine must and beer as with Noble Rot and Siracusa Nera. Or think of the special oak treatments such as the Palo Santo Marron. Thus, for those who love any of the funky, sour, or just crazy beers brewed by the thousands of craft breweries today, Dogfish Head was the pioneer.

The brewery is located in Milton Delaware, far from Sam's New England heritage and Dogfish Head, Maine in which the brewery is named. Instead, Delaware is the home state of co-founder and current VP Mariah Calagione -- Sam's wife. The brewery first opened in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware as a brewpub which is still operating today as Dogfish Head Brewings & Eats. After those early days the brewery's growth mandated a relocation to a larger facility in Milton, which has continued to expand as demand dictates.

Visitors to Dogfish Head first notice how the facility is massive, with fermenting tanks erected through ceilings and the long, long warehouse. Most are probably unaware of the equally large packaging facility located a football field behind the brewery.  Dogfish Head is easily the largest brewery I've ever seen outside a stop in Golden, Colorado. In fact, their experimental R&D unit alone is larger than most craft breweries. According to the Brewers Association, in 2017 Dogfish Head produced 276,243 barrels of beer. In comparison neighboring Crooked Hammock Brewing released 1,300 barrels and Burley Oak Brewing Company in Berlin, Maryland 2,800 barrels.  Yet Dogfish Head is still only the 12th largest independent craft brewery as defined by the Brewers Association.

In contrast to the brewing size, the tasting room is rather small - more comparable to a routine craft brewery. Obviously then, off season is the most opportune time to visit as I heard horror stories of long summer queues.  And there is no shortage of beers available as they pour close to two dozen beers as samples, pints, crowlers, or growlers. Where else can you find the 120 Minute IPA, Bourbon Barrel-Aged Palo Santo Marron, Pennsylvania Tuxedo, Viniferous IPA, or Wood-Aged Bitches Brew all in one spot. They even pour beers that have graduated from their R&D system but are not intended for wider distribution.


The tasting room is also where visitors schedule tours - and Dogfish Head offers several varieties. The shortest is the Quick Sip a 25 minute free tour that includes four free samples of beer. The hour long Off-Centered tour is most recommended where for $10 participants receive four samples and stops at " our 200-barrel brewhouse, Off-Centered Center and even our new R&D system where you’ll have a chance to sample one of our experimental brews and we finish the tour out at our packaging facility where we show you have everything is kegged, canned and bottled".  Of notable interest is the original brewing equipment (a bucket and electronic football game) used by Calagione to develop the 90 Minutes series. And on our tour we sampled an excellent IPA that most likely won't even make it into the tasting room. And for visitors who really plan ahead look for the limited Grain To Glass, Randall Jr., and Distillery tours with access to normally off-limit parts of the brewery. And yes the distillery official relocated from the Rehoboth Beach brewpub to a larger pasture in Milton.

For those heading to the Maryland or Delaware beaches, visiting Dogfish Head takes just a slight adjustment from your route.  For those brewery tourists, visit nearby Lewes and Rehoboth Beach to broaden your craft beverage trip. And as always, theCompass Craft Beverage Finder will guide you there.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Santa Cristina and the Italian IGT

Most of Italy's wines are labeled DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) or DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata), classifications that set rules governing concerning the viticultural zone, permitted grape varieties, wine styles, and more. Barolo DOCG, Chianti Classico DOCG, Prosecco DOC, and Soave DOC are popular examples of each.

However, many wines failed to qualify for DOC or DOCG status, not because they were of poor quality, but because they were made from grape varieties (or blends) not sanctioned under DOC/G laws. One example are the Super-Tuscans -- Sangiovese blended with international grape varieties. Thus in 1992 the IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) was created -- granting winemakers more freedom to create unique blends. IGT wines are only required to state the vintage, region of origin, and producer name on the label and be made from at least 85% grapes from the region.

Santa Cristina is one establishment that utilizes this classification by creating several Toscana IGT wines. The winery is located in the small historic town of Cortona and in 1946 Niccolò Antinori released their first vintage -- a Chianti Classico. However, with the passage of the 1984 DOCG laws requiring lower vineyard yields, Chianti Classico grapes became so complex and rich that they required more aging than what this fruity, fresh wine should have. In 1987, the winery stopped using the Chianti Classico designation and in 1994 adopted the IGT classification by adding Merlot to soften their signature red wine. This wine has evolved into the Santa Cristina Rosso Toscana IGT and I recently received a sample accompanied by two other Santa Cristina wines. In general, they provide immense quality at a noticeably reasonable price point. Cheers.

Santa Cristina Rosso, Toscana IGT 2016 ($13)
The Rosso not only incorporates Sangiovese and Merlot, but also Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Each of these grape varieties were fermented separately  , then blended and aged partly in oak and stainless steel. The result is a dry, but fruity wine - very food friendly -  with juicy and savory texture finishing with moderate and lasting tannins. Give me a burger or pizza.

Santa Cristina Cipresseto Rosato, Toscana IGT 2017 ($14)
Santa Cristina was one of the first Italian wineries to release a rosé wine and is named after the cypress trees which reside in the Tuscan landscape. This wine is predominately Sangiovese and offers soft red apples and strawberries followed by a long and fresh finish. Nicely done.

Santa Cristina Pinot Grigio, delle Venezie DOC 2017 ($13)
In the past this would have been referred to as an IGT delle Venezie wine but in 2017 the delle Venezie DOC was created that covers the Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Trentino-Alto Adige, and Veneto regions. Seven out of ten delle Venezie wines are Pinot Grigio and this grape variety is required to be 85% of the bottled wine. This is another soft wine, with citrus and green apples dominating the palate with a velvety texture and lasting tail. A great example of delle Venezie Pinot Grigio.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Dave Pickerell and George Washington Rye Whiskey

Last weekend I had my first opportunity to taste the Limited Edition George Washington Rye Whiskey ($185) distilled directly onsite at Mount Vernon at George Washington's Distillery® and Gristmill. The distillery is a fully functional reconstruction of our First President's distillery which in 1799 was one of the largest whiskey distilleries in America. At that time six distiller slaves operated five copper pot stills continuously throughout the year. In 1799, Washington’s Distillery produced almost 11,000 gallons of whiskey, valued at $7,500 (approximately $120,000 today) while the average Virginia distillery produced about 650 gallons of whiskey per year which was valued at about $460.

The whiskey I sampled is based on a recipe used by Washington and his farm manager, James Anderson, and was crafted by Master Distiller David Pickerell using original methods available at that time. The spirit was double distilled using a mash of 60% rye, 35% corn and 5% malted barley. For an un-aged spirit it possesses plenty of weight with slight spice and sweetness that burns off slowly. Sadly and unbeknownst to me, Pickerell had passed away a few days earlier at the age of 70. Terrible news and the Whiskey Wash's obituary described how influential Pickerell was to the spirits industry and particularly to American rye whiskey. God bless.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

#TempranilloDay and Discovering Rioja in Three Letters with Bodegas LAN

"Rioja is a privileged region for growing grapes and making top-quality wines, with a unique personality and an exceptional aptitude for ageing. The Rioja wine region is located in northern Spain, on both sides of the River Ebro. The local terrain perfectly delimits the region and sets it apart from surrounding territories. From an administrative point of view, however, its 63,593 hectares of vineyards are divided between three provinces on the Upper Ebro - La Rioja (43,885 ha), Alava (12,934 ha) and Navarre (6,774 ha)."....... DOCa Rioja

In 1972 Bodegas LAN was founded and named after the first initials of these three provinces of DOCa Rioja, but with the L representing Logroño - part of the larger La Rioja. Their estate, Viña Lanciano Vineyard, is set on 72 hectares that are nearly surrounded by a meander of the Ebro River. The river also acts as a natural frontier between Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa. According to DOCa Rioja, "in Rioja Alavesa there is a significant influence of the Atlantic climate and the soils are chalky-clay situated in terraces and small plots. In Rioja Alta the climate is also mainly Atlantic, while the soils are chalky-clay, ferrous-clay or alluvial. Rioja Baja has a drier, warmer climate, thanks to the Mediterranean influence and the soils are alluvial and ferrous-clay." And as their name suggests, Bodegas LAN either directly controls or sources from vineyards in each of these three regions.


The winery is also known for their pioneering approach to vinification and oak treatment using the highest-quality oak barrels. These casks are crafted by the world’s best coopers – including French, American, Russian and hybrids.  LAN manages each tank individually - based on the destination it has been assigned. Malolactic fermentation is undertaken in new barrels and in the ageing process, LAN "re-instills our identity onto each wine separately with the use of different kinds of oak as well as with hybrid barrels, a type of cask pioneered by the winery". French Oak
Sourced from various forests in central France (Allier, Tronçais, Jupille…) its characteristic aromas are soft vanilla, clove and chocolate.

American Oak
Coming from Ohio and Missouri, its aromas remind of cocoa and aromatic herbs.

Russian Oak
From the Caucasus and the Adyghe Republic, this type of oak has less fragrance and is more respectful to the wine.

Hybrid Barrels
As pioneers in the use of hybrid barrels, made with American oak staves and French oak heads, their use lend our wines a unique personality.

We recently received two samples to illustrate Bodegas LAN's winemaking process in time for #TempranilloDay. On Thursday November 8th celebrate with a bottle of Tempranillo and follow Twitter #BodegasLAN and #RiojainThreeLetters conversations to learn more about LAN and Rioja. Cheers.

LAN 2015 D-12 ($20)
This wine is a blend of 98% Tempranillo and 2% Mazuelo hand harvested from two plots in the town of Haro (Rioja Alta) and two plots in Laguardia (Rioja Alavesa). D-12 is intended to pay homage to the workers of LAN and the name is a reference to “DEPOSIT 12”, the stainless steel tank that each vintage holds those wines that according to LAN winery personnel have the most outstanding attributes each year.   The juice is fermented in stainless steel tanks at a controlled temperature of 25º C in order to maintain aromatic potential and maximize color extraction. Micro-oxygenation and maceration in contact with the lees prior to malolactic fermentation in order to balance the tannins and display a silky mouthfeel.  The fermented wine is then rests twelve months in new American and French oak barrels followed by twelve months of rounding in the bottle prior to release.  Even after all the oak treatment this is a juicy fruity wine with patches of black pepper and cocoa. It has a fullness that rounds the finish into a lasting statement.

LAN Gran Reserva 2010 ($25)
This wine is 90% Tempranillo and made from a selection of the best grapes coming from 30 year-old, low yielding bush vines in the Rioja Alta and 10% Mazuelo from their Viña Lanciano vineyard. The grapes were de-stemmed and fermented in stainless steel tanks at a controlled temperature of 30º C. The fermented wine was then aged 24 months in American oak and French oak barrels, followed by a minimum of 36 months in the bottle.  This is one full bodied and luscious wine, commanding intense fruit with baking spices and tobacco-leather.  A completely balanced and delicious wine.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Chablis: Climats by Geography

Like many Medieval towns, Chablis is built upon a waterway, the Serein River, which provides the distinct characteristics based on the river's banks. Vines are planted on the hills overlooking both banks, with the right side receiving the evening sun and the left bank the morning sun. This means the right bank receives more exposure - providing a little more flavor to the Chardonnay grapes.  This was definitely true in past years but recently, with a warming climate, many vines on the left bank have been able to achieve full ripeness.  During a Climats by Geography Twitter tasting sponsored by The Chablis Commission, Christy Canterbury MW presented these facts as well as the history of four wines we sampled.

The Chablis region maintains an Appellation D'Origine Controllee (AOC) system with four classifications: Petit Chablis, Chablis, Premier Cru, and Grand Cru. The first two are broader in nature; while the second two consist of specific climats - or micro-terroirs. Our wines were AOC Premier Cru which was created in 1938 and as of 2017 accounted for 14% of Chablis wines. There are 40 Chablis Climats that are Premier Cru with Climat defined as a delimited land parcel with special geological and climatic conditions.

Chablis is a cold grape-growing climate and as Canterbury describes "it is a very continental climate with brutal winters. April can be a stressful time for vignerons when they spend many nights warding away frost in the wines". Chablis is situated in northern Bourgogne, meaning that the region is located closer to Champagne than Côte de Nuits -- and one reason Chardonnay is the preferred grape. The cold climate also provides acidity which is a coveted characteristic of Chablis production.

The second shared character is that the soil is 150 million years old and the Kimmeridgian Limestone is loaded with fossilized oyster shells. This character noticeable amounts of minerals into the wine at times providing a wet stone sensation. And Canterbury noted that these "soils are so distinctive they were quarried to build St. Paul's Cathedral in London".

Right Bank Wines

Chablis Premier Cru Mont de Milieu Drouhin Vaudon 2014
This excellent wine is fresh and bright with a slight lemon character intertwined with wet stone and velvety texture. The grapes are grown on a historical 18th-century Drouhin Vaudon estate that consists of 38 hectares -- all under organic care.  The name Mont de Milieu (middle mountain) was derived from the hill's former position between the County of Champagne and the Duchy of Bourgogne as documents describe Mont De Milieu as far back as the 13th century. The part of the region that faces the town of Chablis is a bit sunnier while the portion that faces the hamlet of Fleys, in the valley to the east, is cooler. And interestingly Mont de Milieu does not have any sub-Climats or further divisions within its borders -- unlike most Chablis Climats.


La Chablisienne 1er Cru Fourchaume La Chablisienne 2016
The wine is characterized by more wet stone mixed with peaches, creamy velvety texture, and a  lingering finish.  Fourchaume is a region that stretches onto a different hillside, attached to the northern edge of the Grand Cru vineyards.  And a little history from Canterbury, the region was written Fourchaulme in 1540 and most likely comes from “fourche” or fork, referring to a fork in the road or the fork between Vaulorent and  Cote de Fontenay.  This La Chablisienne wine is vinified and aged in both fûts (barrels of 228 liters) & stainless steel for approximately one year. Canterbury noted that it has more “stuffing” to benefit from oak aging.


Left Bank Wines

Chablis Premier Cru Montmain Louis Michel & Fils 2016
This wine provides tropical and lychee characters, is saline driven and completes with velvety depth and controlled acids.  The Michel family has  grown and produced Chablis since 1850. Guillaume Gicqueau-Michel oversees his family estate and one of his signatures is using only stainless steel to vinify and age his wine. According to Canterbury this allows for only the "purest essence of his terroirs".  The family maintains two hectares in Montmains with two parcels in its center, near the Fôrets sub-appellation. Montmains is a large Chablis Climats that i sub-divided into two other two sub-Climats. Unlike Mont de Milieu, which has no shadows from the sun, Montmains vineyards do.

Domaine Denis Race Chablis Premier Cru, Vaillons 2015
This delicious wine has a citrus and peach base to the wet stone, solid acids and lingering tail. Domaine Denis Race is a 4th generation estate with the parcels between two and 65 years old. This wine has bigger fruit as the Vaillons is south-facing and known for its intense sunlight. Spelled Valion in 1429, this Chablis Climats overlooks a little valley or “vallon”. According to our host, this may have been corrupted to Vaillons by way of the old folk who used to call valleys “valsons”. 







Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Abruzzo’s Codice Citra and Ferzo Wines

"For wine lovers on a budget, try Montepulciano d'Abruzzo -- the lively, juicy red wine that comes from the rugged Abruzzi hills above the Adriatic coast of central Italy", Eric Asimov
This region (known as Abruzzo or Abruzzi) is situated east of Rome and is bordered by the Molise wine region to the south, the Marche to the north, the Lazio to the west, and the Adriatic to its east.  Abruzzo is sub-divided into these wine-producing provinces: Controguerra, Teramo, Chieti, Pescara, and L’Aquila (L’Aquilano) -- with Chieti being the prime wine region.  Most of Abruzzo is rugged with  65% mountainous which helps the wine growing climate by blocking most storms from the west. And to the east, the "Adriatic Sea provides a moderating Mediterranean climate for the vineyards that run along a west-east orientation in calcareous clay river valleys that flow from the mountains to the sea".

Nearly 80% of all the wine in the Abruzzo region is produced by large co-operative wineries with one of the four largest being Codice Citra. The winery was founded in 1973 and their wines are "estate grown and bottled from a collection of 3,000 family-owned vineyards in the lush and various microclimates of Abruzzo’s Chieti province".

Most of these vineyards are small multi-generational plots sometimes less than a couple acres. Citra focuses on the regions primary indigenous grapes Montepulciano d'Abruzzo and Trebbiano d'Abruzzo as well as the lesser-known Pecorino, Passerina, and Cococciola grapes. Asimov makes clear the "distinction between montepulciano, the grape, which is grown in the Abruzzi region and northward into Le Marche, and Montepulciano, a town in Tuscany and the source of a very different wine known as vino nobile di Montepulciano, made from the Sangiovese grape". I recently received samples of four Citra wines representing two of their portfolios. Cheers.


CITRA – it’s the most historical line available in the U.S., these wines offer clean varietal expressions that provide the perfect introduction to Abruzzo.

CITRA Trebbiano d’Abruzzo 2017 ($10)
A clean and fresh wine showcasing green apples and light citrus.

CITRA Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2017 ($10)
There's great value in this medium bodied wine solid fruit and enough backbone, tannins, and acids to create an enjoyable encounter.

FERZO – a new introduction to the U.S., whose name refers to patches of fabric stitched together to create a sail, is a union of the finest viticultural ‘patches’ of southern Abruzzo, hand harvested from 20-year-old vines.

FERZO Pecorino Terre di Chieti 2017 ($26)
A complete delight, fresh and velvety with tropical flavors and minerals - thinking wet stone. The finish is lively and lingering.

FERZO Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2016 ($26)
Aged 14 months in French oak, this wine is delicious. The red fruit sinks into a velvety texture surrounded by spices and approachable tannins. Once again the acids provide a lasting tail.

Monday, October 29, 2018

#VABreweryChallenge (#64): Chubby Squirrel Brewing Co. Opens in Fairfax City

There are nine craft breweries within Fairfax County with the newest finally populating Fairfax City: Chubby Squirrel Brewing Co.. This facility is located quite close to George Mason University and owners Boyd Harrison and Josh Paine plan to accommodate the thirsts of both age appropriate students and local residents. They also offer an interesting mix of brewpub cuisine such as wings, pierogies, poutine, sliders, and fries as well as wine and cider for those inclined.   Bu craft beer is the main attraction and out of the gate Chubby Squirrel created a diverse and tasty portfolio.  On our visit the lineup consisted of Hefeweizen, WereSquirrel Black IPA,  Squirrel In the Rye, Blonde Squirrel Blonde Ale, Pumpkin Eater (Nitro) Pumpkin - Yam Beer,  Golden Squirrel (Cask) Belgian Tripel.  The blonde, rye, and tripel were our favorites, but in general all were respectful for their styles and worth a taste.  And as always theCompass Craft Beverage Finder will guide you there. Cheers.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Lucien Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace - Offering Both Quality and Value

Americans have have a hard time relating to historical significance as our country is not even 250 years old with the Columbus voyage just 525 years ago.  Yet, almost 600 years ago -- in 1425 -- Romanus Albrecht started producing wine that would eventually evolve into one of Alsace's famous brands: Lucien Albrecht. The current winery traces its heritage to Balthazar Albrecht, who in 1698, settles in Orschwihr after the end of the Thirty Years’ War and cultivates vines. After the phylloxera epidemic and Alsace's return to France post WWI, Henri Albrecht replants vineyards by grafting rootstock to the vines and his success leads to Lucien Albrecht and Crémant d’Alsace. Albrecht leveraged the the work of Julien Dopff and began test productions of sparkling wines in 1971. Five years later the official AOC Crémant d’Alsace designation of origin is established mandating that the sparkling wine be made in the méthode champenoise style and using Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Auxerrois and Chardonnay grapes. Lucien Albrecht is considered as being one of the three founding fathers of the regulated Crémant d’Alsace". These sparkling wines offer outstanding quality at generally lower prices as Champagne.

Lucien Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace Brut ($23)
The grapes for this sparkling wine starts a few days earlier than the harvest for the still wines and the
50% Pinot Blanc and 50% Auxerrois blend are handpicked and are whole cluster pressed. The base wine is fermented completely dry and is usually 8.5% alcohol before dosage and the second fermentation. This process is allowed to finalize after about 18 months which results in perhaps less effervescence but abundant freshness. Besides the ripe stone fruit characters the strength of this wine is in its structure.  There's texture and body, less bready, with a fresh finale. Cheers and great SRP. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Eastern European Moonshine: Rakija, Palinka, Slivovitz

Some of the greatest moments when traveling to Eastern Europe is when you are handed a vessel that doesn't contain its original liquid. Instead it is filled with homemade palinka or slivovitz, a fruit brandy distilled clear and usually at exceedingly high abv - sometimes reaching 70 proof. The liquid has heat, but in the best cases portrays the fruit nicely with a burn that evaporates rather quickly. The brandy is derived from a range of harvested fruit such as peaches, plums, Meggy (sour cherries), Quince, Grapes, Pears, or Apples and has different versions throughout central and eastern Europe: Albania, Austria, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia, the Slovak Republic, and Slovenia.

In most of these countries the spirit is called Rakija or the domestic equivalent to that word and is usually the most popular spirit in that country. In Serbia it is known as Slivovitz, made from plums, and is that country's national drink. In Hungary and parts of Austria it is known as Palinka and the first records of its consumption date from 1332. Landowners, Cistercian monks and Jewish residents continued the traditional methods of double distilled after the fruit has naturally fermented. Today Palinka is widely produced and consumed both legally and illegally and the government is currently battling the EU to legalize the distillation of small quantities of palinka for home use. Home distillation is so popular in Hungary that department stores sell small distilling kits.

In Croatia where Rakija is the most popular spirit, it is sometimes infused with herbs to create Travarica which is usually served at the beginning of meals. Croats in central Croatia enjoy šljivovica, a version of plum brandy, and in throughout the Adriatic different islands and regions infuse with bitters, anise, walnuts, and honey.

In the Washington DC area, access to this spirit is limited. In Virginia most ABC stores carry the kosher Maraska Slivovitz Old Plum Brandy made in the historic city of Zadar. The ABC store in the Arlington section of Courthouse carries a range of Slivovitz from Serbia and Bosnia and in Clarendon or DC check at the Ambar Restaurant which carries a range of Serbian Slivovitz. The Quince is my favorite. In DC, MacArthur Beverages and Schneider's of Capitol Hill carry the Czech Jelinek Slivovitz and many others stores carry a version of Serbian Slivovitz. And in Maryland, the Montgomery County stores carry both the aforementioned Jelinek and Maraska labels as well as the Hungarian Zwack Slivovitz. Cheers.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Farmhouse Wines and Green Spring Farm - "Beyond Sustainable" Farming

We grow by the motto “50% for humans, 50% for nature,” maintaining an important balance between the vines grown for humans and crops grown for soil improvement, Bob Cannard & Fred Cline --Green String Farm

This method of “beyond sustainable” farming, was developed by Bobby Cannard and Fred Cline of Cline Family Cellars and is now known as the Green String method of sustainable farming.  Their laboratory, Green String Farm, is located in Sonoma - specifically in Petaluma - and "serves to teach students how to improve the biology of the lands that they steward while growing naturally healthy food".  This method includes natural remedies for pest management, fertilization, and weeding among others. For instance they use over 1500 sheep and 500 goats to remove harmful weeds from their vineyards.  They also use native root stocks which can be dry farmed (no irrigation) and friendly insects are introduced to control harmful insects.

Farmhouse Wines is the brand name for the wine produced at Green String Farm and it takes its name from the school house located on the property. The portfolio is currently comprised of two unique blends each featuring up to six grape varieties and priced reasonably at $15. Winemaker Charlie Tsegeletos is a 30 year veteran of Sonoma wine making and encourages the grapes to tell their story without the over use of oak treatments.

Farmhouse White ($15)
This is an interesting blend of 41% Palomino, 25% Muscat Canelli, 22% Roussanne, 6% Marsanne, 5% Viognier, and 1% Riesling - with Palomino better known as the Spanish grape used in Sherry.  The juice was cold-fermented in stainless steel tanks without malolactic fermentation which presents a fruit forward, clean wine expressing melon, citrus, and tropical notes and a long coated fresh finish. This wine is dangerous, the bottle is empty before one realizes how much was consumed. 

Farmhouse Red ($15)
This wine is comprised of handpicked 39% Merlot (39%) , Syrah (21%),  Zinfandel (20%),  Grenache (9%), Petite Sirah (7%) , and Mourvèdre (3%) . The fermented wine comes from a combination of both free run and pressed juice that is aged in 40% new French oak for one year.  The result of this process is an easy drinking medium bodied wine with plenty of fruit accompanied by texture and black pepper and a very bright finish.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Ventisquero Grey GCM and Carménère

Ventisquero Grey has been operating in Chile since 1998 -- sourcing fruit from their vineyards located in Chile’s principal wine regions: Coastal Maipo, Casablanca, Colchagua, Leyda and Huasco.  I recently received samples of two excellent and affordable wines from the winery. Cheers.


Ventisquero Grey Carménère 2014 ($20.00)
The fruit for this wine was grown in the Maipo Valley which is located just south of the capital city Santiago and as wine-searcher.com states "...is home to some of the country's most prestigious wines ... and is often described as the 'Bordeaux of South America'". Specifically the Maipo Valley is situated at the most northern end of the Central Valley separated from Mendoza by the Andes Mountains and blocked from the Pacific by the Coastal Range. The sun warms the valley during the day, followed by colder nights which slows ripening, extends the growing season, and leads to grapes with a balance between ripeness and acidity. An ideal environment for the Bordeaux based Carménère. Winemaker Felipe Tosso states that Carménère needs some oak to tame high concentrations of fruit, but too much oak masks the beauty of the fruit, and thus the Grey Carménère is aged a minimum 18 months in oak and at least 8 months in bottle. This method allows the wine to portray the dark red and black fruit characters integrated with a velvety texture and a very fresh palate.

Ventisquero Grey GCM 2017 ($20.00)
The GCM refers to 62% Garnacha, 19% Cariñena, and 19% Mataro (Mourvèdre) from a single block No 28, La Robleria, Apalta Valley - Colchagua from central Chile. According to wine-searcher.com, the "Colchagua Valley boasts a textbook wine-growing climate: warm, but cooled by ocean breezes and dry, but refreshed by rivers and occasional rainfall". And the Apalta Valley sub-region receives the brunt of these cold Humboldt Currents that provide a similar diurnal swing as discussed with the Maipo Valley. Tosso states that 2017 was a hot year where the grapes ripened weeks earlier with good acidity, low alcohol, and ripe tannins. "The GCM is an expression of single block vines that is fresh and fruity and doesn't require lengthy oak again." The wine is very friendly, fruit forward with a noticeable velvety texture and bright acids rounding out the palate. Time to start planning for the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Nonino Single Varietal Grappa - A Concept Before It's Time

 “We are the only distillery in the world with 66 artisan pot stills for distillation”, Elisabetta Nonino

In the modern environment of craft or artisan distillers, the concept of a single varietal grappa makes perfect sense. Yet, 45 years ago that concept was revolutionary -- in all phases of the production cycle -- from suppliers to producer to the consumer. And that's what Benito and Giannola Nonino faced when in 1973 they introduced the first-ever single variety grappa, Nonino Monovitigno, made from Picolit - an indigenous grape from the distillery's home region of Friuli Venezia Giulia.

The concept was revolutionary in that suppliers combined the pomace (the post pressed pulpy matter of grape skins, flesh, seeds, and stems) for all grape varieties into the same bins. The combined pomace was then fermented and distilled into grappa. And most winemakers were reluctant to change this process until Giannola recruited the wives to separate the varieties in exchange for higher payments.

On the producer side, this concept involved additional capital and labor expenses. Nonino utilizes separate stills for each varietal so that the initial investment was minimal yet the number of stills directly correlates to the number of single varietal grappas. As their portfolio expanded, so did their capital expenses. Thus today the distillery operates those 66 artisan pot stills mentioned above. And in order to maintain freshness the distillery operates 24 hours a day during harvest so that the pomace from white grapes are fermented and distilled immediately while the already fermented red grape pomace is distilled on arrival. This preserves the inherent characteristics of the original grape variety.


As one can image, the processes that Nonino has adopted has increased the overall quality of the grappa but at a higher retail price point. And consumers have rewarded the distillery such that "in 1984, Benito and Gianolla solidified their status as industry leaders by introducing the world’s first single-vineyard, single-grape distillate produced using whole grape clusters".

Nonino was founded in 1897 by Orazio Nonino in the Friuli region of Italy and has run through six generations as Benito and Giannola passed control over to their three daughters Cristina, Antonella and Elisabetta (the 5th generation).  This month Elisabetta and sixth generation Francesca visited the United States to showcase not only the single varietal grappas but also their popular Amaro and GIOIELLO® honey distillate spirits.

The duo stressed quality as in the artisan nature of the distillery and furthermore, each specific run. In this respect Nonino grappa could be a Certified Craft Spirit™ via the American Distilling Institute (ADI). This is relevant because Italy provides a lax regulatory environment regarding grappa and allows for the industrial production of the spirit -- which widely accounts for the general lack of esteem for grappa. Elisabetta stressed that in order to combat this perception the "distillery independently declared its grappa as 100-percent artisan, and that any products with the Nonino name are produced and bottled at the distillery, made using artisan methods, with no added coloring or caramel".  Here are a few comments on each of the artisan products they presented at out tasting.  Cheers.

Grappa Nonino Picolit Cru ($178.99, 100 proof)
Yes expensive and the highest in abv, this is current iteration of the original Monovitigno released in 1973. It is also made in the ÙE (“Oo-ay”) style being a single cru grappa made through the distillation of premium, single-varietal, single-vineyard pomace of selected Picolit grapes.  There's a slight burn due to the 50% alcohol, which can be alleviated with an ice cube, but the grape flavors quickly dominate the palate.

Grappa Nonino Il Moscato ($71.99, 82 proof)
This grappa is 100% Moscato from Friuli di Aquileia and contains the grape's inherent floral characters.

Grappa Nonino Vendemmia ($44.99, 80 proof)
This is a blend of Pinot, Prosecco and Malvasia grappas that have been individually fermented and distilled. As expected there are multiple sensations produced by this smooth spirit.

Grappa Chardonnay ($71.99, 82 proof)
The Nonino's consider 40% abv as grappa's sweet spot and this delicious version weighs in at that level. It is completely devoid of heat both on the nose and in the palate and includes slight oak characters from mild oak treatment. Excellent.

Grappa Antica Cuvee Reserva ($118.99, 86 proof)
Another blend of single varietal distillates, this time Cabernet, Merlot and the local Schioppettino aged from five to twenty years in Limousin, Nevers and Grésigne oak barriques and in small ex-Sherry barrels. Because of the longer aging process, the warehouses and barrels are under seal and permanent surveillance by the Customs and Monopoly Agency - similar to the U.S. TTB. This grappa is complex with spices and almonds, but so smooth - perfect neat or with a cube

Grappa Vendemmia Riserva ($49.99, 82 proof)
For this spirit the Monovitigno® - single varietal grappa - are aged over 18 months in Limousin and ex-Sherry barriques providing color and oak sensations such as vanilla, chocolate and spices. In this case, the quality-price ratio is exceeding high.

Amaro Nonino Quintessentia® ($54.99, 70 proof)
The recipe for the Amaro dates from  Elisabetta's grandparents and contains a grappa base that was aged in French oak and ex-sherry barrels and then infused with with herbs and other botanicals.  The grappa is a blend of Ribolla Gialla, Moscato, and Malvasia from the Eastern Hills of Friuli.  This is quite the unique spirit, floral and citrus with some caramel and vanilla and just hints of licorice. Hit the cocktail recipes for this one.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Discover Sherry with Gonzalez Byass During #InternationalSherryWeek

This week is #InternationalSherryWeek and the best place to start is with Gonzalez Byass. Yes, we received two samples for the week - but over at wine-searcher.com Rachel von Sturmer makes the case for Gonzalez Byass as well.   In brief, Sherry is a fortified wine from the Jerez region of Andalucia in south-west Spain. These wines come in multiple styles from bone-dry fino to sweet Pedro Xomino, Moscaiménez (PX). Dry styles most likely utilize the Palomino  grape whereas sweeter styles are generally comprised of Pedro Ximénez and Moscatel (Muscat of Alexandria). See the attached in depth overview from the Whiskey Exchange.

The precursor to Gonzalez Byass was established in 1835 when 23 year old Manuel María González Ángel created the Tío Pepe (Uncle Joe) sherry brand inspired by his uncle uncle, José Ángel. Nearly ten years into his operation Manuel united with his English Agent Robert Blake Byass to form González Byass as they shipped "exceptionally pale..." Tío Pepe wine to the United Kingdom. Together they built the company to be the leading exporter of sherry wines in Jerez.  Besides the flagship Tío Pepe, the company offers several other Sherry wines including the two we received below. Cheers.

Gonzalez Byass Vina AB Amontillado ($24.99)
100% Palomino that after fermentation and fortification to 15.5% abv started in the Tio Pepe solera. During this process the wine gains several unique characters as displayed in the Tio Pepe wines as a layer of yeast known as "flor" forms on the surface of the wine providing character and protiecting the wine from oxygen. After a minimum of four years, the wine is then moved to the Vina AB solera where it remains for another eight years. During this time the flor dies from lack of nutrients and the wine undergoes oxidative aging.  This is a very pleasant wine, with honey nut and figs on the nose, which proceeds to a light bodied by chewy texture and a fresh finale.

Gonzalez Byass Leonor Palo Cortado ($24.99)
Also 100% Palomino but fermented and fortified to 18% abv before entering the Leonor solera.  The layer of flor yeast does not form as the alcohol level kills the yeast and thus the wine undergoes complete oxidization.  The wine remains in this condition for 12 years before bottling.  This wine is a home run, sipped during the MLB playoffs, and featuring a nutty maple syrup aroma where the nuts follow into the palate and combine with orange peel and caramel. Just excellent.


Courtesy of the Whiskey Exchange


Sherry production can be split into two primary styles: fino (which is known as manzanilla when made in Sanlúcar de Barrameda), and oloroso, which are both made from the Palomino grape. As a still wine in itself, Palomino produces a light, rather bland style of wine; it’s the second process where the characters and flavours of sherry are brought to life.

When making fino sherry, still wine is fortified with alcohol to 15-15.5% and transferred into sherry butts which typically hold 600 litres. These barrels are filled five-sixths full and a layer of yeast, known as flor, forms on the top, preventing oxygen from getting into contact with the wine. After a minimum of three years’ ageing, it can then be called sherry and it will usually be bottled shortly after this time. By leaving it for longer, the wine will develop a richer, nuttier and more biscuity flavour, however the yeast will usually die after seven to eight years.

For oloroso, still wine is fortified to 17% abv as the yeast flor is unable to survive at this level of alcohol. The wine is once again transferred into butts and left to age oxidatively where it will pick up much flavour. The other striking difference between how oloroso and fino sherry is aged is down to the solera system, which consists of a series of barrels (often layered on top of one another) called the criaderas y solera. The newest wines start at the top criadera and over the years are slowly passed down to the next level and mixed each time with older wines, until they arrive in the final solera from which it will be bottled. With this process, the wines can take many decades to pass through the solera.

STYLES

Fino (manzanilla)

These wines are light bodied, bone dry and low in acidity. Typical aromas and flavours include, almonds, yeast, toast, chamomile, savoury notes, citrus, ripe apple and lemon peel. Manzillas are often regarded as tasting slightly saltier due to them being aged by the sea. Best served chilled.

Amontillado

This style is richer and nuttier than a fino but lighter than an oloroso, and benefits from being served lightly chilled. Typical flavours that you would find in these wines are almonds, dried fruit, woody notes, caramel, orange peel, and burnt marmalade.

Palo Cortado

Often regarded as having the nose of an amontillado and palate of an oloroso, palo cortado tends to be less bitter than amontillado. These wines are typically medium bodied, and dry with flavours of toffee, caramel, dried fruits, raisin, almonds and hazelnuts, with some savoury and leather notes in the older styles. These are best served at room temperature or slightly chilled.

Oloroso

These wines are best served at room temperature, although some styles can be delicious slightly chilled. Oloroso is usually full bodied and low in acidity, and although dry, the richness of olorosos can often be misleading. Expect to smell and taste flavours of Christmas cake, dried fruits, orange peel, woody notes, almond, brazil nut, bitter chocolate and toffee.

Pale Cream

Similar to cream sherry, these contain slightly less residual sugar and are therefore not quite as sweet. The base sherry in these tends to be fino or amontillado rather than oloroso, with Moscatel or PX added to provide the sweetness. These tend to have flavours of caramel, raisins, burnt sugar, toffee, dried fruit, grape, almonds, biscuits and yeast.

Cream

The base for these wines is typically oloroso, which then has PX or Moscatel added to create sweetness. The best examples are often blended in their youth and mature for many years before being bottled to create a more balanced wine. These tend to be sweet with flavours of caramel, raisins, burnt sugar, toffee, dried fruit and grapes. Until recently, terms such as sweet amontillado, oloroso dulce and rich oloroso were banned, and these must now be labelled as cream sherry.

Moscatel

Moscatel, also known as Muscat in France, is one of the few wine grapes that actually tastes of grapes. The grapes are usually grown in vineyards to the north of Jerez but the wine must be made in Jerez to be able to use the name ‘sherry’. Moscatel produces a naturally sweet wine which is then fortified. These tend to have lots of floral characters along with honey, grape, blossom, raisin, citrus, caramel and orange peel. These are best served chilled and pair fantastically with fruit-based desserts or sweet pastries.

Pedro Ximénez (PX)

Pedro Ximénez, often referred to as PX, is the grape behind this lusciously sweet style of sherry often containing 300-500g of sugar per litre. These wines typically have flavours of dried fruit, fig, raisin, prune, toffee, caramel, dates, dark chocolate, Christmas cake, citrus peel, candied peel and coffee. PX is best served chilled to balance the high sugar content and pairs well with chocolate, mature and full-bodied cheeses, or even drizzled on vanilla ice cream.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Bazin's on Church Showcases Santa Barbara's Foxen Winery and Vineyard

This autumn, Dick Doré, co-fonder and co-owner of Foxen Winery and Vineyard, conducted an east coast blitz showcasing their Santa Barbara County Wines at various establishments such as Vienna's excellent restaurant Bazin's on Church. At this tasting event, we were able to chat with Mr. Doré about his wines, the grapes sourced from famed Bien Nacido Vineyards, and the affects f two consecutive years of wildfires and mudslides. Regarding the last topic, tourism is slowly rebounding and the grapes show no affect as he predicts a stellar 2018 harvest.

Bill Wathen and Doré founded Foxen Winery in 1985 using a property purchased by Doré's great-great grandfather, Benjamin Foxen, in 1837. This property and most of the vineyards used by Foxen are located in the Santa Maria Valley AVA which is the most northern of Santa Barbara's six AVA's. This region receives the most rainfall, has sandy to clay soils, and is close to the ocean which provides cooling from winds and fog. Chardonnay dominates Santa Maria for whites; whereas Pinot Noir & Syrah dominate for reds. Here is the Foxen lineup we sampled that night.

2015 Foxen Old Vines Ernesto Wickenden Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Chenin Blanc ($26)
This vineyard was planted in 1966 by Doré's cousin Buddy Wickenden at lower elevations which block the coastal breezes and provides a warmer micro-climate. For Chenin Blanc this warmth allows the grapes to attain full ripeness producing wines with depth and finesse to complement the inherent acidity. Further complexity is provided by aging the wine seven months in neutral French oak barrels which doesn't overwhelm the creamy melon and stoney flavors.

2016 Foxen Bien Nacido Vineyards Block UU Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay ($34 - Wine Club Exclusive)
As stated above Bien Nacido Vineyard is famed because it is the most widely bottled single vineyard designate wine in the world. That's impressive and Doré related how Foxen has been one of that vineyard's primary customer for years. And this Chardonnay helps explain why. Bien Nacido is composed of very sandy soils such that vines are own-rooted and do not need to be planting using root-stock resistant to the phylloxera louse. In this case the original Block UU was planted in Riesling, but when that grape vine failed to mature as expected Chardonnay was grafted onto the Riesling roots. Quite unique -- both the vineyard management and the resulting wine -- which is barrel fermented and aged on it's lees for eight months. It is a fantastic wine, full of that classic chardonnay flavor with brighter fruit balanced by juicy acids.

2014 Foxen Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir ($36)
The fruit for this wine are derived from throughout the county but don't discount this wine for its lack of single vineyard or AVA status.  It is medium bodied, but with intense fruit and complexity. Expect leather, smoke, slight black pepper and other spices with medium tannins and decent acidity. A solid wine.

2015 Foxen John Sebastiano Vineyard Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir ($52)
The Sta. Rita Hills AVA was established 2001 as a sub-region within the larger Santa Ynez Valley AVA and is the closest AVA to the ocean; thus also the coolest within the SYV. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the favored grapes like this one from the John Sebastiano Vineyard -- which is located on the extreme Eastern edge of the AVA. Foxen participated in the original planting and was able to select the grape clones and vineyard blocks prior to planting.  This is a dense wine with raspberries overtaking cherry with spices and abundant acidity.

2014 Foxen Block 8 Bien Nacido Vineyards Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir ($64 - Wine Club Exclusive)
Bien Nacido is known for their Pinot Noir and this wine is terrific. After 17 months in 40% new French oak, it is deep and complex - dark fruit mingles with leather and spices. The power in this wine continues to the tail as the integrated tannins and acids lift to it's conclusion.

2013 Foxen 7200 Vogelzang Vineyard Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara Cabernet Sauvignon ($60)
This AVA is the easternmost end of the Santa Ynez Valley and thus is a little warmer than the other SYV appellations. Bordeaux grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon are prevalent here and Vogelzang Vineyard provides the bulk of Foxen's 7200 wine program since 2000. This vineyard witnesses a large diurnal temperature swing - particularly in the summer where the temperature can drop 40-50 degrees Fahrenheit. This phenomenon matters as it helps grapes retain acidity. This wine was a complete surprise, my favorite of the tasting as it provides excellent fruit, depth, tannins, texture, chewy tannins and uplifting acids. Certainly wish east coast cabs could reach this level of quality.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Exitus 2016 Vintage Bourbon Barrel-Aged Red Blend

Bourbon barrel-aged beverages have slowly seeped into the wine industry and O’Neill Vintners & Distillers entered the field with the Exitus Wines 2016 Vintage Bourbon Barrel-Aged Red Blend ($17.99). This wine is a majority Zinfandel blend incorporating lesser amounts of Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, and Merlot -- then aged in mature bourbon barrels for three months. The combination of wine and spirits come naturally for this family-owned wine and spirits company as they sourced the bourbon barrels from Kentucky and the grapes from estate vineyards or 15,000 contracted acres throughout California. These grapes are fermented in stainless steel before the barrel aging which helps the wine retain the dense fruit as the barrels add leather, vanilla, and chocolate notes. A side affect of the barrels and perhaps the Zinfandel is a little heat on the nose. And the tail falls slightly flat - but overall a worthy wine. Cheers.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Book Review: Wine Folly: Magnum Edition: The Master Guide

The Wine Folly: Magnum Edition: The Master Guide ($21), written by Madeline Puckette and Justin Hammack ,reflects many of the features that make their Wine Folly website so popular.  The book utilizes info-graphics and photos to simply yet clearly explain wine topics such as grapes and regions.  The book is most suited for wine novices but also provides easily accessible references for more experienced wine consumers. The book starts with Wine Basics such as how to taste and store wine in addition to how it is made. After a section on Food & Wine Pairings, the book guides readers through dozens of grape varieties and styles of wine -- such as the different categories of sparkling and dessert wine.  This section is quite informative as it includes information on the grape's lineage, tasting profile, serving recommendations, where it grows, and similar grapes. A nice quick and easy reference.


The final section relates to Wine Regions and covers most of the major wine producing countries and sub-regions although lovers of Croatian and regional American wines will be disappointed.  Interestingly (and happily) Hungary was covered and the above photos show the layout used for the regions. The guide provides the major grape varieties and major sub regions within that country displaying the information through info-graphics and maps. A second page suggests wines to explore as well as focuses on the country's signature wine. For Hungary, they've provided appropriate exploration wines by augmenting Tokaji Assu, Furmint, and Egri Bikaver with the lesser known Egri Csillag and Somlo Juhfark.  However, I do quibble with the use of grape names where in the map and Varieties chart they utilize the Croatian term Graševina for the Hungarian Olascsrizling where the broader term is Welschriesling. The Varieties chart also includes the term Blaufränkisch instead of the Hungarian Kékfrankos. Readers may get confused because they will never find a Hungarian wine labeled Blaufränkisch or Graševina - but I understand they intended to utilize a broader term.


Finally, for larger countries with regulations regarding labels and classifications, the book presents a readable guide. Italy is pictured above and the Reading a Label section provides the naming methods and term definitions --  an accessible guide for all levels of consumers. The Wine Classification section is also handy for Italy as the book explains the DOG and DOGC classifications.

The Wine Folly: Magnum Edition: The Master Guide is a worthy collection to any wine library as an easy resource. If readers are expecting more in depth coverage, go elsewhere, but for an accessible and clear introduction to grapes and regions - this book will suffice. Cheers.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Drinking Local with Corcoran's Wine & Cider

Jim and Lori Corcoran have been a leader in the #DrinkLocal movement in both Loudoun County and the Commonwealth of Virginia as proprietors of Corcoran Vineyards & Cider. The couple established the winery in the early years of the Loudoun Wine Renaissance as Winery #11 when they planted the vineyard in 2001 and opened their doors three years later. Later, they were in the forefront of the local craft cider and beer, augmenting Corky's Farm with both beverages.   Their menu includes cider as well as both dry and sweet wines as Lori specializes in unique dessert concoctions. The winery is open only on weekends and encourage picnickers, dogs and children. There's plenty of outdoor space.

When visiting, Corcorans offers a separate cider or wine flight for $7 and a popular option for two is to split each flight.  The cider starts with the delicious dry hopped Hop'n'Pop which uses locally grown hops to provide an IPA like finish to this refreshing cider. Another favorite is the PoPo Peach, a juicer cider that was fortified with peach juice. Finally, try the Knot Head, a proprietary blend of seven locally grown apple varieties then aged a few months in used Bourbon barrels. Excellent.

Moving to wine, a tasting always starts with their Virginia Wine Lover favorite Apple Wine. This wine is made dry using several locally grown apple varieties and packs a wallop of flavors as the tartness and naturally acidity lead to a refreshing finish. Seyval Blanc was one of the first grape varieties planted in 2001 and this wine has been on the tasting menu since. In 2011 the winery received a shipment of Riesling grapes grown in the cooler mountains of the Shenandoah Valley. Lori recently found a lost palette and the wine remains vibrant with a slight petrol aroma, but traditional Riesling flavor. Lori does specialize in Chardonnay and during my last visit they were sold out with a bottling ready to proceed this summer. As for reds, Cabernet Franc is your choice, with multiple vintages available. A vertical tasting is an excellent method to witness the history of the area's weather and geology.

The wine flight concludes with three dessert wines starting with the BlackJack where the Chambourcin base is fermented with blackberries and then blended with Petit Verdot and Merlot. The USB is also based on the estate Chambourcin but this time fortified with brandy and aged in whiskey barrels for 12 months. This a “Port-styled” wine is delicious. Finally and equally tasty is the RAZ Raspberry and Merlot blend which starts with the powerful berry flavors but finishes with soft tannins. Nicely done.

14635 Corkys Farm Lane, Waterford, VA 20197
Phone: 540-882-9073

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Loveblock Wines from New Zealand's Awatere Valley & Central Otago

The Awatere Valley is one of three major sub-regions Marlborough and is situated in a valley running parallel with the east coast of the South Island. The Awatere River, which flows south from Clifford Bay, gives the region its name – awatere meaning "fast-flowing river" in the local Maori dialect. The Wither Hills in the north separate Awatere from the Wairau Valley, another large sub-region.  
 The vineyards of the Awatere Valley are planted in hilly and rugged landscapes. The free-draining soils are composed of wind-blown loams which cover a base of alluvial gravel. The climate is influenced heavily by the ocean that makes up the northern and eastern boundaries of the region. Intense sunlight during the day is cooled by ocean winds, contributing to the diurnal temperature shift that extends the growing season in the Awatere Valley, with harvests usually taking place some days after the Wairau Valley. Via wine-searcher.com 

When Kim and Erica Crawford decided to return to viticulture after selling the highly successful Crawford brand, they settled on a plot of land in the Awatere Valley that "stole our hearts". They renamed the property Loveblock Farm and established two vineyards Hillside and Woolshed & Triangle.  The Hillside is 180 acres of predominantly Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris with experimental plots for Pinot Blanc, Tempranillo, Gewurztraminer, Chenin Blanc and Riesling.  According to Erica, the winds on the Hillside can be challenging but they benefit the grapes by reducing the bug population and disease as well as providing slow vine growth which leads to very small berries and high aromatic concentrations.

The Woolshed (27 acres of Sauvignon Blanc) and Triangle (4 acres of Pinot Gris) vineyards are closer to the valley floor and consist of the well-draining soils mentioned above. As the vines dig deeper, the berries gain in minerality.  These vineyards are also certified organic where the "organic management reduces the vigor of the vines, reducing berry size and hence overall yields". Cheers.

The Crawfords also own a 20 acre vineyard in Central Otago, the southernmost wine region in New Zealand where Pinot Noir is the signature grape. According to Erica, this region has more limestone soils and a colder climate - both conducive for this noble grape. These cooler conditions are noted for a large diurnal temperatures which help grapes retain acids. The climate is also dry creating soils with high mineral content where the vines focus on "producing small, highly concentrated berries. The Someone’s Darling vineyard is located on the Bendigo Loop Road which is the warmest of the Central Otago wine growing areas and according to Erica, their "vineyard is the warmest one in Bendigo ensuring consistent ripening year on year".

This month Erica Crawford conducted a media briefing across the U.S. and provided dinner, samples, and answers to numerous questions concerning their operation. Here are brief descriptors of these vegan friendly and delicious Loveblock Wines.

Pinot Gris - Estate Marlborough 2016 ($22.99)
Sourced entirely from the organic Woolshed estate vineyard. The grapes are harvested at a low brix to produce a dry wine with low alcohol levels.  If you consider Pinot Gris somewhat boring this wine will change your perception as there's abundant fruit character as well as an inherent minerality that lingers with the racy acids.  Easy to see how this wine sells as well as their Sauvignon Blanc in commonwealth countries.

Sauvignon Blanc - Estate Marlborough 2017 ($21.99)
Sourced from the aromatically inducing vineyards  of the Awatere Valley where 90% of the wine's grapes are certified organic.  The vines are cropped to allow for sun and air circulation and cover crops force the vines to dig deep for nutrients. Several of the harvested batches were fermented in neutral French oak and these along with a quarter of the wine fermented in steel underwent full malolactic fermentation to reduce acidity.  The result is far from your standard New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Instead of lemongrass and green flavors; layers of stone fruit, noticeably peaches, fold together complemented by herbaceous notes and fresh acidity.

Pinot Noir - Central Otago 2015 ($29.99)
According to the tasting notes, the warmer conditions at the Someone’s Darling vineyard site provides more robust flavors and the five Pinot Noir clones (B777, B667, B115, Clone 5 (Pommard) and Abel) each contribute to create a broad spectrum of aromas and flavors.  I detected a combination of barnyard and tobacco aromas that lead to the classic cherry character blended with black pepper spices.  The tail finishes with just enough acids and tannins to provide uplift.  My type of Pinot Noir.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

A Pair of Iconic Cab Producers and a Sonoma linked Champagne

2012 Alexander Valley Jordan Vineyard & Winery Cabernet Sauvignon (750ml $72; 1.5l $199)
Jordan Vineyard & Winery has been an iconic producer of Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon since practically its first release in 1976.  Their estate is located in the Alexander Valley AVA - just north of Healdsburg - which is the largest wine region in the county. The AVAs boundaries have changed slightly over the years but the the original border extended from the banks of the Russian River eastward to the foothills of the Mayacamas Mountains and is sheltered by the moderating influences of the Pacific.  This means the day times are dry and hot whereas the colder night temperatures create a large diurnal temperature swing leading to slowly maturing grapes and intense acids. The 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon contains 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot; and 2% Malbec from the Jordan estate and an allotment from 16 family growers. The fermented wine undergoes a year of oak treatment in various vessels and toast before final release. Winemaker Rob Davis considers 2012 "a phenomenal growing season" and this is exhibited in the wine, even a few years after its initial release. The wine is still considerably fresh with solid black fruit, a creamy mid-section, and a long soft landing. This wine is phenomenal on its own and will still pierce through any red meat.

Jordan Cuvée ($49)
Since its inception, Jordan Vineyard & Winery has offered visitors sparkling wine, initially true Champagne, but later sparkling wine from sister winery J Vineyards & Winery.  After J Vineyards became part of the Gallo empire, Jordan returned to the past and established a relationship with Champagne AR Lenoble in France as bother wineries share a "joint commitment to independent ownership, wines of balance and quality without compromise". In fact there are no financial investments or legal contracts -- the two wineries are independently aligned through mutual respect and friendship. This respect is born from AR Lenoble’s focus on quality by limiting yields in the vineyards, using exclusively first-press juice, and blending more reserve wine in its non-vintage bottling.  This holds true for the Jordan Cuvée which is a 2012 baseline blend of 30% Grand Cru Chardonnay; 35% 1st Cru Pinot Noir, and 35% Pinot Meunier using only first-press juice and 35% reserve wines. The wine is then aged 4 years on the lees with 18% aged in oak barrels and then aged in bottle for a year. And the sparkling wine is fantastic, starting a little bready but then transitioning to a creamy, racy citrus finale that persists long after the bubbles.  

2014 Concannon Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon ($20)
Another iconic and even more historic producer of California Cabernet is the Livermore Valley's Concannon Vineyard. The winery is "America's oldest, ongoing winery under the same family label and stewardship" and more importantly the source of approximately 80% of California Cabernet Sauvignon through three cones of a single vine imported from famed Château Margaux.  And this Mother Vine is located at the beginning of a row near the auxiliary house not far from the winery's main tasting room. Besides their Livermore estate, Concannon produces wine from other appellations such as Paso Robles, an area making a statement with Cabernet through the Paso Robles CAB Collective. The affordable wine is made in part from the Concannon clones and is a blend of 87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6.5% Petite Verdot, and 6.5% Petite Sirah. This is a bold wine, yet restrained; dense, but flows effortlessly throughout the palate. Dark fruit mingle with spices and chocolate before finishing with a silky and smooth. A bargain at this price.

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.