Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Locations Ventures into New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc

It took a few years, but the Locations brand has landed in New Zealand with the release of the NZ6 - New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc ($19.99). The wine is 100% of the country's signature grape, but sourced from various wine regions. The base is derived from Marlborough's Wairau Valley which provides the "tropical and grassy flavors". This region is "consistently ranking as one of NZ’s sunniest and driest regions, the Maori referred to the valley as ‘Kei puta te Wairau’ – ‘The place with the hole in the cloud’ – reflecting the outstanding protection offered by the topography". The second part of the blend is sourced from the Awatere Valley and provides "minerality and elegance". This is a cooler region located in southern Marlborough. The final piece comes from the southern valley of Waihopai where the gravelly soils and still cooler climate provide the "final layers of complexity. That's plenty of marketing fluff, but in fact this is a delicious wine, starting with tropical aromas; a creamy, tart and lemon infused body; and plenty of refreshing acids. Nicely done.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Get Ready to Play at Waynesboro's Basic City Beer Company

During the same weekend we visited Adventure Farm, we parlayed a swim at Sherando Lake with a visit to Waynesboro's Basic City Beer Company. The relatively new brewery is located on scenic Rt 250 in the reclaimed Virginia Metalcrafters industrial complex. Evidence of the former foundry is everywhere, from the industrial lathes to reclaimed pipe and wood tap room tables. The pipes housing the taps are particularly stylish. co-founders and brothers Bart, Chris and Joe Lanman also added entertainment value to the facility by building out a large game room stocked with ping pong, shuffleboard, skeet-ball, foosball, and more. Add the hammocks and large picnic area in the back; live music; and food from Hops Kitchen and this is a family friendly establishment. But what about the largest attraction: the beer?

Beer Menu as of Sept 2017
Head brewer Jacque Landry leverages 20 years brewing experience into crafting a portfolio of a dozen beers. I elected for a flight of the WaynesbeerOh Lager, Oopsproch Lager, Rays Pale Ale, and Bramblehead Raspberry Stout. They were well made with the stout very smooth, the lagers refreshing, and the pale ale on the money. However, I seemed to gravitate to the Rotsproch Lager, a hibiscus infused Marzen Amber Lager. The beer was more tart than malty sweet and thirst quenching as the day had warmed. We had a fantastic visit, laughing, drinking, and eating with the only reservation having to drive over the mountain back to Charlottesville. But we will be back to basic City as well as other Shenandoah Beerwerks Trail breweries with the assistance of theCompass Craft Beverage Finder. Cheers.

Monday, September 11, 2017

A Quick Flight into Charlottesville's Adventure Farm Winery

A couple weekends ago we visited Charlottesville and on the drive down Route 29 decided to visit a relative new and somewhat obscure winery: Adventure Farm. Located just outside the Charlottesville Airport north of town, the farm land was purchased by Morris Chisholm in 1950. Back then, the airport didn't exit and this area was traditional country farmland and pastures - which it remained while the city slowly encroached ever closer. Since the 1950s the Chisholm family has raised beef cattle (Angus-Salare) goats, pigs, and chicken as well as grow various crops. And in 2006 they planted a vineyard consisting of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chambourcin, Petit Verdot, Tannat, Chardonnay, and Viognier. As with most ventures, viticulture led to winemaking and Adventure Farms leverages the services of esteemed Michael Shaps and his Wineworks.

On our visit there were five estate wines on the tasting lineup starting with the 2015 Chardonnay ($21). Half the wine undergoes malolatic fermentation and the finished wine is aged eight months in one year old French Oak. The process provides considerable depth and creaminess to this wine without the overbearing buttery-toffee characters. A great value at this price. The 2015 Viognier ($28) is fresh and floral with strong peach flavors. Fermented in steel and aged just four months in neutral oak, this is a refreshing and very acidic wine. The 2015 Rosé ($19) is another fine bargain made from 95% Chambourcin and 5% Cabernet Franc. There's plenty of bright red fruit and acids with the Chambourcin providing a little spicy kick to the finish. The 2014 Gigi Red Blend ($22) is also predominately Chambourcin (25%) with the remaining Cabernet Sauvignon. This is an entry level red, low in tannins, plenty of acids - very smooth on the palate. Perhaps serve a little chilled. But the star of the tasting was undoubtedly the 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon ($32). The wine is aged 18 months in French Oak, which provides a lush, velvety body but doesn't overwhelm the strong dark cherry characters. Even with noticeable tannins, the finish is very smooth and  mature.

Adventure Farm hosts several festivals and weekend live music. This is a definite spot to visit and theCompass Craft Beverage Finder will get your there. Cheers.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Carmel Winery's Selected Mediterranean Red Blend & Israeli Wine Regions

Last month I received another sample of Israeli wine which led me to not only research the targeted winery, but also Israeli wine regions.  I immediately learned that Carmel Winery was founded in 1882 by Edmond James de Rothschild (owner of Château Lafite). Within ten years Rothschild had built two wineries,  both intended to support Jewish settlers returning from Europe. The Rishon Le Zion Wine Cellars was built in 1890 and is the oldest winery in Israel still in use. This facility was also the first to use electricity and the telephone. The Zichron Ya'acov Wine Cellars was built two years later and is the largest winery in Israel. These facilities make Carmel the largest producer in Israel and one of the largest in the eastern Mediterranean as they produce over 15 million bottles of wine a year.

Until the 1970s, Carmel focused on sweet and sacramental wines, but in order to engage the international market they transitioned to international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc.  The Selected Mediterranean Red Blend ($11) is a reflection of that philosophy and is a blend of several grape varieties grown in the Shomron region: Petite Sirah, Mourvedre, Viognier, and Petit Verdot.

This region is one of five major Israeli Wine Regions with Galilee, Samson, Judean Hills and the Negev the remaining four. Shomron and Samson are the historical coastal viticulture areas in central Israel with the former located on the base of the southern Carmel Mountain range and cooled by Mediterranean breezes. Samson is not a geographic place -- just a biblical name to describe the central coastal Judean Plain and Judean Lowlands, south east of Tel Aviv. The region is relatively low lying, hot, and humid with mostly alluvial soils mixed with sandy, clay loams. Bulk grapes are the predominate crop.

Negev is the desert region that comprises half the country. Vineyards are located in the elevated, semi-arid, and loess soil land in the northeast at Ramat Arad.

The Galilee and Judean Hills are more trendy cooler climate wine regions. The Judean Hills ranges from the mountains north of Jerusalem to the south of Hebron. Warm days and cool night time temperatures characterize the region which ranges from 500 to 1,000 meters above sea level. The Galilee is the most respected appellation, located in northern Israel and includes the "two finest quality wine growing regions, the Upper Galilee and the Golan Heights".  These are high altitude, cooler climate sites located not far from Lebanon's Bekaa Valley.

As for Carmel's Selected Red Blend, winemaker Lior Lacser produced a fresh, light, approachable wine; not necessarily fruit forward but balanced between the cherry flavor, acids, and modest tannins.  At this price this wine is well worth a closer inspection. Cheers.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Virginia's Falls Church Distillers Opens With Bourbon and Vodka

Craft distilleries continue to open in the Commonwealth of Virginia with Falls Church Distillers joining their ranks earlier this summer. The operation was started by Michael Paluzzi and his chemist and oldest son Lorenzo who plan to "produce a range of offerings including vodkas, gins, brandy, rums, specialty & blended spirits and eventually distinctive aged bourbon". Actually they had the foresight to create a bourbon at an existing Virginia distillery based on their mash recipe. As a result, the Church Bourbon has been quietly aging as the Paluzzis flew through the regulatory, financial, and construction processes.

When I visited Falls Church Distillers last month I also had to navigate the ludicrous Virginia ABC regulations inflicted on distilleries. These regulations allow distilleries to serve generous four half-ounce tastings of their product - usually in cocktail form. The regulations also require separate seating when sampling the distilled products from the wine and beer bar that Falls Church Distillers provides. My rant over, the Church Bourbon recipe includes Virginia wheat that assists the medium bodied whiskey to obtain a very smooth character. They were also pouring two vodkas: Frozen Falls Vodka & Frozen Falls Pepper Flavored Vodka. These spirits have interesting pedigrees - based on a combination of distilled cane sugar and wheat that is "processed through a uniquely designed filtration system". I sampled both in cocktails which were tasty but unfortunately hid the unique flavor profiles of each vodka. Keep focused on Falls Church Distillers because there are bright clouds on the horizon as they plan to release a barrel aged Rum and Apple Brandy. As always, theCompass Craft Beverage Finder will guide you to this destination. Cheers. 

Saturday, August 26, 2017

ANXO Cidery: Crafting Hard Cider Made from Foraged D.C. Apples

Last year ANXO Cidery (300 Florida Avenue NW) introduced DC residents to the funky and rustic side of cider from the Basque region of Northern Spain. In fact, ANXO (AN-CHO) " is a common first name in Northern Spain and is also a nickname for Basajaun, a Basque mythological creature that is something like a benevolent Bigfoot". They've also introduced cider lovers to a broad range of other styles through collaborations from some of the top American cider houses such as Millstone Cellars, Eden Ice Cider Company, Blue Bee Cider, Farnum Hill Ciders, Snowdrift Cider Company, and Shacksbury Cider. After a trip to the National Zoo, we headed to sample these collaborations and unexpectedly much more.

I ordered the Flight of the Day and not only did it contain collaborations from Eden, Snowdrift, and Shacksbury, but also the Cidra Blanc. This newly released cider is comprised of 100% Goldrush apples from Winchester, VA and fermented with Sauvignon Blanc yeast in stainless steel at the ANXO Cidery & Pintxos Bar at 711 Kennedy Street NW.  It was quite tasty with fresh acids, tart lemon, and a bit of body. As for the collaborations, I enjoyed the rustic Shacksbury the most with its tart funk. The other's were also delicious with the Snowdrift was full of apple flavors and the Eden well balanced.

I then ordered the D. Sidra, a funky cider comprised of D.C. foraged apples and crabapples, fermented with the yeast that naturally occur on their skins, and served in traditional green bottles with a long pour. What a process - foraged apples which include crabapples and natural yeast?  For my acid hound palate, this cider is fantastic - it starts with short bursts of apple before the intense acids and tannins dominate. Be prepared, their presence is felt long after the pour is finished.

ANXO produces a couple other foraged fruit ciders, some blended with Michigan apples, but I'm looking forward to procuring "The Rando" - made from predominantly D.C.-foraged apples from 2016 that were pressed but forgotten until re-discovery.  You can discover all these ciders at either location using theCompass Craft Beverage Finder. Cheers.

Monday, August 21, 2017

A Summer Red: Chateau Montelena Winery 2014 Calistoga Zinfandel?

I suspect, like me, most of you associate Napa's Chateau Montelena Winery with their Judgment of Paris Chardonnay or their Cabernet Sauvignon. And rightfully so since these are consistently excellent wines. But even with a visit to the winery many years ago, Chateau Montelena's other wine varietals never became ingrained in memory. That changed when I received a sample of their 2014 Calistoga Zinfandel ($29). The marketing sheet exclaimed that this was "the wine you should be drinking on the beach this summer" and my initial reaction was right, I bet. Lodi and Paso perhaps, but from Napa - nah.

According to winemaker Matt Crafton, the Chateau Montelena Zinfandel is "re-invented" each year and the noticeable aspect is that the fermented Zinfandel was aged in a combination of French, American, and Irish oak casks - the first time this later oak treatment has been used in California in over a century. Also noticeable is that the grapes used were a combination of old-vine Zinfandel from the Tofanelli Ranch and new plantings of estate Primitivo. And the wine is made in the rustic Italian style, lighter in color and fruit, but complex with notes of earthy dirt, tobacco, cinnamon, and cherries. The finish is very smooth with approachable tannins and light pepper and chocolate.  Thus, this wine is ready for a summer BBQ or an evening sip on the deck. The Chateau Montelena Zinfandel deserves respect alongside their more accomplished Chardonnay and Cabernet. Cheers.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Loudoun Welcomes Two More Breweries to the "Dulles Corridor"

With the opening of two more breweries this summer, Virginia's Loudoun County now has 23 breweries with eight forming a pseudo beer trail that I labelled the Dulles Corridor. The trail starts on the east with contract brewer Beltway Brewing Company and the new Sterling location for Crooked Run Brewing. Before this new location Crooked Run had utilized Beltway's services, but now they have their own capacity to brew excellent beers such as the Cruise Control Pilsner or the Dulce De Leche Imperial Milk Stout. As for Beltway, they have a couple of their own recipes, but the incentive to visit is driven by tasting beers brewed for other markets such as New York's Grimm Artisanal Ales or Georgia's Brackish Beer Company.


Twinpanzee Brewing Co. forms the center of this beer trail as the new brewery celebrated their Grand Opening this past Saturday.  Waves of beer lovers arrived throughout the day enjoying four beers on tap, food trucks, and a ribbon cutting ceremony with Loudoun officials. As I savored their Coconut Brown Ale I was left wondering why Fairfax County alienates brewery entrepreneurs while Loudoun County welcomes them.

Not far down Old Ox Road lies the very consistent Ocelot Brewing Company. Beer lovers can always expect a large array of craft beers from a few IPAs to lagers and sours. During my last visit I went the low abv route with the 5.6% Craft AF Lager - a collaboration with Breiss Malting, a Wisconsin malting company. A very European beer. But if you love IPAs, then this is your spot as of August 12th there were seven on tap.

Solace Brewing Company is the other newly opened brewery founded by entrepreneurs who met and gained valuable experience working at Beltway Brewing. When opening Solace they planned big regarding the tasting room, production equipment, and portfolio. There's plenty of room indoors and out to enjoy a plethora of craft beer styles. Once again I stayed low abv with the Sun’s Out Hops Out Session IPA, 2 Legit 2 Wit, and BeachBod Watermelon Summer Ale. The later makes a great beach beer, with just a slight watermelon character. And my beer drinking partner was all about the Patiently Waiting IPL collaboration with Ocelot Brewing.

Lost Rhino Retreat sets the western boundary to the trail and sadly I've yet to visit despite the fact that I've visited the original Lost Rhino Brewing Co. Ashburn location more than any other brewery. In addition to the expanded food menu there are more beer options as well including some brewed just at the Brambleton location, collaborations, and guest taps. And either location will have the Virginia Craft Gold Medal for Czech Lager Rhino Chasers.

Also establishing the northern boundary with Lost Rhino Ashburn is award winning and WO&D Trail favorite Old Ox Brewery. The last time I visited was during a rain soaked ride over Memorial Weekend in order to purchase bombers of their Funky Face sour. I don't visit as often since their core lineup of Virginia Craft Gold Medal Black Ox Porter, Alpha Ox Pale Ale, and Golden Ox Ale are well established in area restaurants and beer stores.

And as always, theCompass Craft Beverage Finder will guide you to these breweries. Cheers.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Visiting Palmetto Moonshine's Myrtle Beach Facility

It is a popular concept for craft beverage makers to open satellite tasting rooms in popular tourist destinations with one of these being Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Recently Duplin Winery opened a facility in North Myrtle following the success of Palmetto Moonshine three years ago south of town. Brothers Trey and Bryan Boggs have been instrumental in the growing craft spirits market by first crafting the Palmetto State's first legal moonshine and then by leveraging the larger seashore tourism market to expand distribution.

The distillery's spirits are still produced in their original Anderson location, but the original still is now a water fountain in Myrtle. A $5 tasting fee provides samples of their White Lightning Moonshine, four flavored shines, and the Palmetto Whiskey ($35, 88.3 Proof). Starting with the whiskey, it was a pleasant surprise, with combinations of spice, caramel, vanilla, and finishing with a slight burn. This complexity starts with the mash bill of 21% rye and 51% corn and malted barley with additional flavors from aging less than two years in new French oak. The unique bottle honors the South Carolina Dispensary, a state controlled monopoly on liquor sales in South Carolina which operated from 1893-1915. The Dispensary employed glass makers and craftsmen that created bottles unique to the Palmetto State and what many consider to be works of art. The bottles being produced from 1893-1900 featured an embossed palmetto tree with crossed logs under the base of the trunk. A nice addition to the bar or a gift.

The various moonshines were also tasty, starting with the flagship Palmetto Moonshine White Lightning ($29, 105 proof). The Palmetto Moonshine is an "un-aged corn whiskey made from a recipe handed down from generations of moonshiners and produced using our custom copper still built by a 5th generation moonshiner". It is smooth even at this high alcohol level with traces of sweet corn. The flavored shines are all $29 and cut to 45 proof with local fruit juices. The Peach and Strawberry were our favorites as the Blackberry and Apple were too jammy and sweet for our tastes.I'd much rather return home with one of these than a lousy T-shirt. Cheers and as always theCompass Craft Beverage Finder will guide you to these destinations.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

#UnexpectedPaso Delivers Delicious Whites from Paso Robles

I've learned over the years that Paso Robles is not only the 3rd largest wine region in California but one of the most diverse. Red wine is king with Cabernet Sauvignon accounting for almost 40% of overall grape harvests. That grape and other red Bordeaux grapes are promoted through the Paso Robles CAB Collective. Syrah and Zinfandel are also major players in the region as is the Other Red category which consists of Petite Sirah, Cabernet Franc, Grenache, Mourvedre, and Petit Verdot. As for white wine grapes, Chardonnay is the most widely planted grape at 5%, followed by Other Whites also at 5% and Sauvignon Blanc at 2%.  To help promote these lesser known white wines, the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance initiated the #UnexpectedPaso Twitter tasting sending several white and rosé wines to various wine bloggers. After I receive wine from these tastings I usually pass the leftovers among the neighborhood. And this was one time my discriminating neighbors agreed: the wines were excellent.

JUSTIN 2016 Rosé ($22.50) is made from 100% gently pressed Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine is quite refreshing with layered flavors of strawberries and tart cherries.

Vina Robles 2016 White 4 ($16) is a blend of 45% Viognier, 27% Vermentino, 17% Sauvignon Blanc, and 11% Verdelho.  Its starts with plenty of aromatic stone fruit which continues onto the palate mingling with tart grapefruit. This is one savory wine.

Tablas Creek Vineyard 2016 Patelin de Tablas Blanc ($27) is a blend of five white grape varieties (Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne and Clairette Blanche). The fruit was sourced from nine Paso Rhone vineyards, whole clustered pressed and fermented with native yeasts. This was the most mineral driven wine interspersed with creamy stone fruit and lemons. My favorite of the group.

Adelaida Cellars 2015 HMR Chardonnay ($40) is made from grapes grown in the cooler hillside terrain of Paso Robles' Adelaida District, 14 miles from the Pacific coast and ranging from 1400 - 2000 feet above sea level. The fermented wine was aged nine months and various forms of oak which provides lift and complexity without the awful over the top buttery character. In fact, the expected lemon zest Chardonnay flavors are prominent, along with a creamy texture, and refreshing acids. Nicely done. 

Monday, August 7, 2017

Royal Wine Corporation: Jezreel Valley Winery 2016 Dry Rosé

Middle Eastern wine is slowly finding a home in the U.S. market and another entering the market is Israeli Jezreel Valley Winery. The winery was founded by winemaker Yuehuda Nahar and Jacob Ner David and is situated in Kibbuz Hannaton, approximately 35 kilometers west of Haifa. The winery currently produces six wines using both international and indigenous grapes - the later being Argaman, a cross between Souzão and Carignan. The Royal Wine Corporation just added some of these wines to their kosher inventory and I recently received a sample of the Jezreel 2016 Dry Rosé ($22), a blend of Syrah, Carignan, Argaman, and French Colombard. Each grape varietal was slow cold fermented separately with little extraction. This is a fresh wine, plenty of refreshing acidity, but unfortunately not much to show in terms of aroma and flavor.  Prefer others.

Friday, August 4, 2017

#OBX Gains Another Craft Brewery in 1718 Brewing Ocracoke

I remember the days when Ocracoke Island was dry as Hyde County outlawed sales of any craft beverage. Over time this barrier island in the Outer Banks of North Carolina slowly received it's alcohol liberation as the county slowly allowed the sale of beer and wine and eventually liquor.

During the transition from dry to wet county, Garrick Kalna and his soon to be wife Jacqui arrived on the island and design a three year plan to open a micro-brewery on the island. Garrick had brewed domestically and commercially in Colorado throughout his college years. The plan's initial phase included opening the very successful Ocracoke Coffee Co. So successful, the plan was extended 18 years until they sold the coffee shop in 2012 and laid the foundation for 1718 Brewing Ocracoke by purchasing the former Atlantic Cafe next to Howard's Pub.

It was still a long process. Last year during our annual visit to the island we noticed the brewery being built out with the tanks visibly from the road.  And this year we saw progress from the outside but wasn't sure if 1718 Brewing was operating until we hit Zillies Island Pantry where their Pepperberry Saison and Coffee Kolsch were on tap. The first round was purely investigative whereas the next few were because these beers were excellent. The Coffee Kolsch was a complete eye-opener regarding the style and completely surprised on it's refreshing character. The Pepperberry exudes spices, I'm not sure what the pepperberry provides, but the beer hit all the Saison characters.

The next day we setup a private brewery tour where Garrick interrupted a day of brewing and construction to give our large group a tour and a taste of his Good Bones IPA a New England inspired IPA which translates to a balanced use of hops. While sipping, Garrick provided a brief history of his background, which included volunteering at the Outer Banks Brewing Station, plus an overview of the brewing operation, regulations, and his IPA centric focus. While answering our questions it became readily apparent that Garrick is not only a self described water geek, but also an expert on yeast cultures.  Expect some interesting craft beer coming from 1718 Brewing and for those unfamiliar, the brewery's name and banner reflect the island's Blackbeard culture: the year he was captured and killed and Blackbeard's flag.

With the current disaster caused by the Oregon Inlet construction, local businesses will need your assistance once tourists are allowed back onto Hatteras and Ocracoke. theCompass Craft Beverage Finder will guide you to Ocracoke's first brewery. Cheers.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Ballparks & Brews: Myrtle Beach Pelicans and TicketReturn.Com Field

Don't get excited about finding craft beer at TicketReturn.Com Field for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans minor league baseball. The Pelicans are a Cubs single A affiliate and seem to an exclusive beverage contract with Inbev. Sadly, its the low end Budweiser products Bud, Bud Light, and Mich Ultra that dominated the concession stands. I did see one Foothills Brewing tap handle for their Carolina Blonde but that tap was pouring Bud Light. As for wine, the stadium was well stocked with the sweeter side of muscadine based Duplin Winery that has a satellite tasting room in Myrtle in additional to their North Carolina location. The Sangria is probably your best bet.

Monday, July 31, 2017

More Summer White #Wine from Oregon's Left Coast Cellars

In 2018 Oregon may gain it's 19th American Viticultural Area (AVA) with the possible establishment of the Van Duzer AVA. The vineyards and wineries petitioning the TTB are located in an area known as Perrydale Hills, but the AVA name is based on the well known Van Duzer corridor. This passageway provides a break in the coastal mountain range and allows cool ocean winds to flow inland - dropping temperatures dramatically.

Left Coast Cellars is one of the wineries participating in the consortium as their estate lies within Perrydale Hills. Interestingly, this vineyard is the largest contiguous estate in the Willamette Valley covering 350 acres with approximately 150 planted with vines.  Not only does the estate obtain the grape retaining cooling affect from the Van Duzer Corridor, but the estate's soil is a refection of the entire valley as it consists of the three major soil types: marine sediment, volcanic sediment at higher altitudes, and loess from the Missoula Floods.

This summer I received  the next vintage of two of my favorite Left Coast Cellars wiens. As expected these wines were fresh and approachable - both in the palate and the wallet. Cheers.

2016 Orchards Pinot Gris ($18) The Orchards is the winery's prime estate site for Pinot Gris that was once a productive apple, pear, and cherry orchards. This wine brought Pinto Gris back into my good graces as it is not overwhelmingly lemongrass but instead dominated by a refreshing lighter grapefruit and green apple. There are traces of minerality and a very pleasing acidic tail.  This wine suits me well.

2016 White Pinot Noir ($24) is 100% Pinot Noir harvested from across their Willamette Valley vineyards. The winery limits skin contact to achieve clarity and the wine is as usual, delicious. This vintage provides a more citrus flavor in addition to the stone fruit. The minerals and acids provide a pleasant finish. My families favorite of the two.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Ballparks & Brews: St. Louis Cardinals Busch Stadium

The 2017 MLB season was reaching it's zenith when we visited one of the iconic franchises: the St. Louis Cardinals: Stan Musial, Bob Gibson, Red Schoendienst, Rogers Hornsby, Lou Brock, Whitey Herzog, Ozzie Smith, and of course beer - mostly Anheuser-Busch Inc beer. In fact, the River City was the origin for blending beer and baseball for the working class when Chris Von der Ahe founded the St. Louis Browns and the American Association. With The Beer and Whiskey League, Von der Ahe introduced Sunday games, low ticket prices, and cheap beer.

Sunday games persist, but cheap tickets and beer are rarities at today's MLB ballparks. And at Busch Stadium, InBev and Bud are obviously the King of Beers. This virtual monopoly spills over to the neighboring Ballpark Village where Anheuser-Busch Inc, Goose Island Beer Co., and Stella are your primary choices.  However, there are exceptions. Schlafly Bottleworks has a strategically placed stand at the ballparks entrance from Ballpark Village where their Kolsch and Pale Ale were my two favorites.  Sadly, inventory fluctuated over the two games and often these kegs were kicked.  A more constant option was the convenience styled hot dog stand in center field where the beer cooler housed several area micro-brews.  German styled beers are prevalent like the Urban Chestnut Brewing Company Zwickel and Stammtisch and the The Civil Life Brewing Company German Wheat. The cans sold at the stadium are quite unique as the entire top peels back.


Craft beer is also available in establishments surrounding the stadium.  Our hotel carried several Schlafly Bottleworks and 4 Hands Brewing Co beers with the latter's Cast Iron Oatmeal Brown my breakfast beer of choice.  4 Hands is located just south of stadium and while walking their to visit using theCompass Craft Beverage Finder we were distracted by the live music emanating from the Broadway Oyster Bar.  And with the 4 Hands Incarnation IPA and Prussia Berliner Weiss on tap; as well as more Urban Chestnut, Schlafly, and Perennial Artisanal Ales; we failed to head further south. However, we did visit Alpha Brewing Company when returning to the hotel.  This small micro specializes in sours, mostly barrel aged sours in wine barrels.  Whereas the others enjoyed their Atheist Ale IPA I was fixated on a sour flight of Troll Wheatwine, Natural Selection, Apocrypha, and Grape Brett.  The last two were fantastic, the highlight of the weekend so if you enjoy sours, add Alpha to your itinerary. Cheers to St Louis, Von der Ahe, and Ballparks & Brews.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

John Adams Would Have Enjoyed Blandy’s 10 Year Old Malmsey Madeira

"I went last night to the Ball, where the Company Suffered more by the cold which was excessive than I ever knew any Company suffer in my Life. The Dancers only were comfortable. I came home and went into a warm bed and had a fine Perspiration, occasioned I believe by my drinking three Glasses of Madeira Wine at supper and two more after I came home, which has relieved me from all cold and I feel very well this morning. The Company owing to the Weather was not large."  Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 22 February 1799
It's common knowledge that the founding fathers enjoyed their Madeira, a fortified dessert wine produced in the Portuguese archipelago of  Madeira.  Our second President was extremely fond of this beverage and recently A Museum Just Uncovered 221-Year-Old Wine Meant to Honor John Adams's Presidency.  One reason behind their affection for Madeira was that the wine was also able to travel long distances without spoiling. And in fact, the long sea voyages actually transforms the flavor of the wine by exposing it to heat and movement.

In contemporary times Madeira winemakers mimic sea voyages by heating the wine.  "The wine is placed in stainless steel vats that are heated via a serpentine method. Hot water, at a temperature between 45 and 50 degrees Celsius [or approximately 115 °F], runs through this serpentine system for a period of never less than three months. Once this heating process ("estufagem") is completed, the wine is subjected to a rest period ("estágio") of at least 90 days in order to acquire the conditions that will make it possible for the oenologist to finish the wine so that it may be placed in a bottle with the required quality guarantee."

One historical producer is Blandy's Madeira, a family owned winery that has been operating continuously for over two centuries. In 1989 they partnered with the Symington Wine Family to form the Madeira Wine Company (MWC).  MWC utilizes two maturation processes. The first is called Armazém de Calor where the wine is "stored in large wooden casks in a specially designed room outfitted with steam-producing tanks or pipes that heat the room, creating a type of sauna. This process more gently exposes the wine to heat, and can last from six months to over a year".  Second, during the aging process the wine is aged " in seasoned American oak casks in the traditional ‘Canteiro’ system, whereby the casks of this wine are gradually transferred from the top floors of the lodge, where it is naturally warmer, to the middle floors and eventually to the ground floor where it is cooler. During this totally natural ageing, the wine underwent regular racking before finally being bottled".

As a side note Madeira wine can be made from the following grape varieties: Tinta Negra, Sercial,Verdelho, Terrantez, Bual (Malvasia Fina), Malvasia (usually Malvasia Branca de São Jorge).

To celebrate the 4th of July (yes, I realize the tardiness of this post), I received a sample bottle of their Blandy’s 10 Year Old Malmsey Madeira ($29). The wine is named after the vat of wine that the Duke of Clarence drowns in in Richard III. And it clearly satisfies the founders affinity for Madeira wine. Dried fruits is the initial dominant flavor, followed by raisins and subtle chocolate. The sweetness is neither gritty or jammy and the tangy acidity balances the sugar seamlessly. I thoroughly enjoyed this wine and am sad to see it disappear.  Cheers to Adams, the 4th, and Madeira wine.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Wine Sample: Abadia Retuarda Seleccion Especial Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León

The Abadía Retuerta winery launched in 1996 during Spain's Ribera del Duero explosion onto the world market. Although relatively young, the winery inherits a long tradition of winemaking as the winery and vineyards are located on the former site of the 12th century Santa Marie de Retuerta Monastery in Sardón de Duero. Along the banks of the Duero River, "the monks of the order of Saint Norbert were given terras et vineas (land and vines) in Duero Valley and the second abbot brought the first French grape varieties from Burgundy that were planted in this famous Spain wine region. Since then, the land of our estate has been dedicated to the vine, to silence and to devotion."

Abadia Retuerta farms these same vineyard sites which today is located within the heart of the "Golden Mile", a "privileged strip of land it shares with some of the Ribera del Duero's most illustrious wineries...". Despite the fact that Abadia Retuerta could produce wines under the prestigious D.O. Ribera del Duero label, they chose instead to use the broader Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León classification that allows them to be more flexible in the grape varieties and percentages included in the final blend.

For instance, D.O. Ribera del Duero labeled red wines requires a composition of at least 75% Tempranillo, with the remaining proportions divided between Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec. However the 2013 Abadia Retuarda Seleccion Especial Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León ($30) is composed of 75% Tempranillo, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Syrah, and 10% Others (such as Merlot & Petit Verdot). Apparently the Syrah adds additional strength the the wine accompanied by the richness of Tempranillo and the elegance of Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine does however follow the D.O. Ribera del Duero regulations for aging Reserve wines spending over 12 months in oak and two years aging in the bottle. This is a fantastic wine, intense with aggressive red fruit, well integrated tannins and fresh acidity. The finish includes a hint of smoke and spice. However I feel that drinking this wine young is an injustice and the wine will gain elegance with more time in the bottle. Cheers to Abadia Retuerta and the Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Symington Family Estate’s 2015 Dow’s Vale do Bomfim

Symington Family Estate’s Dow Winery is known for their Port being a historical producer of Portugal's signature fortified wine. But for many years Symington has been producing a dry red table wine from the same Bomfim used in these ports and sharing the wine with friends and family. Eventually they released this wine commercially and this month I received a sample of the 2015 Dow’s Vale do Bomfim ($13).  This wine is made from traditional Portuguese grapes Tinta Barroca, Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, and Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), all grown in the Duoro DOC. This region is centered on the upper Douro River and it's Mediterranean climate is sheltered by mountain ranges from coastal influences.  This is a juicy wine, dominated by dark fruit (plums and dark cherry) and acidity. Despite only having medium tannins, this wine benefits from a little breathing. The freshness remains but the acidity becomes more in balance with the fruit and wet stone minerality. The suggested pairing is Chouriço, so pick your sausage. Cheers.

Friday, July 7, 2017

The Latest from “Wines of Altitude” with Amalaya Wines & Bodega Colomé

Last July I covered Wines of Altitude featuring two wines each from Amalaya Wines and Bodega Colomé, each members of the Hess Family Estates. Both wineries grow and source grapes from the Salta Province of NW Argentina - one of the highest viticulture regions in the world where vineyards are situated 5,500 ft to over 10,000 ft above sea level. This high altitude provides intense daytime sunlight and cool nights that help better retain the acidity and concentrated fruit characteristics of the grapes - predominately Torrontés and Malbec. There are actually three varieties of Torrontés: Torrontés Riojano (the most common), Torrontés Sanjuanino, and Torrontés Mendocino.  Each are believed to be separate crossings of the Mission grape and Muscat of Alexandria. This June I received the current vintage of the previous wines and will compare and contrast below.

Amalaya translates to "Hope for a Miracle" from the native Calchaqui Indians and the grapes are harvested from the Finca San Isidro Vineyard and Las Mercedes Vineyard.
  • 2016 Amalaya Blanco ($12; 85% Torrontés / 15% Riesling) This release has the same grape composition and Finca San Isidro vineyard source as the 2015 release.  The wine is also as refreshing with more citrus and minerality - a little sugar - and a tremendous deal at this price.
  • 2016 Amalaya Malbec ($16; 85% Malbec, 10% Tannat, 5% Petit Verdot) The 2016 version replaces Syrah with Petit Verdot; expands the vineyard to both Finca Las Mercedes and the Calchaqui Valley; and maintains a similar oak regime (25% aged 8 months in French Oak). The two are also very similar on the palate so let me reuse my descriptor: this wine is fruit forward and smooth there's a dusty, spicy, and vanilla character resulting from the oak. The finish is very easy, very easy. 
Bodega Colomé primarily sources fruit from four vineyards. The winery and Colomé Vineyard are located at 7,545 feet above sea level and operates three other vineyards ranging from 5,750 (La Brava Estate) to 10,200 (Altura Máxima Estate) feet above sea level. This last could be the highest vineyard in the world.
  • 2014 Colomé Estate Malbec ($25) This release is also 100% Malbec and produced from grapes grown at all four vineyards.  This wine is denser, more full bodied with dark fruit and a velvety complexion. The finish shows white pepper, acids, and once again noticeable, but approachable tannins.
  • 2016 Colomé Torrontés ($15) Like the 2015 release, this wine is 100% Torrontés harvested from 30 - 60 year old vines from throughout the Calchaqui Valley and shares the same wine making methods. It also shares most of the characteristics of the previous year with the abundant floral and Muscat aromas, plenty of stone fruits, grapefruit, and refreshing acidity. A fantastic wine.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

TasteCamp Maryland 2017: The Beer

TasteCamp Maryland's agenda incorporated a couple breweries and why not as the Frederick area hosts over a dozen craft breweries. The first was actually an informal stop at the Old Line State's biggest craft brewer, Flying Dog Brewery.  This was my first visit to the tasting room since our MyJoogTV episode and since then they added an outdoor patio and food trucks. Even thought a majority of their beers are well distributed, the tasting room provides an expanded lineup such as the Raging Bitch on cask, suggestions for combining beers as in a Black & Tan, and limited release beers like their heat series.  See The Passionate Foodie's take on the "Heat Series" Shishito Rice Ale.

Smoketown Brewing Station is located about 10 miles southwest of Frederick in the historical railroad town on Brunswick -- once a major hub for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. The town is much quieter these days, more a destination for those biking the C&O Canal or kayaking on the Potomac.  Smoketown now provides these visitors with local craft beer brewed from their premises in the former Volunteer Fire Department. Make sure you ask about Walter, the resident ghost and former fireman, who is the namesake for the delicious Walter's Spirit. This high ABV Porter is aged 4 months in A. Smith Bowman Distillery barrels. Another nice high alcohol offering is the Wicked Threesome Belgian Tripel. Their lighter beers were also excellent and would hit the spot during a bike ride so try the Light Rail Lager, German Crossing Hefe, or Ashcat Pale Ale.

The final brewery stop was to Attaboy Beer, a new operation located just off Carroll Creek in historic Frederick. Think casual at this spot as Carly and Brian Ogden provide a kid friendly environment, a legal change that they requested as the Frederick County Board of License Commissioners used to outlaw minors at breweries.  The horror of such a possibility. Minors still have to leave by 9PM, but not before their parents can sample an interesting portfolio of ales and saisons. Don't leave without trying a version of Creek Life Pale Ale - this is one solid beer. 

And as always, theCompass Craft Beverage Finder can guide you to all these destinations. Cheers.