Monday, October 19, 2020

Serbian Rakija: Zaric Šljivovica & Hubert 1924 Quince

Rakija is an eau de vie styled fruit brandy popular in Slavic and Balkan countries and in Hungary where it is known as Palinka. It is the national drink of Serbia and the plum variety (Šljivovica) is actually a registered trademark with a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO). Rakija is also distilled from other fruits such as apricots, grapes, pears, and cherries where the fermented fruits are "baked" and not boiled in the distillation process. The first distillation is referred to as "soft brandy" whereas the second distillation is called prepecenica -- or "double-baked".  Plums are double-baked whereas apricot, quince, and pear brandies are often soft brandies in order to retain the fruit fragrance.

Historians claim that the spirit arose in the Balkans in the 16th century as a result of the Turkish invasions of the 14th & 15th centuries. However, there is now three separate archaeological evidence that Rakija was being distilled in Bulgaria in the 11th century.  Regardless of origin, rakija has been and still is a family staple throughout Eastern Europe. 

With Šljivovica, producers use different plum varieties and blend these together -- either combining before fermentation or after distillation. Three of the most popular plum varieties are Požegaca, Crvena Ranka, and Trnovaca. The latter is an older cultivated species of plum which are small and round and provides rich fruit. Crvena Ranka is another ancient species that is larger and thrives in poorer and drier soils. It is also sterile and thus needs to be pollinated by another plum species - often  Požegaca or better known as Damson.  However, this plum is very sensitive to frost and the Plum plox virus (a viral disease), thus vigilant care is taken in the orchards. 

Besides varietal differences within a rakija spirit, there are also geographic differences. For instance, in the Kosjeric region of western Serbia, fruit ripens late in the growing season due to the area's higher altitude. This translates to a ratio of sugars and acids and higher quality fruit sought by distillers.  In the Vojvodina province on the Carpathian Basin -- the plain that remained when the Pliocene Pannonian Sea dried out -- is full of rich and fertile loamy loess soils.  As a result, agriculture dominates in Vojvodina as the soil ensures a good supply of plant-available water, soil aeration, and various minerals. I recently purchased two Serbian Rakija from each of these areas. 

The Zaric Distillery operates in Kosjeric and produces numerous rakija from local fruit including the Zaric Distillery Kraljica ($52). Kraljica translates to Queen, is PDO protected, and is a prepecenica Šljivovica produced by the three plum varieties discussed above: Požegaca, Crvena Ranka, and Trnovaca. After the second distillation, the spirit is aged for a minimum of seven years in oak,  converting the clear Rakija into a style similar to cognac.  Even with the oak aging, plums leap through the nose and remain on the palate with a layer of smoke that lasts in a low burn setting (42% abv). I really like the smokiness as it doesn't overpower the fruit. 

Destillerija Hubert 1924 is located in Vojvodina - specifically in Banatsko Veliko Selo - near the Romanian Border. The family distillery was founded in 2007 but the building that houses the distilling operations was built in 1924, hence the name. They produce six brandies (Quince, Apricot, Apple, Plum, Pear, Cherry) using an old family recipe and the traditional double distillation in copper cauldrons. The fruit is sourced from the 15 hectares family orchard estate. Since quince is not fairly known in the U.S., I grabbed a bottle of the Dunja Quince Brandy ($44). Quince (Dunja in Serbian) is a pome fruit, related to apples and pears, that when ripe is bright yellow and looks like a fuzzy, short-necked pear. As a raw fruit, it is too sour and astringent to eat so is most often used in jams, cakes, and rakija.  It also has a relatively low sugar content in that 70 kg of fruit is necessary to produce 1 liter of brandy and fermentation occurs from autumn to spring. The flavor profile of this rakija is quite interesting with strong tropical aromas like pineapple but a more subdued pear inspired core. And very smooth at 40% abv.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Organic Wines from Chile's Veramonte Vineyards

Wines of Chile list 16 valleys noted for wine production and for a quarter of a century, Veramonte Vineyards has been farming in the "the trailblazing cold-climate wine-producing region of Chile":  the Casablanca Valley. Over time they also set roots in the Colchagua Valley which has "evolved over the last twenty years from being a calm stretch of farmland to becoming one of the largest and most active wine-producing regions in the country." Today the wine is part of the Gonzalez Byass family and produces seven organic varietal wines from these two appellations.

The Casablanca Valley is "known for the marine influence of the Pacific Ocean that cools off its climate, the morning fog that settles into the valley, and the old, granite-clay soils that create a rich tapestry of terroir. All these factors play a part in making this valley one of the main producers of white wine in Chile. The higher, warmer altitudes free from frosts are ideal for red varieties such as Merlot and Syrah, while the lower and cooler areas are favorable for vibrant white wines with a signature minerality that cause Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay to be the most iconic varieties of the Casablanca Valley".

The Colchagua Valley is located in the southern half of the Rapel Valley and the "relatively low altitude of the coastal hills allows the Pacific breeze to mingle with the Andean winds, which cools the valley and prolongs the maturation period of the region. This is advantageous for the preservation of acidity in the grapes and helps to generate red wines with excellent coloring, great freshness, and very good keeping qualities. The large majority of wine produced here is red, with a particular propensity for the production of Carménère, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. Although, the newer plantations close to the coast have also proven to be a region with great potential for cool-climate white wines". 

In both valleys, Veramonte follows organic practices in order to "express the fullest potential of the terroir".  These practices are augmented with in-house compost; row cultivation to minimize erosion; incorporation of animals like sheep to cut grass and act as a natural fertilizer; conservation of biological corridors to ensure a self-regulated ecosystem for healthy vines; pruning and canopy handling that allows for proper ventilation and disease prevention; and undergrowth control that unpacks the soil, generates structure and enhances the life and soil microfauna. 

Veramonte Organic Sauvignon Blanc 2019 ($11.99)
Sourced from the Casablanca Valley this was my favorite of the trio and expressed an old-world style in contrast to more popular lemongrass dominated Sauvignon Blanc. Citrus is present, much more subdued, coexisting with considerable depth, and finishing with refreshing acidity.

Veramonte Organic Pinot Noir 2018 ($12.99)
Also from the Casablanca Valley, this is a very pleasant wine with sour cherries throughout. It presents a satisfying balance between tannins and acidity. 

Veramonte Organic Carmenere 2018 ($11.99)
Sourced from the warmer Colchagua Valley this wine expressed blue fruits like plums and blueberries that are rich in concentration with rising acidity.  Would prefer a little more tannic structure.

Disclosure: We received samples from Veramonte in order to share our opinion about their products, but this isn’t a sponsored post.

Monday, October 5, 2020

Redbreast 12-Year-Old Irish Whiskey - Sherry Barrel vs Bourbon Barrel

The highly acclaimed Redbreast 12-Year-Old Irish Whiskey is matured in a combination of Bourbon seasoned American Oak barrels and Oloroso Sherry seasoned Spanish oak butts that provide complex flavors to this light-colored whiskey. The whiskey starts as locally grown barley from the Munster province in southwestern Ireland. The mash bill includes both malted and unmalted barley with the traditional malting process imparting sweetness as the starch is more accessible to the yeast during fermentation. On the other hand, the unmalted barley provides a silky and creamy mouthfeel plus a dash of spice. Once the mash is cooked and fermented, the wort is triple distilled in copper pot stills that increase the alcohol content from 40% after the first run to 85% after the third.  Copper stills are preferred since they conduct heat efficiently, and more importantly, the copper reacts with volatile sulfur compounds to form copper sulfate which remains behind in the still. Furthermore, the large pot stills used at the Midleton Distillery allows for a large volume of heavier congeners to "reflux" back into the still producing a lighter style and higher strength spirit.

This whiskey is then moved into either used sherry or bourbon barrels. The sherry butts -- standard size casks used for maturing sherry -- are manufactured by hand at Jerez de la Frontera, Spain, and are made from European oak harvested in Galicia, Spain. Prior to being shipping to Ireland, the casks hold sherry wine for two years. The bourbon barrels are made from American white oak that were manufactured in Kentucky and held bourbon whiskey for a period of 3 or 4 years prior to being shipped to Ireland. The inner linings of both types of casks allow the Irish whiskey to seep in during maturation, and when it withdraws in the cooler winter months the whiskey takes with it the spectrum of either sherry or bourbon flavors hidden within. These characters include nuts and dried fruits from the sherry and vanilla, nutmeg, and cinnamon from the bourbon. After a minimum of 12 years, and usually longer, the whiskeys are blended and the final Redbreast 12-Year-Old Irish Whiskey is excellent - hints of all these flavors within a lightly bodied sipping whiskey. Sláinte. 

Monday, September 28, 2020

Grape Spotlight: Berryessa Gap Durif (Petite Sirah)

In 1880, deep in the Rhone Valley, Dr. Francois Durif released to the world a new grapevine that he discovered created from a natural crossing (most likely due to cross-pollination) of a mystery grape pollen and one of his Peloursin vines. Over a century later DNA analysis identified this second parent as Syrah. This new vine was called Durif in Europe but for more mysterious reasons was called Petite Sirah in California as early as the mid-1880s. This name stuck in North and South America.

The name Petite Sirah may have resulted from the grape's "petite" berries which provide plenty of intense fruit and high tannins. High acidity is another inherent characteristic of the grape - which with the tannins encourages aging. Other common notable characteristics are blackberry, chocolate, and black pepper flavors.

Berryessa Gap Vineyards is located in the Winters AVA and situated in the western corner of Yolo County, located off Route 128 between the town of Winters and the Vaca Mountains. Napa County lies on the western side of the ridge. The Berryessa estate - Coble Ranch vineyard - is planted along the eastern ridge of the Vaca Mountains and benefits from a climate that resembles the hot and dry conditions of Mediterranean climates.  

Durif (Petite Sirah) is one of their many grapevines and the winery releases two versions. Their Berryessa Gap Petite Sirah ($27) is composed of 85% Durif, 10% Primitivo/Zinfandel, and 5% Peloursin and is modeled after the Rhone field blends copied admirably by California's Ridge Vineyards in Sonoma's Lytton Springs.  The Durif in this wine is whole-berry fermented which tones down the tannins and intensity leading to a soft and elegant wine. 

On the other hand, the Berryessa Gap Durif ($32) is 100% Durif, grown in its own plot elsewhere on the estate.  For a sensory descriptor, the wine is juicy, with dense blueberries, slight spice, and friendly chewy tannins. But on a metaphysical dimension, this wine provides deeper sensory pleasure like the feeling after that perfect golf swing or getting the barrel on a baseball.  This is a memorial wine. Great job Nicole.  

Monday, September 21, 2020

Grape Spotlight: Herzegovina Trnjak

Trnjak (TER-nyak) is an indigenous grape to both Croatia and Herzegovina and is usually planted as the pollinator to the more popular female Blatina grape.  For instance, Vinarija Citluk, the biggest winery in Bosnia and Herzegovina, plants a row of Blatina, a row of Trnjak, 2 rows of Blatina, a row of Trnjak, and so on. And in the best of times, Trnjak is able to pollinate itself as well as the Blatina. Currently, Blatina is the more fashionable wine, but after opening a bottle of the 2015 Wines of Illyria Trnjak ($35.99), I see Trnjak as having more potential. It provides more body and structure than Blatina, just as rustic, with a little more spice.  Sadly, there's just not a lot of Trnjak produced or available. This and other Illyria wines are available on the East Coast and hopefully soon in the DC area through Siema Wines.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

La Forêt Blanche Winery in the Judean Foothills

The Judean Foothills is the largest of Israel's six major wine regions - part of the ancient Kingdom of Judah and lying between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.  At the Tel Hebron archaeological dig, pottery shards from wine amphorae have been unearthed stamped with the royal seal of the Kingdom of Judah (700 BCE) stating “For the King of Hebron”.  For thousands of years, winemakers have taken advantage of this Mediterranean climate with abundant sunshine, chalky and clay loams, and a diurnal swing of 20°C.  Modern winemaking resurfaced in the 1950s and 1960s with the Livni family joining in 2003 by producing wine from the single varietal vineyard at Sde Kalev at La Forêt Blanche Winery. Ten years earlier Menachem Livni pioneered the planting of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes in the Hebron Hill area and established this vineyard.

Several La Forêt Blanche wines were included in the summer Hopwine kit. The red wines were sourced from their Judean Hills vineyard whereas the white wine from the cooler and more mountainous Negev Highlands to the south. The Dvir Cabernet-Shiraz-Merlot 2017 is excellent - a blend of 45% Cabernet Sauvignon and 33% Shiraz from the Sde Kalev vineyard, rounded off with 22% Merlot. The wine was aged for 12 months in French and American oak barrels and bottled without filtration. Expect velvety cherries, mint, and earth.  The Dvir Pinot Noir 2017 is also derived from the Sde Kalev vineyard and is very juicy with black pepper sprinkled within the black cherry profile. The Dvir Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 was aged for 18 months in French and American oak barrels, then bottled without filtration. This is a rich creamy wine, blackberries, and some cocoa and mint.  The Talpiot Red Judean Hills 2017 is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (80%), Petit Verdot (7%), Shiraz (7%), and Merlot (6%) that was aged for 6 months in French and American oak barrels and bottled without filtration.  Red raspberries and considerable acidity are reflected in this wine. Finally, the Talpiot White 2018 (Viognier grapes (80%) and Chenin Blanc (20%) showcases the Negev Highlands and impresses with its peach pit character and refreshing acidity. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Comparative Chilean Carménère with TerraNoble

TerraNoble is a Chilean winery that was founded in 1993 with the intent to highlight wines from the Maule Valley. The following year, Chilean Merlot was correctly identified as Carménère, and TerraNoble committed itself to this rediscovered grape.  They chose to establish their winery and initial vineyard (La Higuera Vineyard) in an area called Valle del Claro within the San Clemente district - the highest region in the Maule Valley. Over the years TerraNoble expanded their holdings into the Casablanca and the Colchagua Valleys with the later including the Los Lingues Vineyard near the Andes and the Los Cactus Vineyard near the Pacific Coast. 

This development offered a clear opportunity to produce single vineyard Carménère wines using the same winemaking techniques in order to compare and contrast wines made near the coast to those produced near the mountains.  These techniques included an 8-12 day fermentation at 26-27º C and a one-two week post-fermentation maceration -- all depending on the lot. Finally, the lots were combined into French oak barrels and untoasted foudres to age for 14 months. The resultant wines were the 2017 TerraNoble CA1 and the 2017 TerraNoble CA2 (both $24.99). 

The CA1 comes from the Los Lingues Vineyard located at the base of the Andes Mountains and benefits from a temperate Mediterranean microclimate. At night though, the vineyard experiences a strong diurnal temperature to 20º C that helps the grapes ripen slowly over time while retaining acidity.  The soils consist of high draining sand, clay, and granite with few nutrients. These conditions help produce a fresh Carménère wine with lively acids, dark black fruit, a slightly green and herbaceous palate, and firm tannins. 

The CA2 derives from the coastal Los Cactus Vineyard which shares a similar temperate Mediterranean climate with a cooling effect from the constant sea breezes. The soils are silt and sandy loam over a granite base that provides good drainage and similar low nutrients.  In some respects, the CA2 is similar to the CA1 -- but with less intensity. It's lively, but not as acidic with a higher fruit expression.  And the tannins are slightly less firm. But the primary difference is the absence of herbs and green characters. 

They both are delicious wines, but my favorite was the 2016 TerraNoble CA1 ($24.99) that the winery snuck in as a vertical to the 2017 CA1 but with a slightly different winemaking protocol. This wine has a similar freshness and herbaceous green character, but the tannins were much more rounded. Excellent. 

Disclosure: We received samples from TerraNoble in order to share our opinion about their products, but this isn’t a sponsored post.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Grangestone Bourbon, Rum, Sherry Cask Single Malt Scotch Whiskys

While browsing the miniatures at a Florida Total Wine - which are so superior to Virginia based stores since spirits are sold -- I found a trio of Grangestone Single Malt Scotch Whiskys each spending a second maturation in a different type of cask.  The Grangestone brand is a Total Wine house brand that internet sleuths have most likely linked it to William Grant and Sons and produced at their Kininvie distillery.  William Grant and Sons was founded in 1887 and has grown into the third-largest producer of Scotch whiskey behind Diageo and Pernod Ricard. They feature brands such as Grant's, Glenfiddich, and The Balvenie.

Alone, Grangestone should be considered a mid-tier brand where the initial finishing occurs in traditional American oak casks for three years in order to be regarded as a "proper" Scotch whisky. But finding a trio of miniatures that underwent a second maturation in bourbon, rum, and sherry casks provided an opportunity to see how each imparted different characters into the whisky. As stand-alone 750ml bottles, these whiskys sell for $30, but as miniatures $2.50 each.

Overall, I preferred the Grangestone Rum Cask Finish Single Malt Scotch Whisky as it seemed to impart more balance and depth with vanilla and a rum-honey sweetness. The Grangestone Sherry Cask Finish Single Malt Scotch Whisky was the most concentrated with plenty of baking spices, dried fruits, and caramel.  Finally, the Grangestone Bourbon Cask Finish Single Malt Scotch Whisky was very spicy - almost rye spicy - with more burn and oak flavors. Ready for another round...

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

DOC delle Venezie at the Wine Media Conference Virtual Summit

DOC delle Venezie is an interesting consortium of three wine regions created specifically around one grape variety: Pinot Grigio. The DOC was established in 2017 in order to enhance, protect, and promote this grape within the Triveneto: Trentino, Veneto, and Friuli Venezia. The enhancement revolves around improving quality and focusing on microclimates -- which in some instances requires reducing cultivation in order to increase quality.  Protection is implemented through an Italian Government Seal which guarantees that the wine consists of 85% Pinot Grigio grown in the Triveneto region. And promotion includes various tasting events like one just presented at the Wine Media Conference Virtual Summit.

(Photo courtesy of the Italian Wine Central).

For this event participants, each received two different wines from DOC delle Venezie with Wine Journalist, Sommelier, and Italian Wine Girl Laura Donadoni providing an overview of the Pinot Grigio, Triveneto, microclimates, and the wines. First some basics. Pinot Grigio was a natural mutation of Pinot Noir and Pinot Bianco that occurred over 2,000 years ago.  In order to grow to its full potential, the grape needs a cool climate (preferably within an average of 55-59 degrees F) and well-drained soils.  If the grape is planted in warmer regions then, in general, these wines lack texture and acids.

Pinot Grigio is widely planted in the Trivenetio because of its cool environment with large diurnal temperatures with the Alps acting as a barrier for disruptive weather but providing cool winds as does the Adriatic Sea on the east. Thus the average temperature in the DOC appellation falls between 57-59 degrees F where texture and acids develop naturally. Pinot Grigio wines represent 7 out of every 10 bottles produced in the DOC delle Venezie and come in three styles: Bianco, Frizzante, and Spumante.  The latter two are semi-sparkling and sparkling wines that are made using the Charmat method of pressurized tanks.

For the tasting, we received two wines that represent different character profiles of the Trivenetio. The Pietra di Pinot Grigio (Friuli Venezia Giulia) provided apple and lemons both on the nose and palate, with honeysuckle, some depth and minerals, and finishing with vibrant acids. A popular DOC delle Venezie profile. On the other hand, the Gemma di Luna Pinot Grigio provided white peaches and a more dominating stone fruit profile with more minerality, but with the same strong acidity. This wine is more typical for those made in Trentino near Lake Garda.  And a final positive for DOC delle Venezie Pinot Grigio is they generally run from $15-20. Cheers.

Disclosure: We received samples from DOC delle Venezie in order to share our opinion about their products, but this isn’t a sponsored post.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Grape Spotlight: Jura Savagnin & Vin Jaune

"During his studies in the 1860s, Pasteur identified that what he referred to as Mycoderma vini - known as the fleur ("flower") by the vignerons, now known as the microorganisms that create the voile or layer of yeast that settles on the surface of wine in barrels - was different from what was known as Mycoderma aceti or acetic (vinegar) bacteria. He even showed that you could seed the surface of the wine with Mycoderma vini to create the right bouquet - anticipating the use of the ensemencement process by almost a century. " -- Wink Lorch: Jura Wine: With Local Food and Travel Tips
Thus Louis Pasteur, the father of microbiology and pasteurization process should also be known as the father of Vin Jaune - the intentionally oxidized wine produced in his native Jura, France.  Lorch continues quoting Jacques Levaux, the retired director of the Jura wine laboratory, "... apart from the rigorous analytical testing, little had changed either in the making or the understanding of Vin Jaune since the time of Pasteur in the mid-19th century".

To paraphrase Lorch, the production of Vin Jaune follows the practice of Spanish sherry where wine (from 100% Savagnin grapes - picked late in the season) are placed in a barrel and not moved or topped for up to six years. Naturally or inoculated, a layer of yeast called voile ("veil")  - and similar to Sherry's flor - forms and protects the wine from extreme oxidation and provides a nutty and rich profile. Since the wine in the barrel is never topped and some is lost to evaporation, it is compulsory to use a 62cl clavelin bottle.

DalGobboM - Own work CC BY-SA 3.0
Savagnin Blanc is especially suited to its indigenous home in the sub-alpine regions of eastern France. And more specifically, this ancient white wine grape is planted abundantly in eastern Jura, a wine region "sandwiched between Burgundy in the west and Switzerland in the east". DNA reveals that Savagnin is the same as Traminer and associated with the Germanic family of Traminer like Gewurztraminer.  But the DNA evidence also revealed that this ancient grape originated in Jura.

Jura's is a cool climate with warm, relatively dry summers and cold winters, and the majority of Jura's vines are planted on south-facing slopes -- to absorb as much of the sun's rays. A minority of vineyards are located in the more mountainous areas of eastern Jura, where heights can reach p to 4,500ft (1370m). However, the majority of vines are planted in the slightly lower-lying land in the west which average 1,000ft (305m).

Marine fossils
"It should come as no surprise that the key soil types here are Jurassic limestone and marlstone. The Jurassic period was named after Jura because the region's limestone mountains are representative of the geological developments which occurred between 145 million and 200 million years ago. The name of L'Etoile, the village which is home to one of Jura's most distinctive appellations, is said to be derived from the star-shaped marine fossils which characterize its limestone-rich soils (etoile is French for 'star'). Chablis and the upper Loire Valley are built on a similar geological structure". -- wine-searcher

Jura was once one of France's most prolific wine regions and dominated by red grape varieties. However, according to Lorch, "during the phylloxera crisis, from the peak of plantations in 1873 to 1900,  the vineyard area reduced in the Jura by 62% - compared to 27% on average for France as a whole". These vines had also been declining due to powdery mildew and then add in two World Wars -- and Jura wine production was basically broke at the beginning of the 1960s.

Courtesy of Domaine de Sainte Marie
Local, governmental, and individual (think Henri Maire) efforts contributed to the steady rebound in Jura wines that have benefitted local producers such as the Domaine de Sainte Marie.  This winery has a 14 hectare (35 acres) estate which is planted with 85% Savagnin. These grapes are used to make Vin Jaune but are also blended with others to produce AOC Cotes du Jura & L'Etoile wines as well as the Vin de Paille dessert wine. Like Savagnin, the family de Sainte Marie is an ancient one tracing their Norman ancestors to the 12 century and having resided in Jura for over 200 years. Today "..the growing estate is built around Bertrand de Sainte Marie, his son Gaëtan,  and oenologist Nicolas Cottier to create top-of-the-range wines, worthy of their appellations, made from traditional Jura grape varieties such as Savagnin, Chardonnay, Poulsard and Trousseau".

Domaine de Sainte Marie participated in the Hopwine program and from the kit I received, it appears that the estate is well on their way to not only meet but exceed that goal. The 2017 L'Etoile Ensemblage is a textured and acidic blend of  Savagnin, Chardonnay, and Poulsard -- the later a red wine grown as a white wine. The 2012 Cotes du Jura Vin de Paille is made from Savagnin, Chardonnay, Poulsard, or Trousseau grapes that have been placed on loosely woven mats made of straw (paille) and dried out for several weeks (or even months). This process concentrates the sugars and flavors providing an auburn colored wine with intense sweet flavors and funk but lifted with refreshing acidity.  And finally, there's the 2010 Cotes du Jura Vin Jaune that is one of the highlights of the entire Hopwine shipment of 30 individual winery kits. It is aromatic, with a clean profile of nuts and honey with rising acids.  And excellent.

Domaine de Sainte Marie is looking for a U.S. importer and distributor so hopefully, their wines will be available in the near future.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Grape Spotlight: Jacquère & Roussette (Altesse)

"On the evening of November 24th, 1248 a tremendous earthquake shook the region causing Mont Granier, the tallest mountain of the Chartreuse Massif, to disintegrate into huge boulders which came crashing down into the valley. Some of these boulders were the size of a house, and 16 villages were crushed and 5,000 lives lost. The church of the Sanctuaire Notre Dame de Myans, however, was spared, though gigantic boulders were stopped abruptly at the very door of the church. Some of these boulders can still be seen around the church grounds" The shrine has been a pilgrimage center since at least the thirteenth century, and its small ‘Black Virgin’ was an object of the devotion of Saint Francis de Sales. -- Our Lady of Myans, Savoy, France
Courtesy of
In the 1980s and only 2 kilometers from this church, Philippe Ravier took over his family's small estate in the Combe de Savoie. He slowly expanded it to the 35 hectares of today with ample plantings of two grapes popular in the Savoy wine region: Altesse & Jacquère. His son Sylvain joined him in 2008 and together they formed Domaine Philippe & Sylvain Ravier. Some of the multiple vineyard sites they farm were created from the Mount Granier landslide such as those near Apremont and Abymes with their soils composed of ancient glacial moraines and marlstone and those in Lac Saint André / Les Marches at the base of Mount Granier.

Further to the northwest, Domaine Gérald Dubreuil resides in the village of Poncin, halfway between Lyon and Geneva, and within the Vin du Bugey wine region.  The family estate has been cultivated for multiple generations and consists of south-facing vines planting in clay-limestone soils.

Within a larger scope, Savoie and Bugey are wine regions in eastern France, in the mountainous areas just south of Lac Léman (Lake Geneva) and the border with Switzerland. While not technically connected under French wine law, Bugey and Savoie are often grouped together since they are close both geographically and produce similar wine styles.  They are very cool climates so most of their wines are white led by Jacquère, Roussette (Altesse), Bergeron (Roussanne), Marsanne, and Chardonnay.  For reds look for Pinot Noir, Gamay, and Mondeuse.  The two main appellations within the regions are Vin de Bugey and Vin de Savoie with numerous Crus and sub-appellations that may appear on labels.  (

Jacquère [jah-kehr] is mostly grown within the crus of the Vin de Savoie appellation -- specifically in the villages of Apremont and Abymes within the shadows of Mont Granier.  Wines from the Jacquère grape are noted for their high acidity, low alcohol, sometimes herbaceous, but clean minerality. We received a Hopwine kit from Domaine Philippe & Sylvain Ravier that included the AOP Vin de Savoie Les Abymes 2019. This wine showed many of these characteristics with its lively citrus profile with racy minerality and lasting acidity. An impressionable wine.

Roussette is the local synonym for Altesse and is considered indigenous to the southern shores of Lake Geneva.  The grape is a late ripener and is usually harvested with a reddish tinge on the berries take which provides Altesse with the synonym, Roussette ("reddish" in French).  When grown in the Roussette de Savoie and Roussette du Bugey appellations the grape is known for producing full-bodied, concentrated wines with floral, nutty characters and good acidity.  The Domaine Philippe & Sylvain Ravier AOP Roussette de Savoie Altesse 2019 is pure elegance with nutty pear flavors and considerable depth before finishing with subtle but lasting acidity.  The Domaine Gérald Dubreuil Roussette du Bugey 2017 provides similar depth and acidity but with more citrus - particularly lingering lemons.  Both show the elegance that Roussette produces in both appellations.  Santé.

Distribution: Wines from Domaine Philippe & Sylvain Ravier are available in Oregon, California, New York, and Massachusetts; whereas Domaine Gérald Dubreuil is looking for a U.S. distributor.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

A Little Spain and Croatia in the Blue Ridge Mountains

Over twenty years ago, John Delmare and his family planted the first vines on the historic Rappahannock County property they had purchased called Glenway Farm. This site in the Blue Ridge Mountains has been farmed since 1804 and is well suited for grapes with its high elevation (900' and 1200'); southeast aspect, with 10% grade; and rocky soil comprised of shale, limestone, and clay.  They initially planted a variety of varieties from vinifera to hybrids - one such French hybrid being Vidal Blanc. This grape is a cross between the Vitis vinifera Ugni blanc and another hybrid variety, Rayon d'Or, and is intended to be winter-hardy with high sugar levels with moderate to high acidity.

Rappahannock Cellars released their first vintage of wines in 2000 and since that date, they have held back a portion of their Vidal Blanc in each successive year.  They take that Vidal and siphon it into five-gallon glass casks and place on the winery's roof where it ages in the sun for 10 months. The direct sunlight and heat oxidize the wine which, when optimal, produces characters of cooked or dried fruit, nuttiness, and yeast. These casks are brought inside and aged over the winter and then back-blended with the previous vintages in their version of a Spanish Solara system. Each year the Solara gets older with a portion bottled for release - which they appropriately label Solera ($34).

This wine is dry yet very complex - similar to a Spanish Oloroso sherry with nuttiness and yeastiness immediately apparent. Since the wine is naturally oxidized it can remain corked for a few months so is appropriate for sipping or in cocktails - one is mixing with grape brandy from the winery's sister distillery Dida's Distillery.

The distillery honors the Delmare's great-grandfather Paul Mariani as Dida translates to Grandfather in Croatia and it was their Dida who immigrated to California and introduced the family to agriculture. Distiller Allan Delmare further commemorates their heritage by producing the Dida's Vintners Choice Immature Brandy ($40), a grape brandy in the tradition of the Croatian fruit brandies - rakija.  In rare instances, you can find oak-aged rakija and in Hungary, the best home-made palinka's are those with a little oak seasoning.   The Dida's has even more seasoning using 100% in new American charred oak barrels which smooth the rouge edges without overwhelming the fruit. I found my local rakija source.  Zivjeli!!.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Grape Spotlight: Colli di Rimini Rebola (Pignoletto, Grechetto di Todi)

The northern Italian province of Emilia-Romagna emanates history.  In ancient times it was populated by Thessalians, Etruscans, Celts, and Umbrians -- all before the Romans ascended to power. It contains the Rubicon River which  Julius Caesar crossed in 49 BC, setting the stage for the Ides of March drama. The port city of Ravenna became the capital of the Western Holy Roman Empire in AD 402 and is where King Theodoric the Great established the capital for the Ostrogothic Kingdom of Italy. In the Middle Ages, the province changed ownership between various competing principalities and kingdoms, but the University of Bologna remained a constant source of higher education. It is the oldest university in Europe having been established in AD 1088. And more consequential to our focus, Emilia-Romagna has always been considered one of the richest regions of Italy in regards to wine-making tradition.
Emilia-Romagna is a rich, fertile region of northern Italy, and one of the country's most prolific wine regions – more than 136,000 acres (55,000ha) were under vine in 2010. At 150 miles (240km) wide, it spans almost the entire width of the northern Italian peninsula, sandwiched between Tuscany to the south, Lombardy and Veneto to the north and the Adriatic Sea to the east. Nine miles of Liguria is all that separates Emilia-Romagna from the Ligurian Sea, and uniqueness as the only Italian region with both an east and a west coast. (
Vines were first introduced to the region by the Etruscans and widely adopted by the Romans. Most interestingly, the grape varieties planted in previous centuries were of the Vitis labrusca species rather than the Vitis vinifera. For example, Emilia-Romagna's famous Lambrusco varieties are derived from the Vitis labrusca species.  Today, there are 20 or so DOC titles, and one of these, Colli di Rimini, is located south of Ravenna bordered by the Adriatic Sea to the east and by the Apennines Mountains to the west.

Courtesy of
The Colli di Rimini DOC was created in November 1996 and a 2009 re-classification favored a shift to varietal wines with Cabernet Sauvignon and Rebola the featured grapes. If a wine is made from at least 85% of either one, the name of that variety is included as part of the DOC title on labels: Colli di Rimini Cabernet Sauvignon and Colli di Rimini Rebola. DNA evidence that Rebola is the name given to Pignoletto (the Colli Bolognesi Pignoletto DOC) which is also the same as Umbria's Grechetto di Todi.

The first written documentation of Rebola dates to 1378 and refers to it as "Ruibola" or "Greco" and according to "Rebola is a fruity and velvety wine, easy to pair with food and able to feature complex perfumes and tastes when aged in wooden barrels or casks".

One Colli di Rimini producer that we recently sampled through the Hopwine program is Vini San Valentino. Their organically grown vines are situated a few kilometers from the Adriatic on the hills of Rimini.  These coastal vineyards receive evening breezes to cool the grapes after a day of abundant sunshine. The Mascarin family has owned the property since 1990 and has concentrated on Sangiovese, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, and Rebola. Two Rebola wines were included in our Hopwine kit and these wines impressed with their richness and structure. The 2019 Colli di Rimini Scabi Rebola is extremely complex - floral with various tropical and stone fruit notes that combine with its depth and refreshing acids to leave a lasting impression. The 2018 Colli di Rimini Rebola ViVi is even more impressionable. Named after the owner's late wife Valeria Vivian, this wine flows seamlessly through a current of creamy peaches with textured layers of acidity.   I'd cross the Rubicon for this wine.

Update:  Vini San Valentino wines are available in Maryland and Michigan and will be soon available in NY, NJ, Massachusetts, Texas, Rhode Island.

Saints: Apollinaris of RavennaSt. Marcian of Ravenna

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Historical Significance at New Market Plains Vineyards, Maryland

In 1793 the town of New Market was founded by Nicholas Hall Sr. and William Plummer as a rest and trade stop along the Baltimore Turnpike wagon trail. The two gentlemen understood the commercial value of the turnpike and turned a half-mile section of the trail into New Market’s Main Street. In twenty years the town had grown into an important trade center for wagoners and other travelers and included "a button factory, nail factory, wheelwright shops, blacksmith shops, tanneries, dry gods, grocery stores, inns, taverns, livery stables, wagon stands, " and most importantly -- distilleries. In 1818:
..the Baltimore Turnpike became the eastern section of the National Turnpike, one of the most famous and well-traveled highways in America. The Town of New Market became an integral part of the western trade route and the multitudes who opened America’s new frontiers passed through the center of town. The first stagecoaches carrying mail traveled Main Street. Over the road came heavy freight and Conestoga wagons loaded with grain, whiskey, tobacco, lumber, iron, furs, and other products. Passenger coaches and fancy buggies stopped at the hotels, inns, and taverns. Herds of cattle, sheep, and pigs were driven through to market. Peddlers came with carts and many traveled on foot carrying all they owned on their backs. (Town of New Market)
Eventually, the railroad and the automobile would reduce the trade and rest stop significance of New Market -- but not its historical significance. And on December 6, 1975, the Town of New Market was placed on the National Register of Historical Places and under the supervision of the Department of the Interior.

At the same time, Susan Wilson, a direct descendent of Nicholas Hall Sr., was raised on the family dairy farm -- the same farm that lost a slice of land in 1792 in order to develop the town.  "Many of the old outbuildings remain intact or restored, including a stone dairy/ice house, log smokehouse with a slate roof, log chicken house, log wagon shed and stable, frame general store/tenant house, early 1900's bank barn, and a tile dairy barn (now the winery) built-in 1941" (New Market Plains Vineyards).

When she and her husband Howard inherited the property they drained their 401K accounts and planted Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Muscat Blanc, Petit Verdot, and Syrah vines in 2012.  Their first harvest occurred two years later and the estate was christened New Market Plains Vineyards.

Recently we were able to enjoy the fruits of this original harvest in the 2014 Rich Forest Chardonnay ($20).  This wine is made in the Burgundian style starting with barrel fermenting and finishing in oak. This wine shows why the winery is becoming state renowned for its Chardonnay as it is balanced between oak and juice with creamy lemons and fresh acids. Our group also finished a bottle of the 2015 Windy Day White ($23), a blend of Muscat Blanc and Chardonnay that is aged in stainless steel.  The strong floral aroma is readily evident followed by tropical and citrus characters with the fresh acids alleviating the slight 0.7% sugar. We are looking forward to our next visit. Cheers. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Grape Spotlight: Herzegovina Blatina

Most cultivated grapevines are hermaphroditic -- meaning that their flowers are both male and female and thus, can self-pollenate. These grapevine flowers have no petals and grow on stem clusters that will eventually turn into grape clusters (1).  However, some grapevine flowers are completely female and require cross-pollination. In these cases, the vineyards are interplanted with other grape varieties that then pollinate the female vines. Natural pollination is a fickle process so over time yields from these female grapevines are very unstable. As a result, these grapes are generally obscure and only planted in regions where the grape has historic significance (2).

Blatina (Blah-tee-nah) is one such female grape and only in Herzegovina -- specifically south of Mostar Bosnia around the towns of Čitluk, Međugorje, Ljubuški, and Čapljina.  Blatina vineyards are interplanted with a few vines of either Alicante Bouchet (Kambuša), Merlot, and Trnjak in order to cross-pollinate.  When pollination does take effect the fermented wine is generally full-bodied with juicy dark fruit. This Wines of Illyria Blatina ($10) is definitely full-bodied with juicy plum and blackberries and uniquely a little chocolate dirt. Very old world. The recommended food pairings are grilled red meats, chicken, sausage, or seafood paella made with red peppers and onions and we confirm the grilled red meats (mititei or cevapi).

(1) How to Tell a Male Grapevine From a Female Grapevine
(2) Female Grape Varieties

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Key West: A Craft Beverage Destination

Key West is known for its many interesting features such as home to the Southernmost Point in the Continental US, Truman's Little White House, Hemingway's House & the six-toed cat, roosters, and drinking. Yes, this is mostly the irresponsible variety but for those who are more responsible, there are five craft beverage establishments on the key that are worth a visit.

Key West was also home to America's first overseas air transport flight when on October 19, 1927, a Pan American World Airways Fairchild FC-2 floatplane delivered mail from Key West to Havana.  From that date until its "collapse" on December 4, 1991, Pan Am was the principal and largest international air carrier in the United States. In Key West tickets were sold out of their building on 301 Whitehead Street and since the company's closure has operated as a brewpub first under the ownership of actress Kelly McGillis (Kelly's Caribbean Bar Grill & Brewery) and now as First Flight Island Restaurant & Brewery. This brewery has a core lineup of beers that cater to the tourism market - an Amber, IPA, and Wheat ale; but they also produce a limited release series where the best action occurs. The Czech Engine Pilsner is spot on and their Beach Day IPA is a juicy blend of tropical fruits. For dessert hope the Midnight Landing Honey Porter or Nuts & Bolts Chocolate Peanut Butter Ale are on tap.

As its name implies, The Waterfront Brewery overlooks the Key West Historic Seaport and Bight and operates as a brewery, restaurant, and a licensed wholesaler of Florida Keys finfish and shellfish. The brewery offers a strong portfolio ranging from an Island Life Lager to the TruMan Double IPA. Both of these are well made, the first a refreshing quaffer, the second a rather smooth and complex offering. However, our two favorites were the Key Lime Gose and Lazy Way IPA - both provide tropical flavors with the kettle-soured Gose tart and refreshing while the Lazy Way is a juicy, juicy IPA.

Being so close to the Caribbean Key West is practically synonymous with rum and the first place to imbibe is the Key West First Legal Rum Distillery -- opened in 2012 by Chef Paul Menta and Tony Mantia.  The distillery is housed in a building built in 1900 that was the original location of Jack's Saloon and once a Coca-Cola bottling facility. Today the building houses distilling equipment that cranks out several styles of rum from a clean white to flavored to a high octane 105 Simonton Rum.  The rums are produced by fermenting sugarcane juice which is then generally distilled six times. If the rum is aged they use salt-cured barrels and when flavored they utilize locally-sourced food flavors.  Our overall favorite was the Aged Key West Raw and Unfiltered Rum ($63) aged in new American oak barrels. The distillery never uses previously used barrels and instead purchased #3 charred barrels which they fill with fresh seawater. Overnight the barrel expands and in the morning the water is drained and the barrels cure in the sun. The salt residual opens the pores of the wood allowing the rum to soak up more of the wood nuances such as fig, plum, vanilla, and pepper. This raw and unfiltered rum definitely has these characteristics as well as a bit of funk - that makes it truly unique. This make is compatible with a Dark and Stormy and even more compatible by adding grapefruit juice to that cocktail plus a little lime. The other rum we purchased was the Cuban Coffee Rum ($35) where dark roasted coffee beans are aged in rum barrels to create a coffee extract. Then  Demerara sugar is toasted and added to the coffee in order to create a "true Key West Colada Cafe". The rum is savory and we've used as a morning quick start or an evening dessert.

The island also features two other distilleries that we were unable to visit. Papa's Pilar Rum is also located on Simonton Street and concentrates on one iconic rum brand named after the famous author and his fishing boat.  Key West Distilling just moved to the Stock Island Marina Village and goes beyond rum by also producing whiskey, vodka, and gin -- the latter two using Florida sugar cane. Next trip to the Keys. Cheers.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Grape Spotlight: Montenegro & Herzegovina Vranac

Last October, the Embassy of Montenegro poured an excellent Plantaze Vranac ProCorde Special Reserve Dry Red Wine wine during an International Club of DC dinner. For many of us, it was the first time sampling this ancient grape that is indigenous to this relatively dry, mountainous, and Mediterranean climate. Specifically, the grapes for this wine were grown in the Podgorica subregion, Montenegrin basin of Lake Skadar - the largest lake in Southern Europe and shared with Albania. This Vranac was a dense wine with dark fruit, firm tannins, earthiness, and abundant acidity - the latter being retained by the cooler climate.  DNA  evidence also suggests that Vranac is related to Kratosija - the local synonym for Tribidrag-Crljenak Kastelanski, Primitivo and Zinfandel.

From Montenegro, Vranac spread to southward into the Macedonian Republic which has the largest plantings of this blacked skinned grape and northward into Bosnia-Herzegovina which has the third-largest planting.  In Herzegovina, plantings are clustered around Mostar which is a much hotter Mediterranean climate than Montenegro - yet Vranac is still able to retain its acidity even in warm climates. This was evident by the 2012 Wines of Illyria Vranac ($17) which resembles Italian Primitivo rather than American Zinfandel as this Black Stallion has disciplined juicy dark red fruit and layers of acidity. It finishes with a hint of bitterness and saline.  This and other Illyria wines are available on the East Coast and hopefully soon in the DC area through Siema Wines.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Extreme Viticulture: Sanctuary Vineyards Dorian Release

On September 6th, 2019 Hurricane Dorian made landfall in North Carolina causing widespread destruction particularly in Ocracoke due to reverse flooding from the Pamlico Sound. On that day in Jarvisburg, Sanctuary Vineyards scrambled to harvest and crush their remaining grapes -- succeeding up until they lost power late in the evening. These Tannat and Petit Verdot grapes then received the equivalent of a two-day cold soak maturation until power was restored a couple days later. After fermentation, the grapes were aged in new American oak and blended and bottled as Dorian.

In normal times viticulture is extreme in the Sandhill region of North Carolina - and not only from the threat of hurricanes - and particular for vinifera grapes.  Humidity, pests, and soil composition provide additional obstacles.  Pierce's disease is a struggle brought on by pathogenic bacterium fueled by humid conditions. The vineyards are planted on ancient sand dunes providing excellent drainage and some resistance to phylloxera but Sanctuary's vineyards receive additional nutrients from clam shells initially used for crop cover.  The Outer Banks also experiences intense heat and sunshine -- optimal for ripening grapes -- but require the breezes from the nearby Atlantic to cool the grapes at night.

The Dorian wine was officially released this last Saturday (July 11, 2020) with owner John Wright donating a portion of these sales to the Ocracoke Interfaith Relief & Recovery Team. In Ocracoke, the wine is available at Zillies and most likely enjoyed during the amazing sunsets across the sound. Actually, the wine would benefit from a couple years aging, but for those opening young there is sufficient tannic structure to complement the dark berry and smoky fig profile.  Sanctuary Vineyards also producers a range of other estate-grown vinifera wines using Tempranillo, Viognier, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Roussanne, Albarino, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, and Syrah.

Friday, July 10, 2020

COVID Re-Openings in Virginia at Four Tasting Rooms

Through July 4th weekend my family visited four Virginia tasting rooms primarily just to get out of the neighborhood but it also allowed us to access new releases and COVID re-openings.  These visits started while fishing in Front Royal and a stop at Chester Gap Cellars. This winery provides one of the most picturesque views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, situated at over 1,000 feet elevation and with a trailhead to the Appalachian Trail nearby. Our visit coincided with the release of their 2019 Rosé ($26) -- a blend of Merlot and Cabernet France and presenting a creamy strawberry character. And if you are a fan of the true character of Roussanne, check out their 2017 Roussanne ($32) which is aged in French oak for 10 months that enhances the grape's unique profile. Upon arriving we were greeted immediately by a staff member who explained the seating options and wine-food options and let to a table on their open-air tasting patio. From that vantage point, we enjoyed a couple glasses of wine, the views, and the staff sanitizing tables and chairs as they became available.

The next day we visited two tasting rooms in Delaplane, Virginia: Valley View Farm and Three Fox Vineyards. The historic Valley View Farm recently partnered with Philip Carter Winery to sell wine and hard cider and for the winery to produce wines using grapes from the Strother Family Vineyards located on the property.  The Strother Family has "served as stewards" of the farms for five generations with Philip Carter Strother, owner of Philip Carter Winery, the current steward.  The views of the Piedmont are equally impressive and are captured in the artwork of artist Andrei Kushnir and featured on the label of the Philip Carter 2017 Valley View White Table Wine ($24).  The wine (Chardonnay and Vidal) was very pleasant as we sat at a table on their porch - 100 feet from the nearest visitor.

Three Fox Vineyards is located a few miles down Route 17 and was recently purchased by Tim and Emily Faltemier. Original owners John and Holli Todhunter had opened the winery way back in 2002 and named the vineyard Three Foxes after seeing three of these Vulpes playing in the meadow.  The Todhunter's also established an Italian centric focus planting Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, and Pinot Grigio which will continue under the new ownership based on Emily's Italian roots. That being said we covet their La BohemeViognier ($29) sourced from Middleburg Virginia.  When we arrived we noticed a tasting tent and tables set up along the banks of Crooked Run, a response to the pandemic but hopefully a future feature.  Kids and adults were sitting in the creek or playing ball in the field and golf carts were busy transporting wine or visitors to and from the tasting room or parking lot. In between cleaning teams and selling wine, Tim also mentioned that they are adding a brewery to the premises which they hope to have functional once the proper licenses are received.

Finally, we returned to Fleetwood Farm Winery, which had been the last winery we visited right before the lockdown. Like Valley View Farm, this is a historic farm -- established in 1745.  The winery was also hosting a Fleetwood Rosé All Weekend special where the two new rosé wines were priced at $20. Our group went with the 2018 Virginia Rosé is a saignée blend of various grapes with a dark, full-bodied cherry profile with refreshing acidity.  On our previous visit, we favored the 2018 Virginia Viognier ($32) which matched the juicy stone fruit characters we were expecting.  The winey offers amble indoor, outdoor, and patio space for distancing with masks required while walking inside the tasting room.