Saturday, July 21, 2018

Borderless Wine from Harvest Ridge Winery

Straddling the border between Delaware and Maryland along the Mason-Dixon line lies Harvest Ridge Winery. Whereas the winery and a majority of the estate vineyards reside in Delaware, a significant block of estate vines are planted in the Free State. In fact, one of the original Mason-Dixon witness stone and crown markers, number 47, is located on the property. After fifteen years of home winemaking, Chuck Nunan converted his family farm to an estate vineyard by planting a series of vinifera grapes in 2011. After the winery opened in late 2013, he expanded the original planting of Chardonnay, Viognier, Malbec, and Merlot to include both Cabernets, Chambourcin, Vidal, Barbera, and several other grape varieties. He also hired Jason Hopwood, who had experience in Sonoma and the Finger Lakes, as the head winemaker. This growth enables Harvest Ridge to provide over fifteen wines in their tasting room as well as a new cider brand Rebel Seed.

I arrived on a Friday just after noon (Friday - Sunday they open at 12) and several visitors had beaten me to the tasting room. Harvest Ridge offers three different flights of eight wines for $7 (dry, sweet, and the mixed variety). There is also a cider flight at the same price and additional samples can be purchased as well as wine and cider by the glass or bottle. Children and outside food are allowed inside and on the outside courtyard but you will need to keep your dogs leashed outside.

I chose the mixed flight in order to gain an appreciation for the winery's many styles. For dry whites, they offer two styles of Chardonnay ($22), one unoaked, the other barrel fermented. I was more intrigued with the 2016 White Wine No. 47 ($17) - note the marker reference - that is a 90-10 blend of Vidal Blanc and Chardonnay. The wine has depth you normally don't associate with Vidal combined with the characteristic floral and spice profiles. A nice summer-beach wine. Similarly the 2016 Red Wine No. 47 ($17) is light and refreshing. This blend of Chambourcin, Barbera, and Landot Noir can also be served slightly chilled as there are few tannins. And as a single varietal wine, the 2016 Barbera ($25) shows excellent promise. It is, again, light bodied with subtle spice, moderate tannins, and abundant acids. Harvest Ridge offered two rosé wines with the Rosé of Chambourcin Country Bloom ($16) included in the tasting. The grapes macerate on their skins for 48 hours providing a blush like color and this clean wine is targeted more to that style with its 5% residual sugar. Also high in sugar is the 2016 Blue Hen Blue ($16) a blend of blueberries and concord grapes. Because of the berries acidity I was attracted more to this wine than the rosé as the grapey character of the concord was also restrained.

Finally, I was able to sample three dessert wines starting with the Portella ($18) made from a Muscat descendant Aromella -- which was recently bred at Cornell University. The wine possesses a raison-fig profile with a strong floral and spicy aroma. The 2015 Chamfort ($22) is a Chambourcin based ruby port styled wine fortified with neutral grape spirits and exuding chewy blackberries and chocolate. Last up was the 2013 Late Harvest Vidal Blanc ($15) that reminded me of the Tokaji styled dessert wines with the strong apricot flavor combined with smoked almonds. Quite Nice.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Live with Snooth & Robbie Meyer of Murrieta's Well

Joaquin Murrieta (1829 – July 25, 1853), also called The Robin Hood of the West or the Robin Hood of El Dorado, was a famous vaquero, and gold miner in California during the California Gold Rush of the 1850s.... In 1919, Johnston McCulley supposedly received his inspiration for his fictional character Don Diego de la Vega — better known as Zorro — from the 1854 book entitled The Life and Adventures of Joaquín Murieta: The Celebrated California Bandit by John Rollin Ridge. Wikipedia

One of the spots Murrieta would use to water his horses was a small well in the Livermore Valley in a parcel of land purchased by Louis Mel in the 1880s in which he planted a vineyard with cuttings from the famed Chateau d’Yquem and Chateau Margaux vineyards. He eventually sold the property to his friend Ernest Wente and years later in 1990 Philip Wente and Sergio Traverso revived the winery and opened Murrieta’s Well. They renovated the original winery keeping the original well close to the tasting room where visitors can still see original beams and stones -- dragged from the nearby river bed -- embedded in the walls.

Although the Wente name is now synonymous with California Chardonnay, the winemaker at Murrieta's Well, Robbie Meyer, specifically features multiple grape varieties to showcase not only the Livermore Valley but also the winery's estate vineyards. This 500 acre estate lies in the middle of the Livermore Valley in generally gravelly soil with morning fog cooling the grapes before the start of a typical sunny day. During a recent Snooth tasting, Meyer discussed five wines from the Murrieta’s Well portfolio where the grapes were harvested exclusively from these estate vineyards.

Murrieta's Well Small Lot Sauvignon Blanc 2017 ($35)
Their Sauvignon Blanc vineyard is from descendants of the original Chateau d’Yquem cuttings planted by Louis Mel in the late 1800s and is part of the original 92-acre parcel Louis Mel purchased when he first moved to the Livermore Valley. The Louis Mel vineyard features well-drained gravelly soils that are ideal for growing Sauvignon Blanc. The wine itself was fermented in neutral French oak barrels and then aged sur lie for four months, which allows the wine to mature during fermentation and early aging without imparting oak features. According to Meyer this adds texture and weight to the palate while maintaining the wines freshness. And there's plenty of depth and texture to this wine surrounded by a floral aroma and grapefruit and white peach driven fruit and solid acidity. A refreshing yet mature wine.

Murrieta's Well The Whip 2016 ($26)
This is a unique blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Chardonnay, Orange Muscat, Viognier with the grapes harvested from the estate's Hayes vineyard with the exception of the Louis Mel vineyard and Sauvignon Blanc. Interestingly, the Hayes vineyard is responsible for eleven of the twenty grape varieties planted at Murrieta's Well as the vineyard holds an array of soils, aspects and slopes. The grapes for The Whip were fermented and aged in a combination of stainless steel tanks and oak that Meyer says builds texture and mouthfeel as well as maintains freshness and acidity. The Viognier and Orange Muscat provide plenty of aromatics and the Sauvignon Blanc natural acidity and these enclose a complex, creamy, and round middle. An excellent wine.

Murrieta's Well Dry Rosé 2017 ($30)
This rosé is an exclusive Rhone blend of Grenache, Counoise, and Mourvedre. The first two grapes are harvested from the Hayes vineyard, the later from their Raboli vineyard where they are gently whole cluster pressed, cold-fermented separately, and then aged two months in steel tanks after the final blend. This is a luscious dry wine; cream strawberries, depth, mint, and healthy acids.

Murrieta's Well The Spur 2015 ($35)
A red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Merlot, Petite Verdot, and Cabernet Franc from the Louis Mel, Hayes or Sachau vineyards. The grape varieties were fermented separately in stainless steel then blended together and aged for 24 months in 50% new, 25% second use, and 25% third use French oak. Meyer stressed that this wine doesn't identify as a single varietal and this inviting wine starts with dark fruit and dried cherries, then coconut and spices, and concluding with a vibrant finish.

Murrieta's Well Small Lot Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($58)
The grapes were primarily grown in the gravelly, coarse, and sandy loam soils of the Sachau vineyard with a small percentage harvested from the historic Louis Mel vineyard. After fermentation the wine was aged for 18 months in 80% new French oak and 30% second and third use French oak barrels. Despite this oak regime, the wine provides great fruit expression -- mostly plums -- but also some earthiness and chocolate enveloped in layers of texture. This solid wine finishes with soft but lingering tannins.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Far Eastern Shore Winery: Slghtly Sweet, Fruit Infused Wines

Each year Maryland wine makers hold a competition that results in the Comptrollers Cup. In previous years, only winemakers served as judges, but for 2018 sommeliers and other industry professionals were added to the judging. The overall winner was Cactoctin Breeze Winery and a celebration was held at their winery where Gold Medal winners poured generous servings of these wines. The medal in the Sweet wine category was given to Far Eastern Shore Winery for their Dream NV Port-styled Raspberry Chocolate wine. The wine is delicious, not cloying nor gritty, and integrating the fruit and chocolate for a fine tuned wine. Whereas I had sampled many of their wines previously this wine induced me to visit the winery in Easton, Maryland using theCompass Craft Beverage Finder.

In fact the tasting room for Far Eastern Shore Winery is quite convenient to visit, right on Route 50 to the right when traveling east. When arriving visitors will instantly notice the East Asian influences that account for part of their name - Maryland's eastern shore being the other. Al the wines are fairly priced ($17 or $29 for the premium dessert wines) and a tasting of five wines costs $7. Each of the regular wines consists of a wine grape base infused with fruit juice. For instance the Summer is comprised of a Chardonnay base infused with peach and apricot juice; this is one to continue with heading to the beach. Like the other wines this weights in at a lowly 7% ABV and 1.8% residual sugar with plenty of acidity to mitigate most sweetness. On the red side of the house, try the Black (blackberries on a Cabernet Sauvignon base) or the Wild (wild berries on a Shiraz base). Or the staff specialize in blending portions of each wine so ask your pourer for their favorite blend. Besides the Dream port wine, I came home with a bottle of their Harvest a combination of local Talbot County Vidal grapes infused with cranberries. This is quite tasty, reminiscent of mostly Vidal characters with a tad of tartness from the fruit. This wine is only available at the tasting room which gives you another incentive to visit Far Eastern Shore Winery

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Hess Select Central Coast Pinot & North Coast Cabernet

Looking for wine to bring to a party? Then think of Hess Select wines; they are suitable because they are generally very approachable and boast an agreeable $20 SRP.  Whereas the Hess Collection wines are produced from the winery's Mount Veeder Napa estate, the Hess Select wines are produced from grapes sourced from other California appellations. Many of these are small family growers whom Hess Family Wine Estates has established long term relationships. Here are two such wines we received this month.

Hess Select Central Coast Pinot Noir ($20) - The grapes are sourced primarily from the Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey. Director of Winemaking Dave Guffy says these grapes are grown in the Sarmento Vineyard, "located on the benchlands of the Gabilan Mountains in Monterey, where the Pacific breezes boldly cross the range each afternoon to cool the vineyards". This results in an extended and moderate growing season. The wine is loaded with sour cherries, deep chewy fruit, slight pepper, and medium tannins. A fan favorite.

Hess Select North Coast Cabernet Sauvignon ($20) - The North Coast AVA encompasses several sub-AVAs and grape-growing regions in six counties located north of San Francisco: Lake, Marin, Mendocino, Napa, Sonoma, and Solano. The region boasts a mild Mediterranean climate with regular diurnal swings providing flavorful fruit finishing with refreshing acids and balanced tannins.  Lake and Mendocino counties were the sources for this wine and Duffy says the later provides the plummy spice characters and the inland Lake county the fruit forward dark berry flavors. And there is deep fruit in this wine, approachable, with spices and vanilla, and ending with smooth tannins.

Monday, July 9, 2018

#FirstSipNZ with Single Vineyard Taylors Pass Villa Maria Estate Winery

"Taylors Pass Single Vineyard wines are pure expressions of soil and climate and varietal interactions",  Kathrin Jankowiec Marlborough Winemaker at Villa Maria Estate Winery

The Villa Maria Estate Winery's Taylor Pass vineyard is located in Marlborough's Awatare Valley along the northern bank of the Awatere River. In the larger picture Marlborough is in the northeast of the South Island with the Awatare Valley in the southernmost section of this famous wine region. The river not only helped carve the vineyard plots but also gives the region its name as awatere means "fast-flowing river" in the local Maori dialect. The vines are planted on rugged terraces and with each terrace the soil type changes: stony gravels are nearest the river, whereas the mid terrace has silt over gravels, and the highest terrace is deeper silt over clay-papa base. The grapes benefit from a large diurnal temperature swing as cool ocean breezes roll in at night to cool the heated day time grapes - aka enhanced acids. The winds also help dry the grapes reducing the risk of rot and encourage low yields and thick skins. However the strong wind creates its own challenges as the vines need to be securely stabilized.

Villa Maria's Taylors Pass vineyard contains 14 acres of Pinot Noir, 14 acres of Chardonnay, and 120 acres of Sauvignon Blanc; however only a very small portion of the highest quality of grapes from these acres are made into their Single Vineyard wines. Here are three we received as samples for the Summer 2018 #FirstSipNZ"

2017 Taylors Pass Sauvignon Blanc ($26) - 2017 was a cooler vintage with the wine fermented in 100% stainless steel that produces a clean and crisp wine with a tropical nose, soft velvety and lemon characters, and finishing with balanced acids.

2016 Taylors Pass Chardonnay ($42) - the wine spends nine months on its lees with 28% in new French oak 78% seasoned oak which helps develop not only creamy characters but also enhances fruit and minerality. As the wine warms the oak character dissipates to reveal the enhanced grapefruit and peach flavors. The wine finishes with a creamy and nutty character elevated by tasty acids.

2015 Taylors Pass Pinot Noir ($42) - the plots reside on stony sections of the vineyard providing floral aromas with silt loam providing not only drainage but also structure, dark berry notes and earthiness in the wine. The is a solid light-medium wine with juicy cherry flavors, a pleasant lack of cola, mellow spicy tannins, and a lively acid boost at the tail.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

W&OD Bike Trail: Reston to Lake Anne Brew House

If you are tired of the familiar rest stops along the W&OD Trail, then consider a quick excursion while in Reston to Lake Anne and the Lake Anne Brew House. This small village is only 5-10 minutes off the main trail by existing at Reston Blvd. Ride adjacent to the road for half a mile then jump on the Green Trail on your right. Follow the signs and this trail ends right near the brewery (Taproom hours: Thursdays 4pm – 10pm, Fridays 4pm – 11pm, Saturdays 10am – 11pm and Sundays 12pm – 5pm). The Lake Anne Skinny Dip Kolsch is a refreshing mid-ride flagship beer and there's usually a Hefeweisen, Lager or Blonde on tap as well. For something stronger, the Live-Work-Play IPA is popular as is the Brown’s Chapel Brown Ale. And for complete directions use theCompass Craft Beverage Finder. Cheers.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

A Weekend of Craft Beer in Toronto & the Rogers Centre

Toronto, home of the Maple Leafs and the Hockey Hall of Fame, the Raptors, the Blue Jays, and just as important, a vibrant craft beer environment. theCompass Craft Beverage Finder displays 45 establishments within Toronto so we anticipated a successful BlueJays-Nats series regardless of the scores. Our first stop was to a chain brewpub we had previously visited in Montreal, The 3 Brewers Yonge. This brewpub provides a core set of five beers with the White and IPA our preferred choices. However, each location also brews a seasonal and brewer's select beer with the former being a rather interesting Milkshake IPA and the second a delicious beer on cask which the brewer tapped for our benefit. Sadly, no one remembers the style or name.

On the way to the Rogers Centre we detoured to Mascot Brewery as it's one of the closet brewery to the stadium (Steam Whistle Brewing gets those honors).  Sadly Mascot will be relocating soon as rich Hollywood types are redeveloping this trendy section.  But for now their rooftop beer garden is a main attraction and on a pleasant evening their Mascot Pilsener is excellent.  Hopefully the new location will also contain a kitchen as their food menu looks equally appealing.


Before our trip several of us had received heads up regarding Bellwoods Brewery, so Sunday morning we ventured straight to this establishment. And top to bottom, their entire portfolio was impressive -- particularly their IPAs. Starting with the unique Lupulin powdered Runes Citra & Simcoe IPA to the two juicy and delicious Imperial IPAs WitchShark and Goblin Sauce to the Neapolitan Milkshark - conditioned with vanilla, coca nibs and strawberries. Talking about a breakfast or dessert beer. Toned down a bit, their Jutsu is a solid and balanced Pale Ale and their dry-hopped Paper Tiger Pilsner is refreshing. Finally, the dry-hopped sours Jelly King and Raspberry Jelly King nailed my sour palate. Be warned, we were tempted to skip the game, the beers were that good....

If you do make it out of Bells and get to the Rogers Centre, Mill Street Brewery has a stand behind our seats at Gates 5 & 6. This Toronto brewery operates several brewpubs throughout Canada in addition to their Toronto brewery. During both night's games our group stuck to the Original Organic Lager and the Hopped & Confused Session Ale. The Lager was the first beer brewed by Mill Street back in 2002 and is an interesting take of a German Lager using New Zealand grown Pacific Gem and Wakatu hops. The Hopped & Confused weighs in at a mere 4.7% abv but packs loads of fruit and citrus flavors. Two ballpark beers.


The aforementioned Steam Whistle Brewing's Pilsner is also widely available at the ballpark and surrounding bars. In fact, this pilsner is the brewery's singular focus and adheres to the Bavarian Purity Act of 1516 by using only pure spring water, malted barley, hops, and yeast. The spring water is from Caldon, Ontario; the barley is Golden Two Row from Saskatchewan; the hops both German and Czech; and finally, the bottom fermenting lager yeast is sourced from Hungary. That's an interesting combination of locations. But one location we love is the Toronto craft beer scene. Cheers.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Finding Riesling and Gamay in the Niagara Escarpment & Back 10 Cellars

The Canadian Province of Ontario consists of four major wine regions: Lake Erie North Shore, Prince Edward County, Niagara-on-the-Lake, and Niagara Escarpment & Twenty Valley. Whereas Niagara-on-the-Lake (40 wineries) was the birthplace of Ontario’s modern wine industry, the largest and most populous region is the Niagara Escarpment & Twenty Valley (47 wineries).  "The Niagara Escarpment (a ridge carved by ancient glaciers) is a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve" for not only the  hundreds of plant and animal species, but also includes  Niagara Falls and the distinctive micro-climate that supports Ontario’s most active wine region.

While driving from Buffalo to Toronto to catch the Nationals-Blue Jays series our craft beer-centric group stopped at one of these active wineries Back 10 Cellars just outside Beamsville. We only had a few minutes at the tasting room but we learned that the name refers to the 10 acre estate and that it took the owners 10 years to produce their first bottle of wine.  The wines are mostly produced from this estate which is farmed utilizing some organic and biodynamic practices and hand harvested. Since there was no time for a formal tasting we grabbed bottles of three wines I thought would be interesting and representative of the region. Cheers to UncorkOntario for the tip and as always you can explore Wine Country Ontario using theCompass Craft Beverage Finder.

The Big Reach 2017 (CA$22.95) This Riesling was crafted from whole pressed free run” juice.  It is off dry but the sugar isn't noticeable as the wine's acidity compensates. It shows a delicious combination of citrus, ripe apples, and petrol. .

Smitten Sparkling 2017 (CA$24.95) This Riesling sparkling wine is produced using the Charmat process   where the secondary fermentation occurs in sealed pressurized tanks. Like the still version, the Smitten's acidity blows by any hint of sweetness and shares common characteristics sans the petrol.

Everything At Stake Gamay 2017 (CA$24.95) The Gamay for this wine was sourced from the Bonamo Vineyard in the same Lincoln Lakeshore DVA. After fermentation the wine is aged four months in neutral American Oak and helps provide a lighter bodied fruit forward wine with soft but chewy tannins and powerful acids. An acid hound's dream and popular among this beer drinking crowd.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Highlights of the 2018 SAVOR: An American Craft Beer & Food Experience

The 2018 SAVOR: An American Craft Beer & Food Experience hosted by the Brewer's Association and held at D.C.'s National Building Museum presented consumers with over 180 craft beers in a multitude of styles. The breweries represented the entire
American industry from two Hawaiian breweries to the continent from New Mexico and Arizona, through Oklahoma to Vermont and Maine. Despite being heavy in IPA's, sours, and barrel aged beers, some of these breweries  poured palate cleansing lagers such as Hawaii's Kohola Brewery and their mineral driven Lokahi Pilsner. Likewise, cheers to more German Pilseners from Maine's Boothbay Craft Brewery Block of Time and Seattle's Cloudburst Brewing Happy Little Clouds. There were also a plethora of pale ales like Maryland's RAR Brewing's Slip Ons, Tampa Bay Brewing's Reef Donkey, and Night Shift Brewing's Whirlpool. Fifteen years ago these pales ales were the heaviest beers around but are  and now competing with IPAs for attention.

Sour beers were once again SAVOR's rising trend, (I'd estimate that at least a quarter of the offerings) with traditional Gose joined by experimental brews, fruited beers, and wood aged sours. Brewery Ommegang's Faith & Fortitude was mentioned in a previous post as well as the SAVOR collaboration beer Brett de Vinum. However, my favorite of the evening
 were the Arizona Wilderness Brewing Sonoran Prince (Fruited wood-aged sour) and Lexington Kentucky's West Sixth Brewing Sixfold X: Flanders Red (wood-aged sour). The former is an extraordinarily delicious sour ale fermented in French oak with local Florida Prince peaches and inoculated with various cultures. Evidently the native yeast on the peach skins add more layers. The West Sixth Flanders is a red sour ale that packs tremendous flavors (think tart cherry and back in the barnyard) using just malted barley, hops, water, yeast and 18 months aging in oak barrels. Honorable mentions go to Vermont's Four Quarters Brewing Fleur de Lis American Sour, The Lost Abbey's Veritas, Denver's Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project Sour Rosé, Dogfish Head's Mixed Media (ale brewed with grape must). I see a wine theme there.

Barrels were also prevalent through aging darker beers in used spirits vessels. I use spirits since bourbon wasn't the only option. Colorado's Cheluna Brewing Company ages their Benito's Imperial Stout in Mezcal barrels from Oaxaca, Mexico. Hints of agave envelope the sweet and toasty toffee malt. Long lines lead to another unique pour with Vermont's Lawson's Finest Liquids Fayston Maple Imperial Stout aged in Canadian Whiskey barrels. This powerful beer is
 brewed with organic pale malt and nearly two gallons of local  maple syrup in each barrel. In addition Central Waters Brewing, from Wisconsin poured an excellent Bourbon Barrel Stout as did Colorado's Joyride Brewing with their Bourbon Barrel Aged Dr. Friese's Breakfast Stout. Yet the highlight came from Oklahoma City and COOP Ale Works. The Sooner State may be behind the national beer trend, but COOP poured two remarkable strong beers: 2017 Territorial Reserve Bourbon Barrel Aged Wild Wheat Wine Honey Ale and 2017 Cask-It Series Rye Barrel Aged DNR. The later is made from both malted and unmalted wheat, local alfalfa honey, and fermented wild yeast before resting in old bourbon barrels. The former has even more flavor as the rye imparts spicy characters into the Belgium Dark Strong Ale. Sadly, you have to get to Oklahoma City to enjoy these two.


There were obviously many other quality beers not reviewed and which I didn't even get a chance to imbibe. Fortunately the Brewer's Association provides this opportunity to sample such a wide range of styles from such a divers geographic region. Cheers.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

SAVOR 2018: Blended Beer From Blenderie Ommegang

If you are a fan of Brewery Ommegang's Three Philosophers blended beer then you would be interested to know that the Cooperstown New York brewery has launched Blenderie Ommegang, a project focused entirely on very small-batch blended beers. Since the 2002 release of Three Philosophers, the brewery has released other blended beers using combinations of barrel-aged dubbels or two very different saisons or even a mix of stainless steel-aged lactic sours such as in the Pale Sour. According to Ommegang Brewmaster Phil Leinhart, “with blending, we can create flavors and layers of complexity that are otherwise impossible to achieve".

Using this philosophy, Blenderie Ommegang will release blended beers in a more timely fashion with the first two releases in the series blended with beers from two of Ommegang’s sister breweries in the Duvel Moortgat family: Liefmans Craft Blenders in Belgium and Firestone Walker Brewing Company’s Barrelworks in Buellton, California. “With access to a range of beers from world-class breweries, we can multiply the possibilities and take full advantage of the amazing talents within the family,” explained Ommegang President Doug Campbell.

The initial blend Faith & Fortitude debuted at the annual SAVOR: An American Craft Beer & Food Experience and is a combination of aged sour ales and farmhouse saisons. It weights in at a moderate 6.5% ABV and hit several fruit notes from tropical to citrus to stone fruits enveloped with a saison funk. The beer finishes dry and savory.

Look out for the upcoming second release, Zen & Zymurgy, a mixed fermentation sour with a delicate saison base and four distinct yeast cultures. In the meanwhile I'll be headed to Norms to bring home a few 750s of Faith & Fortitude. Cheers.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Left Coast Estate Cools the Pinot

June 5th was the last day for comments regarding the proposed Van Duzer Corridor AVA, a viticultural area that would be carved out of the existing Willamette Valley AVA from portions of Polk and Yamhill Counties, Oregon. About the same time I opened a trio of wines from Left Coast Estate whose 350 acre contiguous estate lies entirely within this pending AVA. The grapes for these wines benefit from the Willamette Valley's three major soil types (marine sediment, volcanic sediment at higher altitudes, and loess from the Missoula Floods) as well as from the cooling breezes from the Van Duzer Corridor. This cooling allows the grapes to retain acidity which is reflected in these samples.


2017 The Orchard Pinot Gris ($18) is a blend of 91% Pinot Gris and 9% Pinot Blanc. The Orchards is the winery's prime estate for Pinot Gris and once hosted apple, pear, and cherry orchards. This is a fresh wine, great acids with plenty of citrus and green apples. Besides the refreshing acids the wine finishes with a steely minerality and tea.

2017 Rosé ($25) consists of 54% Pinot Noir, 40% Pinot Meunier, and 6% Pinot Blanc sharing more traits with Burgundy other than residing along the 45th parallel. The wine was fermented in oak which provides a fair amount of texture to augment the light cherry - strawberry flavors. Finishes dry and savory.

2017 White Pinot Noir ($24) contains 91% Pinot Noir and 9% Pinot Blanc. The grapes are crushed at cold temperatures to ensure minimal coloration from the skins and then fermented and aged on lees in stainless steel. This process provides plenty of body - a creamy texture - that envelopes the citrus and stone fruit flavors.

Monday, June 4, 2018

The 2018 SAVOR Collaboration Beer: Brett de Vinum

One of the highlights to the annual SAVOR: An American Craft Beer & Food Experience is that every guest leaves with a parting gift — a collaboration beer brewed specifically for the event. The 2018 collaboration beer Brett de Vinum is a partnership between Virginia's Port City Brewing Company and Oregon's Crux Fermentation Project.  Port City's Founder Bill Butcher explained how two breweries from opposite ends of the country partnered in creating this Barrel Aged Imperial Wit (8.0% ABV).

The two breweries have admired each other's beers over the years and over multiple calls and meetings discussed recipes, styles, and each of their strengths. One of Port City's strengths is brewing with raw wheat (Optimal Wit) and one of Crux Fermentation's strengths is barrel aging and mixed fermentation.According to Bill, "They wanted to learn more about brewing with wheat, which is not such a common style in the Pacific Northwest, and we wanted to learn more about mixed fermentation and barrel aging. As discussions progressed, we settled on a Barrel Aged Imperial Sour Wit".

As they refined the recipe they thought it would be interesting utilize wine grapes in order to boost the sugar content and achieve a stronger Imperial alcohol level.  Again from Bill, "The National Sales Manager for Crux is a colleague of mine from Robert Mondavi, so we thought it appropriate to use wine grapes. Viognier is a grape that grows well in Virginia and in Oregon, so it naturally made sense to use Viognier".  Since Pinot Noir is Oregon's signature grape "healthy" doses of that grape were also used.  And since production occurred at Crux's facility in Bend, they sourced Oregon grapes. After fermentation, the beer was “banished” into red wine barrels with Crux’s house strains of Brettanomyces.

The result is a delicious beer combining the freshness and citrus yeastiness of the Optimal Wit with an enhanced creamy texture with just hints of sourness. Fortunately the breweries closed the bottles with a cork so that it can be enjoyed over multiple evenings. Cheers to collaborations and SAVOR.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Celebrating Generations of Vineyard Workers with Matsu Tinta de Toro

Castilla y León is the largest region of Spain, as well the largest region of all the European Union, and hosts the wine regions of Ribera and Rueda in addition to the more recently designated Toro DO. Toro lies to the west of Rueda in the province of Zamora and and is bisected by the Duero River flowing towards Portugal. Despite gaining Denomination of Origin (DO) status as late as 1987, wine making traditions predate the Romans as Greek settlers taught the local Celtic tribes how to vinify grapes. During the Middle Ages, Toro gained considerable wealth from the wine trade which expanded during the phylloxera epidemic as the local vines were protected by the sandy soil. Thus even today there are 150 year old vines still producing fruit. Traditionally Tinta de Toro refers to red wine from Toro and equates to a clone of the Tempranillo grape that excels in the DO's continental climate. Like other Spanish DOs there are several classifications of Tinta de Toro:

Roble: a young red aged between three and six months (can contain some Garnacha)
Crianza: must age for at least two years with at least six months in oak barrel
Reserva: must age for at least three years with one year in oak barrel
Gran Reserva: must age for at least five years with two years in oak barrel

El Picaro
In the Toro DO there are currently 8,000 ha of land planted with vines with a portion sourced to Vintae, the La Rioja wine company launched by José Miguel Arambarri and sons José Miguel and Ricardo. The produce wine from 15 DOs and in 2006 ventured into Toro. Three years later they introduced the Matsu brand. In Japanese the brand name translates to "wait" and is a tribute to the workers who tend the vines over multiple generations. As proof, each wine label includes a photo of a viticulturist spanning these generations. I recently received samples of three of these 100% Tinta de Toro wines sourced from extremely old vines farmed using biodynamic techniques.

El Recio
Matsu El Picaro 2016 ($13.99) - consists of grapes harvested from a selection of 50 to 70 year old vines. The juice is fermented and rests three months on lees in concrete vats and undergoes malolatic fermentation in French oak barrels. This Roble wine is fresh yet full bodied with a velvety texture, dark juicy fruit, and lasting tannins. A great tasting wine. 

El Viejo
Matsu El Recio 2015 ($21.99) - consists of grapes harvested from a selection of 90 to 100 year old vines. After fermentation in concrete vats the wine was aged 14 months in French oak. This Crianza is intense that is both chalky and chewy; dusty and leathery. The dark fruit and chocolate lingers with the tannins. Ups their game here.

Matsu El Viejo 2015 ($46.99) - consists of grapes harvested from a vines over 100 years old. It follows a similar fermentation and aging regime as the El Racio but extended to 16 months. This Reserva is even more intense exploding in the palate with a combination of fruit, spice, and toasted wood. Chewy tannins integrate with the juicy acids to keep the party going. Oh yes, if only in my budget.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Lucas & Lewellen's Hidden Asset

Hidden Asset refers to a wine, a red blend to be specific, that Lucas & Lewellen Estate Vineyards produces to honor their estate vineyards in Santa Barbara County - for this vintage the Los Alamos Vineyard and Valley View Vineyard.  The actual "Hidden Assets" are the grape varieties used in this unique blend, a kitchen sink of Malbec, Merlot, Syrah, Petite Sirah, and Cabernet Franc. The percentages of each grape variety and vineyard source is proprietary information but the winery prints the percentages sourced from the four vineyard sites. Three ranches in the Los Alamos Vineyard account for 95% of the grapes as this area south of the town of Los Alamos along Highway 101 is home to over twenty grape varieties. And some of the vines are from cuttings brought over from Europe over 25 years ago. This region benefits from a "rare transverse mountain range topography, an east-west orientation which channels the cool ocean air of the Pacific into the coastal valleys, allowing warm days and cool nights to produce a long, gentle growing season". The same holds true for the Valley View Vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley which rounds out the remaining 5%.  Primarily known for its Cabernet Sauvignon, blocks in this vineyard are planted with other Bordeaux varieties as well as Syrah.

2016 Santa Barbara Hidden Asset Red Wine ($29) - This is a delicious wine that remains vibrant over three days of tasting. It starts with spice and pepper, then leads to a strong cherry and raspberry profile, with spices returning for the long and moderately tannic finish.  Nicely done and at a decent price point. Cheers.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Nebbiolo is Still King at Breaux Vineyards

Breaux Vineyards opened in 1997 when it was only the fifth winery in Loudoun County and the 50th in Virginia. Today Breaux is one of the largest of the 43 wineries in Loudoun and statewide (270 wineries) and its success can be attributed to several factors -- starting with their location at the western foothills of the Blue Ridge and Short Hill Mountains. The 104-acre estate benefits from plenty of sunshine from late morning to sunset and consistent breezes that help alleviate mildew.

The second factor occurred when founder Paul Breaux and original winemaker Dave Collins (owner of Maryland's Big Cork Vineyards) not only heavily invested in new state-of-the-art wine making equipment but also planted a pioneering set of vinifera grapes. These grapes include the standard Bordeaux varieties but also Virginia's signature grape Viognier and Nebbiolo. In fact, to this day Breaux is still only the third winery in the state to plant this Italian grape (known as The King of Wine) and it has become the winery's signature wine.


Third, Vice President Jennifer Breaux and her team are skilled marketers, active on social media and hosting multiple events including the annual Cajun and Key West festivals. To illustrate how savvy Jennifer is once I tweeted that I was heading out to Loudoun and Jennifer replied quickly to stop in for a free tasting. Invitation accepted.

Finally, and most importantly, Breaux Vineyards has succeeded over the last 21 years because they produce quality estate wines in each successive vintage. That was on display when I visited recently to discover a huge, renovated tasting room with abundant inside seating to handle the summer humidity. There is still plenty of space outside for dogs, children, and picnicking with outside food. Tours of the new facility are available weekends for $5 and the tasting fee is $15 for half a dozen wines. The charitably staff member also poured me their 2012 Nebbiolo ($59) as I had mentioned that I was unable to attend a special vertical tasting event the next day. This wine was for sale only because the winery had discovered several cases hidden during the recent renovation and the bottle aging had tamed some of the tannins and acids. But not all. There's still plenty of chewy texture and tannins to accompany the dark plum characters and fresh acidic finish. This showcases why Breaux = Nebbiolo. Here is a quick rundown of the remaining wines in the general tasting. Cheers.

2016 Sauvignon Blanc ($25) - Light and refreshing with more grapefruit than lemongrass.

2016 Viognier ($28) - 10% was aged in neutral French oak with another 5% in large Acacia Puncheon barrels providing additional depth to the traditional tropical and stone fruit flavors.

2016 Rosé ($24) - A blend of five Bordeaux grape varieties, obtaining color from two hours of skin contact, and providing a refreshing strawberry and melon flavors. The wine for dinner that evening.

Equation Red ($20) - Another blend; this a kitchen sink of Merlot, Petit Verdot, both Cabs, Chambourcin, and Malbec; is a juicy fruit forward easy drinking wine in-spite of or because of 18 months aging in American and French oak. The approachable tannins made this a clear second course for dinner.

2012 Cabernet Sauvignon ($42) - A second wine bottle aged in addition to 18 months in American and French oak this wine is excellent - texture, fresh juice, hints of chocolate, but just a tad pricey for our budget.

2013 Meritage ($43) - Another higher priced wine with a pedigree of being in the 2016 Virginia Governor's Cup Case Club. This blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Verdot, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec showcases structure and integrated tannins, yet I preferred the varietal Cabernet Sauvignon more because of its edginess.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Off the Beaten Trail in Virginia Wine Country with Rosemont Vineyards

Located in a remote area of the Commonwealth, Rosemont Vineyards and Winery is relatively disadvantaged when selling their wine. It is the sole craft beverage producer situated in southeastern Virginia along I-85 -- which runs from I-95 south of Richmond-St. Petersburg to the Raleigh-Durham triangle. Since they cannot leverage an existing wine or craft beverage trail to attract consumer traffic, they must attract customers through the quality of their portfolio. That is what enticed us to visit the winery as well as most other visitors who travel from Richmond, Raleigh, and nearby Lake Gaston.

The 450 acre Rosemont Estate has been a working farm ever since the Rose family purchased the property in 1858. In 2003 Stephen Rose, along with his wife Chandra, returned home and planted 22 acres worth of grapevines. And in 2007 they produced their first wines using an underground and modern gravity-flow wine production facility. Their son Justin volunteered to assume the winemaker position and "subsequently enrolled at Napa Valley College to study viticulture and oenology, while interning at O’Shaughnessy Winery and Capiaux Cellars."  Since their first release, the vineyard continues to expand as the winery maintains releasing only estate wines.

Upon arriving at the winery, their large tasting facility is partly enclosed by newly planted vines and a large picnic area suitable for dogs and children. Inside there are also spacious accommodations both at the tasting bar and at various tables to enjoy a sip at your leisure. Tasting fees are $10.00 per person which amounted to 11 wines during our visit, with each wine reasonably priced.

Traminette 2016 ($16.95) - the grape is a cross of the French American hybrid Joannes Seyve 23.416 and Gewürztraminer with the intention to produce the distinct varietal character of its vinifera parent. And this dry wine lives up to that reputation. It possesses the floral aromatics of Gewürztraminer as well as it's distinct spicy character. The winery recommends serving with spicy foods or oysters.

Virginia White ($14.95) - is a bright, dry wine blend of Vidal Blanc, Chardonel and Traminette. There is abundant stone fruit and citrus character throughout - from the nose to the tail - creating a refreshing summer sipper.

Pinot Grigio 2017 ($18.95) - in 2016 Rosemont lost 88% of their Pinot Grigio crop to frost and as a result experimented by barrel fermented the harvested fruit. That process was well received so they continued into 2017 with a portion of the grapes fermented in barrel. This results in a wine with more body than anticipated while retaining the refreshing green apple and acidity character. One of our favorite wines.

Rosé 2017 ($18.95) - produced from lightly pressed Chambourcin grapes that combines both strawberry and tart cherry with refreshing acidity. This wine is what attracted us to visit and we were not disappointed.

Virginia Red ($15.95) - is a medium bodied blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chambourcin and Syrah. This is an easy sipper - perhaps an entry point into red wine - with hints of oak and tobacco that melds with the cherry profile.

Syrah 2015 ($19.95) - this is a medium bodied wine that still packs plenty of fruit alongside the grape's spicy character. Although it spent 16 months in oak before bottling it is not overdone as the vanilla easily mingles with the spice and fruit.

Merlot 2015 ($20.95) - an estate favorite as Rosemont believes their Merlot "shows the best of our terroir" and it was the wine we opened at the hotel that night. It is a delicious wine, plenty of berry fruit with hints of chocolate and baking spices. The winery suggests pairing with rustic Italian, hard cheeses, and steak; but we preferred solo surrounding a fire pit.

Cabernet Franc 2015 ($22.95) - this was once considered Virginia's unofficial signature grape as its relatively thick skins and loose clusters handle the region's high humidity. This release includes 12% Merlot which softens the wine's prolific profile. This wine would still benefit with aging to soften the remaining rich tannin structure and spicy and nutty characters. We have a couple that hit the cellar on our return.

Kilravock 2015 ($32.95) - is a Meritage blend of 40% Merlot, 36% Cabernet Franc, and 24% Petit Verdot and named from the Scottish castle where the Rose family traces their ancestry. This is an excellent wine, our favorite of the reds, with a structured backbone, leather and tobacco, and a little vanilla to soften the finish.  The tannins and finish are also very approachable. Nicely done.

Lake Country Sunset ($12.50) - the first sweet wine in the portfolio is made from a blend of early and late harvest Vidal Blanc. It is sweet, but the grape's acidity counters the sugar allowing the citrus and stone fruit to shine through.  At this price, it's worth opening at dock side.

Blackridge Red ($12.50) - made from 100% Chambourcin, this wine is sweet and jammy. Although well made, for my palate, the acids do not compensate enough for the high sugar profile. But residents of the area seem to disagree.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

#AccessAlbarino with Snooth and Rias Baixas Wine

Galicia is located in the northwest corner of Spain and is home to Rías Baixas Albariño wine. DO Rías Baixas was created in 1980, but when Spain joined the EU in 1986 the DO was changed to simply Rías Baixas as EU laws did not recognize a DO named for a single grape variety. In order to be labeled Rías Baixas the wine must comprise at least 70% Albariño. The denomination also permits six other types of wines which includes the Rías Baixas Albariño - 100% Albariño from any sub-region.

There are five of these sub-regions. Ribeira do Ulla is the newest (formed in 2000) and is the most northern region. Val do Salnés is known as the birthplace of the Albariño grape. This is the original and oldest sub-region and it's fingers reach out into the Atlantic. Soutomaior is the smallest of the sub-regions where the soil is light and sandy over granite bedrock. Condado do Tea (The County of Tea) is named after the river Tea, a tributary of the Miño River which separates the border with Portugal, and is the warmest and driest region. O Rosal also resides against the Miño River -- adjacent to the Atlantic.

Wednesday May 16th Rías Baixas Wine partnered with Snooth to market the region through an Access Albariño Virtual Tasting featuring eleven Albariño wines. Snooth is offering 3, 6, and 9 packs of theses wines at a special sale by clicking here (excluding Paco & Lola and Terras Gauda): https://www.snooth.com/offers/access-albarino-taste-pack-4/. As a participant here our my notes for the tasting - and as usual for the region - all the wines recommended for value and quality. Unless otherwise stated all are 100% Albariño.
  • Condes dei Albarai Val do Salnés ($15) from Salnés Valley - creamy lemon, slightly saline, refreshing acidity
  • Bodegas As Laxas Condado do Tea ($18) is excellent: fresh lemons, minerals, depth, and finishing strong
  • Don Pedro de Soutomaior O Rosal ($19) from estate vineyards in Meder and Goián in Condado do Tea - Saline driven, citrus and green apple, long refreshing finish
  • Pazo Señorans Val do Salnés ($25) creamy tropical fruit and lemons, less saline - but depth and dependable acids.
  • Valmiñor O Rosal ($19) has solid citrus and tropical fruit, less saline, and fresh acids
  • Señorío de Rubiós Robaliño Condado do Tea ($18) is light and crisp - minerals and citrus
  • Altos de Torona O Rosal ($20) is saline driven, tropical and lemon, great acids
  • Nai e Señora Val do Salnés ($16) is an association of top growers in Salnés Valley. The wine shows deep - deep lemon, slight saline, & refreshing acidity
  • Fillaboa Condado do Tea ($20) - Fillaboa ("good daughter" in Galician) is the biggest estate in Pontevedra (Tea and Miño Rivers) & one of the oldest in Galicia. The wine is intense with tropical and lemon fruit, saline & acids
  • Paco & Lola Val do Salnés ($22) is a cooperative of 400 members & almost 500 acres of vineyards. The wine is fantastic: full bodied lemon creamsicle, chewy, and fresh acids
  • Terras Gauda O Rosal ($24) is a unique blend of 70% Slbariño, 15% Caiño, 15% Loureiro providing depth and citrus & stone fruit, plus minerals. Excellent.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Miner Family Winery 2017 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc

In July 1993 the Oakville and Rutherford AVA's were carved out of the central Napa Valley AVA in order to accentuate their specific micro-climates best suited for Bordeaux varieties. Both areas contained well drained gravely soils and moderately warm with each region influenced by early morning fog and afternoon breezes (with Rutherford warmer, lower in elevation, and less affected by wind and fog). Whereas Cabernet Sauvignon is the principle crop in both AVAs, each also shares an affinity for Sauvignon Blanc. The same is true with the Chiles Valley AVA, another sub-AVA in northeastern Napa Valley. This AVA is located in the Vaca Mountains and has a cooler climate than the majority of Napa Valley due to its higher elevations and a cooling breeze from the Pacific Ocean. Miner Family Wines encompasses these three AVAs with their 2017 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($22) where 40% comes from Rutherford's Shartsis Vineyard, 52% from Chiles Valley Sage Creek Vineyard, and 8% from Oakville's Crossroads Vineyard.  It is an excellent wine, lemon but not New Zealand grassy, more Bordeaux with texture and depth, finishing with refreshing acids.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Dave Phinney Back with More Locations Wine

Locations is a concept by winemaker Dave Phinney that attempts to create a wine encompassing the various wine regions within a country or state. Can that wine represent "the essence of a country or place and are non-appellation, non-varietal and non-vintage"? After covering several Locations releases I can answer in the affirmative. Here are four of their latest releases:





E5 – Spanish Red Wine ($19.99) is a blend of Grenache/Garnacha, Tempranillo, Monastrell, and Carignan/Cariñena grapes with Mediterranean and Continental influences and sourced from five primary regions: Priorat, Jumilla, Toro, Rioja, and Ribera del Duero. They targeted old vines with low yields that produced a rustic wine with complexity, juicy tannins, and solid acids. My favorite of the group.

F5 – French Red Wine ($19.99) is a blend Grenache, Syrah, and assorted Bordeaux varietals from Rhone, Roussillon, and Bordeaux. One again old vine blocks were targeted that helped create another rustic wine with even more juicy tannins and dirt covered cherries. This is an old world wine.

NZ7 – New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc ($19.99) is the second release from the Land of the Long White Cloud and targets Marlborough growers that have been farming since before this area was recognized as a premier wine growing region in the 1970’s. The wine includes tropical and lemon grass characters from fruit sourced from the Wairau Valley as well as minerality and balance from the Awatere Valley and Waihopai. This is a solid New Zealand styled Sauvignon Blanc, refreshing with plenty of complexity.

WA5 – Washington Red Wine ($19.99) is a blend of Syrah, Merlot, and Petit Sirah aged 10 months in French and American oak. The wine was sourced from diverse lots in the Evergreen State's greatest appellations: Walla Walla, Woodenville, Yakima Valley, and more. The wine is new world and medium-bodied with fruit forward dark fruit, various spices, chocolate, and easy tannins.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Chalk Hill 2016 Estate Sauvignon Blanc

The Chalk Hill AVA is one of Sonoma County's 13 appellations and was carved out of the northeast corner of the Russian River Valley AVA in 1983.  It is distinguished from its neighbors - the cooler Russian River Valley to the west and the warmer Alexander Valley to the northeast - by its higher elevation and chalky white ash that characterizes the soils and its name. This is also the name of Chalk Hill Estate Vineyards & Winery,  The estate is one of only four wineries in the AVA and is a collection of 60 different small vineyards - each growing a diverse set of grapes from Chardonnay, white and red Bordeaux, Viognier, Syrah, Sangiovese, Zinfandel and even Pinot Noir. I recently received a sample of one of the wines made from these grapes: Chalk Hill 2016 Estate Sauvignon Blanc ($33). Bluntly, this wine is fantastic, a much different Sauvignon Blanc from NZ as its powerful with a strong lemon-pineapple profile combined with depth and texture, finishing with refreshing acids.  Highly recommended.