Saturday, February 17, 2018

Bierzo D.O., Bodegas Godelia, Mencia, and Godello

Who's familiar with Bodegas Godelia? Or for that matter Spain's Bierzo D.O.? Well not me as of last week -- until I received the two wines below. The Bierzo D.O. is situated east of Galicia in Spain's northwest corner. The region shares Galicia's humidity and rainfall as well as the hot, dry climate of Castile - located slightly southeastern. The vineyards are relatively low lying (450-1,000 meters) along hillsides planted on a diverse set of quartz, slate, granite, and limestone soils. Viticulture was first documented during the Roman colonization but expanded during the Middle Ages through the growth of monasteries. After the phylloxera plague basically decimated the vineyards in the late 1800s, modern viticulture resuscitated the region and the Bierzo D.O. was established in 1989.

Bodegas Godelia consists of 86 acres of estate vineyard plus an additional 37 acres under contract. The estate resides outside the village of Cacabelos centrally located to the D.O. and with old vines (20-90 years) planted on hillsides at 500-600 meters.

Two prominent grapes in the Bierzo D.O. are the white Godello and the red Mencia. The former is known for producing complex, mineral-driven wines and the later concentrated, yet juicy acidic wines.

Godelia Godello-Dona Blanco 2015 ($17) is a blend of 80% Godello and 20% Dona Blanca that spent five months on lees. This technique is clearly evident as the wine possesses a creamy backbone that is surrounded by floral and spicy-minerally characters. Solid acids provide a fresh finish.

Godelia Mencia ($19) is comprised of 100% Mencia harvested from 50-90 year old vines. And after fermentation the wine spends 12 months in various oak casks. This is a tasty combination of dirt and fruit with the high tannins settling leaving juicy acidity. Another tremendous value wine.

Monday, February 12, 2018

#NationalPizzaDay at Il Canale with Cusumano Winery Nero d’Avola

"Sicily is a continent. It has diverse climates, terrior, and food", Diego Cusumano
Just by happenstance, Terlata Wines had organized a trade tasting at Georgetown's Il Canale to showcase the pairing of pizza and wines from Cusumano Winery. That's where our small group met Diego Cusumano - the gregarious co-owner who returned to the family winery after studying Economics at the University in Palermo. The estate was founded 65 years ago by his father Francesco who sold fruit throughout Italy. After Diego's older brother Alberto received an Oenology degree, the family invested more resourced into the vineyard and released their first vintage in 2000. Today the Sicilian winery releases a dozen wines under the Cusumano brand featuring mostly indigenous grapes grown their 1,000 acres of vineyards located throughout the "continent" of Sicily. They are recently introduced the new Alta Mora winery featuring wines from grapes grown on the slopes of the largest active volcano in Europe: Sicily's Mt. Etna.

Returning to the pizza lunch, owner Joe Farruggio served four delicious pies each paired to a Cusumano Nero d’Avola and the Alta Mora Etna Bianco. The Nero d’Avola grape is particularly suited for pizza as its inherent acidity easily cuts through the tomatoes acids. This was apparent during our first selection as the 2016 Cusumano Nero d’Avola ($12) was paired with a simply satisfying Margherita pizza ($12 - tomato sauce, imported buffalo mozzarella, basil). This wine was made from grapes harvested in the calcareous vineyards of San Giacomo and besides the acidity provides a combination of jammy dark fruit and rustic tannins.

The next pairing featured a spicy Diavola ($13 - tomato sauce, imported buffalo mozzarella, spicy salami, basil) which was served with the 2015 Cusumano Benuara ($23). This wine is a 70-30 blend of Nero d’Avola and Syrah from grapes grown on the clay soils and rolling hills of Presti e Pegni. The addition of Syrah mutes the acidity slightly but adds enough spice to merge with the salami and allow the rich fruit to shine.

Next up, the rich and delicious 2012 Cusumano Sagana ($49) - 100% Nero d’Avola - and the house specialty Il Canale ($14 - tomato sauce, imported buffalo mozzarella, ricotta cheese, prosciutto di Parma, eggplant, cherry tomatoes). Lights out fantastic. The grapes were grown on 30 year old vines also from the calcareous vineyards of San Giacomo. The wine's texture was enhanced by 18 months in barrique casks and an additional seven months in bottle before release. A rich wine for a rich pizza.

And finally, before plates of traditional Italian desserts and espresso we were served the suburb Del Pizzailo ($21 imported Buffalo mozzarella, Burrata, arugola, bresaola, and grape tomatoes) and the Alta Mora Etna Bianco ($25). The wine is 100% Carricante grown in the black soil on the northern slopes of Mt. Etna. Needless to say, this is a rich white wine with intense aromas followed by rich flavors that transitions to an earthy and acidic finish.  Excellent.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Finding Craft Beer on Las Vegas Blvd: Sin City Brewing Company

After spending a few days in Las Vegas we found that most casinos craft beer menu is solely defined as Ballast Point Sculpin, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and Lagunitas IPA. And on occasion you can spot the Joseph James Brewing Company Citra Rye from nearby Henderson and a very decent offering. But obviously not a diverse selection and not necessarily small and independent either. Fortunately there are a number of actual craft breweries in Sin City - 14 according to theCompass Craft Beverage Finder. And one of these offers four satellite tasting facilities directly on Las Vegas Blvd: Sin City Brewing Company. This craft brewery was launched by long-time Gordon Biersch Director of Brewing Operations Richard Johnson. 

Two different times we visited their Bally's location, a narrow bar with outside seating tucked in the far corner of the Grand Bazaar Shops fronting Bally’s. Just follow the smell of hot dogs. Not unexpectedly the styles follow what you would expect at Gordon Biersch with a Blonde, Weisse, Amber Ale, Irish Stout, and IPA. The beers were well made and clean with the Miller Lite and InBev drinkers moving seamlessly to the Never Pass Up A Blonde. The Dark Side of Sin Irish Stout passes as a Guinness and the Say Hello to Amber was a contrast to the sweet and malty amber ales that I try to avoid. Although The Ale With A Tale was a decent IPA, I stronger preferred the slightly heavier seasonal Imperial IPA which was big but providing a balanced mouth feel and soft finish.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Craft Beer in the Laurel Highlands: Kegg Brewing Company

Kegg Brewing Company is the most unique nano-brewery I have visited in recent memory. The brewery is located in the basement of a house, located along a narrow country road southeast of Pittsburgh, and with two guard dogs announcing your arrival. And the tasting room area is confined to any open space between the tap lines and the brewing equipment.

After Frank Kegg retired from the Greater Latrobe School District, he and his wife Tracey decided that opening a brewery was the logical next phase. Logical in the sense that Frank was a 6th grade Science teacher and his brother Mark owns Full Pint Brewing so there is a chemistry background and inherent family lineage and support system. It also helps that the Keggs reside only a few miles from Seven Springs Mountain Resort so there's a steady supply of traffic headed in their direction.

That being said, Frank created a half barrel brew house in his basement built around four one barrel fermenters. The raw materials consist of as local as possible grain, hops, honey, fruit and well water as the base. The tasting area?  In cold weather, any open space around the fermenters and mash barrels. In warmer weather the garage doors open for driveway sipping.

That may be unique enough for most but the special part doesn't start until visitors begin sampling in the basement and spend the next hour talking to Frank. The diverse beer styles only enhance the conversation. They are not only really solid beers but the range in styles are once again unique. Our tasting started with a Cranberry Blonde Ale, followed by a Winter Ale - based on a red ale, a Coffee Porter, Pumpkin Stout, Coconut Stout, and standard IPA (as opposed to a Hoppy Bolbat IPA and Death by Hops IPA). This IPA seemed a fan favorite and was very smooth with a seamless transition from the drop hopped induce aroma through the dense beer to the bitter finish. I enjoyed the Coffee Porter and the Coconut Stout - the later the result of a flawed attempt to craft a Chocolate Coconut Stout - but I thought was fine as a stand alone. And I think my palate is turning towards coffee flavored beers.

Kegg Brewing is easy to find, but as always theCompass Craft Beverage Finder will guide you there quickly. Cheers and safe drinking and skiing.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Angel Funding Wine Makers Through

Crowd Sourcing has been a capital raising phenomenon for a number of years and has leveraged that idea to fund dozens of winemakers across the globe. This capital is available to the winemakers up-front to use how they deem appropriate whether in acquiring grapes, vineyard support, or the physical production of the wine. The source for the funds are over 100,000 Angels or subscribers to These customers deposit $40 a month into their account and have access to the funded wines at 40-60% off the retail price. And Angels can always withdraw their funds at any time. That's a nice deal, specifically for these value wines produced throughout the world. Recently sent me a sampler pack of mostly German inspired wines to verify the quality and value of their service. Impressive.

Bruno Santa Lucia Highlands Riesling 2016 ($18.99, Angels $10.99). Made by Richard Bruno, a 20 year veteran with stints at Francis Ford Coppola and Don Sebastiani, this wine is sourced from a cool climate vineyard near Big Sur. It is a quite unique Riesling - crisp tropical fruit, but a creamy honey middle, then finishing with long with light acids.

Petit Villebois Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($19.99, Angels $11.99) by Joost de Villebois is a contrast to New Zealand. This Loire Valley wine is bright with citrus (but no lemongrass) and minerals on the palate and finishing with fresh acids. Villebois mentions that they Green Harvest - a thinning method used to decrease the crop yields and improve the flavor concentration of the remaining grape bunches - and utilize a technique called 'effeuillage' - the reduction of leaves to increase the sun and light exposure of the grapes.

The next four wines were made by Gerd Stepp, a 25 year veteran who; after working in Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Tuscany Italy, Stellenbosch South Africa, and the UK; eventually returned home to Germany's Pfalz wine region. This region contains over 56,000 acres of vineyards and is noted for its fruit-driven wines with a distinctive stony character.

Stepp Pinot Blanc 2016 ($21.99, Angels $12.99). This is a fantastic wine, crisp and floral with a wet rock mineral character. Plenty of acids too.

Stepp Pfalz Riesling 2016 ($24.99, Angels $13.99) A German driven Riesling with petrol, floral, and mineral characters; plus racy acids.

Stepp Pinot Gris 2016 ($24.99, Angels $13.99) Powerful aromas, fleshy citrus, and bright acids. Another Pinot Gris that is enticing back to this grape variety.

Stepp Pinot Noir *8* Pfalz 2016 ($29.99, Angels $17.99) Chalky, dusty, and spices. Balances with red fruit and appropriate tannins. Nicely done.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Visiting A Couple Craft Breweries in Rockville, Maryland

This past September Saints Row Brewing joined 7 Locks Brewing and Gordon Biersch Brewery as the only two craft breweries in Rockville -- the third largest incorporated city in Maryland. I write only, because the area could support many more if you add surrounding areas of Germantown, Gaithersburg, and Bethesda, the I-270 Corridor comes close to Baltimore in population size. That is what Saints Row Brewing is leveraging while serving unique and delicious beer. Start with the Little L Belgium Pale Ale which nails the profile and follow with the On Baker Street English Brown Ale. I generally avoid this style as many are highly malted for my tastes. Not the On Baker Street. It finds the correct balance between toffee malt and bitters - nicely done. And for sour lovers, there should always be something funky on tap with the Sweaty Pineapple Pants Wild Pineapple Sour the current offering. The citrus is subtle but not the tartness; quite nice. The brewery is also well integrated with Untappd so you can explore current and future offerings.

The senior 7 Locks Brewing is a happening place with a playroom, small bandstand, cornhole, and abundant other games to entertain visitors. There's also a plethora of craftbeer options from IPAs to lagers but start with the Sahti Farmhouse Ale if available. This is based on a Finnish style first brewed by peasants in the 1500s where the mashing occurred in wooden barrels which was then scooped into a hand-carved wooden trough (kuurna) with a bed of juniper twigs that acted as a filter. I also savored the Surrender Dorothy Rye Pale Ale and the Reserve Series Rye on Rye. This barrel aged beer is excellent where the whiskey notes meld with the rye flavors. You can also experiment by blending different amounts of Surrender Dorothy to the Rye on Rye. Makes for added entertain. Cheers and as always, you can find these breweries using theCompass Craft Beverage Finder.

Monday, January 8, 2018

When Its Cold Outside Reach for Port - Here's Two from Warre's and Graham's

This winter the buzzword appears to be bomb cyclone, which replaced polar vortex, which replaced Alberta Clipper, which sometime in the past replaced the simple cold front of my youth. Regardless of these marketing weather gimmicks, when its cold I reach for Port - a fortified wine produced from grapes grown and processed in the Portuguese Douro demarcation and fortified with neutral grape spirit.

There are over a hundred sanctioned grape varieties eligible for Port, but in general, expect the use of these five: Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cão, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Touriga Francesa, and Touriga Nacional. There are also several categories of Port: White, Tawny, Ruby, Reserve, and Vintage. (See The Wine Coach for specifics.) Aged tawnies come in ten year increments that reflect a port house's style and not a minimum, maximum, or average age. Thus a 10-year-old or 20-year-old Tawny port is a taste that is reflected in oak aging, racking and blending. Ruby Ports are aged in large vats for two to three years before bottling whereas Vintage Ports are from a single harvest designated as an exceptional year and aged additional years in the bottle. The Reserve Port category was created by Cockburn's (founded in 1815) to bridge these two styles where the wine is aged longer in large barrique casks. The goal was to create a wine similar in quality to the Vintage Port but drinkable early like the Ruby Port.

Warre's Warrior Port ($19). Warrior is the oldest continuously bottled Port brand (1750's) as Warrior has been branded on the casks of Warre’s finest Reserve Ports since the earliest days of the firm. The grapes are drawn from Quinta da Cavadinha and Quinta do Retiro, Warre’s best quintas in the Pinhão and Rio Torto valleys that also produce Warre’s classic Vintage Ports. The wine is fruity and chewy, lot's of texture, with another long lingering finish. Apparently the higher altitudes and cooler climate lead to this ripe fruit character. For a full bodied, yet fresh, easy drinking Port wine, start here.

Graham's 20 Year Old Tawny Port ($56) is a blend from all five Graham quintas – Malvedos and Tua, Vila Velha, Lages in the Rio Torto and Vale de Malhadas in the Douro Superior. It is pure tawny in color as well as showing layers of rich dried fruit, oranges, and nut flavors. The wine finishes very smoothly with a boost from elevated acidity. This 20-year-old Tawny Port is an elegant wine - excellent for all occasions - particularly during cold winter weather. Cheers.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Visiting Tall Pines Distillery in Pennsylvania Ski Country

If you are heading to the southwestern PA ski resorts like Seven Springs Mountain Resort and Hidden Valley Resort then stop by Tall Pines Distillery - the first legal moonshine distillery in Somerset County Pennsylvania since prohibition.  You will most likely be met by Dozer, the very friendly black lab or owners Daniel Fay and Keith Welch. The distillery is located three miles north of the Mason Dixon line at 9224 Mason Dixon Highway (Route 219) in Salisbury. The operation specializes in flavored moonshine, fruit brandy, and whiskey.

In the distillation area, the process looks as if it was run out of a barn - albeit with modern equipment - but with a thump keg (which enables a second distillation) and a worm box filled with cool water.  In general  the moonshine in sells for $34 per 750ml bottle or $18 for a 375ml bottle. The Cafe Mocha was a nice take on coffee liqueur but I opted for the Peach and Lumberjacked Apple brandies. The Peach is a little heavier than my preferred Eastern European palinka, but lighter than schnapps. Savor that peach flavor.  The Lumberjacked Apple is made from distilled apple cider and the apple flavor lives long past the slight burn. Besides neat, I envision the apple brandy mixed with hard cider and a shot of rum. Looking forward to our next ski trip and as always you can locate Tall Pines Distillery using theCompass Craft Beverage Finder. Cheers.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Remembering the 2017 Maryland Winter Wine Showcase

I just registered for the 2018 Winter Wine Showcase, an annual tasting at the B&O Railroad Museum where Maryland wineries feature two of their top wines. During the 2017 event I was very impressed with the quality across the board, but two Albarino wines stood out. These were the Boordy Vineyards 2016 South Mountain Vineyard Albariño ($20) and Port of Leonardtown Winery 2015 Maryland Albariño ($20). I had been saving both in order to conduct a comparative tasting with a few from Riax Baixas (Albarino's native homeland in Galacia Spain) but was instructed to open each sooner rather than later. That still is in insteresting concept considering that neither of the Maryland wines exhibit the minerally driven character associated with Riax Baixas Albarinos. Instead the Maryland wines are more stone fruit forward, with creamy depth, and finishing with plenty of acidity. Somewhat Viognier-ish. They are both delicious wines. Cheers to 2017 and best wishes for 2018.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

New Years with Vilarnau Brut Reserva Cava

In 2017 Catalonia independence was a dominant topic in European news, but the province is also a notable wine region particularly with Penedes Cava. The Catalan word cava refers to "cave" or "cellar" and this sparkling wine is traditionally made using indigenous Macabeu, Parellada and Xarel·lo grapes. But regardless of the blend, all Cava D.O. wines must be made using the champenoise traditional method.

 One small Catalan producer is Vilarnau, a Cava house that has been operating just outside Barcelona since 1949. I received two samples of their Brut Reserva with both honoring the winery's Catalan roots by reflecting the imagery of Antoni Gaudi and the "Trencadís" mosaic. This technique was used in the modernist artistic movement in Catalonia, created from tiny fragments of broken ceramic tiles, roof tiles or crockery. Very impressive bottling. Cheers to 2017 & 2018, Cava, and a thriving Catalonia.

Vilarnau Brut Reserva NV ($14.99) - a blend of 50% Macabeo, 35% Parellada, and 15% Xarel·lo and aged more than 15 months in bottle. A tremendous bargain with a creamy green apple and lemon flavor, tiny bubbles, and refreshing acids. Highly recommended.

Vilarnau Brut Reserva Rosé NV ($15.99) - a blend of 85% Trepat and 15% Pinot Noir and also aged more than 15 months in bottle. Fruit forward profile of creamy strawberries, a little less effervescence, but noticeable acids.  Another nice value.

Friday, December 22, 2017

New Years with Prosecco & Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG Sparking Wine

What is Prosecco? Is it a region, a wine, or a grape variety? Before 2009 this term described all three; but in that year several reforms were implemented to clarify the definition. First, the Prosecco DOC was created which covers a vast area spanning two regions (Friuli Venezia Giulia & Veneto), nine provinces, and 556 townships. It is geographically located north of Venice in parts of Veneto and Friuli. At the same time the historical birthplace of Prosecco, Conegliano Valdobbiadene, was granted DOCG status. This is a region of steep hillsides located between the villages of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene. And finally, the name of the primary grape variety used in making Prosecco wine was changed from Prosecco to Glera - a historical synonym.

The word Prosecco is most likely Slovenian in origin "derived from prosek, a dialectic term for 'path cut through the woods'". In Croatia a sweet passito wine called Prošek has been produced for thousands of years - although the EU has now banned that usage. In Italy Prosecco evolved from the name of a village near Trieste to its wider use. The first known mention of Prosecco in Italy occurred in 1593 when an English traveler named Fynes Moryson wrote "[In] Histria (Trieste) proper grows the wine Pucinum, now called Prosecho, much celebrated by Pliny". Pucinum refers an ancient wine drunk by the Romans.

The modern history of Prosecco began in 1876 when enologist Giovanni Battista Cerletti founded the Scuola Enologico in Conegliano. The wine's popularity accelerated with improved secondary fermentation techniques starting with Federico Martinotti patented method using large pressurized temperature-controlled receptacles. Eugène Charmat's adoption of the autoclave in secondary fermentation soon followed. Post WWII this autoclave became "widely adopted throughout the area of Conegliano Valdobbiadene and the modern sparkling wine industry was born". Over time this historical region lost focus as more producers outside the region began producing Prosecco sparkling wine. Thus the 2009 reforms.

Whereas the larger Prosecco DOC incorporates four provinces of Friuli Venezia Giulia (Gorizia, Pordenone, Trieste and Udine) and five provinces of Veneto (Belluno, Padua, Treviso, Venice, Vicenza), the Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG comprises 15 hillside towns with thousands of small growers supplying 183 wineries.

There are three styles of wine in both the DOC & DOCG: Spumante (95% of production), Frizzante, and Tranquillo (Still). And there are three categories of residual sugar: Dry (17-32 grams of residual sugar), Extra-Dry (12-17 grams), and Brut (0-12 grams). A fourth category, Extra Brut, was just adopted and will incorporate wines from 0-6 grams.

Other requirements include that the grapes in a Prosecco wine must be at least 85% Glera with the remaining 15% from other authorized grape varieties. Secondary fermentation can be achieved via the autoclave method or in the bottle ("Rifermentato in Bottiglia"). And finally labeling. Superiore refers to only Spumante wines made within the ConVal DOCG. Millesimato indicates a wine made from a single vintage (85% minimum). And Rive indicates a Prosecco Superiore made entirely of grapes from one of the designated Rive (villages).

Bervini 1955 is one Prosecco DOC brand founded by Antonio Bergamo and his son Giuseppe in, you guessed it, 1955; and today is operated by Giuseppe and his son Paolo.The winery is located in the Pordenone province of northeast Friuli Venezia Giulia and actually resides in both the Prosecco DOC and the Friuli Grave DOC - noted for wines made from Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Friulano. I received two of their Prosecco offerings starting with the 2016 Spumante Prosecco D.O.C. Millesimato Extra Dry ($18.99). The Millesimato designates that the wine is comprised of 100% Glera -- sourced from vineyards in both Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia. This is a lively wine, loads of citrus, effervescence, and completely enjoyable. The Spumante NV Rosé Extra Dry ($18.99) is sourced from Raboso and Cabernet grapes from Friuli Venezia Giulia and because of the absence of Glera is not labeled Prosecco. Nevertheless it is a clean wine, bursting with berry flavors but noticeably dry.... This one goes fast.

I also recently received three Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG samples that are further refined.

The Masottina Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG Superiore Millesimato Brut ($22) is produced from another third generation family, this one in the Conegliano area. The wine is an elegant display of 100% Glera with apple and citrus notes, soft an creamy, and lively acids.

The Villa Sandi Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Extra Dry ($23) possesses both weight and freshness balanced again between apples and citrus. The finish persists long after the bubbles have dissipated.

Finally, the Bianca Vigna Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG Superiore Millesimato Brut ($24) is fantastic, both creamy and saline with more stone fruit than citrus.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

2017 Maryland Wine Governors Cup Award Ceremony

"Agriculture is such an important part of our history, our heritage, and our economy," said Governor Hogan. "That is why it is in the best interest of our state to keep our farms growing and thriving, and that includes our vineyards and our rapidly growing wine industry. Our wine producers are doing so much for Maryland, and the Governor’s Cup competition brings together the best of the best among Maryland-produced wines." -- Maryland Governor Lawrence J. Hogan, Jr.

The judging for the 29th Annual Maryland Governor’s Cup Competition took place August 13 where over 30 regional wine experts tasted over 150 different wines across the multiple styles of sparkling, whites, rosés, reds, fruit, and cider. This past Monday, December 11th the winners were presented their awards by Maryland's First Lady Yumi Hogan at Old Maryland Grill in College Park. This new restaurant focuses on Maryland sourced food and complements meals with a full range of Maryland craft beverages. In fact, Proprietor Mike Franklin also owns the long running Franklin’s Brewery not far away in Hyattsville and visited over 50 Maryland wineries to round out the cellar. These include many of the competition winners which noted Maryland wine expert and Lead Judge Al Spoler commented that this year's entry's were the best across the board. Based on the reception following the awards ceremony, I concur completely.

Newcomer Cool Ridge Vineyard was the clear and unsuspecting champion of the competition where it was awarded two Best of Class medals for their Cool White 2016 ($21) and Cool Red 2015 ($32), with the later earning the Governor’s Cup Best in Show. Not bad for first time entrants. The red blend consists of 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc, 20% Merlot and 15% Petit Verdot and is delicious. Simply delicious. Owner Gerhard Glocker was quite gracious and was just as proud of his Gold medal single varietal 2015 Cabernet Franc ($27). The winery and vineyard is located in Washington County near Hagerstown and there's no wonder that Old Westminster Winery sources their fruit for their Cool Ridge Vineyard, Limestone ($32) - a blend of 70% Grüner Veltliner and 30% Viognier.

 "The Jack Aellen Cup is a recent addition to the competition and specifically highlights fruit wine, cider and mead. The cup is named after Linganore Winecellars founder, Jack Aellen, who pioneered wines from fruit and honey in Maryland" . This year the winner was Great Shoals Winery Hard Plum 2016 ($16). Made from Japanese Shiro plums grown in Carroll County, the wine is made in a cider style - light bodied but plenty of flavor. Legally, its a wine since cider can only be made from apples or pears, but for all intents this is one fabulous cider. Move over Spencerville Red.

The remaining Best of Class wines were equally impressive with the Big Cork Vineyards Cabernet Franc 2015 ($46). Tasty young, the wine will age nicely as the tannins mingle with the dark fruit. The Willow Oaks Craft Cider and Wine Gloaming NV (500ml $25) starts funky and tannic then transitions to sweet tartness from organic black currants; another newcomer that impresses. Black Ankle Vineyards Terra Sol 2016 ($30) is a late harvest Grüner Veltliner and a successful experiment as it is very clean with plenty of acids to balance the sugar. Finally, I was fascinated with the Boordy Vineyards Pinot Gris 2016 ($16). The wine is flavorful and weighty - both, according to Dr. Joe Fiola, the result of vineyard selection and not wine-making techniques (no lees or malo and fermented in stainless steel). Cheers to Maryland wine.

Best in Show
Governor’s Cup Winner: Cool Ridge Vineyard • Cool Red 2015 ($32) (Washington Co.)
Jack Aellen Cup Winner: Great Shoals Winery • Hard Plum 2016 ($16) (Montgomery Co.)

Best in Class
Best Sparkling: Turkey Point Vineyard • Elk Neck Bubbly 2016 (Cecil Co.)
Best White: Boordy Vineyards • Pinot Gris 2016 ($16) (Baltimore Co.)
Best White Blend: Cool Ridge Vineyard • Cool White 2016 ($21) (Washington Co.)
Best Rosé: Crow Vineyard • Barbera Rosé 2016 ($16) (Kent Co.)
Best Red: Big Cork Vineyards • Cabernet Franc 2015 ($42) (Washington Co.)
Best Red Blend: Cool Ridge Vineyard • Cool Red 2015 ($32) (Washington Co.)
Best Sweet: Dove Valley Winery • Mr. Bentley’s Choice 2014 (Cecil Co.)
Best Dessert: Black Ankle Vineyards • Terra Sol 2016 ($30) (Frederick Co.)
Best Cider: Willow Oaks Craft Cider and Wine • Gloaming NV (500ml $25) (Frederick Co.)
Best Fruit: Great Shoals Winery • Hard Plum 2016 ($16) (Montgomery Co.)

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Say Hello to Xion and Pazo Cilleiro Rías Baixas Albariño

Looking for an alternative to Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc? Then check out Albariño from Rías Baixas, Galicia - situated in the northwest corner of Spain. The DO was created in 1980, but when Spain joined the EU in 1986 the DO was changed to simply Rías Baixas as EU laws did not recognize a DO named for a single grape variety. I don't know why. In order to be labeled Rías Baixas, the wine must consist of at least 70% Albariño - and with the amount of this grape grown, a rather easy goal. The denomination also permits six other types of wines which includes the Rías Baixas Albariño - 100% Albariño from any sub-region.

According to Rias Baixas Wines, DO Rías Baixas encompasses five distinct sub-regions. Ribeira do Ulla is the newest (formed in 2000) and is the most northern region. Val do Salnés is known as the birthplace of the Albariño grape. This is the original and oldest sub-region and it's fingers reach out into the Atlantic.  Soutomaior is the smallest of the sub-regions and was registered in 1996. Soils are light and sandy over granite bedrock. Condado do Tea (The County of Tea) is named after the river Tea, a tributary of the Miño River which separates the border with Portugal. O Rosal also resides against the Miño River -- adjacent to the Atlantic. Because of the high rainfall and humidity grape vines are widely spaced and trained on stone pergolas and a wire trellis called a “parra".  These parras can reach up to seven feet tall, allowing breezes to prevent mildew and to promote even ripening. During harvest, workers must stand on grape bins in order to collect the grape bunches.

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

Bodegas y Vinedos Attis Xion Albariño (Rías Baixas) - ($20) This wine displays the traditional combination of white fruit, citrus, saline and racy acids combined with an underlying texture. Albariño meets Sauvignon Blanc.

Bodegas Muriel 2015 Pazo Cilleiro Albariño (Rías Baixas) - ($20) Produced from grapes grown in the Val do Salnés, this is a fresh and lively wine, plenty of citrus and weighty stone fruit, and balanced acids. Albariño meets Chardonnay.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

More John Adams & Blandy's Madeira Wine - 10 Year Old Malmsey and Sercial

“I drank Madeira at a great Rate and found no Inconvenience in it.” — John Adams Diary 1774. Thursday. September. 22.
The founding fathers sure enjoyed their Madeira, a fortified dessert wine produced in the Portuguese archipelago of Madeira. Our second President was extremely fond of this beverage and recently A Museum Just Uncovered 221-Year-Old Wine Meant to Honor John Adams's Presidency. One reason behind their affection for Madeira was that the wine was also able to travel long distances without spoiling. And in fact, the long sea voyages actually transforms the flavor of the wine by exposing it to heat and movement.

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

I recently received samples of two Blandy's wines, both crafted using the "Canteiro" system and fermented using natural yeast which was halted after four days with the grape brandy fortification. There are several approved grape varieties for Madeira wine such as Tinta Negra, Sercial, Verdelho, Terrantez, Bual (Malvasia Fina), and Malvasia (usually Malvasia Branca de São Jorge).

The first wine was the Blandy’s 10 Year Sercial Madeira ($30). The light copper color foreshadows a lighter bodied wine that does contain a surprisingly abundant supply of salty nuts and dried fruit followed by fresh acids. I envision a nightly apéritif.

The second was their Blandy’s 10 Year Old Malmsey Madeira ($30). The wine is named after the vat of wine that the Duke of Clarence drowns in in Richard III. And it clearly satisfies the founders affinity for Madeira wine. Dried fruits is the initial dominant flavor, followed by raisins, nuts, and subtle chocolate. The sweetness is neither gritty or jammy and the tangy acidity balances the sugar seamlessly. A nightcap for sure. Cheers

Monday, December 4, 2017

More Spirits and Craft Beer in Ocean City, Maryland

This past Thanksgiving weekend provided an opportunity to re-visit the growing Ocean City Maryland craft beverage scene.  There are currently three breweries, two distilleries, and a winery in the surrounding area. That's not counting the wineries and breweries heading towards the beach along Route 50.

The first stop was to Seacrets Spirits, an extension to the popular resort bar. It is the first distillery built in Worcester County since 1933 and offers an array of rums, vodkas, gin, and whiskey. In order to sample their spirits you must participate in the $10 hour long tour, but for those like me lacking the time, there's an ABC store in the parking lot. Initially I was interested in purchasing the whiskeys but the labels were very suspect, displaying "bottled in Ocean City", but not indicating where the whiskey was distilled or aged. Sounds like a MGP of Indiana product - which isn't an issue unless they hide that fact on the label. Instead I purchased a bottle of their top seller Spiced Rum, but aged on a limited basis in used Bourbon Barrels. The oak seems to subdue the spices and immediately I thought of eggnog. I hope the bottle lasts until Christmas.

A dozen blocks north resides the Ocean City Brewing Company and OC Distilling Company. The later offers a Vodka whereas the former is a spacious sports bar with a game room and a plethora of craft beer options. I didn't get a chance to sample the vodka, but sampled several of the beers with mixed feelings. Some were rather uninspiring but I found success with their OC Lager, Route 50 Pale Ale, Buying the Cow Milk Stout, and Mad Scientist Pecan Pie Chocolate Stout. Fortunately there's a large enough selection for anyone to find a favorite. Isn't that the raison d'être for samplers?
A visit to the Maryland beach must include a side trip to the Hallmark friendly town of Berlin and Burley Oak Brewing Company. This has been one of my favorite Maryland breweries for what, a half dozen years now? They are always solid, have a diverse variety of beers, and are friendly and engaging in the tasting room. Plus, dogs are allowed inside. A standard sampler includes six pours which gives visitors a chance to engage several styles. Here are the highlights. The Coffee N' Creme proves again that coffee flavored cream ales and kolsches are a great pairing. For sour lovers, the Burley Oak Jream series is a major winner courtesy of both their Blueberry Peach and Apricot Raspberry imperial fruited sour ales with lactose. Yet the standard Sour Chicky dry hopped sour hour was no slouch and the beer I brought home. Finally, try the Fudgy Slipper - a dark chocolate inspired pastry stout. I probably wouldn't drink more than a pint, but in small pours, a delicious beer. Cheers to Burley Oaks, Seacrets, and OC Brewing and as always, theCompass Craft Beverage Finder will guide you to these destinations.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Bourbon Barrel Aged Wine with Barrel Road Red Blend

Bourbon barrel aging is standard practice in the craft beer world and this practice is slowly making its way into wine. Maryland's The Urban Winery Bourbon Aged Merlot was the first I tasted during the 2017 Winter Wine Showcase with satisfying results. Then recently I received a bottle of the Barrel Road 2015 Bourbon Barrel Red Blend ($16.99) from Wine Trees USA. This is a proprietary blend of grapes sourced from California's Central Coast and after fermentation aged three months in the once used bourbon barrels. The barrels are courtesy of Indiana's Backbone Bourbon who source their whiskey from MGP of Indiana. The short length of aging allows the wine to acquire subtle notes of vanilla and baking spices without hindering the fruit character of the wine. This is a quality wine at a great value - a hit for Thanksgiving. Thumbs up and cheers.

Friday, November 24, 2017

A Tale of Two Zins for National Zinfandel Day

Wednesday November 15th was National Zinfandel Day and we received two Zinfandel wines for the occasion. They are from two different geographic locations in California, Mendocino in the coastal north and Lodi in the Central Valley. Both share a Mediterranean climate with warm days and cool nights associated with breezes that provide both regions with a "reliable, natural air conditioning throughout the growing season". They both also share a large preponderance of small family vineyards, in many cases multi-generational.

In Lodi, the 2013 D'Art Lodi Zinfandel ($26, 14% abv) is sourced from grapes grown in the Mokelumne River sub-AVA on an 86 year old vineyard that was planted in sandy loam soils. This soil type helps provide a boldness to the wine that accompanies the jammy berry and fig flavors. The nose seems a tad hot, but the peppery finish is very smooth with enough tannins to lift the palate off the fruit characters.

On the other hand, the 2016 Artezin Mendocino Zinfandel ($18, 14.5% abv) is a blend of 85% Zinfandel, 10% Petite Sirah, & 5% Carignan, This is a Hess Collection brand intended to "honor the art of making Zinfandel from old vine plantings and work with family owned farms throughout Mendocino and Sonoma Counties". Many of these family farms are featured in the website's Meet the Farmers section which includes Paul Dolan and his bio-dynamic The Dark Horse Ranch. And the blend composition is reminiscent of the early Italian immigrants who grew grapes for home wine-making and blended these varietal wines to achieve robustness. The Artezin is robust as well with a dried cherry aroma, a pleasant peppery and fig palate, and a subtle peppery but smooth finish. Plenty of acids too. Nicely done for both of these wines and cheers to National Zinfandel Day.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

#FirstSipNZ with a Trio from Villa Maria Estate Winery

We have found over the years that Villa Maria Estate Winery is a reliable option for affordable New Zealand wine and a recent #FirstSipNZ tasting showcased three of these popular wines. The Villa Maria 2017 Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough ($14) is made from grapes sourced from the Awatere Valley and Wairau Valley. The former provides the powerful lemongrass aroma whereas the later citrus and tropical notes. Combine these with a creamy smooth body and fresh acids and this wine doesn't last long. The Villa Maria 2016 Private Bin Chardonnay, East Coast ($15) derives from the east coast of the north island such as Hawkes Bay and Gisborne. Although the grapes were fermented in stainless steel there is considerable depth and creaminess (not butter) due to partial malolactic and maturation with regular yeast stirring. The result is a pleasant lemon aroma, creamy citrus palate, and refreshing tail. Like the Sauvignon Blanc, the Villa Maria 2016 Private Bin Pinot Noir, Marlborough ($18) is also sourced from the Awatere and Wairau Valleys. This is a very interesting Pinot, the aroma includes a slightly spicy vege mushroom sensation, whereas the light body contains smoked cherries, and the finish a smooth juicy dried cherry flavor. A house favorite. Cheers.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Discovering the Symphony Grape at Oak Crest Vineyard & Winery

When crossing the Potomac into Virginia on Route 301, theCompass Craft Beverage Finder shows that Oak Crest Vineyard & Winery is the first winery when entering the Northern Neck George Washington Birthplace AVA. It is one of the oldest wineries on the peninsula -- opening in 2002 by Conrad Brandts. Although his family started growing grapes in the 1960s, Brandts planted his vineyard in 1986 with the assistance of grafted Cabernet vines from Gabriele Rausse. Then on a research trip to California he heard about a new hybrid grape developed at U.C. Davis and visited the creator Dr. Harold Olmo. This pioneering viticulturist created more than 30 new grape varieties such as Ruby Cabernet and Symphony - the subject of Brandts' visit.

This crossing of Muscat of Alexandria and Grenache Gris was developed for hot growing regions - more suitable to the humid Northern Neck than the Riesling that Brandts had originally intended to plant. With two decades in the vineyard, Symphony is Oak Crest's signature grape produced as a sweet single varietal Symphony ($17) and in the off dry Moonlight Sonata ($16). This wine is marketed as a German Rhine styled wine and that's close to the mark: a Gewurtz-Riesling combo with muscat-like bouquet, spicy creamy body that combines grapefruit and stone fruit, and a balance between sweetness and acidity. This was a hit at a recent family party. Looking forward to visiting more wineries along the Northern Neck very soon. Cheers.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Left Coast Cellars Estate Pinot Noir: The Right Latitude at 45°

The 356 acres that comprise Oregon's Left Coast Cellars' estate are situated on the 45 parallel north - equidistant from the equator and the north pole and the location of many of the world's most respected wine regions. This line crosses Bordeaux and Cotes du Rhone, Piedmont and Veneto, Croatia's Istrian Peninsula, and in America: Michigan's Leelanau Peninsula and of course, Oregon's Willamette Valley. What makes 45° N so special? The angle of the sun? Temperature? Who knows, and obviously other factors such as elevation, soil, weather, and tradition all play a larger role in the success or failure of a particular wine-growing area. But there's no doubt that this line is ingrained in our wine consciousness.

The Left Coast Cellars Latitude 45° 2015 Estate Pinot Noir ($38) is forged from 100% Dijon clone grapes grown on their 10.4 acre Latitude 45 estate vineyard. The vineyard is south facing and planted in Chehulpum silt loam soil. This young sedimentary soil was deposited as recently as 10,000 years ago by the Missoula Floods that created the Columbia Gorge. This soil provides the dusty character associated with this single vineyard wine that seamlessly integrates with the bright cherry and spicy flavors. This is a delicious wine, soft and smooth tannins, which generates true sorrow when the bottle is emptied. Cheers.