Monday, August 22, 2016

Why I Enjoyed the 2016 Lodi Wine Bloggers Conference

A couple weeks ago I attended the 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference sponsored by the Lodi Wine Grape Commission. There's always some crumbling about the sessions, and personally I would have preferred more Lodi specific content. But in total I believe #WBC16 was a great success. Here's why.

The Bargain Attendee Fee
Where else can you eat and drink for three plus days for only $95? I often feel unworthy of

Tasting through New Zealand's Yealands Family Wine in the Conference Hallway
An extended lunch caused many of us to miss the A Bold New Look at Sustainability session sponsored by Yealands Family Wines and hosted by chief winemaker Tamra Kelly-Washington. Fortunately I met the Palm Bay Int'l reps walking out and they generously donated six Yealands' wines for us to sample. After a scramble for glasses, a pop-up tasting ensued. The wines consisted of a Pinot Gris, a Pinot Noir, and the rest Sauvignon Blanc; the S1 Single Block Yealands Marlborough Estate Sauvignon Blanc being the consensus favorite.

The Lodi Opening Reception at Mohr Fry Ranch
This was the first introduction to Lodi wines for most of us and it reinforced rumors that Lodi was just not all old vine Zinfandel. Yes, there were several nice examples of this signature wine, but I also sampled Turley Wine Cellars Cinsault, Mettler Family Vineyards Pinotage, Alicante Bouschet, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, and Sauvignon Blanc.  We also had our first opportunity to taste the Scotto Cellars Masthead: A Lodi Wine Blended by Wine Bloggers. The 100% Mohr-Fry Ranch Block 433 Sangiovese was very smooth. Well done.

The Scotto Cellars Masthead Party
The conference's first after party was sponsored by Scotto Cellars in their new downtown Lodi tasting room. They also invited Peltier Winery & Vineyards and Klinker Brick Winery to pour alongside Scotto's wine and Cider Brothers cider. In fact, this was my sole opportunity to drink cider the entire trip and their William Tell Dry Hard Cider with Pinot Grigio was a hit. The party also felt like a family reunion as more friends strolled in. 

Lodi Teraldigo
At the Masthead party I learned that Lodi vineyards grow Teraldigo, the Northern Italian grape from Trentino. Hard to believe. Yet I sampled at least three versions: the Peltier Winery Reserve Teraldigo 2010, the Estate Crush Teraldigo, and the LangeTwins Single Barrel Teraldigo 2012. All were structured, acidic, and tannic - ready to lay down for a few years.  My next homework assignment is to research why Lodi is a good location for this grape.

Peltier Winery Visit
After meeting owner Rod Schatz and Director of Marketing & Design Ian Bender at the Masthead party, I accepted their semi-invite/semi-I invited myself to their winery. SanCrittenden and I skipped out of the Saturday morning sessions and Ian met us and provided the complete VP treatment. There was a winery tour (with tank sampling from newly hired winemaker Susana Rodrigeuz Vasquez), a crush pad tour (with Pinot Gris being crushed), a vineyard tour, and a tasting through their Peltier and Reserve portfolio. I had previously tasted their wines through their legacy Peltier Station labels, but the depth and strength of their portfolio is impressive. (More to come in a later post. )

Bechthold Vineyard Cinsaut (Cinsault)
Over the weekend I sampled several excellent Cinsaut - Estate CrushTurley Wine Cellars, McCay Cellars, Michael David Winery -  all sourced from the historic Bechthold Vineyard. First planted in 1886, it is considered the oldest Cinsaut vineyard in the world - older than those in France where it is the fourth most widely planted grape variety. Before DNA analysis confirmed the grapes as Cinsaut, Al Bechthold was selling his crop for as low as $250 a ton. Now the highly desired grapes fetch ten times that amunt; all thanks to Joseph Spenker, the great-grandfather of Bechthold 's wife Wanda. In general, the Lodi Cinsaut wines were lively and intense with smooth and slightly tannic tails. Cinsaut Me with these wines that averaged only $25.

The Craft Spirits Lounge
The Wizard of Whiskey Justin Koury must have spent months acquiring the plethora of spirits he displayed at the #WBC16 #CraftSpirits Lounge. I never bothered to count, but there had to be at least four to five dozen? Besides drinking old favorites like the Hillrock Estate Distillery Solera Aged Bourbon, there were several highlights like the Few Spirits Rye Whiskey and the Bozeman Spirits Distillery 1889 Montana Whiskey. The lounge was also simply a quiet place to hand out - playing cards or catching up. At least quiet until the Pinata bashing....  Thanks Justin and all the sponsors.

The Friday Night Excursion with 99 Bottles
The vineyard excursion is usually one of the highlights of the conference and this year's equaled the fabulous Bien Nacido Vineyards excursion during the Santa Barbara conference. Our small group was taken to Estate Crush, a custom crush facility with over 80 clients and 120+ brands. Proprietors Bob and Ali Colarossi greeted us with glasses of 2015 Estate Crush Albarino and revealed our assignment. We were to create the final blend for their 2014 Colarossi Estate Old Vine Zinfandel that would be bottled and given as a parting gift to all the WBC16 wine bloggers. Divided into four groups, we all started with 95% Zinfandel and two additional grapes that would comprise the final 5%.  My partner Eveann of Vino Con Vista Italy and I were given Sangiovese and a Cabernet based Red Blend which we turned into a final blend of 97% Zin and 3% Red Blend.  During the blind tasting our blend received only one vote, ironically from me - talking about having a cellar palate. The wining wine was blended by Rachel of rachelvonwine and Heather of 10K Bottles - a blend of 97% Zin, 2% Syrah and 1% Petit Verdot.  After our blending session we proceeded to the Colaross's home where we were fed abundant amounts of Paella de Wetmore, thanks John, and of course wine - even going back to a three or four year vertical of their estate Old Vine Zinfandel. I didn't return back to the hotel until 11:30 - well past the 8:00 pm scheduled departure - and I hear the party didn't wrap up until 1:30. Thank you so much Bob and Ali.

Livermore Valley Wine Country Excurion
I always try to commit to a WBC pre-excursion and chose the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association sponsored tour. This was a fantastic outing, lavishly planned and executed. We had dinner at historic Concannon Vineyard hosted by John Concannon and Karl Wente, the 5th generation winemaker at Wente Vineyards Estate Winery. Both Concannon and Wente have been producing wine continuously since 1883 and we tasted the grapes straight off Concannon’s Cabernet Sauvignon “mother vine,” parent of 80% of Cab vines planted in California.  Similarly Wente's Chardonnay clones are responsible for about 86% of Chardonnay vines planted in California. We also enjoyed breakfast and wine at the Wente family Murrieta’s Well as well as a series of interactive wine sessions at the Wente Winemaker Studio. Finally there were numerous tastings of other producers such as Steven Kent Winery, 3 Steves WineryMcGrail Vineyards & Winery, Las Positas Vineyards, and our new favorite winemaker Collin Cranor. More to follow on this subject.

Generosity of the Lodi Wine Grape Commission and the Participating Wineries
We will never know that total amount of effort put forth by volunteers busing tables, attending meetings, laying cable that enabled the conference to succeed. Neither will we know the total amount of Lodi wine poured on our behalf.  But I completely appreciate the time and money that the Lodi sponsors undertook to make this conference happen. For instance, the converted high school now used for conventions did not have WiFi before our conference. The Lodi Wine Grape Commission through different philanthropic groups raised $60,000 in order to install the much need WiFi. And just days before the conference technicians were tweaking the routers for each individual meeting room.

Then there's the wines and dinners. The Colarossio's of Estate Crush poured our small party an unbelievable amount of wine including the vertical of their excellent estate old vine zinfandel. There's the wines poured during the opening reception,  Scotto Cellars and their Masthead party, and the various lunches, dinners, excursions, etc. And during the conference dinner, Michael McCay uncorked a rare double magnum of McCay Cellars Contenium Zinfandel on top of his generous assortment of other wines. So thank you very much to all the volunteers and participating wineries. This was a fantastic conference. 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Round Two of Exploring San Diego Breweries

With a second trip to San Diego this summer, I was eager to use theCompass Winery, Brewery, Distillery Locator Mobile App to explore the bounteous San Diego craft beer scene. Over 80 tasting rooms with a few knocked out during our Nationals-Padres trip.  And the first brewery listed in the location search was only two blocks from out hotel: The Beer Company. This brewpub is a bar first, pouring several other local beers, as well as a decent portfolio in house. These include the SD Wheat, San Diego Blonde, Cream Ale, Elimination IPA, and Pacific Beach Pale Ale. The last was my favorite, very balanced, then the IPA and Blonde.

After a long day at the magnificent San Diego Zoo, I noticed on theCompass app that South Park Brewing was only a few miles away.. Yes immediately I thought of the Comedy Central show, but the brewery is named for the community that lies southeast of Balboa Park.  It is owned by Hamiltons Tavern and Monkey Paw Brewing Company proprietor Scot Blair, with award-winning brewer Cosimo Sorrentino responsible for the taps. On this night, there were plenty of beer on tap - particularly the C.R.E.A.M. Ale (my Father's choice) and the Who Tarted? Vol 1, Cherry Edition.  How could I pass that beer up? It was light, and tart with the sour cherries enveloping the palette. Well down. The Cream Ale was also very nice, less vanilla than at The Beer Company and more refreshing.

My son discovered Pokemon Go this month so as the price for using my phone and a two hour meander through the Gaslamp District, Southport, and the Pier we concluded with a stop at The Local - home to Resident Brewing. I'm not sure if it was due to finally sipping a beer after walking all morning but these beers were fantastic. Particularly when there are two gose beers such as the Die Gose and Die Gose - Raspberry/Backberry. The latter is even more tart with a slight fruit sweetness and the original tart and salty. The Perky Blonde also carried some minerals and the Oatmeal Stout and Back Alley Porter nailed their respective styles.But the meisterstuck was the Vacation Coconut IPA - completely balanced with ample malts, coconuts, and Citra and Amarillo hops. Is there time for a third?

A trip to San Diego must include a trip to Old Town and to avoid the overcrowded restaurants head not to far to Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens, the prize of the trip. Not only is the venue spectacular but they pour the complete Stone portfolio brewed at their four locations. This Liberty Station location opened May 2013 in Point Loma’s now-historic Naval Training Center with the restaurant located in the former mess hall. "The restaurant encompasses more than 23,500 square feet of indoor and outdoor dining and bars, as well as a bocce ball court, outdoor cinema space and an 11,315-square-foot garden.".  Pretty impressive. While devouring a large and oozing grilled cheese sandwich, I chose a sampler of Liberty Station brewed beers; all truly unique and fascinating. It started with the Stone Liberty Station Arrr & Arrr!!! Table Beer at only 3.5% ABV and quite backed with flavor. The came the Stone Alright Hamilton Amber Lager with a little more hop character. The Stone Liberty Station Wittier Moron Imperial Black Witbier was both spicy and complex and the Stone Liberty Station Oatworthy Oatmeal Pale Ale a treat. This spot is highly recommended. Cheers and safe travels.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

#WBC16 History of Grape Growing and Wine Making in Lodi

Here is a panel of some of the original modern-era players in the Lodi grape growing and winemaking scene how Lodi came to be one of the preeminent grape production areas and, additionally, now known for its quality wines.  Moderator – Mark Chandler, Mayor, City of Lodi, former Executive Director of the Lodi Winegrape Commission (1991-2011), and vineyardist. Panelists – Aaron Lange, Vineyard Manger with LangeTwins Winery and Vice Chair, California Association of Winegrape Growers (CAWG); Kevin Phillips, Vice President of Operations at Michael-David Winery and Phillips Farms, and Markus Bokisch, Owner/CEO/Vigneron at Bokisch Vineyards.

#WBC16 Keynote Speaker Master Sommelier Andrea Robinson

Here is 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference Keynote Speaker Master Sommelier Andrea Robinson in Lodi California. Apologize in advance for the two interruptions.

Friday, August 5, 2016

#VABreweryChallenge - Mustang Sally Brewing Company (#41)

The Mustang Sally Brewing Company Kolsch has been getting plenty of airtime at local restaurants so when I noticed that Friday rush hour traffic was only mildly bad I Headed out to Chantilly. The brewery is located in a business\industrial complex very similar to Ocelot Brewing Company. The tasting area is spacious with corn hole playing all the time. The management are Virginia craft beer veterans with head brewer Bret Kimbrough, the former head brewer of Vintage 50, and General Manager Dave Hennessey, the former head brewer of Old Dominion Brewing Company.

There were seven beers on tap for my visit and I chose a flight of their Kolsch, American Wheat, Porter, an IPA.  And as expected the Kolsch was very good, followed in preference by the Porter - with the chocolate flavor melting through any mocha. The IPA was clean and balanced, whereas the Wheat was slightly bready with no banana flavor inducing yeast involved. I think I would have preferred a little more breadiness with this one. Overall, the Mustang Sally brews are steady, but nothing to draw me back repeatedly. And as always theCompass Winery, Brewery, Distillery Locator Mobile App will guide you to these breweries. Cheers.

Update (8/15/16): Just learned that Kenny Allen most recently of Old Ox is now the head brewer.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

#MDBreweryChallenge: Black Flag Brewing Company

Howard County Maryland's newest brewery, Black Flag Brewing Company, opened July 27th with a large inventory of beers. Ten beers in fact, brewed in "direct opposition to the established norms - crafting beers that focus heavily on flavors and aromas without concern for fitting any given category". I'd say that marketing-brewing strategy is valid as the lineup includes an IPA, DIPA, Saison, Dark Farmhouse, Kentucky Common, Smoked Porter, Blonde and a special blend. The Prozack Morris Blonde was a popular choice with our group as was the Mambo Sauce DIPA, Barnwood Dark Farmhouse, Chase the Grain Kentucky Common, and Belgian Waffle Blend (75% Belgie Belgian Saison - 25% Brunch Breakfast Stout). Top honors, however, goes to the Mother of Dragons Smoked Porter. This beer teeters between mocha chocolate and subtle bits of smoked cherrywood. Nicely done. Cheers and as always theCompass Winery, Brewery, Distillery Locator Mobile App will guide you to Black Flag and other Maryland breweries.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Murrieta's Well Snooth Virtual Tasting with Winemaker Robbie Meyer

On July 19th Snooth co-founder Mark Angelillo and Murrieta’s Well winemaker Robbie Meyer participated in a video tasting of four Murrieta’s Well's wines while also discussing the history of the Livermore Valley winery. The winery traces its history back to 1883 with the planting of imported cuttings from France and the building of a gravity-flow winery into the hillside. In 1990, Philip Wente and Sergio Traverso revived the 92-acre property, and renamed the winery in honor of Joaquin Murrieta who discovered the estate in the 1800s.The well refers to the Artesian well where Murrieta and his band of desperados watered their horses.  The estate's 500 acres lie in the middle of the valley in generally gravelly soil with morning fog cooling the grapes before the start of a typical sunny day. The grapes for the four wines were harvested exclusively from these estate vineyards, blended from different blocks that exhibit slightly different soil types and mesoclimates.

Murrieta’s Well The Whip White Wine Blend Livermore Valley 2014 ($24 - 29% Semillon, 27% Chardonnay, 18% Sauvignon Blanc, 12% Orange Muscat, 8% Muscat Canelli, 6% Viognier) was aged sur lie for 12 months with 30% of the wine aged in used neutral French oak barrels. This process enhances the wine’s general texture and mouthfeel.  The tangerine aromatics from the muscat grapes are potent, followed by creamy apricot & citrus flavors (thanks to the  Semillon& Chardonnay), and finishes refreshingly acidic. Quite nice.

Murrieta’s Well The Spur Red Wine Blend Livermore Valley 2013 ($30 - 40% Petite Sirah, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot, 8% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, 8% Malbec) was aged for 24 months in French oak barrels, using a combination of new and previously used barrels. The result is a complex wine with chewy cherry flavors, some spice and chocolate with smooth tannins. Drink now and often.

Murrieta’s Well Chardonnay Small Lot Livermore Valley 2014 ($44) is made from isolated own rooted Ernest Wente clone. The wine was fermented slowly in barrel with native yeast and aged sur lie - once again enhancing the wine’s general texture and mouthfeel. Yet the oak doesn't overwhelm the wine, leaving the creamy chardonnay citrus flavors to acquire the spotlight. Textured and refreshing acids. And extremely nice wine.

Murrieta’s Well Cabernet Sauvignon Small Lot Livermore Valley 2013 ($58 -75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc, 6% Malbec, 5% Petite Sirah, 4% Petit Verdot, 4% Merlot) was aged for 20 months in 70% new French oak. This is a meaty and juicy wine with some dustiness and lingering smoothness of dark chocolate. The acidity and strong tannins allow for long aging. Decant accordingly.

Friday, July 29, 2016

#VABreweryChallenge - Virginia Beach with Pleasure House Brewing (#39) & Commonwealth Brewing Company (#40)

While returning from the Outer Banks I stopped off at two local breweries Pleasure House Brewing (#39) & Commonwealth Brewing Company (#40). Both are located very close to each other, each on either side of the Route 13 Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel and both provide a laid back neighborhood atmosphere. Pleasure House is located in a small strip plaza and features nearly a dozen beers on tap with many of these in crowlers. I stuck to a three beer sample of Shark Tears Gose, GLO Belgium Blonde Ale, and the Duck-In Saison of Apricot & Ginger. The Duck In was spicy, just not sure of that combination. The GLO is a solid blonde, refreshing with more uumph than others in that style.And the Gose, fruity and tart - and more than refreshing - a crowler made it home.

Commonwealth is a stand alone establishment located near the Chic's Beach neighborhood in the old Chesapeake Beach Volunteer Fire and Rescue station. When visiting be prepared for food trucks, corn hole, dozens of picnic tables, and good beer. They specialize in Belgiums with eight available during my visit along with more traditional IPAs, Pale Ales, and Lagers. I chose another three beer sampler: the Cheval D'Or Belgium Golden Ale, Cheval Soleil Belgium Wit, and Romhilda Belgium Blonde on Citrus. These beers spoke for themselves, nailing the styles and providing refreshing relief during several challenging games of cornhole.  The Cheval Soleil was my favorite. And as always theCompass Winery, Brewery, Distillery Locator Mobile App will guide you to these breweries. Cheers.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Adelsheim Vineyard Introduces Breaking Ground, a 2014 Chehalem Mountains AVA Pinot Noir

David Adelsheim feels it's time for the Chehalem Mountains to take it's place among the great grape growing regions in Oregon, "We believe it is one of the very best regions in the Willamette Valley (and perhaps the world) to produce Pinot Adelsheim Vineyard is releasing Breaking Ground, a 2014 Chehalem Mountains AVA Pinot Noir ($45).  The Adelsheim's commitment to the Chehalem Mountains started in 1971 when the family purchased their first property and established the area’s first winery. Located in the northern Willamette Valley AVA, the Chehalem (pronounced Sha-HAY-lum) Mountains AVA is 20 miles long and 5 miles in width and it's mountains and ridges comprise three major soil types: volcanic basaltic (southeast), ocean sedimentary (northwest), and loess (northeast). The grapes for Breaking Ground were sourced from LIVE (Low Input Viticulture & Enology) certified vineyards among each of these three soil types. The wine is smooth, juicy and lively as blackberries and dark cherries roll into a dusty black tea flavor. Simply delicious.

Monday, July 25, 2016

"Topa Egin Dezagun" to Basque Country Wines from Rioja Alavesa

This summer the Smithsonian Folklife Festival featured Spain's Basque Country showcasing that region's unique music, language and cuisine.  In conjunction, Paul Wagner, President of Balzac Communications & Marketing, lead a trade tasting of Basque Country Wines from Rioja Alavesa, a sub zone in the larger DOC Rioja region. The geography of Rioja Alavesa is both Mediterranean and Continental, with the Cantabria Mountains sheltering the vineyards from cold wet air from the Atlantic Ocean. The proximity of the vines to the Ebro River provides additional warming. The soils are primarily calcareous clay.  

The Basque region is unique in that it's language predates all the Indo-European languages now used in Europe. The Basque name for itself is "Euskera", wine is "Ardoa", and "Topa Egin Dezagun" translates to Cheers. The region is also located in the crossroads of ancient trade and medieval pilgrimage routes bringing some influences from other cultures - grape growing and wine production being good examples. The Basque region also produces a second style of wine called Txakoli that is not part of Rioja Alavesa. These wines are "young, fruity, slightly sparkling white wine with low acidity".

As for Rioja Alavesa, Tempranillo is the favored red grape comprising 80% of plantings with another 4% dedicated to other red grapes and the remainder to several varieties of white grapes.  During this tasting, all the wines were at least 90% Tempranillo and followed the DOC Rioja requirements regarding Crianza (minimum of one year in casks and a few months in the bottle) and Reserva (aged for a minimum of 3 years, with at least one year in casks). In general these wines were very good, with the older vintages providing evidence of longevity and freshness.  Topa Egin Dezagun.
  • CVNE Vina Real Crianza 2001 ($12) - light bodied, black cherries, a little dusty with lingering tannins.
  • Marques de Riscal Reserva 2009 ($20) - very complex (creamy, spicy, some leather) with lingering tannins and acidity. Very nice.
  • Remelluri Reserva 2009 ($25) - much more tannic than the Marques de Riscal, with more leather and dirt,
  • Baigorri de Garage Rioja 2007 ($50) - a new age Rioja, fresh dark fruit then figs and green olives on the palate, finishes with dark chocolate.
  • Remirez de Ganuza Reserva 2006 ($60) -  a traditional Rioja styled Tempranillo; very smooth, depth, with a bright finis. My favorite of the group. 
  • DSL Vinedos y Bodegas DSG Phinca Lali 2010 ($68) - interesting mint characters with loads of tannins and acids - Wagner recommends 5-10 more years aging for this one.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Outer Banks Distilling - Kill Devil’s Honey Pecan Rum

The Outer Banks is the home of North Carolina's oldest micro-brewery in the Weeping Radish Farm Brewery and last year saw the establishment of the islands' first distillery: Outer Banks Distilling. Located historic Roanoke Island, the distillery currently produces two versions of rum, the Kill Devil Silver Rum and Kill Devil’s Honey Pecan Rum. The offshore shoals known as “The Graveyard of the Atlantic” has led to over
 1,000 wrecks with some of this wreckage containing barrels of rum. According to the distillery, "the town of Kill Devil Hills is believed to have been named for either barrels of rum of the brand name Kill Devil or for a rum that was 'strong enough to kill the devil'”. Kill Devil Hills is also the site of the Wright Brothers first flights and ironically their father, Bishop Milton Wright, was a leader in the Temperance Movement.

This week I picked up a bottle of the Kill Devil’s Honey Pecan Rum ($30).  The honey and pecans are locally sourced from within 15 miles of the distillery, with the spent rum soaked pecans sent to local bakers. The rum is rather rich and tasty, the honey and pecans provide a mild nutty sweetness, with the finish so smooth. Go for it neat or on the rocks.

Monday, July 18, 2016

More “Wines of Altitude” with Bodega Colomé

During our previous “Wines of Altitude” post we featured Salta's Amalaya Wines. And the parent to that brand and the founding Salta, Argentina member of the Hess Family Estates is Bodega Colomé, the founding member of the Hess Family Estates in Salta - established in 1831.  The winery and Colomé Vineyard are located at 7,545 feet above sea level and operates three other vineyards ranging from 5,750 (La Brava Estate) to 10,200 (Altura Máxima Estate) feet above sea level. This last could be the highest vineyard in the world.

This altitude provides intense sun exposure as well as a wide range in thermal amplitude, ranging between 20° during day and night. Those factors facilitate the uniform and balanced development of the grapes.  According to the winery, "La Brava Vineyard sits at 5,740 feet and yields intense and ripe fruit. Colomé Vineyard surrounds the winery at 7,545 feet and lends complexity and weight. El Arenal Vineyard at 8,530 feet gives elegance and freshness to the blend and Altura Maxima at 10,207 feet gives floral and mineral notes with fine grain tannins".

I recently received two samples from the winery, one a Malbec, the region's popular red signature grape and a Torrontés, the region's white signature grape. DNA research has shown that Torrontés is a cross between the Mission grapes of Galicia, Spain and Muscat of Alexandria. And the Muscat lends plenty of aromatic qualities.

2013 Colomé Estate Malbec ($25) is 100% Malbec made from grapes grown at all four vineyards.  After fermentation the wine is aged 15 months in French oak barriques and then an additional six months in the bottle before release.  The result is a very nice wine: medium bodied, fresh red and black fruit followed by spices and noticeable tannins and acidity.  

2015 Colomé Torrontés ($15) is 100% Torrontés harvested from 30 - 60 year old vines.  The grapes are fermented slowly at low temperatures in stainless steel and then aged three months in steel before bottling. This is a nice wine, abundant floral aromas, plenty of stone fruits, grapefruit, and refreshing acidity.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Two Willamette Valley Summer Whites from Left Coast Cellars

Located in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, Left Coast Cellars, produces wine from 134 acres of estate vineyards weighted towards popular varieties such as Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Chardonnay.  I received two samples for summer enjoyment and both were quite delicious with my extended family preferring the Chardonnay and me savoring the White Pinot Noir. Cheers.

Left Coast Cellars Truffle Hill Chardonnay 2015 ($24.00) is 100% Chardonnay harvested from their Truffle Hill vineyard in Willamette Valley. There's an element of creaminess as the wine aged sur lie for 9 months, but it's all chardonnay with very little oak characters to interfere with the grape's inherent flavor. The acidic citrus finish lingers and lingers, and lingers....

Left Coast Cellars White Pinot Noir 2015 ($24.00) is 100% Pinot Noir harvested from across their Willamette Valley vineyards. The winery limits skin contact to achieve clarity and the wine is uniquely delicious.  It combines white stone and light cherry flavors, a silky texture, and long mineral finish of acids and slate. Go for it.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

“Wines of Altitude” with Salta's Amalaya Wines

The Calchaqui Valley is located from 5,500 ft to over 10,000 ft above sea level - making it one of the highest viticulture regions in the world.  The high altitude provides intense daytime sunlight and cool nights that help better retain the acidity and concentrated fruit characteristics of the grapes. The valley lies within the Salta Province of NW Argentina and specializes in Torrontés and Malbec grapes. There are three varieties of Torrontés with Torrontés Riojano (the most common), Torrontés Sanjuanino, and Torrontés Mendocino. Each are believed to be separate crossings of the Mission grape and Muscat of Alexandria. And Salta is its main base in Argentina.

I recently received two wines from Amalaya, part of Hess Family Estates. Amalaya translates to "Hope for a Miracle" from the native Calchaqui Indians and that's how Donald Hess felt regarding his first investment in Argentina in the vineyards of El Arenal. No need for miracles as grapes thrive in the Calchaqui Valley and Hess Family expanded their acreage. Today the grapes for the Amalaya brand are harvested from the Finca San Isidro Vineyard and Las Mercedes Vineyard. Both are located in arid parts of the Calchaqui Valley with the main difference being soil types.

2015 Amalaya Blanco ($12; 85% Torrontés / 15% Riesling) Sourced from the Finca San Isidro vineyard, this is the first time I've seen this blend composition. Torrontés is generally aromatic and this blend elevates the peach characters and possibly the grapefruit flavors as well. This is a fresh, acidic wine; very refreshing and favorable at that price.

2015 Amalaya Malbec ($16; 85% Malbec, 10% Tannat, 5% Syrah) Sourced from both the Finca Las Mercedes and Finca San Isidro vineyards. A quarter of the wine was aged in once-used French Oak barrels for ten months so while this wine is fruit forward and smooth there's a dusty, spicy, and vanilla character resulting from the oak. The finish is very easy, very easy.

Friday, July 1, 2016

#WineStudio Presents Sonoma’s Rosé Revolution

After a soggy May it was time to pivot to summer with June's #WineStudio Session 35: Sonoma's Rosé Revolution. And indeed the revolution has spread throughout the valley and across multiple grape varieties.Wineries are using the two traditional methods for producing rosé, either gently pressing the grapes as in Provence or using the saignée or bleed from red wine production. This session featured four Sonoma wines: Passaggio Wines 2015 Rosé Merlot SonomaEllipsis Wine Company 2015 Rosé of Pinot Meunier Sonoma CountyPedroncelli Winery 2015 Dry Rosé of Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley; and Angels & Cowboys 2015 Rosé Sonoma County (Grenache Rouge, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Grenache Blanc). I received a sample of the last two with notes below. Cheers.

2015 Pedroncelli Winery Dry Rosé of Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley ($12). The grapes are harvested from prime Dry Creek Valley fruit, the Pedroncelli estate as well as Buchnignani vineyard. This rosé is made by combining both popular methods, the free run juice from early picked grapes (60% of the blend) and 40% saignée (juice which was drawn from the fermenting tank of fully ripened Zinfandel). Because of the the fruitiness of the Zin, the wine feels slightly sweeter than dry (.4% R.S.) and  looks like cherry gummy bears in the glass. The flavor starts with candied red cherries and a side of mint, but as the wine warms strawberries evolve, with the fresh acids persisting throughout. A simple, yummy, and refreshing wine.

2015 Angels & Cowboys Rosé Sonoma County ($15). The brand is a collaboration between Cannonball Wine Company co-founders, Yoav Gilat and Dennis Hill, and Northern California graphic artist, Michael Schwab. The wine is a field blend of Grenache Rouge, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Grenache Blanc sourced from vineyards in Carneros, the Alexander Valley and the Dry Creek Valley. The grapes are harvested early, lightly crushed and macerated on their skins as in the Provencal style. After a long fermentation at cooler temperatures the wine rests on its lees to increase the mouthfeel and texture. Unfortunately my bottle was consumed without my presence when friends visited, but here's what other participants had to say. 

Dezel Quillen ‏@myvinespot: Though sleek & racy, @aandcwines rosé carries enough weight/texture to move onto the the dinner table w/ grilled fish, bird, etc

Gwendolyn Alley, MA ‏@ArtPredator: Palette: watermelon, honeydew, cucumber. Crisp with minerals, light fruit, sage in finish. Angels and Cowboys #rose

Debbie Gioquindo,CSW ‏@hvwinegoddess: Everything is nice on this wine! The minerality, freshness, the citrus finish the violets on the nose....

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

San Diego's Prolific Craft Beer Scene

San Diego is craft beer heaven. I know there are other awesome craft beer cities like Portland and Denver but combine the weather, the beaches, and an accommodating baseball stadium and you get America's Finest City. First, let's look at the numbers. There are approximately 80 tasting rooms within city limits and a few of these are giants like Ballast Point Brewing Company and Stone Brewing. Others, like Pizza Port and the Karl Strauss Brewing Company, have numerous venues scattered throughout the city.  Second, there's Petco Park stadium which embraces craft beer - not just tolerates it.  See the Ballpark & Brews post. And finally, the beer is unique, interesting, and delicious.

On our arrival and quick hotel check in across from Petco Park we headed over to the Stone Brewing Tap Room located conveniently just outside the stadium. The tap room provides a host of Stone brews, most very IPA-centric, but enough options for our heavily weighted Miller Lite group. I choose the Citrusy Wit and finished my Father's Smoked Porter before heading to the Tilted Kilt for lunch. Both solid beers for their respective styles. At the Kilt I went overboard with local beer starting with the AleSmith Brewing Pale Ale .394, then moving on to the the Coronado Brewing Company Berry The Hatchet, and finishing with the Ballast Point Pineapple Sculpin. The later was slightly sweeter than the Grapefruit Sculpin, the Coronado fruit ale tasty, and the AleSmith my favorite of the trio.

After putting the padre to bed for a nap, I ventured ahead to Half Door Brewing Company, named in honor of the Irish pubs and farmhouses where half doors were a way to let fresh air in and keep the nosy farm animals out. The brewery sits in an eccentric historic house with a large front porch and divided second floor seating. Great architecture.  I started with a favorite style, the Bearleener Berliner Weisse and it was tart and fruity as expected. When the crew eventually caught up most of us turned to the Half Door Pale Ale  - a beer that found common ground between the IPA and lite beer drinkers. This beer left us in a cheerful state heading into the stadium.

Day 2 started with an Uber to Ocean Beach to visit relatives, walk in the ocean, and stroll the pier. Afterwards Pizza Port Ocean Beach was a short walk away for lunch and we came away impressed with the food and the beer. My favorite was the No Surf Cream Ale - a refreshing summer ale, while my brother looked favorably upon the Swami's IPA and my father stuck to his porter - the Tube Time Porter.

Our return Uber ride detoured into the Ballast Point Tasting Room & Kitchen Restaurant, a satellite venue in Little Italy. I knew it was a wise decision when we met Bob Carpenter, the MASN TV voice of the Washington Nationals, coming out. I selected three different beers for my sampler and fell in love with the Tart Lady a Wild Ale exuding juicy and tart apricots. The other two experimental ales just weren't for me. The Hop Trois IPA was funky but seemed unbalanced and the When Doves Crye Rye Wine was tense and spicy - too much for my palate. But a sifter of the Tart Lady quickly it washed away. And once again I finished my Father's porter, this one the malty Black Marlin.

I'm returning to America's Finest City later this summer and I will be using theCompass Winery, Brewery, Distillery Locator Mobile App to visit several breweries that I lost time - particularly Mission Brewery and Monkey Paw Brewing. Cheers. 

Monday, June 27, 2016

#VABreweryChallenge - Arlington with New District Brewing Company & Capitol City Brewing Company

Recently the W&OD received another brew stop along the bike trail as New District Brewing Company (#37) joined Capitol City Brewing Company (#38) at it's origin in Arlington.  The later has anchored their Shirlington corner for at least a decade. Normally when I visit Capitol City I stick to the Capitol Kolsch - clean and easy drinking after a bike ride. I've never really been satisfied with the rest of the portfolio but this visit I noticed an expanded rotating taps menu which included an Imperial Blonde, Gose, and a Porter on cask. An interesting development indeed. I obviously ordered the Gose and encountered mixed results. It started tart with a hint of saline and not much coriander but was refreshing. However as the finish lingered it seemed somewhat flawed - a dirty funkiness that didn't belong.  But with that expanded portfolio, I'll be back.

New District Brewing Company is the "first package brewery in Arlington, Virginia in one hundred years"; that's their story and they are sticking to it. The brewery is located across Four Mile Run Drive from the W&OD on Oakland Street near the .5 mile marker. One easy route is to circle back to the brewery at MM 0 taking two consecutive rights on Shirlington and 27th and then left on Nelson, and right on Oakland. Once you arrive get ready for some puppy love with the dog park across the street. As for the beers, another mixed bag. Their signature 1821 is a Saison brewed with a mystery spices from the family's village in Greece. It's big, biting, and spicy - appealing with food and at nighttime but not particularly after a 12 mile ride. The Folded Note Pilsner is hoppier than most and like The Bright Future Kolsch has a solid mineral backbone. Both were a bit refreshing but served at cask temperature - perhaps due to changing of kegs. My favorite was the South German Lager, a maltier brew is some Marzen character, but dry hopped for added aromatics. This beer provided the energy for the 12 mile return trip. Cheers and as always, theCompass Winery, Brewery, Distillery Locator Mobile App will guide you to any wine, beer, or distillery destination.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Ballparks & Brews: Petco Park - San Diego Padres

I've only been to a handful of major league ball parks but for now the San Diego Padres' Petco Park is in a league of their own. The park embraces craft beer embraces craft beer - not just tolerates it like Nationals Park. I only strayed between the third base line and home plate in the 200 level but saw dozens of unique craft beer options at multiple stands. There's even a dedicated stretch of pavement for craft beer carts. And all local craft breweries: Stone Brewing, Pizza Port, Mission Brewery, Karl Strauss Brewing Company, AleSmith Brewing, and Mike Hess Brewing Company. Walking past these carts will take you to a larger craft beer vending area (with longer lines) including Coronado Brewing Company, The Lost Abbey / Port Brewing Co., and Saint Archer Brewing Company among others.

There are other craft beer options as well starting in the center field patio where Ballast Point Brewing Company and Sculpin are King overlooking taps from other local breweries. Although I didn't venture into the 300 level I read that Stone Brewing has a dedicated tasting area and I'm sure other craft breweries are represented. As for non-local breweries, I did see a lonely Goose Island Beer Co. and thought why bother.

I stuck to lighter beers but there were a plethora of other beer styles. The Ballast Point Kolsch and Mission Blonde were my go to beers, whereas my IPA laced sibling chose Sculpin, the Stone IPA, and the ridiculously delicious Karl Strauss Aurora Hoppyalis IPA.

If you care to pre-game, there are a few breweries within walking distance starting with the neighboring Stone Brewing Tap Room and Half Door Brewing Company - two blocks away.  On an outer parameter you can find Monkey Paw Brewing, The Beer Company, and Resident Brewing, then take the Craft Beer Bus to Mission Brewery -and then be deposited at the stadium gates. Cheers to craft beer and baseball.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

#FirstSipNZ with Villa Maria's Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc

One of the most reliable sources for affordable New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc has always been Villa Maria and they didn't disappoint with their current summer offerings tasted through the #FirstSipNZ campaign. Elizabeth Smith has the details on this campaign at Villa Maria’s First Sip of Summer. In general New Zealand, and in particular, Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc wines are fresh; driven by citrus, tropical, herbaceous, and mineral characteristics; and refreshingly acidic. I learned that the "minerality often comes from vineyards with stony old riverbed vineyard sites". Here are the two wines we sampled, both will be available across the U.S. either now or towards August. Cheers.

2016 Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc (SRP $14.99). The grapes were sourced from vineyards throughout the Marlborough region of NZ with a mixture of warmer and cooler vineyard sites which showcase the herbal and tropical note. However, for me, this wine was all citrus from the wet grass aroma through the bright lemon-grapefruit character to the long, long finish.

2015 Villa Maria Private Bin Bubbly Sauvignon Blanc (SRP $14.99). Produced in the frizzante style similar to Moscato d’Asti and Vinho Verde where the wine maintains generous effervescence but not to the extent of a sparkling wine. According to winemaker Helen Morrison, a true méthode champenoise would overwhelm Sauvignon Blanc and the wine would lose the freshness associated with the grape. The grapes were also sourced from vineyards throughout the Marlborough region of NZ. The added frizz elevates the fruit profile with the citrus flavors dominating while chilled and the tropical banana and guava like characteristics evolving when warming.. The wine also maintains its texture from the creamy start to effervescent ending.  As for food pairings, seafood was highly recommended (mussels in particular). I'll be heading to the beach with this wine for sure. 

Friday, June 17, 2016

The United Grapes of America - Minnesota's Alexis Bailly Vineyard Voyageur

Minnesota wine was present last month at the annual Wine America Congressional Tasting through the Alexis Bailly Vineyard Voyageur ($29). The wine is a blend of Minnesota grown Marechal Foch, Leon Millot, and Frontenac. The first two grapes are French hybrids whereas the later was developed by the University of Minnesota in 1996 as an extreme cold hardy wine grape for northern growers. The wine itself, as well as the winery, is named after their 4th great grandfather, Alexis Bailly, who along with a handful of other French/Canadian pioneers (voyageurs) paddled their way through the St. Lawrence Seaway to Hastings, Minnesota. And the Marechal Foch and Leon Millot were part of the original vineyard when, in 1973, David Bailly planted the fist modern vineyard in the North Star State.

The United Grapes of America The United Grapes of America
The vineyard was inspired by not only Bailley's interest in wine but also a desire to start a business where he could deduct wine trips to Europe. I can relate to that sympathy. In 1967 he tasted the Boordy Vineyards Red from the historic Maryland winery and realized European styled wines could be made in the east. Further research lead him to Millot and Foch and over time he concluded that "the Léon Millot has made the best wine and the Maréchal Foch has been the most winter hardy".

The Voyageur is dark, both in color and black fruit forward flavors; stressing the fruit forward nature of this wine. Ten months of oak treatment comes in play during the mid-palate and outweighs the fruit, whereas the wine finishes with plenty of acids and a slight tannic coating. This wine shows well, a bit pricey in the world market, but more reasonable in the drink local market. Cheers.