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Monday, October 27, 2008

Barrel Oak Winery



After many months of delay, we finally visited Barrel Oak Winery, another new winery in Fauquier County. Sharon and Brian Roeder officially launched the winery in May 2008 and we have been lax in visiting - even after several friends and fellow bloggers had favorable impressions after their visits. This weekend the winery was hosting a Pumpkin Decorating for the Kids! so we drove out Route 66 for a visit. Several other families had already beaten us to the winery, and this was apparently a slow day. There were also several four legged friends as BOW encourages visitors to bring their leashed pets. Not only are dogs allowed on the patio - they are also welcome inside the tasting room. Our dogs like that idea.

Barrel Oak is located on a hill overlooking Little Cobbler Mountain and the John Marshall Oak Hill estate. The two year old estate vines roll along one side of the property and soon BOW will have a local source of Traminette, Seyval Blanc, Merlot, Chambourcin, Vidal Blanc, Petit Verdot and Petit Manseng. In the meanwhile, the winery sources grapes from several well established vineyards including Keswick Vineyards. The production facilities are built into a hill and the winery is heated and cooled by a geothermal system.

When we arrived, the children quickly found the pumpkin painting area and we were escorted to the tasting bar. The winery opened on a grand scale - producing over a dozen styles of wine. That's a large selection for any winery - not to mention one in its infancy. We started with the BowHaus White, a semi-dry blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Vidal Blanc. It has a citrus flavor and balanced acidity - and it was selected as our picnic choice for the day. The Seyval Blanc and Chardonnay Reserve were next with the later being a favorite. It is made in the traditional European style - sur lees - and fermented in stainles steel and aged in neutral French oak. The final white was their Viognier and this was the most interested version of this varietal we had tasted. It is made dry - but contains some sweetness. The citrus flavor makes way for a silky finish produced by aging in Hungarian oak. This is a nice wine. It's no surprise that the Late Harvest Viognier was also a good dessert styled wine.

Turning to reds, we started with the Bowhaus Red a table wine blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petite Verdot, Malbec, and Touriga; Bordeaux and Portugal in a bottle. For a young wine, this is remarkably smooth with great flavor and little acidity. This was our second choice for the afternoon's picnic. The next wine was the Tour Ga Franc, a blend of Cabernet Franc and Touriga, and possibly the first time we had tasted this combination. It is also smooth with a little more spiciness than the Bowhaus Red. Plus, $2 from every bottle is donated to the Lance Armstrong Foundation. They followed with several Bordeaux styled wines, a Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. The last was our favorite and perhaps our overall favorite; it is dry, full bodied with cherry and some chocolate flavors. This is a big wine. The other Bordeaux styled wines were not bad either - the Cabernet Sauvignon had a unique nutty finish whereas the Merlot and Cabernet Franc both had full cherry flavors with a slight spiciness to the Cab Franc.

Besides being only an hour outside of Washington, D.C., Barrel Oak Winery offers several incentives to visit. They host various events each month ranging from Friday night movies, Saturday night music, barrel tasting, book signing, plus more.... Even after the events, visitors must have an incentive to return which usually has a direct correlation to the quality of the wine. We really liked the wines, both the whites and reds - and the wine is competitively priced to other wineries in the area. So count us as future returnees.

More pictures are available at Compass Tours at Wine-Compass.com.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

WineWise

We recently received a copy of WineWise a new book written by Steven Kolpan, Brian H. Smith, and Michael A. Weiss, all CIA Professors in Wine Studies at The Culinary Institute of America (CIA). It is the size of a standard coffee table book - but without the standard fluff usually associated with these publications. Instead, WineWise contains volumes of facts in an easy to read format. It starts by explaining why some wines cost more than others - siting geography, grapes, wine making methods, and of course, what the market will bear. The introduction also describes brands versus "terrior" and introduces appellations. One fact we never recognized was that different regions in Europe use different bottle styles. For instance bottles from Burgundy, Rhone, and Bordeaux will all be shaped differently - giving the consumer an easy target for selecting from that appellation. The next two chapters discuss actual wine grapes and we were happy to see Riesling and Gewurztraminer profiled in the Major White Grapes section and Zinfandel and Grenache profiles in the Major Red Grapes section. In addition the writers include small notes on wine production in several American states, outside of the big three.

The guts of the book, and what differentiates it from other wine books, is their complex insight into global wine regions. Starting with California, the writers discuss several major wine appellations (Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, etc) their AVA system and any sub-appellations, their climate, the major wine grapes, how to read a wine label from that region, and the major wine producers. This process is repeated for Oregon, Washington, New York, Canada, South America, Oceania, South Africa, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Austria, and even Greece. This is a wealth of information. From our recent trip to the New York Food and Wine Festival and a recent wine tasting at Finewine.com, we have become more interested in wine from Sicily. Turning to chapter nine, the book provides a map of southern Italy showing the grape growing areas, plus states the major DOCG and DOC wine regions, grapes, and major producers. From this chapter we were also able to talk about the Falanghina grape and its Greek origin at the Finewine.com tasting. Thanks for the insight. The section on Piedmont wines was also a favorite. The other chapters are just as insightful. Ever wondered where grapes are grown in Chile or Argentina? South Africa? Portugal? The information is all there. We can't wait to finish the chapter on Greece and wish we had the book before our trip to Sonoma and Napa. Is there anything we didn't like, you ask? Yes, its size. This is a heavy book and not easy to carry to a wine store to help read the labels. Maybe it does fit on a coffee table, but keep it within reach - it is a valuable resource.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

New York City Wine & Food Festival - Day 2 Wine

At Sunday’s Grand Tasting at the New York City Food & Wine Festival we returned to wines – and in particular those that we hadn’t tasted previously. For there was a large sample of California wines that we are well familiar and enjoy often: La Crema, Murphy-Goode Winery, Chalk Hill Winery, Carmel Road Winery, and Concannon Vineyard. Two California wineries that were present and who we hadn’t tasted before were Wente Vineyards Estate Winery and Zaca Mesa Winery. Wente Vineyards was founded over 125 years ago and is currently the United State’s oldest, continuously operated family-owned winery. That’s five generations of family winemakers. What makes this winery also appealing to us is their integration into the musical environment. Not only do they host several excellent concerts throughout the summer (proceeds are contributed to the Livermore Valley Education Foundation), but 5th generation winemaker Karl Wente is a musician himself and recommends music for download. As for their wines, we tasted their Merlot and Cabernet (both were very good), but particularly liked their Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc. The wines were acidic and refreshing with excellent fruit flavor – just the type of white wines we enjoy. Zaca Mesa Winery also poured and excellent white wine: their 2007 Viognier, Estate Bottled Santa Ynez Valley. This wine was just as good as the excellent Viognier produced in Virginia – at half the cost. It has a little acidity but more texture and some vanilla flavors.

This weekend we discovered Prosecco; this Italian grape is very popular in its homeland and is starting to make a presence in the states. Our friends at Danny DeVito's Premium Limoncello recommended blending their Limoncello with Prosecco and fortunately the grand tasting had a few samples. There was the Lunetta Prosecco, the the Nino Franco Prosecco “Rustico” distributed by Vin di Vino, and a couple from Mionetto. The Lunetta is a nice sparkling wine with some peach flavor as is the Nino Franco Prosecco “Rustico” but the best was the Mionetto Prosecco Brut. I believe this wine retails for under $15 and is a bargain. It has a soft lemon flavor but is rich and the tail is somewhat nutty.

Vin di Vino also poured several other interesting wines. The Casa Silva Carmenere Reserva was a good wine in which good wines from this grape are difficult to find. The Loimer Gruner Veltliner LOIS was a really good white wine – citrusy and acidic. Finally the Cusuman Benuara was the first of several nice Sicilian wines that we tasted. It is a blend of Syrah and the indigenous Nero d’Avola, very smooth with a slight peppery finish. This wine also tied in nicely to two we sampled from Corvo winery in Sicily. The Corvo also consists of Nero d’Avola and is a medium bodied wine marketed to pasta and pizza lovers. We liked it straight – the cherry flavors and smooth finish. Corvo also produces an excellent white in the Corvo Bianco, made from the Insolia and Grecanico grapes. This is another food friendly wine – slightly acidic – but fruity. Plus they cost around $10.

Touchstone Wines introduced us to a few low priced wines, starting with the animus – a Portuguese wine from the Douro River Valley. It is a dry wine, medium bodied, and very smooth. From Germany they were pouring the Erben Riesling and the Erben Pinot Noir. This was our first German Pinot and it wasn’t bad. The Riesling matched our tastes exactly – it was made dry, but full of the typical Riesling fruit flavor. We also liked the Leonard Kreusch Rieslings and their Piesporter – also affordable at around $10.

There were also several nice French wines, starting with the Lansen Champagne. The black label brut was awesome – and apparently they also produce a nice rose. Chateauu D’Esclans was pouring several still rose wines made from their winery in Provence. Their entire portfolio was excellent but our overall favorite was the Garrus – made from 80 year old Grenache vines and Rolle. There were several excellent Bordeaux wines offered by Bernard Magrez Grand Vignobles. There was the Chateau Saint Genes – a complete Bordeaux blend, the Saint Emilion Grand Cru from Le Cadran du Chateau Fombrauge and the Les Douves du Chateau la Tour Carnet from Haut Medoc. In addition, the company was pouring an awesome Spanish wine, the Paciencia – 100% Tinto de Toro. This is a full bodied earthy wine. The final French wine that stood out was the Chateau D’Aussieres from Les Domaines Barons de Rothschild. It is a Rhone blend of Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre – full bodied with a strong cherry flavor and a smooth finish.

We wish we could have tried more, but with a flight home waiting, we had to cut our tasting short. The New York City Food & Wine Festival was a great event, next year we will try to attend more of the smaller events. But until then, there’s always South Beach.

Friday, October 17, 2008

New York City Wine & Food Festival - Day 1 Spirits

This past weekend we attend two days of the New York City Food & Wine Festival, a northern replica of the popular Food Network South Beach Food & Wine Festival. This festival ran from October 9th through 12th – four days of wine, spirits, and food demonstrations. Most of the events occurred in the modernized Meatpacking neighborhood in Chelsea – a district of outdoor cafes – resembling European urban areas. There were food parties, regional wine tasting, seminars, champagne parties, and the ShopRite grand tasting.

As usual for a Food Network event, several of their personalities were present, and on the 11th we stumbled upon our personal favorite Alton Brown - partnered with Rachel Ray – imparting food advice throughout the day at the Comix Kidz Korner series. As the pictures attest, kids and parents lined up early to see one of the four sold out shows. In a neighboring park we also visited a local farmer’s market sponsored by Greenmarket, where the fresh produce was shipped from Geneva – in the Finger Lakes. We sampled several of their inexpensive juices and were glad to see that they also carried Anthony Road wines. Today they were also giving food demonstrations – and advertising a charity dinner at the end of the month: The Taste of Greenmarket n the October 29th. In route to the grand tasting we also passed the Food Bloggers station – a nice courtesy to the online community.

The ShopRite Grand Tasting is a collection of food created from the city’s best chefs and wines and spirits distributed by Southern Wine & Spirits of New York. Maybe it was the sight of the Wines of Puerto Rico when we entered the Pier or the Maker Mark’s station at the entrance of the tent; but we decided to stick to spirits for the entire day. And what a spectacular array of spirits. It started with an excellent Serrallés Don Q Grand Anejo rum paired with steamed yucca on plantain leaves prepared by Hilton Caribe San Juan Lemongrass chef Mario Pagán. Accompanied by bartenders dancing to Latin music – we had a second sifter and a cocktail. The party had started.

The bartenders at Maker’s Mark were creating several cocktails from traditional Maker’s mark bourbon, the new r(i)1 rye whiskey, rum, and tequila. The Highland Nector was very popular – for me – the Bourbon County Crisp. Later in the day we had a chance to sample the r(i)1, which is being targeted by Beam Global Spirits and Wines to younger consumers. It’s a good product – slightly sweet and spicy – that we’d be happy sipping neat – but it was really good in the NYC r(i)1 Sour. We soon had a chance to taste our favorite vodka of the day – and there were several good products from Russia and Sweden. But the Norwegian Christiania vodka was what they advertised: “The World’s Smoothest Vodka” – at least today in New York. The vodka is made from organic Trondelag potatoes and Norwegian water vodka and the mixture is distilled six times before being charcoal filtered. All based on a 400 year old secret recipe originating in the court of Christian IV. Monarchs had the best life. Why did we like it? It is slightly sweet – and incredibly smooth: no burn at the finish. This is vodka worthy of a sifter. The same is true for the Whitley Neill Gin. Normally not fans of gin, this version is very appealing. It is a made with nine botanicals – including fruit from the Baobab tree (“The Tree of Life”) and Cape gooseberries. Johnny Neill has combined his family’s love for Africa with London Dry Gin to create a gin we can enjoy – more citrus than juniper. In fact the Baobab fruit has 6 times the vitamin C than an orange.

Close by, we found several of our favorite spirits from South Beach: Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva 12 year old, Vizcaya VXOP Cask 21, and Moleca Cachaça. The first is Venezuelan rum distilled in copper pot stills, then aged 12 years in oak. It is sweet with nutty and vanilla flavors – and smoooooth. The Vizcaya VXOP Cask 21 is also smooth – but really different from the Diplomatico. First, it is made from distilled pressed sugar cane – not molasses – which gives it a lighter flavor – or should I say - less nutty. It has some vanilla – but more of a honey flavor – with some butterscotch. Another great rum. Finally, the Moleca Cachaça brought back memories of mohitos and caipirinha. Both Silver and Gold are double distilled – producing a smooth spirit – with little burn. Half of our team enjoyed the Silver in cocktails, while the other half preferred the Gold in a sifter. Either way – Cachaça is a coming attraction and there was a larger selection at this tasting. Cabana Cachaça and Sagatiba Pura Cachaça are also double distilled and are each good representations of the product.

At this point, the day became a constant stream of unique new products – starting with Danny DeVito's Premium Limoncello. In South Beach, we had seen Mr. DeVito pouring his liqueur, but the crowds were too large to circumvent. Absent Mr. DeVito, the crowds today were smaller and we were finally able to try this liqueur. Many of our Italian friends have mentioned sipping Limoncello on lazy afternoons, but we had never tasted it. Now, we are “experts”. Limoncello is made by soaking the outer yellow layer of the lemon (the zest) in water and sugar, than combing with neutral grain spirits. The final product is diluted to about 60 proof. DeVito's Premium Limoncello differs from the standard by using organic Sorrento Lemons – known for their aromatics and flavors. In fact this product is the only Limoncello to earn an IGP (Protected Geographic Indication) Designation and is certified kosher. Plus, the bottle includes a "scratch and sniff" lemon. They’ve thought of everything. The liqueur is all lemon – in the aroma, through the flavor – to the tail. It is a little syrupy – but not sugary gritty. Some tasted a little mint, others pepper. Regardless, we all enjoyed it. Harbew Imports recommended several alternatives to drinking it neat – including creating a spritzer using soda water or mixing with sparkling Presecco. (We would spend the second day sampling this Italian grape to find a worthy partner to DeVito's Premium Limoncello.)

Moving on, we came upon the world’s only distiller of açaí - VeeV Açaí Spirit. The spirit is actually distilled in Idaho – using water from the Snake River and the Brazilian “super” fruit: Açaí. The fruit is well known in health food stores because it contains 57% more antioxidants than blueberries and has 30 times more heart-healthy anthocyanins than red wine. VeeV Spirits dilutes 90 proof neutral grain spirits with açaí juice, small quantities of prickly pear and acerola cherry juice, and water to arrive at the final 60 proof product. The cherry is the most pronounced ingredient – but the entire spirit is very smooth neat. However, the Reum brothers are counting on it to become an alternative to vodka in cocktails. We think it would be an interesting alternative to rum in a mohito.

While tasting the VeeV Açaí Spirit we affably heckled a fellow taster “guzzling” Lucid Absinthe at the adjacent table. Little did we know that this was actually David Jones the CEO of Castries and the creator of Castries Peanut Rum Crème – one of our two overall favorites of the day. This is one liquor that we strongly recommend purchasing immediately. Even after a past visit to St. Lucia we had no idea that peanuts were such a large part of their culture and apparently homemade peanut rum liquor is quite popular. Mr. Jones and his partners became their endeavor in 2002 and for five years they toiled to create the precise formula and physical production. Released last year, the Castries Peanut Rum Crème consists of roasted peanuts, spices, Madagascan vanilla, cream and aged St. Lucian rum. Incredible. And versatile. We stood for minutes listing the alternatives to mix with the cream liquor: espresso, chocolate, grand manier…..or by itself. It is a nicely balanced drink – the peanuts, spices and rum intertwine without hindering the other. Well done.

The other liquor we strongly suggest purchasing is also a cream liquor: the Irish made Coole Swan. This time the ingredients are Single Malt Irish Whiskey, Madagascan Vanilla, and Cote D’Ivorie Cocoa, and heavy dairy cream. This product shows with quality inputs and persistence – 231 variations in the formula – affordable and great tasting liquor can be produced. The product is awesome – the vanilla is more prevalent than the chocolate – and like the Castries – the cream and rum balances each other. Named after the WB Yeats poem, The Wild Swans at Coole, we can envision, passing the time with Coole Swan.

There were a couple other interesting spirits such as Chartreuse liqueurs and Suntory Yamazaki Single Malt Scotch. The former is a brand of liqueurs produced by French Carthusian Monks that are famous for their digestive qualities. The Chartreuse is made from alcohol mixed with 130 plants – in which only 2 monks actually know the identity of all. The Green Chartreuse is drier than the Yellow Chartreuse but sips from both immediately calmed our stomachs. There are two versions of the Suntory Yamazaki Single Malt Scotch a 12 year and an 18 year variety. The whiskey is made outside of Kyoto – using pure water used in Japanese tea ceremonies. In each case the malted barley is distilled in copper stills where only the middle cut of the second distillation is used to make the whiskey. The spirit is then stored in one of three types of oak barrels: American Bourbon, Spanish Sherry and Japanese. Whiskey from each barrel is blended together – producing a unique flavor. Obviously the 18 year old is more full bodied than the 12 year – but both have a less peaty flavor than standard Scotch. The 18 year old also has more of a cherry flavor whereas the 12 year old has more of a honey flavor. This is the best selling whiskey in Japan – we will see how it fares in the States.

And we can not forget to mention the food – perhaps the best we had sampled in similar festivals. There was excellent white pizza from Bayard Catering, beet mixtures, pasta, chocolate – but are absolute favorite was the smoked salmon prepared by Jim Botsacos of Molyvos. Most salmon is too fishy for our tastes – but this dish had little fish flavor – instead it was slightly smoky – and fresh.

After a last stop at the Wines of Puerto Rico, our day was done. Where else could one find such a large variety of spirits and liqueurs in one setting? Coming next – the wines.

Note: visit Compass Tours to view all pictures.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Foodbuzz Publisher Community Launches

WineCompass.com is pleased to partner with the Foodbuzz Publisher Community, which officially launched this week. This online community offers over 20,000 new food and dining content each week. Members can search for restaurant reviews in their area, or recipes, or even search for blog content submitted by over 1,000 global food bloggers - including WineCompass. If you enjoy a particular article - "buzz" it to the top of the daily submissions. And like every community, members can personalize their content and create a friends directory to share articles and recipes. We will see you online.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Epcot International Food & Wine Festival

For anyone traveling to Orlando, or are looking for a reason to, Epcot at Disney has been hosting their annual International Food & Wine Festival since September 26. The event lasts until November 9th and integrates smoothly into Epcot's region theme. Want to try a Canadian wine - try the Chateau des Charmes Riesling or Ice wine. In addition, there's Polish Vodka, Bicardi run smoothies, as well as wines from Greece, South Africa, New Zealand, Austria, France, Italy, Australia, Spain, Argentina, Chile, Lebanon (Chateau Musar) , and even India.

Yes wines from India. They were pouring Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc from Sula Vineyards. The winery is located northeast of Mumbai, Nashik - India’s largest grape-growing region. However noone thought about growing wine grapes there until Rajeev Samant quit his hi-tech Silicon Valley job in 1993 to determine why. He convinced Californian winemaker Kerry Damskey that the climate was similar to winegrowing regions in Spain, California, and Australia. After planting French Sauvignon Blanc and Californian Chenin Blanc in 1997, they released their first wines in 2000. We really liked the Chenin Blanc and will start looking for a local distributor.

The United States was represented by New York wineries, in particular, Fulkerson Winery and Merritt Estate Winery. During the short time we spent at the booth several participants were raving about Merritt's Bella Rosa - made from lambrusco grapes - and Fulkerson's Airship White - made from Niagara grapes.

There are also several wine and beer seminars. The Samuel Adams Brewery hosts several daily sessions in the America region. Throughout the event there are seminars concerning Bordeaux, Chile, Argentina, Italy, Australia, Sonoma, Mendocina, Napa - even Irish Mead. Plus there are numerous book signings, bottle signings, food paring, and music. Every day a talented artist performs in the America Gardens Theatre ending with Los Lobos November 8th and 9th.

However, the best experience for us at Epcot had nothing to do with the wine festival. We were stranded in "Germany" due to a typical heavy Florida downpour. Fortunately there was ample supplies of Spaten Octoberfest beer and Germany Riesling. Unfortunately the beverages were much more expensive than the low cost samples being served in the rain. We also stumbled upon the German Weinbar - which poured samples of several German wine styles including Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Lemberger, and ice wine. Make sure you examine the map showing the German wine growing regions. We were surprised to see Lemberger grown among the Riesling; we had assumed it would grow closer to Austria.

Needless to say, we had a great time at Epcot. Where else can you sample this diversity of wines, see Nemo and the Lion King, and race with GM. Fun for the entire family.