Sunday, August 29, 2010

Cruising in Adams County Pennsylvania

For the past couple years we've been following the Skyla Burrell Blues Band - seen them in Florida and Baltimore - but never at a regular stop in their touring schedule: Adams County Winery. Perfect for MyJoogTV; an awesome blues band and a venue that produces wine; but not the wine we are accustomed to in northern Virginia. Since 90% of their customers prefer sweet wines, that is the style the winery produces. There are some dry and off-dry wines to appease the owner's palette - as well as any other dry wine drinkers who visit - but the majority of wines range from semi-sweet to sweet. The grapes are not your typical vinifera varieties either. Yea, there's a Cabernet, a Chardonnay, and a Riesling; but most wines are made from native labrusca (niagara, concord, catawba, cayuga); hybrids (vidal and traminette); or fruit. For our tasting with the Skyla Burrell Blues Band, owner John Kramb chose their three best selling wines: Tears of Gettysburg (majority Niagara); Rusty's Red (Concord and Niagara) and Scrapple - a sweet cranberry\apple wine. Yes the wines were sweet; but not sickly so - just enough to enhance the fruit flavors. We also learned the production process in order to make sweet wines and we discussed the blues. Then we sat and listened to a great set - all original rockin' blues.

Since we don't make it out to Adams County too often we left before the second set to explore two other wineries in the region. The first was Reid's Orchard & Winery - new to the wine business but an operating orchard for the past 35 years. Some of the grape varieties were similar to those at Adams County Winery - but there was more viniferia - Pinot Noir Syrah, Zinfandel, and Sangiovese. And better yet, Mr. Reid blends these - not many single varietal reds available. That's what we like to see. And they are not bad al all - try the Trioka or the Reid's Red. And like Adams County Winery - they have a satellite tasting facility in downtown Gettysburg.

We intended to head to Appalachian Brewing Company in downtown Gettysburg - but saw a sign for Hauser Estate Winery. Why not. This is another new winery which we were vaguely familiar since the Skyla Burrell Blues Band plays at the venue on some Friday nights. And these must be fun nights - the view is fantastic - overlooking the historic Round Barn and the rolling hills into Gettysburg. Since we had one more stop, we limited our tasting to the ciders and lower end wines; the premiums will wait another day. The ciders were excellent - particularly those blended with multiple apple varieties. The wines - a little disappointing. Most were single varietals that lacked flavor and depth. Maybe we should have gone directly to the premium list. But we will be back one night when Skyla's on the patio.

We finally made it into Gettysburg and rolled in right next to General Lee's Headquarters. That's the location for the Appalachian Brewing Company. We had intended to head north into Harrisburg to their main brewery - but decided a shorter trip was more prudent. And the beers are the same - brewed in Harrisburg and shipped south. We chose a sampler - eight beers - which gave us a good representation of the brewery's portfolio. Interestingly we enjoyed all but the seasonals - threw them back. But the main line is good - just what you would expect from each style - except for the Pale Ale. That beer has subtle hops - which allows the malt flavor to dominate - no west coast pale ale here. But their IPA is the hop bomb and really cleans the palette. If trying multiple beers - be warned - drink this last or else the lighter beers will taste bland. When in fact, the lighter beers are perhaps the strength of their styles. The lager has more flavor then any lager we've had previously and the hefe - is quite nice. We look forward to heading all the way into Harrisburg - that's where the music is - and a hotel.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Poor, Poor Wine Corks

Boy, have times changed when screw caps were the ugly duckling. Take a look at this BBC report: Putting the screw on wine corks

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Harvest Hosts: Something New for RV Vineyard Travelers

Courtesy of the Norton Travelers:

Disclaimer: The writer is a member, but not associated with the Harvest Hosts organizers.

Do you travel by RV (recreational vehicle) and enjoy visiting vineyards? This is the case for us. There have been long trips made bearable with vineyard tour breaks along the way. And there have been trips made specifically to visit vineyards in only one geographical area or state. Over the years we have stayed overnight at vineyards with the permission of the owners. This has been usually because of vineyard events, literally getting lost, or waiting for next day winery opening hours. Now there is a new RV vineyard travel venue provided by Harvest Hosts.

Already in Harvest Hosts? first year of operation, there are over 160 vineyards (with new additions each month) belonging to a winery organization that allows you to stay overnight with them at no cost. Sure, there are wineries sporting full service fee camping with water and electricity in Arkansas, Idaho, Virginia, etc., but with a Harvest Hosts annual membership you get a downloadable listing of select vineyards that will let you stay without hookups FREE. Since most RVs are self-contained units, the possibilities of wine tour travel is unlimited from Florida-to-Maine-to-Washington State-to-California and almost every state in between.

FREE does not come without some very easy to live with restrictions and a simple Harvest Hosts membership Code of Conduct which includes: courtesy; calling ahead for confirmation space; arriving during business hours; checking if the host allows pets; staying no longer than 24 hours; take all trash with you; etc. Realize that these selected vineyard sites are not campgrounds, but are hosts that invite you to stay onsite and visit their winery. Required calling ahead secures if an overnight site is available. Most vineyards are limited to 1-to-4 vehicle and not available during special events as reunions, weddings, business receptions, or when they may be seasonally closed.

Benefits have included sitting quietly at a closed vineyard by yourself viewing sunsets with wine in hand, meeting some truly interesting vintners after winery hours, sharing with others lovely wines and travel ideas, or eating evening gourmet meals at the vineyard?s restaurant and retiring comfortably to your nearby RV. If you can live without RV hookups, a few common sense rules, and enjoy visiting vineyards, let me encourage you to look into Harvest Hosts (http://www.harvesthosts.com/).

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Sierra Nevada Brewing Company 30th Anniversary Jack & Ken's Ale

It's hard to believe but the pioneering craft brewer, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company is celebrating it's 30th Anniversary. To commemorate this longevity the brewery is offering a few anniversary beers - including the one I purchased: Jack & Ken's Ale. The beer was made in honor of and with participation from Jack McAuliffe, who was the first American "micro" brewer. "His tiny New Albion Brewery in Sonoma, California inspired countless dreamers to start small-scale breweries of their own" - including Ken Grossman and Sierra Nevada. "This Black Barleywine Ale is a nod to the legendary ales New Albion served at their legendary summer solstice parties". This is a barley wine, made strong (over 10% abv), dark and full bodied. It is extremely smooth however, and I finished the bottle after a 15 mile bike rode. Very refreshing for a strong dark beer. The reason - a nice balance of malt and hops.

Virginia First Lady visits several Northern Virginia Wineries

For the first two days of this week, First Lady Maureen McDonnell will conduct a series of wine tours in Northern Virginia as a part of The First Lady’s Initiatives Team Effort. The group will visit Chrysalis Vineyards, Breaux Vineyards, Tarara Vineyards, Pearmund Cellars, Rappahannock Cellars, Philip Carter Winery. No doubt she will be able to sample some excellent Viognier, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot - grape varieties that do very well in the region.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

MyJoogTV:Uncle Dave Huber @ Black Ankle Vineyards

Last night we filmed our third episode of MyJoogTV, where we pair musicians with makers of wine, beer, and spirits. This show featured Ed Boyce, co-owner of Black Ankle Vineyards in a discussion of wine and blues with Uncle Dave Huber, a local blues musician. Specifically, we discussed terrior, Black Ankle wines, markets, and the blues. We then filmed a couple songs performed by Uncle Dave. The video podcast should be available at the end of the month.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Sunset Hills Vineyard: Cabernet Franc Tasting

Yesterday I escaped the suburbs for a taste of wine in Loudoun wine country by visiting Sunset Hills Vineyard. I had intended to sample some wine along with our friend, Jim Corcoran from neighboring Corcoran Vineyards, but instead participated in a wine tasting class hosted by Sunset Hill's winemaker, Nate Walsh. Sunset Hills is now known for their fabulous Viognier, but this class was an introduction to their Cabernet Franc offers through a vertical and horizontal tasting. Mr. Walsh lead us through five cabernet franc wines, some styles within the same year (horizontal) and others from differing years (vertical).

He first explained why Cabernet Franc is well suited for the Virginia climate. First, the grape seems to thrive in the clay soils. Second, the grape ripens early and is thus relatively unaffected by late season rain. Yes, Virginia can receive abundant late summer or early fall rain thanks to hurricanes or tropical storms moving north. Since the grape ripens early, this excess rain will not result in the plant generating more juice, thus diluting the overall concentration. And finally, Cabernet Franc grows in loose clusters, which enables air to move between the individual grapes - reducing chances of mold or rot that normally would result from the regions high summer humidity.

Now for the wines. We started with a dry rose, which actually contains a hint of sweetness from not allowing all the grape's sugar to ferment. However this sweetness is nicely balanced with an acidic finish - a nice summer wine. We then sampled a vertical tasting from grapes harvested from Benevino Vineyards. This estate lies higher in elevation and with more limestone soils, thus producing a different flavor composition from Sunset Hill's estate grown Cabernet Franc. The 2008 was made in a lighter style whereas the 2009 was given extended maturation which means after fermenting the juice sat with the skins and seeds for a few additional weeks. The result of yearly differences and this winemaking technique is a fuller wine. Even though this wine will remain in the barrel for another year, I liked it a lot more than the 2008.

We tasted the last two wines out of order - accidents happen - starting with the 2007 Reserve Cabernet Franc. It is well known the 2007 was an incredible growing season in Virginia, and this wine reflects the year. The winery also reduced yields, resulting in even more concentrated fruit. The result is an outstanding wine - full bodied, tannins suitable for aging - but not overpowering. Today may have been the last time tasting this one - supplies are very limited. We then retreated to the 2008 Cabernet Franc which wasn't bad; but after the '07, any comparison would be unfair. But it was a nice exercise in the difference that a single year can make. While not as full bodied, it has more pepper and spices than the preceding year and less tannins. Overall, not a bad wine.

After the class I did get a chance to share a bottle of the 2007 Reserve Cabernet Franc with Jim and a couple new friends. With Patty Reese playing in the background it was the best possible example why its worthy to drive an hour into the country: good wine, music, and friends.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

New Brewery in Northern Virginia: Mad Fox Brewing Company

We've always lamented the lack of brewpubs in Northern Virginia. Yes there are a few, but with traffic, they might as well be two states away. However, that situation was alleviated this July with the opening of Mad Fox Brewing Company in Falls Church. The brewpub\restaurant is owned and operated by Bill Madden and Rick Garvin, the former a well known brewer, the later a Master Beer Judge in the Beer Judge Certification Program. Nice pedigrees. In fact Madden is mostly known for his work at Capital City Brewing in Washington DC and Vintage 50 in Leesburg, Virginia. Now he has his own place. The brewpub is located in the middle of Falls Church on Broad Street and features several German beer styles that Madden has mastered.

We arrived this past Saturday to a packed bar - but the brewpub is spacious enough to allow us to grab a seat. There were several families in attendance which was good to note for future outings. Plus the kitchen cooks every meal from scratch - event the cucumbers are pickled in house. However, instead of a food, we stuck to the beers and tried five brews: Altbier, Kolsch, Lindy's Weisse, 80 Shilling, and Wee Heavy. The first and last were our overall favorites - but don't ignore the middle. In order to mimic the flavors from those made in the German Dusseldorf region, Madden uses Munich and Chocolate wheat malts along with Spalt hops to create a perfectly balanced beer. Flavorful and smooth with a slight hop tail. The Kolsch will be our beer of choice when coming off the bike path. It is hoppier than most Cologne versions but the extra hops adds just enough refreshing characteristics to make this more than just a "light" beer. We were glad to see a hefeweisen offered and their Lindy's Weisse is a true Bavarian style Hefe. It is unfiltered, yeasty, and full of wheat flavor that includes an interesting mix of citrus and banana. Next up was the 80 Shilling served from the cask and this was actually a little disappointing. Just no real flavor - and we usually enjoy beers from the cask because the lower carbonation and higher serving temperatures usually enhance the flavor. This beer was soon forgotten when we sipped the Wee Heavy, a Scottish Ale and served in a sifter (8.6% abv). This is a sweet beer - some toffee flavors and is lightly hopped - just a full styled beer. Nicely done.

There is no doubt that the Mad Fox Brewing Company will become a regular stop in our beer adventures. Plus living so close and being less than a mile from the Old Dominion bike path makes it all too easy to become a regular. See you there.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Forgotten Grapes

When Wine-Compass.com first started we published a regular Wine 101 series featuring relatively unknown grapes - primarily of the labrusca variety, but also some hybrids, muscadine, norton, and viniferia grapes. Over time we fell behind posting new articles on the subject and eventually the series fading away. However, this week we discovered a wine writer who has created a similar series - albeit way more robust than anything we published. The writer is Chris Kern and the website, ForgottenGrapes.com. Mr. Kern spends more time on "forgotten" viniferia varieties than our series - which is a good thing - since many of these grapes are popular in other parts of the world. Based out west, Kern has scheduled several “Getting Friendly with Forgotten Grapes” seminars at wineshops along the east coast. Prices vary for each event, but each include generous pours of each of the five Forgotten Grape wines, and a cheese plate paired with the wine. If you are unable to attend one of these events, we most definitely recommend visiting ForgottenGrapes.com to increase your knowledge and appreciation of these grapes.
  • Tues., August 17th Baltimore, MD V-NO Wine Bar in Fells Point
    905 South Ann Street in Baltimore
    First wine poured at 6:30pm
    . $29 per person includes the show and pours of all five Forgotten Grape varietals. For reservations call V-NO at (410) 342-8466

  • Wed., August 18th Arlington, VA Twisted Vines Bottleshop & Bistro
    2803 Columbia Pike in Arlington
    First wine poured at 6:30pm
    . $35 per person includes the show and pours of all five Forgotten Grape varietals. Food will also be available for purchase at Twisted Vines. For reservations call Twisted Vines at (571) 482-8581

  • SPECIAL FIVE-COURSE FORGOTTEN GRAPES-PAIRED GOURMET DINNER
    Fri., August 20th Wilmington, NC Temptations Everyday Gourmet

    3501 Oleander Drive, Suite 13 in the Hanover Center
    Dinner begins at 6:30pm
    . $75 per person includes the show, pours of all five Forgotten Grape varietals, and five specially prepared culinary creations from two of Wilmington’s Top Chefs, Michael Comer and Virginia Thompson, paired with each Forgotten Grape wine
    For reservations call Temptations at (910) 763-6662

  • Sat., August 21st Wilmington, NC The Seasoned Gourmet
    1930 Eastwood Road, Suite 105 in the Lumina Commons
    Dinner begins at 6:30pm
    . $45 per person includes the show, pours of all five Forgotten Grape varietals, and five unique “tapas-style” bites created by The Seasoned Gourmet owner and culinary mastermind Susan Boyles to complement each Forgotten Grape wine. For reservations call The Seasoned Gourmet at (910) 256-9488

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Chesapeake Crab & Beer Festival

Anyone looking for a great festival at the end of August, take a look at the Chesapeake Crab & Beer Festival. This festival is produced by the same company who brings us Das Best Oktoberfest and The Beer Bourbon & BBQ Festival. The event occurs August 21st from noon-7:00pm at National Harbor. Here's the link for the beer vendors; plenty of Heavy Seas and Brewery Ommegang on tab. And get ready to listen to Looking for Lester and Junk Food. Besides loads of beer and crabs, here's what to expect:

* Lots of Summer Time Fun For The Whole Family
* THOUSANDS of CRABS and other great foods on-hand.
* There will be over 50 beers, wines and a few spirits. All of your favorite craft beers and perfectly paired wines will be served to highlight the seafood on-hand.
* Enjoy The Heavy Seas Beer Experience
* Enjoy The “Soon To Be World Famous” Chilled Tequila Tasting Bar. Margaritas and Wine-A-Ritas available for additional purchase.
* Taste The Great Food. There is Great Crabs and MORE CRABS and MORE CRABS and even MORE CRABS.
* Other great food options will be on-site as well for an additional purchase - summer favorites like hot dogs, hamburgers, sausages, pit beef, barbecue and other options.
* Live Music on The Main Stage! Enjoy the Sounds of local and regional favorite bands as they rock the waterfront.
* Special Kids Area and Family Fun Zone. Come and enjoy the moon bounces, activity centers and other great options so that the little ones can come out and enjoy too.
* Thousands of Tables and Chairs and Huge Tents for crackin’ to your heart’s content undercover with the beautiful summer breezes from the water. We’ve even ordered enough crab paper to stretch all the way across The Potomac and back.
* All the show features are undercover- so Rain or Shine- you should be fine.

MyJoogTV:Holy Ghost Tent Revival @ Flying Dog Brewery

Tonight we film our second episode of MyJoogTV, where we pair musicians with makers of wine, beer, and spirits. This show will feature Holy Ghost Tent Revival in a discussion of beer and music with Abby Casarella, from Flying Dog Brewery. We plan on discussing touring, beer labels, Frederick, and anything else that comes to mind. We will then follow HGTR to Cafe Nola where they will be performing this evening. The show starts at 9:00 and best of all, it's FREE; come on out to see a great show. Plus Flying Dog beer is served at the cafe. And the video podcast should be available at the end of the month.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Zwack Maximilian

As a small country, Hungarian produces an abundant assortment of beer, wine, spirits, and liquors. One that I have always shied away from is the very popular Zwack Unicum - a licorice flavored digestif liquor that was first produced in 1790 during the Habsburg dynasty. However, when Mrs WineCompass returned with a bottle containing the Zwack label, I took a deeper interest into the distillery and found a very adventurous and enduring family history.

The bottle in question was the recently released Zwack Maximilian, a brandy made in Kecskemet from late harvest Furmint grapes grown in the Tokaj region. Great grape, great growing region - a nice start. Then the brandy is aged in oak barrels, bottled by hand, and the result is a fine, fine brandy. And it has an interesting story - made from a long lost family recipe first concocted in 1912.

From 1790 to the second world war, the Zwack distillery operated continually in Budapest under several forms of government - mostly unopposed. However, the WWWII was different and the distillery was destroyed along with the rest of the city from American bombers and Soviet troops. The rest is from the company's history page:

  • "After the war, during which the family lived in a cellar with two unexploded bombs, which they nicknamed Rózsa and Zsuzsa, over their heads, Mitzi's two brothers, János and Béla, completely rebuilt the factory using the most modern technology available at the time.When, in 1948, the firm was finally ready to resume production at pre-war levels, the newly instated Communist government confiscated everything the family possessed with no compensation and "the world as I knew it", to quote Péter Zwack the present heir to the Zwack Company, "came to an end". János fled to the West sitting on his shooting stick under an upturned barrel with the Unicum recipe in his breast pocket, having bribed the Russian drivers to take him across the border. Béla chose to remain in Hungary, and was deported, together with thousands of other "class enemies", to eke out a miserable existence on the Great Hungarian Plain. Péter Zwack took a train to the Yugoslav border and then walked his way to Trieste where, with an overwhelming surge of joy and relief, he saw the British fleet at anchor in the bay.
  • Péter Zwack returned to Europe in 1970. By then Unicum was already being successfully marketed and distributed in Italy, while Péter Zwack's role became that of opening up new markets and reviving old ones. As the winds of change swept over the whole Eastern bloc, Péter started to receive overtures from Hungary inviting him to return and take over the running of this old family factory.
  • In 1987, while Hungary was still a Communist country, he took a gamble and returned home together with his family.
  • Initially he entered into a Joint Venture with the Hungarian State and then in 1991, together with his partner, Emil Underberg, also a family company, he repurchased the entire State-owned conglomerate incorporating thirteen factories and thirteen hundred workers."

Today the distillery operates out of Kecskemet, a plant I must visit on our next trip overseas. And as for Unicum, maybe I was sampling the communist version and not the family version. The Zwack Maximilian - may last another week.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

HR 5034 - CNN

Our friend Dezel from My Virginia Wine Spot was featured in this CNN clip regarding H.R. 5034. The battle is ongoing, contact your rep today.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

MyJoogTV: Cadillac Sky @ Tarara Winery

Last night we filmed our inaugural episode of MyJoogTV, where we pair musicians with makers of wine, beer, and spirits. This show featured bluegrass sensation Cadillac Sky in a discussion of wine and music with Jordan Harris, the winemaker at Tarara Vineyard & Winery. Specifically we discussed the similarities with winemaking and composing music as well as the shared experience of facing critics - consumers, experts, and within the industry. During the discussion we sampled three yet to be bottled wines in Tarara's new "Nova" series. These wines are made from the best grapes grown in specific vineyards or appellations and the futures are actually already sold out. The episode also includes a songs from Cadillac Sky's performance that evening at the winery and should be ready for download in two weeks. Thanks also to Echo Propp, from WAMU Bluegrass Country, for participating as well.

Episode 1: Cadillac Sky @ Tarara Winery