Friday, December 30, 2016

Rum Review: Bowman Pioneer Spirit Colonial Era Dark Small Batch Caribbean Rum

I'm a big fan of the A. Smith Bowman Distillery Pioneer Spirit bourbons, so when I saw the Pioneer Spirit Colonial Era Dark Small Batch Caribbean Rum for sale at $25 750ml, I grabbed a bottle. The rum was distilled from molasses and barrel aged in the Caribbean by a small distiller. The rum was then imported and bottled in Bowman's Fredericksburg, Virginia distillery. This is one instance where I agree with the official tasting notes: coconut and vanilla followed by sweet molasses, honey and brown sugar. The finish is relatively smooth neat and that's how I recommend sipping. Adding ice or a drop of water definitely mellows the alcohol and adds nut flavors but the finish becomes quite weak. Overall, a decent rum.

"During the late 17th century, imported rum became exceedingly popular in Colonial America. Early estimates of rum consumption in those colonies suggested every settler drank an average of three imperial gallons of rum each year. To support this demand, a substantial trade was developed between the Caribbean and the American Colonies. This trade of sugar, slaves, molasses and rum was quite profitable. The Sugar Act in 1764 disrupted this trade and may have helped cause the American Revolution. Nevertheless, the popularity of rum continued. This Dark Imported Rum commemorates George Bowman and other early American Colonists".

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Locations Wine - America's Left Coast

Last month we were impressed with a sample of Dave Phinney's Locations French, Spanish, & Argentinian Wines and that reaction continued with three more wines - this time from America's left coast of California, Oregon, and Washington. Like the European versions, Phinney selected the grapes and regions to best represent each state in it's entirety -- with the exception of the Oregon wine which is a true representation of Willamette Valley Pinot Noir.  In brief, these wines are delicious and at the SRP - a great value to consider.

OR4 Oregon Red Wine ($20) 100% Willamette Valley Pinot Noir aged ten months in French oak. Light bodied, cherry throughout, noticeable tannins and acids.

WA 4 Washinton Red Wine ($20) a blend of Syrah, Merlot and Petit Sirah and aged ten months in French and American oak. Delicious dark fruit, baking spices, and finishs with a very smooth tail.

CA4 California Red Wine ($20) a blend of Petite Sirah, Barbera, Tempranillo, Syrah, and Grenache harvested from Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and the Sierra Foothills and aged ten months in French oak. Dark fruit and chocolate, velvety mid, easy structured finish. My favorite of the trio. Excellent.

Friday, December 23, 2016

#VABreweryChallenge: Port City Brewing Company (#51)

I don't visit Alexandria's Port City Brewing Company enough and in fact it's slightly embarrassing that this was my first trip to the brewery since starting the #VABreweryChallenge. But I'll blame it on the brewery itself by providing a steady and reliable distribution throughout the area. Why drive 15 miles in DC traffic when my local beer store stocks their entire lineup?  And this lineup has been particularly solid since opening day six years ago; if you want to know how a particularly beer style should taste like - this is your stop.

No wonder Port City was the GABF Small Brewery of the Year in 2015. They were one of the first to help resurrect the Belgium Wit and their Optimal Wit is spot on. Want a mocha Porter - get the Port City Porter. Their Downright® Pilsner is a non-bready and balanced Bohemian version and their Essential Pale Ale® is an everyday beer. I'm a contrarian when it comes to IPAs but if I had to drink one, the Monumental® IPA at only 57 IBU is my go to. These are the flagships brews so during my visit I turned to the Ways & Means® Session Rye IPA. I generally avoid session beers - although I prefer the low abv - because it seems most are weak beers that are dry hopped to add some character. Not so with the Ways & Means. The rye adds spicy complexity and the hops are not overwhelming. This is my All Day IPA. And safe travels vising any brewery using theCompass Winery, Brewery, Distillery Locator Mobile App.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Wines of Chile and Snooth Present Carmenère Master Class

Carmenère, where to start? Originally from the Médoc region of Bordeaux, this Cabernet family grape was widely planted until the mid to late 1800s when it was wiped clean by Phylloxera and powdery mildew. Apparently the vines would prefer a warmer and drier climate than in SW France. When vineyards were replanted after the Phylloxera epidemic, Carmenère was ignored in favor of vines more suitable to the climate and this should have been the end of the story. However, viticulturists in Chile had mimicked Bordeaux when establishing that country's vineyards and had planted Carmenère alongside Merlot vines - perhaps thinking it was a clone.The grapes were harvested as a field blend and marketed as Merlot -- and Carmenère thrived in Chile's warm and dry environment.  In 1994, DNA analysis confirmed the grape's true identity and very soon marketed as Chile's signature grape. A similar situation also occurred in Northern Italy where Carmenère was thought to be a clone of Cabernet Franc but was confirmed to be otherwise in 1996 (See Carmenero - Ca' del bosco).  Today, the grape's plantings continue to expand beyond these two countries as it is being replanted in SW France and finding new homes in Oceania and the United States (California, Washington, and Virginia).

In 2016, International Carmenère Day (November 24th) fell on the American Thanksgiving holiday so Wines of Chile postponed a collaboration with Snooth until mid-December. During this Master Class, participants tasted through a large selection of Chilean (plus one Italian) Carmenère wines while learning about Chile's Central Valley wine region. The region is sub-divided into four smaller zones: Maipo Valley, Maule Valley, Curicó Valley, and Rapel Valley. The latter zone includes the famed Colchagua Valley - located on the foothills of the Andes and home to many of Chile's iconic wineries. Regarding exports to the United States, Carmenère is represented in about 30% of the blended wine, whereas as a single varietal it accounts for only 4% of U.S. imports. Here are the wines we sampled:

Cono Sur Bicicleta Carmenere Central Valley Chile 2015 ($9) 85% Carmenere and 15% other reds gives this wine a pepper, leathery nose, followed by a light bodied middle with easy yet noticeable tannin.  What a bargain at this price.

Casillero del Diablo Carmenere Reserva Central Valley Chile 2015 ($10) The "Cellar Devil"  starts with bell pepper and red fruit but fell a little flat on the finish.

Casas del Bosque Carmenere Reserva Rapel Valley 2015 ($11) Aged ten months in oak, this wine exudes big candied fruit, bright acids, a spicy finish, and lingering easy tannins. Another remarkable QPR.

Concha y Toro Serie Riberas Carmenere Gran Reserva Peumo 2014 ($14) This wine included 5% Cabernet Sauvignon and is part of the winery's Riverside vineyards from the Peumo Vineyard. It is a winner with it's rounded and herbaceous character and long spicy finish. Will become a household everyday wine.

Los Vascos Carmenere Grande Reserve Colchagua Valley 2013 ($18) Aged 12 months in French oak barrels, this wine is herbaceous and vege (peppers) with darker fruit; then a very smooth tail.

Apaltagua Red Blend Colchagua Valley Envero 2014 ($18) Comprised of 90% Carmenère and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon from 60+ year old vines located in the Colchagua Valley's Apalta region. Various oak regiments don't inhibit a lighter fruit profile and freshness. The Carmenère shines through.

Casa Silva Los Lingues Vineyard Carmenere Colchagua Valley 2014 ($20) Harvested from vines graowing at the foothills of the Andes at 1,100 feet, this is an elegant and well rounded wine. The 70 degree diurnal temperature variation also helps the grapes retain acidity adding brightness.  Very nice.

Colli Berici Oratorio di San Lorenzo Carmenere Riserva 2012 ($33) The 100% Italian Carmenere is from the Oratorio di San Lorenzo in Località San Germano dei Berici (Vicenza) which can now be labeled Carmenere Riserva D.O.C.. The wine matures for 18 months in oak and then another year in the bottle before release. This is a fantastic wine with dried fruit, dirt, then finishes with dark chocolate and structured tannins.

Montes Alpha Carmenere Colchagua Valley 2013 ($25) The flagship composed of 90% Carmenère and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and harvested from dry farmed vines in Apalta and Marchigüe. This wine has everything, sharp aromas, intense fruit followed by layers of texture and refreshing acidity and silky smooth tannins. Update 1/2/2017: Initially I had written "Just wish it fit more in line with my price range" when I thought the price was $52. In reality the correct SRP is $25.

Viña Maquis Viola Carmenere Colchagua Valley 2010 ($55) Includes 15% Cabernet Franc and is smokey throughout; which provides an interesting aspect. The grapes were harvested for their concentration (the smaller the size, the better)  and aged 14 months in French Oak after fermentation. Once the smoke profile subsides, a silky black fruit character emerges with smooth tannins.  The most intriguing of the bunch.

Purple Angel Colchagua Valley 2013 ($67) The 92% Carmenère and 8% Petit Verdot were harvest from Marchigüe and Apalta and aged 18 months in new French Oak after fermentation. Don't let that fool you into thinking this wine is overly oaked. The dark fruit shines worth in both texture and brightness. And the finish is oh so smooth. Recommended for those with a higher wine budget.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Blacksnake Meadery Hoppy Bee Brew - A Beer Drinkers Mead

Recently I discovered that my favorite Virginia mead producer, Blacksnake Meadery, had increased their distribution into Northern Virginia after finding a bottle of their Hoppy Bee Brew ($12) at Norms. Normally I have to venture down to southwestern Virginia - usually during Floydfest - in order to obtain a bottle. Incidentally proprietors Steve and Jo are avid music lovers and festival goers and I've bumped into them a few times in Floyd. The Hoppy Bee Brew is what you expect; a dry honey wine brewed with Cascade hops - which provide a little grapefruit character. Yet, the kicker is that each bottle is conditioned to provide a little carbonation to mimic a refreshing beer.  And for even more intensity, add a shot of rum.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Bourbon Review: Revisiting the Ancient Ancient Age 10 Star

Buffalo Trace's Ancient Age ($12-750ml) and the Ancient Ancient Age 10 Star ($16-750ml) were my entrance into bourbon many years ago.  The original Ancient Age has first introduced in 1946 when the distillery was known as the George T. Stagg Distillery. The 10 Star is a more recent label and is currently part of Buffalo Trace’s Mash #2. This mash is thought to be 13-15% rye and shared with Blanton’s, Hancock’s Presidential Reserve, and Elmer T. Lee, among others. At 90-proof and aged minimum 6 years, this is an easy sipper with noticeable honey in the nose and palate. There's also traces of vanilla and a bready rye character. The finish has little burn but lacks the complexity that I now favor in a neat bourbon. Thus, I recommend this value bourbon blended in a glass of eggnog and prefer others, such as the flagship Buffalo Trace, neat. 

Monday, December 12, 2016

Find Mineral and Acid Driven Chardonnay with #PureChablis

Many, many years ago, I remember relatives at family reunions quaffing wine from plastic cups. One source was a large bottle labeled Chablis, a generic American description for a light, perhaps off-dry white wine. In no way did it refer to the Burgundian wine region. And in no way did it resemble the mineral and acid driven Chardonnay the French Chablis region is known. Unfortunately it is still possible today to find mis-labelled American Chablis as the 2005 agreement with the EU, that was intended to end this practice, included a grandfather clause for producers who had been using the name. Why???

The Chablis to enjoy is in reality 100% Chardonnay from cold-climate northern Burgundy. The coldness traps acidity whereas the 150 million year old soil of Kimmeridgian Limestone - loaded with fossilized oyster shells - imparts noticeable amounts of minerals.  Obviously this isn't your new world chardonnay. The Chablis region also maintains a Appellation D'Origine Controllee system with four classifications: Petit Chablis, Chablis, Chablis Premier Cru, and Chablis Grand Cru. The first two are broader in nature; while the second two consist of specific climats - or micro-terroirs.

During a #PureChablis tasting last week, Chef Ryan Hardy and Wine Director Arvid Rosengren of NYC's Carlie Bird restaurant lead a discuss of five Chablis wine and the appropriate food pairing for each. I will update this post with links to these pairings when they become available. In the meantime, here are the wines we tasted:

Petit Chablis, La Chablisienne, 2015 ($15) The Petit Chablis "village" appellation can be produced across all the communes in the Chablis region. Petit wines usually come from a slightly different type of soils, called Portlandian limestone.This wine starts with light apples and limes, then saline, and refreshing acids - a great value.

Chablis “Vauprin”, Roland Laventureux, 2014 ($26) - The appellation village of Chablis is produced in a specific list of communes. This "village" level wine is from a single vineyard and possesses tropical fruit and citrus, mint, chalky minerals, and fresh acids.  Very delicious. Food pairing: Razor Clams, Fennel, and Pickled Chiles

Chablis Premier Cru, Vaillons, Domaine Daniel Dampt, 2015 ($32) This wine is from the left bank of Chablis and in general, the Premier Crus add a layer of complexity and intensity. This wine has both plus stone fruit and melons, saline, and noticeable acids. Food pairing: Montauk Fluke, Espelette, Lime & Olio Nuovo

Chablis Premier Cru, Fourchaume, William Fèvre, 2014 ($45) This wine is from the right bank, right next to Grand Cru plots. Fourchaume is well known among Chablis lovers and for good reason. The wine is excellent: green apples and lemons, hefty dose of minerals, bombastic acids.

Chablis Grand Cru, Valmur, Jean-Claude Bessin, 2014 ($54) Chablis Grand Cru accounts for only 2% of Chablis production. As Rosengren noted, this wine is "both rounder and more muscular at the same time". It is fantastic: pineapple aroma, saline and minerals, rounder, chalky, and strong acids.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

A Week of Terlato Wines Traveling Through Napa, Sonoma, Sicily, & Tuscany

Last week I enjoyed four wines delivered to my door by Terlato Wines, the wine importer, producer and marketer who's global portfolio consists of more than 40 brands. These wines represented well known regions such as Napa, Sonoma's Russian River Valley, Tuscany, plus a second Italian region - Sicily. Here are my notes. Cheers

Markham Vineyards 2014 Napa Valley Merlot ($26) Solid wine and great value. Cherries and leather, structure, noticeable tannins.

Hanna Winery 2015 Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($20) Closer to New Zealand than California, with it's creamy lemongrass, minor tropical fruits, and refreshing acidity.

Cusumano Alta Mora Rosso 2014 ($24) The most fascinating wine of the foursome, from Sicily's Mt. Etna appellation and 100% Nerello Mascalese. The indigenous grapes are harvested from the slopes of an active volcano 4,000 feet in elevation.  Similar to Nebbiolo, the thick skin grape are known for string tannins and enhanced acidity. And this wine features these elements as it comes across extremely dry and minerally - a food pairing wine with dominate tannins and acids.

Cecchi Classico Classico 2014 ($22) Another great value wine that we covered in more detail during 300 years of Chianti Classico with Cecchi Family Estate.  Sangiovese that starts with a refreshing fruit forward character.which transitions to a well rounded, structured, and lingering finish. Perhaps from the acids.  A complete bargain at this SRP.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Learning about Troon Vineyard & Oregon's Applegate Valley on #Winestudio

The Willamette Valley and it's sub-regions seems to receive the bulk of attention when discussing Oregon wine, but after this month's #WineStudio, southern Oregon should receive equal treatment. Specifically, I am referring to the Applegate Valley AVA where Troon Vineyard is one of eighteen wineries operating in this sub-AVA within the Rogue Valley AVA.

Located approximately 50 miles from the California border and 90 miles from the Pacific, the Applegate Valley possesses a moderate climate. It is enclosed by the Siskiyou Mountains with an opening to the Pacific that provides cooling breezes and a large diurnal shift (50 degrees or more). Soils are predominately granite - similar to Beaujolais, Alsace and the Languedoc. And because of several diverse micro-climates there are over 70 grape varieties planted -- many originating from southern France and the Italian coasts and islands.

Modern viticulture didn't return to the Applegate Valley until 1972 when Dick Troon planted his vineyard and Frank Wisnovsky planted grapes while restoring Valley View Winery. (Valley View was one of the first wineries in Oregon -- opening in 1854.)  After starting Troon Vineyard in 1972,  Dick Troon eventually sold the property to the Martin family who are still the proprietors. Recently they hired wine expert, social media maverick, and talented blogger Craig Camp as their General Manager. During November's #WineStudio, Craig virtually walked us through the Applegate Valley, Troon's vineyards, and the wine-making philosophy of Steve Hall.

According to Craig, "winemaking at Troon is straightforward". The grapes are harvested and field sorted by a full time vineyard crew. All grapes are then crushed by foot and fermented outside by natural indigenous yeasts with only hand punch downs. Apparently foot crushing is actually gentler than a press. Whites see an additional natural fermentation in mature French Oak. And Camp emphasized that "there are no acids, sugar or enzymes added to any of the wines".  The results are impressive based on the three wines we sampled.

2014 Troon Black Label Vermentino, Applegate Valley ($29)  Rests on its lees for 12 months in oak and co-fermented with 4.5% Early Muscat. Enhanced aromatics and texture are readily apparent from this approach. There is also a noticeable saline or mineral character and bitter almonds.  Finishes with refreshing acids. Very nicely done.

2014 Troon Blue Label Sangiovese, Rogue Valley ($29) Co-fermented with 8% Syrah and the anti-Super Tuscan. The wine is light bodied, but complex and flavorful body staring with red cherries and transitioning to bacon. Yes, bacon; although that sensation mellowed over time. The subtle tannins contribute to a very smooth finish.

2014 Troon Black Label M*T, Applegate Valley ($50) Co-fermented Malbec 40% and Tannat 60% that is a similar blend to some Cahors and Madiran wines. Craig believes that the structure enhancing Tannat may be the premier grape variety in the valley whereas the Malbec provides velvety qualities. Tannat usually imparts aggressive tannins, but these are muted both by the Malbec and the granite soils that encourage more rounded tannins.  This wine is a home run. Dense black fruit, structure and smooth but noticeable tannins.