Saturday, December 9, 2017

Say Hello to Xion and Pazo Cilleiro Rías Baixas Albariño

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 4, 2017

More Spirits and Craft Beer in Ocean City, Maryland

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

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


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

Friday, December 1, 2017

Bourbon Barrel Aged Wine with Barrel Road Red Blend

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

Friday, November 24, 2017

A Tale of Two Zins for National Zinfandel Day

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

#FirstSipNZ with a Trio from Villa Maria Estate Winery

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

Friday, November 17, 2017

Discovering the Symphony Grape at Oak Crest Vineyard & Winery

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

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

Monday, November 13, 2017

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

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

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

Friday, November 10, 2017

BlueDyer Distilling: Distilled and Bottled in Waldorf Maryland

"Distilled and Bottled in Waldorf Maryland" is what you see on each bottle of BlueDyer Distilling spirits as this two year old distillery is the southernmost in the Old Line State. And its an ideal stop along Route 301 for those visiting Virginia's Northern Neck wine region.

The operation was founded by Ryan Vierheller and Walker Dunbar and pays homage to a family tradition of distilling as Ryan’s great-grandfather’s copper pot still is displayed behind the tasting bar. In fact, his family started farming, milling, and distilling in 1720 -- augmenting the production of blue dye from indigo. This occurred in southern Pennsylvania which makes one wonder if they were involved in the Whiskey Rebellion. And it was Ryan's grandfather, with the family now living in Stafford County Virginia, who taught Ryan the distilling process.

The current "BlueDyer" operation utilizing a 165-gallon hybrid re-flux still with three bubble caps and stresses quality at fair prices. Very fair prices. The current lineup includes their signature rum, a heavily corn based whiskey, and two gins.  And as always, you can find this distillery using theCompass Craft Beverage Finder. Cheer.

Original Gold Rum ($24, 80 Proof)
BlueDyer's flagship spirit and based on a family recipe. This rum is made from molasses and pure cane sugar, distilled four times, and finished in high charred oak barrels from Minnesota. This short aging process allows the oak to round out the flavors and dampen the alcohol without overshadowing the sweet profile. It is medium bodied, extremely smooth, with hints of honey. Tasty and a bargain at this price.

BlueDyer Bourbon Mash Whiskey ($35, 80 Proof)
This whiskey is composed of a bourbon mash of 80% corn, 7% rye grain, and 13% malted barley; distilled four times; and aged in charred oak casks with cherry wood used as a finishing flavor. Another medium bodied spirit without major oak influences, the sweet corn profile is prevalent followed by the mellowing influence of the barley and a little spice from the rye. Clearly more flavor than 100% corn moonshine and should be a preferred cocktail base for bartenders.

BlueDyer Gin ($26, 80 Proof)
This grain based gin meets my preferred flavor profile - as little juniper as legally possible with a broader amount of citrus botanicals. I enjoy this neat as the citrus provides a clearly superior taste over a traditional vodka and lime. I think I'm returning to gin. Nicely done.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Don Ciccio & Figli and Sunny Sweeney Deliver Trophies

Washington DC is a growing spirits town with most of the new distilleries concentrating on gin. However there's one celebrating the fruit liqueur from Southern Italy's Amalfi Coast: Don Ciccio & Figli.  Francesco ‘Ciccio’ Amodeo, President and Master Distiller, grew up along the Amalfi Coast where his family has been distilling fruit liqueur since 1883. Sadly after both his grandfathers resuscitated the distillery in the 1950s,  a massive earthquake destroyed the facility in 1980. But in October 2012 Amodeo continued this family legacy by opening Don Ciccio & Figli in Northwest DC  specializing in bitter aperitifs and fruit liqueur such as the Don Ciccio & Figli - Fragola Strawberry Liqueur ($33). This spirit weighs in at only 25% ABV and uses only fresh strawberries with not artificial flavoring. The profile is slightly sweet, but a decent bite that's noticeable and without heat. I sipped neat, but my family created Prosecco based cocktails - use brut and not extra dry or dry.  

The Fragola's flavor profile reminded me of Texas singer-songwriter Sunny Sweeney, particularly with her latest release Trophy.  Her voice is sweet with a a pure country sound whereas the songs on the album are stinging and emotional. The signature song is the playful Better Bad Idea but more seriously there's Pass the Pain followed by Pills, Bottle by My Bed, and my favorite I Feel Like Hank Williams Tonight. Written by Chris Wall this song is solemn but peaceful. Listen to the end as Unsaid showcases her strong vocals. This album should catapult Sweeney to the forefront of the County Music scene as is happening in the Americana world - it's one serious album.  Cheers to Sweeney and Don Ciccio & Figli.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

A Trio of Wine from Murrieta’s Well While Listening to The White Buffalo

Although owned and operated by members of the Chardonnay-famed Wente family, Murrieta’s Well grows 20 different grape varieties at their Livermore Valley AVA estate. In fact the original vineyard was planted using cuttings from the Bordeaux estates of Chateau d’Yquem and Chateau Margaux back in 1884. Today, this estate is segmented into specific vineyards based on the property's various micro-climates, with the Hayes vineyard providing grapes for eleven varieties. Many of these varieties are included in three blends I recently received from the winery -- all showcasing the delicious wines being produced at Murrieta's Well as well as the larger Livermore Valley.

Murrieta’s Well The Spur Red Wine Blend Livermore Valley 2014 ($30) is a blend of 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Petite Sirah, 14% Petit Verdot, 10% Merlot, and 9% Cabernet Franc grown in different vineyards throughout estate. The wine was fermented independently and after blending aged 24 months in 50% new, 25% second use, and 25% third use French oak. This is a very pleasant wine; smooth and chewy; yet enough dark cherries and spices to complement the soft tannins. A neighborhood favorite. 

Murrieta’s Well Dry Rosé Livermore Valley 2016 ($30) is a blend of 55% Grenache and 45% Counoise - the later a Rhone grape variety allowed into the blend of Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine. The grapes are grown in the estate Hayes vineyard, gently pressed and cold fermented separately. This wine is all strawberries from head to tail complemented by melons and crisp acids.

Murrieta’s Well The Whip White Wine Blend Livermore Valley 2015 ($24) is a blend of 30% Sauvignon Blanc, 30% Semillon, 30% Chardonnay, 7% Viognier, and 3% Muscat Canelli grown in different vineyards in the winery's estate. Most of the juice was fermented in stainless steal, although a portion of the Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc were fermented in small oak barrels. The the blended wine is aged 14 months where 1/3 in used French Oak and 2/3 in stainless steel tanks. This process provides a roundness and creaminess in addition to the bright flavors and acidity. And the aromatics from the Viognier and Muscat Canelli account for the stone fruit and floral launch. Nicely done.

These wines were paired with the latest release from The White Buffalo, Darkest Darks, Lightest Lights. LA-based songwriter Jake Smith writes meaningful folk songs performed in the various styles of blues, rock, and soul. The feature track Avalon is getting plenty of airplay on SiriusXM Outlaw Country; this is one catchy tune. The album oscillates from the gritty to the ballads as in The Robbery and The Observatory or Nightstalker Blues and If I Lost My Eyes. Like his previous releases, I placed this at the front of my listening queue. Cheers.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Bottling Frozen Falls Vodka at Falls Church Distillers



This past Saturday I participated in a "bottling party" at Northern Virginia's Falls Church Distillers where we filled and labeled 325 bottles of Frozen Falls Vodka ($30). This spirit is based off a wheat and sugar cane mash bill and after fermentation is cut to 80 proof using water filtered and purified at the distillery. In fact, Falls Church Distillers also filtrates their drinking water and ice to achieve a "pure" environment for sipping cocktails.

Before the dozen volunteers started bottling this fourth batch of Frozen Falls, chief distiller Lorenzo Paluzzi demonstrated each phase of the bottling process. It starts with a shot of air into the empty bottle, which is then filled with vodka, inspected for any floaters, capped, sealed, labeled, inscribing the batch number, and finally boxed and sealed for bonding. Most of us rotated through a couple of these stations and despite a few label machine and pumping malfunctions we finished the task within an hour and a half. Then we moved to the distillery's tasting area for a refreshing Moscow Mule. Cheers to that.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

New Zealand Wine Pure Discovery

Earlier this month Wines of New Zealand hosted a seminar and tasting at the NZ Embassy titled New Zealand Wine Pure Discovery. The discovery manifested itself not only with New Zealand's two signature grapes, but also by the breadth of grape varieties and their differences across wine regions. Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling, and Gewurztraminer joined Sauvignon Blanc as reliable white wines whereas Syrah emerged to partner with Pinot Noir to express Kiwi red wines.

As for the wine regions, they extend 1,000 miles from sub-tropical Northland down to Central Otago, home to the world’s most southerly vineyards. Marlborough is the flagship wine region, situated in the northeast corner of the South Island and experiencing a sunny and dry climate. Marlborough is notable for its Sauvignon Blanc as well as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and the Aromatics: Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer. There are also three sub-regions producing unique variations of these wine varietals -- the Wairau Valley, Awatere Valley, and Southern Valleys.

Hawke’s Bay is New Zealand's second largest wine region with it's temperate climate located in the southeast of the North Island. Red Bordeaux and Syrah grapes thrive in the porous soils particularly in the Gimblett Gravels. Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Noir are planted in cooler regions such as coastal areas, river valleys, and Central Hawke's Bay.

Pure Discovery also featured wines from Nelson (north-central South Island), Central Otago (southerly South Island), Northland (extreme north North Island), Martinborough (extreme southeast North island), and North Canterbury (east-central South Island). This later region is home to Mt. Beautiful, producers of a wide range of delicious wines from Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris to Sauvigon Blanc, Riesling, and Chardonnay. Nelson was well represented by the excellent Neudorf Tom's Block Pinot Noir 2014 ($22) which combines weightiness with bright dark fruit, earth, and slight spices. Nelson is also home to the unique styles of Nelson's Mahana -- notable for their funky Feral Lahar Sauvignon Blanc Nelson ($35), Mahana Nelson Pinot Noir Rosé 2016 ($42), and complex Mahana Clays & Gravels Woolly’s Corner & Cornelia’s Nine Pinot Noir 2014 ($65). And in Martinborough,  Craggy Range showcased an elegant and rounded Te Muna Road Vineyard, Martinborough Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($21).

Central Otago was populated by a plethora of outstanding wines starting with the elegant Maude Pinot Noir 2015 ($25) and the saline driven Amisfield Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($21). The Loveblock Central Otago Pinot Noir 2015 ($30) and clean Mud House Central Otago Pinot Noir 2015 ($15) are two tasty options. However the best in show for Central Otago was Felton Road who poured two fantastic Chardonnays in the Felton Road Chardonnay Bannockburn Central Otago 2014 ($34) and its companion the Felton Road Chardonnay Block 2 Bannockburn Central Otago 2014 ($46). Simply delicious. Felton Road also poured the sagy Dry Riesling Central Otago 2015 ($26) and aged Calvert Pinot Noir Bannockburn Central Otago 2013 ($43) and Calvert Pinot Noir Central Otago 2012 ($54). These wine labels are a mouthful.

Moving back to the major wine regions, the Trinity Hill Syrah Gimblett Gravels Hawkes Bay 2014 ($28) and Gimblett Gravels Hawkes Bay The Gimblett 2014 ($38) are simply outstanding. Trinity Hills was also pouring a lean Hawkes Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2015 ($17) and clean Hawkes Bay Pinot Noir 2015 ($18). And the Geissen Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2016 ($15) is a fresh, value driven wine.

Geissen also represented Marlborough with dignity with the The Fuder Clayvin Vineyard Marlborough Chardonnay 2013 ($65); but you can find more value wines in Marlborough through Brancott Estate, providing well made wines from $10 to $20. I wanted to note the Lawson's Dry Hills Marlborough Gewürztraminer 2014 ($25) which nails the style providing the spicy aromatics and flavors with abundant acids to balance the sugar. Nicely done. As for Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, the lasting impression is that winemakers are moving away from the lemongrass profile towards the tart, lean and clean style of the Geissen Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($11) or the tropical velvety style as the Sacred Hill Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ($17). Cheers to New Zealand Wine Pure Discovery.






Friday, October 20, 2017

Celebrating Parducci Wine Cellars 85th Anniversary with Special Cuvee 85 & a True Grit Vertical

Mendocino's longest running winery, Parducci Wine Cellars, opened 85 years ago this year. Now part of the Mendocino Wine Company consortium, the winery was founded by John Parducci and his family in 1932 - a year before the 21st Amendment was ratified. During that year of prohibition, 14 year old John rode alone on a rail car delivering grapes to home winemakers. Eventually he would become head winemaker at Parducci in 1940 while championing Zinfandel and Petite Sirah: "two grapes that would become a signature of Mendocino County". In 1994 Mr. Menodcino retired and in 1997 current winemaker Bob Swain was hired in his current capacity.

In honor of the winery's 85th Anniversary, Swain crafted the Special Cuvee 85 ($45) a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (69%), Merlot (18%), Petit Verdot (8%), and Cabernet Franc (5%). He chose the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in order to recognize John Parducci's expertise in making reserve wines from these grape varieties and the other two to celebrate Parducci use of estate grapes. The fermented wine is aged in various oak regimens including some new American oak. The wine is fantastic dark fruit throughout, a bit spicy, but ah so smooth,

The winery is also celebrating their True Grit series with a release of a three wine vertical of the 2004, 2005, and 2006 Petite Sirah vintages. Priced at $50, these wines are or were available DTC or in the tasting room on a limited basis. You don't get a chance to taste through a 10+ year old vertical and these wine show that Petite Sirah, the John Wayne of Wines, age nicely. The 2006 (92% Petite Sirah, 4% Grenache, 2% Syrah) was my favorite as it was still vibrant with a leathery plum aroma, slight spices, and a smooth and still acidic tail. Delicious. The 2005 (92% Petite Sirah & 8% Grenache) was also bright with solid fruit and acidity with spices enveloping the finish. And the 2004 (97% Petite Sirah & 3% Viognier) still had legs. Although the aroma is flatter, there is still sold fruit and enough acids to lift the tail. Not bad for a 13 year old wine. Swain and Parducci Wine Cellars prove that if you have the patience to cellar their Tru Grit Petite Sirah - it's well worth the effort.

Finally, Mendocino County is part of the devastating Redwood Complex Fire and I wanted to share a Parducci Facebook post:
From the Redwood Complex Fire in Mendocino and Lake Counties, South to Sonoma and Napa we have employees, family and friends that have been impacted by these devastating fires. We are thinking of all of the communities affected. We hope everyone is safe and our thoughts and strength are with you. While many of our employees have been under mandatory evacuation or gravely affected by the fires, we can confirm that we are all safe.
Thank you to all of those fighting the fires and helping those who have lost so much. We want to express our gratitude to the heroes within our local community, throughout California, and even across the nation that came to fight the Redwood Complex Fire in Mendocino county. They truly are lifesavers.
We are doing what we can to help locally, providing shelter and resources for displaced families and animals. The tide is thankfully turning as containment increases on all fronts, but the road to recovery will be a long one. Many devastated families and communities will rely on help to rebuild. If you would like to help, you may make a donation of any size to the following community organizations. 100% of the donations go to those in need.
• Disaster Fund for Mendocino County - www.communityfound.org
• Napa Valley Community Foundation - www.napavalleycf.org
• Sonoma County Resilience Fund - www.sonomacf.org
Thank you for being such a long-standing customer of ours, we appreciate you.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

10 Year Old Tawny Port and Grilled Cheese?

"Come here: Let me tell you a secret. Three little words that will win you the respect of wine lovers and help you understand why we seem capable of talking about nothing else. Aged. Tawny. Port. " - Dave McIntyre, Washington Post

I concur with Dave's statement and always enjoy a class of Tawny Port as an alternative or supplement to dessert. Aged tawnies come in ten year increments that reflect a port house's style and not a minimum, maximum, or average age. Thus a 10-year-old Tawny port is a taste that is reflected in oak aging, racking and blending. In general expect a mellow, caramel, nutty, and dried fruit character.  The marketing company suggested pairing with grilled cheese and I had to try - but first the port wines.

Warre's was the first British Port company - founded in 1670 -- and thus a pioneer as their Warrior brand is the oldest continuously bottled Port brand. The newer Warre's OTIMA 10 Year Old Tawny Port ($30) brand is made from the five traditional Portuguese grapes Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cão, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Touriga Francesa, and Touriga Nacional -- all sourced from the Douro Valley's Quinta da Cavadinha and Quinta do Retiro Antigo regions. The OTIMA is a lighter style - but the wine packs plenty of flavor where the aging and oxidation provides abundant fruit and nutty character plus toffee with salted caramel. Nicely done.

In contrast the Graham's 10 Year Old Tawny Port ($36) is closer to Ruby than Tawny in color as well as a fuller body Think fruit cake with honeyed figs. The wine is composed of the same grapes as the OTIMA but sourced from a larger range of qunita's including the Symington family's private estates in Quinta da Villa Velha and Quinta do Vale de Malhadas. Once again, no need for food pairings to enjoy this delicious port wine.

While reading about Tawny Port, aged cheddar cheese is a commonly suggested food pairing so a grilled cheese sandwich doesn't seem far off. I chose swiss and cheddar, only because they were immediately available. Each wine's acidity cut through the cheese's fat and who's against a fruit, nut, cheese pairing because that is what you get. Plus why not have a glass of port with lunch. Seems like a good idea to me. Cheers.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Zachys Brings Fattoria Le Pupille to their Washington DC Opening

"Zachys built their brand as a purveyor of fine European wine, by identifying and making wines like these underrated and frankly undervalued examples from the Tuscan coastal region of La Maremma accessible to US consumers" Ryan: The Fermented Fruit

Last month I was introduced to Tuscany wine producer Fattoria Le Pupille. The occasion was the official opening of Zachys Northeast Washington DC location where the "purveyor of fine European wine" is now or will be offering bulk wine sales, a wine storage facility, auctions, and a venue for wine tasting events. All this from their new state-of-the-art 20,000-square-foot operations center that is both a refrigerated and temperature controlled warehouse and upstairs event center. I would recommend joining their email to receive special direct to consumer wine sales and special events like their October 24th Wine Extravaganza.

Le Pupille is a second generation family winery operating 12 hectares of vineyard in Morellino along the southern Tuscany coast of La Maremma. In the 1970s they were one of only a dozen wineries in the region and in 1985 at 20 years old Elisabetta Geppetti began managing the small winery. She quickly transformed the winery by incorporating modern winemaking and viticultural best practices. In 1987 they released their first Saffredi wine in which their 2012 vintage will score 100 points from James Suckling. The 1987 vintage was 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from the small Saffredi vineyard and was the first area wine made from only international varieties. Now known as the Lady of Morellino and the Ambassador of Maremma Geppetti was the first woman president of the Morellino di Scansano Consortium.

Her daughter Clara has inherited the winemaking role and traveled to the U.S. in order to share a few of their wines during the Zachys grand opening events. These wines are all well made, and other than the highly rated and expensive Saffredi, they are fantastic values available by the case at Zachys.
  • Poggio Argentato 2016 ($21) A blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Petit Mensang, and Traminer fermented in neutral oak. This is a luscious wine: floral and silky with balanced acids.
  • Rosamati Rosato 2016 ($16) A 100% Syrah rosé recommended as an aperitif with abundant strawberries and fresh acids.
  • Morellino di Scansano 2015 ($16) Predominantly Sangiovese, this is an introductory style red with a toasted and spicy aroma followed by very smooth and balanced tannins.
  • Toscana Saffredi (grandfather) small vineyard planted by grandfather, mother vilified alone, 1987 first vintage 100% CS. Ist in area to use intl grapes.
  • Saffredi 2012 ($125) A blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, and 10% Petit Verdot this wine is still fresh. It is both powerful and velvety, with tobacco aroma, dark fruits, a deep body, and pleasant tannins and acids. If only I had that budget.
  • Saffredi 2014 ($85) Same blend as the 2012 classic vintage and aged 18 months in 75% new barrique casks, this wine is still young but velvety smooth with dark fruit, black pepper, and firm tannins. I would assume it will age just as nicely as the 2012.

Monday, October 2, 2017

A Trio from Napa Valley's Hess Collection

The Napa Valley winery, the Hess Collection, is now in its 32nd vintage with most of the wine produced from hillside vineyards such as Mount Veeder. In the mid-1970s, Donald Hess implemented a model to follow European practices and plant on "mountains, hillsides, ridges and bench lands". To accommodate the steep mountain slopes, the vines are planted to ridges which also forces the vines to struggle. I recently received the bounty from Mount Veeder in the Hess Collection Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley ($65.00). The small berries grown on Veeder provide intense fruit in the Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Petit Verdot which comopse this wine. It is delicious - slightly spicy, with both red and dark fruit. The finish is firm, with solid tannins but smooth.

The Hess Collection's Allomi Vineyard is located in Pope Valley on the eastern base of Howell Mountain, a topography that provides rolling hills and well drained soils. The vineyard is sub-divided into 35 unique growing blocks with six different Cabernet clones. These clones are used in the Hess Collection Allomi Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Napa Valley ($32.00); this is an approachable yet sophisticated wine with dark fruit, smokey spices, and firm tannins. Nicely done.

Su’skol Vineyard is the exception to the hillside model as the vineyard is located on flat land situated fewer than 10 miles from San Pablo Bay. The cooling marine influence provides morning fog and afternoon breezes that lower the average daily temperature - an ideal climate for growing Chardonnay like the Hess Collection Chardonnay 2015, Napa Valley ($22.00). Once again multiple clones are used -- providing balance between fruit and acidity. Since only a small portion is fermented in new French oak, the wine possesses depth without the overbearing buttery character. And a Napa bargain at this price.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Locations Ventures into New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc

It took a few years, but the Locations brand has landed in New Zealand with the release of the NZ6 - New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc ($19.99). The wine is 100% of the country's signature grape, but sourced from various wine regions. The base is derived from Marlborough's Wairau Valley which provides the "tropical and grassy flavors". This region is "consistently ranking as one of NZ’s sunniest and driest regions, the Maori referred to the valley as ‘Kei puta te Wairau’ – ‘The place with the hole in the cloud’ – reflecting the outstanding protection offered by the topography". The second part of the blend is sourced from the Awatere Valley and provides "minerality and elegance". This is a cooler region located in southern Marlborough. The final piece comes from the southern valley of Waihopai where the gravelly soils and still cooler climate provide the "final layers of complexity. That's plenty of marketing fluff, but in fact this is a delicious wine, starting with tropical aromas; a creamy, tart and lemon infused body; and plenty of refreshing acids. Nicely done.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Get Ready to Play at Waynesboro's Basic City Beer Company

During the same weekend we visited Adventure Farm, we parlayed a swim at Sherando Lake with a visit to Waynesboro's Basic City Beer Company. The relatively new brewery is located on scenic Rt 250 in the reclaimed Virginia Metalcrafters industrial complex. Evidence of the former foundry is everywhere, from the industrial lathes to reclaimed pipe and wood tap room tables. The pipes housing the taps are particularly stylish. co-founders and brothers Bart, Chris and Joe Lanman also added entertainment value to the facility by building out a large game room stocked with ping pong, shuffleboard, skeet-ball, foosball, and more. Add the hammocks and large picnic area in the back; live music; and food from Hops Kitchen and this is a family friendly establishment. But what about the largest attraction: the beer?

Beer Menu as of Sept 2017
Head brewer Jacque Landry leverages 20 years brewing experience into crafting a portfolio of a dozen beers. I elected for a flight of the WaynesbeerOh Lager, Oopsproch Lager, Rays Pale Ale, and Bramblehead Raspberry Stout. They were well made with the stout very smooth, the lagers refreshing, and the pale ale on the money. However, I seemed to gravitate to the Rotsproch Lager, a hibiscus infused Marzen Amber Lager. The beer was more tart than malty sweet and thirst quenching as the day had warmed. We had a fantastic visit, laughing, drinking, and eating with the only reservation having to drive over the mountain back to Charlottesville. But we will be back to basic City as well as other Shenandoah Beerwerks Trail breweries with the assistance of theCompass Craft Beverage Finder. Cheers.

Monday, September 11, 2017

A Quick Flight into Charlottesville's Adventure Farm Winery

A couple weekends ago we visited Charlottesville and on the drive down Route 29 decided to visit a relative new and somewhat obscure winery: Adventure Farm. Located just outside the Charlottesville Airport north of town, the farm land was purchased by Morris Chisholm in 1950. Back then, the airport didn't exit and this area was traditional country farmland and pastures - which it remained while the city slowly encroached ever closer. Since the 1950s the Chisholm family has raised beef cattle (Angus-Salare) goats, pigs, and chicken as well as grow various crops. And in 2006 they planted a vineyard consisting of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chambourcin, Petit Verdot, Tannat, Chardonnay, and Viognier. As with most ventures, viticulture led to winemaking and Adventure Farms leverages the services of esteemed Michael Shaps and his Wineworks.

On our visit there were five estate wines on the tasting lineup starting with the 2015 Chardonnay ($21). Half the wine undergoes malolatic fermentation and the finished wine is aged eight months in one year old French Oak. The process provides considerable depth and creaminess to this wine without the overbearing buttery-toffee characters. A great value at this price. The 2015 Viognier ($28) is fresh and floral with strong peach flavors. Fermented in steel and aged just four months in neutral oak, this is a refreshing and very acidic wine. The 2015 Rosé ($19) is another fine bargain made from 95% Chambourcin and 5% Cabernet Franc. There's plenty of bright red fruit and acids with the Chambourcin providing a little spicy kick to the finish. The 2014 Gigi Red Blend ($22) is also predominately Chambourcin (25%) with the remaining Cabernet Sauvignon. This is an entry level red, low in tannins, plenty of acids - very smooth on the palate. Perhaps serve a little chilled. But the star of the tasting was undoubtedly the 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon ($32). The wine is aged 18 months in French Oak, which provides a lush, velvety body but doesn't overwhelm the strong dark cherry characters. Even with noticeable tannins, the finish is very smooth and  mature.

Adventure Farm hosts several festivals and weekend live music. This is a definite spot to visit and theCompass Craft Beverage Finder will get your there. Cheers.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Carmel Winery's Selected Mediterranean Red Blend & Israeli Wine Regions

Last month I received another sample of Israeli wine which led me to not only research the targeted winery, but also Israeli wine regions.  I immediately learned that Carmel Winery was founded in 1882 by Edmond James de Rothschild (owner of Château Lafite). Within ten years Rothschild had built two wineries,  both intended to support Jewish settlers returning from Europe. The Rishon Le Zion Wine Cellars was built in 1890 and is the oldest winery in Israel still in use. This facility was also the first to use electricity and the telephone. The Zichron Ya'acov Wine Cellars was built two years later and is the largest winery in Israel. These facilities make Carmel the largest producer in Israel and one of the largest in the eastern Mediterranean as they produce over 15 million bottles of wine a year.

Until the 1970s, Carmel focused on sweet and sacramental wines, but in order to engage the international market they transitioned to international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc.  The Selected Mediterranean Red Blend ($11) is a reflection of that philosophy and is a blend of several grape varieties grown in the Shomron region: Petite Sirah, Mourvedre, Viognier, and Petit Verdot.

This region is one of five major Israeli Wine Regions with Galilee, Samson, Judean Hills and the Negev the remaining four. Shomron and Samson are the historical coastal viticulture areas in central Israel with the former located on the base of the southern Carmel Mountain range and cooled by Mediterranean breezes. Samson is not a geographic place -- just a biblical name to describe the central coastal Judean Plain and Judean Lowlands, south east of Tel Aviv. The region is relatively low lying, hot, and humid with mostly alluvial soils mixed with sandy, clay loams. Bulk grapes are the predominate crop.

Negev is the desert region that comprises half the country. Vineyards are located in the elevated, semi-arid, and loess soil land in the northeast at Ramat Arad.

The Galilee and Judean Hills are more trendy cooler climate wine regions. The Judean Hills ranges from the mountains north of Jerusalem to the south of Hebron. Warm days and cool night time temperatures characterize the region which ranges from 500 to 1,000 meters above sea level. The Galilee is the most respected appellation, located in northern Israel and includes the "two finest quality wine growing regions, the Upper Galilee and the Golan Heights".  These are high altitude, cooler climate sites located not far from Lebanon's Bekaa Valley.

As for Carmel's Selected Red Blend, winemaker Lior Lacser produced a fresh, light, approachable wine; not necessarily fruit forward but balanced between the cherry flavor, acids, and modest tannins.  At this price this wine is well worth a closer inspection. Cheers.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Virginia's Falls Church Distillers Opens With Bourbon and Vodka

Craft distilleries continue to open in the Commonwealth of Virginia with Falls Church Distillers joining their ranks earlier this summer. The operation was started by Michael Paluzzi and his chemist and oldest son Lorenzo who plan to "produce a range of offerings including vodkas, gins, brandy, rums, specialty & blended spirits and eventually distinctive aged bourbon". Actually they had the foresight to create a bourbon at an existing Virginia distillery based on their mash recipe. As a result, the Church Bourbon has been quietly aging as the Paluzzis flew through the regulatory, financial, and construction processes.

When I visited Falls Church Distillers last month I also had to navigate the ludicrous Virginia ABC regulations inflicted on distilleries. These regulations allow distilleries to serve generous four half-ounce tastings of their product - usually in cocktail form. The regulations also require separate seating when sampling the distilled products from the wine and beer bar that Falls Church Distillers provides. My rant over, the Church Bourbon recipe includes Virginia wheat that assists the medium bodied whiskey to obtain a very smooth character. They were also pouring two vodkas: Frozen Falls Vodka & Frozen Falls Pepper Flavored Vodka. These spirits have interesting pedigrees - based on a combination of distilled cane sugar and wheat that is "processed through a uniquely designed filtration system". I sampled both in cocktails which were tasty but unfortunately hid the unique flavor profiles of each vodka. Keep focused on Falls Church Distillers because there are bright clouds on the horizon as they plan to release a barrel aged Rum and Apple Brandy. As always, theCompass Craft Beverage Finder will guide you to this destination. Cheers. 

Saturday, August 26, 2017

ANXO Cidery: Crafting Hard Cider Made from Foraged D.C. Apples

Last year ANXO Cidery (300 Florida Avenue NW) introduced DC residents to the funky and rustic side of cider from the Basque region of Northern Spain. In fact, ANXO (AN-CHO) " is a common first name in Northern Spain and is also a nickname for Basajaun, a Basque mythological creature that is something like a benevolent Bigfoot". They've also introduced cider lovers to a broad range of other styles through collaborations from some of the top American cider houses such as Millstone Cellars, Eden Ice Cider Company, Blue Bee Cider, Farnum Hill Ciders, Snowdrift Cider Company, and Shacksbury Cider. After a trip to the National Zoo, we headed to sample these collaborations and unexpectedly much more.

I ordered the Flight of the Day and not only did it contain collaborations from Eden, Snowdrift, and Shacksbury, but also the Cidra Blanc. This newly released cider is comprised of 100% Goldrush apples from Winchester, VA and fermented with Sauvignon Blanc yeast in stainless steel at the ANXO Cidery & Pintxos Bar at 711 Kennedy Street NW.  It was quite tasty with fresh acids, tart lemon, and a bit of body. As for the collaborations, I enjoyed the rustic Shacksbury the most with its tart funk. The other's were also delicious with the Snowdrift was full of apple flavors and the Eden well balanced.

I then ordered the D. Sidra, a funky cider comprised of D.C. foraged apples and crabapples, fermented with the yeast that naturally occur on their skins, and served in traditional green bottles with a long pour. What a process - foraged apples which include crabapples and natural yeast?  For my acid hound palate, this cider is fantastic - it starts with short bursts of apple before the intense acids and tannins dominate. Be prepared, their presence is felt long after the pour is finished.

ANXO produces a couple other foraged fruit ciders, some blended with Michigan apples, but I'm looking forward to procuring "The Rando" - made from predominantly D.C.-foraged apples from 2016 that were pressed but forgotten until re-discovery.  You can discover all these ciders at either location using theCompass Craft Beverage Finder. Cheers.

Monday, August 21, 2017

A Summer Red: Chateau Montelena Winery 2014 Calistoga Zinfandel?

I suspect, like me, most of you associate Napa's Chateau Montelena Winery with their Judgment of Paris Chardonnay or their Cabernet Sauvignon. And rightfully so since these are consistently excellent wines. But even with a visit to the winery many years ago, Chateau Montelena's other wine varietals never became ingrained in memory. That changed when I received a sample of their 2014 Calistoga Zinfandel ($29). The marketing sheet exclaimed that this was "the wine you should be drinking on the beach this summer" and my initial reaction was right, I bet. Lodi and Paso perhaps, but from Napa - nah.

According to winemaker Matt Crafton, the Chateau Montelena Zinfandel is "re-invented" each year and the noticeable aspect is that the fermented Zinfandel was aged in a combination of French, American, and Irish oak casks - the first time this later oak treatment has been used in California in over a century. Also noticeable is that the grapes used were a combination of old-vine Zinfandel from the Tofanelli Ranch and new plantings of estate Primitivo. And the wine is made in the rustic Italian style, lighter in color and fruit, but complex with notes of earthy dirt, tobacco, cinnamon, and cherries. The finish is very smooth with approachable tannins and light pepper and chocolate.  Thus, this wine is ready for a summer BBQ or an evening sip on the deck. The Chateau Montelena Zinfandel deserves respect alongside their more accomplished Chardonnay and Cabernet. Cheers.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Loudoun Welcomes Two More Breweries to the "Dulles Corridor"

With the opening of two more breweries this summer, Virginia's Loudoun County now has 23 breweries with eight forming a pseudo beer trail that I labelled the Dulles Corridor. The trail starts on the east with contract brewer Beltway Brewing Company and the new Sterling location for Crooked Run Brewing. Before this new location Crooked Run had utilized Beltway's services, but now they have their own capacity to brew excellent beers such as the Cruise Control Pilsner or the Dulce De Leche Imperial Milk Stout. As for Beltway, they have a couple of their own recipes, but the incentive to visit is driven by tasting beers brewed for other markets such as New York's Grimm Artisanal Ales or Georgia's Brackish Beer Company.


Twinpanzee Brewing Co. forms the center of this beer trail as the new brewery celebrated their Grand Opening this past Saturday.  Waves of beer lovers arrived throughout the day enjoying four beers on tap, food trucks, and a ribbon cutting ceremony with Loudoun officials. As I savored their Coconut Brown Ale I was left wondering why Fairfax County alienates brewery entrepreneurs while Loudoun County welcomes them.

Not far down Old Ox Road lies the very consistent Ocelot Brewing Company. Beer lovers can always expect a large array of craft beers from a few IPAs to lagers and sours. During my last visit I went the low abv route with the 5.6% Craft AF Lager - a collaboration with Breiss Malting, a Wisconsin malting company. A very European beer. But if you love IPAs, then this is your spot as of August 12th there were seven on tap.

Solace Brewing Company is the other newly opened brewery founded by entrepreneurs who met and gained valuable experience working at Beltway Brewing. When opening Solace they planned big regarding the tasting room, production equipment, and portfolio. There's plenty of room indoors and out to enjoy a plethora of craft beer styles. Once again I stayed low abv with the Sun’s Out Hops Out Session IPA, 2 Legit 2 Wit, and BeachBod Watermelon Summer Ale. The later makes a great beach beer, with just a slight watermelon character. And my beer drinking partner was all about the Patiently Waiting IPL collaboration with Ocelot Brewing.

Lost Rhino Retreat sets the western boundary to the trail and sadly I've yet to visit despite the fact that I've visited the original Lost Rhino Brewing Co. Ashburn location more than any other brewery. In addition to the expanded food menu there are more beer options as well including some brewed just at the Brambleton location, collaborations, and guest taps. And either location will have the Virginia Craft Gold Medal for Czech Lager Rhino Chasers.

Also establishing the northern boundary with Lost Rhino Ashburn is award winning and WO&D Trail favorite Old Ox Brewery. The last time I visited was during a rain soaked ride over Memorial Weekend in order to purchase bombers of their Funky Face sour. I don't visit as often since their core lineup of Virginia Craft Gold Medal Black Ox Porter, Alpha Ox Pale Ale, and Golden Ox Ale are well established in area restaurants and beer stores.

And as always, theCompass Craft Beverage Finder will guide you to these breweries. Cheers.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Visiting Palmetto Moonshine's Myrtle Beach Facility

It is a popular concept for craft beverage makers to open satellite tasting rooms in popular tourist destinations with one of these being Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Recently Duplin Winery opened a facility in North Myrtle following the success of Palmetto Moonshine three years ago south of town. Brothers Trey and Bryan Boggs have been instrumental in the growing craft spirits market by first crafting the Palmetto State's first legal moonshine and then by leveraging the larger seashore tourism market to expand distribution.

The distillery's spirits are still produced in their original Anderson location, but the original still is now a water fountain in Myrtle. A $5 tasting fee provides samples of their White Lightning Moonshine, four flavored shines, and the Palmetto Whiskey ($35, 88.3 Proof). Starting with the whiskey, it was a pleasant surprise, with combinations of spice, caramel, vanilla, and finishing with a slight burn. This complexity starts with the mash bill of 21% rye and 51% corn and malted barley with additional flavors from aging less than two years in new French oak. The unique bottle honors the South Carolina Dispensary, a state controlled monopoly on liquor sales in South Carolina which operated from 1893-1915. The Dispensary employed glass makers and craftsmen that created bottles unique to the Palmetto State and what many consider to be works of art. The bottles being produced from 1893-1900 featured an embossed palmetto tree with crossed logs under the base of the trunk. A nice addition to the bar or a gift.

The various moonshines were also tasty, starting with the flagship Palmetto Moonshine White Lightning ($29, 105 proof). The Palmetto Moonshine is an "un-aged corn whiskey made from a recipe handed down from generations of moonshiners and produced using our custom copper still built by a 5th generation moonshiner". It is smooth even at this high alcohol level with traces of sweet corn. The flavored shines are all $29 and cut to 45 proof with local fruit juices. The Peach and Strawberry were our favorites as the Blackberry and Apple were too jammy and sweet for our tastes.I'd much rather return home with one of these than a lousy T-shirt. Cheers and as always theCompass Craft Beverage Finder will guide you to these destinations.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

#UnexpectedPaso Delivers Delicious Whites from Paso Robles

I've learned over the years that Paso Robles is not only the 3rd largest wine region in California but one of the most diverse. Red wine is king with Cabernet Sauvignon accounting for almost 40% of overall grape harvests. That grape and other red Bordeaux grapes are promoted through the Paso Robles CAB Collective. Syrah and Zinfandel are also major players in the region as is the Other Red category which consists of Petite Sirah, Cabernet Franc, Grenache, Mourvedre, and Petit Verdot. As for white wine grapes, Chardonnay is the most widely planted grape at 5%, followed by Other Whites also at 5% and Sauvignon Blanc at 2%.  To help promote these lesser known white wines, the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance initiated the #UnexpectedPaso Twitter tasting sending several white and rosé wines to various wine bloggers. After I receive wine from these tastings I usually pass the leftovers among the neighborhood. And this was one time my discriminating neighbors agreed: the wines were excellent.

JUSTIN 2016 Rosé ($22.50) is made from 100% gently pressed Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine is quite refreshing with layered flavors of strawberries and tart cherries.

Vina Robles 2016 White 4 ($16) is a blend of 45% Viognier, 27% Vermentino, 17% Sauvignon Blanc, and 11% Verdelho.  Its starts with plenty of aromatic stone fruit which continues onto the palate mingling with tart grapefruit. This is one savory wine.

Tablas Creek Vineyard 2016 Patelin de Tablas Blanc ($27) is a blend of five white grape varieties (Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne and Clairette Blanche). The fruit was sourced from nine Paso Rhone vineyards, whole clustered pressed and fermented with native yeasts. This was the most mineral driven wine interspersed with creamy stone fruit and lemons. My favorite of the group.

Adelaida Cellars 2015 HMR Chardonnay ($40) is made from grapes grown in the cooler hillside terrain of Paso Robles' Adelaida District, 14 miles from the Pacific coast and ranging from 1400 - 2000 feet above sea level. The fermented wine was aged nine months and various forms of oak which provides lift and complexity without the awful over the top buttery character. In fact, the expected lemon zest Chardonnay flavors are prominent, along with a creamy texture, and refreshing acids. Nicely done. 

Monday, August 7, 2017

Royal Wine Corporation: Jezreel Valley Winery 2016 Dry Rosé

Middle Eastern wine is slowly finding a home in the U.S. market and another entering the market is Israeli Jezreel Valley Winery. The winery was founded by winemaker Yuehuda Nahar and Jacob Ner David and is situated in Kibbuz Hannaton, approximately 35 kilometers west of Haifa. The winery currently produces six wines using both international and indigenous grapes - the later being Argaman, a cross between Souzão and Carignan. The Royal Wine Corporation just added some of these wines to their kosher inventory and I recently received a sample of the Jezreel 2016 Dry Rosé ($22), a blend of Syrah, Carignan, Argaman, and French Colombard. Each grape varietal was slow cold fermented separately with little extraction. This is a fresh wine, plenty of refreshing acidity, but unfortunately not much to show in terms of aroma and flavor.  Prefer others.