Thursday, December 28, 2017

New Years with Vilarnau Brut Reserva Cava

In 2017 Catalonia independence was a dominant topic in European news, but the province is also a notable wine region particularly with Penedes Cava. The Catalan word cava refers to "cave" or "cellar" and this sparkling wine is traditionally made using indigenous Macabeu, Parellada and Xarel·lo grapes. But regardless of the blend, all Cava D.O. wines must be made using the champenoise traditional method.

 One small Catalan producer is Vilarnau, a Cava house that has been operating just outside Barcelona since 1949. I received two samples of their Brut Reserva with both honoring the winery's Catalan roots by reflecting the imagery of Antoni Gaudi and the "Trencadís" mosaic. This technique was used in the modernist artistic movement in Catalonia, created from tiny fragments of broken ceramic tiles, roof tiles or crockery. Very impressive bottling. Cheers to 2017 & 2018, Cava, and a thriving Catalonia.

Vilarnau Brut Reserva NV ($14.99) - a blend of 50% Macabeo, 35% Parellada, and 15% Xarel·lo and aged more than 15 months in bottle. A tremendous bargain with a creamy green apple and lemon flavor, tiny bubbles, and refreshing acids. Highly recommended.

Vilarnau Brut Reserva Rosé NV ($15.99) - a blend of 85% Trepat and 15% Pinot Noir and also aged more than 15 months in bottle. Fruit forward profile of creamy strawberries, a little less effervescence, but noticeable acids.  Another nice value.

Friday, December 22, 2017

New Years with Prosecco & Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG Sparking Wine

What is Prosecco? Is it a region, a wine, or a grape variety? Before 2009 this term described all three; but in that year several reforms were implemented to clarify the definition. First, the Prosecco DOC was created which covers a vast area spanning two regions (Friuli Venezia Giulia & Veneto), nine provinces, and 556 townships. It is geographically located north of Venice in parts of Veneto and Friuli. At the same time the historical birthplace of Prosecco, Conegliano Valdobbiadene, was granted DOCG status. This is a region of steep hillsides located between the villages of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene. And finally, the name of the primary grape variety used in making Prosecco wine was changed from Prosecco to Glera - a historical synonym.

The word Prosecco is most likely Slovenian in origin "derived from prosek, a dialectic term for 'path cut through the woods'". In Croatia a sweet passito wine called Prošek has been produced for thousands of years - although the EU has now banned that usage. In Italy Prosecco evolved from the name of a village near Trieste to its wider use. The first known mention of Prosecco in Italy occurred in 1593 when an English traveler named Fynes Moryson wrote "[In] Histria (Trieste) proper grows the wine Pucinum, now called Prosecho, much celebrated by Pliny". Pucinum refers an ancient wine drunk by the Romans.

The modern history of Prosecco began in 1876 when enologist Giovanni Battista Cerletti founded the Scuola Enologico in Conegliano. The wine's popularity accelerated with improved secondary fermentation techniques starting with Federico Martinotti patented method using large pressurized temperature-controlled receptacles. Eugène Charmat's adoption of the autoclave in secondary fermentation soon followed. Post WWII this autoclave became "widely adopted throughout the area of Conegliano Valdobbiadene and the modern sparkling wine industry was born". Over time this historical region lost focus as more producers outside the region began producing Prosecco sparkling wine. Thus the 2009 reforms.

Whereas the larger Prosecco DOC incorporates four provinces of Friuli Venezia Giulia (Gorizia, Pordenone, Trieste and Udine) and five provinces of Veneto (Belluno, Padua, Treviso, Venice, Vicenza), the Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG comprises 15 hillside towns with thousands of small growers supplying 183 wineries.

There are three styles of wine in both the DOC & DOCG: Spumante (95% of production), Frizzante, and Tranquillo (Still). And there are three categories of residual sugar: Dry (17-32 grams of residual sugar), Extra-Dry (12-17 grams), and Brut (0-12 grams). A fourth category, Extra Brut, was just adopted and will incorporate wines from 0-6 grams.

Other requirements include that the grapes in a Prosecco wine must be at least 85% Glera with the remaining 15% from other authorized grape varieties. Secondary fermentation can be achieved via the autoclave method or in the bottle ("Rifermentato in Bottiglia"). And finally labeling. Superiore refers to only Spumante wines made within the ConVal DOCG. Millesimato indicates a wine made from a single vintage (85% minimum). And Rive indicates a Prosecco Superiore made entirely of grapes from one of the designated Rive (villages).

Bervini 1955 is one Prosecco DOC brand founded by Antonio Bergamo and his son Giuseppe in, you guessed it, 1955; and today is operated by Giuseppe and his son Paolo.The winery is located in the Pordenone province of northeast Friuli Venezia Giulia and actually resides in both the Prosecco DOC and the Friuli Grave DOC - noted for wines made from Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Friulano. I received two of their Prosecco offerings starting with the 2016 Spumante Prosecco D.O.C. Millesimato Extra Dry ($18.99). The Millesimato designates that the wine is comprised of 100% Glera -- sourced from vineyards in both Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia. This is a lively wine, loads of citrus, effervescence, and completely enjoyable. The Spumante NV Rosé Extra Dry ($18.99) is sourced from Raboso and Cabernet grapes from Friuli Venezia Giulia and because of the absence of Glera is not labeled Prosecco. Nevertheless it is a clean wine, bursting with berry flavors but noticeably dry.... This one goes fast.

I also recently received three Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG samples that are further refined.

The Masottina Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG Superiore Millesimato Brut ($22) is produced from another third generation family, this one in the Conegliano area. The wine is an elegant display of 100% Glera with apple and citrus notes, soft an creamy, and lively acids.

The Villa Sandi Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Extra Dry ($23) possesses both weight and freshness balanced again between apples and citrus. The finish persists long after the bubbles have dissipated.

Finally, the Bianca Vigna Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG Superiore Millesimato Brut ($24) is fantastic, both creamy and saline with more stone fruit than citrus.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

2017 Maryland Wine Governors Cup Award Ceremony

"Agriculture is such an important part of our history, our heritage, and our economy," said Governor Hogan. "That is why it is in the best interest of our state to keep our farms growing and thriving, and that includes our vineyards and our rapidly growing wine industry. Our wine producers are doing so much for Maryland, and the Governor’s Cup competition brings together the best of the best among Maryland-produced wines." -- Maryland Governor Lawrence J. Hogan, Jr.

The judging for the 29th Annual Maryland Governor’s Cup Competition took place August 13 where over 30 regional wine experts tasted over 150 different wines across the multiple styles of sparkling, whites, rosés, reds, fruit, and cider. This past Monday, December 11th the winners were presented their awards by Maryland's First Lady Yumi Hogan at Old Maryland Grill in College Park. This new restaurant focuses on Maryland sourced food and complements meals with a full range of Maryland craft beverages. In fact, Proprietor Mike Franklin also owns the long running Franklin’s Brewery not far away in Hyattsville and visited over 50 Maryland wineries to round out the cellar. These include many of the competition winners which noted Maryland wine expert and Lead Judge Al Spoler commented that this year's entry's were the best across the board. Based on the reception following the awards ceremony, I concur completely.

Newcomer Cool Ridge Vineyard was the clear and unsuspecting champion of the competition where it was awarded two Best of Class medals for their Cool White 2016 ($21) and Cool Red 2015 ($32), with the later earning the Governor’s Cup Best in Show. Not bad for first time entrants. The red blend consists of 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc, 20% Merlot and 15% Petit Verdot and is delicious. Simply delicious. Owner Gerhard Glocker was quite gracious and was just as proud of his Gold medal single varietal 2015 Cabernet Franc ($27). The winery and vineyard is located in Washington County near Hagerstown and there's no wonder that Old Westminster Winery sources their fruit for their Cool Ridge Vineyard, Limestone ($32) - a blend of 70% Grüner Veltliner and 30% Viognier.

 "The Jack Aellen Cup is a recent addition to the competition and specifically highlights fruit wine, cider and mead. The cup is named after Linganore Winecellars founder, Jack Aellen, who pioneered wines from fruit and honey in Maryland" . This year the winner was Great Shoals Winery Hard Plum 2016 ($16). Made from Japanese Shiro plums grown in Carroll County, the wine is made in a cider style - light bodied but plenty of flavor. Legally, its a wine since cider can only be made from apples or pears, but for all intents this is one fabulous cider. Move over Spencerville Red.

The remaining Best of Class wines were equally impressive with the Big Cork Vineyards Cabernet Franc 2015 ($46). Tasty young, the wine will age nicely as the tannins mingle with the dark fruit. The Willow Oaks Craft Cider and Wine Gloaming NV (500ml $25) starts funky and tannic then transitions to sweet tartness from organic black currants; another newcomer that impresses. Black Ankle Vineyards Terra Sol 2016 ($30) is a late harvest Grüner Veltliner and a successful experiment as it is very clean with plenty of acids to balance the sugar. Finally, I was fascinated with the Boordy Vineyards Pinot Gris 2016 ($16). The wine is flavorful and weighty - both, according to Dr. Joe Fiola, the result of vineyard selection and not wine-making techniques (no lees or malo and fermented in stainless steel). Cheers to Maryland wine.

Best in Show
Governor’s Cup Winner: Cool Ridge Vineyard • Cool Red 2015 ($32) (Washington Co.)
Jack Aellen Cup Winner: Great Shoals Winery • Hard Plum 2016 ($16) (Montgomery Co.)

Best in Class
Best Sparkling: Turkey Point Vineyard • Elk Neck Bubbly 2016 (Cecil Co.)
Best White: Boordy Vineyards • Pinot Gris 2016 ($16) (Baltimore Co.)
Best White Blend: Cool Ridge Vineyard • Cool White 2016 ($21) (Washington Co.)
Best Rosé: Crow Vineyard • Barbera Rosé 2016 ($16) (Kent Co.)
Best Red: Big Cork Vineyards • Cabernet Franc 2015 ($42) (Washington Co.)
Best Red Blend: Cool Ridge Vineyard • Cool Red 2015 ($32) (Washington Co.)
Best Sweet: Dove Valley Winery • Mr. Bentley’s Choice 2014 (Cecil Co.)
Best Dessert: Black Ankle Vineyards • Terra Sol 2016 ($30) (Frederick Co.)
Best Cider: Willow Oaks Craft Cider and Wine • Gloaming NV (500ml $25) (Frederick Co.)
Best Fruit: Great Shoals Winery • Hard Plum 2016 ($16) (Montgomery Co.)

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.