Monday, October 15, 2018

Nonino Single Varietal Grappa - A Concept Before It's Time

 “We are the only distillery in the world with 66 artisan pot stills for distillation”, Elisabetta Nonino

In the modern environment of craft or artisan distillers, the concept of a single varietal grappa makes perfect sense. Yet, 45 years ago that concept was revolutionary -- in all phases of the production cycle -- from suppliers to producer to the consumer. And that's what Benito and Giannola Nonino faced when in 1973 they introduced the first-ever single variety grappa, Nonino Monovitigno, made from Picolit - an indigenous grape from the distillery's home region of Friuli Venezia Giulia.

The concept was revolutionary in that suppliers combined the pomace (the post pressed pulpy matter of grape skins, flesh, seeds, and stems) for all grape varieties into the same bins. The combined pomace was then fermented and distilled into grappa. And most winemakers were reluctant to change this process until Giannola recruited the wives to separate the varieties in exchange for higher payments.

On the producer side, this concept involved additional capital and labor expenses. Nonino utilizes separate stills for each varietal so that the initial investment was minimal yet the number of stills directly correlates to the number of single varietal grappas. As their portfolio expanded, so did their capital expenses. Thus today the distillery operates those 66 artisan pot stills mentioned above. And in order to maintain freshness the distillery operates 24 hours a day during harvest so that the pomace from white grapes are fermented and distilled immediately while the already fermented red grape pomace is distilled on arrival. This preserves the inherent characteristics of the original grape variety.


As one can image, the processes that Nonino has adopted has increased the overall quality of the grappa but at a higher retail price point. And consumers have rewarded the distillery such that "in 1984, Benito and Gianolla solidified their status as industry leaders by introducing the world’s first single-vineyard, single-grape distillate produced using whole grape clusters".

Nonino was founded in 1897 by Orazio Nonino in the Friuli region of Italy and has run through six generations as Benito and Giannola passed control over to their three daughters Cristina, Antonella and Elisabetta (the 5th generation).  This month Elisabetta and sixth generation Francesca visited the United States to showcase not only the single varietal grappas but also their popular Amaro and GIOIELLO® honey distillate spirits.

The duo stressed quality as in the artisan nature of the distillery and furthermore, each specific run. In this respect Nonino grappa could be a Certified Craft Spirit™ via the American Distilling Institute (ADI). This is relevant because Italy provides a lax regulatory environment regarding grappa and allows for the industrial production of the spirit -- which widely accounts for the general lack of esteem for grappa. Elisabetta stressed that in order to combat this perception the "distillery independently declared its grappa as 100-percent artisan, and that any products with the Nonino name are produced and bottled at the distillery, made using artisan methods, with no added coloring or caramel".  Here are a few comments on each of the artisan products they presented at out tasting.  Cheers.

Grappa Nonino Picolit Cru ($178.99, 100 proof)
Yes expensive and the highest in abv, this is current iteration of the original Monovitigno released in 1973. It is also made in the ÙE (“Oo-ay”) style being a single cru grappa made through the distillation of premium, single-varietal, single-vineyard pomace of selected Picolit grapes.  There's a slight burn due to the 50% alcohol, which can be alleviated with an ice cube, but the grape flavors quickly dominate the palate.

Grappa Nonino Il Moscato ($71.99, 82 proof)
This grappa is 100% Moscato from Friuli di Aquileia and contains the grape's inherent floral characters.

Grappa Nonino Vendemmia ($44.99, 80 proof)
This is a blend of Pinot, Prosecco and Malvasia grappas that have been individually fermented and distilled. As expected there are multiple sensations produced by this smooth spirit.

Grappa Chardonnay ($71.99, 82 proof)
The Nonino's consider 40% abv as grappa's sweet spot and this delicious version weighs in at that level. It is completely devoid of heat both on the nose and in the palate and includes slight oak characters from mild oak treatment. Excellent.

Grappa Antica Cuvee Reserva ($118.99, 86 proof)
Another blend of single varietal distillates, this time Cabernet, Merlot and the local Schioppettino aged from five to twenty years in Limousin, Nevers and Grésigne oak barriques and in small ex-Sherry barrels. Because of the longer aging process, the warehouses and barrels are under seal and permanent surveillance by the Customs and Monopoly Agency - similar to the U.S. TTB. This grappa is complex with spices and almonds, but so smooth - perfect neat or with a cube

Grappa Vendemmia Riserva ($49.99, 82 proof)
For this spirit the Monovitigno® - single varietal grappa - are aged over 18 months in Limousin and ex-Sherry barriques providing color and oak sensations such as vanilla, chocolate and spices. In this case, the quality-price ratio is exceeding high.

Amaro Nonino Quintessentia® ($54.99, 70 proof)
The recipe for the Amaro dates from  Elisabetta's grandparents and contains a grappa base that was aged in French oak and ex-sherry barrels and then infused with with herbs and other botanicals.  The grappa is a blend of Ribolla Gialla, Moscato, and Malvasia from the Eastern Hills of Friuli.  This is quite the unique spirit, floral and citrus with some caramel and vanilla and just hints of licorice. Hit the cocktail recipes for this one.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Discover Sherry with Gonzalez Byass During #InternationalSherryWeek

This week is #InternationalSherryWeek and the best place to start is with Gonzalez Byass. Yes, we received two samples for the week - but over at wine-searcher.com Rachel von Sturmer makes the case for Gonzalez Byass as well.   In brief, Sherry is a fortified wine from the Jerez region of Andalucia in south-west Spain. These wines come in multiple styles from bone-dry fino to sweet Pedro Xomino, Moscaiménez (PX). Dry styles most likely utilize the Palomino  grape whereas sweeter styles are generally comprised of Pedro Ximénez and Moscatel (Muscat of Alexandria). See the attached in depth overview from the Whiskey Exchange.

The precursor to Gonzalez Byass was established in 1835 when 23 year old Manuel María González Ángel created the Tío Pepe (Uncle Joe) sherry brand inspired by his uncle uncle, José Ángel. Nearly ten years into his operation Manuel united with his English Agent Robert Blake Byass to form González Byass as they shipped "exceptionally pale..." Tío Pepe wine to the United Kingdom. Together they built the company to be the leading exporter of sherry wines in Jerez.  Besides the flagship Tío Pepe, the company offers several other Sherry wines including the two we received below. Cheers.

Gonzalez Byass Vina AB Amontillado ($24.99)
100% Palomino that after fermentation and fortification to 15.5% abv started in the Tio Pepe solera. During this process the wine gains several unique characters as displayed in the Tio Pepe wines as a layer of yeast known as "flor" forms on the surface of the wine providing character and protiecting the wine from oxygen. After a minimum of four years, the wine is then moved to the Vina AB solera where it remains for another eight years. During this time the flor dies from lack of nutrients and the wine undergoes oxidative aging.  This is a very pleasant wine, with honey nut and figs on the nose, which proceeds to a light bodied by chewy texture and a fresh finale.

Gonzalez Byass Leonor Palo Cortado ($24.99)
Also 100% Palomino but fermented and fortified to 18% abv before entering the Leonor solera.  The layer of flor yeast does not form as the alcohol level kills the yeast and thus the wine undergoes complete oxidization.  The wine remains in this condition for 12 years before bottling.  This wine is a home run, sipped during the MLB playoffs, and featuring a nutty maple syrup aroma where the nuts follow into the palate and combine with orange peel and caramel. Just excellent.


Courtesy of the Whiskey Exchange


Sherry production can be split into two primary styles: fino (which is known as manzanilla when made in Sanlúcar de Barrameda), and oloroso, which are both made from the Palomino grape. As a still wine in itself, Palomino produces a light, rather bland style of wine; it’s the second process where the characters and flavours of sherry are brought to life.

When making fino sherry, still wine is fortified with alcohol to 15-15.5% and transferred into sherry butts which typically hold 600 litres. These barrels are filled five-sixths full and a layer of yeast, known as flor, forms on the top, preventing oxygen from getting into contact with the wine. After a minimum of three years’ ageing, it can then be called sherry and it will usually be bottled shortly after this time. By leaving it for longer, the wine will develop a richer, nuttier and more biscuity flavour, however the yeast will usually die after seven to eight years.

For oloroso, still wine is fortified to 17% abv as the yeast flor is unable to survive at this level of alcohol. The wine is once again transferred into butts and left to age oxidatively where it will pick up much flavour. The other striking difference between how oloroso and fino sherry is aged is down to the solera system, which consists of a series of barrels (often layered on top of one another) called the criaderas y solera. The newest wines start at the top criadera and over the years are slowly passed down to the next level and mixed each time with older wines, until they arrive in the final solera from which it will be bottled. With this process, the wines can take many decades to pass through the solera.

STYLES

Fino (manzanilla)

These wines are light bodied, bone dry and low in acidity. Typical aromas and flavours include, almonds, yeast, toast, chamomile, savoury notes, citrus, ripe apple and lemon peel. Manzillas are often regarded as tasting slightly saltier due to them being aged by the sea. Best served chilled.

Amontillado

This style is richer and nuttier than a fino but lighter than an oloroso, and benefits from being served lightly chilled. Typical flavours that you would find in these wines are almonds, dried fruit, woody notes, caramel, orange peel, and burnt marmalade.

Palo Cortado

Often regarded as having the nose of an amontillado and palate of an oloroso, palo cortado tends to be less bitter than amontillado. These wines are typically medium bodied, and dry with flavours of toffee, caramel, dried fruits, raisin, almonds and hazelnuts, with some savoury and leather notes in the older styles. These are best served at room temperature or slightly chilled.

Oloroso

These wines are best served at room temperature, although some styles can be delicious slightly chilled. Oloroso is usually full bodied and low in acidity, and although dry, the richness of olorosos can often be misleading. Expect to smell and taste flavours of Christmas cake, dried fruits, orange peel, woody notes, almond, brazil nut, bitter chocolate and toffee.

Pale Cream

Similar to cream sherry, these contain slightly less residual sugar and are therefore not quite as sweet. The base sherry in these tends to be fino or amontillado rather than oloroso, with Moscatel or PX added to provide the sweetness. These tend to have flavours of caramel, raisins, burnt sugar, toffee, dried fruit, grape, almonds, biscuits and yeast.

Cream

The base for these wines is typically oloroso, which then has PX or Moscatel added to create sweetness. The best examples are often blended in their youth and mature for many years before being bottled to create a more balanced wine. These tend to be sweet with flavours of caramel, raisins, burnt sugar, toffee, dried fruit and grapes. Until recently, terms such as sweet amontillado, oloroso dulce and rich oloroso were banned, and these must now be labelled as cream sherry.

Moscatel

Moscatel, also known as Muscat in France, is one of the few wine grapes that actually tastes of grapes. The grapes are usually grown in vineyards to the north of Jerez but the wine must be made in Jerez to be able to use the name ‘sherry’. Moscatel produces a naturally sweet wine which is then fortified. These tend to have lots of floral characters along with honey, grape, blossom, raisin, citrus, caramel and orange peel. These are best served chilled and pair fantastically with fruit-based desserts or sweet pastries.

Pedro Ximénez (PX)

Pedro Ximénez, often referred to as PX, is the grape behind this lusciously sweet style of sherry often containing 300-500g of sugar per litre. These wines typically have flavours of dried fruit, fig, raisin, prune, toffee, caramel, dates, dark chocolate, Christmas cake, citrus peel, candied peel and coffee. PX is best served chilled to balance the high sugar content and pairs well with chocolate, mature and full-bodied cheeses, or even drizzled on vanilla ice cream.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Bazin's on Church Showcases Santa Barbara's Foxen Winery and Vineyard

This autumn, Dick Doré, co-fonder and co-owner of Foxen Winery and Vineyard, conducted an east coast blitz showcasing their Santa Barbara County Wines at various establishments such as Vienna's excellent restaurant Bazin's on Church. At this tasting event, we were able to chat with Mr. Doré about his wines, the grapes sourced from famed Bien Nacido Vineyards, and the affects f two consecutive years of wildfires and mudslides. Regarding the last topic, tourism is slowly rebounding and the grapes show no affect as he predicts a stellar 2018 harvest.

Bill Wathen and Doré founded Foxen Winery in 1985 using a property purchased by Doré's great-great grandfather, Benjamin Foxen, in 1837. This property and most of the vineyards used by Foxen are located in the Santa Maria Valley AVA which is the most northern of Santa Barbara's six AVA's. This region receives the most rainfall, has sandy to clay soils, and is close to the ocean which provides cooling from winds and fog. Chardonnay dominates Santa Maria for whites; whereas Pinot Noir & Syrah dominate for reds. Here is the Foxen lineup we sampled that night.

2015 Foxen Old Vines Ernesto Wickenden Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Chenin Blanc ($26)
This vineyard was planted in 1966 by Doré's cousin Buddy Wickenden at lower elevations which block the coastal breezes and provides a warmer micro-climate. For Chenin Blanc this warmth allows the grapes to attain full ripeness producing wines with depth and finesse to complement the inherent acidity. Further complexity is provided by aging the wine seven months in neutral French oak barrels which doesn't overwhelm the creamy melon and stoney flavors.

2016 Foxen Bien Nacido Vineyards Block UU Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay ($34 - Wine Club Exclusive)
As stated above Bien Nacido Vineyard is famed because it is the most widely bottled single vineyard designate wine in the world. That's impressive and Doré related how Foxen has been one of that vineyard's primary customer for years. And this Chardonnay helps explain why. Bien Nacido is composed of very sandy soils such that vines are own-rooted and do not need to be planting using root-stock resistant to the phylloxera louse. In this case the original Block UU was planted in Riesling, but when that grape vine failed to mature as expected Chardonnay was grafted onto the Riesling roots. Quite unique -- both the vineyard management and the resulting wine -- which is barrel fermented and aged on it's lees for eight months. It is a fantastic wine, full of that classic chardonnay flavor with brighter fruit balanced by juicy acids.

2014 Foxen Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir ($36)
The fruit for this wine are derived from throughout the county but don't discount this wine for its lack of single vineyard or AVA status.  It is medium bodied, but with intense fruit and complexity. Expect leather, smoke, slight black pepper and other spices with medium tannins and decent acidity. A solid wine.

2015 Foxen John Sebastiano Vineyard Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir ($52)
The Sta. Rita Hills AVA was established 2001 as a sub-region within the larger Santa Ynez Valley AVA and is the closest AVA to the ocean; thus also the coolest within the SYV. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the favored grapes like this one from the John Sebastiano Vineyard -- which is located on the extreme Eastern edge of the AVA. Foxen participated in the original planting and was able to select the grape clones and vineyard blocks prior to planting.  This is a dense wine with raspberries overtaking cherry with spices and abundant acidity.

2014 Foxen Block 8 Bien Nacido Vineyards Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir ($64 - Wine Club Exclusive)
Bien Nacido is known for their Pinot Noir and this wine is terrific. After 17 months in 40% new French oak, it is deep and complex - dark fruit mingles with leather and spices. The power in this wine continues to the tail as the integrated tannins and acids lift to it's conclusion.

2013 Foxen 7200 Vogelzang Vineyard Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara Cabernet Sauvignon ($60)
This AVA is the easternmost end of the Santa Ynez Valley and thus is a little warmer than the other SYV appellations. Bordeaux grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon are prevalent here and Vogelzang Vineyard provides the bulk of Foxen's 7200 wine program since 2000. This vineyard witnesses a large diurnal temperature swing - particularly in the summer where the temperature can drop 40-50 degrees Fahrenheit. This phenomenon matters as it helps grapes retain acidity. This wine was a complete surprise, my favorite of the tasting as it provides excellent fruit, depth, tannins, texture, chewy tannins and uplifting acids. Certainly wish east coast cabs could reach this level of quality.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Exitus 2016 Vintage Bourbon Barrel-Aged Red Blend

Bourbon barrel-aged beverages have slowly seeped into the wine industry and O’Neill Vintners & Distillers entered the field with the Exitus Wines 2016 Vintage Bourbon Barrel-Aged Red Blend ($17.99). This wine is a majority Zinfandel blend incorporating lesser amounts of Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, and Merlot -- then aged in mature bourbon barrels for three months. The combination of wine and spirits come naturally for this family-owned wine and spirits company as they sourced the bourbon barrels from Kentucky and the grapes from estate vineyards or 15,000 contracted acres throughout California. These grapes are fermented in stainless steel before the barrel aging which helps the wine retain the dense fruit as the barrels add leather, vanilla, and chocolate notes. A side affect of the barrels and perhaps the Zinfandel is a little heat on the nose. And the tail falls slightly flat - but overall a worthy wine. Cheers.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Book Review: Wine Folly: Magnum Edition: The Master Guide

The Wine Folly: Magnum Edition: The Master Guide ($21), written by Madeline Puckette and Justin Hammack ,reflects many of the features that make their Wine Folly website so popular.  The book utilizes info-graphics and photos to simply yet clearly explain wine topics such as grapes and regions.  The book is most suited for wine novices but also provides easily accessible references for more experienced wine consumers. The book starts with Wine Basics such as how to taste and store wine in addition to how it is made. After a section on Food & Wine Pairings, the book guides readers through dozens of grape varieties and styles of wine -- such as the different categories of sparkling and dessert wine.  This section is quite informative as it includes information on the grape's lineage, tasting profile, serving recommendations, where it grows, and similar grapes. A nice quick and easy reference.


The final section relates to Wine Regions and covers most of the major wine producing countries and sub-regions although lovers of Croatian and regional American wines will be disappointed.  Interestingly (and happily) Hungary was covered and the above photos show the layout used for the regions. The guide provides the major grape varieties and major sub regions within that country displaying the information through info-graphics and maps. A second page suggests wines to explore as well as focuses on the country's signature wine. For Hungary, they've provided appropriate exploration wines by augmenting Tokaji Assu, Furmint, and Egri Bikaver with the lesser known Egri Csillag and Somlo Juhfark.  However, I do quibble with the use of grape names where in the map and Varieties chart they utilize the Croatian term Graševina for the Hungarian Olascsrizling where the broader term is Welschriesling. The Varieties chart also includes the term Blaufränkisch instead of the Hungarian Kékfrankos. Readers may get confused because they will never find a Hungarian wine labeled Blaufränkisch or Graševina - but I understand they intended to utilize a broader term.


Finally, for larger countries with regulations regarding labels and classifications, the book presents a readable guide. Italy is pictured above and the Reading a Label section provides the naming methods and term definitions --  an accessible guide for all levels of consumers. The Wine Classification section is also handy for Italy as the book explains the DOG and DOGC classifications.

The Wine Folly: Magnum Edition: The Master Guide is a worthy collection to any wine library as an easy resource. If readers are expecting more in depth coverage, go elsewhere, but for an accessible and clear introduction to grapes and regions - this book will suffice. Cheers.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Drinking Local with Corcoran's Wine & Cider

Jim and Lori Corcoran have been a leader in the #DrinkLocal movement in both Loudoun County and the Commonwealth of Virginia as proprietors of Corcoran Vineyards & Cider. The couple established the winery in the early years of the Loudoun Wine Renaissance as Winery #11 when they planted the vineyard in 2001 and opened their doors three years later. Later, they were in the forefront of the local craft cider and beer, augmenting Corky's Farm with both beverages.   Their menu includes cider as well as both dry and sweet wines as Lori specializes in unique dessert concoctions. The winery is open only on weekends and encourage picnickers, dogs and children. There's plenty of outdoor space.

When visiting, Corcorans offers a separate cider or wine flight for $7 and a popular option for two is to split each flight.  The cider starts with the delicious dry hopped Hop'n'Pop which uses locally grown hops to provide an IPA like finish to this refreshing cider. Another favorite is the PoPo Peach, a juicer cider that was fortified with peach juice. Finally, try the Knot Head, a proprietary blend of seven locally grown apple varieties then aged a few months in used Bourbon barrels. Excellent.

Moving to wine, a tasting always starts with their Virginia Wine Lover favorite Apple Wine. This wine is made dry using several locally grown apple varieties and packs a wallop of flavors as the tartness and naturally acidity lead to a refreshing finish. Seyval Blanc was one of the first grape varieties planted in 2001 and this wine has been on the tasting menu since. In 2011 the winery received a shipment of Riesling grapes grown in the cooler mountains of the Shenandoah Valley. Lori recently found a lost palette and the wine remains vibrant with a slight petrol aroma, but traditional Riesling flavor. Lori does specialize in Chardonnay and during my last visit they were sold out with a bottling ready to proceed this summer. As for reds, Cabernet Franc is your choice, with multiple vintages available. A vertical tasting is an excellent method to witness the history of the area's weather and geology.

The wine flight concludes with three dessert wines starting with the BlackJack where the Chambourcin base is fermented with blackberries and then blended with Petit Verdot and Merlot. The USB is also based on the estate Chambourcin but this time fortified with brandy and aged in whiskey barrels for 12 months. This a “Port-styled” wine is delicious. Finally and equally tasty is the RAZ Raspberry and Merlot blend which starts with the powerful berry flavors but finishes with soft tannins. Nicely done.

14635 Corkys Farm Lane, Waterford, VA 20197
Phone: 540-882-9073

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Loveblock Wines from New Zealand's Awatere Valley & Central Otago

The Awatere Valley is one of three major sub-regions Marlborough and is situated in a valley running parallel with the east coast of the South Island. The Awatere River, which flows south from Clifford Bay, gives the region its name – awatere meaning "fast-flowing river" in the local Maori dialect. The Wither Hills in the north separate Awatere from the Wairau Valley, another large sub-region.  
 The vineyards of the Awatere Valley are planted in hilly and rugged landscapes. The free-draining soils are composed of wind-blown loams which cover a base of alluvial gravel. The climate is influenced heavily by the ocean that makes up the northern and eastern boundaries of the region. Intense sunlight during the day is cooled by ocean winds, contributing to the diurnal temperature shift that extends the growing season in the Awatere Valley, with harvests usually taking place some days after the Wairau Valley. Via wine-searcher.com 

When Kim and Erica Crawford decided to return to viticulture after selling the highly successful Crawford brand, they settled on a plot of land in the Awatere Valley that "stole our hearts". They renamed the property Loveblock Farm and established two vineyards Hillside and Woolshed & Triangle.  The Hillside is 180 acres of predominantly Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris with experimental plots for Pinot Blanc, Tempranillo, Gewurztraminer, Chenin Blanc and Riesling.  According to Erica, the winds on the Hillside can be challenging but they benefit the grapes by reducing the bug population and disease as well as providing slow vine growth which leads to very small berries and high aromatic concentrations.

The Woolshed (27 acres of Sauvignon Blanc) and Triangle (4 acres of Pinot Gris) vineyards are closer to the valley floor and consist of the well-draining soils mentioned above. As the vines dig deeper, the berries gain in minerality.  These vineyards are also certified organic where the "organic management reduces the vigor of the vines, reducing berry size and hence overall yields". Cheers.

The Crawfords also own a 20 acre vineyard in Central Otago, the southernmost wine region in New Zealand where Pinot Noir is the signature grape. According to Erica, this region has more limestone soils and a colder climate - both conducive for this noble grape. These cooler conditions are noted for a large diurnal temperatures which help grapes retain acids. The climate is also dry creating soils with high mineral content where the vines focus on "producing small, highly concentrated berries. The Someone’s Darling vineyard is located on the Bendigo Loop Road which is the warmest of the Central Otago wine growing areas and according to Erica, their "vineyard is the warmest one in Bendigo ensuring consistent ripening year on year".

This month Erica Crawford conducted a media briefing across the U.S. and provided dinner, samples, and answers to numerous questions concerning their operation. Here are brief descriptors of these vegan friendly and delicious Loveblock Wines.

Pinot Gris - Estate Marlborough 2016 ($22.99)
Sourced entirely from the organic Woolshed estate vineyard. The grapes are harvested at a low brix to produce a dry wine with low alcohol levels.  If you consider Pinot Gris somewhat boring this wine will change your perception as there's abundant fruit character as well as an inherent minerality that lingers with the racy acids.  Easy to see how this wine sells as well as their Sauvignon Blanc in commonwealth countries.

Sauvignon Blanc - Estate Marlborough 2017 ($21.99)
Sourced from the aromatically inducing vineyards  of the Awatere Valley where 90% of the wine's grapes are certified organic.  The vines are cropped to allow for sun and air circulation and cover crops force the vines to dig deep for nutrients. Several of the harvested batches were fermented in neutral French oak and these along with a quarter of the wine fermented in steel underwent full malolactic fermentation to reduce acidity.  The result is far from your standard New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Instead of lemongrass and green flavors; layers of stone fruit, noticeably peaches, fold together complemented by herbaceous notes and fresh acidity.

Pinot Noir - Central Otago 2015 ($29.99)
According to the tasting notes, the warmer conditions at the Someone’s Darling vineyard site provides more robust flavors and the five Pinot Noir clones (B777, B667, B115, Clone 5 (Pommard) and Abel) each contribute to create a broad spectrum of aromas and flavors.  I detected a combination of barnyard and tobacco aromas that lead to the classic cherry character blended with black pepper spices.  The tail finishes with just enough acids and tannins to provide uplift.  My type of Pinot Noir.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

A Pair of Iconic Cab Producers and a Sonoma linked Champagne

2012 Alexander Valley Jordan Vineyard & Winery Cabernet Sauvignon (750ml $72; 1.5l $199)
Jordan Vineyard & Winery has been an iconic producer of Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon since practically its first release in 1976.  Their estate is located in the Alexander Valley AVA - just north of Healdsburg - which is the largest wine region in the county. The AVAs boundaries have changed slightly over the years but the the original border extended from the banks of the Russian River eastward to the foothills of the Mayacamas Mountains and is sheltered by the moderating influences of the Pacific.  This means the day times are dry and hot whereas the colder night temperatures create a large diurnal temperature swing leading to slowly maturing grapes and intense acids. The 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon contains 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot; and 2% Malbec from the Jordan estate and an allotment from 16 family growers. The fermented wine undergoes a year of oak treatment in various vessels and toast before final release. Winemaker Rob Davis considers 2012 "a phenomenal growing season" and this is exhibited in the wine, even a few years after its initial release. The wine is still considerably fresh with solid black fruit, a creamy mid-section, and a long soft landing. This wine is phenomenal on its own and will still pierce through any red meat.

Jordan Cuvée ($49)
Since its inception, Jordan Vineyard & Winery has offered visitors sparkling wine, initially true Champagne, but later sparkling wine from sister winery J Vineyards & Winery.  After J Vineyards became part of the Gallo empire, Jordan returned to the past and established a relationship with Champagne AR Lenoble in France as bother wineries share a "joint commitment to independent ownership, wines of balance and quality without compromise". In fact there are no financial investments or legal contracts -- the two wineries are independently aligned through mutual respect and friendship. This respect is born from AR Lenoble’s focus on quality by limiting yields in the vineyards, using exclusively first-press juice, and blending more reserve wine in its non-vintage bottling.  This holds true for the Jordan Cuvée which is a 2012 baseline blend of 30% Grand Cru Chardonnay; 35% 1st Cru Pinot Noir, and 35% Pinot Meunier using only first-press juice and 35% reserve wines. The wine is then aged 4 years on the lees with 18% aged in oak barrels and then aged in bottle for a year. And the sparkling wine is fantastic, starting a little bready but then transitioning to a creamy, racy citrus finale that persists long after the bubbles.  

2014 Concannon Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon ($20)
Another iconic and even more historic producer of California Cabernet is the Livermore Valley's Concannon Vineyard. The winery is "America's oldest, ongoing winery under the same family label and stewardship" and more importantly the source of approximately 80% of California Cabernet Sauvignon through three cones of a single vine imported from famed Château Margaux.  And this Mother Vine is located at the beginning of a row near the auxiliary house not far from the winery's main tasting room. Besides their Livermore estate, Concannon produces wine from other appellations such as Paso Robles, an area making a statement with Cabernet through the Paso Robles CAB Collective. The affordable wine is made in part from the Concannon clones and is a blend of 87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6.5% Petite Verdot, and 6.5% Petite Sirah. This is a bold wine, yet restrained; dense, but flows effortlessly throughout the palate. Dark fruit mingle with spices and chocolate before finishing with a silky and smooth. A bargain at this price.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

New Zealand's Wairau Valley and the Wairau River 2015 Marlborough Pinot Noir

New Zealand's modern wine industry began in Marlborough in the 1970s with growers planting Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir vines in the southern Wairau Valley. Nowadays, Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir are world famous and the Wairau Valley is home to some of New Zealand's most famous producers. One of these early growers was the Rose family who planted their estate vineyards on the banks of the Wairau River.

"The Wairau Valley is one of three zones – along with the Southern Valleys and the Awatere Valley – which make up the heartland of New Zealand's Marlborough wine region. It accounts for approximately 45 percent of plantings within the wider region. It is a wide river valley that follows the Wairau River from the Spenser Mountains in the west to the Pacific at Cloudy Bay. The Richmond Mountains in the north separate it from the sunny region of Nelson, and the Wither Hills in the south protect the valley from harsh weather systems from the south-east. The Wairau Valley has a warm, dry climate that is moderated during the growing season by sea breezes from Cloudy Bay. Hot sunshine during the day and cold ocean winds at night extend the ripening period in the grapes, leading to a balance of fruit complexity and acidity. This diurnal temperature variation is essential to the terroir in the Wairau Valley – without it, much of the classic punchiness of the wines made here would be lost." -- via Wine-Searcher.

After supplying popular producers with grapes for most of the 1980s, Phil and Chris Rose established Wairau River Winery in 1991 taking its name from the river on whose banks Phil and Chris Rose hand planted their first vines in 1978. In total they maintain ten estate vineyards all benefiting from different numerous meso-climates within the Wairau Valley sub-region. The winery is a complete family operation with siblings winemaker Sam Rose handling the cellar and Caroline Rose responsible for the Wairau River restaurant. I recently received a sample of their Wairau River 2015 Marlborough Pinot Noir ($24.99).

This wine is 100% Pinot Noir sourced from three estate vineyards located along the Wairau River: Home Block, Spring Creek, and Winery Block. The vines are cropped to enhance the intensity and color and after fermentation the wine was aged 10 months in large French barriques. The result is a generous velvety cherry fruit profile which transitions to soft spices and then very approachable tannins. Nicely done.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Do You Know Your Croatian Grape Varieties?

I'm less familiar with Croatian grape varieties as I am with Hungarian, but this last trip to Hrvatska expanded my knowledge. Like Hungary, Croatia has a long wine tradition dating back to pre-Roman periods with many wins favored by nobility throughout Europe. Here is a subset of Croatian grape varieties to start your studies.

Crljenak Kaštelanski (Tribidrag) (r)
Crljenak Kaštelanski was an almost extinct Dalmatian grape varietal until DNA fingerprinting revealed that it was an exact DNA match to both Zinfandel and the Italian grape Primitivo. It was once the most dominant red grape in Dalmatia with written records reaching back to the 15th century but susceptibility to disease lead to its decline. Yet after the DNA match the grape is being replanted with the advantages of ripening early and needs less sun than its child Plavac Mali (plus produces less tannins). Try the Dubrovački Podrumi Crljenak Kaštelanski.

Plavac Mali (r)
Grown throughout Dalmatia as a replacement to the disease ridden Crljenak Kaštelanski and now the most important red wine grape in Croatia. Plavac means blue, and Mali means small but this offspring of Crljenak Kaštelanski and Dobričić packs a punch with cherry flavors, spice, and tannins. The high alcohol and acidity lead to solid aging potential as in the Plavac Mali wines from Miloš Winery.

Graševina (w)
Although not indigenous to Croatia, Graševina (Welschriesling, Olascsrizling in Hungary, and Laški Rizling in Slovenia) is the most widely planted wine grape - particularly in Slavonia where it thrives on cooler soils and a continental climate. It is intended to be consumed young and shows its popularity and the Croatian equivalent of boxed wine. However for those producers producing a deeper style, minerality replaces some of the fruity and flowery characters with the remaining crisp acidity. The Krauthaker Graševina Mitrovac was one we discovered. There's also the Adžić Winery Graševina available in the U.S.

Malvasia Istriana (w)
Malvazija (Malvasia in Italian) comes from the Istria peninsula and is known for creating intense wines that can be drunk young like a fresh Sauvignon Blanc or barrel aged for a more complex style. One of these with excellent minerality is the Piquentum Malvazija Blanc.

Debit (w)
Debit grows best in the central and north coast of Croatia and is characterized by golden yellow grapes that provide green apple flavors and abundant citric acidity. Try the Bibich Winery Debit

Pošip (w)
A popular grape coming from Dalmatia and associated with islands of Hvar and Korčula. These wines are flavorful, rich and textured with strong aromas and refreshing notes. Toreta Winery is a large producer of this grape.

Babić (r)
Babić are blue wine grapes grown mostly in Dalmatia. These are full bodied wines featuring dark berries, plums, and figs, as well as distinct spices. The Bibich R6 Riserva blend is a great example.

Bogdanuša (w)
This grape is native to the island of Hvar in Central Dalmatia, translates to “a godsend”, and is traditionally drunk during religious festivals. The Carić Vina is the only version of this wine exported to the U.S.

Dobričić (r)
This grape is from the island of Šolta (near Split) and with Crljenak Kaštelanski is the other parent of Plavac Mali. The grapes are extremely dark red and creates a purple wine -- sometimes called “the darkest wine of Dalmatia”. The grapes do not produce much sugar so varietal wines are low in alcohol as well as extremely low in acids. But be prepared for a tannic tail to create s bitter sour cherry finish. While visiting Šolta stop by Agroturizam Kaštelanac to taste different styles of Dobričić.

Vrbnička Žlahtina (w)
Vrbnička Žlahtina is mostly grown on the island of Krk, the largest of Croatia’s 1000+ islands, and benefits from colder climates. It produces light, refreshing white wines with floral and white fruit aromas. Try the Šipun Žlahtina.

Teran (r)
Up until a century ago, this grape was the most widely planted in Istria. In best of times the wine is "ruby-red, almost purple wine of a typical, fruity aroma that is easy to recognize, and has hints of berries and pepper, unusually high acidity and high tannins and not too high alcohol content: 12 – 13%". Good luck finding it outside of Istria since there is an EU dispute with Slovenia over naming rights.

Dingač (r)
Dingač is not a grape but a Plavac Mali wine produced in the Pelješac sub-region of the Middle and South Dalmatia wine growing region. Its included here because there can be some confusion on its definition.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

#TasteTheNew with German Summer Wines

In 1985, just 16% of German Rieslings were dry and German white wines were known for their general sweetness. Since that year, consumers have demanded drier wines and German wine producers have responded accordingly such that as of 2016, 46.3% of German Rieslings were produced in a dry style. Wines of Germany is publicizing this fact; as well as the increased quality and dryness of other white varietal wines such as Muller-Thurgau, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Blanc; through the #TasteTheNew promotion. Partnering with Snooth they are offering a German-4-pack for $47.80 which can be purchased here. And this week Matthew Kaner (Wine Director & Partner of Good Measure LA, Bar Covell, Augustine Wine Bar, and Dead or Alive Bar) led a discussion and sampling of these wines for various influencers. Here are my thoughts on the wines. Cheers.

Borell-Diehl Muller-Thurgau 2017, Pfalz ($12.99)
Muller-Thurgau was developed by Hermann Müller of the Swiss Canton of Thurgau in 1882 by crossing Riesling and Madeleine Royale - the latter an early ripening table grape. The grape eventually became one of the most widely planted grape varieties in Germany as farmers planted over deflated sugar beets. they found that Muller-Thurgau basically grows like a weed and provides generous yields. Today wineries such as Borell-Diehl crop yields to enhance quality and plant in appropriate locations regarding elevation and soil chemistry. The vines are also grown without systemic pesticides or herbicides and are dry farmed - no irrigation in the vineyards. The resulting wine is delicious heavy with lemon-lime fruit, wet stone, and abundant acids. Kaner recommends enjoying this bargain with oysters.

Koehler Ruprecht Pinot Blanc 2016, Pfalz ($20)
The Pfalz region of Germany has a long history of viticulture where traces of winemaking have been found in Celtic graves as far back as 550 BC. In contemporary history, the Koehler-Ruprecht winery is one of the oldest in the area continually producing wine since the 1700's. Inspired by his grandfather, current winemaker Bernd Phillipi utilizes similar methods as Borell-Diehl with no irrigation, fertilizers or herbicides and systemic treatments against pests or fungal illness are kept to a minimum. In the cellar, Phillipi utilizes long spontaneous fermentations in large, old German oak barrels with extended lees contact. Pinot Blanc shows that this technique produces fuller and creamier white wines without oak influences penetrating into the wine's profile. The wine is floral, creamy, with green apples and lively acidity. Excellent.

Weinreich Basisweiss Pinot Gris 2017, Rheinhessen ($12)
In German speaking countries, Pinot Gris goes by Grauburgunder and specifically in Germany as Ruländer named after Johann Ruland -- who in 1711 discovered wild Pinot Gris vines in a now non-existent vineyard.  Marc and Nina Weinreich created a certified organic version labelled Grauburgunder that is an absolute steal. For $12 you receive a fantastic wine with layers of creamy

Von Winning ‘Winnings' Riesling 2015, Pfalz
Riesling is Germany’s most widely-planted grape variety and the 'Winnings' explains why the dry style is the current rage.  Although the wine is vinified dry, its character oscillates between sweet and dry with tart lemon, steely minerals and acids. The grapes are grown on the Von Winning Grosses Gewächs vineyards -- these GG sites are considered the best vineyard plots according to the German VDP classification system that is overseen by a group of producers called the Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter (VDP). Winemaker Stephan Attman employs a minimalist approach in the cellar naturally fermenting the juice in oak and the gravity flow creates a "distinctive indigenous and very elegant style". I agree,

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Do You Know Your Hungarian Grape Varieties?

I thought I did, at least until this last trip to the Heart of Europe.   Like most European countries, Hungary has a long wine tradition dating back to pre-Roman periods where indigenous or central European grapes have slowly matured and propagated to fit the climate.  And like all wine regions, international grape varieties have been imported, however in Hungary, this occurred in the past two centuries particularly in regions such as Villany. Yet it is the indigenous that I find most interesting particularly when you discover a new varietal such as Kéknyelű. Thus I decided to compile this compendium of Hungarian grape varieties that I have sampled over the years including some favorite producers.


Furmint (w)
Most known for its plantings in Tokaj (70% of vines) but also grown in Somló, Badacsony, Balatonfüred–Csopak, and Eger. Furmint is best known for being one of the three grape varieties used to make the sweet botrytised Tokaji Aszú wines that have been the wines of Kings for centuries. Lately dry Furmint has become increasingly popular displaying the and acidity inherent in the grape as well as the minerality of the growing region.  Patricius Winery, Fuleky, & Hétszölö in Tokaj; Apátsági Winery in Somló

Kékfrankos (Blaufränkisch) (r)
This grape is generally the primary grape variety in the Eger and Szekszárd Bikavér blends but is also well suited in the Villany and Sopron regions where the later has the largest plantings in the world. The dark skinned grape provides juicy fruit with noticeable acids and tannins. See Pfneiszl Winery in Sopron & Böjt winery in Eger.

Kadarka (r)
Before the Communist terror, this was Hungary's most famous red wine grape. However, due to its extreme late ripening, susceptibility to disease, and the need to control its vigour, the Communist regimes preferred other red grape varieties. It is still a common component to the Bikavér blends providing minimal tannins, but decent acidity, ripe red fruit flavours, and a spicy tail. There are also several wineries producing excellent 100% varietal Kadarka wines such as Eszterbauer Kadarka Nagyapám and the Heimann Winery Kadarka.

Hárslevelű (w) The other grape variety in Tokaj (18%) where it is a component of Aszú wines and planted throughout Hungary usually creating off-dry wines. Translates to "linden leaf" and expect floral aromas and a more elegant wine with texture and spice.  Fekete Winery in Somló; Demeter Zoltán Winery in Tokay

Portugieser (Kékoportó) (r)
Most popular when produced in Villány, Hungary’s most southerly and hottest wine region, but also a component in Bikavér wines. The previous name Kékoportó was disallowed due to EU regulations because of the inclusion of port in the name. When produced as a 100% varietal wine it is meant to drink young with its ruby red fruity, texture, and easy drinking style. Nyolcas Bor in Eger;

Olaszrizling (Welschriesling, Graševina in Croatia, Laški Rizling in Slovenia) (w)
The most widely planted grape in the Carpathian basin and introduced into Hungary earlier in the 20th century. Does particularly well around Lake Balaton, Somló, and Eger and it's full body is compatible with oak aging to alleviate its unique bitter almond character.  Gere Attila Winery in Villany; Káli-Kövek Winery in Badacsony.

Királyleányka (w)
Translates to little princess, Királyleányka originated in Transylvania and this hybrid of Leányka and Kövérszőlő was introduced into Hungary in the 1970s.  Although now grown throughout Hungary, it is popular in the Egri Csillag blends from Eger.  It is a delicate wine,  slightly aromatic with fresh acids.  Böjt winery & Bolyki Pinceszet in Eger

Kéknyelű (w)
Unlike most of the grapes that start with “kek” (which translates as “blue” in Hungarian), Kéknyelű translates as “blue stalk.” This grape was once widely planted but almost disappeared during the Communist era as it was replaced due to its limited yields and temperament.  It is now found almost exclusively on the north shores of Lake Balaton, where it produces elegant wines with creamy structure and subtle acidity. Think Viognier with minerality as in the Szaszi Birtok Badacsonyi Keknyelu 2017.

Juhfark (w)
Grown almost exclusively in the small volcanic hill of Somló and to a lesser extent in Balatonfüred, the name refers to a sheep’s tail as the long cylindrical shape of the bunches resemble that object.  Exceptional examples contain racy minerals with high acids that follow a green apple and sometimes smokey profile.   Fekete Winery in Somló; Kreinbacher Birtok in Somló

Szürkebarát (Pinot Gris) (w)
This grape is included in the list because of it's Hungarian name that translates to "grey monk"  - most likely a result of monks bringing the wine to the volcanic soils surrounding Lake Balaton. A modern version from VáliBor in Badacsonyors is rather tasty.

Irsai Olivér (w)
Developed in the 1930s by crossing the Pozsony and Pearl of Csaba grapes as an early ripening, Muscat-like grape with juicy tropical fruit characters. Grown in Kunság, Mátra, Balaton, Etyek–Buda, Neszmély, Sopron. Szõke Mátyás Winery in Matra; Nyakas Pince in Etyek-Buda

Tramini (Gewürztraminer) (w)
Gewürztraminer or Tramini in Hungarian is grown in cooler sites in the Pannonhalma wine region. as well as north of Lake Balaton.  The wines display the characteristic aromas and spicy nature of the grape.  Apátsági Pincészet Pannonhalmi Tramini

Monday, September 3, 2018

Department 66: Dave Phinney's Côtes Catalanes Brand

Languedoc-Roussillon, the wine region in southeast France lies adjacent to the Mediterranean coastline and runs from the Spanish border to Provence. According to Karen MacNeil's The Wine Bible, this region is considered the single largest wine producing region in the world and accounts for a third of total French wine production. Roussillon refers to the French part of historic Catalonia corresponding to the administrative Department 66 Pyrénées Orientales. Côtes Catalanes is a sub-region or IGP (Indication Géographique Protégée) in Roussillon snuggled next to Spain with vineyards covering the eastern foothills of the Pyrenees mountains. The Mediterranean provides a hot and dry clinate with generous sunshine: 320 days of per year. The soil is driven by the mountains and consists of "black schist, with small deposits of granite and limestone in red, rocky soils known as angile". And with its ties to Catalonia -- Grenache, Carignan, and Mourvedre grapes are major players.

Dave Phinney discovered the region about a decade ago while visiting friends near Maury and immediately purchased a plot of vines. A year later he started constructing a winery and enlarging his holdings to 120 hectares (300 acres) where Department 66 Wine now calls home. I recently received samples of three of their releases which were all well made and delicious. Cheers to Department 66.

2017 Fragile ($18) - a blend of Grenache with small percentages of Syrah and Carignan. Simply delicious. Strawberries and grapefruit are positioned within a nutty depth and persistent acids. The bottle was gone in a blink of an eye. 

2015 Others ($25) - a blend of Grenache, Carignan, Syrah and Mourvedre grapes harvested from 10 to 65+ year old vines. The fermented wine was aged in 30% new French oak for 18 months and aged five months in the bottle before release. A deep wine with dark fruit; herbaceous and spicy too. Finishes with lingering acids and tannins.

2014 D66 ($38) - a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Carignan grapes harvested from 10 to 65+ year old vines. The fermented wine was also aged in 30% new French oak for 18 months and aged five months in the bottle before release. A brilliant wine. As deep and dark as the Others, but more velvety and creamy texture with silky smooth tannins.


Thursday, August 30, 2018

Discover Hungarian Wine at Budapest's The Tasting Table

If you are spending any time in Budapest and are slightly interested in Hungarian wine then I strongly recommend that you visit The Tasting Table. This establishment was founded by Gábor & Carolyn Bánfalvi that augments their successful Taste Hungary tour company and showcases the many Central European wines they have discovered while scouring the Hungarian countryside. In addition to wine, the venue also provides a wide range of cheese, charcuterie, jams, craft beer, and the essential Hungarian spirit: palinka.

During a recent trip to Budapest we stopped in to partake in a range of Hungarian wines styles and regions. Our host Tamas started by introducing us to three Brut sparkling wines beyond the more familiar  Törley brand. These wines were well made and delicious showcasing different wine regions and grape varieties. The Pelle Pince Tokaji Pezsgo is made using Furmint grapes grown in the far eastern Takaj region. The Rókusfalvy Birtok Nyerspezsgo is comprised of Pinot Gris and produced just west of Budapest in the white grape growing region of Eytek-Buda. And finally, the Frittmann Gold Brut is produced in the Great Plains in Hungary's largest wine region, Kunsági, where vines share space with the Hortabagy horses. This is a proprietary blend of grapes which add velvety texture to the wine's bready effervescence.

We then moved down the dry Furmint path featuring the Hétszölö Tokaji Furmint 2012 and Fuleky Tokaji Furmint 2014. The historic Tokaj region is most famous for the Tokaji Aszu dessert wines but the volcanic soils can also produce minerally driven and racy dry wines. That was particularly true with the Fuleky whereas the Hétszölö contained significantly more depth and texture for this style.

Tamas then presented a few wines creating excitement such as the Böjt Egri Bikavér 2015 and the Böjt Egri Csillag 2017. The Böjt winery is located in Eger - home to the historic Egri Bikaver once dominated by native grapes such as Kadarka and Kékfrankos but now produced with large percentages of Bordeaux varieties. The Böjt Egri Bikavér provides layers of texture as it is drawn from 25 barrels of differing size and toast. It is also predominately Kékfrankos (Blaufränkisch) blended with lesser amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon, Zweigelt (a cross between Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent) and Blauburger (a cross between Blauer Portugieser and Blaufränkisch). The white Böjt Egri Csillag has similar depth but with creamy stone fruit and fresh acids and is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Olaszrizling (Welschriesling), Leányka and Muskotály (Muscat Ottonel). Excellent.

Szekszard is an interesting region located on the left bank of the Danube in southern Hungary just to the northeast of Villany. It is best known for producing full-bodied and spicy red wines and is one of the oldest red-wine-growing areas in Hungary as the Celts first planted grape vines. The Németh János Sygno Szekszardi Bikavér 2015 is an excellent example of a spicy full bodied red as it is a blend of Kékfrankos, Kadarka, Zweigelt, Syrah, and Cabernet Franc.Nicely done.

The highlight of our visit however was the Szaszi Birtok Badacsonyi Keknyelu 2017. This is a very small release from a producer located in one of the micro climates on the hills north of Lake Balaton. Kéknyelű is grown almost exclusively in Badacsony, translates to Blue Stick, and exudes stone fruit -- peaches and apricots -- before finishing with racy minerals and juicy acids. This wine would be so popular in the U.S.; but for now you can only get it at The Tasting Table. Cheers.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Drink from the Comptrollers Cup at Catoctin Breeze Vineyard

Each year  the Maryland Wineries Association holds a state competition now named the Comptrollers Cup that is a blind tasting historically judged by fellow winemakers. This year other industry professionals such as sommeliers joined the panels and the Best in Show winner was a winery that I belong to their wine club: Catoctin Breeze Vineyard and their 2016 Estate Cabernet Franc


Catoctin Breeze is located north of Frederick Maryland on Route 15 between Thurmont and Emmitsburg.  It was founded in 2010 when Voytek Leon Fizyta planted two blocks of vines along a hill slightly east of the Catoctin Mountains. These blocks consisted of  Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Chardonnay, and Viognier.  The well draining, loose, alluvial soil contains some quartz deposits which assist in preventing frost prevention as well as the ripening of fruit.  The estate also receives a consistent breeze from Owen's Gap - keeping the vines ventilated helping to prevent mold formation - which is also limited by abundant morning sun. Today there are 7,000 vines carefully maintained by Vineyard Manager, Larry Sipe. The winery also augments their portfolio with fruit grown from a vineyard in St. Mary's Maryland - a sandy coastal region.

Visitors are normally either touring wineries or taking side trips after visiting Liberty Mountain Resort, Cunningham Falls State Park, or the Catoctin Zoo and are offered three tasting packages: Signature ($10), Premier ($12), or Sweet ($8) - the later including three Mead wines.  I generally prefer the Premier tasting as it usually includes wines available in the wine club. In my previous visits this has included different vintages of the Serenade Sauvignon Blanc ($24), Estate Chardonnay ($24), Estate Cabernet Franc ($36) , Concerto Bordeaux Blend ($35), and the Oratorio Barbera ($38). As you can tell, the brands have a classical music theme. The Comptrollers Cup 2016 Estate Cabernet Franc is a treat and while sampling you can view the actual cup behind the tasting bar. The wine starts with black fruit and leather on the nose which transitions into the mouth feel where hints of tobacco and dirt round in before seguing to a long and soft finish.  A cup worthy wine.

The Signature and Sweet tasting packages contain a range of Vidal, Chardonnay, a Merlot-Syrah blend in the Bolera Blend, and the three honey wines. These are all from a large 2010 vintage and each has a touch of sweetness without any clawing sugary aftertaste. The Honeymoon ($25) is blended with orange juice and feels like fall whereas the Amber ($23) is spiced with Christmas flavors. Both are solid meads. However, we came home with a bottle of the Dolce Vita ($24), a melomel mead made with blackberries. The berry flavors are prevalent with the sweet honey kicking in near the tail. Nicely done.

After sampling the wines kick back on their large back lawn to view the vines and let the kids and dogs play.  The winery hosts food trucks on weekends as it has no other food options and the food trucks are usually paired with a musical act. In conclusion, I make Catoctin Breeze Vineyard a regular visit; you should as well. And as always theCompass Craft Beverage Finder will help in that regard.


Catoctin Breeze Vineyard
15010 Roddy Road
Thurmont, MD 21788
240-578-3831

Monday-Thursday: 11:30am-3:00pm
Friday: 11:30am-9:00pm
Saturday: 12:00-6:00pm
Sunday: 12:00-5:00pm

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Flor de Caña Rum: Benefiting From Nicaragua's Most Active Volcano

Over 125 years ago in 1890, Francisco Alfredo Pellas built the first distillery of what was to become Flor de Caña at the San Antonio Sugar Mill in Chichigalpa, Nicaragua.  Its location at the base of the most active in Nicaragua (San Cristobal volcano) provides a multitude of favorable conditions to creating a  fine aged rum. It starts with the rich volcanic soil where the sugar cane benefits from the warm, hydrated, and vitamin-rich soil  which also is naturally protected from insect predators and erosion.  Second, the distillery is able to use enriched volcanic water in distillation that not only contains a bit of calcium, magnesium and sulfate but is also filtered from impurities by the volcanic rock. And finally the hot volcanic climate exposes the small (180 liter) white oak barrels to varying levels of heat during the again process. 

I recently purchased two versions of their rum, the Flor de Cana 12 Year ($34) and the Flor de Cana 7 Year Gran Reserva ($18). As expected the 12 Year is much more integrated with a honeyed nuts and caramel aroma, sweet almonds and buttery vanilla in the middle, and finishing with a toffee and lingering smokiness. On the other hand the 7 Year had a more dispersed profile and more petrol but many of the same characteristics including more tropical notes. So pick your price point.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Campania's Feudi di San Gregorio: Aglianico & Falanghina

Many of the worl'd great wine regions contain a fair amount of volcanic soil and that includes the numerous DOCs in Campania - residing under the shadows of Mount Vesuvius.

Over 20 years ago the Capaldo and Ercolino families established Feudi di San Gregorio in the tiny village of Sorbo Serpico in order to produce wines from indigenous grapes well suited to the porous volcanic soils of Mount Vesuvius.  These high-altitude slopes also provide mild winters, long growing seasons with dry, hot summers, an abundance of sunshine, mild winters, large diurnal temperature variations -- all help to slowly mature the grapes and retain abundant acidity. The vineyards are situated in Campania, the "shin" of Italy's boot and anchored by its capital Naples. It is one of Italy's oldest wine regions - influenced by Greeks, Romans and Byzantines as well as possibly pre-Roman civilizations.  Aglianico is the most important grape variety and it grows throughout Campania, but particularly where the coastal Mediterranean breezes blow in from the Tyrrhenian Sea to cool the grapes in the evening. Further inland, the Falanghina grapes grows where there is more rainfall providing more fragrant notes. Recently I received two of these wines Feudi di San Gregorio that showcase the true nature of the region and the grapes. Cheers.


2017 Feudi di San Gregorio Sannio Falanghina DOC ($22.99)
Sannio is a DOC region within Campania situated in the hills north of Naples but still influenced by Mount Vesuvius and the DOC requires that the grapes be sourced from hillside vineyards. Thirteen years after Sannio gained DOC status, Falanghina del Sannio gained DOC status in 2010 as Falanghina was singled out as a key grape variety. This wine is fermented and aged in stainless-steel - the later on its lees - providing the clear characteristics of the grapes along with needs depth and texture to balance the wine's freshness. The floral aroma is intense followed by abundant stone fruits and finishing with racy mineral acids. A summer treat.

2017 Feudi di San Gregorio Rubrato Aglianico Irpinia Aglianico DOC ($19.99)
Situated west of Naples under Mount Vesuvius, Irpinia gained DOC status in 2005 and the grapes for this wine were gown between 1,000 and 1,600 feet above sea level in porous soil saturated in ash and fallen pumice. Rubrato translates to "brilliant ruby" which is immediately apparent when pouring a glass.  The wine encounters no oak treatment and is aged eight months in stainless steel and a minimum six months in bottle before release.  Thus the wine displays Aglianico's naked character - fruit forward dark cherries and plums, black pepper and tea, with a mildly silky depth and a fresh, spicy finale. This is some amazing juice - straight juice.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

#CoolDownwithCariñena #Wine: “Crafted in Stone”

Cariñena is not only the second oldest region in Spain, but is also home to its own varietal and appellation.

Cariñena (Carignane) is a Spanish Denominación de Origen (DO) located in the Ebro Valley of Aragón midway between Barcelona and Madrid that was designated in 1932 -- although it's winemaking traditions can be documented as far back as the early 15th century. In fact the region's vines survived the devastating European Phylloxera epidemic because the lousy mite that caused the disease couldn't survive the soil's stoney and sandy nature and a marketing mantra “Crafted in Stone” is now utilized. Grape quality is not only maintained from these well drained soils but also the large diurnal temperature swings due to the region's elevation, proximity to the Ebro River and the Cierzo winds. These factors help the Garnacha, Cariñena, Mazuelo, Tempranillo, Viura, Chardonnay, and Parellada grapes develop character and retain acidity. Today the Cariñena wine region boasts 1,600 growers; 35,000 acres of vines; with many of theses small growers belonging to cooperative wineries. I recently received two white wines and a rosé that the refreshing nature of wine from this region as well as a Cariñena Regional recipe.  It's time to #CoolDownwithCariñena. Cheers.

2017 Corona  D Aragon Garnacha Blanc D.O.P. Cariñena - includes some Chardonnay - lemon and fresh pear on the nose, stronger grapefruit and shades of minerals, before finishing with a fresh finale.

2017 Paniza Viura-Chardonnay D.O.P. Cariñena - this is a 50-50 blend of the two grape varieties that provides citrus, cream, and softness before leaving with a lingering and lively finish.

2017 Bodegas San Valero Particular Garnacha Rosé - is all berries throughout the experience, depth and minerals, and lively refreshing acids.

Monday, August 6, 2018

A Quad of New #VACraftBeer For Our #VABreweryChallenge

Creative destruction resides in the NOVA craft beer market as one brewery closes several open to take its place. And we recently visited four infants in Northern Virginia.  During a previous wave of new openings Brian Reinoehl visited Bad Wolf Brewery in Manassas and felt the bug.  He and partner Michael Frizzell spent the next five years immersed in the beer industry starting with a one-barrel system and eventually selling their IT business to open Audacious Aleworks (#60). They had intended to open in the Mosiac District where Caboose Brewing will soon open their second facility but found the City of Falls Church a more cooperative environment.  They officially opened about a month ago slowly increasing their portfolio to the present 15 beers.  That means plenty of opportunities to find one you like and I did with the Westminster Bridge ESB -- feels like sitting in a British pub.  Other solid beers are the Pretentious PorterKings Chance Saison, 7 Evil Exes Sour, and Conviction IPA.


Ashburn's House 6 Brewing Company (#61) was instantiated by a similar passion for craft beer this from volunteer firefighter, Rolando Rivera -- not surprisingly some years spent at Station 6.  However, Rivera took a less prolific model and opened last weekend with just four beers on tap.  And these beers are fantastic. The 4.6% El Bombero Kölsch is a light and fresh beer well suited for the cyclist venturing  off the WO&D.  The Firebreak Session IPA weighs in at a similarly low abv and packs plenty of flavor for this session beer.  The same is true for the ridiculously tolerant Off Duty English Mild (3.7%)  where the malt and caramel meld into a delicious beer. And equally so is the Smoke Eater Smoked Porter where the chocolate transitions to a rauchbier finish. Fantastic.


Our next stop, Phase 2 Brewing (#62), is a tiny brewery - a nano's nano - that pours to house brewed beers at Brew LoCo, an independent coffeehouse and homebrew shop opened in 2014 by sisters Cathy Frye and Mary Battaglia.  They normally have two or three beers surrounding their nitro coffee tap and during our visit it was the Mango Mama DIPA and Lunar Eclipse Imperial Stout.  Both weigh in at 8% and are quite interesting with the DIPA tasting like Werther's Original and the stout a nutmeg chili chocolate beer.  Quite interesting.

Our final stop, Rocket Frog Brewing Company (#63), has made a quick name around town and we visited the Sterling brewery to discover if its more than a flying frog. Twin brothers David and Richard Hartogs leveraged an affinity for Dogfish Head, a Belgium heritage, and another brother's west coast palate to create a well balanced lineup.  These dozen beers can be viewed on UnTappd and are worth a short detour off the WO&D to investigate. Start with their sours as their Warp Dive and Warp Drive w. Cherries are not over the top, just tastefully done. The Wallups Island Brown Ale and Croak at the Moon Saison are spot on regarding style but the Paper Wings Pale Ale was easily my favorite.  And for dessert finish with the Space Port Porter and he same on nitro.

And as always these breweries can be visited easily using theCompass Craft Beverage Finder. Sorry iPhone 11 iOS and iPhones 5S and greater users. Cheers.

Friday, August 3, 2018

A Beer Bloggers Guide to Loudoun County

Hosting the Beer Bloggers & Writers Conference provides the opportunity to leverage media influence to further position Loudoun as a must-visit craft beer destination alongside former hosts including Asheville, San Diego and Portland, Oregon - locations that have already gained national recognition for their robust craft beer scenes,” Visit Loudoun VP of Marketing Jackie Saunders

Over the past 15 years the wine industry in Loudoun County Virginia has gained wide recognition for producing consistently high quality wine.  This process was kick started by hosting a DrinkLocalWine.com conference and Wine Bloggers Conference excursion in successive years in 2010-2011.  The Loudoun Convention & Visitors Association is expecting a similar result for their emerging craft beer industry as they host the 2018 Beer Bloggers Conference August 10th-11th to augment the LoCo Ale Trail. Again from Visit Loudoun VP of Marketing Jackie Saunders: “Loudoun is a leader in Virginia’s craft beer industry and this conference provides a platform for the LoCo Ale Trail and our 25-plus breweries to get in front of top craft beverage writers who can take the Loudoun and Virginia story to a national level.”

Photo courtesy of Vanish
Farmwoods Brewery
The county is home to 30 breweries and tasting rooms ranging from pioneers like Lost Rhino Brewing Co. to nanos like Loudoun Brewing Company and Black Walnut Brewery, with a few farm to glass breweries in between. The county believes the later are vitally important for economic development as they not only preserve open spaces from housing construction but all help spur the local agriculture economy. Attendees will visit one of these farm breweries, Vanish Farmwoods Brewery, during the Friday night Loudoun County Reception & Dinner. eight-five percent of the county's breweries will be pouring and the host brewery will be pouring a "ton of variety of great beer!" says Tommy Skelly -- Director of Marketing, Sales, and Taproom Operations. They will have over 20 beers on top covering as many styles as possible and this time of year expect am IPA and Sour heavy lineup and Skelly emphasizes that their Lime Gose has been a hit.

There are also two other breweries hosting events Lost Rhino Brewing Co. and Crooked Run Brewing Sterling.  Lost Rhino was the first post-Old Dominion Brewery in Loudoun and were pioneers in not only starting their brewery but the first in the county to adopt canning. Their Rhino Chasers Pilsner and Face Plant IPA are well distributed and popular brews. Crooked Run started as a nano brewery in downtown Leesburg (see next paragraph) and quickly gained traction for their creative recipes. As demand increased they opened a larger facility where they are hosting a pre-conference lunch and tour excursion Thursday afternoon. Just hope that the Neopolitik Milk Stout and Double Vibes Berliner Weisse hasn't kicked.

For attendees who have flexible travel plans or who are arriving or departing with extra free time, then consider a walking brewery tour of downtown Leesburg.  Park or get dropped off near Market Station where both Crooked Run Brewing and Wild Hare Cider are located adjacent to each other. This is the original location of Crooked Run where they produce small batch and experimental beers and always something interesting n tap.  For a change of pace Wild Hare offers delicious hard ciders particularly their dry-hopped Hopscotch. Heading towards the Government Center Bike TrAle Brewing is on the left of Loudoun Street incorporating a bike theme (yards from the WO&D bike trail) with a nice range of styles. Take a left on Church street to discover the hidden oasis of Black Walnut Brewery or continue up Loudoun and hang a right on King Street to sample the European portfolio of Black Hoof Brewing Company. Then take a right on Edwards Ferry then E. Market past the historical Marshal House to Loudoun Brewing Company. Patrick Steffens can only brew eight beers at a time from his 160 recipes so the lineup is always in flux. And on your return walk, munchies are available at Mom's Apple Pie Bakery.  And as always, theCompass Craft Beverage Finder will assist in your beer travels. Cheers.