Thursday, June 14, 2018

SAVOR 2018: Blended Beer From Blenderie Ommegang

If you are a fan of Brewery Ommegang's Three Philosophers blended beer then you would be interested to know that the Cooperstown New York brewery has launched Blenderie Ommegang, a project focused entirely on very small-batch blended beers. Since the 2002 release of Three Philosophers, the brewery has released other blended beers using combinations of barrel-aged dubbels or two very different saisons or even a mix of stainless steel-aged lactic sours such as in the Pale Sour. According to Ommegang Brewmaster Phil Leinhart, “with blending, we can create flavors and layers of complexity that are otherwise impossible to achieve".

Using this philosophy, Blenderie Ommegang will release blended beers in a more timely fashion with the first two releases in the series blended with beers from two of Ommegang’s sister breweries in the Duvel Moortgat family: Liefmans Craft Blenders in Belgium and Firestone Walker Brewing Company’s Barrelworks in Buellton, California. “With access to a range of beers from world-class breweries, we can multiply the possibilities and take full advantage of the amazing talents within the family,” explained Ommegang President Doug Campbell.

The initial blend Faith & Fortitude debuted at the annual SAVOR: An American Craft Beer & Food Experience and is a combination of aged sour ales and farmhouse saisons. It weights in at a moderate 6.5% ABV and hit several fruit notes from tropical to citrus to stone fruits enveloped with a saison funk. The beer finishes dry and savory.

Look out for the upcoming second release, Zen & Zymurgy, a mixed fermentation sour with a delicate saison base and four distinct yeast cultures. In the meanwhile I'll be headed to Norms to bring home a few 750s of Faith & Fortitude. Cheers.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Left Coast Estate Cools the Pinot

June 5th was the last day for comments regarding the proposed Van Duzer Corridor AVA, a viticultural area that would be carved out of the existing Willamette Valley AVA from portions of Polk and Yamhill Counties, Oregon. About the same time I opened a trio of wines from Left Coast Estate whose 350 acre contiguous estate lies entirely within this pending AVA. The grapes for these wines benefit from the Willamette Valley's three major soil types (marine sediment, volcanic sediment at higher altitudes, and loess from the Missoula Floods) as well as from the cooling breezes from the Van Duzer Corridor. This cooling allows the grapes to retain acidity which is reflected in these samples.

2017 The Orchard Pinot Gris ($18) is a blend of 91% Pinot Gris and 9% Pinot Blanc. The Orchards is the winery's prime estate for Pinot Gris and once hosted apple, pear, and cherry orchards. This is a fresh wine, great acids with plenty of citrus and green apples. Besides the refreshing acids the wine finishes with a steely minerality and tea.

2017 Rosé ($25) consists of 54% Pinot Noir, 40% Pinot Meunier, and 6% Pinot Blanc sharing more traits with Burgundy other than residing along the 45th parallel. The wine was fermented in oak which provides a fair amount of texture to augment the light cherry - strawberry flavors. Finishes dry and savory.

2017 White Pinot Noir ($24) contains 91% Pinot Noir and 9% Pinot Blanc. The grapes are crushed at cold temperatures to ensure minimal coloration from the skins and then fermented and aged on lees in stainless steel. This process provides plenty of body - a creamy texture - that envelopes the citrus and stone fruit flavors.

Monday, June 4, 2018

The 2018 SAVOR Collaboration Beer: Brett de Vinum

One of the highlights to the annual SAVOR: An American Craft Beer & Food Experience is that every guest leaves with a parting gift — a collaboration beer brewed specifically for the event. The 2018 collaboration beer Brett de Vinum is a partnership between Virginia's Port City Brewing Company and Oregon's Crux Fermentation Project.  Port City's Founder Bill Butcher explained how two breweries from opposite ends of the country partnered in creating this Barrel Aged Imperial Wit (8.0% ABV).

The two breweries have admired each other's beers over the years and over multiple calls and meetings discussed recipes, styles, and each of their strengths. One of Port City's strengths is brewing with raw wheat (Optimal Wit) and one of Crux Fermentation's strengths is barrel aging and mixed fermentation.According to Bill, "They wanted to learn more about brewing with wheat, which is not such a common style in the Pacific Northwest, and we wanted to learn more about mixed fermentation and barrel aging. As discussions progressed, we settled on a Barrel Aged Imperial Sour Wit".

As they refined the recipe they thought it would be interesting utilize wine grapes in order to boost the sugar content and achieve a stronger Imperial alcohol level.  Again from Bill, "The National Sales Manager for Crux is a colleague of mine from Robert Mondavi, so we thought it appropriate to use wine grapes. Viognier is a grape that grows well in Virginia and in Oregon, so it naturally made sense to use Viognier".  Since Pinot Noir is Oregon's signature grape "healthy" doses of that grape were also used.  And since production occurred at Crux's facility in Bend, they sourced Oregon grapes. After fermentation, the beer was “banished” into red wine barrels with Crux’s house strains of Brettanomyces.

The result is a delicious beer combining the freshness and citrus yeastiness of the Optimal Wit with an enhanced creamy texture with just hints of sourness. Fortunately the breweries closed the bottles with a cork so that it can be enjoyed over multiple evenings. Cheers to collaborations and SAVOR.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Celebrating Generations of Vineyard Workers with Matsu Tinta de Toro

Castilla y León is the largest region of Spain, as well the largest region of all the European Union, and hosts the wine regions of Ribera and Rueda in addition to the more recently designated Toro DO. Toro lies to the west of Rueda in the province of Zamora and and is bisected by the Duero River flowing towards Portugal. Despite gaining Denomination of Origin (DO) status as late as 1987, wine making traditions predate the Romans as Greek settlers taught the local Celtic tribes how to vinify grapes. During the Middle Ages, Toro gained considerable wealth from the wine trade which expanded during the phylloxera epidemic as the local vines were protected by the sandy soil. Thus even today there are 150 year old vines still producing fruit. Traditionally Tinta de Toro refers to red wine from Toro and equates to a clone of the Tempranillo grape that excels in the DO's continental climate. Like other Spanish DOs there are several classifications of Tinta de Toro:

Roble: a young red aged between three and six months (can contain some Garnacha)
Crianza: must age for at least two years with at least six months in oak barrel
Reserva: must age for at least three years with one year in oak barrel
Gran Reserva: must age for at least five years with two years in oak barrel

El Picaro
In the Toro DO there are currently 8,000 ha of land planted with vines with a portion sourced to Vintae, the La Rioja wine company launched by José Miguel Arambarri and sons José Miguel and Ricardo. The produce wine from 15 DOs and in 2006 ventured into Toro. Three years later they introduced the Matsu brand. In Japanese the brand name translates to "wait" and is a tribute to the workers who tend the vines over multiple generations. As proof, each wine label includes a photo of a viticulturist spanning these generations. I recently received samples of three of these 100% Tinta de Toro wines sourced from extremely old vines farmed using biodynamic techniques.

El Recio
Matsu El Picaro 2016 ($13.99) - consists of grapes harvested from a selection of 50 to 70 year old vines. The juice is fermented and rests three months on lees in concrete vats and undergoes malolatic fermentation in French oak barrels. This Roble wine is fresh yet full bodied with a velvety texture, dark juicy fruit, and lasting tannins. A great tasting wine. 

El Viejo
Matsu El Recio 2015 ($21.99) - consists of grapes harvested from a selection of 90 to 100 year old vines. After fermentation in concrete vats the wine was aged 14 months in French oak. This Crianza is intense that is both chalky and chewy; dusty and leathery. The dark fruit and chocolate lingers with the tannins. Ups their game here.

Matsu El Viejo 2015 ($46.99) - consists of grapes harvested from a vines over 100 years old. It follows a similar fermentation and aging regime as the El Racio but extended to 16 months. This Reserva is even more intense exploding in the palate with a combination of fruit, spice, and toasted wood. Chewy tannins integrate with the juicy acids to keep the party going. Oh yes, if only in my budget.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Lucas & Lewellen's Hidden Asset

Hidden Asset refers to a wine, a red blend to be specific, that Lucas & Lewellen Estate Vineyards produces to honor their estate vineyards in Santa Barbara County - for this vintage the Los Alamos Vineyard and Valley View Vineyard.  The actual "Hidden Assets" are the grape varieties used in this unique blend, a kitchen sink of Malbec, Merlot, Syrah, Petite Sirah, and Cabernet Franc. The percentages of each grape variety and vineyard source is proprietary information but the winery prints the percentages sourced from the four vineyard sites. Three ranches in the Los Alamos Vineyard account for 95% of the grapes as this area south of the town of Los Alamos along Highway 101 is home to over twenty grape varieties. And some of the vines are from cuttings brought over from Europe over 25 years ago. This region benefits from a "rare transverse mountain range topography, an east-west orientation which channels the cool ocean air of the Pacific into the coastal valleys, allowing warm days and cool nights to produce a long, gentle growing season". The same holds true for the Valley View Vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley which rounds out the remaining 5%.  Primarily known for its Cabernet Sauvignon, blocks in this vineyard are planted with other Bordeaux varieties as well as Syrah.

2016 Santa Barbara Hidden Asset Red Wine ($29) - This is a delicious wine that remains vibrant over three days of tasting. It starts with spice and pepper, then leads to a strong cherry and raspberry profile, with spices returning for the long and moderately tannic finish.  Nicely done and at a decent price point. Cheers.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Nebbiolo is Still King at Breaux Vineyards

Breaux Vineyards opened in 1997 when it was only the fifth winery in Loudoun County and the 50th in Virginia. Today Breaux is one of the largest of the 43 wineries in Loudoun and statewide (270 wineries) and its success can be attributed to several factors -- starting with their location at the western foothills of the Blue Ridge and Short Hill Mountains. The 104-acre estate benefits from plenty of sunshine from late morning to sunset and consistent breezes that help alleviate mildew.

The second factor occurred when founder Paul Breaux and original winemaker Dave Collins (owner of Maryland's Big Cork Vineyards) not only heavily invested in new state-of-the-art wine making equipment but also planted a pioneering set of vinifera grapes. These grapes include the standard Bordeaux varieties but also Virginia's signature grape Viognier and Nebbiolo. In fact, to this day Breaux is still only the third winery in the state to plant this Italian grape (known as The King of Wine) and it has become the winery's signature wine.

Third, Vice President Jennifer Breaux and her team are skilled marketers, active on social media and hosting multiple events including the annual Cajun and Key West festivals. To illustrate how savvy Jennifer is once I tweeted that I was heading out to Loudoun and Jennifer replied quickly to stop in for a free tasting. Invitation accepted.

Finally, and most importantly, Breaux Vineyards has succeeded over the last 21 years because they produce quality estate wines in each successive vintage. That was on display when I visited recently to discover a huge, renovated tasting room with abundant inside seating to handle the summer humidity. There is still plenty of space outside for dogs, children, and picnicking with outside food. Tours of the new facility are available weekends for $5 and the tasting fee is $15 for half a dozen wines. The charitably staff member also poured me their 2012 Nebbiolo ($59) as I had mentioned that I was unable to attend a special vertical tasting event the next day. This wine was for sale only because the winery had discovered several cases hidden during the recent renovation and the bottle aging had tamed some of the tannins and acids. But not all. There's still plenty of chewy texture and tannins to accompany the dark plum characters and fresh acidic finish. This showcases why Breaux = Nebbiolo. Here is a quick rundown of the remaining wines in the general tasting. Cheers.

2016 Sauvignon Blanc ($25) - Light and refreshing with more grapefruit than lemongrass.

2016 Viognier ($28) - 10% was aged in neutral French oak with another 5% in large Acacia Puncheon barrels providing additional depth to the traditional tropical and stone fruit flavors.

2016 Rosé ($24) - A blend of five Bordeaux grape varieties, obtaining color from two hours of skin contact, and providing a refreshing strawberry and melon flavors. The wine for dinner that evening.

Equation Red ($20) - Another blend; this a kitchen sink of Merlot, Petit Verdot, both Cabs, Chambourcin, and Malbec; is a juicy fruit forward easy drinking wine in-spite of or because of 18 months aging in American and French oak. The approachable tannins made this a clear second course for dinner.

2012 Cabernet Sauvignon ($42) - A second wine bottle aged in addition to 18 months in American and French oak this wine is excellent - texture, fresh juice, hints of chocolate, but just a tad pricey for our budget.

2013 Meritage ($43) - Another higher priced wine with a pedigree of being in the 2016 Virginia Governor's Cup Case Club. This blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Verdot, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec showcases structure and integrated tannins, yet I preferred the varietal Cabernet Sauvignon more because of its edginess.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Off the Beaten Trail in Virginia Wine Country with Rosemont Vineyards

Located in a remote area of the Commonwealth, Rosemont Vineyards and Winery is relatively disadvantaged when selling their wine. It is the sole craft beverage producer situated in southeastern Virginia along I-85 -- which runs from I-95 south of Richmond-St. Petersburg to the Raleigh-Durham triangle. Since they cannot leverage an existing wine or craft beverage trail to attract consumer traffic, they must attract customers through the quality of their portfolio. That is what enticed us to visit the winery as well as most other visitors who travel from Richmond, Raleigh, and nearby Lake Gaston.

The 450 acre Rosemont Estate has been a working farm ever since the Rose family purchased the property in 1858. In 2003 Stephen Rose, along with his wife Chandra, returned home and planted 22 acres worth of grapevines. And in 2007 they produced their first wines using an underground and modern gravity-flow wine production facility. Their son Justin volunteered to assume the winemaker position and "subsequently enrolled at Napa Valley College to study viticulture and oenology, while interning at O’Shaughnessy Winery and Capiaux Cellars."  Since their first release, the vineyard continues to expand as the winery maintains releasing only estate wines.

Upon arriving at the winery, their large tasting facility is partly enclosed by newly planted vines and a large picnic area suitable for dogs and children. Inside there are also spacious accommodations both at the tasting bar and at various tables to enjoy a sip at your leisure. Tasting fees are $10.00 per person which amounted to 11 wines during our visit, with each wine reasonably priced.

Traminette 2016 ($16.95) - the grape is a cross of the French American hybrid Joannes Seyve 23.416 and Gewürztraminer with the intention to produce the distinct varietal character of its vinifera parent. And this dry wine lives up to that reputation. It possesses the floral aromatics of Gewürztraminer as well as it's distinct spicy character. The winery recommends serving with spicy foods or oysters.

Virginia White ($14.95) - is a bright, dry wine blend of Vidal Blanc, Chardonel and Traminette. There is abundant stone fruit and citrus character throughout - from the nose to the tail - creating a refreshing summer sipper.

Pinot Grigio 2017 ($18.95) - in 2016 Rosemont lost 88% of their Pinot Grigio crop to frost and as a result experimented by barrel fermented the harvested fruit. That process was well received so they continued into 2017 with a portion of the grapes fermented in barrel. This results in a wine with more body than anticipated while retaining the refreshing green apple and acidity character. One of our favorite wines.

Rosé 2017 ($18.95) - produced from lightly pressed Chambourcin grapes that combines both strawberry and tart cherry with refreshing acidity. This wine is what attracted us to visit and we were not disappointed.

Virginia Red ($15.95) - is a medium bodied blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chambourcin and Syrah. This is an easy sipper - perhaps an entry point into red wine - with hints of oak and tobacco that melds with the cherry profile.

Syrah 2015 ($19.95) - this is a medium bodied wine that still packs plenty of fruit alongside the grape's spicy character. Although it spent 16 months in oak before bottling it is not overdone as the vanilla easily mingles with the spice and fruit.

Merlot 2015 ($20.95) - an estate favorite as Rosemont believes their Merlot "shows the best of our terroir" and it was the wine we opened at the hotel that night. It is a delicious wine, plenty of berry fruit with hints of chocolate and baking spices. The winery suggests pairing with rustic Italian, hard cheeses, and steak; but we preferred solo surrounding a fire pit.

Cabernet Franc 2015 ($22.95) - this was once considered Virginia's unofficial signature grape as its relatively thick skins and loose clusters handle the region's high humidity. This release includes 12% Merlot which softens the wine's prolific profile. This wine would still benefit with aging to soften the remaining rich tannin structure and spicy and nutty characters. We have a couple that hit the cellar on our return.

Kilravock 2015 ($32.95) - is a Meritage blend of 40% Merlot, 36% Cabernet Franc, and 24% Petit Verdot and named from the Scottish castle where the Rose family traces their ancestry. This is an excellent wine, our favorite of the reds, with a structured backbone, leather and tobacco, and a little vanilla to soften the finish.  The tannins and finish are also very approachable. Nicely done.

Lake Country Sunset ($12.50) - the first sweet wine in the portfolio is made from a blend of early and late harvest Vidal Blanc. It is sweet, but the grape's acidity counters the sugar allowing the citrus and stone fruit to shine through.  At this price, it's worth opening at dock side.

Blackridge Red ($12.50) - made from 100% Chambourcin, this wine is sweet and jammy. Although well made, for my palate, the acids do not compensate enough for the high sugar profile. But residents of the area seem to disagree.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

#AccessAlbarino with Snooth and Rias Baixas Wine

Galicia is located in the northwest corner of Spain and is home to Rías Baixas Albariño wine. DO Rías Baixas 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. In order to be labeled Rías Baixas the wine must comprise at least 70% Albariño. The denomination also permits six other types of wines which includes the Rías Baixas Albariño - 100% Albariño from any sub-region.

There are five of these 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 where the soil is 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, and is the warmest and driest region. O Rosal also resides against the Miño River -- adjacent to the Atlantic.

Wednesday May 16th Rías Baixas Wine partnered with Snooth to market the region through an Access Albariño Virtual Tasting featuring eleven Albariño wines. Snooth is offering 3, 6, and 9 packs of theses wines at a special sale by clicking here (excluding Paco & Lola and Terras Gauda): As a participant here our my notes for the tasting - and as usual for the region - all the wines recommended for value and quality. Unless otherwise stated all are 100% Albariño.
  • Condes dei Albarai Val do Salnés ($15) from Salnés Valley - creamy lemon, slightly saline, refreshing acidity
  • Bodegas As Laxas Condado do Tea ($18) is excellent: fresh lemons, minerals, depth, and finishing strong
  • Don Pedro de Soutomaior O Rosal ($19) from estate vineyards in Meder and Goián in Condado do Tea - Saline driven, citrus and green apple, long refreshing finish
  • Pazo Señorans Val do Salnés ($25) creamy tropical fruit and lemons, less saline - but depth and dependable acids.
  • Valmiñor O Rosal ($19) has solid citrus and tropical fruit, less saline, and fresh acids
  • Señorío de Rubiós Robaliño Condado do Tea ($18) is light and crisp - minerals and citrus
  • Altos de Torona O Rosal ($20) is saline driven, tropical and lemon, great acids
  • Nai e Señora Val do Salnés ($16) is an association of top growers in Salnés Valley. The wine shows deep - deep lemon, slight saline, & refreshing acidity
  • Fillaboa Condado do Tea ($20) - Fillaboa ("good daughter" in Galician) is the biggest estate in Pontevedra (Tea and Miño Rivers) & one of the oldest in Galicia. The wine is intense with tropical and lemon fruit, saline & acids
  • Paco & Lola Val do Salnés ($22) is a cooperative of 400 members & almost 500 acres of vineyards. The wine is fantastic: full bodied lemon creamsicle, chewy, and fresh acids
  • Terras Gauda O Rosal ($24) is a unique blend of 70% Slbariño, 15% Caiño, 15% Loureiro providing depth and citrus & stone fruit, plus minerals. Excellent.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Miner Family Winery 2017 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc

In July 1993 the Oakville and Rutherford AVA's were carved out of the central Napa Valley AVA in order to accentuate their specific micro-climates best suited for Bordeaux varieties. Both areas contained well drained gravely soils and moderately warm with each region influenced by early morning fog and afternoon breezes (with Rutherford warmer, lower in elevation, and less affected by wind and fog). Whereas Cabernet Sauvignon is the principle crop in both AVAs, each also shares an affinity for Sauvignon Blanc. The same is true with the Chiles Valley AVA, another sub-AVA in northeastern Napa Valley. This AVA is located in the Vaca Mountains and has a cooler climate than the majority of Napa Valley due to its higher elevations and a cooling breeze from the Pacific Ocean. Miner Family Wines encompasses these three AVAs with their 2017 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($22) where 40% comes from Rutherford's Shartsis Vineyard, 52% from Chiles Valley Sage Creek Vineyard, and 8% from Oakville's Crossroads Vineyard.  It is an excellent wine, lemon but not New Zealand grassy, more Bordeaux with texture and depth, finishing with refreshing acids.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Dave Phinney Back with More Locations Wine

Locations is a concept by winemaker Dave Phinney that attempts to create a wine encompassing the various wine regions within a country or state. Can that wine represent "the essence of a country or place and are non-appellation, non-varietal and non-vintage"? After covering several Locations releases I can answer in the affirmative. Here are four of their latest releases:

E5 – Spanish Red Wine ($19.99) is a blend of Grenache/Garnacha, Tempranillo, Monastrell, and Carignan/Cariñena grapes with Mediterranean and Continental influences and sourced from five primary regions: Priorat, Jumilla, Toro, Rioja, and Ribera del Duero. They targeted old vines with low yields that produced a rustic wine with complexity, juicy tannins, and solid acids. My favorite of the group.

F5 – French Red Wine ($19.99) is a blend Grenache, Syrah, and assorted Bordeaux varietals from Rhone, Roussillon, and Bordeaux. One again old vine blocks were targeted that helped create another rustic wine with even more juicy tannins and dirt covered cherries. This is an old world wine.

NZ7 – New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc ($19.99) is the second release from the Land of the Long White Cloud and targets Marlborough growers that have been farming since before this area was recognized as a premier wine growing region in the 1970’s. The wine includes tropical and lemon grass characters from fruit sourced from the Wairau Valley as well as minerality and balance from the Awatere Valley and Waihopai. This is a solid New Zealand styled Sauvignon Blanc, refreshing with plenty of complexity.

WA5 – Washington Red Wine ($19.99) is a blend of Syrah, Merlot, and Petit Sirah aged 10 months in French and American oak. The wine was sourced from diverse lots in the Evergreen State's greatest appellations: Walla Walla, Woodenville, Yakima Valley, and more. The wine is new world and medium-bodied with fruit forward dark fruit, various spices, chocolate, and easy tannins.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Chalk Hill 2016 Estate Sauvignon Blanc

The Chalk Hill AVA is one of Sonoma County's 13 appellations and was carved out of the northeast corner of the Russian River Valley AVA in 1983.  It is distinguished from its neighbors - the cooler Russian River Valley to the west and the warmer Alexander Valley to the northeast - by its higher elevation and chalky white ash that characterizes the soils and its name. This is also the name of Chalk Hill Estate Vineyards & Winery,  The estate is one of only four wineries in the AVA and is a collection of 60 different small vineyards - each growing a diverse set of grapes from Chardonnay, white and red Bordeaux, Viognier, Syrah, Sangiovese, Zinfandel and even Pinot Noir. I recently received a sample of one of the wines made from these grapes: Chalk Hill 2016 Estate Sauvignon Blanc ($33). Bluntly, this wine is fantastic, a much different Sauvignon Blanc from NZ as its powerful with a strong lemon-pineapple profile combined with depth and texture, finishing with refreshing acids.  Highly recommended.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Lodi Rosé Wines for Mothers Day

Lodi California is perhaps America's most diverse wine region - Paso Robles may object - but any region that grows over 125 varieties is quite diverse. And Lodi rosé wines reflect this diversity with Carignan, Grenache, Barbera, Pinot Noir, Tempranillo, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah and Zinfandel used in various blends. This Mother’s Day (May 13th) the Lodi Winegrape Commission and its members are planning multiple Mother’s Day weekend (May 12-13) events. That organization sent us two wines to help spread the word starting with the Van Ruiten Family Winery 2017 Rosé ($12). This is a saignée wine meaning that it's the bleed-off of red grape juice to make the red wine more concentrated. For many wineries it is a profitable bi-product. The blend itself is anonymous but the wine is very good; powerful fruit, flavorful, and refreshing acidity. A great deal. The second wine was the Macchia Wines Ridiculous California Rosé 2017 ($25) another anonymous blend of Spanish and Italian varietals. This wine is lighter and a little flimsy, yet contains refreshing acidity. Rosé doesn't need to be restricted to Mother's Day but that weekend can start pink. Cheers.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

#VABreweryChallenge #59: A Family Legacy at Portner Brewhouse

In 1867, there were 3,700 breweries operating in America and one of those was Alexandria based The Robert Portner Brewing Company. The brewery had opened that year and later would become one of the largest producers in the southeast. And Its flagship TIVOLI Hofbrau Pilsner (TIVOLI is I LOV IT spelled backwards) would eventually be distributed from Washington D.C. to Florida using refrigerated rail cars and using the city's popular railroad network. Portner was also a successful inventor and he patented a system for chilling lager as well as an ice-making machine; both were utilized to produce lagers year round and to refrigerate the rail cars. In fact these two systems were used to create a cooling system in his house -- perhaps the first air conditioned home in America. In 1879 Portner was honored by being elected the first President of the United States Brewers Association , the precursor to today’s Brewers Association. However, by the time of Federal prohibition in 1919, so many states had enacted their own prohibition regulations that there were only 1,000 breweries affected by the Federal ban. The Robert Portner Brewing Company had closed three years previously when Virginia had enacted their own prohibition ban .

A hundred years later, two of Robert Portner's great-great grandchildren, Catherine & Margaret Portner revived the family legacy by opening Portner Brewhouse -- not too far from its original location. They recreated a few Pre-Prohibition recipes, including the Hofbrau Pilsner, in their ever day series augmenting that with a few more modern and popular styles.  This pilsner is brewed with malted barley, corn, rice, and Cluster hops which is a historical variety grown in New York State when the Empire State was the capital of American hops production. The Tivoli Cream Ale is a beer style that attempts to mimic the pilsner flavor with the speed of ale brewing and this is very similar to the Hofbrau. My two favorites. The Vienna Cabinet Lager is another reconstructed recipe and is not as sweet as most modern Vienna lagers. And the Portner Porter comes across dry with roasted malts and mocha. Both nicely done.

The remaining beers offered during our visit were original recipes from head brewer, Greg Maddrey. The Nor'Wester IPA was a refreshing and balanced alternative to the overly hopped IPA market. The First Bloom Blonde and Saint Asaph's Tripel were solid interpretations on these Belgium beer styles and the Spite House Stout was a very delicious chocolate and roasty English stout. And as always, theCompass Craft Beverage Finder will guide you through your #VABreweryChallenge. Cheers.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Gonzalez Byass: From Jerez to Rioja to Rueda to Riax Baixas

In 1835 at only 23 years old Manuel María González Ángel founded the precursor to Gonzalez Byass creating the Tío Pepe (Uncle Joe) sherry brand inspired by his uncle uncle, José Ángel. In fact the winery’s foundational solera is still inscribed with “Solera del Tío Pepe”. 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.  González Byass focused exclusively on sherry until the 1980's when they started incorporating wineries from other notable Spanish wine regions into the corporate umbrella. These included Bodegas Beronia - D.O.Ca. Rioja, Beronia Verdejo - D.O. Rueda, and Pazos de Lusco - D.O. Rías Baixas. And during the same period "the Byass family withdrew from the business and the winery passed into the hands of the direct descendants of Manuel María González".  In time for spring, we were sent samples from each of these establishments that are suitable to the warming weather.

Tio Pepe ($19.99)
González Byass owns 800 hectares in vineyards in Jerez Superior where the hand picked Palomino grapes are gently pressed without crushing the stems, seeds, or skins. The resulting must is called "yema" which is fermented and fortified to 15.5% then enters the Tio Pepe solera system where it is aged for four years in American oak. During this aging period the wine undergoes biological aging under a layer of yeast called "flor". This gives Tio Pepe its unique pungent aromas that blend with the almond notes characteristic of the Palomino grape. For some dry sherry is an acquired taste so the colder it's served, the less prevalent these aromas. Also consider the cocktail route using dry vermouth and orange bitters.

Beronia Rosé 2017 ($12.99)
Rioja is situated in the Ebro Valley hemmed to the north by the Cantabria mountain range and to the south by the Demanda range and creating an enclave for the eventual production of quality wines. Yet in ancient times it was inhabited by a Celtic tribe called Berones who called the area Beronia. In modern times (1973) as the region now know as Rioja became the preeminent Spanish wine producing region, members of a gastronomic society founded Bodegas Beronia -- which was eventually incorporated into the González Byass portfolio.  The winery is specifically located in Rioja Alta -- the western most of the three major Rioja sub-regions -- and it's high elevation and Atlantic climate assists in the development of acidity, color and moderate alcohol levels. Like most of Rioja, the Tempranillo grape reigns supreme and this rosé is 100% gently pressed Tempranillo. It is very light, all strawberries with a long creamy and acidic tail.

Beronia Rueda 2017 ($12.99)
Beronia ventured into Rueda, Spain's first D.O. located in continental conditions northwest of Madrid. Verdejo is that region's signature grape and Beronia creates a unique wine y combining two harvests from two vineyards (Finca El Torrejón and Finca La Perdiz). In both vineyards  the first harvest "produces a fresher wine with more herbaceous aromas, with touches of boxwood, grass and fennel" whereas the second starts a few days later and "collects riper grapes that offer up stone fruit and other, more exotic fruits".  The result is a fantastic wine, with racy minerals combining with herbs and citrus and stone fruit flavors. What a value as well.

Pazo de Lusco Albarino 2016 ($24.99)
Whereas other Spanish wine regions are noted for their dry desert-like conditions, the northwestern Spanish region of Galicia received 71 inches of rainfall each year providing a lush landscape and moisture rich environment for the white Albariño grape. The  D.O. Rías Baixas denomination is divided into five sub-regions with the southernmost Condado do Tea (The County of Tea) named after the river Tea which separates the border with Portugal.  The five hectare Pazos de Lusco estate is located here and the Albariño grapes are hand harvested, fermented with its natural yeasts, and gently pressed.  The result is a wine with a strong floral and tropical aroma, citrus and minerals, and uplifted with powerful acidity.  Wow.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Ribera Y Rueda: Tempranillo Y Verdejo

Many wine consumers are probably familiar with the Designation of Origin (D.O.) Ribera del Duero wine region, situated in north-central Spain, roughly two hours north of Madrid. This classic region in Castilla y León sits on an elevated plateau along, not surprisingly, 70 miles of the Duero River before it meanders to Portugal and its outlet to the Atlantic at Porto. The summers in Ribero are long, hot, and dry with the river providing irrigation relief. Red wine is king which usually means 100% Tinto Fino aka Tempranillo -- although at times wines may include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Malbec. Aging requirements mandate that Crianzas spend one year aging in barrel with one year in bottle whereas Reservas spend an additional second year in bottle before release. And Gran Reservas require at least two years in barrel and three years aging in bottle.  These wines tend to be rich and powerful with acidity to match.

Less familiar is Ribera's companion wine region Rueda -- also located in Castilla y León but situated to the southwest and where wine production dates back to the 12th century. Spain's wine drinkers are more familiar since Rueda received D.O. designation before Ribera, 1980 versus 1982.  The older D.O. hosts a continental climate with abundant sunlight, low rainfall, and prevailing winds that dry the vineyards. This allows for practically organic viticulture. And in contrast to Ribera, white grapes dominate as in Spain’s most popular white grape Verdejo. Not only does Verdejo thrive in these conditions but the large diurnal temperature swings of 50 degrees on average maintain the balance between sugar and acidity. This is why the grape was replanted extensively in the 1970's after being decimated in the region in the late 19th century due to phylloxera.

This month the marketing arm of the twin regions, Ribera y Rueda, hosted a series of trade tastings with one held at the Barcelona Wine Bar in Washington D.C.. This event showcased Tempranillo and Verdejo from 28 wineries in order to present "wines that reflect an ancient tradition and a singular sense of place, yet have a timeless appeal that knows no borders". With such a large tasting it is difficult to fully experience all presenters so here are a handful that caught my attention.
Starting with Rueda, the Bodega Javier Sanz Viticultor presented two Verdejo wines that were fantastic. The winery owns 104 hectares of vines, many pre-phylloxera vineyards, with the intent to cultivate local grape varieties and the recovery of varieties that almost became extinct. One of these is Malcorta, a Verdejo clone nursed from virtual extinction and the basis for the Javier Sanz Viticultor V Malcorta 2016 ($28). This is an elegant wine, aged six months on lees and possessing a creamy dry character with minerals and nuts finishing with abundant acidity. The also showed the Javier Sanz Viticultor Verdejo 2017 ($20) that spent four months on lees providing a little texture to accompany the refreshing finish. A similar wine was poured by Bodegas Menade with their Menade Verdejo 2016 ($15) that provides racy minerals with a large mouth feel. Other notables are the Marqués de Cáceres Verdejo 2016 ($13), the Familia Torres Verdejo 2016 ($12), and the Hermano del Villar Oro De Castilla Verdejo 2017 ($17).

Bodega Reina de Castilla is a cooperative of family vineyards producing several styles of Verdejo as well as Sauvignon Blanc. Their entry level Bodega Reina de Castilla Isabelino Rueda 2017 ($11) includes some Viura, is made from 35 year old vines, and rather tasty. But try to locate their Bodega Reina de Castilla Barrel Fermented Verdejo 2016 ($23) that is made from 50 year old vines only in exceptional years. This wine show depth and elegance with a silky, refreshing tail.

Bodegas Mocén is located in the old center of the village of Rueda and like Reina de Castilla produces an excellent Sauvignon Blanc as well as the barrel fermented Bodegas Mocén Fermentado en Barrica 2016 ($25). This wine has more oak presence with vanilla and spice but also retains the traditional green apple and fresh acids. They also poured an organic equivalent Bodegas Mocén Ecologico 2016 ($15) that possesses plenty of texture and minerals with a little less acids.

For Ribera, let's start with Viñedos y Bodegas Gormaz, one of the nine founding members of the Ribera del Duero D.O. that itself was founded in 1972. It sources fruit from small vineyards throughout the eastern part of Ribera that are the foundation of three excellent 12 Lineages wines poured that day: Viñedos y Bodegas Gormaz 12 Linajes Roble 2014 ($18), Viñedos y Bodegas Gormaz 12 Linajes Crianza 2011 ($24), and Viñedos y Bodegas Gormaz 12 Linajes Reserva 2009 ($35). These wines had various shades of spice and tannins - but are three powerful and delicious wines.

For 25 years April Cullom has been an evangelist for Spanish wine and recently launched the Alma de Vino brand to celebrate Ribera. The Alma de Vino Old Vine Tempranillo 2011 ($35) is made from old vine organic grapes grown at some of the highest elevations in Ribera. This leads to a higher diurnal swing allowing he grapes to ripen slower resulting in softer tannins.  An excellent wine.

Finca Villacreces is named after the Franciscan monk Pedro de Villacreces who founded the estate in the 14th century. This property consists of 64 hectares of vines located in the heart of the Ribera del Duero's "Golden Mile". Their Finca Villacreces 2014 ($39) is a blend of 86% Tempranillo, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Merlot aged 14 months in new oak. Quite simply, it is fantastic: structured, good fruit, slight spice and rounded tannins.

Dominio Basconcillos offers soft Tempranillo wines through their organic and biodynamic practices on their 18 year old winery.  The grapes are grown at over 3,000 feet in elevation providing similar slow ripening and these soft tannins. So check out the Dominio Basconcillos Vina Magna Seie Meses 2016 ($26) and Dominio Basconcillos Vina Magna 2015 ($40).

The final wines are from Bodegas Peñalba Herráiz and Bodegas Arrocal. The former owns vineyards located in Aranda de Duero, Castrillo de la Vega and Hoyales de Roa and their Bodegas Peñalba Herráiz Aptus 2015 ($17) is a soft and structured blend of Tempranillo, Garnacha, and Monestrell.  The latter is a family owned winery farming their ancestry vineyards with the Bodegas Arrocal Seleccion 2014 ($40) based on 70 year old vines.  This is an impressive wine with a solid backbone, dark fruit, and slight spice.

There were plenty of other delicious wines from Ribera Y Rueda. Start your research into the two areas now. Cheers.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Barefoot Wade Wanders into West Virginia's Abolitionist Ale Works

When traveling through Loudoun County wine country via Route 9 (Charles Town Pike) travelers eventually enter West Virginia crossing over the Appalachian Trail and Shendandoah River. This route leads to Charles Town, the seat of Jefferson County and colonial home of founder Charles Washington -- the youngest full brother of our first president. At the time still part of Virginia, this area was home to Charles' Happy Retreat as well as other estates owned by Washington's relations. Charles Town was also the scene of abolitionist John Brown's demise where he was tried for treason and ultimately hanged. On a more pleasant note, today the town is home to a few craft beverage producers including the appropriately named Abolitionist Ale Works.

The brewery's motto is that they "rebel against the status-quo of the beer industry" and this is portrayed through their diverse tap list.  Expect several versions of IPA's from a session to brett to heavily dry hopped ales. Abolitionist is also saison and sour heavy with three clear favorites:  the Harpers Berry Sour Ale conditioned with blueberries and raspberries, the Beverley Farmhouse Ale American Wild Ale fermented using wild yeast, and the Pale the Funky Saison which is a barrel aged Brett Saison with blueberries and blackberries. On the darker side they offered the Chocolate Reasonable Stout, their Reasonable dry Irish stout conditioned with chocolate and the Dirty Beard, an Imperial Stout aged six months in Rum barrels. This last beer was fantastic, moderately heavy at 9%; otherwise I would have finished the tap myself.

The purpose of our visit was not only to visit a new brewery but also to listen to the one-man band antics of Barefoot Wade - "feel good music from a no shoes wearin' hippy beach bum kinda guy" .We've become somewhat groupees every summer in Ocracoke, North Carolina - Wade's home base. With island gigs on short supply during this long and cold winter he headed north to tour the mid-Atlantic inoculating himself one evening at Abolitionist. Alternating between classics and originals he sets the tone with an island beat steel drum, then adds bass and more percussion on a loop, before leading into the main tune. There's plenty of prep and focus before each song and Wade nails it - pretty much like Abolitionist Ale Works and their rebellious beers. Cheers and safe travels on theCompass Craft Beverage Finder.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

A Trio of Hess Select White Wine

Last month we experienced a delicious wine lunch with representatives of the Hess Family Wine Estates where we focused primarily on their Napa Valley estate wines released under the Hess Collection label. Our party was also introduced to the winery's super market brand, the Hess Select, but in name only. But soon afterwards I received a trio of samples that showcase these value wines made from grapes sourced from throughout the Golden State and Argentina. In general, these are well made wines, reasonably priced per quality, and should be widely available. Cheers.

California Pinot Gris 2017 ($13) - This is a new entry into the Hess Select portfolio sourced from vineyards throughout California to achieve, according to wine maker Dave Guffy, a "fruit forward expression of Pinot Gris". Guffy continues that the grapes are fermented at cold temperatures which accentuates the fruit expression further. This was my favorite of the three, a light wine with lemons and stone fruit from start to finish with refreshing acidity. Nicely done.

Monterey Chardonnay 2016 ($13) - Hess has been producing this wine since the early 1990s using fruit harvested from Monterey County. Dave Guffy relates that the ocean breezes from the Pacific Ocean allow the grapes to "retain their tropical and fruit forward edge" and to add weight 25% of the wine is aged in new French oak. This is one I enjoyed more as the wine warmed; too cold and the wine feels over extracted with the oak dominating the flavor. However, as the wine opens and warms, the oak starts to dissipate allowing the green apple, lemon, and tropical notes to appear.

North Coast, Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($13) - The North Coast AVA encompasses several sub-AVAs and grape-growing regions in six counties located north of San Francisco: Lake, Marin, Mendocino, Napa, Sonoma, and Solano. Lake and Mendocino counties were the sources for this wine and Duffy says the later provides Sauvignon Blanc grapes with grassy notes and the inland Lake county more tropical and ripe flavors. This is another one that benefits from warming as the tropical aromas and flavors are overpowering when cold. As the wine warms the grassy and lemon characters begin to add balance to this light and very refreshing summer sipper.

Monday, April 16, 2018

#MalbecWorldDay with Argentine Wine from Salta, Valle de Uco, and Patagonia

Wines of Argentina has designated Friday April 20th as Malbec World Day so why don't we delve into the world's most popular producer of Malbec wine. In the land of contrast there are three major wine producing regions: Salta, Valle de Uco (in Mendoza), and Patagonia. The first two are high altitude regions with the Uco Valley anywhere from 2,800 to 5,600 feet and Salta, the most extreme, up to 10,000 feet above sea level. The cold temperatures usually associated with higher elevations are mitigated by the relatively warmer temperatures from it's lower latitude and the increased levels of sunlight and UV exposure. On the other hand, Patagonia averages only 1,000 feet but has it's own extreme features. This is a cooler desert climate that is warmed by the "La Zonda" winds driving through the eastern slopes of the Andes. Thus, in all three regions there is a strong diurnal temperature variation, plenty of sunlight, and well drained soils - translating to well formed wine grapes. And in preparation for Malbec World Day I received several samples of Argentinian Malbec wine.

Colomé Malbec Salta 2015 ($25) - Bodega Colomé is one of the oldest working wineries in Argentina and home to the highest vineyards in the world in Salta's Calchaquí Valley. The winery was established in 1831 when the vineyards were first planted on original rootstock imported from Bordeaux -- and these vines are still bearing fruit today.  Now a member of the Hess Family Wine Estates, Colomé consistently produces well made wine like this dense, full bodied, and velvety edition. The wine's finish shows white pepper, acids, and noticeable, but approachable tannins.

Amalaya Malbec Salta 2016 ($16) - a blend of 85% Malbec 85%, 10% Tannat, and  5% Petit Verdot. Bodega Amalaya wines began as an experiment at Bodega Colomé in order to find alternative sourcing and varieties for Malbec and Torrontés blends. Donald Hess instructed his researchers to seek land where no vines had ever been planted the workers labelled the quest using the Inca expression Amalaya meaning 'Hope for a Miracle'. This wine is a great value and is fruit forward with dusty, spicy, and vanilla characters from mild oak treatment (25% aged 8 months in French Oak).

2015 Susana Balbo Signature Valle de Uco Mendoza Malbec ($20). This wine is from the Uco Valley's Altamira wine region which is at the southern tail of the Uco Valley on the banks of the Tunuyan river. The location's hot sunny days  The vines' location promotes ripening, adding weight and complexity to the wines and the cooler nights provide the development of acidity and aromatics. This wine displays these characters with ripe juicy black fruit, structure, slight spice and chalk, and a fresh yet silky finish featuring subtle tannins

2015 Domaine Bousquet Malbec Grande Reserve ($25) - This 85% Malbec, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot, 5% Syrah blend is made from vineyards planted in the most northern and highest elevation (4,000 ft) in the Uco Valley: Tupungato, Alto Gualtallary. These conditions breed acidity and skin tannins which are prevalent in this organic wine. There is also plenty of structured velvety texture, floral aromas, and dark dried berry flavors.  A fantastic wine.

2012 Alta Vista Single Vineyard Alizarine ($50). Alta Vista was the first Argentinian winery to produce single vineyard wines using a vineyard first planted in 1927 and located at 3,000 feet in Luján de Cuyo. This region was the first in Argentina to be officially recognized as an appellation and is situated in a valley just south of Mendoza City. The hot and dry climate helps produce delicious wine like this one here with notes of chocolate and dark fruit, good structure and very approachable tannins.

2012 Fleches De Los Andes Gran Corte ($45) This Malbec 60%, Cabernet Franc 20%, Syrah 20% blend is from Tunuyán, located in the middle of the Valle de Uco on the eastern side of the valley. The alluvial soils are ideal for viticulture and the irrigation water is provided by the nearby river. The wine starts extremely tight and tannic so decant liberally. Once the wine opens baking spices and black pepper appear and the structured texture eventually evolves to create a deep and balancedl wine.

2017 Altapaco Malbec Familia Schroeder Patagonia ($15) This wine from Familia Schroeder is from San Patricio del Chanar, a new viticultural region in Patagonia, South America's southernmost wine-producing region. In geographic size, the region covers a vast area, nearly twice the size of California, across southern Argentina and Chile. The arid desert receives irrigation help from Andes melt water which flows through several rivers.  "Vines stressed by these year-round high winds and the free-draining alluvial soils tend to grow smaller berries with thicker skins, leading to a higher concentration of sugars, acids and tannins". Alpataco refers to a thorny bush that the winery says "embodies the spirit of resilience needed to prosper in the Patagonian plains". This is a very fresh wine, with approachable and easy tannins that are preceded with bright red and tart cherry juice. Here's your everyday Malbec World Day wine. Cheers.