Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Down on the Redskins? Then Detour to TCOB & Dynasty Brewing

As the Redskins implode this football season, any residual pain is overcome by two relatively new craft breweries that reside just around the corner from the 'skins' Ashburn facility. First, we recommend Drinking, Playing, and Brewing at The Craft of Brewing (TCOB Brewery ™) and #VABreweryChallenge #66. TCOB provides a craft brewing experience where visitors can drink from one of twenty self-service taps, play pool or shuffleboard, or brew beer themselves using  TCOB's 20L or 50L kettle systems. During our visit we sampled several very interesting and unique beers -- being able to pour anywhere from two to sixteen ounces each. A few standouts were the Dead Center (Nitro) Schwarzbier, Imperial Pumpkin Stout, Hopitis IPA, Chowderhead NE IPA, and the Respect My AuthoriThai Gose. The last was brewed with lime peel and Thai basil providing Pad Thai in the glass. I hope to visit again very soon with a lager recipe in hand.

A few doors down sits Dynasty Brewing (#VABreweryChallenge #67), named after the Virginia dynasty regarding four of the first five American presidents. This establishment is a partnership with one partner longtime Loudoun brewer Favio Garcia (Director of Brewery Operations).  Garcia is well known in the area from his experience with Old Dominion, Lost Rhino, and Beltway Brewery. And as expected their portfolio is rock solid starting with the DynastyFest Helles Lager. There's nothing to hide with this satisfying quaffer. The Data Center Pale Ale was well balanced as was the Random Allusions IPA. Getting into the more intriguing, they offered My Brother's Neighbor Kettle Sour Pale Ale, The True Story Milk Stout, the Holliday Farm Caramel Corn Peanut Stout, and the Maintenance Mike Milkshake IPA. Lactose does wonders in IPAs and the Holliday Farm is a delicious treat.

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

Saturday, December 8, 2018

A Trio From Spain's Gonzalez Byass

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 and Viñas del Vero - Somontano. 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". For this winter season we received three samples that will warm your palate.

Beronia Crianza 2015 ($14.99) & Beronia Reserva 2013 ($19.99)
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 is the majority grape in both these wines.  As expected, the Beronia Crianza was aged one year in oak and is excellent (what a value). Expect bright cherry fruit with slight black pepper and very comfortable tannins.  Reserva wines must spend three years aging with one of those in oak and the Beronia Reserva spent 20 months in various oak treatments and then aged an additional 18 months in bottle.The wine is darker where the fruit and dirt mingle with black pepper and expect more depth and noticeable tannins. Nicely done.

Viñas del Vero Secastilla 2010 ($39.99)
"Viñas del Vero owes its name to a river in the Somontano district of Spain. The source of the Vero river lies in the foothills of the Pyrenees, and it is famous for its ravines, canyons and gorges. The Secastilla valley lies at the far north-eastern limits of Somontano, nestling half way between the two main roads that link Somontano to the Pyrenees. It enjoys a special Mediterranean microclimate that is quite distinct from that of the rest of the region and is ideal from growing vines and olive and almond trees". Garnacha is just one of several Spanish and International grape varieties planted at Viñas del Vero and is the sole grape in the Secastilla. Even though the wine was only aged eight months in oak, it is very complex with dense cherries, spices and chocolate floating through various depths and lingering tannins.  This is a delicious wine - if your ready to splurge - it comes highly recommended.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Settle Down Easy with Local #VACraftBeer

There are now 266 brewery tasting rooms in the Commonwealth and sadly we have now only visited our 65th in the #VABreweryChallenge. The latest is quite close to home, the recently opened Settle Down Easy Brewing Co. (SDE). Located in Falls Church, the brewery's name is derived from lyrics in the Grateful Dead song Ramble on Rose -- but not so fast. Odell Brewing Company had trademarks rights from their Settle Down Brown, yet in a rare sign of trademark fellowship, granted the new proprietors rights to the name.

There were two positive aspects I noticed when entering the brewery. The first was its spacious and open floor plan that allows visitors to flow easily between tables and the bar. Plus it provided an extensive view the brewing equipment.  The second was the two British-styled beers that were listed on the color-coded tasting wall. English styles seem to be overlooked within the current craft beer market but SDE was pouring the Gallows Pale Ale and the Do Yourself a Favor Porter. I wonder if Head Brewer Henry Jager perfected these recipes at his stints at Twisted Pine Brewing Company and Heavy Seas Brewing. They are excellent examples of each style.

The brewery's overall portfolio is expansive with several hopped beers to meet the current IPA fever. There are multiple IPAs, a Dry Hopped Kolsch, and a hopped Martian Monster Red.  They also offer experiments with honey with the Sweet Scoville Sting Honey Jalapeno Ale (it has a kick) and the Raspberry Ramble Raspberry Honey Ale (aroma-centric and tart). But if the Imperial Chocolate Milk Stout is available on nitro, don't leave without a taste.

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.

Monday, December 3, 2018

From Vitis sylvestris to Tempranillo & Garnacha in Spain's Vinos D.O. Navarra

"The first records of winemaking in the region date back to ancient Roman times, but grapes were almost certainly thriving here long before that. Vines of the prehistoric Vitis sylvestris species – predecessor of the cherished Vitis vinifera – have recently been discovered still growing in Navarra. After the Romans, grape-growing continued under the Moors, and was then greatly expanded under Christian rule. Demand for wine was strengthened by Catholics making the pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago to the shrine (now a cathedral) in Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, where tradition has it that the remains of the Apostle St. James are buried.", Wine-searcher.com

These ancient vines most likely found refuge on the Iberian Peninsula during the Ice Age and gradually retreated from alien varieties with  successive Phoenician, Greek, Carthaginian, Roman, Arab and Crusader populations (Vine to Wine Circle). But fascinatingly, some Vitis sylvestris still flourish today  - particularly in Navarra, one of Spain's 17 first-level administrative regions, located just north of Rioja in north-central Spain.

This region has a Mediterranean climate that is moderated by its proximity to the Bay of Biscay (Atlantic Ocean) in the northwest, the Pyrenees in the northeast, and the Ebro River.  It gained its DO status in 1933, but because of its diversity also includes five sub-zones: Baja Montana in the northeast, Valdizarbe in the north, Tierra Estella in the northeast, Ribera Alta in the center, north of the Ebro, and Ribera Baja in the south below the river. A small section of Navarra is classified as Rioja DOCa (Denominación de Origen Calificada).

Traditionally, Navarra has been strongly associated with its rosé wine (rosado), with Garnacha producing the best examples. However in the 1980’s, the official state laboratory of Navarra (EVENA) deducted that red wine blends were the future of the region and Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot were widely planted.

We recently received four red wines from Vinos D.O. Navarra which showcase the powerful and elegant nature of their two most popular grape varieties:  Tempranillo and Garnacha.  The first is considered the "great ambassador" of Spanish wines and accounts for 33% of grape plantings in Navarra whereas Garnacha (indigenous to the Ebro Valley) accounts for 23%. 

Bodegas Ochoa Crianza 2014 ($23)
Javier Ochoa has been producing this 100% Tempranillo wine since 1987 from grapes sourced from their Santa Cruz estate. One year aging in American Oak plus some rounding in the bottles provides a medium bodied texture wit fresh sour cherries, dense dirt and chewy tannins.

Senorio de Sarria Crianza 2013 ($17)
This wine has the least amount of the Spanish noble grapes as it is a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 20% each Graciano and Garnacha. The grapes were sourced from vineyards planted in limestone and marl near the town of Puente la Reina -- "the crossroads of the ways" -- a medieval town where the two main routes on the Pilgrim's Way to Santiago de Compostela converge. After fermentation the blended wine was aged 12 months in American oak that shows oaked vanilla and spices along with a juicy and earthy character that finishes with smooth tannins. 

Bodegas Nekeas El Chaparral Old Vine Garnacha 2016 ($14)
This winery is located in the sub-zone Valdizarbe and this 100% Garnacha comes from vines planted 70+ years ago. The hillside vineyard consists of porous marl and sandstone and benefits from large diurnal temperature swings - slowing growth and enhancing acidity. After fermentation the wine was aged five months in French oak providing some vanilla and spices to this bright, fruit forward wine. 

Bodegas Castillo de Monjardin La Cantera 2016 ($12)
This estate was founded in 1988 and the Garnacha is sourced from 70 year old vines on the La Cantera vineyard. "La Canera" translates to "quarry" which describes the vineyard's rocky and poor soil where vines must root deeply in order to produce even its low yields. Combined with 15% Sauvignon Blanc, the grapes are fermented in stainless steel then aged six months in French oak and 6 months in the bottle before release. This is a jammy wine, fill of bright dark fruit, noticeable tannins, and finishes very clean.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Dr. Laszlo Szabo Presents Hungarian Wines From Tokaj, Eger, & Villány

"These botrytis grapes are picked by hand as they raisin so that it may take six trips to pick the entire cluster", Hungarian Ambassador Dr. Laszlo Szabo
On Monday, November 19, 2008, the Embassy of Hungary hosted a Hungarian wine tasting featuring various wines from three major regions Tokaj, Villány, and Eger.  The Ambassador Dr. Laszlo Szabo conducted the presentation and displayed a mastery of that country's wine styles, grapes, and regions. The wines consisted of four brands each representing various styles such as the wonderful dry Furmint wines to the historic Tokaji Aszú dessert wines from Tokaj. The latter is the focus on the above quote where Dr. Szabo not only emphasized the labor-intensive harvest but also the Puttonyos system which measures the sugar intensity of the Tokaji Aszú wines. The wine brands were Orosz Gabor and Bodvin from Orosz Gabor (Tokaj), Sauska (Villány), and St. Andrea (Eger).

Tokaji Dry Furmint
In general, these wines display crisp minerality as a result of the volcanic soils both in the Tokaj region of Eastern Hungary and in the Somló region of western Hungary. The grape is sometimes blended with Hárslevelű to provide more fruit and depth and can be labeled Furmint with 30% other grape varieties. The wines to seek out from this tasting are:

Villány Kadarka & Cuvee
This wine region located in southwestern Hungary lies at the same degree of latitude as the northern part of Bordeaux. Mountains in the north protect the area from cold northerly winds, while the southern ranges help establish a micro-climate where the number of sunny hours is the highest in the country. Villány is known for Bordeaux, Rhone, and Burgundy grape varieties as well as a few indigenous grapes like Kékfrankos and Kadarka. The later grape variety makes lighter bodied wines with cherries and spice character as evident by the Sauska 2015 Kadarka.  Think Pinot Noir.  Sauska also produces a Bordeaux styled red blend the 2015 Villány Cuvee 7 which is aged 15 months French Oak and is a fantastic silky textured wine.

Eger Egri Bikavér
Eger is located in northeastern Hungary at the base of the Bukk Mountains. It has a cooler climate which is represented in "enhanced acidity, rich aromas, and elegant tannins". Once again volcanic soil is in play planted with multiple red and white grape varieties. These include both international and indigenous varietals such as Kékfrankos, Kadarka, and Turán -- a grape that has migrated to the Pacific Northwest and goes by Agria. And all are possible participants in the famous Egri Bikavér red wines - famous for the imagery of Hungarian soldiers fighting off the Turks at Eger Castle with their beards stained red from the Bulls Blood. Here is the trio of excellent wines from St Andrea:

Tokaj Dessert Wines
Dessert wines from Tokaji range from late harvest wines to the aforementioned Tokaji Aszú. Szamorodni is a traditional late harvest style where depending on the sugar level of the grapes, can be made Száraz (Dry) or Édes (Sweet) Szamorodni. The Bodvin 2016 Tokaji Édes Szamorodni is a nice example of the sweeter style with full apricot flavors and elevated acids to alleviate the sugar. Another late harvest option was the Orosz Gabor 2015 Tokaji Sárgamuskotály -- basically an un-botrytised late harvest Yellow Muscat. This wine exudes the familiar muscat aroma with layers of acids and salt to once again balance the sugar.

Finally, there were two true Tokaji Aszú wines made from fully botrytised individually harvested grapes. These were five and six puttonyus wines, the highest classifications, and starting with the Bodvin 2013 Tokaji Aszú 5 puttonyus. This wine was aged three years in oak and is fabulous with a deep apricot base and the inherent acidity to keep the wine fresh. The highlight of the evening was the Orosz Gabor 2007 Tokaji Aszú 6 puttonyus that according to Dr. Szabo sells at the Trump Hotel for $140 a teaspoon. The wine is still fresh after three years in barrel and eight years in the bottle and shows the result of waiting for only outstanding years to make this wine. Egészségére.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Duclaw Sausage Twins Featuring the Bad Moon Porter and Blonde Ale

Who's visited DuClaw Brewing Company - Arundel Mills or DuClaw Brewing Company - BWI and had the Duclaw Sausage Twins. Unbelievably good sandwich -- two sausages poached in Blonde Ale with Old Bay, topped with crab meat, Bacon, cheddar, tomatoes, and chipotle mayo on toasted pretzel rolls. Includes sliced pickles and a side of Bad Moon Porter Mustard. These restaurants pair their pub food with a sizable local craft beer menu including several from their parent Baltimore's DuClaw Brewing Company. Perhaps their most known beer is the Sweet Baby Jesus! Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter. This unique beer comes across sweet just like a Reese's. However, I learned while devouring one of the sausage twins that the Sweet Baby Java Espresso Infused SBJ actually counters the sweetness and makes drinking a pint enjoyable rather than a challenge.  As stated above, the Bad Moon Porter and Bare Ass Blonde Ale are mentioned as ingredients to the sausage twins and both are drinkable beers on their own. Particularly the Blonde Ale with its inherent minerality.  For those looking for more options Duclaw has available the Misfit Red Amber Ale, Enjoy Your Time Away IPA, and Funk Blueberry Citrus Wheat Ale. Cheers.


Saturday, November 24, 2018

Ted Trots Out Cass Winery at Bazin's

Bazin's on Church recently hosted Cass Winery and its charismatic co-owner Ted Plemons. He and Steve Cass officially opened the winery in 2005 on land Cass owned and, motivated after a trip to South Africa, they wo hired their future winemaker before even one vine was planted. From that opening Cass Winery has earned multiple awards and salutations and in 2015 and 2018 Winery of the Year at the Central Coast Wine Competition.


 Located in Paso Robles Wine Country, the 145 acre estate vineyard benefits from the "Templeton Gap" -- a series of passes in the Santa Lucia Range through which air flows creating evening breezes. This helps generate a dramatic change in temperature between daytime and nighttime (the diurnal variation) which in turn helps preserves the balance of natural acids inside the grapes. Like many of its neighbors, Cass specializes in Rhone grape varieties such as Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre (the GSM blends), and Petite Sirah for reds and Viognier, Roussanne, and Marsanne for whites. Paso is also becoming well known for their Cabernet (see Paso Robles CAB Collective) and Cass currently pours a savory and creamy 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon ($36).


But the Rhone varietal wines were the main attractions at Bazin's starting with two delicious white wines -- the 2017 Genesso District Mr. Blanc ($24) and the 2016 Estate Viognier ($27). This Viognier possesses the characteristic stone fruits of peaches and apricots with brilliant acidity that balances the fruity front and finish. The Mr. Blanc is a blend of Marsanne, Roussanne, and Viognier and is more tropical and minerally in nature. We came home with a few bottles of this fantastic wine. There were also two red Rhones the 2015 Mourvèdre ($35) and 2015 Grenache ($35). Both were juicy wines with dark fruit, spices, and approachable smooth tannins.  And finally they poured the layered and wavy 2014 Backbone Syrah ($45) - commendably old world in style.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Right Bank and Truffle Hill from Left Coast Estate

"Each vineyard at Left Coast contains a wide variety of clonal and rootstock combinations, elevations, row orientations and soil compositions. A microcosm of flavors, sugars, and acidity can be found in each block of vines.",
This Oregon winery is very proud of their estate which explains Left Coast Estate's recent rebranding from Left Coast Cellars. This estate is sub-divided into nine blocks each differentiated by natural characteristics such as elevation and soil composition but also vineyard management such as clonal and rootstock combinations. I recently received samples of four Left Coast wines introducing me to the Right Bank and Truffle Hill vineyards.

Left Coast Estate Cali's Cuvee Pinot Noir 2016 ($24)
This is the winery's flagship Pinot Noir that is composed of grapes from all the blocks and different clonal selections from their vineyard. This is a delicious wine with earthy dirt aroma, dark cherries and bitter dark chocolate flavors, approachable tannins.

Left Coast Estate Right Bank Pinot Noir 2015 ($42)
The Right Bank is a 12 acre hilltop vineyard that consists entirely of Pommard clone Pinot Noir. This clone was originally sourced from the Château de Pommard in Burgundy by Dr. Harold Olmo at University of California at Davis’ Department of Viticulture and Enology -- reference to Prince of Pinot. This excellent wine starts with a minty aroma, then dark dark fruit, some chocolate, plenty of texture, and finishing with smooth tannins.

Left Coast Estate Truffle Hill Pinot Noir 2015 ($42)
Truffle Hill is home to four acres of European Black Truffle-inoculated hazelnut trees, shrub roses and holly oaks but is also planted with five acres of the Swiss clone Wädenswil Pinot Noir. According to the Prince of Pinot, "the Wädenswil clone was a selection done by the Swiss Federal Research Station in Wädenswil, Switzerland in the 1950s from ancient clones brought to the Zurich area by Swiss mercenaries who fought for the King of France in the Burgundian Wars of the 1470s. The Wädenswil clone was selected for its excellent ripening in a cool climate and natural disease resistance, qualities that contributed to its success in Oregon." This is another fantastic wine, earthy and tobacco aroma with dark fruit and more earth through the palate.

Left Coast Estate Truffle Hill Chardonnay 2017 ($24)
Since the Truffle Hill Vineyard is directly east of the "Van Duzer Corridor" it receives major marine influences that benefit these Chardonnay grapes. As does the marine sedimentary and Chehulpum silt loam soils. This 100% Chardonnay is a fresh wine, pears and figs, creamy texture, and lighter acids. My style of Chardonnay.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

#GoGoldenBordeaux with Sweet Bordeaux

Raise your hand if like me, you thought Sweet Bordeaux would refer to just the wonderful wines of Sauternes? I learned preparing for the Snooth facilitated #GoGoldenBordeaux tasting that Sauternes is one of ten appellations producing these dessert wines. Bordeaux is the only French region which allows for the development of Botrytis Cinerea - aka noble rot. And this derives from the region’s oceanic climate which alternates between humidity and heat. When the Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, or Muscadelle grapes hang on the vine a little past their harvest peak then noble rot ensues. This grape concentration produces a golden colored wine with intense aromas and flavors.


Sauternes
Its sweet wines come from the towns of Sauternes, Barsac, Preignac, Fargues and Bommes, located on the left bank of the Garonne, about forty kilometers south of Bordeaux. Its grapes are Sémillon, Sauvignon and Muscadelle. They are vinified according to tradition, in small volumes, for 12 to 18 months in vats or barrels, depending on the crus.

Bordeaux Supérieur
Its sweet wines come from vineyards all over Gironde, capable of producing quality sweet white wines. Its grapes are Sémillon, Sauvignon and Muscadelle. They are vinified over 6 to 18 months, in vats or barrels depending on the crus. Its grapes are Sémillon, Sauvignon and Muscadelle. They are vinified in stainless steel tanks or oak barrels. The vinification is followed by great attention because producing a sweet wine is a precision job. But the charm of Loupiac is also the multiplicity of producers who make wines with very different personalities and all very endearing.

Loupiac
Their acidity and freshness. Their citrus aromas and liquorice notes which bring character. Their accessibility and delicate balance with the sugar.

Cadillac
Its sweet wines come from the slopes of the right bank of the Garonne. Its grapes are Sémillon, Sauvignon and Muscadelle. They are vinified traditionally for 12 to 18 months.

Saint-Macaire
Its sweet wines come from vineyards of 10 towns in the Saint-Macaire canton, which extends on the slopes of the right bank of the Garonne, south of Bordeaux. Its grapes are Sémillon, Sauvignon and Muscadelle. They are produced after handpicking and harvested by successive selections, followed by a traditional vinification, aged for 10 and 18 months.

Sainte-Croix-du-Mont
Its sweet wines come from the town of Sainte-Croix-du-Mont and its hilly terroir, the only one which can claim the wines from this appellation. Its grapes are Sémillon, Sauvignon and Muscadelle. They are vinified traditionally and in small volumes. They are aged for 12 to 18 months in vats or barrels, depending on the crus.

Premières Côtes
Its sweet wines come from vineyards of 39 towns that lie on the slopes of the right bank of the Garonne, south of Bordeaux. Its grapes are Sémillon, Sauvignon and Muscadelle. They are produced at the end of harvests and of a traditional winemaking, aged for 10 and 18 months.

Cérons
Its sweet wines come from three cities, Cérons, Illats and Podensac, located about forty kilometers south of Bordeaux. Its grapes are Semillon and Sauvignon. They are vinified in accordance with traditional methods and in small volumes. They benefit from 12 to 18 months vinification, in vats or barrels depending on the crus.

Barsac
Its liquourous wines come from Barsac town, on the left bank of the Garonne, about forty kilometers south of Bordeaux. Its grapes are Sémillon, Sauvignon and Muscadelle. They are vinified according to tradition, in small volumes, for 12 to 18 months, in vats or barrels depending on the crus.

Graves Supérieures
Its sweet wines come from the Graves vineyards on the left bank of the Garonne. Its grapes are Sémillon, Sauvignon and Muscadelle. They are vinified traditionally and in small volumes. They are aged for 12 to 18 months in vats or barrels, depending on the crus.

The Wines

Chateau Manos Cadillac 2016
This tropical and honey-citrus wine is practically all Semillon harvested from a clay-limestone slope in the commune of Haux. The Château has belonged to the same family for four generations and produces one delicious wine.

Chateau Loupiac-Gaudiet 2016
This is the lightest and freshest wine of the group comprised of 90% Sémillion and 10% Sauvignon. Like others, the grapes were harvested from vines growing in clay and limestone soils. This is the wine that started the brainstorming for cocktails.

Château la Rame Sainte Croix du Mont 2015
My favorite -- savory with stone fruits of peaches and apricots, honey, and racy minerality. The 100% Sémillon grapes grew on the typical clay-limestone soil but with a fossilized oyster subsoil. This explains the minerality.

Chateau du Cros Loupiac 2014
The is a very citrus and candied blend of 90% Sémillon, 5% Sauvignon, 5% Muscadelle grapes harvested from the right bank slopes of the Garonne River on chalky clay topsoil and limestone subsoil. Some of these vines date back to 1907.

Chateau Dauphine Rondillon Loupiac 2011
The chateau is in its eighth generation of family ownership and this blend of 70% Semillon and 30% Sauvignon Blanc is excellent with multiple layers of raisons, honey, apricots, and butterscotch. Seven years has not dented it's quality.

Chateau Lapinesse Sauternes 2016
This is an extremely rich and tart wine with a hint of spice. It is 100% Sémillon that was aged 12 months in stainless steel tanks. Excellent.

Chateau Filhot Sauternes 2015
Chateau Filhot Sauternes dates back to the 1600s and was compared to Chateau d’Yquem by then ambassador to France Thomas Jefferson. The grapes were grown south of the village of Sauternes on south-west hillsides with the blend established at 60% Sémillon, 36% Sauvignon, & 4% Muscadelle. There is more of an orange cream cycle feel to this wine that was aged 22 months including 12 months in oak barrels.

Castelnau de Suduiraut Sauternes 2006
This wine shows the aging potential of this styled wine. It offers layers of dried apricots and honey, abundant acidity, and salty minerals. There's abundant history with the property as well as Count Blaise de Suduiraut replanted the vineyard and restored the estate after it was destroyed in the 1600s. The 99% Sémillon grew on sandy clay soil and the wine was aged in French oak barrels for 15 months with 30% of once used barrels and 70% of twice used barrels.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Kent Island's First Brewery: Cult Classic Brewing

Have you ever been stuck in Route 50 west bound traffic traveling over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge? Well, these are new stop to pass the time outside of the Kent Narrows restaurants. Cult Classic Brewing opened recently smack center of Kent Island and has a playful tasting room - spacious and outlined with various boardwalk games (3,000 square foot taproom, 75 foot bar). In this reconstituted ACME Supermarket, brothers Brooks and Jesse McNew serve a dozen craft beers from their rather extensive initial brewing systems. Their portfolio runs the gamut of craft beer styles and my sampler consisted of the Kolsch, Munich Helles, Pale Ale, and Porter. They last was my favorite although the other three were very stylistically correct. On my next visit to the beach I plan to explore their Irish Red and Oatmeal Stout - if both still on nitro - as well as their various IPA offerings. Cheers and as always theCompass Craft Beverage Finder will guide you to this and all other breweries.

Friday, November 16, 2018

The Chalk Hill 2016 Sonoma Red Wine


The Chalk Hill Winery 2016 Sonoma County Red ($24.99) is a friendly wine as our group quickly and easily disposed its contents not long after uncorking. Expect a rich and smooth dark fruit sensation mingling with spices and vanilla, before finishing with a velvety and lingering tail. It is a Bordeaux-ish blend of 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Malbec, 3% Zinfandel, and 2% Merlot. Whereas the Chalk Hill brand is normally characterized by estate fruit, this wine is derived from grapes sourced from a combination of Chalk Hill estate and Foley Family vineyards dispersed throughout Sonoma County. [Foley Family is the parent company to Chalk Hill Winery.]   According to the tasting notes, the Chalk Hill AVA fruit provides richness, concentration, and nuttiness, whereas the Sonoma County fruit provides fruit forward nuances. These grapes are barrel fermented in French and American oak (20% new) then aged in additional 12 months in barrel. The result is a delicious wine.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Finally, a Trip to Dogfish Head Craft Brewery

This month I finally was able to visit the holy grail of east coast brewing, Dogfish Head Craft Brewery.  In my opinion, this brewery isn't lionized because of its iconic brands such as the 90 Minute series but because co-founder Sam Calagione freed us from the Reinheitsgebot. Before Dogfish Head opened in 1995, almost all American beers adhered to the key features of this German law -- brewing with just malted barley, yeast, hops, and water. Calagione blew this stagnation out of the water by not only creating non-conformist beers but also becoming a mini-archeologist and brewing craft beverages enjoyed by ancient cultures. Think of excellent and provoking beers such as Midus Touch, Chateau Jiahu, or Theobroma. Then there is his innovation combining wine must and beer as with Noble Rot and Siracusa Nera. Or think of the special oak treatments such as the Palo Santo Marron. Thus, for those who love any of the funky, sour, or just crazy beers brewed by the thousands of craft breweries today, Dogfish Head was the pioneer.

The brewery is located in Milton Delaware, far from Sam's New England heritage and Dogfish Head, Maine in which the brewery is named. Instead, Delaware is the home state of co-founder and current VP Mariah Calagione -- Sam's wife. The brewery first opened in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware as a brewpub which is still operating today as Dogfish Head Brewings & Eats. After those early days the brewery's growth mandated a relocation to a larger facility in Milton, which has continued to expand as demand dictates.

Visitors to Dogfish Head first notice how the facility is massive, with fermenting tanks erected through ceilings and the long, long warehouse. Most are probably unaware of the equally large packaging facility located a football field behind the brewery.  Dogfish Head is easily the largest brewery I've ever seen outside a stop in Golden, Colorado. In fact, their experimental R&D unit alone is larger than most craft breweries. According to the Brewers Association, in 2017 Dogfish Head produced 276,243 barrels of beer. In comparison neighboring Crooked Hammock Brewing released 1,300 barrels and Burley Oak Brewing Company in Berlin, Maryland 2,800 barrels.  Yet Dogfish Head is still only the 12th largest independent craft brewery as defined by the Brewers Association.

In contrast to the brewing size, the tasting room is rather small - more comparable to a routine craft brewery. Obviously then, off season is the most opportune time to visit as I heard horror stories of long summer queues.  And there is no shortage of beers available as they pour close to two dozen beers as samples, pints, crowlers, or growlers. Where else can you find the 120 Minute IPA, Bourbon Barrel-Aged Palo Santo Marron, Pennsylvania Tuxedo, Viniferous IPA, or Wood-Aged Bitches Brew all in one spot. They even pour beers that have graduated from their R&D system but are not intended for wider distribution.


The tasting room is also where visitors schedule tours - and Dogfish Head offers several varieties. The shortest is the Quick Sip a 25 minute free tour that includes four free samples of beer. The hour long Off-Centered tour is most recommended where for $10 participants receive four samples and stops at " our 200-barrel brewhouse, Off-Centered Center and even our new R&D system where you’ll have a chance to sample one of our experimental brews and we finish the tour out at our packaging facility where we show you have everything is kegged, canned and bottled".  Of notable interest is the original brewing equipment (a bucket and electronic football game) used by Calagione to develop the 90 Minutes series. And on our tour we sampled an excellent IPA that most likely won't even make it into the tasting room. And for visitors who really plan ahead look for the limited Grain To Glass, Randall Jr., and Distillery tours with access to normally off-limit parts of the brewery. And yes the distillery official relocated from the Rehoboth Beach brewpub to a larger pasture in Milton.

For those heading to the Maryland or Delaware beaches, visiting Dogfish Head takes just a slight adjustment from your route.  For those brewery tourists, visit nearby Lewes and Rehoboth Beach to broaden your craft beverage trip. And as always, theCompass Craft Beverage Finder will guide you there.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Santa Cristina and the Italian IGT

Most of Italy's wines are labeled DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) or DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata), classifications that set rules governing concerning the viticultural zone, permitted grape varieties, wine styles, and more. Barolo DOCG, Chianti Classico DOCG, Prosecco DOC, and Soave DOC are popular examples of each.

However, many wines failed to qualify for DOC or DOCG status, not because they were of poor quality, but because they were made from grape varieties (or blends) not sanctioned under DOC/G laws. One example are the Super-Tuscans -- Sangiovese blended with international grape varieties. Thus in 1992 the IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) was created -- granting winemakers more freedom to create unique blends. IGT wines are only required to state the vintage, region of origin, and producer name on the label and be made from at least 85% grapes from the region.

Santa Cristina is one establishment that utilizes this classification by creating several Toscana IGT wines. The winery is located in the small historic town of Cortona and in 1946 Niccolò Antinori released their first vintage -- a Chianti Classico. However, with the passage of the 1984 DOCG laws requiring lower vineyard yields, Chianti Classico grapes became so complex and rich that they required more aging than what this fruity, fresh wine should have. In 1987, the winery stopped using the Chianti Classico designation and in 1994 adopted the IGT classification by adding Merlot to soften their signature red wine. This wine has evolved into the Santa Cristina Rosso Toscana IGT and I recently received a sample accompanied by two other Santa Cristina wines. In general, they provide immense quality at a noticeably reasonable price point. Cheers.

Santa Cristina Rosso, Toscana IGT 2016 ($13)
The Rosso not only incorporates Sangiovese and Merlot, but also Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Each of these grape varieties were fermented separately  , then blended and aged partly in oak and stainless steel. The result is a dry, but fruity wine - very food friendly -  with juicy and savory texture finishing with moderate and lasting tannins. Give me a burger or pizza.

Santa Cristina Cipresseto Rosato, Toscana IGT 2017 ($14)
Santa Cristina was one of the first Italian wineries to release a rosé wine and is named after the cypress trees which reside in the Tuscan landscape. This wine is predominately Sangiovese and offers soft red apples and strawberries followed by a long and fresh finish. Nicely done.

Santa Cristina Pinot Grigio, delle Venezie DOC 2017 ($13)
In the past this would have been referred to as an IGT delle Venezie wine but in 2017 the delle Venezie DOC was created that covers the Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Trentino-Alto Adige, and Veneto regions. Seven out of ten delle Venezie wines are Pinot Grigio and this grape variety is required to be 85% of the bottled wine. This is another soft wine, with citrus and green apples dominating the palate with a velvety texture and lasting tail. A great example of delle Venezie Pinot Grigio.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Dave Pickerell and George Washington Rye Whiskey

Last weekend I had my first opportunity to taste the Limited Edition George Washington Rye Whiskey ($185) distilled directly onsite at Mount Vernon at George Washington's Distillery® and Gristmill. The distillery is a fully functional reconstruction of our First President's distillery which in 1799 was one of the largest whiskey distilleries in America. At that time six distiller slaves operated five copper pot stills continuously throughout the year. In 1799, Washington’s Distillery produced almost 11,000 gallons of whiskey, valued at $7,500 (approximately $120,000 today) while the average Virginia distillery produced about 650 gallons of whiskey per year which was valued at about $460.

The whiskey I sampled is based on a recipe used by Washington and his farm manager, James Anderson, and was crafted by Master Distiller David Pickerell using original methods available at that time. The spirit was double distilled using a mash of 60% rye, 35% corn and 5% malted barley. For an un-aged spirit it possesses plenty of weight with slight spice and sweetness that burns off slowly. Sadly and unbeknownst to me, Pickerell had passed away a few days earlier at the age of 70. Terrible news and the Whiskey Wash's obituary described how influential Pickerell was to the spirits industry and particularly to American rye whiskey. God bless.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

#TempranilloDay and Discovering Rioja in Three Letters with Bodegas LAN

"Rioja is a privileged region for growing grapes and making top-quality wines, with a unique personality and an exceptional aptitude for ageing. The Rioja wine region is located in northern Spain, on both sides of the River Ebro. The local terrain perfectly delimits the region and sets it apart from surrounding territories. From an administrative point of view, however, its 63,593 hectares of vineyards are divided between three provinces on the Upper Ebro - La Rioja (43,885 ha), Alava (12,934 ha) and Navarre (6,774 ha)."....... DOCa Rioja

In 1972 Bodegas LAN was founded and named after the first initials of these three provinces of DOCa Rioja, but with the L representing Logroño - part of the larger La Rioja. Their estate, Viña Lanciano Vineyard, is set on 72 hectares that are nearly surrounded by a meander of the Ebro River. The river also acts as a natural frontier between Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa. According to DOCa Rioja, "in Rioja Alavesa there is a significant influence of the Atlantic climate and the soils are chalky-clay situated in terraces and small plots. In Rioja Alta the climate is also mainly Atlantic, while the soils are chalky-clay, ferrous-clay or alluvial. Rioja Baja has a drier, warmer climate, thanks to the Mediterranean influence and the soils are alluvial and ferrous-clay." And as their name suggests, Bodegas LAN either directly controls or sources from vineyards in each of these three regions.


The winery is also known for their pioneering approach to vinification and oak treatment using the highest-quality oak barrels. These casks are crafted by the world’s best coopers – including French, American, Russian and hybrids.  LAN manages each tank individually - based on the destination it has been assigned. Malolactic fermentation is undertaken in new barrels and in the ageing process, LAN "re-instills our identity onto each wine separately with the use of different kinds of oak as well as with hybrid barrels, a type of cask pioneered by the winery". French Oak
Sourced from various forests in central France (Allier, Tronçais, Jupille…) its characteristic aromas are soft vanilla, clove and chocolate.

American Oak
Coming from Ohio and Missouri, its aromas remind of cocoa and aromatic herbs.

Russian Oak
From the Caucasus and the Adyghe Republic, this type of oak has less fragrance and is more respectful to the wine.

Hybrid Barrels
As pioneers in the use of hybrid barrels, made with American oak staves and French oak heads, their use lend our wines a unique personality.

We recently received two samples to illustrate Bodegas LAN's winemaking process in time for #TempranilloDay. On Thursday November 8th celebrate with a bottle of Tempranillo and follow Twitter #BodegasLAN and #RiojainThreeLetters conversations to learn more about LAN and Rioja. Cheers.

LAN 2015 D-12 ($20)
This wine is a blend of 98% Tempranillo and 2% Mazuelo hand harvested from two plots in the town of Haro (Rioja Alta) and two plots in Laguardia (Rioja Alavesa). D-12 is intended to pay homage to the workers of LAN and the name is a reference to “DEPOSIT 12”, the stainless steel tank that each vintage holds those wines that according to LAN winery personnel have the most outstanding attributes each year.   The juice is fermented in stainless steel tanks at a controlled temperature of 25º C in order to maintain aromatic potential and maximize color extraction. Micro-oxygenation and maceration in contact with the lees prior to malolactic fermentation in order to balance the tannins and display a silky mouthfeel.  The fermented wine is then rests twelve months in new American and French oak barrels followed by twelve months of rounding in the bottle prior to release.  Even after all the oak treatment this is a juicy fruity wine with patches of black pepper and cocoa. It has a fullness that rounds the finish into a lasting statement.

LAN Gran Reserva 2010 ($25)
This wine is 90% Tempranillo and made from a selection of the best grapes coming from 30 year-old, low yielding bush vines in the Rioja Alta and 10% Mazuelo from their Viña Lanciano vineyard. The grapes were de-stemmed and fermented in stainless steel tanks at a controlled temperature of 30º C. The fermented wine was then aged 24 months in American oak and French oak barrels, followed by a minimum of 36 months in the bottle.  This is one full bodied and luscious wine, commanding intense fruit with baking spices and tobacco-leather.  A completely balanced and delicious wine.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Chablis: Climats by Geography

Like many Medieval towns, Chablis is built upon a waterway, the Serein River, which provides the distinct characteristics based on the river's banks. Vines are planted on the hills overlooking both banks, with the right side receiving the evening sun and the left bank the morning sun. This means the right bank receives more exposure - providing a little more flavor to the Chardonnay grapes.  This was definitely true in past years but recently, with a warming climate, many vines on the left bank have been able to achieve full ripeness.  During a Climats by Geography Twitter tasting sponsored by The Chablis Commission, Christy Canterbury MW presented these facts as well as the history of four wines we sampled.

The Chablis region maintains an Appellation D'Origine Controllee (AOC) system with four classifications: Petit Chablis, Chablis, Premier Cru, and Grand Cru. The first two are broader in nature; while the second two consist of specific climats - or micro-terroirs. Our wines were AOC Premier Cru which was created in 1938 and as of 2017 accounted for 14% of Chablis wines. There are 40 Chablis Climats that are Premier Cru with Climat defined as a delimited land parcel with special geological and climatic conditions.

Chablis is a cold grape-growing climate and as Canterbury describes "it is a very continental climate with brutal winters. April can be a stressful time for vignerons when they spend many nights warding away frost in the wines". Chablis is situated in northern Bourgogne, meaning that the region is located closer to Champagne than Côte de Nuits -- and one reason Chardonnay is the preferred grape. The cold climate also provides acidity which is a coveted characteristic of Chablis production.

The second shared character is that the soil is 150 million years old and the Kimmeridgian Limestone is loaded with fossilized oyster shells. This character noticeable amounts of minerals into the wine at times providing a wet stone sensation. And Canterbury noted that these "soils are so distinctive they were quarried to build St. Paul's Cathedral in London".

Right Bank Wines

Chablis Premier Cru Mont de Milieu Drouhin Vaudon 2014
This excellent wine is fresh and bright with a slight lemon character intertwined with wet stone and velvety texture. The grapes are grown on a historical 18th-century Drouhin Vaudon estate that consists of 38 hectares -- all under organic care.  The name Mont de Milieu (middle mountain) was derived from the hill's former position between the County of Champagne and the Duchy of Bourgogne as documents describe Mont De Milieu as far back as the 13th century. The part of the region that faces the town of Chablis is a bit sunnier while the portion that faces the hamlet of Fleys, in the valley to the east, is cooler. And interestingly Mont de Milieu does not have any sub-Climats or further divisions within its borders -- unlike most Chablis Climats.


La Chablisienne 1er Cru Fourchaume La Chablisienne 2016
The wine is characterized by more wet stone mixed with peaches, creamy velvety texture, and a  lingering finish.  Fourchaume is a region that stretches onto a different hillside, attached to the northern edge of the Grand Cru vineyards.  And a little history from Canterbury, the region was written Fourchaulme in 1540 and most likely comes from “fourche” or fork, referring to a fork in the road or the fork between Vaulorent and  Cote de Fontenay.  This La Chablisienne wine is vinified and aged in both fûts (barrels of 228 liters) & stainless steel for approximately one year. Canterbury noted that it has more “stuffing” to benefit from oak aging.


Left Bank Wines

Chablis Premier Cru Montmain Louis Michel & Fils 2016
This wine provides tropical and lychee characters, is saline driven and completes with velvety depth and controlled acids.  The Michel family has  grown and produced Chablis since 1850. Guillaume Gicqueau-Michel oversees his family estate and one of his signatures is using only stainless steel to vinify and age his wine. According to Canterbury this allows for only the "purest essence of his terroirs".  The family maintains two hectares in Montmains with two parcels in its center, near the Fôrets sub-appellation. Montmains is a large Chablis Climats that i sub-divided into two other two sub-Climats. Unlike Mont de Milieu, which has no shadows from the sun, Montmains vineyards do.

Domaine Denis Race Chablis Premier Cru, Vaillons 2015
This delicious wine has a citrus and peach base to the wet stone, solid acids and lingering tail. Domaine Denis Race is a 4th generation estate with the parcels between two and 65 years old. This wine has bigger fruit as the Vaillons is south-facing and known for its intense sunlight. Spelled Valion in 1429, this Chablis Climats overlooks a little valley or “vallon”. According to our host, this may have been corrupted to Vaillons by way of the old folk who used to call valleys “valsons”. 







Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Abruzzo’s Codice Citra and Ferzo Wines

"For wine lovers on a budget, try Montepulciano d'Abruzzo -- the lively, juicy red wine that comes from the rugged Abruzzi hills above the Adriatic coast of central Italy", Eric Asimov
This region (known as Abruzzo or Abruzzi) is situated east of Rome and is bordered by the Molise wine region to the south, the Marche to the north, the Lazio to the west, and the Adriatic to its east.  Abruzzo is sub-divided into these wine-producing provinces: Controguerra, Teramo, Chieti, Pescara, and L’Aquila (L’Aquilano) -- with Chieti being the prime wine region.  Most of Abruzzo is rugged with  65% mountainous which helps the wine growing climate by blocking most storms from the west. And to the east, the "Adriatic Sea provides a moderating Mediterranean climate for the vineyards that run along a west-east orientation in calcareous clay river valleys that flow from the mountains to the sea".

Nearly 80% of all the wine in the Abruzzo region is produced by large co-operative wineries with one of the four largest being Codice Citra. The winery was founded in 1973 and their wines are "estate grown and bottled from a collection of 3,000 family-owned vineyards in the lush and various microclimates of Abruzzo’s Chieti province".

Most of these vineyards are small multi-generational plots sometimes less than a couple acres. Citra focuses on the regions primary indigenous grapes Montepulciano d'Abruzzo and Trebbiano d'Abruzzo as well as the lesser-known Pecorino, Passerina, and Cococciola grapes. Asimov makes clear the "distinction between montepulciano, the grape, which is grown in the Abruzzi region and northward into Le Marche, and Montepulciano, a town in Tuscany and the source of a very different wine known as vino nobile di Montepulciano, made from the Sangiovese grape". I recently received samples of four Citra wines representing two of their portfolios. Cheers.


CITRA – it’s the most historical line available in the U.S., these wines offer clean varietal expressions that provide the perfect introduction to Abruzzo.

CITRA Trebbiano d’Abruzzo 2017 ($10)
A clean and fresh wine showcasing green apples and light citrus.

CITRA Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2017 ($10)
There's great value in this medium bodied wine solid fruit and enough backbone, tannins, and acids to create an enjoyable encounter.

FERZO – a new introduction to the U.S., whose name refers to patches of fabric stitched together to create a sail, is a union of the finest viticultural ‘patches’ of southern Abruzzo, hand harvested from 20-year-old vines.

FERZO Pecorino Terre di Chieti 2017 ($26)
A complete delight, fresh and velvety with tropical flavors and minerals - thinking wet stone. The finish is lively and lingering.

FERZO Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2016 ($26)
Aged 14 months in French oak, this wine is delicious. The red fruit sinks into a velvety texture surrounded by spices and approachable tannins. Once again the acids provide a lasting tail.

Monday, October 29, 2018

#VABreweryChallenge (#64): Chubby Squirrel Brewing Co. Opens in Fairfax City

There are nine craft breweries within Fairfax County with the newest finally populating Fairfax City: Chubby Squirrel Brewing Co.. This facility is located quite close to George Mason University and owners Boyd Harrison and Josh Paine plan to accommodate the thirsts of both age appropriate students and local residents. They also offer an interesting mix of brewpub cuisine such as wings, pierogies, poutine, sliders, and fries as well as wine and cider for those inclined.   Bu craft beer is the main attraction and out of the gate Chubby Squirrel created a diverse and tasty portfolio.  On our visit the lineup consisted of Hefeweizen, WereSquirrel Black IPA,  Squirrel In the Rye, Blonde Squirrel Blonde Ale, Pumpkin Eater (Nitro) Pumpkin - Yam Beer,  Golden Squirrel (Cask) Belgian Tripel.  The blonde, rye, and tripel were our favorites, but in general all were respectful for their styles and worth a taste.  And as always theCompass Craft Beverage Finder will guide you there. Cheers.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Lucien Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace - Offering Both Quality and Value

Americans have have a hard time relating to historical significance as our country is not even 250 years old with the Columbus voyage just 525 years ago.  Yet, almost 600 years ago -- in 1425 -- Romanus Albrecht started producing wine that would eventually evolve into one of Alsace's famous brands: Lucien Albrecht. The current winery traces its heritage to Balthazar Albrecht, who in 1698, settles in Orschwihr after the end of the Thirty Years’ War and cultivates vines. After the phylloxera epidemic and Alsace's return to France post WWI, Henri Albrecht replants vineyards by grafting rootstock to the vines and his success leads to Lucien Albrecht and Crémant d’Alsace. Albrecht leveraged the the work of Julien Dopff and began test productions of sparkling wines in 1971. Five years later the official AOC Crémant d’Alsace designation of origin is established mandating that the sparkling wine be made in the méthode champenoise style and using Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Auxerrois and Chardonnay grapes. Lucien Albrecht is considered as being one of the three founding fathers of the regulated Crémant d’Alsace". These sparkling wines offer outstanding quality at generally lower prices as Champagne.

Lucien Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace Brut ($23)
The grapes for this sparkling wine starts a few days earlier than the harvest for the still wines and the
50% Pinot Blanc and 50% Auxerrois blend are handpicked and are whole cluster pressed. The base wine is fermented completely dry and is usually 8.5% alcohol before dosage and the second fermentation. This process is allowed to finalize after about 18 months which results in perhaps less effervescence but abundant freshness. Besides the ripe stone fruit characters the strength of this wine is in its structure.  There's texture and body, less bready, with a fresh finale. Cheers and great SRP. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Eastern European Moonshine: Rakija, Palinka, Slivovitz

Some of the greatest moments when traveling to Eastern Europe is when you are handed a vessel that doesn't contain its original liquid. Instead it is filled with homemade palinka or slivovitz, a fruit brandy distilled clear and usually at exceedingly high abv - sometimes reaching 70 proof. The liquid has heat, but in the best cases portrays the fruit nicely with a burn that evaporates rather quickly. The brandy is derived from a range of harvested fruit such as peaches, plums, Meggy (sour cherries), Quince, Grapes, Pears, or Apples and has different versions throughout central and eastern Europe: Albania, Austria, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia, the Slovak Republic, and Slovenia.

In most of these countries the spirit is called Rakija or the domestic equivalent to that word and is usually the most popular spirit in that country. In Serbia it is known as Slivovitz, made from plums, and is that country's national drink. In Hungary and parts of Austria it is known as Palinka and the first records of its consumption date from 1332. Landowners, Cistercian monks and Jewish residents continued the traditional methods of double distilled after the fruit has naturally fermented. Today Palinka is widely produced and consumed both legally and illegally and the government is currently battling the EU to legalize the distillation of small quantities of palinka for home use. Home distillation is so popular in Hungary that department stores sell small distilling kits.

In Croatia where Rakija is the most popular spirit, it is sometimes infused with herbs to create Travarica which is usually served at the beginning of meals. Croats in central Croatia enjoy šljivovica, a version of plum brandy, and in throughout the Adriatic different islands and regions infuse with bitters, anise, walnuts, and honey.

In the Washington DC area, access to this spirit is limited. In Virginia most ABC stores carry the kosher Maraska Slivovitz Old Plum Brandy made in the historic city of Zadar. The ABC store in the Arlington section of Courthouse carries a range of Slivovitz from Serbia and Bosnia and in Clarendon or DC check at the Ambar Restaurant which carries a range of Serbian Slivovitz. The Quince is my favorite. In DC, MacArthur Beverages and Schneider's of Capitol Hill carry the Czech Jelinek Slivovitz and many others stores carry a version of Serbian Slivovitz. And in Maryland, the Montgomery County stores carry both the aforementioned Jelinek and Maraska labels as well as the Hungarian Zwack Slivovitz. Cheers.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Farmhouse Wines and Green Spring Farm - "Beyond Sustainable" Farming

We grow by the motto “50% for humans, 50% for nature,” maintaining an important balance between the vines grown for humans and crops grown for soil improvement, Bob Cannard & Fred Cline --Green String Farm

This method of “beyond sustainable” farming, was developed by Bobby Cannard and Fred Cline of Cline Family Cellars and is now known as the Green String method of sustainable farming.  Their laboratory, Green String Farm, is located in Sonoma - specifically in Petaluma - and "serves to teach students how to improve the biology of the lands that they steward while growing naturally healthy food".  This method includes natural remedies for pest management, fertilization, and weeding among others. For instance they use over 1500 sheep and 500 goats to remove harmful weeds from their vineyards.  They also use native root stocks which can be dry farmed (no irrigation) and friendly insects are introduced to control harmful insects.

Farmhouse Wines is the brand name for the wine produced at Green String Farm and it takes its name from the school house located on the property. The portfolio is currently comprised of two unique blends each featuring up to six grape varieties and priced reasonably at $15. Winemaker Charlie Tsegeletos is a 30 year veteran of Sonoma wine making and encourages the grapes to tell their story without the over use of oak treatments.

Farmhouse White ($15)
This is an interesting blend of 41% Palomino, 25% Muscat Canelli, 22% Roussanne, 6% Marsanne, 5% Viognier, and 1% Riesling - with Palomino better known as the Spanish grape used in Sherry.  The juice was cold-fermented in stainless steel tanks without malolactic fermentation which presents a fruit forward, clean wine expressing melon, citrus, and tropical notes and a long coated fresh finish. This wine is dangerous, the bottle is empty before one realizes how much was consumed. 

Farmhouse Red ($15)
This wine is comprised of handpicked 39% Merlot (39%) , Syrah (21%),  Zinfandel (20%),  Grenache (9%), Petite Sirah (7%) , and Mourvèdre (3%) . The fermented wine comes from a combination of both free run and pressed juice that is aged in 40% new French oak for one year.  The result of this process is an easy drinking medium bodied wine with plenty of fruit accompanied by texture and black pepper and a very bright finish.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Ventisquero Grey GCM and Carménère

Ventisquero Grey has been operating in Chile since 1998 -- sourcing fruit from their vineyards located in Chile’s principal wine regions: Coastal Maipo, Casablanca, Colchagua, Leyda and Huasco.  I recently received samples of two excellent and affordable wines from the winery. Cheers.


Ventisquero Grey Carménère 2014 ($20.00)
The fruit for this wine was grown in the Maipo Valley which is located just south of the capital city Santiago and as wine-searcher.com states "...is home to some of the country's most prestigious wines ... and is often described as the 'Bordeaux of South America'". Specifically the Maipo Valley is situated at the most northern end of the Central Valley separated from Mendoza by the Andes Mountains and blocked from the Pacific by the Coastal Range. The sun warms the valley during the day, followed by colder nights which slows ripening, extends the growing season, and leads to grapes with a balance between ripeness and acidity. An ideal environment for the Bordeaux based Carménère. Winemaker Felipe Tosso states that Carménère needs some oak to tame high concentrations of fruit, but too much oak masks the beauty of the fruit, and thus the Grey Carménère is aged a minimum 18 months in oak and at least 8 months in bottle. This method allows the wine to portray the dark red and black fruit characters integrated with a velvety texture and a very fresh palate.

Ventisquero Grey GCM 2017 ($20.00)
The GCM refers to 62% Garnacha, 19% Cariñena, and 19% Mataro (Mourvèdre) from a single block No 28, La Robleria, Apalta Valley - Colchagua from central Chile. According to wine-searcher.com, the "Colchagua Valley boasts a textbook wine-growing climate: warm, but cooled by ocean breezes and dry, but refreshed by rivers and occasional rainfall". And the Apalta Valley sub-region receives the brunt of these cold Humboldt Currents that provide a similar diurnal swing as discussed with the Maipo Valley. Tosso states that 2017 was a hot year where the grapes ripened weeks earlier with good acidity, low alcohol, and ripe tannins. "The GCM is an expression of single block vines that is fresh and fruity and doesn't require lengthy oak again." The wine is very friendly, fruit forward with a noticeable velvety texture and bright acids rounding out the palate. Time to start planning for the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons.

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.