Friday, March 16, 2018

Lunch With The Hess Collection: Mount Veeder, Su’skol and Salta

"When I first saw these hills of Mt Veeder, I was attracted by its beauty", Donald Hess founder of the Hess Collection Winery

But Hess also believed that good grapes were grown on hillsides as was his experience visiting the great wineries of Europe. And on Mount Veeder the vines are virtually clinging to the sides of the mountain and the AVA is the highest and coolest in Napa. Thus in 1978 Donald Hess, whose Swiss pedigree included generations of Bern brewers, acquired his first parcels on Veeder. These holdings gradually expanded to 900 acres plus 125 acres leased from the historic The Christian Brothers -- who had already been leasing several historic winery buildings to Hess since 1986. And in 1995 Hess planted the Su’skol Vineyard in Napa Valley closer to the cooling influences of the San Pablo Bay.

I learned these facts and many more during a luncheon this week at BLT Steak that was sponsored by the Hess Collection Winery - with Nicole Carter (Chief Marketing Officer and ​Director of Winemaking) and CEO ​John Grant. Over several wines they discussed all aspects of the winery from its historical roots, current fifth generation leadership, sustainable viticulture, the Hess family's support of the arts, the Napa fires, and the entire Hess Family Wine Estates portfolio -- comprising The Hess Collection, Artezin, MacPhail Family Wines, Colomé and Amalaya. Here is the background of the wines poured at the event as well as more information concerning the portfolio. Cheers.

2015 The Hess Collection Napa Valley Chardonnay ($22) - made from Su’skol Vineyard grapes where the vineyards are cooled by the morning fog and afternoon breezes generated by the San Pablo Bay -- located 10 miles away.  Only 30% of the fruit undergoes malo-latic fermentation in which the process provides a mild dose of creaminess and lift without becoming overbearing. Instead, the floral aromatics, green apple flavors, and bright acids dominate the experience.

2015 The Hess Collection The Lioness Napa Valley Chardonnay  ($60) - the Hess Family crest and credo is “live each day with the heart and courage of the lion” and this wine was named to honor the Hess women. Sourced from the best lots in the Su’skol Vineyard, the juice was barrel fermented and only selected barrels participated in the final blend. This is a powerful, yet fresh Chardonnay where the texture derives from ample lees stirring. It also exhibits a minty character and finishes with considerable length. Wish it was in the weekly budget.

2015 The Hess Collection Napa Valley "Allomi" Cabernet Sauvignon ($32)  - the grapes are sourced from the winery's Allomi Vineyard located in the warmer Pope Valley. The wine includes 6% Petit Sirah which Ms Carter states "keeps Sauvignon from going flabby". This wine is pure pleasure, full bodied dark fruit, structured, integrated tannins and persistent acids.

2016 Colomé Autentico Malbec ($25) - represents even more Wines with Altitude from historic Bodega Colomé which was founded in Salta Argentina in 1831. The winery and estate vineyard are located at 7,545 feet above sea level and operates three other vineyards ranging from 5,750 (La Brava Estate) to 10,200 (Altura Máxima Estate) feet above sea level. This last could be the highest vineyard in the world. The Hess Collecton's original winemaker Randle Johnson is the consulting winemaker for Colomé and the team produces an "autentico" Malbec which translates to unoaked. This method showcases the fruit with it's cherry pepper nose, big flavor profile, subtle but noticeable tannins (thick grape skins) and dominating acids. Nicely done.

2015 The Hess Collection Napa Valley Lion Tamer Red Blend ($45) - what a unique blend of Malbec (50%), Zinfandel (23%), Petite Sirah (11%), Cabernet Sauvignon (6%), Petit Verdot (4%), Merlot (4%), and Mouvedre (2%). The Lion Tamer refers specifically to Malbec as Hess utilizes the grape to tame tannins from other varieties. According to Carter, the secret ingredient was the Mouvedre which contributed just enough bright fruit to ignite the palate.  This is one juicy wine with the own rooted Malbec loaded with flavor and the other grape varieties adding additional nuances. So different, so very different.

2013 The Hess Collection Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon ($65) - derived from the estate Vedder Hills Vineyard situated from 600 to 1,120 feet above sea level where several of the historic blocks had been replanted. The blend includes 18% Malbec which apparently is needed to tame the additional tannins from 22 months of predominately new French Oak aging. Peppermint greets the nose, followed by multiple layers of fruit, vanilla, and spices. And as all the wines, lively acidity lengthens the finish.

2014 The Hess Collection The Lion Cabernet Sauvignon ($185) - this is the winery's highest end Cabernet Sauvignon and most likely out of a majority of our budgets. It surfaces only during signature vintages using selective fruit from their Mount Veeder vineyards. The blend includes 17% Malbec and 1% Petite Verdot and undergoes a similar oak treatment as the Mount Veeder Cabernet. This wine equals structure as the juice melts in the palate with a tail lift from spices and acids. No doubt, a special treat.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Doctor Wine's The Ultimate Guide to Italian Wine 2018

To understand Italian wine you must study the regions -- Daniele Cernilli, aka DoctorWine
Daniele Cernilli stressed this point at a luncheon at Maxwell Park in Washington D.C. celebrating the release of The Ultimate Guide to Italian Wine 2017 - his comprehensive guide book devoted exclusively to Italian wine. That's a huge undertaking as Italy is arguably the most diverse wine country in the world. You could say this quote also explains the rational behind such a comprehensive undertaking as it is delineated by region and also includes descriptions of hundreds of wines, most under $20 in the U.S. market.

But why must you study the regions in order to understand Italian wine? "Because the same grape variety is made in completely different styles depending on those wine regions". This was evident during our lunch as Cernilli poured Sangiovese wines from four wineries representing four different wine regions.

Torre San Martino is located in the Emilia-Romagna DOC, more specifically their 10 hectares vineyard is located in Tosco-Romagnola. The owners restored a Sangiovese vineyard appropriately named Vigna 2 and replanted ungrafted Sangiovese vines and the resulting Romagna Sangiovese Vigna 1922 Reserva DOC 2013 was excellent with multiple spicy sensations and noticeable tannins in it's lengthy finish. However, for our sample they poured the Romagna Sangiovese Superiore Gemme DOC 2013 which possesses dusty soft fruit and abundant acids. According to Cernilli, the acids are much more important to this wine than the tannins.

The second Sangiovese in our sample was from Fattoria Le Pupille, a second generation family winery operating 12 hectares of vineyard in Morellino along the southern Tuscany coast of La Maremma. The family is mostly known for their Super-Tuscan Saffredi wine but don't overlook their Poggio Valente IGT Toscana Rosso 2015. This 100% Sangiovese wine comes from the Poggio Valente vineyard located 900 feet above sea level. Although the region is generally warmer than Chianti, constant breezes help prevent disease pressure. This is an elegant wine, predominately cherry with more tannin structure to augment the balanced acidity.

Moving to Chianti, Querciabella is located in the historical demarcation of that region in Chianti Classico. The winery started farming organically in 1988 and was certified biodynamic in 2000. The estate vineyards are located 1,300 to 1,650 feet above sea level so the vineyards are even cooler than expected. The Querciabella Chianti Classico DOCG 2015 is aged in barrique casks for a year and the result is brighter fruit, slightly more spice, and lingering finesse.

The final Sangiovese was the Le Macioche Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2010 from Famiglia Cotarella. The Cotarella is also known for their 100% Merlot Montiano Lazio, other wines from Lazio and Umbria, as well as the recently acquired Azienda Agricola Le Macioche estate in Brunello di Montalcino.  This Sangiovese holds a couple advantages over its companions starting with the obvious difference in age. Then there's the Brunello -- a strain of Sangiovese grown only on the slopes around Montalcino – the classic hilltop village in Tuscany that is located 20 miles south of Siena.  This is a magnificent wine - intense and powerful - spices and juicy tannins.

Besides the above mentioned wines, there are a few others I'd like to highlight. First, my favorite of the afternoon was the Bertani Amrone della Valpolicella Classico DOC 2008 a blend of 80% Corvina Veronese and 20% Rondinella. Once again the wine was blessed by several years aging in barrel. This wine is intense, yet elegant; wild, yet restrained. An instant classic. The Vincho Vaglia Serra I Tre Vescovi Barbera d'Asti Superiore DOCG 2015 was another wine that wanted to be heard with it's zinging acidity, dirty texture, and fresh red fruit. Finally there were two other excellent wines from Querciabella, their feminine Mongrana 2013 ( 50% Sangiovese, 25% Merlot, & 25%  Cabernet Sauvignon) and more powerful yet sophisticated Turpino - an unexpected blend of Cabernet Franc, Syrah, and Merlot.

The tasting also including several sparkling and white wines. The former were well represented by Lombardy's Ca'del Bosco Franciacorta cuvées. The Franciacorta Cuvée Annamaria Clementi 2007 is named after Annamaria Clementi, who along with her husband Albano founded the winery in 1962. This sparkling wine spent over eight years on its lees resulting in a creamy textured wine - but with surprisingly zest. The Franciacorta Vintage Collection Brut shared a somewhat similar blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, and Pinot Nero and exhibits considerable finesse.

 Moving to still wines, the Vincho Vaglia Serra Il Griso Roero Arneis DOCG 2016 is an oddity in the since that the grape almost went extinct in the 1960s.  The wine's floral aromas leads to a soft stone fruit center and and slightly acidic tail. Very nice. Finally I was able to revisit the Fattoria Le Pupille Poggio Argentato 2016 ($21), a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Petit Mensang, and Traminer fermented in neutral oak. This is a luscious wine: floral and silky with balanced acids.

Cheers to Italian wine and Doctor Wine's The Ultimate Guide to Italian Wine.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Route 15 Wine Road: Maryland Wine's Catoctin Breeze Vineyard

The 530 plus miles of Route 15 transverses through several wine regions at it helps transport people and products from Durham North Carolina to New York's Finger Lakes. This is not a recent conduit as there are many historical sites along it's path from Presidential birthplaces to Civil War battlefields. In fact, in Maryland General Meade used the thoroughfare to pursue Lee to and from Gettysburg. You can read a historical marker about this event at Catoctin Breeze Vineyard, a relatively new Maryland winery that has gained recognition for producing several distinguished estate wines.

The winery was founded in 2010 when Voytek Leon Fizyta planted two blocks of vines along a hill slightly east of the Catoctin Mountains. These blocks consisted of  Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Chardonnay, and Viognier.  The well draining, loose, alluvial soil contains some quartz deposits which assist in preventing frost prevention as well as the ripening of fruit.  The estate also receives a consistent breeze from Owen's Gap - keeping the vines ventilated helping to prevent mold formation - which is also limited by abundant morning sun. Today there are 7,000 vines carefully maintained by Vineyard Manager, Larry Sipe. The winery also augments their portfolio with fruit grown from nearby South Mountain - one of the top sources of Maryland red grapes.

I paid a quick visit while heading to Liberty Mountain Resort - only 20 minutes away. For hikers, Cunningham Falls State Park is even closer, 10 minutes to the south. Visitors are offered three tasting packages: Signature ($10), Premier ($12), or Sweet ($8) - the later including three Mead wines. However, I chose the Premier tasting in order to sample their estate wines. For whites, this included the 2015 Serenade Sauvignon Blanc ($24) and the 2015 Estate Chardonnay ($24). And seeing my interest in their estate portfolio, the staff member provided a sample of the wine club only 2016 Estate Chardonnay ($24). The two Chardonnays exhibit completely contrasting styles as the 2015 is more full bodied (my preference) and the 2016 racier with cleaner fruit.

For reds, the Premier tasting started with the 2015 Estate Cabernet Franc ($36) a relatively big Cabernet which was a little choppy with noticeable dark cherry fruit, tannins, and spices. I'd like to return to this wine after a few years in bottle. 2014 Concerto Bordeaux Blend ($35) is a blend of four Bordeaux grapes and is ready to drink now - a more textured character with a juicy clean tail. For several years Dr. Joe Fiola has encouraged Maryland vineyard owners to plant Barbera and Catoctin Breeze has leveraged that suggestion by producing that 2015 Oratorio Barbera ($38). This wine possesses the stereotypical high acids and low tannins while proving a decent fruit profile. The high end of the price range for sure. Finally, my attendant poured a sample of the case club only 2015 Estate Syrah ($34) - one of the wines they featured at the 2018 Winter Wine Showcase. Let's just say, I joined the case club in order purchase a couple bottles of this wine. This is by far the nicest wine coming from their estate. Cheers and as always theCompass Craft Beverage Finder will guide you to Catoctin Breeze Vineyard.

Friday, February 23, 2018

USBevX 2018: #Wine Writers, What Are They Looking For?

Photo Courtesy of  Kathy Lang Wiedermann -Virginia Made
A huge thanks to Jenn Nelson of Wine Antics for live blogging the Wine Writers, What Are They Looking For? session at the 2018 US Wine & Beverage Conference. This two-day conference in Washington D.C. is targeted towards wineries to provide education in the fields of vineyard management, wine-making, and marketing.  The Wine Writers session was one of a few that were very relevant to content providers and fortunately I was able to watch the proceedings live via Jenn's video.  This session was moderated by Eric Guerra, Chief Marketing & Sales Officer Terravant Wine Company, and featured Carlo DeVito Owner Hudson-Chatham Winery  plus three wine writers: Lenn Thompson, Frank Morgan, and Paul Vigna. A stellar cast.  I would strongly encourage interested readers to watch the entire video, but here are my comments on what was discussed and what was omitted. Cheers.

Educate Tasting Room Staff
This dictum should be obvious but even the organizers of USBevX realized it's lacking since they created a session on this very topic. Perhaps, turnover is a contributing factor, but I continue to witness this irritating display of ignorance.  On one extreme, I remember Dezel Quillen's (MyVineSpot) story how he mispronounced Virginia's signature grape Vee-og-ney for a substantial period because that's how a staff member pronounced it during his introduction to the grape. On the lesser extreme I've engaged staff who are unfamiliar with where a vinifera grape originated, a blend composition, or even what grapes are planted in the estate vineyard.  Simply unacceptable. And staff should be honest if they do not know the answer to a question. Do not guess. One tip that Lenn Thompson suggested was not only sending writers technical sheets, but post that information on your website. I would expand that and suggest having technical sheets available at the tasting room. At the very least, it would assist educating the staff and more importantly it can be distributed to wine geeks who ask more probing questions.

Tell a Story
How can wineries differentiate their brand from the hundreds or even thousands of competing options? That question not only was raised during this session, but has been overarching dilemma of the craft wine explosion.  In addition to producing the best wine possible, a common answer is to create compelling stories behind your establishment. Frank Morgan mentioned Old Westminster Winery as an example with their family story and social media engagement.  However, the story doesn't have to revolve solely around the family.  The region's history can be stressed as is the case at The Winery at Bull Run who display Civil War artifacts in their tasting room.  Another option is highlighting a particular grape variety. Hudson-Chatham's story revolves around Baco Noir -- although their Chelois is just as intriguing.  If you produce an Albarino, focus on the grape's Galicia home as well as how your wine differs from those from Riax Baixas - perhaps through annual comparative tastings. Even normally pedestrian grapes such as Pinot Gris can be a focal point. Recently I tasted a rather noteworthy Pinot Gris from Boordy Vineyards. When I mentioned this to Dr. Joe Fiola, his eyes gleamed as he enthusiastically discussed the specific vineyard block that produced that wine. Boordy should share that knowledge - perhaps present samples of dirt in the tasting room and explain how the soil and sunlight affect the wine. Provide us a reason to visit.

Expand Beyond Experienced Content Providers
A valid question was raised during the seminar on how to differentiate between the bloggers, particularly when new content providers seem to be appearing overnight. The panelists gave two equally valid responses. First, look for content providers who have organically written about your area as this demonstrates a degree of excitement towards your location. Paul Vigna's Penn Live is a nice example of an outlet that reports on winery tours in underrepresented locations. At the very least any state or regional winery board worth their salt should have a list of content providers that have written about that area.  The second response was to seek content providers who have large audiences. Now in some instances, these audiences may simply be the result of longevity, but at least the blogger\writer has sustained a passion for covering the wine industry.

However, I would caution about relying solely on these more experienced bloggers. You could easily overlook many talented and engaging content providers with small but growing readership. Being in the longevity camp, it is refreshing to encounter younger and perhaps more enthusiastic content providers who are not just seeking free samples. And in the DMV region there is no shortage of groups that you can contact to locate these individuals. A few Facebook examples are the Young Wino's of DC, Black Wine Lovers, and I have to include the more senior Virginia Wine Mafia.

Finally, the discussion was exclusively focused on print.  Yet there's a large array of media that are covering  craft beverage industries. Wine Antics is one example of live video blogging. There are also podcasters, social media providers, and others outside my realm. Try something different such as Winemaker's Drinking Beer. There are numerous outlets beyond experienced print bloggers.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Bierzo D.O., Bodegas Godelia, Mencia, and Godello

Who's familiar with Bodegas Godelia? Or for that matter Spain's Bierzo D.O.? Well not me as of last week -- until I received the two wines below. The Bierzo D.O. is situated east of Galicia in Spain's northwest corner. The region shares Galicia's humidity and rainfall as well as the hot, dry climate of Castile - located slightly southeastern. The vineyards are relatively low lying (450-1,000 meters) along hillsides planted on a diverse set of quartz, slate, granite, and limestone soils. Viticulture was first documented during the Roman colonization but expanded during the Middle Ages through the growth of monasteries. After the phylloxera plague basically decimated the vineyards in the late 1800s, modern viticulture resuscitated the region and the Bierzo D.O. was established in 1989.

Bodegas Godelia consists of 86 acres of estate vineyard plus an additional 37 acres under contract. The estate resides outside the village of Cacabelos centrally located to the D.O. and with old vines (20-90 years) planted on hillsides at 500-600 meters.

Two prominent grapes in the Bierzo D.O. are the white Godello and the red Mencia. The former is known for producing complex, mineral-driven wines and the later concentrated, yet juicy acidic wines.

Godelia Godello-Dona Blanco 2015 ($17) is a blend of 80% Godello and 20% Dona Blanca that spent five months on lees. This technique is clearly evident as the wine possesses a creamy backbone that is surrounded by floral and spicy-minerally characters. Solid acids provide a fresh finish.

Godelia Mencia ($19) is comprised of 100% Mencia harvested from 50-90 year old vines. And after fermentation the wine spends 12 months in various oak casks. This is a tasty combination of dirt and fruit with the high tannins settling leaving juicy acidity. Another tremendous value wine.

Monday, February 12, 2018

#NationalPizzaDay at Il Canale with Cusumano Winery Nero d’Avola

"Sicily is a continent. It has diverse climates, terrior, and food", Diego Cusumano
Just by happenstance, Terlata Wines had organized a trade tasting at Georgetown's Il Canale to showcase the pairing of pizza and wines from Cusumano Winery. That's where our small group met Diego Cusumano - the gregarious co-owner who returned to the family winery after studying Economics at the University in Palermo. The estate was founded 65 years ago by his father Francesco who sold fruit throughout Italy. After Diego's older brother Alberto received an Oenology degree, the family invested more resourced into the vineyard and released their first vintage in 2000. Today the Sicilian winery releases a dozen wines under the Cusumano brand featuring mostly indigenous grapes grown their 1,000 acres of vineyards located throughout the "continent" of Sicily. They are recently introduced the new Alta Mora winery featuring wines from grapes grown on the slopes of the largest active volcano in Europe: Sicily's Mt. Etna.

Returning to the pizza lunch, owner Joe Farruggio served four delicious pies each paired to a Cusumano Nero d’Avola and the Alta Mora Etna Bianco. The Nero d’Avola grape is particularly suited for pizza as its inherent acidity easily cuts through the tomatoes acids. This was apparent during our first selection as the 2016 Cusumano Nero d’Avola ($12) was paired with a simply satisfying Margherita pizza ($12 - tomato sauce, imported buffalo mozzarella, basil). This wine was made from grapes harvested in the calcareous vineyards of San Giacomo and besides the acidity provides a combination of jammy dark fruit and rustic tannins.

The next pairing featured a spicy Diavola ($13 - tomato sauce, imported buffalo mozzarella, spicy salami, basil) which was served with the 2015 Cusumano Benuara ($23). This wine is a 70-30 blend of Nero d’Avola and Syrah from grapes grown on the clay soils and rolling hills of Presti e Pegni. The addition of Syrah mutes the acidity slightly but adds enough spice to merge with the salami and allow the rich fruit to shine.

Next up, the rich and delicious 2012 Cusumano Sagana ($49) - 100% Nero d’Avola - and the house specialty Il Canale ($14 - tomato sauce, imported buffalo mozzarella, ricotta cheese, prosciutto di Parma, eggplant, cherry tomatoes). Lights out fantastic. The grapes were grown on 30 year old vines also from the calcareous vineyards of San Giacomo. The wine's texture was enhanced by 18 months in barrique casks and an additional seven months in bottle before release. A rich wine for a rich pizza.

And finally, before plates of traditional Italian desserts and espresso we were served the suburb Del Pizzailo ($21 imported Buffalo mozzarella, Burrata, arugola, bresaola, and grape tomatoes) and the Alta Mora Etna Bianco ($25). The wine is 100% Carricante grown in the black soil on the northern slopes of Mt. Etna. Needless to say, this is a rich white wine with intense aromas followed by rich flavors that transitions to an earthy and acidic finish.  Excellent.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Finding Craft Beer on Las Vegas Blvd: Sin City Brewing Company

After spending a few days in Las Vegas we found that most casinos craft beer menu is solely defined as Ballast Point Sculpin, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and Lagunitas IPA. And on occasion you can spot the Joseph James Brewing Company Citra Rye from nearby Henderson and a very decent offering. But obviously not a diverse selection and not necessarily small and independent either. Fortunately there are a number of actual craft breweries in Sin City - 14 according to theCompass Craft Beverage Finder. And one of these offers four satellite tasting facilities directly on Las Vegas Blvd: Sin City Brewing Company. This craft brewery was launched by long-time Gordon Biersch Director of Brewing Operations Richard Johnson. 

Two different times we visited their Bally's location, a narrow bar with outside seating tucked in the far corner of the Grand Bazaar Shops fronting Bally’s. Just follow the smell of hot dogs. Not unexpectedly the styles follow what you would expect at Gordon Biersch with a Blonde, Weisse, Amber Ale, Irish Stout, and IPA. The beers were well made and clean with the Miller Lite and InBev drinkers moving seamlessly to the Never Pass Up A Blonde. The Dark Side of Sin Irish Stout passes as a Guinness and the Say Hello to Amber was a contrast to the sweet and malty amber ales that I try to avoid. Although The Ale With A Tale was a decent IPA, I stronger preferred the slightly heavier seasonal Imperial IPA which was big but providing a balanced mouth feel and soft finish.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Craft Beer in the Laurel Highlands: Kegg Brewing Company

Kegg Brewing Company is the most unique nano-brewery I have visited in recent memory. The brewery is located in the basement of a house, located along a narrow country road southeast of Pittsburgh, and with two guard dogs announcing your arrival. And the tasting room area is confined to any open space between the tap lines and the brewing equipment.

After Frank Kegg retired from the Greater Latrobe School District, he and his wife Tracey decided that opening a brewery was the logical next phase. Logical in the sense that Frank was a 6th grade Science teacher and his brother Mark owns Full Pint Brewing so there is a chemistry background and inherent family lineage and support system. It also helps that the Keggs reside only a few miles from Seven Springs Mountain Resort so there's a steady supply of traffic headed in their direction.

That being said, Frank created a half barrel brew house in his basement built around four one barrel fermenters. The raw materials consist of as local as possible grain, hops, honey, fruit and well water as the base. The tasting area?  In cold weather, any open space around the fermenters and mash barrels. In warmer weather the garage doors open for driveway sipping.

That may be unique enough for most but the special part doesn't start until visitors begin sampling in the basement and spend the next hour talking to Frank. The diverse beer styles only enhance the conversation. They are not only really solid beers but the range in styles are once again unique. Our tasting started with a Cranberry Blonde Ale, followed by a Winter Ale - based on a red ale, a Coffee Porter, Pumpkin Stout, Coconut Stout, and standard IPA (as opposed to a Hoppy Bolbat IPA and Death by Hops IPA). This IPA seemed a fan favorite and was very smooth with a seamless transition from the drop hopped induce aroma through the dense beer to the bitter finish. I enjoyed the Coffee Porter and the Coconut Stout - the later the result of a flawed attempt to craft a Chocolate Coconut Stout - but I thought was fine as a stand alone. And I think my palate is turning towards coffee flavored beers.

Kegg Brewing is easy to find, but as always theCompass Craft Beverage Finder will guide you there quickly. Cheers and safe drinking and skiing.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Angel Funding Wine Makers Through

Crowd Sourcing has been a capital raising phenomenon for a number of years and has leveraged that idea to fund dozens of winemakers across the globe. This capital is available to the winemakers up-front to use how they deem appropriate whether in acquiring grapes, vineyard support, or the physical production of the wine. The source for the funds are over 100,000 Angels or subscribers to These customers deposit $40 a month into their account and have access to the funded wines at 40-60% off the retail price. And Angels can always withdraw their funds at any time. That's a nice deal, specifically for these value wines produced throughout the world. Recently sent me a sampler pack of mostly German inspired wines to verify the quality and value of their service. Impressive.

Bruno Santa Lucia Highlands Riesling 2016 ($18.99, Angels $10.99). Made by Richard Bruno, a 20 year veteran with stints at Francis Ford Coppola and Don Sebastiani, this wine is sourced from a cool climate vineyard near Big Sur. It is a quite unique Riesling - crisp tropical fruit, but a creamy honey middle, then finishing with long with light acids.

Petit Villebois Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($19.99, Angels $11.99) by Joost de Villebois is a contrast to New Zealand. This Loire Valley wine is bright with citrus (but no lemongrass) and minerals on the palate and finishing with fresh acids. Villebois mentions that they Green Harvest - a thinning method used to decrease the crop yields and improve the flavor concentration of the remaining grape bunches - and utilize a technique called 'effeuillage' - the reduction of leaves to increase the sun and light exposure of the grapes.

The next four wines were made by Gerd Stepp, a 25 year veteran who; after working in Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Tuscany Italy, Stellenbosch South Africa, and the UK; eventually returned home to Germany's Pfalz wine region. This region contains over 56,000 acres of vineyards and is noted for its fruit-driven wines with a distinctive stony character.

Stepp Pinot Blanc 2016 ($21.99, Angels $12.99). This is a fantastic wine, crisp and floral with a wet rock mineral character. Plenty of acids too.

Stepp Pfalz Riesling 2016 ($24.99, Angels $13.99) A German driven Riesling with petrol, floral, and mineral characters; plus racy acids.

Stepp Pinot Gris 2016 ($24.99, Angels $13.99) Powerful aromas, fleshy citrus, and bright acids. Another Pinot Gris that is enticing back to this grape variety.

Stepp Pinot Noir *8* Pfalz 2016 ($29.99, Angels $17.99) Chalky, dusty, and spices. Balances with red fruit and appropriate tannins. Nicely done.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Visiting A Couple Craft Breweries in Rockville, Maryland

This past September Saints Row Brewing joined 7 Locks Brewing and Gordon Biersch Brewery as the only two craft breweries in Rockville -- the third largest incorporated city in Maryland. I write only, because the area could support many more if you add surrounding areas of Germantown, Gaithersburg, and Bethesda, the I-270 Corridor comes close to Baltimore in population size. That is what Saints Row Brewing is leveraging while serving unique and delicious beer. Start with the Little L Belgium Pale Ale which nails the profile and follow with the On Baker Street English Brown Ale. I generally avoid this style as many are highly malted for my tastes. Not the On Baker Street. It finds the correct balance between toffee malt and bitters - nicely done. And for sour lovers, there should always be something funky on tap with the Sweaty Pineapple Pants Wild Pineapple Sour the current offering. The citrus is subtle but not the tartness; quite nice. The brewery is also well integrated with Untappd so you can explore current and future offerings.

The senior 7 Locks Brewing is a happening place with a playroom, small bandstand, cornhole, and abundant other games to entertain visitors. There's also a plethora of craftbeer options from IPAs to lagers but start with the Sahti Farmhouse Ale if available. This is based on a Finnish style first brewed by peasants in the 1500s where the mashing occurred in wooden barrels which was then scooped into a hand-carved wooden trough (kuurna) with a bed of juniper twigs that acted as a filter. I also savored the Surrender Dorothy Rye Pale Ale and the Reserve Series Rye on Rye. This barrel aged beer is excellent where the whiskey notes meld with the rye flavors. You can also experiment by blending different amounts of Surrender Dorothy to the Rye on Rye. Makes for added entertain. Cheers and as always, you can find these breweries using theCompass Craft Beverage Finder.

Monday, January 8, 2018

When Its Cold Outside Reach for Port - Here's Two from Warre's and Graham's

This winter the buzzword appears to be bomb cyclone, which replaced polar vortex, which replaced Alberta Clipper, which sometime in the past replaced the simple cold front of my youth. Regardless of these marketing weather gimmicks, when its cold I reach for Port - a fortified wine produced from grapes grown and processed in the Portuguese Douro demarcation and fortified with neutral grape spirit.

There are over a hundred sanctioned grape varieties eligible for Port, but in general, expect the use of these five: Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cão, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Touriga Francesa, and Touriga Nacional. There are also several categories of Port: White, Tawny, Ruby, Reserve, and Vintage. (See The Wine Coach for specifics.) Aged tawnies come in ten year increments that reflect a port house's style and not a minimum, maximum, or average age. Thus a 10-year-old or 20-year-old Tawny port is a taste that is reflected in oak aging, racking and blending. Ruby Ports are aged in large vats for two to three years before bottling whereas Vintage Ports are from a single harvest designated as an exceptional year and aged additional years in the bottle. The Reserve Port category was created by Cockburn's (founded in 1815) to bridge these two styles where the wine is aged longer in large barrique casks. The goal was to create a wine similar in quality to the Vintage Port but drinkable early like the Ruby Port.

Warre's Warrior Port ($19). Warrior is the oldest continuously bottled Port brand (1750's) as Warrior has been branded on the casks of Warre’s finest Reserve Ports since the earliest days of the firm. The grapes are drawn from Quinta da Cavadinha and Quinta do Retiro, Warre’s best quintas in the Pinhão and Rio Torto valleys that also produce Warre’s classic Vintage Ports. The wine is fruity and chewy, lot's of texture, with another long lingering finish. Apparently the higher altitudes and cooler climate lead to this ripe fruit character. For a full bodied, yet fresh, easy drinking Port wine, start here.

Graham's 20 Year Old Tawny Port ($56) is a blend from all five Graham quintas – Malvedos and Tua, Vila Velha, Lages in the Rio Torto and Vale de Malhadas in the Douro Superior. It is pure tawny in color as well as showing layers of rich dried fruit, oranges, and nut flavors. The wine finishes very smoothly with a boost from elevated acidity. This 20-year-old Tawny Port is an elegant wine - excellent for all occasions - particularly during cold winter weather. Cheers.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Visiting Tall Pines Distillery in Pennsylvania Ski Country

If you are heading to the southwestern PA ski resorts like Seven Springs Mountain Resort and Hidden Valley Resort then stop by Tall Pines Distillery - the first legal moonshine distillery in Somerset County Pennsylvania since prohibition.  You will most likely be met by Dozer, the very friendly black lab or owners Daniel Fay and Keith Welch. The distillery is located three miles north of the Mason Dixon line at 9224 Mason Dixon Highway (Route 219) in Salisbury. The operation specializes in flavored moonshine, fruit brandy, and whiskey.

In the distillation area, the process looks as if it was run out of a barn - albeit with modern equipment - but with a thump keg (which enables a second distillation) and a worm box filled with cool water.  In general  the moonshine in sells for $34 per 750ml bottle or $18 for a 375ml bottle. The Cafe Mocha was a nice take on coffee liqueur but I opted for the Peach and Lumberjacked Apple brandies. The Peach is a little heavier than my preferred Eastern European palinka, but lighter than schnapps. Savor that peach flavor.  The Lumberjacked Apple is made from distilled apple cider and the apple flavor lives long past the slight burn. Besides neat, I envision the apple brandy mixed with hard cider and a shot of rum. Looking forward to our next ski trip and as always you can locate Tall Pines Distillery using theCompass Craft Beverage Finder. Cheers.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Remembering the 2017 Maryland Winter Wine Showcase

I just registered for the 2018 Winter Wine Showcase, an annual tasting at the B&O Railroad Museum where Maryland wineries feature two of their top wines. During the 2017 event I was very impressed with the quality across the board, but two Albarino wines stood out. These were the Boordy Vineyards 2016 South Mountain Vineyard Albariño ($20) and Port of Leonardtown Winery 2015 Maryland Albariño ($20). I had been saving both in order to conduct a comparative tasting with a few from Riax Baixas (Albarino's native homeland in Galacia Spain) but was instructed to open each sooner rather than later. That still is in insteresting concept considering that neither of the Maryland wines exhibit the minerally driven character associated with Riax Baixas Albarinos. Instead the Maryland wines are more stone fruit forward, with creamy depth, and finishing with plenty of acidity. Somewhat Viognier-ish. They are both delicious wines. Cheers to 2017 and best wishes for 2018.