Saturday, July 21, 2018

Borderless Wine from Harvest Ridge Winery

Straddling the border between Delaware and Maryland along the Mason-Dixon line lies Harvest Ridge Winery. Whereas the winery and a majority of the estate vineyards reside in Delaware, a significant block of estate vines are planted in the Free State. In fact, one of the original Mason-Dixon witness stone and crown markers, number 47, is located on the property. After fifteen years of home winemaking, Chuck Nunan converted his family farm to an estate vineyard by planting a series of vinifera grapes in 2011. After the winery opened in late 2013, he expanded the original planting of Chardonnay, Viognier, Malbec, and Merlot to include both Cabernets, Chambourcin, Vidal, Barbera, and several other grape varieties. He also hired Jason Hopwood, who had experience in Sonoma and the Finger Lakes, as the head winemaker. This growth enables Harvest Ridge to provide over fifteen wines in their tasting room as well as a new cider brand Rebel Seed.

I arrived on a Friday just after noon (Friday - Sunday they open at 12) and several visitors had beaten me to the tasting room. Harvest Ridge offers three different flights of eight wines for $7 (dry, sweet, and the mixed variety). There is also a cider flight at the same price and additional samples can be purchased as well as wine and cider by the glass or bottle. Children and outside food are allowed inside and on the outside courtyard but you will need to keep your dogs leashed outside.

I chose the mixed flight in order to gain an appreciation for the winery's many styles. For dry whites, they offer two styles of Chardonnay ($22), one unoaked, the other barrel fermented. I was more intrigued with the 2016 White Wine No. 47 ($17) - note the marker reference - that is a 90-10 blend of Vidal Blanc and Chardonnay. The wine has depth you normally don't associate with Vidal combined with the characteristic floral and spice profiles. A nice summer-beach wine. Similarly the 2016 Red Wine No. 47 ($17) is light and refreshing. This blend of Chambourcin, Barbera, and Landot Noir can also be served slightly chilled as there are few tannins. And as a single varietal wine, the 2016 Barbera ($25) shows excellent promise. It is, again, light bodied with subtle spice, moderate tannins, and abundant acids. Harvest Ridge offered two rosé wines with the Rosé of Chambourcin Country Bloom ($16) included in the tasting. The grapes macerate on their skins for 48 hours providing a blush like color and this clean wine is targeted more to that style with its 5% residual sugar. Also high in sugar is the 2016 Blue Hen Blue ($16) a blend of blueberries and concord grapes. Because of the berries acidity I was attracted more to this wine than the rosé as the grapey character of the concord was also restrained.

Finally, I was able to sample three dessert wines starting with the Portella ($18) made from a Muscat descendant Aromella -- which was recently bred at Cornell University. The wine possesses a raison-fig profile with a strong floral and spicy aroma. The 2015 Chamfort ($22) is a Chambourcin based ruby port styled wine fortified with neutral grape spirits and exuding chewy blackberries and chocolate. Last up was the 2013 Late Harvest Vidal Blanc ($15) that reminded me of the Tokaji styled dessert wines with the strong apricot flavor combined with smoked almonds. Quite Nice.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Live with Snooth & Robbie Meyer of Murrieta's Well

Joaquin Murrieta (1829 – July 25, 1853), also called The Robin Hood of the West or the Robin Hood of El Dorado, was a famous vaquero, and gold miner in California during the California Gold Rush of the 1850s.... In 1919, Johnston McCulley supposedly received his inspiration for his fictional character Don Diego de la Vega — better known as Zorro — from the 1854 book entitled The Life and Adventures of Joaquín Murieta: The Celebrated California Bandit by John Rollin Ridge. Wikipedia

One of the spots Murrieta would use to water his horses was a small well in the Livermore Valley in a parcel of land purchased by Louis Mel in the 1880s in which he planted a vineyard with cuttings from the famed Chateau d’Yquem and Chateau Margaux vineyards. He eventually sold the property to his friend Ernest Wente and years later in 1990 Philip Wente and Sergio Traverso revived the winery and opened Murrieta’s Well. They renovated the original winery keeping the original well close to the tasting room where visitors can still see original beams and stones -- dragged from the nearby river bed -- embedded in the walls.

Although the Wente name is now synonymous with California Chardonnay, the winemaker at Murrieta's Well, Robbie Meyer, specifically features multiple grape varieties to showcase not only the Livermore Valley but also the winery's estate vineyards. This 500 acre estate lies in the middle of the Livermore Valley in generally gravelly soil with morning fog cooling the grapes before the start of a typical sunny day. During a recent Snooth tasting, Meyer discussed five wines from the Murrieta’s Well portfolio where the grapes were harvested exclusively from these estate vineyards.

Murrieta's Well Small Lot Sauvignon Blanc 2017 ($35)
Their Sauvignon Blanc vineyard is from descendants of the original Chateau d’Yquem cuttings planted by Louis Mel in the late 1800s and is part of the original 92-acre parcel Louis Mel purchased when he first moved to the Livermore Valley. The Louis Mel vineyard features well-drained gravelly soils that are ideal for growing Sauvignon Blanc. The wine itself was fermented in neutral French oak barrels and then aged sur lie for four months, which allows the wine to mature during fermentation and early aging without imparting oak features. According to Meyer this adds texture and weight to the palate while maintaining the wines freshness. And there's plenty of depth and texture to this wine surrounded by a floral aroma and grapefruit and white peach driven fruit and solid acidity. A refreshing yet mature wine.

Murrieta's Well The Whip 2016 ($26)
This is a unique blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Chardonnay, Orange Muscat, Viognier with the grapes harvested from the estate's Hayes vineyard with the exception of the Louis Mel vineyard and Sauvignon Blanc. Interestingly, the Hayes vineyard is responsible for eleven of the twenty grape varieties planted at Murrieta's Well as the vineyard holds an array of soils, aspects and slopes. The grapes for The Whip were fermented and aged in a combination of stainless steel tanks and oak that Meyer says builds texture and mouthfeel as well as maintains freshness and acidity. The Viognier and Orange Muscat provide plenty of aromatics and the Sauvignon Blanc natural acidity and these enclose a complex, creamy, and round middle. An excellent wine.

Murrieta's Well Dry Rosé 2017 ($30)
This rosé is an exclusive Rhone blend of Grenache, Counoise, and Mourvedre. The first two grapes are harvested from the Hayes vineyard, the later from their Raboli vineyard where they are gently whole cluster pressed, cold-fermented separately, and then aged two months in steel tanks after the final blend. This is a luscious dry wine; cream strawberries, depth, mint, and healthy acids.

Murrieta's Well The Spur 2015 ($35)
A red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Merlot, Petite Verdot, and Cabernet Franc from the Louis Mel, Hayes or Sachau vineyards. The grape varieties were fermented separately in stainless steel then blended together and aged for 24 months in 50% new, 25% second use, and 25% third use French oak. Meyer stressed that this wine doesn't identify as a single varietal and this inviting wine starts with dark fruit and dried cherries, then coconut and spices, and concluding with a vibrant finish.

Murrieta's Well Small Lot Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($58)
The grapes were primarily grown in the gravelly, coarse, and sandy loam soils of the Sachau vineyard with a small percentage harvested from the historic Louis Mel vineyard. After fermentation the wine was aged for 18 months in 80% new French oak and 30% second and third use French oak barrels. Despite this oak regime, the wine provides great fruit expression -- mostly plums -- but also some earthiness and chocolate enveloped in layers of texture. This solid wine finishes with soft but lingering tannins.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Far Eastern Shore Winery: Slghtly Sweet, Fruit Infused Wines

Each year Maryland wine makers hold a competition that results in the Comptrollers Cup. In previous years, only winemakers served as judges, but for 2018 sommeliers and other industry professionals were added to the judging. The overall winner was Cactoctin Breeze Winery and a celebration was held at their winery where Gold Medal winners poured generous servings of these wines. The medal in the Sweet wine category was given to Far Eastern Shore Winery for their Dream NV Port-styled Raspberry Chocolate wine. The wine is delicious, not cloying nor gritty, and integrating the fruit and chocolate for a fine tuned wine. Whereas I had sampled many of their wines previously this wine induced me to visit the winery in Easton, Maryland using theCompass Craft Beverage Finder.

In fact the tasting room for Far Eastern Shore Winery is quite convenient to visit, right on Route 50 to the right when traveling east. When arriving visitors will instantly notice the East Asian influences that account for part of their name - Maryland's eastern shore being the other. Al the wines are fairly priced ($17 or $29 for the premium dessert wines) and a tasting of five wines costs $7. Each of the regular wines consists of a wine grape base infused with fruit juice. For instance the Summer is comprised of a Chardonnay base infused with peach and apricot juice; this is one to continue with heading to the beach. Like the other wines this weights in at a lowly 7% ABV and 1.8% residual sugar with plenty of acidity to mitigate most sweetness. On the red side of the house, try the Black (blackberries on a Cabernet Sauvignon base) or the Wild (wild berries on a Shiraz base). Or the staff specialize in blending portions of each wine so ask your pourer for their favorite blend. Besides the Dream port wine, I came home with a bottle of their Harvest a combination of local Talbot County Vidal grapes infused with cranberries. This is quite tasty, reminiscent of mostly Vidal characters with a tad of tartness from the fruit. This wine is only available at the tasting room which gives you another incentive to visit Far Eastern Shore Winery

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Hess Select Central Coast Pinot & North Coast Cabernet

Looking for wine to bring to a party? Then think of Hess Select wines; they are suitable because they are generally very approachable and boast an agreeable $20 SRP.  Whereas the Hess Collection wines are produced from the winery's Mount Veeder Napa estate, the Hess Select wines are produced from grapes sourced from other California appellations. Many of these are small family growers whom Hess Family Wine Estates has established long term relationships. Here are two such wines we received this month.

Hess Select Central Coast Pinot Noir ($20) - The grapes are sourced primarily from the Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey. Director of Winemaking Dave Guffy says these grapes are grown in the Sarmento Vineyard, "located on the benchlands of the Gabilan Mountains in Monterey, where the Pacific breezes boldly cross the range each afternoon to cool the vineyards". This results in an extended and moderate growing season. The wine is loaded with sour cherries, deep chewy fruit, slight pepper, and medium tannins. A fan favorite.

Hess Select North Coast Cabernet Sauvignon ($20) - The North Coast AVA encompasses several sub-AVAs and grape-growing regions in six counties located north of San Francisco: Lake, Marin, Mendocino, Napa, Sonoma, and Solano. The region boasts a mild Mediterranean climate with regular diurnal swings providing flavorful fruit finishing with refreshing acids and balanced tannins.  Lake and Mendocino counties were the sources for this wine and Duffy says the later provides the plummy spice characters and the inland Lake county the fruit forward dark berry flavors. And there is deep fruit in this wine, approachable, with spices and vanilla, and ending with smooth tannins.

Monday, July 9, 2018

#FirstSipNZ with Single Vineyard Taylors Pass Villa Maria Estate Winery

"Taylors Pass Single Vineyard wines are pure expressions of soil and climate and varietal interactions",  Kathrin Jankowiec Marlborough Winemaker at Villa Maria Estate Winery

The Villa Maria Estate Winery's Taylor Pass vineyard is located in Marlborough's Awatare Valley along the northern bank of the Awatere River. In the larger picture Marlborough is in the northeast of the South Island with the Awatare Valley in the southernmost section of this famous wine region. The river not only helped carve the vineyard plots but also gives the region its name as awatere means "fast-flowing river" in the local Maori dialect. The vines are planted on rugged terraces and with each terrace the soil type changes: stony gravels are nearest the river, whereas the mid terrace has silt over gravels, and the highest terrace is deeper silt over clay-papa base. The grapes benefit from a large diurnal temperature swing as cool ocean breezes roll in at night to cool the heated day time grapes - aka enhanced acids. The winds also help dry the grapes reducing the risk of rot and encourage low yields and thick skins. However the strong wind creates its own challenges as the vines need to be securely stabilized.

Villa Maria's Taylors Pass vineyard contains 14 acres of Pinot Noir, 14 acres of Chardonnay, and 120 acres of Sauvignon Blanc; however only a very small portion of the highest quality of grapes from these acres are made into their Single Vineyard wines. Here are three we received as samples for the Summer 2018 #FirstSipNZ"

2017 Taylors Pass Sauvignon Blanc ($26) - 2017 was a cooler vintage with the wine fermented in 100% stainless steel that produces a clean and crisp wine with a tropical nose, soft velvety and lemon characters, and finishing with balanced acids.

2016 Taylors Pass Chardonnay ($42) - the wine spends nine months on its lees with 28% in new French oak 78% seasoned oak which helps develop not only creamy characters but also enhances fruit and minerality. As the wine warms the oak character dissipates to reveal the enhanced grapefruit and peach flavors. The wine finishes with a creamy and nutty character elevated by tasty acids.

2015 Taylors Pass Pinot Noir ($42) - the plots reside on stony sections of the vineyard providing floral aromas with silt loam providing not only drainage but also structure, dark berry notes and earthiness in the wine. The is a solid light-medium wine with juicy cherry flavors, a pleasant lack of cola, mellow spicy tannins, and a lively acid boost at the tail.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

W&OD Bike Trail: Reston to Lake Anne Brew House

If you are tired of the familiar rest stops along the W&OD Trail, then consider a quick excursion while in Reston to Lake Anne and the Lake Anne Brew House. This small village is only 5-10 minutes off the main trail by existing at Reston Blvd. Ride adjacent to the road for half a mile then jump on the Green Trail on your right. Follow the signs and this trail ends right near the brewery (Taproom hours: Thursdays 4pm – 10pm, Fridays 4pm – 11pm, Saturdays 10am – 11pm and Sundays 12pm – 5pm). The Lake Anne Skinny Dip Kolsch is a refreshing mid-ride flagship beer and there's usually a Hefeweisen, Lager or Blonde on tap as well. For something stronger, the Live-Work-Play IPA is popular as is the Brown’s Chapel Brown Ale. And for complete directions use theCompass Craft Beverage Finder. Cheers.