Tuesday, November 12, 2019

A Day Trip Along the Shenandoah Spirits Trail

The Shenandoah Spirits Trail consists of 49 breweries, cider houses, distilleries, and wineries within the Shenandoah Valley and located between Harrisonburg and Winchester. These destinations are an easy day trip from the DC Metro area and are worth leveraging when visiting the Valley's Civil War sites, scenic roads, and outdoor activities. And try to stay for the sunsets. Here are a few we visited recently.

Old Hill Cider - Timberville
The is an outgrowth of Showalters Orchard where the Showalter family has been growing apples for over 50 years on a century-old orchard. Cidermaker Shannon Showalter established the first cider house in the Shenandoah Valley by fermenting various heirloom apples such as Pippen, Winesap, and Stayman. These are the blend for the refreshing Yesteryear dry cider. Full a fuller cider, try the Cidermaker's Barrel where the juice is fermented using wild yeast then racked into barrels -- developing texture and depth. And walk out back to sip and enjoy the scenic valley.

Swover Creek Farms and Kitchen - Edinburg
Swover Creek Farms was established just over a decade ago by Lynn and Dave St.Clair, diversifying their 100+-year-old family farm into berries and about 6 years ago 14 hop varieties. In 2014 they opened a small brewery operation using a 3.5 barrel brew system with 2 fermenters and 4 bright tanks. These are located in a renovated barn with a former cow loafing shed used for outdoor covered seating. Inside enjoy house-made pizza, Swover Creek smoked sausages and several styles of beer. Our favorites were the Saison and Lager.

Wolf Gap Vineyard - Edinburg
Willard and Diane Elledge founded Wolf Gap Vineyard and Winery 15 years ago on a 48-acre estate. The views of Wolf Gap and the Great North Mountains from their deck is worth a visit in itself, but an added bonus is the well-crafted wines offered. The 50-50 2017 Viognier-Traminette blend is refreshingly unique while the 2016 Chardonnay is textured and crisp. Nut the dry reds are their strong suit starting with the 2015 Chambourcin Reserve. Smokey and spicy but not jammy. The 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve proves that this grape can excel in pockets in the Commonwealth and the 2013 Mariage Reserve (Chambourcin and Cabernet Franc) is delicious.

Reminder: theCompass Craft Beverage Finder will guide you to these destinations. 

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Comparative Cabernet Franc - Colorado vs Virginia

"I'm not a huge enthusiast of the sexual stereotyping of wines but even I can see that Cabernet Franc might be described as the feminine side of Cabernet Sauvignon. It is subtly fragrant and gently flirtatious rather than massively muscular and tough in youth. Because Cabernet Sauvignon has so much more of everything – body, tannin, alcohol, colour – it is often supposed to be necessarily superior, but I have a very soft spot indeed for its more charming and more aromatic relative, Cabernet Franc." -- Jancis Robinson
Whereas Cabernet Franc is mostly known from its Bourdeaux (St-Émilion and Pomerol) and Loire (Chinon) homes, this black-skinned wine grape has been widely planted in the United States - particularly in wine regions such as the Finger Lakes, Long Island, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and Colorado.

Colorado Case Club Wines
These regions provide challenging conditions for grapevines such as short growing seasons, frost, and humidity. Cabernet Franc's relative thick skins and loose clusters allow the grape to withstand humidity; yet frost and short growing seasons are still detrimental since the grape buds and matures earlier than say, Cabernet Sauvignon. These conditions heighten the inherent green vegetal character of Cabernet Franc due to the increased presence of the chemical pyrazine in these unripened grapes.  Winemakers can attempt to compensate for this overly green vegetal character by increasing oak treatment - in many cases leading to overly oaked and dull wines.

Virginia Case Club Wines
During the BevFluence Experience Denver, we sampled several Cabernet Franc wines, a few from the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board and another from the Virginia Wine Board.  This provided a small, yet interesting, sampling of comparative Cabernet Franc.  The grapes from the Colorado wine were sourced from the Grand Valley located on the western slope of the Rocky Mountains - basically a high altitude desert at over 4,500 feet with sunny days and cool nights.  In Virginia, the grapes were also grown on the western slope of a mountain range, in this case, the Blue Ridge Mountains and between 1,000 and 1,400 feet above sea level.  Besides elevation, another difference is the lush green environment and potential humidity common to the Commonwealth.

Out of the four wines sampled, two were very similar - one each from Colorado and Virginia.  Both were luscious, full-bodied, velvety, finishing with lifting acids and firm tannins. Both wines were devoid of the inherent green vegetal character and while receiving some oak, neither was overly so.  Two home runs from uniquely distinct regions.

BookCliff Vineyards 2015 Grand Valley Reserve Cabernet Franc ($26.99)
In 1995, John Garlich and Ulla Merz purchased a ten-acre peach farm just outside of Palisade in Colorado's Grand Valley AVA and quickly planted grapevines on six of these acres. They sold off most of their initial grape harvest but soon established the winery and named it after the Book Cliffs, a series of desert mountains and cliffs in western Colorado and eastern Utah. They also strove to produce 100% Colorado-grown wines and have slowly increased their holdings to 37 acres planted with 14 different varieties. The Cabernet Franc grapes were harvested from the estate vineyard that benefits from sunny days and cool nights at this high altitude desert. It's easy to see how this wine won Best of Show in Colorado's 2018 Governor’s Cup Wine Competition.

Glen Manor Vineyards 2015 Cabernet Franc ($31.99)
Around the same time as the establishment of BookCliff, Jeff Raymond White planted vines on a parcel of land that had been in his family for over a hundred years and which was originally part of a larger land grant owned by Lord Fairfax of England. Chief Justice John Marshall eventually purchased a share of these holdings and through various sales cascaded to Stephen Clifton Lawson (Jeff’s great-grandfather). Since 1995, White has planted his Cabernet Franc in different lots experimented in slope, soil, exposures and canopy cover which eventually lead to two plantings that combined to produce this Governor's Cup Case Club wine.

Monday, November 4, 2019

International #SherryWeek with González Byass

November 4th through the 11th has been designated International #SherryWeek by Consejo Regulador de las Denominaciones de Origen "Jerez-Xérès-Sherry" or in short, Vinos de Jerez.  We generally skip these marketing campaigns but for Sherry, expect a steady stream of posts here and on social media all week. Let's start with González Byass, perhaps the most popular sherry producer through their Tio Pepe winery in Jerez and two of their sherries.

Vina AB Amontillado ($24.99)
This wine starts with a Tio Pepe base after the standard four years in the Tio Pepe solera system. This means that it consists of 100% Palomino Fino grapes that have fermented and aged in a process that allows for the development of flor -- a unique layer of yeast produced naturally in Jerez. This layer protects the wine from oxygen and after four years of age, provides the wine with its unique aroma and character. After four years, the wine is then transferred to the Vina AB Solera where it remains for an additional eight years which extracts elements from the American Oak such as caramel and vanilla. The wine also features the essence of dried fruits and nuts while staying relatively dry.

The Vina AB Amontillado can be consumed by itself yet for Halloween, we found that a Butterfinger pairs nicely, with the peanuts complementing the dried fruits and nuts.  However, this wine's best usage is an ingredient in cocktails with many offered by a quick search online. It appears the Gin is the most popular companion with my favorite becoming a version of the Tuxedo.  The base is 1.5 ounces of London dry gin and 1 oz of Vina AB, then .5 oz of Lusardo Maraschino, three dashes of orange bitters, and one dash of absinthe.  Not having any Lusardo or absinthe on hand I replaced these with Monarch Bitters - using Pistachio Cherry Syrup and Cayenne Ginger bitters.  A rather delicious cocktail.

Noé VORS Pedro Ximenez ($49.99)
Dessert in a bottle. The PX grapes were fermented and fortified in the Nectar Solera system where the grapes were fermented to 7% and then fortified to 15%. After eight years of aging, the wine enters the Noé Solera system for 30 years. This results in a complex and textured wine, sweet figs and lifting acidity. If you care to pair with candy, try a Twizzlers - but this is a fantastic wine solo.

Disclosure: We received samples from González Byass in order to share our opinion about their products, but this isn’t a sponsored post.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Virginia Wine Month Along U.S. Route 29

October was Virginia Wine Month and we were able to visit a few wineries while traveling along U.S. Route 29 to and from Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Known as the Seminole Trail or "29th Infantry Division Memorial Highway", this well-traveled road runs from the Tarheel state through Virginia and intersects several popular wine regions within the Commonwealth. These wine trails include the Fauquier County Wine Trail, Monticello Wine Trail, Jefferson Heritage Trail, and SoVA Wine TrailtheCompass Craft Beverage Finder can guide you to these destinations with the wineries we visited listed south to north.

Lazy Days Winery
This winery is located in Amherst County right off the highway and resides just a few miles south of Rebec offers ten wines all from 100% estate grapes.  Starting with dry wines, the Chardonnay Reserve 2014 ($20) is just slightly oaked -- providing light butter and texture and a bottle came home. I also purchased the friendly Sweet Lazy Red ($20), a well made off-dry wine that is a blend of Chambourcin and Petit Manseng.  It's sibling, the Sweet Lazy White ($18) is a festival favorite being 2.5% r.s. but plenty of acidity from the majority Petit Manseng and Vidal Blanc grapes. And for dry reds, try the 2013 Petit Verdot ($22).

Rebec Vineyards
This winery resides just a few miles north of Lazy Days and for history enthusiasts, the family home, Mountainview, is listed on both the National Register of Historic Places and as a Virginia Landmark. Winemaker Svetlozar Kanev is a native Bulgarian and his signature wine is the Sweet Sofia ($19) - an herb-infused based on a Bulgarian recipe.  Its worth bring a bottle home to experiment with various food or situational pairings. The remaining portfolio is quite extensive encompassing dry to sweet wines using grapes and other fruit. The dry reds are well made and tasty - particularly the Pinot Noir ($26), Cabernet Franc ($24), and Landmark Reserve Sangiovese ($30). Other visitors raved about the semi-dry Riesling ($20) but I preferred the Gewurtztraminer ($23), Chardonnay ($20), and Viognier ($20). These three were very representative of the specific grape varieties and, with the Sweet Sofia, are resting in our cellar.

Brent Manor Vineyards
This is a relatively new winery situated south of Charlottesville and north of Lovingston -- right off the highway in Faber. The winery reflects the Portuguese heritage of owner Jorge Raposo. They even offer several Portuguese wines for sale but for our purposes, we are covering their Virginia made wines.  These wines are made from a combination of French hybrid and vinifera grapes and take my word - do not discount the hybrids. The 2017 Brent Manor Vidal Blanc ($17) is full of grapefruit and melon flavors plus refreshing acids - a solid wine. Similarly, the 2016 Chambourcin Reserve ($29) is full-bodied, with slight spice and leather and the reason for our visit. The representative from Lazy Days had mentioned that it was the best Chambourcin in the Commonwealth and he may be correct.  Another solid and refreshing wine is their 2015 Rosado Virginia Rose Wine ($19) - a blend of Cabernet Franc, Chambourcin, and Viognier.  More raspberry than strawberry for this one.  In order to stay true to Portugal, Brent Manor produces a couple Port styled wines and take a look at the 2018 Vihno Abafado Branco ($29) made from a Petit Manseng base and fortified with neutral grape spirits. The nuts, vanilla, and acidity kill it.

Montifalco Vineyard
Since we were traveling North, Raposo suggested this new endeavor located in Advance Mills, just off Route 29 between Ruckersville and the Charlottesville Airport. The winery's name Montifalco is a play on the Monticello AVA and owner Justin Falco's family name. The estate vineyard is planted with an interesting mix of Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Rkatsiteli, and Saperavi - the latter two originating from cuttings from Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars and perhaps available next year. At the top of the tasting sheet is the white Bordeaux 2018 Montifalco Blanc ($22) and the 2017 Montifalco Barrel Reserve Chardonnay ($25). Both are excellent wines, spot on and flavor profiles and I couldn't leave without a bottle of each. The 2018 Montifalco Cabernet Franc ($23)  and 2016 Montifalco Meritage ($35) were also solid wines particularly for the Cabernet Franc considering rain-soaked 2018 was a horrible grape season. Thus, this is a lighter-bodied wine but with enough cherries and acidity to make it interesting. In contrast, the Meritage -- made from all five Bordeaux red grapes -- is full-bodied, juicy, textured, a little dirty, with firm grippy tannins.

Monday, October 28, 2019

The Federalist Zinfandel: A Triad of Styles and Regions

We have written about The Federalist Wines in the past and now their portfolio includes three Zinfandel wines from popular California appellations - AVA's mostly dominated by old-vine zinfandel.  And with Halloween approaching, we sampled these wines with three versions of the popular Snickers bars.

The Federalist 2016 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel ($17.99)
According to the Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley, "though Dry Creek Valley grows more than than 30 different grape varieties, at the heart of our appellation is zinfandel. Dry Creek Valley’s AVA, just 16 miles long and two miles wide, is home to one of the densest concentrations of old vine zinfandel in the world". The vineyard for these grapes resides in the southern edge of Dry Creek Valley just a mile from the Russian River. The river provides cooling morning fog which extends the growing season by slowly maturing the grapes.  The wine provides toasted chewy fruit, firm tannins, slight white pepper and a tad of heat from the 15.5% abv. The standard Snickers bar provided a nice companion taming the tannins.

The Federalist 2016 Lodi Zinfandel ($17.99)
The Lodi AVA provides some of the oldest Zinfandel plantings with some considered to be Ancient Vineyards. Within this appellation, there is also an interesting east-west dichotomy within the Mokelumne River sub-AVA. The east side contains lower water tables which along with the sandier soils equate to smaller berries and clusters. On the other hand, west of Hwy. 99 the vineyards are sandy loam with generous amounts of finely crushed granite washed down from the Sierra Nevadas. This translates to darker, firmer, zestier, flavorful east side red wines in contrast to the softer, rounder, less aggressively flavored west side wines. I'm not sure from what side the grapes for this wine were grown, but its character suggests the west side as it is creamy and round with firm but very approachable tannins. The peanut butter Snickers complements the wine by providing a little more texture.

The Federalist 2016 Bourbon Barrel Aged Zinfandel ($21.99)
The Mendocino County appellation is located due north of Sonoma and is part of the larger North Coast AVA that spreads northward from San Francisco Bay. According to Mendocino Winegrowers, "Mendocino's Zinfandels are known for their rich, dark color scheme, medium to high tannin levels and a higher alcohol content...". The grapes in this wine were aged six months in American Oak barrels then an additional six months in used bourbon barrels. This process provides just a subtle hint of bourbon and heat - slight vanilla and caramel that blends nicely with an almond Snickers. The finish is tannin structure is solid yet very approachable.

Disclosure: We received samples from Terlato Wines in order to share our opinion about their products, but this isn’t a sponsored post.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Keep Warm During Halloween with Exitus Bourbon Barrel Aged Red Wine

During previous Halloween's, I would accompany the little boy with a coffee mug filled with either bourbon or red wine. Now that a chaperone is no longer wanted or needed, I distribute candy outside in order to chat with neighbors. Thus a warming beverage is still desired and this year I'm combining bourbon and red wine with the 2017 Exitus Bourbon Barrel Aged Red Wine ($20). This Zinfandel based blend (Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, and Merlot) rests three months in charred American oak barrels previously filled with Kentucky Bourbon. This aging provides additional layers of toasted oak, baking spices, and tobacco which compliments the dense fruit and chocolate core. The finish is smooth with easy tannins - but the subtle heat at 15.9% abv will keep you warm. Cheers and Happy Halloween.

Disclosure: We received samples from Exitus Wines in order to share our opinion about their products, but this isn’t a sponsored post.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Visiting a Trio of Winston-Salem Craft Breweries

Over a decade ago, Foothills Brewing launched the Winston-Salem craft beer scene with a solid core lineup including People's Porter, Torch Pilsner, and Hoppyum IPA. The brewery is still a major player today with three locations and abundant seasonals and limited releases. They have also been joined by eight fellow breweries including three we recently visited: Wise Man Brewing, Fiddlin' Fish Brewing Company, and Small Batch Brewing.

Wise Man Brewing opened a few years ago after renovating a vacant 90-year old structure where they offer a large portfolio of craft beer in multiple styles.  Each staff member is a certified cicerone so be prepared for an excellent experience as they explain or suggest appropriate beers.  I chose a sampler consisting of the Liquid Measure w/ Blueberry, Peach, & Raspberry IPA; Circumstances of Collision Sour IPA; Thousand Chords Grisette; and Bound To Get Down Brett Pale Ale.   The first two were loaded with fruit, creamy berries for the first and blood oranges, pomegranates, and tangerines. Fantastic.  The second two were funkier with spices in the Grisette and tart fruit in the second. Fortunately, a staff member suggested the Krankies Shape Shifter Blonde Ale, an interesting beer where green coffee beans were aged in red wine barrels then returned to Krankies to be roasted.  The coffee beans elevate the otherwise soft ale with a concentrated aroma and long finish. A crowler, please.

Fiddlin' Fish Brewing Company reflects the lifestyle of the Blue Ridge Mountains: hiking, fishing and enjoying great music. The brewery is located on historic Trade Street near the downtown Arts District and provides a spacious environment to sample and watch the Nationals in the World Series. I chose another quartet sampler starting with the Hardy Bear Helles Lager - a refreshing beer with the expected minerality. Next was the Raspberry Black Currant Sour, a tasty beer that was deliciously tart. This led to the Cherry A Tune Cherry Rye Blonde where malted rye was added to a blonde ale grain bill and dark cherries infused after fermentation. Very complex. The sampler was filled out with the Pine Barren Pale Ale, a collaboration with the North Carolina Zoo and named after the Pine Barren Tree Frog. There is a decent amount of hops creating a robust yet clean beer and portions of the proceeds benefit the zoo.  Once again a staff member suggested an additional beer, the Black Mountain Chocolate Stout where cocoa nibs from neighboring Black Mountain Chocolate is brewed into the milk stout. A delicious creamy beer.

Small Batch Brewing was our last stop, located directly downtown and offering a full food menu, shakes, spirits, and craft beer. Here we stayed on the darker side starting with the Porter in the Rye and the Percolator Mocha Stout. Both were complex and tasty. But also check out their full range blonde to pilsner to gose to IPA.

And as always, theCompass Craft Beverage Finder will guide you to these destinations. Cheers.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Michigan Wine - Reach for the Pinot, Not Just the Riesling

During the BevFluence Experience Denver, the Michigan Wine Collaborative (MWC) coordinated with a few wineries to provide the experience with several signature Michigan wines. Riesling was, as expected, highly represented with excellent versions ranging from dry to off-dry and characterized by minerality with bright tropic and or stone fruit notes. Many of these we covered earlier with the MWC Riesling Roundtable and Michigan #WineStudio. Examples include the 45 North 2017 Riesling, St. Julian Mountain Road 2018 Estate Riesling, St. Julian 2018 Reserve Riesling, and the St. Julian Braganini 2017 Reserve Dry Riesling.

However, it was the Pinot wines, both Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris that piqued our interest. It started at dinner the first evening with the 2018 Chateau Chantal Pinot Grigio ($15). That was followed by the next night with the 2016 Proprietors Reserve Pinot Gris ($24) from the same winery and among a larger group. The Pinot Grigio is light and minerally like its Italian namesake includng plenty of stone fruit. Great acidity as well. The Pinot Gris is more Alsatian with rich layers of apples, stone, and tropical fruit. Once again acids lift the finish and the tasting group was quite impressed.

Eventually, attendees discovered the St. Julian 2018 Lake Michigan Shore Reserve Pinot Grigio ($9.99). And like the others, this wine was far from the pedestrian Pinot Grigio's that flood the grocery store isles. Don't let the light color fool you, there's plenty of flavors starting with apples then transitioning to tropical fruits. Nice.

Michigan Pinot Noir was more familiar to attendees and the Chateau Chantal 2017 Proprietor's Reserve Ole Mission Penninsula Pontes Vineyard Pinot Noir ($27) got the party started. This is a rich wine, dark fruit with a velvety texture. Similarly, the 45 North 2017 Pinot Noir ($36) is equally full-bodied but with more red fruit and spices. In contrast, a nice vertical with the 45 North 2016 Pinot Noir ($36) shows a lighter wine with a strong sour cherry profile.  These wines represent the 45th parallel.

Thanks MWC, St. Julian, Chateau Chantal, and 45 North for enhancing the BevFluence Experience Denver. Cheers.

Disclosure: We received samples from the Michigan Wine Collaborative in order to share our opinion about their products, but this isn’t a sponsored post.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Nomad Outland Whisky - Distilled in Speyside, Aged in Jerez

We continue our series focusing on our trip to Tio Pepe and González Byass in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain with the Nomad Outland Whisky ($49.99). This spirit is a collaboration between the González Byass Sherry Master Blender Antonio Flores and Whyte & Mackay’s Master Blender Richard Patterson.

The spirit starts in the Scottish Highlands as a unique blend of over 30 different malt and grain whiskies from Speyside -- each 5 to 8 years old.  Typically, Speyside whiskies can be classified into two groups: light and grassy or rich and sweet. Since the resulting blend destined for Nomad is aged three years in sherry casks, the base starts rich and sweet.

After these three years of aging, the spirit is transferred to Jerez where it spends a mínimum of 12 months in old Pedro Ximenez casks. The collaborators initially had tested this finishing in various used sherry casks including Fino and Oloroso barrels but determined the complex and textured residual from Pedro Ximenez works best.  During these 12 months, the Nomad also absorbs some native yeast providing a little funk as well as the finishing due to Jerez's unique micro-climate -- subject to changes in temperature, winds, and humidity.

This is a beautiful whisky with multiple layers of vanilla, molasses, nuts, and dried apricots with some mango and honey. Yes, multiple layers of flavor.

Disclosure: We received samples from González Byass in order to share our opinion about their products, but this isn’t a sponsored post.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Charles Woodson Launches Intercept - Affordable Wines from Paso & Monterey

Photo Credit: Lu Chau, Photagonist
For those who didn't follow college or professional football during the late 1990s through the middle of this decade, you may have missed the extraordinary career of Charles Woodson. Primarily a defensive back, Woodson was a two-way star at the University of Michigan and in 1997, his junior year, the Wolverines won a share of the National Championship and Woodson was awarded the Heisman Trophy. He not only beat out Peyton Manning for the award, but he was the last non-running back or quarterback to receive it. I remember the famous game against Ohio State where Woodson was instrumental - returning a punt for a touchdown, intercepting a pass in the end-zone, and making a long reception that led to Michigan's only offensive touchdown of the game. In the NFL, Woodson played 18 seasons with the Oakland Raiders and Green Bay Packers, a Pro-bowl player for half these seasons and winning the Super Bowl with the Packers in 2010. His NFL career ending after the 2015 season.

Like many of his fellow professional athletes, Woodson has successfully launched a wine brand Woodson Wines soon after retiring and more recently Intercept Wines in collaboration with the country's seventh-largest winery O’Neill Vintners & Distillers. Woodson first became interested in wine while playing with the Raiders when the club's training camp was located in Napa Valley. Say's Woodson, "My love of wine happened organically while living in Napa Valley during training camp playing for the Oakland Raiders in the '90s. The way people connected with wine intrigued me and I wanted to be a part of it." The Intercept collection consists of four wines, a Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Blend, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay - all priced at $18 and sourced from either Paso Robles or Monterey County. The wines are made by Amanda Gorter, the assistant winemaker at Robert Hall Winery working under the esteemed Don Brady. So right there are three positive indicators for this collection: price, appellation, and winemaking. Recently I received samples of two of these wines described below.

2018 Paso Robles Chardonnay
This wine is 100% Chardonnay sourced from the Adelaida and Templeton Gap Districts; these are two new sub-AVAs located within the western side of the larger Paso Robles appellation. The Templeton Gap AVA is noted for its cool days and nights due to the ocean breeze that is blown in through a gap in the Santa Lucia Range. As Paso's most western region, the Adelaida District receives the greatest influences from the Pacific Ocean with more rain and cooling breezes. These climates are best for cool-climate grapes but also grapes like Chardonnay in which enhanced acidity is desired. This acidity is what drives the Intercept Chardonnay bridging the apple and citrus fruit notes with the slight toasty notes from the barrel fermentation and sur lie aging. A fresh and balanced wine.

2017 Monterey County Pinot Noir
This wine is 100% Pinot Noir sourced from the Santa Lucia Highlands (90%) and Paso Robles (10%). The Santa Lucia Highlands is a small but popular winegrowing appellation in Monterey County that is known for cultivating excellent Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Like the western Paso regions, this region is strongly affected by maritime influences which extend the ripening season and enhance acids. The wine is medium-bodied with dusty and chalky cherries, some baking spices, and noticeable yet approachable tannins.

Disclosure: We received samples from Woodson Wines in order to share our opinion about their products, but this isn’t a sponsored post.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Two Hands Shiraz - Take out the Peanut Brittle

Two Hands Wines was established 20 years ago with the goal to produce the best Shiraz-based wines from throughout Australia. To that end, Two Hands releases ten Shiraz wines, each highlighting the specific region and vineyard in which they are grown.

We recently received two samples, the Two Hands Gnarly Dudes Shiraz 2018 ($33) and Two Hands Angel's Share Shiraz 2018 ($33). They both share aspects of dark plum fruit, chocolate, varying levels of spice and earthiness, as well as a seamless flow to the mild tannins. Delicious. They also pair well with peanut brittle as the wine's chocolate notes erupt into the peanuts and the crunchiness adds depth to the tannins. On the other hand, chocolate bars are lost in the wine's robust flavors.

The winery also just announced that they will implement sap flow sensor technology to manage vine health and monitor water use. This provides two benefits. First, it saves water - drastically desired in Australia. Second, the technology monitors the actual grapes and vines to determine when they actually need water - optimizing the plant's health.

Disclosure: We received samples from Two Hands Wines in order to share our opinion about their products, but this isn’t a sponsored post.

Monday, September 30, 2019

From Aveleda - the Adega Velha 6 Years Old Reserva Brandy

Flying home from Lisbon last month I sounded my pockets (1) and found a few extra Euros in which I converted to a 500ml bottle of Adega Velha 6 Years Old Reserva Brandy ($22). This grape brandy is made in the far northwestern DOC of Vinho Verde from a mixture of indigenous grapes: Vinhão, Azal Tinto, Barraçal, and Espadeiro.

Specifically, these grapes were grown in the granite and sandy loam soils at the Quinta da Aveleda vineyard. This site is located in the hilly sub-region of Sousa which enjoys a generally Mediterranean climate with Atlantic influences. The Aveleda winery was founded in 1870 and is currently managed by the 5th generation of the family and is the largest producer and exporter of Vinho Verde wine.

The wine is distilled using an alembic Charentais still - a similar Cognac still used for the Lepanto Brandy de Jerez Solera Gran Reserva. The brandy is then aged six years in Limousin oak casks - the same oak preferred in the Cognac region and popular with brandy makers because of it's wide grains. This translates to a more tannic profile than tight-grained woods.

Despite these tannins, this is a soft brandy, some floral and woody aspects in the nose with a fresh nutty and honeyed core. Love the finish, long with little burn. Cheers.

(1)  One of my favorite lines from Moby-Dick.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Apple & Honey & Grape at Loew Vineyards

I last visited Maryland's Loew Vineyards back in June 2005 - an unusually long absence in revisiting wineries. I seemed to have gravitated more to Black Ankle, then to Old Westminster, and more recently to Catoctin Breeze -- but this summer my focused snapped back to this small family winery after tasting their Honey & Grape. This wine received a Gold and Best in Class at the 2019 Comptrollers Cup and just last week the prestigious Jack Aellen Cup. I had also sampled their Chancellor and noted that the inherent acidity had been tamed by fifth-generation winemaker Rachel Lipman to create a very likable dry red wine. A visit was required.

On the outside, and actually the inside, the tasting room at Loew Vineyards looked exactly as I remembered 14 years ago.  Think country store motif.  Whereas my main goal was to learn more about the Honey & Grape, it became very clear that the winery provided a rather strong portfolio that others in the industry would consider limited by the wine grapes and styles.

This started with the Two Consenting Grapes - a dry and un-oaked blend of Vidal Blanc and Reliance that was complex with both citrus and tropical notes.  The Reliance, a grape bred at the University of Arkansas as a table grape, provides the tropical aspects which are highly noticeable in the semi-dry Serendipity. The grape is also the main ingredient in the Honey & Grape.  The Loew family has been making some type of honey wine for over a hundred years starting with founder Bill Loew's family in Galicia. The honey augments the tropical flavors providing depth and balance to the grape's acidity.  Rachel also mentioned that honey wines age gracefully and they have been enjoying 20-year-old wines all summer.

One to drink immediately is their Apple & Honey Cyser which comes across very dry with the apple's tartness and acidity blending with the honey notes. A bottle came home for this week. Another fun wine is the sweeter Strawberry Jubilee where the strawberries dominate.

On a serious note, I wanted to emphasize their Chancellor - it is made in a lighter style more like a Pinot Noir with sour cherry and berry notes with approachable tannins and acids. Their Classic Red, a blend of Maréchal Foch and Chancellor is similar but with more weight and pepper.  And in a few years look for Zweigelt which Rachel planted this year. I can't wait.  Come visit - theCompass Craft Beverage Finder will guide you there.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

All Maryland Beers at Milkhouse Brewery at Stillpoint Farm

On May 22, 2012, then Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley signed Senate Bill 579, which established a Class 8 Farm Brewing license for the Free State. Class 8 license holders had to use some combination of Maryland-grown ingredients (grains, hops or fruit) in their beers but then they would get similar privileges as the state's wineries. Tom Barse was very active in getting Maryland’s Farm Brewery law enacted and a year later opened a tasting room at Milkhouse Brewery at Stillpoint Farm.

Five years early Tom and Carolann McConaughy purchased their Mount Airy farm and soon planted Cascade and Chinook hops and raised Leicester Long Wool sheep. Milkhouse Brewery opened by specializing in classic styles of beer "improved with Maryland hops" and later augmented these offerings with "Stillpoint Reserve" beers made from locally sourced ingredients, including hops, grains, fruits, herbs, honey, and other Maryland agricultural products. And finally, the brewery offers "All Maryland Beer" products made with only Maryland grown and malted barley, wheat, and rye, as well as Maryland grown hops.

During a recent visit, we focused on three of these All Maryland Beers, the Green Farmer Wet Pale Ale No. 12, Homestate Hefeweisen, and Dollyhyde Farmhouse Ale. The latter was my favorite of the entire portfolio with spices and Carroll County wildflower honey providing depth and flavor. The Hefe Weisen provides banana notes and the Pale Ale a funky pine flavor. Also try the Goldie’s Best Bitter.

Milkhouse also provides a serious sour program as tart Fieldhand or Biere de Garde. The Fieldhand Tart Table Beer is a delicious tart and slightly sour post bike ride beer. For more flavor, try the Peach Fieldhand - my second favorite of the day. On this day they were also pouring a Nectarine Biere de Garde and Red Plum Biere de Garde which are interesting and fun.

And as always you can visit Milkhouse Brewery at Stillpoint Farm using theCompass Craft Beverage Finder. Cheers.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Gonzalez Byass Lepanto Brandy de Jerez Solera Gran Reserva

During our summer tour of the Tio Pepe winery in Jerez, we learned that Gonzalez Byass has been distilling grape brandy since the founders purchased their first copper alembic still in 1844.  Today they produce a range of brandies with the Lepanto Brandy de Jerez Solera Gran Reserva ($35) one of their premium products.

This is the only Brandy de Jerez to be produced entirely within Jerez and is made from Palomino grape must that is double distilled in Charentais pot stills (Cognac stills manufactured in the 1960s).  The hearts or "holandas" of the run (68-72% abv)  is aged in a traditional “Criaderas y Solera” system, in American oak casks previously used to age sherry.  The solera contains 15 criaderas, with an average age of over 12 years.  Nine of those years were spent in used Tio Pepe barrels and three in used Matusalem barrels. (To learn more about these sherries visit A Family Visit to Gonzalez Byass for Tio Pepe. )  The final bottled Lepanto brandy has a lighter weight than expected but packs plenty of flavors with abundant nuts and some caramel and vanilla. The finish is smooth and savory whether neat or with a drop of water, Cheers.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

#BevFluenceExperience Denver: Golden Moon Distillery

One of the first tours of BevFluence's Denver Experience was to Golden Colorado and the Golden Moon Distillery. For good reason. The Distillery had just been awarded the American Distilling Institute’s 2019 Distillery of the Year Award and the ten+-year-old distillery offers a rather rare and remarkable range of spirits. In fact, founders Stephen Gould and Karen Knight opened the distillery in order to recreate lost recipes -- particularly those from the late 1700s to the early 1900s. Gould's research library of ancient distilling methods dates back to the 1500s, but in order to be as authentic as possible, Gould scours the globe for antique stills. Presently they use four in the distilling process -- all dating from the early to mid-1900s. Although in order to scale up production, they contracted for larger and more modern stills but manufactured specifically to replicate the design of these antiques.

A dozen spirits and a smiling tasting room manager (Kayla) greeted us on arrival and we immediately dove into samples.  Two facts became immediately clear; first that Golden Moon produces high-quality spirits and second, there is a nice cross-pollination between Colorado craft beverage industries. The latter is evident by the Golden Moon Apple Jack ($56) and Golden Moon Grappa ($56). The Apple Jack starts with Colorado-grown apples that Denver's Stem Ciders crushes and during fermentation, the cider is transferred to the distillery where it is soon distilled, then lightly oak-aged and bottled.  This is a voluminous cider - full of apple funky apple flavor and a smooth - slight burn.

Even more intriguing and adding to the cross-pollination is their line of grappas produced from grape must from BookCliff Vineyard Each year brings not only a new vintage but also a different grape variety and in this case, we sampled three versions: a Riesling, Viognier, and a Chardonnay.  The final version was the clear preference. It provided a fuller profile both in body and fruit flavors with a more wine sensation. I'm sipping a glass as I type.

The other spirit I purchased was the Golden Moon Kümmel ($32)  - a spirit initially developed by assistant distiller Robbie Cunningham based on a Scottish recipe. The base alcohol is flavored with caraway and fennel and on its own is an interesting spirit. But Kayla, who is also the bar manager at the Golden Moon Speakeasy, recommended this as an alternative to vodka in a Bloody Mary. As fate intervenes, two of our party had already ventured to The Real Dill, Denver's source for pickles and bloody mary mix. ayla was correct. We started with the Real Dill Bloody Mary mix and rimming spice, then the Golden Moon Kümmel, a dash of Celery Horseradish or Smoked Salt and Pepper bitters from Monarch Bitters and topped with a Real Dill Habanero Pickle. Great success.

In addition to the Kümmel, Golden Moon produces several other unique spirits and liqueurs. One is an aperitif resurrected in stature, the REDUX Absinthe ($86) where just water, and not sugar, brings out the milky and cloudy character. A sure sign of quality. The Golden Moon Crème de Violette ($32), Golden Moon Dry Curacao ($32), and Golden Moon Ex Gratia ($56) are liqueurs worth sampling neat and mixologists can envision imaginative cocktails. However, be aware of sampling the Golden Moon Amer dit Picon ($56) neat. It is based on the original recipes and ingredients used by "legendary distiller Gaetan Picon to create his amer (bitters) in the 1830’s". And it is bitter, very bitter. Get the Picon Punch ready for this one.

Follow #BevFluenceExperience on social media to read future posts on the Golden Moon Gin ($46), Port Cask Reserve Gin ($86), Golden Moon Colorado Single Malt Whiskey ($110), Gun Fighter American Rye - Double Cask Whiskey ($34), and Gun Fighter American Bourbon - Double Cask Whiskey ($34). Cheers.