Monday, July 15, 2019

Natural Wine at the Old Westminster Winery's Summer Solstice Festival

"Natural Wine is farmed organically (biodynamically, using permaculture or the like) and made (or rather transformed) without adding or removing anything in the cellar. No additives or processing aids are used, and ‘intervention’ in the naturally occurring fermentation process is kept to a minimum. As such neither fining nor (tight) filtration are used. The result is a living wine – wholesome and full of naturally occurring microbiology." -- Raw Wine

On June 22nd, Maryland's Old Westminster Winery hosted the inaugural Summer Solstice Festival featuring natural wines from across the globe. The event was held at the winery's Burnt Hill Farm which is their second vineyard but the first farmed using biodynamic practices. Once mature, the harvested grapes will be processed with little or no intervention in the cellar and Old Westminster will produce Maryland's first natural wines.

But what is Natural Wine? When asked, representatives at the festival provided multiple definitions starting with either organically or biodynamically farmed grapes and finishing with various levels of winemaking intervention. Some stressed the importance of using zero sulfites which are used as a preservative and stabilizer. Others believe that a minimal amount of sulfites are allowable right before bottling but not during other stages of the winemaking process. Most representatives stressed the use of native yeast although some were inoculated with yeast cultures. Many of the natural wines were cloudy as a result of non-filtering whereas others were clean which suggest the use of a clarifying agent such as egg whites or isinglass (made from fish bladders).

As a result of these various practices, the wines were quite diverse ranging from cloudy and funky to clean and very traditional. I tended to prefer the latter as I felt the funkier styles provided excuses for traditional winemaking faults such as volatile acidity and reduction. These "faults" are counter-intuitive in the same wine since reduced winemaking is a method to prevent volatile acidity by reducing the amount of oxygen available for bacteria to create acetic acid.  However, in some cases, the reduced notes did not blow off after swirling and remained in tandem with the vinegar notes. In other wines where the effects of reduction did blow off, the funkiness sometimes overwhelmed the fruit flavors. But in the natural wine world, when the fruit and funk mingle more gracefully, the wines are greeted with acclaim.

During a pre-festival #WineStudio Twitter tasting that ran through June, we sampled the contrasting styles with the Old Westminster 2017 Home Vineyard Cabernet Franc and their 2018 Heirloom. Whereas both were bottled unfined and unfiltered the Cab Franc provided a more traditional profile full of fruit flavors with balanced tannins and acidity. I wish more East Coast wineries could replicate this excellent wine. On the other hand, the 77% Chardonnay, 12% Albarino, and 11% Muscat blend in the Heirloom was funkier in style perhaps from fermenting with native yeast and took quite a few sips to comprehend. I am well acclimated with this style in cider and beer - but not so much with wine.

So quite naturally at the Summer Solstice, I drifted towards the more traditional wines starting with Oregon's Brooks Winery. The Estate Vineyard for this Williamette Valley winery was certified by Demeter for Biodynamic farming principles in 2012. And in the cellar, they utilize low intervention winemaking practices but release very clean and traditional wines as evident by the Pinot Gris, Riesling, and Pinot Noir. These wines are delicious and represent the grape profiles perfectly. Brooks also provides an original profile indicator on their website which displays color-coded bar charts representing aroma and flavor.

Nearby, the Georgian Wine House was pouring similarly delicious wines from this ancient country located in the Caucasus region of Eurasia. The Georgian winemaking tradition is known for using qvevri vessels to ferment and age the wine. If a white wine is aged with prolonged skin contact then the resulting wine becomes light orange in color with more depth in flavor. Naotari Winery specializes in this technique and the family operation (Koba Kvatchrelishvili and his two sons, Rezo and Alex) releases the Khikhvi Blend 2016 natural wine. This blend of Rkatsiteli, Kisi, and Khikhvi is fermented with native yeast, is unfiltered, and undergoes zero intervention or added sulfite. Yet it is full of stone fruit aromas and flavors with no traces of volatile acidy or reduction.

Similarly, Chona’s Marani Winery is another family venture producing natural wines like the Rkatsiteli 2017 and Mtsvane-Rkatsiteli Blend 2017. Pure, clean, and delicious wines. Finally, sisters Baia and Gvanca showed two excellent wines in the Baia's Wine and Gvanca's Wine with Baia focusing on white wine and Gvanca red. The Gvanca's Wine Otskhanuri Sapere 2017 exudes sour cherries and not in a funky way. The Baia's Wine Tsolikouri 2018 is also fermented with wild yeast, unfiltered, and uses very low levels of sulfites that provides clean citrus and apple flavors with refreshing acidity.

Traveling towards the Mediterranean there was another brilliant natural wine from Turkey imported by Siema Wines. Mustafa Çamlica founded Chamlija Winery in "2000 in the small Thracian town of Büyükkarıştıran, and planted his vineyards throughout the decomposed granite soils of the Strandja Massif, near where Turkey meets Bulgaria". At the festival, Siema poured this winery's Papaskarasi Rosé - a rare indigenous Turkish grape variety. This delicate wine provides a soft texture to its strawberry profile finishing with refreshing clean acids. And the distinct label was drawn by Çamlica's daughter Irem - a renowned artist in Turkey.

Siema poured another clean and textured wine, this time from the Friuli region of Italy. Borgo San Daniele is operated by the brother and sister team of Mauro and Alessandra who do not use chemical products in their vineyard and minimalistic techniques during vinification. Their Mauri Vignaioli Friulano (formerly called Tocai Friulano) is complex with a soft fruit and almond profile and finishing with elegance.

So cheers to these clean and fresh natural wines and Old Westminster Winery for hosting a fantastic event. 

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Gonzalez Byass La Copa Vermouth - What Would Hemingway Do?

"That evening the priest from Henry’s mess comes to visit. He brings some presents for Henry: a mosquito net, a bottle of vermouth, and some English newspapers. Henry invites the priest to share some of the vermouth with him. The priest breaks off the cork on trying to open it and must push the cork down into the bottle. He sees this as a personal disappointment. " Chapter 11 Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell To Arms
"'Let's have some vermouth then' I said. 'Tell Bolo to bring out the bottles'. We had the tall glasses with mixed French and Italian vermouth (two parts French to one of Italian, with a dash of bitters and a lemon peel, filled with ice, stir and serve)…" Esquire article, "There She Breaches! or, Moby Dick Off the Morro" published in May 1936
Most characters in Ernest Hemingway's novels were not shy of alcohol and these references often mimicked Hemingway's own preferences in libations. This included an exceedingly Dry Martini with just a splash of Dry Vermouth and the Vermouth Panache - a cocktail featuring dry and sweet vermouths with Angostura Bitters. I thought about these drinks after receiving a sample of two La Copa Vermouths from Gonzalez Byass - both based on original recipes and designs dating back to 1906. The earlier La Copa brand was produced from 1896 to 1926 - so perhaps Hemingway quaffed some of these wines in his early years.

The concept of Vermouth is as old as the Ancient Greeks as Hippocrates mixed wormwood flowers (wormwood = vermout in French) with fraxinella leaves to create an herbal wine. Today Vermouth is known as a low alcohol fortified and aromatized wine produced either dry or sweet. The beverage has been produced in Spain's Jerez region since the 19th century and Gonzalez Byass helped create that older tradition and was an early advocate in Vermouth's current renaissance.

The base for the new La Copa Vermouth is an Oloroso Fino sherry which is produced by oxidative aging. The wine is fortified early, suppressing the flor yeast which typically protects against oxidation. The sweeter La Copa Rojo Vermouth ($24.99) is an eight-year-old blend of 75% Palomino and 25% Pedro Ximénez with traditional botanicals including wormwood, cinnamon, orange peel, and nutmeg. The dry La Copa Blanco Vermouth ($24.99) is made from a base of 100% Palomino aromatized with various herbs, dried fruit, and spices -- including wormwood.

It was initially suggested to sample each of these vermouths over ice which provides a refreshing start to experience these wines. The Rojo shows a nice balance between the fresh aromatics and the bitter-sweet core where the spices continue throughout and provide an unanticipated drier finish. The Blanco is more bitter with the herbal aroma merging into a bitter almond core. And very refreshing.

But what would Hemingway do with these wines? I went to the resident expert on Hemingway's drinking preferences Philip Greene and his To Have and Have Another Revised Edition: A Hemingway Cocktail Companion for cocktail suggestions.

Vermouth Panache
This was easily my favorite cocktail playing with the ratio's where I enjoyed 3-1 dry to sweet instead of the recommended 2-1. Hemingway drank this in tall glasses filled with ice - enjoy all day.
3 oz. Dry Vermouth
1 oz. Sweet Vermouth
1 Dash Angostura Bitters

Hemingway's Dry Gin Martini
I used my special Caledonia Spirits Barr Hill Gin as the base and added a splash of the La Copa Bianco. The botanicals slightly enhance the gin's juniper and honey but expect a solid gin cocktail.
2 oz Dry Gin
Splash Dry Vermouth

I tried to versions the first using the River Hill 100 Proof Bourbon Whiskey and La Copa Rojo to create a high octane and this worked quite well. The vermouth's botanicals seemed to contain the alcohol's heat and made for a pleasant cocktail. In the second version,  I used  Palmetto Whiskey and La Copa Bianco. I also liked this alternative -- lighter in style and didn't require the bitters.
2 oz Bourbon or Rye Whiskey
1 oz Sweet vermouth
2 Dashes Bitters

Hemingway's Josie Russell
This has always been my favorite cocktail, so refreshing and unique. At times I have substituted apple brandy for the cider and that's what a did for numerous iterations using the La Copa Vermouths. My first attempt was using either the Rojo or Bianco with equal or lesser amounts of Falls Church Distillers Apple Brandy and quickly learned that vermouth and apple brandy don't align. I then substituted the cider with vermouth for better results. I found that 2 oz Springfield Manor Patriot Spirit Rum mixed with 1 oz La Copa Rojo creates an interesting spiced rum.
4 ½ oz. Rum
12 oz. Hard Apple Cider
2 oz. Fresh Lime Juice

Monday, July 1, 2019

Missouri Wine: Norton - Missouri's Official State Grape

The Norton grape has been the backbone of the Missouri wine industry through the industry's rise in the second half of the 19th century and the modern era. It was a Norton wine that was declared the "Best Red of All Nations" at an 1873 International competition in Vienna, Austria - a feat repeated in several other subsequent world fairs. At the same time nurseries, such as Bush & Son & Meissner near St. Louis, were propagating the grape throughout the Midwest and most likely France too. These Missouri nurseries are credited with saving Europe’s vineyards in the late 19th century after the phylloxera crisis by supplying disease-resistant rootstock. A major reason for its popularity is that Norton vines are very hardy and vigorous, resistant to numerous vine diseases and other growing problems such as downy mildew, powdery mildew, and bunch rot.

Post-prohibition, When Jim and Betty Held purchased the old Stone Hill Winery in 1965 - a winery that was once the second largest winery in the U.S. - they made Norton the lynchpin of their operation. Today it is the pride of their winery, as well as many other Missouri wineries, as Norton wine has become the most popular varietal wine in the Show Me State. It's easy to see why the Missouri Wine and Grape Board designated Norton Missouri's signature grape.

During our three day tour of the Kansas City area Missouri wineries, our group tasted several Norton wines representing various styles and geographic regions. In some instances, the wine was labeled Cynthiana which DNA suggests is the same grape but perhaps a distinct clone. The most widely produced styles are the big and bold reds that provide concentrated blackberry and dark cherry flavors and subtle spices, with the best versions taming the highly acidic and astringent character of the grape. Although Norton wines are low in tannins, the high acids encourage cellaring where older Nortons acquire a rounder profile with notes of chocolate and vanilla. Here are some of the group's favorite Norton wines.

Maureen Blum - MoWino
The St. James Winery Winemaker Series Norton 42 spoke to me at first swirl, sniff and impactful sip! As with many Norton wines, the dusty terroir flowed along in the long finish but it was the ripples of bright dark fruits that created a silky elegant sip to savor. Holding its own, the wine pairs beautifully with rich deep chocolate cake.

Katie Van Luchene - author of Insiders' Guide® to Kansas City and self-professed KC’s head cheerleader
During a tour of Stonehaus Farms Winery in — yes, Lee’s Summit, MO — owner and winemaker Brett Euritt described how he makes his port from estate-grown Cynthiana (also known as Norton, the state grape of Missouri), which is finished with California brandy and aged in charred bourbon barrels. The grapes provide notes of cherries and dark chocolate; the last step adds a smokey finish. I was impressed enough during the tasting to purchase a bottle (the $23 price was impressive as well). I’ll invite friends over for Port on the Deck where I’ll serve dark-chocolate truffles from Kansas City’s Panache Chocolatiers and Jerry will offer cigars from his humidor.

Sarah R. Jaquay -  wine and craft beer contributor to TheWineBuzz
Some of my favorites were Vox Vineyards 2014 and Cross J 2013--produced by Stone Hill Winery in Hermann. I purchased Cross J at the Merc and sampled it back home. The Cross J has aromas of chocolate and dark berries followed by robust fruit flavors with a dry finish. The oak comes through from beginning to end and it paired beautifully with grilled lamb chops.

Todd Godbout - WineCompass and theCompass Craft Beverage Finder
I agree with all of my fellow participant's recommendations and actually returned home with a bottle of the St. James Winery Winemaker Series Norton 42 and Stonehaus Farms Winery Cynthiana Port. My shipment home also included the Adam Puchta Winery 2016 Estate Norton grown in the historic homeland of Missouri wine, Hermann. This is a big boy, full of dark fruit and still abundant acids. I plan on allowing it to rest a couple years to tame the acids and anticipate a well-rounded wine with solid fruit and subtle spices and chocolate.

See other posts of the trips at Missouri Wine.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Navigating the Crus at the Beaujolais Road Show

Discover Beaujolais

"In 1395 Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, ordered that all Gamay vines be uprooted by the following Easter. The Duke believed the cultivation methods used in raising Gamay were damaging the reputation of Pinot Noir. Although the decision sparked such uproar among the public, the Duke’s attempts at eradicating Gamay were thorough, enforcement of his ordinance did not reach Beaujolais in the very south of Burgundy, where pockets of the grape continued to grow.", Discover Beaujolais

Discover Beaujolais
And Gamay held on in these pockets quietly, until 1937 when Beaujolais became a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO). At last, Gamay was finally recognized as that region's protected grape. Gamay is a cross between Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc and it was originally brought to the area from Croatia by the Huns in the 4th century. Beaujolais is located north of Lyon in eastern France and actually overlaps Burgundy in the north and Rhône in the south. The vineyards sit on mostly granite terrain that overlooks the Saône River. The soils provide minerality and structure whereas the abundant sunshine and warming influences from the river provide complete fruit maturation.

Discover Beaujolais
The region consists of a dozen appellations which include 10 Crus - the "jewels" of Beaujolais where Gamay is the heart and soul. According to Discover Beaujolais, expect fine and flavored profiles from Brouilly, Chiroubles, Fleurie, Régnié, and Saint-Amour and intense and generous profiles from Chénas, Côte de Brouilly, Juliénas, Morgon, and Moulin-à-Vent. The two other appellations are Beaujolais and Beaujolais Villages and both permit red, white and rosé wines. The Beaujolais appellation is the widest covering about 24 square miles in the south and east. Vines in this appellation grow in limestone-clay and granitic soils around 72 villages and provide 65% of Beaujolais Nouveau. Beaujolais Villages accounts for the remaining 35%, is the second widest region, and is divided into three zones. "The southern zone is near the Haute-Azergues hills and has soil that produces very fruity wine. Wines with greater structure are made in the central zone, and the northern area is known for its full-bodied wine."

Beaujonomie is the assertion that good wine should be enjoyed over a shared table with lively conversation and delicious food. And Discover Beaujolais is using 2019 to introduce this concept to American consumers through various Beaujolais Road Shows, one which just presented in New York City and Washington. Seventeen Beaujolais wineries conversed with attendees describing their operation, vineyard, the crus, appellation, and anything else relevant to the winery.

Being a warm afternoon, Beaujolais blanc (Chardonnay ) was an appropriate starting point.  At Domaine Louis Tête, current winemaker Jean Tête and his daughter Justine have a pedigree dating from the early 1800s when their family first planted vines in “Les Dépôts” (a few kilometers from Beaujeu the historical capital of Beaujolais). Thus Louis Tête is the oldest brand in Beaujolais and their 2018 Beaujolais Blanc is tart with a green apple profile and refreshing acids. In contrast, the Domaine Piron 2018 Beaujolais Blanc is more saline driven with a more citrus and pineapple profile. Granite soils seem to be in play here. This winery has an even longer winemaking pedigree as the co-owner Dominique Piron’s oldest known ancestor, a future winemaker,  was born in Morgon en 1590. Co-owner Julian Revillon is very proud of this wine as well as his cru wines and provided an introduction to Morgon (the second largest cru) and Chénas (the smallest). The decaying volcanic soils in Morgon help create elegant wines with racy acidity and solid tannic structure as evident by the Domaine Piron Morgon Cote du Py 2017. And in Chénas, granitic soils are covered with Quartz crystals providing similar minerality in the Domaine Piron Chénas Quartz 2016 that combine with floral and stone fruit notes and rounded tannins. Excellent.

Cécile Dardanelli presented several Domaine Bel Avenir wines from various Beaujolais crus including the Morgon Les Charmes 2017 and the Chénas Grand Guinchay 2107. The Morgon was very fruit forward providing fresh acids and the Chénas was juicy and solid tannic structure both in contrast to the Domaine Piron. The highlight from this 4th generation producer was their Fleurie Poncié 2017 that was silky with easy tannins. The soils in Fleurie are predominately pink granite and the vines benefit from exposure to warm morning sunshine during the growing season.

Moulin-à-Vent lies just north of Fleurie and Domaine de la Fond Moiroux showcased the cru through a vertical from 2016 back to 2009. The 45-year-old vines are planted on similar pink granite soils but differ with Fleurie due to large manganese deposits. These wines were intense with dense fruit and varying degrees of acidity that allowed the wine to remain fresh through most of the eight years.

P. Ferraud & Fils poured the best Moulin-à-Vent of the tasting in their Moulin-à-Vent La Dynastie Des Ferraud, 2015 -- very dense and intense fruit -- but the Saint-Amour, Cuvée Ensorceleuse 2017 from this 5th generation winemakers was also delicious. It had more fruit character - berries and even some stone fruit - but a nice structural backbone laced with minerals. The terrain in this most northern cru is hilly with clay and loam soils augmented with granite and limestone.

Juliénas lies adjacent to Saint-Amour but provides heavier wines than its neighbor. "The terroir of Julienas is often considered to be the most variable in the Beaujolais region. The soils are transitional, ranging from granite further up the hills in the west to more sedimentary and alluvial in the east nearer the river". Chateau de Julienas dates from the 14th century when it was a winemaking estate owned by the Lords of Beaujeu. In 1907 Claude Condemine bought and restored the Chateau and improved the vineyard and today it is managed by his grandson Thierry. Their Chateau de Juliénas- Juliénas Tradition 2016 is a well-balanced wine starting with tart red cherries transitioning to a rustic pepper character and finishing with fresh acidity.

Régnié is the youngest cru, gaining that status in 1988 after being part of the larger Beaujolais Villages appellation. It is known for lighter wines, fragrant and structured, with refined tannins. The cru shares the common pink granite soils but at some of the highest terrain within Beaujolais. Chateau de Durette is also relatively new, with Marc Theissen crafting the first wines a decade ago. The vines for their Régnié Les Bruryeres 2018 are 60-70 year-old vines planted next to the winery and Theissen utilizes a new regulation allowing for the labeling of single vineyards. Thus the home vineyard of "Les Bruyères" is proudly displayed.

Like Régnié, the Chiroubles cru is a cooler climate because of its higher altitudes and provides lighter and fresher styles of Gamay. The granite soils come into play in Chiroubles reflecting heat that warms the grapes in cooler conditions.  Fabien Collonge is a young winemaker (23 years old) but in terms of the Domaine Fabien Collonge Chiroubles L'Aurore des Cotes 2017, crafts wines worthy of more established producers. This wine is noted for its savory fruit and a rounded mouth-feel finishing with refreshing acidity.

Brouilly is the southernmost cru and is known for their robust and full-bodied wines characterized by the Domaine Ruet Brouilly Vielles Vignes 2016. There is a range of mesoclimates and soils composition in the vineyards of Brouilly so there is plenty of differences of wine profiles within the cru. Domaine Ruet is now on its 4th generation winemaker and this one comes from 60-100-year-old vines planted in pink granite soils of Voujon, Les Grands Bruyères. This is an elegant wine, candied cherries and raspberries, with traces of minerality and chewy tannins.

Côte de Brouilly is surrounded completely by the much larger Brouilly appellation and is known more concentrated wines with less earthiness than those from its neighbor. The soils contain diorite, a blue stone that results from ancient volcanic activity. These thin, stony, and occasional clay soils are well drained and lack water and nutrients which result in small but highly concentrated berries. Wines like the Cave du Chateau Des Loges, Côte de Brouilly Prestige 2017 provide dense fruit, tannic structure, and in this specific case, once again stone fruit.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Missouri Wine: Excelsior Springs is a Craft Beverage Destination

In 1880, what is now downtown Excelsior Springs was a wheat field. Yet, within the end of the decade, Excelsior Springs was a vibrant town with transportation links provided by stage and rail and with a resort hotel – the Elms Hotel. The discovery of healing mineral springs instigated this growth and eventually more than 40 mineral water wells and springs were identified. In fact, “there are more groupings of mineral springs in Excelsior Springs than anywhere else in the world”. (1)

Over the next several decades the town expanded fueled by healing tourism and a water bottling plant. The current Elms Hotel was completed in 1912 (the first two were destroyed by fire) and the Hall of Waters was completed in 1938. This facility was built as a Federal Public Works Administration project and at its “height was the most completely outfitted health resort in the state”. (2) President Franklin Roosevelt was a visitor and most likely used a wheelchair enabled ramp to bath in the mineral waters. And only a few years later, President Harry Truman was residing at the Elms Hotel when it was declared he won the 1948 presidential election. Since that heyday, the mineral water industry and spa tourism faded so that the Hall of Waters is now occupied by government and business organizations. Only the Elms Hotel operates in its past grandeur.

Recently, however, tourists are starting to return to Excelsior Springs partly attracted by the growing wine industry surrounding the town. This industry is anchored by the Willow Springs Mercantile, a bistro craft beverage shop that houses the largest selection of Missouri wines in the Show Me state. In addition, they sell a large assortment of Missouri craft beer and spirits as well as other items. The Mercantile is also the start of the Excelsior Springs Chamber Trolley which through various tours safely transports visitors to the area’s three wineries: Van Till Family Farm Winery, Fence Stile Vineyards & Winery, and Four Horses and a Dog Vineyard. And for craft beer lovers, two microbreweries are located within walking distance of both the Elms and the Mercantile.

Van Till Family Farm Winery
This winery is celebrating its 10 year anniversary as Cliff and Debbie Van Till established the winery after first planting a vineyard in their Rayville property. This small vineyard includes several grape varieties well accumulated to the local climate such as Norton, Chambourcin, Vignoles, Traminette, Brianna, and Edelweiss. Because they offer 36 wines, they augment this fruit from other Missouri vineyards and attempt to “create the highest quality wine that we are able to do”. That’s a lot of quality control and expect plenty of intriguing options. They provide three versions of Missouri’s signature grape Norton with a Van Till Estate, Missouri Reserve, and Missouri Special Reserve. Also try the Missouri Vignoles and the Van Till Brianna and Van Till Edelweiss in order to compare and contrast the tropical notes from the Brianna with the stone fruit of the Edelweiss. Before setting down for a glass and wood-fired pizza, don’t forget the Norton Dessert Wine or Chocolate Rose.

Fence Stile Vineyards & Winery
Also celebrating 10 years of operation, Fence Stile is located just a few miles southeast of town and also creates wines from estate and Missouri fruit. Six grape varieties were first planted in the estate in 2007 with two more added in 2016. Chambourcin and Norton are the predominant red grape varieties and are often blended together like in the Backpack Red. This wine is fruit forward with plenty of cherries, spices, and a noticeable friendly acidic finish. Vidal and Vignoles are the primary white wines and the Missouri Vignoles is particularly delicious with its pineapple dominated flavor and textured fresh finish.

Four Horses and a Dog Vineyard
This partnership is situated north of town and is run by two couples, Mike + Cheryl Jennings and Stephen + Jeanine Stubbs. Their joint love for wine enticed them to plant grapes in 2008 and release their first vintage in 2013. For red wines, they feature Chambourcin, Noiret, and Chancellor, with the Original Cin Chambourcin particularly interesting with its dark fruit, spices, and easy tannins. As expected Vignoles is a popular white option but seek out the Missouri Sunday Ride Viognier if available. The grapes are sourced from a vineyard in Missouri’s boot (far southeast corner) which must have a suitable micro-climate for this finicky viniferia grape. The wine itself well represents the grape with soft peaches and vibrant acidity.

Atlas Saloon Brewery
Atlas Saloon first opening during Excelsior Springs’ major expansion in 1894 and served as Schlitz bar even through prohibition – illicitly of course. In 2009 Jim McCullough, owner of nearby Walbash BBQ, purchased the saloon and in July 2018 introduced a brewery. He hired Keith Hudson as the brewmaster who continues to brew in the German tradition with beers that would make Joseph Schlitz proud. In fact, the Atlas Special Brew is a replica of the original Schlitz lager, fermented using Bohemian yeast that is similar to what Schlitz used in the 1860’s and six row barley in the German tradition. Crystal Lithia Kolsch and Maurer's Munich Helles are two other excellent German-inspired beers with the portfolio rounded out with two Scots-Irish: a Siloam Irish Stout and McCleary's Scottish Ale.

Dubious Claims Brewing Company
The brewery is named after the reports from national media on the “dubious claims” of healing mineral water. So, “forget the water and drink the beer”. The facility is located within eyesight of the Elms Hotel and actually a block away from the boundary of the original hotel. The pub-kitchen microbrewery offers a balanced beer menu so don’t be shy descending to the dark and heavy brews listed at the bottom. The Elixir Stout is made in the German Dry Stout style with hints of chocolate and coffee. The Embalmer Milk Stout provides more coffee – this time with cream and the Whiskey Barrel Aged Milk Stout feels like you spiked your morning coffee. Finally, try the Chocolate Cherry Delight Porter if available it’s just what its name suggests.

(1) Visit Excelsior Springs Missouri - Our History

(2) Visit Excelsior Springs Missouri - Hall of Waters

See other posts of the trips at Missouri Wine.

Friday, June 21, 2019

River Hill Wine and Spirits - From Moonshine to Bourbon to Country Wine

I couple years ago I started purchasing the River Hill Distillery Corn Whiskey as it provides a clean, textured, sweet corn flavor with little burn. Hard to do that at 100 proof, but old family recipes have their secrets.  An opportunity occurred this month while driving past Lurey Caverns and suddenly realizing we were close to River Hill and theCompass Craft Beverage Finder provided quick navigation. That's when I discovered that the distillery had re-branded to River Hill Wine and Spirits since they also produce a range of country wines.

Proprietor Fred Foley greeted me when entering the tasting room and we discussed the origins of the operation and the distilling process during a short tour. He and his wife Ann board horses, raise beef cattle and grow corn to feed these cattle. After a few years of excess corn in 2013, they spent a year applying for a distillery license and in 2014 started distilling corn whiskey.

River Hill now produces three whiskeys, the clear 100 proof 100% corn whiskey mentioned above and two bourbon whiskeys. Each is double distilled, once through a new still and the second through their original still where the condensation coils are threaded within a copper pipe. Very ingenious.

The original River Hill Bourbon Whiskey ($25) is produced from a corn-dominated mash bill with the addition of roasted barley that Foley smokes himself in an outdoor smoker. This is a very smooth whiskey, cut to 90 proof,  with a slight smoky and spicy profile due to eight months aging in new American (Minnesota) oak barrels. And recently they released a new bourbon, the River Hill 100 Bourbon Whiskey ($39) -- 100 proof and 100% corn aged in new oak barrels. This was a first - there's some burn but it's toward the front with the sweet corn blending with vanilla notes from the oak  Very interesting.

Ann handles the wine tasting as they must separate both endeavors within the same facility. Each wine sells for $15, resides around 10% r.s., and except for the Pineapple is sourced from the farm or locally in the valley. The sugar doesn't seem to come into play as the individual fruit character dominates each wine. The grape wines are a traditional Concord and Niagara; the fruit an Apple (Golden Delicious), Peach, and the Pineapple. And as a special offering, they produce a Sweet Potato wine after a neighbor had an abundant surplus. The potatoes had to be shredded and boiled with the resulting juice fermented. But it works and is very intriguing. Cheers to River Hill.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Silver Branch Brewing Company - A World of Beer

As downtown Silver Spring Maryland revitalized it is also becoming a craft beverage destination with three breweries and a winery within a two-mile radius. Silver Branch Brewing Company opened in February 2019 as the latest addition and is well worth a visit. Proprietors Christian Layke and Brett A. Robison produce a wide selection of Central European, British Isles, Belgium, and Americas styled beers that will impress most visitors. They also pour wine - including those from Austrian grapes - and offer German sausages. But on the beer.

During our visit, we tasted through their entire lineup finding several immediate standouts. On the Central European side, the Killer Castle Kellerbier is basically an unfiltered version of their Czech Pilsner Glass Castle and is more refreshing with enhanced minerality. Our group split on The Oracle Speaks Weizenbock disagreeing on its powerful banana character but returned to an agreement on the Fashion Killer Altbier. The two Belgians were solid particularly the Sacred Table Abbey Single Pale Ale. The spices were adequate to entice but not overwhelming. The Americas provided the greatest enjoyment as well as the great disappointment. Everyone disapproved of the Down w/ The Raj sour IPA but loved the Sisyphus hazy IPA and all three volumes of the Quantum Shift East Coast IPA. IPA lovers rejoice. Finally, the British Isles were a solid trio of the Chronicle Tropical Stout, Ruby Dragon Mild Ale, and the Cheshire Grin ESB. The last two were completely enjoyable particularly to those of us accumulated to the room temperature of the beers.

theCompass Craft Beverage Finder will guide you to Silver Branch Brewing Company or take Metro's Red Line and walk across the street. Cheers.