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.