Thursday, April 2, 2020

Stay Connected with Virtual Chats During the CV Lockdown

We are living in interesting times, unable to frequent our favorite craft beverage establishments or explore various regions.  Fortunately, wine, beer, and liquor stores are considered essential services and combined with discounted shipping rates are supplying our beverage needs. In order to stay connected with existing customers and to seek new consumers, craft beverage producers, importers, and retail shops are conducting virtual tastings.  The chats that I have participated in have been extremely informative, even when not indulging in the targeted beverage. And if you cannot participate live, most of these tastings are available via playback - so enjoy at your leisure. Here is a short list of sessions where I have either participated or received an email notification. Cheers.

On Tuesday nights at 8pm EST, Mirena and Win Burke have been hosting a Croatian Wine Chat at Croatian Premium Wine Imports which feature wines from the Komarna Appellation. In the first two episodes, they have interviewed Decanter judge and Croatian sommelier Siniša Lasan as well as winemakers Josip Volarević and Marko Suman. Each week they will focus on one or two wines in their portfolio available at their Online Store.

Similarly, Taste Hungary, which normally provides a quarterly wine club, has augmented that service with weekly virtual chats on Saturday evenings at 7pm EST. This coming Saturday, April 4th owner Gábor Bánfalvi is presenting Wines from Tokaj with future chats featuring Wines from Eger and Wines from the Heumann Winery in Villány. The wines for these tastings are available as part of various mixed 6-Packs, with free delivery on purchases of 6 bottles or more in the DC metro area, within 40 miles of DC (use promo code: DMV-FREE). They are also providing free delivery on the first shipment of a Wine Club subscription (use promo code: DMV-FREE1) and $10 shipping to all other states (except Alaska), for purchases of 6 bottles or more.

Several wine producers are also conducting virtual chats. In Virginia, Early Mountain Vineyards hosts several virtual presentations such as Friday, April 3rds Vineyard Tour with Dustin Wade, Vineyard Manager at 3:30pm EST.  Through their online store, they are offering free shipping for any orders of 3+ bottles -- combined with a 10% discount for any 6+ bottle order.  In Santa Barbara County, California, Solminer Wine Company is hosting weekly Saturday afternoon Taste Together virtual chats (3:30pm EST). Also in California, on Sunday afternoons (4pm PST) Kendall-Jackson's Winemaster Randy Ullom leads a tasting and discussion of their wines alongside various culinary pairings.

For distilleries, Seattle's Westland Distillery is hosting a tasting experience featuring their core whiskeys (American Oak, Sherry Wood, and Peated) starting Friday, April 3rd at 4pm PST. In Iowa, Mississippi River Distilling Co. is allowing consumers to plan their own virtual tasting with the distillery offering cocktail recipes and on the night of the tasting, they’ll walk the guests through the distillery.

For cideries, Richmond's Blue Bee Cider hosts their FireCider Chat Virtual Tastings on Thursday evenings at 7pm EST which should be very engaging to consumers not familiar with the cider industry or heirloom cider apples.

And continuing with the Commonwealth, let's not forget Frank Morgan's Virtual Virginia Wine Chats which we mentioned in Open That Bottle of Virginia (or Local) Wine Night. The Open That Bottle of Virginia Wine Night on March 28th received more than 4,000 views.

Retail outlets are also using the virtual mode of communication. In DC, the popular wine store DCanter - A Wine Boutique is hosting Friday evening Sips -- virtual wine classes at 6pm EST that "tackle a different wine topic that you can easily follow along at home with or without wine".

Update (4/2/2020) - Paso Robles Wine Country has compiled a list of twenty Virtual Experiences within their appellation. The same is true for the Idaho Wine Commission (pdf).

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Open That Bottle of Virginia (or Local) Wine Night

Frank Morgan at DrinkWhatYouLike has been working overtime supporting the Virginia wine industry during the CV pandemic - primarily using his VAWineChat platform for nightly webinars featuring Virginia winemakers. Last week he suggested an Open That Bottle of Virginia Wine Night for Saturday, March 28th where consumers share on social media (using #vawinenight) a specific Virginia wine and why they selected it. A great idea borrowed from Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher's Open That Bottle Night (OTBN). And on a separate thread, Lenn Thompson and Gina Shea of The Cork Report were organizing a Drink Local Night stressing east coast and midwestern wineries -- the same concept just using the #openlocalwine hashtag.

Please participate in these campaigns, and in addition, raise a glass to toast Juanita Swedenburg, one of driving forces behind the 2005 Granholm v. Heald Supreme Court decision forcing states to allow shipping from out-of-state wineries.  "The court’s decision resolved a longstanding conflict between a state’s right to regulate the sale and use of wines and liquors, as outlined in the 21st Amendment to the Constitution, which ended Prohibition, and the Constitution’s commerce clause, which limits a state’s ability to erect economic barriers against goods shipped from beyond its borders" (NY Times).

The plaintiffs were a combined lawsuit from wine collector Eleanor Heald and others against Michigan and Swedenburg's (and other out-of-state winemakers) lawsuit against New York state. At the time, Swedenburg and her husband were the proprietors of Swedenburg Estate Vineyard in Middleburg, Virginia and a founding member of the Vinifera Wine Growers Association which is now the Atlantic Seaboard Wine Association (ASWA).  In her multiple fights leading to the Supreme Court, Swedenburg benefited from the services of the public interest law firm, Institute for Justice, to handle her cases. And "on May 16, 2005, in a 5-to-4 vote on an action brought by Mrs. Swedenburg and others, the Supreme Court overturned laws in New York and Michigan that discriminated against out-of-state wineries that wanted to ship directly to consumers’ homes" (NY Times).

Wineries across the United States are implementing special shipping rates for online purchases so please support these efforts as much as possible.  The Cork Report has a list here, including several wineries from Michigan and New York - who also profit from interstate wine sales.

And as a side note, Swedenburg Estate Vineyard is now Greenhill Winery & Vineyards, known regionally for its sparkling wine program.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Distilleries Helping in a Crisis: Converting Alcohol to Hand Sanitizer Gel

After Italy, Spain is the country hardest hit by the coronavirus and like most countries, their supply of cleaning solutions and sanitizers are being depleted. To help alleviate this problem our friends at González Byass have converted their three production facilities (Chinchón (Madrid), Jerez de la Frontera (Cádiz) and Bodega Las Copas in Tomelloso (Ciudad Real)) to manufacture and supply sanitary alcohol and hydro-alcoholic gel across Spain. Another famous producer, Bacardi, has begun distribution of over half a million 10-ounce hand sanitizer units to local communities, focusing initially on USPS workers, firefighters, police, and its own employees and contractors (Shanken News).

Closer to home, smaller American craft distillers are also diverting spirits production to hand sanitizers. Initially, distilleries were required to get explicit permission from both the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) as well as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, this week they both waived these restrictions as long as distillers use the recipe outlined by the World Health Organization (WHO):  ethanol (80%, volume/volume) or isopropyl alcohol (75%, v/v), glycerol (1.45% v/v), hydrogen peroxide (0.125% v/v) and sterile distilled water or boiled cold water.

Here is a sample of distillers participating in this endeavor.

According to this WKYT story, Lexington Brewing and Distilling Co. is using their surplus alcohol supply, and chemistry knowledge to produce hand sanitizer that they are providing free to Lexington city hall.  "It's been denatured so it’s not safe to drink and we surely don't want anyone to try that, its' also got hydrogen peroxide and some glycerol, a little thickening agent," said Mark Coffman, Master Distiller.

In Clarksville, Tennessee, Old Glory Distilling Company switched from whiskey to a 96 percent ethanol hand sanitizer, and founder Matt Cunningham thanks one of their suppliers, Long Vue Farms who is supplying the corn for the distilling process. (ClarksvilleNow.com)

In Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan announced that "A number of our distillers from across the state are now, instead of producing alcohol, they're producing hundreds of bottles of hand sanitizer for the local communities". Scott Jendrek, owner of Patapsco Distilling Company said they will be using a World Health Organization's recipe that "..starts with ethanol,.. then you add glycerin, hydrogen peroxide water and you mix it up," Jendrek said. (WBalTV).  Twin Valley Distillers in Rockville and Lyon Distilling Company are two more distilleries aiding in this effort. This ABC3340 article also has a nice write-up of Twin Valley's founder Eduardo Zúñiga.

In Colorado, Spirit Hound Distillers is leading the effort (TheKnow) along with J&L Distilling Company and Talnua Distillery, whose co-founder and current President of the Colorado Distillers Guild says, "This is all still developing and we will see many more distilleries jumping on board with the production of hand sanitizer."

In Atlanta, Georgia Old 4th Distillery is distributing a house-made hand sanitizer to emergency personnel (CBS46) and Ann Arbor Distilling Company is in on the action. According to tasting room manager Danielle Berridge, they are using the neutral spirit they use in their gin. “It’s actually made from local corn. And then we’ve got some aloe gel in there and a little bit of veggie glycerin. And then we also add water to it to bring it down to, I believe, 70%.” (Michigan Radio).

Eight Oaks Craft Distillers (Pennsylvania) has temporarily shifted their distillation process from spirits to hand sanitizer in order to support our community, hospitals, assisted living homes, and beyond (more info here). Revivalist Spirits is another distillery from the Quaker state manufacturing sanitizer which owners Scott and Don Avellino are providing to healthcare professionals (Cision).

Durham Distillery (North Carolina) will be donating their solution to hospitality colleagues.

In Hawaii, Ko'olau Distillery is shifting production to begin supplying hand sanitizer for critical services (press release).

We will be updating this list as we discover more participants - in the meantime - stay healthy. Cheers.

Update (3/24/2020): There is no need to update this list as it appears most craft distilleries are transitioning to manufacturing hand sanitizer. Find your local distiller at either WineCompass.com or theCompass Craft Beverage Finder.

Update (4/2/2020): Apparently, the FDA and gov't regulations are hindering distillery's ability to manufacture hand sanitizer without destroying their existing equipment via Reason Magazine.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Over the Ridge from Napa - Berryessa Gap Vineyards

As I mentioned in a previous post concerning Scattered Peaks, winemaker Nicole Salengo also attended our wine dinner at Officina and introduced us to her Winters, California based winery: Berryessa Gap Vineyards.

The winery sprang from Martinez Orchards, a grapevine rootstock nursery started in 1969 by Dan Martinez, Sr., father of the current owners of Berryessa Gap, and winemaker and wine historian Ernest Peninou. Thus the Martinez family has a strong grasp of the microclimate within their western corner of Yolo County, located off Route 128 between the town of Winters and the Vaca Mountains - with Napa County on the western side of the ridge.

The Berryessa estate - Coble Ranch vineyard -- planted along the eastern ridge of the Vaca Mountains and benefits from a climate that resembles the hot and dry conditions of Mediterranean climates. In addition, the eastern-facing slopes provide well-draining soils and are situated near an Alluvial Fan or gap in the range where cooling breezes blow through -- enhancing the grapes' acidity.  This interesting micro-climate allows Berryessa Gap to plant a wide assortment of grape varieties such as Durif (Petite Sirah), Tempranillo, Primitivo (Zinfandel), Barbera, Malbec, Albarino, Verdejo, and Sauvignon Blanc.

Nicole Salengo related these and other facts during our wine dinner. She was born in Vermont and studied Geology in a New York college where she also worked at famed Belgium styled producer Brewery Ommegang (Cooperstown). That started her down the craft beverage path and when a family member offered her an opportunity to stay in Davis California, she proceeded to enroll in the UC Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology -- earning a winemaker's certificate. After a short stint in an air-testing lab (while taking chemistry classes at night), Salengo was hired at a wine shop that specialized in rare wines. Mark West, of Mark West Wines, was a frequent customer and offered Salengo a quid pro quo. He would teach her how to make wine if she worked for him full time.  A new career commenced.

In 2013, she was hired by Berryessa Gap where her primary goal is to highlight the particular terroir at Coble Ranch -- each individual year.  In this regard, Salengo introduced us to 2016 and 2019 through a rosé, a white, and a red wine. These wines were fresh, well made, and priced for most budgets.

2019 Yolo County Rosé ($19)
This rosé was just recently bottled and is a blend of Grenache, Primitivo, and Barbera -- and technically its a Primitivo clone which Salengo states "provides more nuanced elegance". The grapes were harvested early, keeping sugar levels moderate, in order to produce a low ABV wine. There's a distinct depth to the wine with layers of light red fruit. Very nice.

2019 Yolo County Verdejo ($23)
Salengo and Berryessa Gap love Spanish grape varieties and, in fact, in 2013 Berryessa Gap was the original filer to the then TTP equivalent for having Verdejo designated as an approved grape varietal. This wine is an excellent tribute to Rueda as it displays abundant aromatics transitioning to a creamy lemon core, herbaceous, and finishing with fresh acidity.

2016 Yolo County Petite Sirah ($28)
The 2016 Petite Sirah is a field blend that Berryessa Gap modeled after vineyards in France as well as closer to home, Ridge Vineyards - Lytton Springs brand. The actual blend consists of 85% Durif, 10% Primitivo, and 5% Peloursin and the grapes were also whole berry co-fermented. Durif and Petite Sirah are basically synonyms; the grape was originally called Durif after Dr. Francois Durif, who discovered a natural crossing from the cross-pollination of Syrah and Peloursin. For this wine, the naturally high tannins in Petite Sirah are muted by the whole berry fermentation which allows the black cherry character to lead. Expect spices and earthiness as well as refreshing acidity held together with the remaining firm tannins. Delicious.  Berryessa Gap also produces a 100% Durif, which is labeled Durif, which comes from a block at Coble Ranch which is entirely Durif.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Extreme Viticulture: Combating the Spotted Lanternfly

Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture
Agriculture is at the heart of the wine industry and every wine region faces some type of peril. On the east coast, the newest threat is an invasive species native to China, Bangladesh, and Vietnam: the Spotted Lanternfly (also surfacing on the west coast as well).

According to Dr. Joe Fiola, of the University of Maryland Extension, the "pest was first detected in the United States in 2014 in Berks County, Pennsylvania and was accidentally imported from China through a shipment of decorative stone. The pest quickly spread and has decimated vineyards in southeastern Pennsylvania and has the capacity to inflict major damage to hop fields and hardwoods as well. Dr. Joe says the pest has spread into Maryland's Cecil and Harford Counties, West Virginia, and in Winchester Virginia at a stone and block company site. Here is how the University of Maryland Extension describes the damaged inflicted by the Spotted Lanternfly:
Both nymphs (immatures) and adults of spotted lanternfly cause damage when they feed, sucking sap from stems and leaves. This can reduce photosynthesis, weaken the plant, and eventually contribute to the plant’s death. Additionally, spotted lanternfly feeding creates a sugary substance called honeydew. This honeydew, in addition to being attractive to ants, wasps, and other insects, is readily colonized by sooty mold, which can cause parts of the plants to become blackened and look unsightly.



So how do vineyard managers fight the pest, particularly when there are no known natural enemies for biological control? Dean Scott of Pennsylvania's Bergeist Vineyard is fighting the pest through spraying and the Virginia Cooperative Extension at Virginia Tech recommends a set of insecticides (E=Excellent, G=Good). They recommend the Pyrethroids - Brigade (bifenthrin) (E) and Mustang Maxx (zetacypermethrin) (G) and the Neonicotinoids - Actara (thiamethoxam) (E), Scorpion (dinotefuran) (E), and Admire Pro (imidacloprid) (G).

At the Vineyards At Dodon, in Anne Arundel County Maryland, the winery has taken preemptive measures according to Director of Client Services Regina McCarthy starting with removing several Tree-of-heavens (Ailanthus altissima) - a deciduous tree native to China, that the Spotted Lanternfly is particularly attracted to lay eggs on.

As a consumer, the best support you could provide is to continue to, or start to, imbibe local wines. At some point, you may become personally affected as these pests invade your backyards. At that moment you become the predator.  Here's how to identify the pest courtesy of Penn State Extension.



Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Dinner with Joel Aiken and Scattered Peaks 2017 Small Lot Cabernet Sauvignon

Scattered Peaks is a relatively new Napa Valley brand created by Derek Benham who is leveraging long-time Napa winemaker Joel Aiken to "curate" exemplary Napa Valley Cabernet. The first two vintages featured a Napa Valley wine blended from three vineyards scattered through the AVA. In 2017 Aiken continued that tradition but also introduced a Small Lot version derived from two select Napa vineyards.

During a short east coast tour, Aiken visited D.C. and briefed several media influencers on the Scattered Peaks brand -- all over a delicious meal at Officina at the Wharf. Aiken related that the brand's name is derived from Benham's love of surfing and extreme skiing - helicopter skiing. That's intuitive with skiing, but with surfing, Benham refers to the waves between the best rides as scattered peaks.

Another anecdote Aiken relayed was that because of the Scattered Peaks brand name, Benham preferred sourcing exclusively from mountain-grown fruit. Instead, Aiken suggested a vineyard in Rutherford that he had discovered during his twenty years overseeing the winemaking at Beaulieu Vineyard.  This Morisoli Vineyards is located on the valley floor on the Western Rutherford Bench but experiences excellent drainage from the alluvial gravelly soils and cooling late afternoon shade as the mountains block the setting sun.

Fruit from this vineyard provides structure and firm tannins for the new Scattered Peaks Small Lot 2017 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and is joined by fruit from the Sage Ridge Vineyards that provides intensity and depth. This vineyard is located at a higher altitude on the eastern hills of Napa south of Howell Mountain. The shale and clay soils reduce vigor to produce smaller berries enhancing complexity and intensity. The result is a luscious wine, layers of dark fruit with fleshy depth and finishing firmly with structure and a lingering finale.

Aiken also poured the Scattered Peaks 2017 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($35) - a continuation of the brand's two other vintages of this wine that is sourced from three vineyards scattered throughout the Napa Valley. First, however, this is a plush wine, dark fruit enveloped with black licorice, sometimes chocolate, sometimes coffee, sometimes, dusty. Like the Small Lot, this is 100% Cabernet and includes a dose of Rutherford fruit - this time 21% from the Round Pond vineyard. A majority of the grapes, however, come from Usibelli Vineyards in the Pope Valley - located in eastern Napa and separated from the rest of Napa by the Howell Mountains. During the summer, the Pope Valley is warmer than most of Napa during the day but enjoys a large diurnal shift during the cool nights. The remaining fruit is sourced from the Gordon Valley, situated in the far southeastern corner of Napa Valley where the surrounding hills provide a similar landscape as Rutherford - just perhaps a little on the cooler side.

Aiken also wanted to demonstrate the age-worthiness of Napa Cabernet so he graciously poured two ten+-year-old wines from the Rutherford Bench and from his days at Beaulieu Vineyard. When originally released, these wines were part of the Maestro Collection -- a series designed to celebrate Beaulieu's first winemaker André Tchelistcheff - the Maestro - and who Georges de Latour first met in 1938.  The first wine was the 2006 BV Beaulieu No 1 Rutherford Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and the second the 2008 Beaulieu Vineyard Ranch No 1 Cabernet Sauvignon. Each wine was still fresh, plenty of acids and still velvety with firm tannins.

Note: The dinner was also hosted by Berryessa Gap Vineyards where winemaker Nicole Salengo introduced us to this winery. Expect a post next week on these delicious wines. And special thanks to Officina for excellent service and courses.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

IPAs and Braggots at The Farm Brewery at Broad Run

We recently visited The Farm Brewery at Broad Run, a Northern Virginia farm brewery located just west of Haymarket and home to an apiary, raspberry & blueberry fields, a hop yard, and a small vineyard. Plus lots of chickens. The brewery is spacious with plenty of tables, a small stage, a kitchen, food trucks, and dog-friendly. There's also a fishing pond in the rear. The Farm Brewery also provides a large portfolio of beer (and a few wines) with plenty of diversity of styles.  Here's a sampling of the beers we tried and as always, theCompass Craft Beverage Finder will guide you to all your craft beverage destinations.


Mom's Raspberry Kolsh - this is a lighter interesting beer because its sweet and tart up front but dry and lingering on the tail.

Hop Harvest Pale Ale - brewed using Copper Fox malt and estate Cascade, Columbus, Chinook, & Centennial hops. It's grassy and citrus, balanced and delicious.

Trop the Bomb NE IPA- lactose, tangerine, and soursop puree and Azacca, El Dorado, & Cascade hops. True to their descriptor, an explosive bomb of tropical flavor.

Hazy Dayz of Winter Pineapple Express NE IPA - dry-hopped with Eureka, Chinook, and Nugget hops which are toned down by the fruit. Very nice.

Hops N' Hammers IPA - a collaboration with JTired Woodworking aged in wood chips. The pinewood character provides a distinct contrast to the malt and Cascade & Chinook hops. Adding some Pineapple Express subdues the pine and lengthened the finish.

Viking Braggot - this honey beer is brewed using 420 pounds of honey. It's chewy with spices and just tad of honey. High abv and my favorite.

Three Hens-Belgian Porter - a Belgian Poorter style using Belgian yeast which provides a bit of the spice inherent to a Saison with soft milk chocolate rounding out the finish.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Lost Boy Cider - Virginia's First Urban Cidery

This weekend we leveraged a Four Mile Run fishing trip into a visit to Alexandria's Lost Boy Cider. Tristan Wright recently opened Virginia's first urban cidery using apples sourced from Glaize Orchard - a four-generation grower located outside Winchester in the Shenandoah Valley. This is the epicenter for Northern Virginia apple growing with Frederick County hosting its own Apple Trail. Wright also hired David Briun, a respected cider and winemaker, who leverages his experience from the Eden Ice Cider Company and Bellwether Cider & Wine to produce a wide portfolio of ciders - a dozen to be precise.

Many of these ciders are co-fermented with various fruit, peppers, botanicals, spices, and hops. But our focus was on the dry side of the house specifically the Comeback Kid, Gold Digger, Barrel Aged, and Andre the Giant - Petillant Naturel Cider.

The Comeback Kid is made from a blend of table apples -- Golden Delicious, Red Delicious, Pink Lady, Stayman, and Fuji -- a blend that remains the same throughout the year. Biun states that they work with David (Glaize Orchard) "to customize our picking schedule, storage, and pressing strategy so we can have a consistent blend throughout the year".   The cider itself is solid - dry, more tart than you would expect from these apples, a creamy texture, and finishing with refreshing acids.  For the Barrel Aged, Biun ages the Comeback Kid for 4 months in used bourbon barrels creating a softer cider where the bourbon shows itself on the tail. Unfortunately, the fresh acidity and tartness dissipate during this process.

The Gold Digger is a blend of Golden Delicious and Rhode Island Greening -- and American heirloom apple variety dating back to the 17th century and most often used for apple pie. But at Lost Boy, this non-pollinating apple has found a suitable mate to produce a dry, mildly tart cider with a full apple core. I think my favorite of the foursome.

Finally, the Andre the Giant is a Pét-Nat (Petillant Naturel) Cider, a sparkling cider, where the cider is bottled before completing its primary fermentation. Carbonation occurs in the bottle as carbon dioxide is produced naturally when the yeast consumes the remaining sugars.  This is a vibrant offering, light, and flavorful.

Lost Boy's tasting room is spacious with room for kids, dogs,  and yoga mats. A food truck was parked outside and a pizza party inside testified that visitors can byof.  And make sure you inspect the tasting bar itself, a physical specimen repurposed from a fallen maple tree.

As for future offerings, a Cyser is on deck and Biun says they are "starting to branch out for some more limited release ciders focusing on trying to capture the essence of different orchards. We have started conversations with Diane Flynt at Foggy Ridge Cider as well as Claire Whelan at Longview Orchard to source orchard/field blends for some projects next harvest". Sounds enticing

And as always theCompass Craft Beverage Finder will guide you to all your cider needs. Cheers.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Dão Wines: The Hidden Gem of Portugal

This title was the byline for a brilliant tasting sponsored by Vinhos Dão Wines and Wines of Portugal and featuring numerous wines from this "hidden gem". The tasting started with Wines of Portugal US Ambassador Eugenio Jardim discussing Portugal and the Iberian Peninsula before transitioning to the Dão. Most pertinent is that Portugal has the largest number of microclimates per square kilometers in the world and hosts over 250 indigenous grape varieties. In fact, these grapes are from the species Vitis Silvestris which developed isolated from the world as the Iberian Peninsula remained glacier free during the Quaternary glaciations which froze North and Central Europe over the last 2.58 million years.

That being said, the modern indigenous grape varieties grown in Portugal are Vitis Vinifera and includes grapes such as Malvasia Fina, Encruzado, Jaen (Mencia), and Baga, as well as Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo). These grapes excel in the Dão viticultural region's granite soils and are favored with the microclimates within this northern Portuguese region. It is enclosed by four mountain ranges which act as natural barriers from the coastal rains that originate from the Atlantic and the strong continental winds emanating from Spain. Vineyards are generally planted between 1300 to 1600 feet with higher elevations reaching 2600 feet. According to Wine-Searcher.com, "This elevation raises the vines out of the valley's shadows and towards all-important sunshine, allowing them to maximize their photosynthesis time during the day. It also increases diurnal temperature variation, helping the grapes cool down at night, which they must do to retain the acids so desirable in wine".

Courtesy of Vinhos Dão Wine
In 1908, the Dão became the second (following Porto) formal Portuguese wine region which defined the general conditions for the production and trade of Dão Wine. And more recently the C.V.R. Dão was established in 1987 right after Portugal formally joined the EU. This organization is responsible for "ensuring authenticity and quality by strictly controlling the production and marketing of the wines" and certifies and authenticates wines with Seals of Guarantee. The CVR also created four quality designations listed in the box.
Selected Harvest: With harvest year, with outstanding organoleptic characteristics and with more than 1% of the volume of the legal limit.
Reserve: With harvest year, with outstanding organoleptic characteristics and with more than 0.5% of the volume of the legal limit.
Garrafeira: With harvest year, with outstanding organoleptic characteristics;
> Red wines: 36 months, 12 months in bottle
> White wines: 12 months, 6 months in bottle
Dão Nobre: With the year of harvest, with very outstanding organoleptic characteristics. Only two to date (one white and one red) – Must score 90 points plus
Our tasting started with a flight of white wines dominated by the Encruzado grape. According to Wines of Portugal, Encruzado generally creates complex wines with aromatic mineral notes and tropical fruit and depth and vanilla when fermented in barrel. The Quinto do Mondego Mondeo Branco 2018 (60% Encruzado & 40% Gouveio) contains these mineral notes as well as a smokey, flinty profile. The grape's versatility was shown in the saline driven high acid Juliana Kelman Encruzado 2018 to the beeswax and spice in the Pedra Cancela Vinha da Fidalga Encruzado 2018 the cream and depth of the Quinta dos Roques Encruzado 2018.

For reds, our hosts provided one flight consisting of various blends and the second flight of 100% Touriga Nacional. Like most European regions, blends are the backbone of the Dão with most combinations not as complex as the Casa da Passarella "O Oenologo - Vinhas Velhas" Tinto 2015 - composed of Baga, Touriga Nacional, Alvarelhão, Tinta Pinheira, Jaen, Alfrocheiro, Tinta Carvalha, and more. And the Pedra Cancela Selecao do Enologo Tinto 2016 (Touriga Nacional, Alfrocheiro, Tinta Roriz) was the bargain of the tasting, priced under $10, with gripping tannins and solid fruit structure and just a little less leather and barnyard funk as the winery's more expensive Reserva.

The 100% Touriga Nacional wines, in general, provided more fruit than the blends particularly the Borges Touriga Nacional 2017. But expect a balanced profile with texture and solid tannins. The Julia Kemper Touriga Nacional 2012 was more tender due to the advanced aging and provided more approachable tannins. My favorite was the dustier Jaime de Almeida Barros "Quinta das Camelias" Touriga Nacional 2016 which seemed a perfect match with the Martin Farms Beef Short Rib -- the main entree during our lunch at Metier.

The final wine was the Qunita das Maias Tinto Jaen 2017, my first single varietal from this grape. It offers a rustic charm with dusty cherries and firm tannins.  This wine and the others will entice a more in-depth examination of the Dão region and Portuguese wines.

Felicidades to Vinhos Dão Wines, Wines of Portugal, and Metier for a fantastic tasting.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Bokisch Vineyards 2014 Gran Reserva Tempranillo

In Spain, Gran Reserva wines are prized for their dense fruit, structure, and integrated tannins - all the result of appellation regulations where the wine is aged for at least five years, of which 18 months (24 in Navarra, Rioja, and Ribera del Duero) are spent in oak casks.  Markus and Liz Bokisch (plus winemaker  Elyse Perry) honored this heritage by following the same regulations when producing the Bokisch Vineyards 2014 Gran Reserva Tempranillo ($60).   The grapes were grown in the silty sandy loam of the Las Cerezas Vineyard and the volcanic clay loam of the Liberty Oaks Vineyard. After fermentation, the wine was then aged 36 months in new American and new French oak followed by an additional 20 months in bottle.

The result is a beautiful wine, both chewy and luscious with dark cherries surrounded by chocolate, subtle leather, and baking spices. Expect a long, lingering finish.  Cheers to this Gran Reserva.




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

Friday, January 24, 2020

Cheers to Robert Burns and Speyburn Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky

On January 25th, revelers in Scotland will be toasting Robert Burns - the famed poet and Scots bard during Burns Night.  He was born on that day in 1759 and at the end of the century, his poems captured Scottish identity and nationalism at the time when government, culture, and industry were moving to or emanating from London.

One of his famous works, ‘A Man’s a Man for A’ That‘ was sung at the opening of the new Scottish Parliament in 1999. This poem is a powerful statement relevant today: ‘That man to man the world o’er, / Shall brothers be for a’ that.’ Another relevant, powerful, yet playful poem, Scotch Drink, is shown on the left.

We will be toasting Burns with the Speyburn 10 Years Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky ($30) sent to us courtesy of Speyburn Distillery. This distillery was founded in 1897 by John Hopkins in order to honor Queen Victoria's jubilee year (60th year of her reign). It is located in Speyside, a small region that hosts over half the distilleries in Scotland.

Hopkins selected the location for Speyburn next to the Granty Burn, a tributary to the Spey River that was exceptionally clean and unpolluted. Pure Highland water. He also hired distillery architect Charles C Doig, who builds vertically to create an even airflow over the grains as they dried.  The result is the classic pagoda ventilator, a hallmark of Doig's design.

After the grains are malted, fermented, and distilled, the whiskey is aged in used American oak bourbon and sherry casks. This process creates a traditional Speyside whisky: light, creamy, sweet and honeyed - with oak complexity.

Cheers to Robert Burns, Scotland, Speyburn, and Speyside Scotch Whisky.






































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

Scotch Drink by Robert Burns (1785)


Let other poets raise a fracas
"Bout vines, an' wines, an' drucken Bacchus,
An' crabbit names an'stories wrack us,
An' grate our lug:
I sing the juice Scotch bear can mak us,
In glass or jug.

O thou, my muse! guid auld Scotch drink!
Whether thro' wimplin worms thou jink,
Or, richly brown, ream owre the brink,
In glorious faem,
Inspire me, till I lisp an' wink,
To sing thy name!

Let husky wheat the haughs adorn,
An' aits set up their awnie horn,
An' pease and beans, at e'en or morn,
Perfume the plain:
Leeze me on thee, John Barleycorn,
Thou king o' grain!
On thee aft Scotland chows her cood,
In souple scones, the wale o'food!
Or tumblin in the boiling flood
Wi' kail an' beef;
But when thou pours thy strong heart's blood,
There thou shines chief.
Food fills the wame, an' keeps us leevin;
Tho' life's a gift no worth receivin,
When heavy-dragg'd wi' pine an' grievin;
But, oil'd by thee,
The wheels o' life gae down-hill, scrievin,
Wi' rattlin glee.

Thou clears the head o'doited Lear;
Thou cheers ahe heart o' drooping Care;
Thou strings the nerves o' Labour sair,
At's weary toil;
Though even brightens dark Despair
Wi' gloomy smile.

Aft, clad in massy siller weed,
Wi' gentles thou erects thy head;
Yet, humbly kind in time o' need,
The poor man's wine;
His weep drap parritch, or his bread,
Thou kitchens fine.

Thou art the life o' public haunts;
But thee, what were our fairs and rants?
Ev'n godly meetings o' the saunts,
By thee inspired,
When gaping they besiege the tents,
Are doubly fir'd.

That merry night we get the corn in,
O sweetly, then, thou reams the horn in!
Or reekin on a New-year mornin
In cog or bicker,
An' just a wee drap sp'ritual burn in,
An' gusty sucker!

When Vulcan gies his bellows breath,
An' ploughmen gather wi' their graith,
O rare! to see thee fizz an freath
I' th' luggit caup!
Then Burnewin comes on like death
At every chap.

Nae mercy then, for airn or steel;
The brawnie, banie, ploughman chiel,
Brings hard owrehip, wi' sturdy wheel,
The strong forehammer,
Till block an' studdie ring an reel,
Wi' dinsome clamour.

When skirling weanies see the light,
Though maks the gossips clatter bright,
How fumblin' cuiffs their dearies slight;
Wae worth the name!
Nae howdie gets a social night,
Or plack frae them.

When neibors anger at a plea,
An' just as wud as wud can be,
How easy can the barley brie
Cement the quarrel!
It's aye the cheapest lawyer's fee,
To taste the barrel.

Alake! that e'er my muse has reason,
To wyte her countrymen wi' treason!
But mony daily weet their weason
Wi' liquors nice,
An' hardly, in a winter season,
E'er Spier her price.

Wae worth that brandy, burnin trash!
Fell source o' mony a pain an' brash!
Twins mony a poor, doylt, drucken hash,
O' half his days;
An' sends, beside, auld Scotland's cash
To her warst faes.

Ye Scots, wha wish auld Scotland well!
Ye chief, to you my tale I tell,
Poor, plackless devils like mysel'!
It sets you ill,
Wi' bitter, dearthfu' wines to mell,
Or foreign gill.

May gravels round his blather wrench,
An' gouts torment him, inch by inch,
What twists his gruntle wi' a glunch
O' sour disdain,
Out owre a glass o' whisky-punch
Wi' honest men!

O Whisky! soul o' plays and pranks!
Accept a bardie's gratfu' thanks!
When wanting thee, what tuneless cranks
Are my poor verses!
Thou comes-they rattle in their ranks,
At ither's a-s!

Thee, Ferintosh! O sadly lost!
Scotland lament frae coast to coast!
Now colic grips, an' barkin hoast
May kill us a';
For loyal Forbes' charter'd boast
Is ta'en awa?

Thae curst horse-leeches o' the' Excise,
Wha mak the whisky stells their prize!
Haud up thy han', Deil! ance, twice, thrice!
There, seize the blinkers!
An' bake them up in brunstane pies
For poor damn'd drinkers.

Fortune! if thou'll but gie me still
Hale breeks, a scone, an' whisky gill,
An' rowth o' rhyme to rave at will,
Tak a' the rest,
An' deal't about as thy blind skill
Directs thee best.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Virginia Wine Chat - Virginia Governor's Case Wines - Part II

Last week we posted on the first phase of the Virginia Wine Chat in Virginia Wine Chat - Virginia Governor's Case Wines - Part 1. A couple days later we focused on the second half dozen wines with most affiliated with longtime Virginia winemaker Michael Shaps.  The tasting started with two white wines, one from Virginia's always reliable Barboursville Vineyards, the other from Michael Shaps and another example of how Petit Manseng is rising in stature.  These were followed by three red wines - all made by Michael Shaps - but for three different wineries.  And finally, the session ended with a dessert Petit Manseng which illustrates how the grape's natural acidity elevates the addition of residual sugar.  Next month the results of the 2020 Virginia Governor's Cup Competition will be released.  I'm sure Shaps and Barboursville will be among the gold medalist winners.


Barboursville Vineyards 2017 Reserve Vermentino
Tastes like Vermentino: saline minerality, herbaceousness, lemon peel, and lively acids

Michael Shaps Wineworks 2016 Petit Manseng ($30)
The wine maintains the grape's inherent bright tropical characters and acidity and provides a newly discovered depth and weight.

Upper Shirley Vineyards 2014 Zachariah ($40)
This blend is full-bodied where the dark cherry flavors lead to dusty tannins and an easy finish.

Hamlet Vineyards 2016 Eltham ($27)
This 50-50 Merlot/Petit Verdot blend provides dense fruit, chewy tannins, and a spicy long finish as the acids linger.

Michael Shaps Wineworks 2015 Tannat ($35)
This wine is dense with tobacco & leather, sticky tannins and plenty of acids to lay this down for a while.

Michael Shaps Wineworks Raisin d'Être White 2016 ($25.00)
This dessert wine is composed of Petit Manseng that has been dried in tobacco barns where the raisining increases the sugar to 36%.  It shows honey, orange, tropics, candied fruit - and lively acids.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Virginia Wine Chat - Virginia Governor's Case Wines - Part 1

The 2020 Virginia Governor's Cup Competition is currently being judged and the results will be released next month, so the 2019 Case Club Awardees are taking a final victory lap appearing in Frank Morgan's Virginia Wine Chat.  The specific chat actually involves two sessions with the first held January 12th at Horton Vineyards, the reigning Governor's Cup winner for their 2016 Petit Manseng. Shannon Horton, daughter of founder Dennis Horton, represented the winery and was joined by two winemakers - Ben Jordan of Early Mountain Vineyards and Matthieu Finot of King Family Vineyards.  Their presence provided participants the opportunity to present questions on a range of topics particularly on the nature of Virginia Petit Manseng and the methodology behind blending trials.

The three presenters described the merits of Petit Manseng with Shannon Horton describing her loose clusters which provide an easier opportunity for the grapes to dry during humid weather. Horton also mentioned the grape's versatility with the inherent acids allowing a multitude of styles along the sweetness scale. And Ben Jordan mentioned how Petit Manseng is not a thirsty grape with respect to late-season rains. Growers do not need to fear grape degradation with Petit Manseng as she won't quaff the late summer or autumn rains and become bloated. According to Jordan, that is useful since other grapes could be harvested before the rains and Petit Mansen left for afterward.

As a response to my question regarding the methodology behind blending trials, the Early Mountain team responded via twitter.   To paraphrase, they develop ideas during fermentation and in January assemble trial blends (w/o actually blending). In the spring, they revisit the original ideas and blend again (different varieties, oak treatments). The goal is to finish the trials by the next harvest. I hope consumers appreciate the time and methodological nature involved when crafting your favorite blended wines.

The second session of the 2019 Virginia Case Club Wines continues on #WineChat this Thursday,  January 16th at 7:30pm ET. Hope to see you online. Cheers

Horton Vineyards Petit Manseng 2016 ($25)
The wine maintains the grape's inherent bright tropical characters and provides a newly discovered depth and weight.

Glen Manor Vineyards 2015 Cabernet Franc ($31.99)
Luscious, full-bodied, velvety, finishing with lifting acids and firm tannins. The wine is also devoid of the inherent green vegetal character and while receiving some oak, not overly so.

King Family Vineyards 2016 Mountain Plain ($69.95)
Beautiful wine, fresh and velvety red fruit, mint and leather, and integrated tannins.

King Family Vineyards 2016 Meritage ($36)
Big chewy wine, dark fruit, some tobacco, solid acids, and firm tannins.

Early Mountain Vineyards 2016 Eluvium ($39.99)
Great mouthfeel, dark bold fruit with some spice, leading to a light and dusty tannins. Thank you acids.

Paradise Springs Winery 2015 Meritage ($49)
Gripping leather surrounded by blackberries and baking spices. Long, lingering finish.

Monday, January 6, 2020

River Outpost Brewing - the Hudson Valley's Entertainment Center

River Outpost Brewing may be the most entertaining family venture brewery in the U.S. This New York brewery features about a dozen craft beers, a kitchen, an adventure park with a rock-climbing wall and rope course, and a full-throttled gaming area including virtual reality stations. There's also plenty of live music and big-screen televisions - making this as much an adult escape. As for the beer, the Beast-Club Porter is delicious. Its development is reminiscent of the stories where porters would grab a quick beer by combining a portion from each tap. In this case, the porter is a 50/50 blend of their Basic Beast and Dub-Cub, the former a stout brewed with pumpkin, spices, vanilla, coffee, and milk sugar and the later a rather interesting English Brown Ale on its own. The Toad Alley ESB is an extra special bitter that also nails the English pub-style - and goes down quite smoothly. Finally, the Haze BAE is a New England styled IPA that is brewed with NY grown oats - and with lots of citrus and pineapple and not over the top with hop characters. Cheers.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Demarest Hill Winery & Distillery - The Everything Store for Craft Beverages

Francesco Ciummo is a pioneer - yes they still exist. He learned how to graft vines at 17, moved to Belgium at 20 to work as a coal miner, then emigrated to Venezuela and learned the auto body trade. In 1961, at 26 years old, he came to the United States eventually purchasing a body shop in Bergenfield, NJ. Ciummo retired at 55, and soon afterward purchased 135 acres in Warwick, NY where he planted a vineyard. He opened Demarest Hill Winery in 1998 then started tinkering in other craft beverages such as distilled products in 2006 and hard cider more recently. Not satisfied with a limited portfolio, Ciummo has explored the boundaries of wine, spirits, vinegar, and flavorings currently offering over 90 distinct products for sale - 33 of which are distilled spirits and liquors.

During a Christmas Break visit, we sampled many of these offerings with a keen interest in the unique distilled products. For instance, Ciummo distills a rather tasty Clear Grappa but also sells versions augmented with honey, raisins, or figs. He follows a similar pattern with grape brandy, selling versions aged in Cherry Tree wood and our favorite the Triple Tree Plus Brandy ($22) – aged from maple, oak, apple, cherry and cedar trees from his property. I also enjoyed the Dandelion Brandy ($22) distilled with a dandelion flower mash and serves as a suitable digestif. The Sherry is suggestive of Jerez and the Tropical Liquore - a version of the Dominican drink "Mamajuana" is a blend of rum, red wine, and honey aged in the bottle with tree bark and herbs. And his fruit brandies, Cherry and Peach are sweet - but loaded with flavor.

As for wine, a majority of the products are on the sweeter scale but there are several dry offerings that are pleasant. The estate Dry Aurora - a white hybrid grape variety produced by Albert Seibel - is complex and interesting. And the off-dry Riesling comes across drier as the acids enable a crisp and clean finish. For reds, the Bacchus Noir made from Baco Noir was our favorite followed by the Warwick Black Pearl and Warwick Red Deer composed of De Chaunac and Marechal Foch respectively. For a final, try the Apple Cider and Rum ($14) which is only 2% alcohol but provides a delicious and deep apple flavor.