Saturday, January 22, 2022

CiderCon 2022 – Interview with Keynote Speaker Diane Flynt

CiderCon 2022
, the annual trade conference of the American Cider Association will be held in Richmond, Virginia from February 1-4, with excursions scheduled for two days prior. I published a preview and interview with Keynote Speaker Diane Flynt at BevFluence, but thought our readers would be interested in some of her comments on the industry since closing Foggy Ridge Cider (click the link above for the entire interview).  And privately we reminisced about our long-ago video with The Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band.  

During the conference, I plan on attending these sessions: Top of the Mitten: High Latitude Ciders from Northern MichiganA Cider Among the Faults; and 400 Years of American Alcohol: Cider, History, Cocktails and More. I will also spend most of the after-hours at Bryant's Cider.  Let me know on social media if you plan on attending and we will share a pint of cider. Cheers. 

What have you been doing since the last release of Foggy Ridge ciders? 
Since releasing Foggy Ridge Cider’s Final Call blend in 2018, we have sold our apples to cidermakers in Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. In early 2020 I signed a contract with the University of North Carolina Press to write a general trade book on the history of apples in the South. This book focuses on the stories and history behind the South’s almost 2,000 apple varieties. Through research at University Special Collections, the National Agricultural Library, and interviews with multi-generation apple growers I’ve learned surprising stories about southern apples. The book should be published in 2023. 

What can content creators do better or more in helping to promote the cider industry?
Many in the cider world are proud to say we are a “big tent” industry, and that there is a place for every price point, every method of production, and every quality level for ingredients…from apple juice concentrate to estate-grown cider apples. While this view has merits, it also flattens the discussion. I’d like to see content creators dig deeper into the ingredients and production methods of top-quality cider. Content creators are smart people, “thinking drinkers” if you will, and you should be able to see what is a “marketing message” from producers and what is an authentic practice or value that is carried out in cider-making every day. I see too much content that seems generated by a PR engine for a cider company large enough to hire a PR engine. 

Monday, January 17, 2022

Nelson County Route 151: Bryant’s Cidery & Brewery

This Saturday I had an engaging visit to Bryant’s Cidery & Brewery where founder Jerry Thornton was managing the taproom. Over a couple of flights of cider and beer, he provided an overview of his operation and the significant history of the Century Farm property.  In 1865, Maj Waller Massie Boyd returned from the Civil War and was given a tract of land by his father that included an overseer’s log cabin.  Boyd established an orchard called Edgewood which has remained in the same family through six generations for these 155+ years establishing the Century Farm designation. Thornton recalled the reasoning behind the name, "by the early 1900s a granddaughter of Boyd married R.L Bryant whose family farmed nearby. R.L expanded the orchards and built the infrastructure to support the farm".  Historic photos document the family and property's response through aviation in both world wars and to national calamities. 

In establishing the cider house, Thornton refurbished a barn for the tasting room and the overseer’s log cabin for the production facility. The taproom has a very rustic feel with the walls populated with historic photos documenting the family and property's response through aviation in both world wars and to national calamities. He also kept the feeding trough and reclaimed beams and boards & planks from the 1700s.

Bryant's offers a diverse selection of ciders with many infused with fruit or aged in barrel. For the tart sour beer fam in me, I enjoyed the Unicorn Fuel, a brut cider infused with organic rosehips and hibiscus. The Legend (I believe that was the name) was another favorite - a cider infused with coffee and cocoa bits. For the beer, the Roberta's Revenge Stout is solid - far from an Irish stout and more an American stout with chewy malts and dark chocolate on the tail.

However, the cider that immediately captured my attention and proved that Thornton was a serious producer was the brut Brite Good.  This cider is bone dry but packs plenty of tart apple flavor, finishing with refreshing effervescence. I mentioned the possibility of blending with Campari and confirmed the next day that this combination works beautifully.

I'm looking forward to visiting their Richmond taphouse during CiderCon early next month. But for those who are touring Nelson County's Route 151 or staying at Wintergreen, just keep driving south -- over the mountain pass -- to Bryant and the cider house. It's well worth the extra 20 minutes.

Friday, January 7, 2022

Grape Spotlight: Croatian Korčula Grk

Grk is an autochthonous Croatian grape variety that grows exclusively on the south Dalmatian island of Korčula. More specifically it is planted in the sandy and very dry soils around the village of Lumbarda at the easternmost tip of the island. Here, the strip of land between two coastlines is very narrow thus the grapes receive plenty of exposure from sunlight and reflection from the sea.

Grk is also an ancient grape, perhaps older than the vines planted by the Greeks who settled in Lumbarda in the third century BC. They named the island Korkyra Melaina (Black Korkyra) for its dense Mediterranean vegetation.  Interestingly Grk translates to Greek in Croatian but DNA analysis does not match any known Greek grape. In the local dialect, Grk refers to "bitter" which resembles the naming of Negroamaro across the Adriatic in Puglia. Since inhabitants of Korčula were seafarers and travelers (Marco Polo (1254-1324) was purportedly born on Korčula) perhaps the concepts in the naming grapes traveled across the Sea. This happened with actual grapevines for Primitivo as the Croatian Tribidrag was transferred to Italy between 200-300 years ago.

The quest to determine the origins of Zinfandel to Primitivo and to eventually Tribidrag & Crljenak Kastelanski also includes Grk. Dr. Carole Meredith analyzed various DNA fingerprints of vines in search of a match for Zinfandel and this led to Plavac Mali being designated an offspring. In addition, her analysis showed that Grk (along with other local varieties Plavina and Vranac) shared genetic markers with Zinfandel. This helps prove the antiquated nature of these grapes. 

Like two other central European grapes, the Hungarian Kéknyelű and Herzegovinian Blatina, Grk has only the female functional parts of the plant. Thus it is not self-pollinating like the vast majority of grapevines and requires a male pollinator. On Lumbarda, its relative Plavac Mali is the primary pollinator, planted in alternative rows as both varieties blossom at the same time and with hopes that the wind will carry the pollen to the appropriate plants. 

Winemaking on Korčula probably started with the Greek settlers and continued with the Romans but its practices were codified in the Statute of Korčula of 1214.  This is the oldest legal code of the Croats and a subsequent version from 1265 has been preserved to the present day.  It codifies both winemaking practices as well as the trading of wine - specifically the prohibition of imports in large quantities. In contemporary times, winemaking has been modernized particularly from young oenologists such as 30-something Igor Radovanović.

After graduating from high school, Radovanović enrolled at the Faculty of Agriculture in Zagreb, and afterward consulted with several wineries in Smokvica and Čara. This led to working with Testament Winery near Šibenik and Black Island Winery on Korčula and specifically Posip and Grk. On Korčula he created his own small garage winery where he produces several craft wines which are noticeable by their "kružić križić" (circle cross) label. 

One of these wines is the Radovanović Grk 2020 ($39) available in the United States through Croatian Premium Wine Imports and not to be confused with the Serbian winery Radovanovic.  This wine is exceptional and showcases the heavy density and body of Grk wines. It features candied summer fruit, melons, a hint of that Black Korkyra, and surprisingly sufficient acidity. Yes, it stretches the budget but with the small-scale production - well worth the outlay.

Monday, January 3, 2022

Grape Spotlight: Herzegovina Tamjanika (Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains) from Wines of Illyria

Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains is an ancient white wine grape that originated in Greece and spread through southern Europe. In Italy, it is known as Muscat Blanc and the source of sparkling Asti and the semi-sparkling Moscato d’Asti. In France, it is one of that country's most widely planted white grape varieties -- particularly in southern France. And in the Balkins - specifically Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina -- local clones of Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains are called Tamjanika

Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains is named for its small berries and seeds (petits grains) and requires a long growing season as its buds early and ripens relatively late. Because of the small and dense berries, it is susceptible to mildew diseases and requires regular canopy management.  Like other muscat grapes, it produces a very aromatic wine either spicy, floral, and\or fruity.  It's high sugar density and acidity encourage vinification into sparkling and off-dry styles. That being said, in the Balkins, Tamjanika wines are generally drier since the hot Mediterranean climate inhibits the accumulation of sugar and acidity. 

In Bosnia-Herzegovina, Tamjanika is grown in the Mediterranean climate of Herzegovina near Mostar where agriculture is influenced by the Adriatic Sea (about 20 miles distance), several rivers, and the Herzegovinian mountains. The vines are generally planted in sandy loam soils at 150 to 1,000 feet above sea level. 

For this Wines of Illyria Galerija Vukoje Tamjanika 2019 ($21.99), the grapes are sourced from Vukoje Cellars -- located near the town of Trebinje on the banks of the Trebišnjica river. Trebinje is the southernmost city in Herzegovina and only 20 miles or so from Dubrovnik. Vukoje Cellars farms two estates with the Zasad Polje vineyards being the source of the Tamjanika. These vines are planted along the Trebišnjica riverbed with the dry and rugged country nearby. This wine starts with a floral aroma then transitioning to lime, grapefruit, and melon with some depth and finishes with food-friendly acidity. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Maryland Bourbon at Twin Valley Distillers

Rockville's East Gude Drive has turned into a mini craft beverage destination with Saints Row Brewing and True Respite Brewing Company bookends to the lone distillery Twin Valley Distillers. I visited this distillery on an early Saturday morning to see the new location they moved into a couple years back. They utilize two sections of the warehouse with the tasting room -- cocktail bar on the right and the distillery itself intersecting on the left.  

Twin Valley specializes in Bourbon as well as spirits aging in bourbon barrels -- each as much as possible using locally sourced ingredients. Their showcase bourbons are the Maryland Whiskey Company labels -- the Special Year Straight and Single Cask 2-year Straight. For sipping at the bar I chose the Grand Thoroughbred Single Cask Wheat Bourbon which was named after the state horse of Maryland. This is a friendly bourbon, very smooth and round with hay and soft vanilla. Unfortunately, this tasting bottle was the sole survivor until bottling next month. However, the bartender recommended the 1812 Blended Bourbon  ($40, 45%) which combines both of their single cask bourbons. This whiskey has a rounded mouthfeel, caramel, oak, and honey with a slightly smoky tail. A nice addition to my bar. 

Rounding out the portfolio at Twin Valley are the bourbon barrel-aged spirits, clear spirits, and ready-to-drink cocktails & flavored spirits. On the barrel-aged side are the 1794 Bourbon Barrel Maryland Rye Whiskey, Bourbon Barrel-Aged Rum, and the Reverend Paul's Bourbon Barrel-Aged Malt Whiskey. The clear spirits consist of the Norbeck Vodka made from corn and the Maryland Rum Company Silver Rum distilled from molasses from Baltimore's Domino sugar. Finally, there are several flavored spirits and cocktails from Limoncello to Peanut Butter Whiskey. Check out the product list for more details. 

And as always, theCompass Craft Beverage Finder will guide you to this and other craft beverage destinations. Cheers. 

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Swig & Ramble Season 1 Finale: The Tastes of 2021

Thanks to the fine folks at Swig & Ramble for having me as a guest to discuss my favorite spirits of 2021.  In between Mark interrupting Julia we discussed several Virginia and New York craft spirits from Dida's Distillery, Catoctin Creek Distilling Company, Cooperstown Distillery,  Hillrock Estate Distillery, and Kings County Distillery. There's also a shoutout to Florida's St. Augustine Distillery, plus my 2021 favorite -- the Maggie's Farm Rum - Allegheny Distilling Sherry Finished Rum -- American grown sugar cane fermented and distilled in Pittsburgh PA. Follow the Swig & Ramble Facebook Group to receive updates on the 2022 show schedule. Cheers.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Brewing History: The Silver Branch Vespucci Connection Dry Hopped Pilsner

A recent pint at Silver Branch Brewing Company turned into a history lesson involving trans-Atlantic exploration, the Columbia Exchange, and the genetics of German lager yeast.  In general, I prefer German Pilsners over the Bohemian versions most likely for their breadier and lower hop profile. Thus when faced with these two versions at Silver Branch I chose the Vespucci Connection, a dry-hopped German styled pilsner, instead of their Czech Glass Castle Pilsener.  I then learned how the Vespucci Connection received its name and the discovery of how German lager yeast evolved during the general lager renaissance of the early 16th century. 

Brewer’s yeast is generally categorized as “ale yeast” and “lager yeast”. As most people probably know, the scientific name for ale yeast is Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Less commonly known is that the scientific name for lager yeast is Saccharomyces pastorianus. Interestingly, S. pastorianus is a hybrid of S. cerevisiae and an until-recently unknown cold-tolerant yeast–while S. cerevisiae has 2 sets of chromosomes, S. pastorianus has 3 sets. Ale yeast generally prefers a warmer fermentation temperature, and lagers are as clean and crisp as they are because of the colder fermentation temperatures permitted by the contributions of the extra set of chromosomes from the cold-tolerant yeast to the modern lager yeast hybrid. A 2011 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences by Libkind et al determined that the cold-tolerant parent strain of lager yeast is called Saccharomyces eubayanus, and S. eubayanus has only been found in the wild, despite a lot of searching, in Patagonia.  Vespucci Connection, Columbian Exchange: The New-world Origins Of Old-world Lager Yeast

Thus it appears that this wild yeast from Argentina's Patagonia region hopped aboard a ship exploring the continent. Since Americo Vespucci was the first to identify South America as a separate continent, it may have been his ship that brought S. eubayanus to Europe where it eventually merged with S. cerevisiae in a cold Bavarian cave. The Columbia Exchange is the term historians use to describe the flow of plants, animals, technology, and diseases between the two worlds.  One can press it even forward and suggest that the Beer Purity Law (Reinheitsgebot) of 1516 was also a result of this exchange. 

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Grape Spotlight: Alentejo's Vidigueira Antao Vaz

During the Wines of Portugal tasting that I've previously written about, I spent a considerable time at one booth, sampling several excellent wines from the Alentejo DOC. This region is named for its southerly position from the Tejo river and occupies an area directly east of Lisbon to the Spanish border.  It is sparsely populated, hot and dry, and is best known for the cork industry. Yet, it is also a highly respected wine region with a generally wave-like topography that protects much of the land from the cooling effects of the Atlantic. This contributes to the production of rich, easy-drinking red wines, as ripeness is easy to achieve in these conditions. Thus wineries in Alentejo usually focus on red wine grapes: Aragonez (Tempranillo), Castelao, Trincadeira,  Alicante Bouschet, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

The Alentejo DOC contains eight subregions, which span from the mountains to the hot, dry center of the region: Portalegre, Borba, Évora, Redondo, Reguengos, Granja-Amareleja, Vidigueira and Moura. During the tasting, I became very impartial to the white grape Antao Vaz, which historically is autochthonous to the Vidigueira region. 

Located in the heart of the Alentejo region, the lands surrounding Vidigueira have the perfect microclimate for the perfect vineyards. Bound in the north by the Serra do Mendro mountain range, which creates a natural frontier between the Upper Alentejo and the Lower Alentejo regions, the average annual rainfall here is higher and temperatures more moderate, despite its southerly location. The schist soil too offers perfect conditions and adds mineral notes to the wine. 

The Antao Vaz grape thrives in Vidigueira's hot and dry climate yet maintains a surprisingly high level of acidity. The berries are loosely clustered and thick-skinned, giving them good disease resistance, and even in drought-like conditions remain productive and evenly ripened. Antao Vaz is also versatile and how the grapes are harvested determines the type of wine produced. If the berries are picked early, they will be used to produce light, citrusy wines with good acidity, but if left on the vine for longer, they will give a rounder, plumper wine that can be barrel-aged.

Quinta do Paral is located in the Vidigueira sub-region and had a few varietal and blended versions of Antão Vaz at the Wines of Portugal tasting. The estate is composed of 102 hectares of mature vines, olive groves, and cork oaks situated around the village of Vidigueira. Some of the grapevines are over 40 years old including Antao Vaz.  The Quinta do Paral Estate Bottled Branco 2018 is a blend of equal parts Antão Vaz, Verdelho, Vermentino & Viognier fermented in stainless steel; and exudes ripe, tropical fruit flavors with citrus and honey overtones. In contrast, the Quinta do Paral Vinhas Velhas Branco 2018 is richer where the 70% Antão Vaz and 30% Perrum are fermented in French oak followed by extended aging on lees. This is an excellent Burgundian-styled wine and made using 50+-year-old grapevines. 

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Grape Spotlight: Assisi DOC Grechetto

Umbria, in central Italy, is a region of lush rolling hills, hilltop villages and iconic, historic towns. The latter are exemplified by Orvieto and Assisi. At the very heart of the Italian Peninsula, it is surrounded by Tuscany, Marche and Lazio. It is in fact the only Italian region without a coastline or international border. --

The Assisi DOC is a sub-region within the larger Umbria wine region that was officially granted in 1997. The vineyards must be planted at a minimum elevation of 180 m (590 ft) up to a maximum of 750 m (2,460 ft). The soils are primarily medium-textured calcareous soils, poor in organic matter, but rich in skeleton and mineral salts derived from the dissolving calcareous rock from Mount Subasio. This provides particular saline components to Assisi wine - even to red wines which are slightly more numerous than white wines. Assisi Rosato must comprise 50–70% Sangiovese; 10–30% Merlot; and a maximum of 40% other authorized red grapes. These OARGs include Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir), which along with Merlot, can be labeled as varietal wines (at least 85% of the grape variety).  

White wines are dominated by Trebbiano and Grechetto with the former the dominant grape in Bianco wines and the latter able to be labeled as a varietal wine. Grechetto on its own is either a synonym for  Grechetto di Orvieto or Grechetto di Todi - each genetically unique and each autochthonous grapes from their respective territories.  In Assisi, Grechetto normally refers to Grechetto di Orvieto but there are some situations where both grape varieties are planted close together and vinified together. According to, "wines from Grechetto di Orvieto alone tend to be light-bodied and high in acidity. The Grechetto di Todi variety is generally considered superior."

The Tili Vini Family Organic Winery is located on the slopes of Mount Subasio and the family has been growing grapes and olives on the same land since the 13th century.  They were also the leading force in petitioning for the creation of the Assisi DOC in the mid-1990s.  They produce many different Assisi DOC wines but one of our favorites is the Assisi DOC Grechetto. This wine is delicious, full-bodied, stone fruit and pineapple with traces of saline and plenty of vibrant acidity. 

Monday, November 29, 2021

Judging at the World Whiskies Awards

Earlier this month the BevFluence team was invited to participate as judges in the Whisky Magazine Awards America 2022. The awards ceremony, in association with American Whiskey Magazine, will be held on February 8th, 2022 at The Flatiron Room in New York City. The judging occurred on November 11th, 2021 at the whiskey haven Jack Rose Dining Saloon in Washington DC. During this tasting, 32 judges sampled through 250 American whiskeys divided into 17 categories. The judges reflected a large cross-section of the spirits industry including distillers and distillery owners, writers and educators, as well as other industry professionals. The categories were very specific and consisted of Blended, Blended Limited Release, Small Batch Single Malt, Bourbon, Blended Malt, Rye, Tennessee, Corn, Flavoured Whisky, New Make & Young Spirit, Pot Still, Wheat, Single Malt, Single Barrel Bourbon, Small Batch Bourbon, Single Cask Single Malt, and Grain. We will post the winners two months from now. Cheers.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Wines of Portugal Madeira Part II: Rare Wine Historic Series Rainwater

While attending a recent Wines of Portugal tasting, I was intrigued by The Rare Wine Company's display of Historic Series Madeira - representing styles favored in several American cities. From a historical perspective, Madeira was quite popular from the Colonial era up until the early 20th century. And I learned at this tasting and through these wines, that cities preferred Madeira based on the dominant grape or, in the case of Baltimore, a particular style: Rainwater

This style is paler and more delicate than other Madeira styles. In his book, Madeira, The Island Vineyard by Noel Cossart & Mannie Berk, Noel Cossart asserts that a barrel of Madeira was left on a beach waiting for shipment to the American colonies. The barrel somehow lost its stopper and was watered down by overnight rain and thus, inadvertently creating a slightly more refreshing style. This style became a favorite in Colonial America. Cossart, by the way, was the fourth, and final, member of his family to manage Cossart Gordon & Co, before economic conditions forced him to sell the firm's assets to the Madeira Wine Association.

According to The Rare Wine Company, "In 1902, that city’s greatest Madeira connoisseur, Douglas H. Thomas, called Rainwater the highest standard. And the absence of Rainwaters in a 1900 New York auction prompted one merchant to speculate that Baltimore connoisseurs thought so highly of them that they bought them all up and none reached New York." Unfortunately, in the early 20th century, very sweet and cheap Madeiras entered the market labeled as "Rainwater" which ruined the reputation of the traditional style.  

In 1998, The Rare Wine Company began a project to recreate a series of historic Madeiras with the Baltimore Rainwater based on examples of very rare Rainwater imported into New York City by Robert Benson in the 1820s. Winemaker Ricardo Freitas, of Vinhos Barbeito, "started with a base wine that was 80% Verdelho, made up of two lots ranging in age from 8 to 13 years. Young Verdelho was a perfect starting point, not only because of its delicacy and minimal sweetness but because Verdelho would have been the most common component in the early Rainwaters".  And "for a greater sense of age and also a bit more body, but without increasing the wine’s sweetness, Ricardo added two different lots of old Tinta Negra Mole. Prior to entering the Baltimore Rainwater blend, each of the components was aged (like all of our wines) by the time-honored Canteiro method."

The final Rare Wine Madeira Rainwater Historic Series Baltimore blend range consists of 60-70% Verdelho, 20-25% Sercial, and 10-15% Tinta Negra. For a supposedly lighter style, this wine is very complex with ripe peaches and pears, dried fruits, nuts, and a lively finish.  Excellent. 

Wines of Portugal Madeira Series:
Part I: An Overview

Monday, November 15, 2021

Gazdina Vilijamovka Rakija from Republika Srpska, Bosnia

I purchased this bottle of Gazdinav Rakija Vilijamovka ($34) a while ago and just getting around to opening it. The Williams Pear is forefront with a creamy interior and an ethanol creeping burn. Serving chilled kills the burn with only a little effect on the aroma and flavor.

The producer, Prijedorčanka AD, is the largest fruit processor in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as the largest producer of fruit distillate in Europe. Interestingly, they are located in the Republika Srpska -- one of the two entities of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the other being the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The fruit is grown in the Potkozarje region -- also known for its apple and plum orchards.  The fermented fruit is then distilled using column stills and the warehouse can store over 1,700,000 liters. That's a large facility. 

Friday, November 12, 2021

Grape Spotlight: Croatian Istrian Teran

In his honor, each November in the small historical town of Momjan, just north of Buje, the Feast of Saint Martin (“Martinje") is celebrated with the ceremonious ritual of baptizing wine. Merry wine-lovers gather in the local vineyards with actors dressed up in the roles of a judge, bishop, godmother and godfather of the wine and praise God with their witty prayers. The wine is then baptized and the first bottle is unlocked with the key to the wine kingdom - a corkscrew. The celebrations are accompanied by an abundance of delicious food and endless supply of wine, lasting until the early hours of the morning. The Aroma of Istria - Feast Day of St. Martin

November 11th (12th in the Eastern Church) is the Feast day of St. Martin of Tours, and although he is the patron saint of France, St. Martin still receives devout reverence in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. In Croatia, Saint Martin is known as the protector of vineyards and winemakers, and Martinje marks the "cheerful traditional folk custom of symbolically translating must into young wine ('baptism of wine')". This celebration is particularly vibrant in the Istrian Peninsula as described in the block text above. Thus it is an appropriate two days to discuss the northernmost of Croatia's wine regions: Istria.

Istria is rapidly developing as one of Croatia's key wine regions.  It is located on the Istrian Peninsula in northwest Croatia (the northern end of the peninsula is part of south-western Slovenia and that county's Istra wine region).  The Peninsula is heart-shaped with the coasts stacked with limestone rock and soils. The interior is hilly with foggy valleys and abundant microclimates - usually iron-rich soils and excessive sunshine moderated by coastal influences. Olive and fig trees compete with the over 4,000 hectares of vines planted in the region. 

The most popular grape planted in Istria is the white Malvazija Istarska, however, Teran is a dominant indigenous red grape. It is a member of the diverse Refosco family: dark-skinned grape varieties native to the Venetian zone and neighboring areas.  Wine from the Teran grape is generally earthy, full-bodied, and robust. And Croatians tend to pair Teran with Istrian smoked meat and game dishes.

Vina Fakin is an Istrian winery located in the medieval town of Motovun -- where once the Celts and later Illyrians built fortresses or "a town in the hills" the Celtic translation of Motovun. The winery grows primarily Malvazija Istarska, Teran, and Muškat on 30 hectares in the surrounding hills encompassing several micro-climates. Winemaker Marko Fakin founded the winery in 2010 using the family vineyards. With that very first vintage, the Teran wine won a Croatian national competition as well as recognizing Marko as Winemaker of Year (Croatian Wine Dream Comes True Without Leaving One’s Homeland).

I recently purchased that wine's successor, the Fakin Teran 2019 ($29) from Croatian Premium Wine Imports in anticipation of Martinje. The wine is delicious -- full-bodied and robust, specifically, fruit-forward dark cherries, then chocolate, and firm yet approachable tannins. Can't wait to visit one day. Cheers. 

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

The Wine Concierge: An A++ Curated Wine Experience

During a recent trade tasting of Portuguese wines, I ran into Leslie Frelow, Owner & Chief Discovery Officer (CDO) of  The Wine Concierge. Because of the pandemic, we hadn't seen each other at judging or tasting events that had been canceled. At this tasting, however, where the subject matter was quite pertinent, she related to me the quarterly focus of her The Shades of Vino wine club - Meditteranean wines. This wine club is available through The Wine Concierge community and Leslie kindly sent me a trio of wines from this allotment that highlights wines from Spain, Portugal, and Italy.

Browsing the curated wine selection for Summer/Fall 2021 you immediately notice the intriguing appellations such as Spain's Priorat and Catalonia, Rias Baixas, Basque, Alicante, and Castilla-La Mancha as well as Portugal's Douro and Lisboa DOCs. The collection is rounded out by wines from more familiar regions such as Napa Valley, Williamette Valley Oregon, Mendoza Argentina, Chianti, and Rioja Spain.  

As a wine consumer, it would be difficult on my own to discover a rare white Priorat such as the Les Brugueres Blanc Priorat D.O.Q. ($33) 100%  Garnatxa Blanca or the Vinha Mae Tinto Family Estate Red Lisboa, Portugal ($42) - a blend of Tinto Roriz, Touriga Nacional, Syrah. Yet, Leslie has done the research for you and curated a stellar lineup of wines - many at less than $20 a bottle. Plus take a look at the information provided in the tasting sheets. 

As mentioned earlier, the shipment Leslie sent me consisted of three wines starting with the 2018 Casa Agricola Blanco DO Alicante ($29).  This wine is a blend of 40% Moscatel, 40% Macabeo, and 20% Airén where the grapes were grown in Spain's Alicante DO and produced by Pepe Mendoza at their Casa Agrícola winery.  This is a unique wine, included because of Leslie's expertise, that displays abundant floral and spicy notes,  slight peaches and saline, and finally a fresh spicy finish. Excellent. 

The next wine was an eye-opener, a Cabernet Sauvignon from Tuscany's Tolaini Wine Estate called 2018 LEGIT Tolaini Toscana IGT Cabernet Sauvignon ($42). I never would have purchased a Cabernet from this wine region and instead would have focused on Sangiovese, but this wine is fantastic. Gorgeous fruit, dark cherries and plum, full mouthfeel, structured with chewy tannins. Even better with dark chocolate.  The label is inspired by the "iconic photo of Thelonious Monk from the album cover of one of Monk's most famous live concert recordings, 'Thelonious Monk in Italy' recorded live April 21st, 1961 in Milan by Riverside Records".

Finally, Leslie included the intriguing NV 10 Year White Tawny Porto Douro Valley ($28.75) from Quinta Da Devesa Fortunato Family Estate. From the winery, "this 10 Year Old White Port is obtained from a selection of grape varieties recommended for the Douro region. The aging process occurs naturally over the years, in oak vats at Quinta da Devesa cellars, thus resulting in a darkened color." White Port doesn't receive as much airtime as its red grape sibling but provides sometimes similar but oftentimes a cleaner profile.  This excellent wine starts with dried nuts and figs on the nose, then a textured mouthfeel with honeyed bacon, and an uplifting clean tail. Savor this one.

I look forward to perusing the other wines in The Shades of Vino collection as well as designing Christmas gifts for the family. Please visit The Wine Concierge, join the free community, participate in their Facebook Live events, and support The Black Winemakers Scholarship Fund through every wine purchase. Cheers. 

Friday, October 29, 2021

Wines of Portugal Madeira Part I: An Overview

The roots of Madeira's wine industry dates back to the Age of Exploration when Madeira was a regular port of call for ships traveling to the New World and East Indies. By the 16th century, records indicate that a well-established wine industry on the island was able to supply these ships with wine for the long voyages across the sea. The earliest examples of Madeira, like port, were unfortified and had the habit of spoiling at sea. Following the example of port, a small amount of distilled alcohol made from cane sugar was added to stabilize the wine by boosting the alcohol content. (The modern process of fortification using brandy did not become widespread till the 18th century). The Dutch East India Company became a regular customer, picking up large (112 gal/423 l) casks of wine known as pipes for their voyages to India. The intense heat and constant movement of the ships had a transforming effect on the wine, as discovered by Madeira producers when one shipment returned back to the island after a long trip. It was found that customers preferred the taste of this style of wine, and Madeira labeled as vinho da roda (wines that have made a round trip) became very popular. Madeira producers found that aging the wine on long sea voyages was very costly and began to develop methods on the island to produce the same aged and heated style - typically by storing the wines in special rooms known as estufas where the heat of island sun would age the wine. -- Vintage Madeira

Situated in the North Atlantic, at the same latitude as Casablanca, Madeira is a small island – less than 35 miles (55km) across at its widest point. It is also mountainous and although it benefits from a temperate and markedly Atlantic climate, it can be very humid with instances of tropical heat and high rainfall. The volcanic soils are fertile and rich in organic and acidic matter.  Vines are trained on pergolas and are usually harvested before reaching full maturation which provides wines with very high acidity levels.  

Tinta Negra Mole is the dominant grape variety used in Madeira wine production. Its name means "black soft", and 'perhaps derives from the belief that the variety is a crossing of "black" Grenache and "soft" Pinot Noir'. The grape was brought to the island after the phylloxera epidemic. Verdelho, Sercial, Terrantez (now officially renamed as Folgasao), Bual and Malvasia. The wines were often produced as varietals and labeled with the name of their respective grape variety. The word Malvasia was eventually corrupted to the English word Malmsey, and became a byword for Madeira wines. Terrantez almost became extinct on the island, although it, along with the more prestigious varieties, is now making a gradual comeback. (

Yet, the reasons for the island’s success as a wine region lie not in its terroir and grapes, but in the seafaring tradition described above. Regulations and traditions to emulate the sea voyage are encapsulated in the Madeira DOC.  The Estufagem process of making Madeira wine is used to produce the majority of Madeira wine today. This method involves applying deliberate heat to the wine in order to mimic the oxidation and aging that occurred during these historical sea voyages. An estufa is a stainless steel tank with heated pipes running through it and the wine is heated to 120°F (50°C) for approximately three months. At this point in the Estufagem process, the wine has aged to a similar point five years into the more traditional Canteiro method.

The Canteiro method involves aging the Madeira wine in large barrels placed on trestles (canteiros) that are stored in warehouses heated only by the sun (some producers have even installed large windows to let in as much sunshine as possible). A third method that splits the Estufagem and Canteiro methods consists of aging the barrels for between six and 12 months in an artificially heated warehouse ("armazem de calor").

Madeira wines are produced with various sweetness levels, from seco (dry) and meio seco (medium dry) to meio doce (medium sweet) and doce (sweet). The designations Reserve, Special Reserve, and Extra Reserve denote five, 10, and 15 years of aging respectively, while the Colheita ("harvest") is used to describe a wine from a single vintage. Vintage is the most expensive form of Madeira and must be from a single vintage and aged for more than 20 years prior to commercial release. Rainwater Madeira is a lighter style, popular in the United States and typically made from Tinta Negra Mole. 

Several importers poured a range of Madeira wines at a recent Wines of Portugal tasting.  Two wines that I particularly enjoyed were from Cossart Gordon & Co, established in 1745 and, according to their website, the oldest company in the Madeira wine trade. Under the name Newton, Gordon, Murdoch & Co., the company supplied the ferocious appetites of colonial Americans for Madeira. The Cossart family joined the firm in the early 19th century and with the passing of time slowly changed to the current name. Today the company operates under the umbrella of the Madeira Wine Company along with the popular Blandy's brand. 

After fermentation and fortification, the Cossart Gordon Bual 10 Years Old was aged in American oak casks in the traditional Canteiro system. "Over the years the wine is transferred from the top floors to the middle floors and eventually to the ground floor where it is cooler".  The acidity is still prevalent as it meanders through the complex composition of dried fruits, nuts, spices, and toffee. Wow. 

The Baul grape is also the single variety in the 2005 Cossart Gordon Colheita Baul. This is a single vintage wine that was produced using the Canteiro method described above for nine years in American oak. Interestingly the Baul grape is the same as Malvasia Fina, however, it is distinct from the Malvasia family of grapes used for Malvasia Madeira (Malmsey).  Bual grapes also require more heat to ripen than the other Madeira varieties, so the bulk of Bual vineyards are located in Madeira's warmer locations. This wine shows dense figs and prunes followed by vanilla and toffee then a sweetness offset of the abundant acidity. Excellent. 

Check back often as we cover more styles in detail with Rainwater Madeira in the queue. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Maryland Mead and Cyser from The Buzz Meadery

The Berlin Commons is a community green space located at 21 Jefferson Street in Berlin and on Friday & Saturday nights The Buzz Meadery pours a selection of meads and ciders from their keg dispensing van.  The meadery was founded by Brett and Meghan Hines, both full-time teachers at Indian River High School. Brett is a long-time home brewer of beer and mead specializing in session products with lower abv.  They produce a range of ciders, meads (honey wine), and cysers (mead and apples) sourced directly from Eastern Shore farmers. They particularly support local farmers who use low or no pesticides in order to keep the honeybee populations healthy.

During a Friday night tour of breweries west of Ocean City we stopped at the Berlin Commons for a pint. I chose the Apple Cyser (6.9% abv) a carbonated session mead using honey from Apex Bee Company (Preston, MD) and apples from East View Farms (Frankford, DE). This is a refreshing mead, full of apple flavors with a dry and effervescent finish. Later that night I opened a bottle of their Apple + Pear (6.9% abv), another carbonated session mead using wildflower honey (Preston, MD) and apples and pears from their community orchard.  This mead is a little sweeter with the pear slightly dominating the apple but the acidity and effervescence provide a pleasant balance to the sweetness. 

And as always, theCompass Craft Beverage Finder will guide you to the Berlin Commons and other Eastern Shore establishments.

Friday, October 22, 2021

Grape Spotlight: Nebbiolo Barbaresco DOCG

Vineyard Landscape of Piedmont: Langhe-Roero and Monferrato: This landscape covers five distinct wine-growing areas with outstanding landscapes and the Castle of Cavour, an emblematic name both in the development of vineyards and in Italian history. It is located in the southern part of Piedmont, between the Po River and the Ligurian Apennines, and encompasses the whole range of technical and economic processes relating to the winegrowing and winemaking that has characterized the region for centuries. Vine pollen has been found in the area dating from the 5th century BC, when Piedmont was a place of contact and trade between the Etruscans and the Celts; Etruscan and Celtic words, particularly wine-related ones, are still found in the local dialect. During the Roman Empire, Pliny the Elder mentions the Piedmont region as being one of the most favourable for growing vines in ancient Italy; Strabo mentions its barrels. UNESCO World Heritage list for its cultural landscapes

One of these five wine regions is the Barbaresco DOCG, a classification that was created forty years ago. Barbaresco has a slightly maritime climate which means it enjoys a warmer, drier, and milder than its neighbors. The vineyards are located in the Langhe -- on the right-hand side of the Tanaro river and extending from the area northeast of Alba to the communes of Barbaresco, Neive and Treiso, as well as San Rocco Senodelvio (once part of the Barbaresco municipality but now part of Alba). The dominant variety grown is Nebbiolo, but Dolcetto and Barbera also play a part. The vines are generally grown on limestone-rich marl soils. similar to the Tortonium soils of the Barolo and La Morra areas in Barolo, at 650–1300ft (200–400m) above sea level on very steep, "pre-alpine" hills. They are situated on south-facing slopes for best exposure. (

Nebbiolo is an old cultivar, with historic mentions of the variety going back to the second half of the 13th Century when it was called Nebbiolo di Barbaresco. In Barbaresco, Nebbiolo (little fog) ripens early and contains fewer tannins, and thus is very drinkable at an early age.  However, there is still plenty of acidity and tannins to make this an age-worthy red.  And as the name "little fog" suggests, the grape is resistant to vaper-induced diseases like black rot and downy mildew.

Barbaresco DOCG regulations stipulate that Barbaresco must have a minimum alcohol content of 12.5 percent and undergo two years of aging, one of which must be spent in wooden barrels. For the added designation of riserva, the aging increases to four years, with one of those years in wood. Barbaresco wines are characterized by their rich, spicy flavors and perfumed sweetness and are considered more elegant and refined than their Barola counterpart.

Recently we opened a bottle of one of these elegant and refined wines from winemaker Stella Grasso through MGM Mondo del Vino and available in the United States through importer Mack & Schuhle Inc. The  Riva Leone Barbaresco 2017 ($25) is medium-bodied, with structured cherries, mint, tea, and lasting acidity and tannins.  An exceptional wine. 

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Grape Spotlight: Terre Siciliane IGT Pinot Grigio

IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) is an Italian classification that was introduced in 1992 in order to allow a certain level of freedom to Italy's winemakers. Prior to 1992, many wines failed to qualify for DOC or DOCG status – not because they were of low quality, but because they were made from grape varieties (or blends) not sanctioned under DOC/G laws. The IGT classification focuses on the region of origin, rather than grape varieties or wine styles. -- Italian Wine Label Information 

Because of its dry, warm climate with regular sunshine and moderate rainfall which reduce the chance of rot and mildew, residents of Siciliy have been producing wine for 4,000 years. Archaeological evidence supports this proposition as amphorae found in Sicily show that the Phoenicians were trading and consuming wine in the IX-IV century BC. The Greek colonization in the VIII-III century BC expanded viticulture by introducing Grecanico and other grapes; while the Romans spread Sicilian wine. Both Greek and Latin literary sources refer to the renowned Sicilian wines. Pliny mentioned the Mamertino from Messina, when Cesare toasted the party for his triumph at the third consulate. In Pompeii, Sicilian wine jars were found, which competed with the local ones from Campania, although they were also appreciated. Remnants of Sicilian wine have also been found in Gaul. (Vine and Wine in the history of Sicily)

Since the Roman era, the strength of Sicilian viticulture oscillated between Muslim, Norman, Spanish, and other conquests to the modern era where the Sicilia IGT was created to encompass the island.  However, in 2011, the Sicilia IGT was upgraded to a newly-created Sicilia DOC and the Terre Siciliane IGT was created as a replacement. The name Terre Siciliane translates to "Sicilian lands" and thus covers the entire island and Terre Siciliane IGT wines can be made any style: red, white, or rosé, still or sparkling, dry or sweet.  

- white, also in the sparkling, sparkling, passito, late harvest, and liqueur types;
- red, also in the sparkling, passito, late harvest, new and fortified types;
- rosé, also in the sparkling, sparkling, passito type.
- with the specification of one of the grape varieties suitable for cultivation in the Sicily Region.
- with the specification of two or three or four vines included among those suitable for cultivation in the Sicily Region.

In the majority of cases, international varieties are used in this classification, but in our example, the white mutation of the Pinot family, Pinot Grigio is the focus. Although this grape is most prevalent in northern Italy it is planted in sufficient quantities in Sicily and when produced as a Terre Siciliane white wine must have a minimum total alcoholic strength by volume of 10.50% vol; a minimum total acidity of 3.50g / l; and a minimum sugar-free extract of 13.0 g / l.

Barone Montalto is located in the province of Trapani in Santa Ninfa and the Belice Valley. They manage approximately 400 hectares of vineyards, some of which are owned and others supervised under the Montalto quality protocol which controls the viticulture methods at each vineyard site. They also operate under the Mack & Schuehle Group and many of their wines are available in the United States through importer Mack & Schuhle Inc. One of these wines is the Barone Montalto Collezione Di Famiglia Terre Siciliane IGT Pinot Grigio 2020 ($12). It is of tremendous value. Expect a pale color, yet deep citrus and literal wet stone on the palate. Gone in a blink of an eye.  

Friday, October 15, 2021

A Virginia Wine Month Visit to The Winery at Sunshine Ridge Farm

For Columbus Day we decided to visit a Virginia winery particularly since October is Virginia Wine Month and settled on the recently opened The Winery at Sunshine Ridge Farm. Although, don't let their name detract from the presence of a brewery and cider house onsite. In fact, this Gainesville operation is an adult playground with three types of craft beverages, its plethora of firepits and picnic tables, live music on the weekends, and widespread views of Lake Manassas. Too bad public access is not available for the lake - looks like a wasted fishing opportunity. 

Our visit started with a flight of four wines - all produced using Virginia sourced grapes: 2019 Chardonnay ($33), 2020 Viognier ($34), 2019 Riesling ($33), and 2019 Cabernet Franc ($36). I preferred the chewy Cabernet Franc but was outvoted for a bottle of the very drinkable Viognier.  I didn't object because I also wanted to taste through a flight of beers starting with those brewed at Sunshine Ridge. Some of their beers come from Beltway Brewing, a very respectable contract brewer. My clear favorites from this flight were the Sowing Oats (Spiced Farmhouse Ale, 5.6% ABV, 26 IBU), Double Dog Dare Ya! (Double IPA, 8.0% ABV), and Picnic Porter (Robust Porter, 6.2% ABV, 44 IBU). Not normally an IPA lover, the Double Dog is outstanding - hazy citrus, tropical, earthy, and so smooth.

I have a feeling I will be returning very soon seeing the Scott Kurt is scheduled for several nights starting this weekend to into December.  And as always, theCompass Craft Beverage Finder will guide you there.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Grape Spotlight: Republic of Georgia Imereti Otskhanuri Sapere

Imereti is one of ten wine regions distinguished by the Wines of Georgia and it is located in western-central Georgia and situated along the middle and upper reaches of the Rioni River.  It is bordered by the Likha ridge, the Caucasus ridge, the Meskheti mountains, and the Tskhenistskali river, which weaken the moderating influences of the Black Sea. Imereti's climate is mainly humid subtropical with weaker influences from the Black Sea; winters in Imereti are mostly cold and summers are drier and hotter. Since 70% of the region is mountainous, vineyards in Imereti are mainly cultivated in river valleys from 50 to 500 meters above sea level. 

In terms of winemaking and viticulture, Imereti is divided into three zones: Upper, Middle, and Lower Imereti. Both climatic and soil differences occur between these zones, although in general, Imereti contains mostly stony and calcareous soils, with limestone and carbonate rocky soils present on occasion.  Both traditional and modern techniques are used in both areas from the modern training systems of vines to the very traditional training method for Imereti using low poles. In addition, winemaking occurs in both modern stainless steel and in Qvevri --which is called Churi in the Imereti region.  The Churi jugs are buried in the ground where the underground temperature is consistent and the micro-oxidation processes give the wine an amber color. This process also softens the tannins into a velvety structure. 

Imereti is most known for its white wines as the Imereti climate is conducive to producing highly acidic and fresh wines. However, the region's red wine production is increasing, starting with the ancient Otskhanuri Sapere. In fact, this is one of the oldest grape varieties in Georgia with the historic center in the village of Otskhana. Like white grapes, Otskhanuri Sapere is known for its high acidity and gentle body.   On the vine, the grape is a late ripener and generally resistant to many vine diseases. 

One producer is Vartsikhe Marani located in the village of Vartsikhe in Imereti, Georgia. According to the winery, "Vartsikhe Marani owns vineyards in Georgia’s western Imereti region as well as the eastern Kakheti Region. In its western location, the air from the Black Sea to the west and the Caucasus Mountains in the north creates a humid subtropical climate, offering optimal conditions for the cultivation of several rare indigenous grape varieties unique to the region".  They produce 100% natural wines made in Churi using "traditional Georgian methods dating back thousands of years".  

During a recent Wines of Georgia tasting, we were able to sample the 2017 Vartsikhe Marani Otskhanuri Sapere Dry Red Wine that was bottle 343 out of only 950 produced.  The aroma was very herbaceous with dark fruit spreading through the palate that was balanced with layers of structured and creeping tannins. An excellent wine.  The U.S. importer is Terraneo Merchants. Cheers to Georgian wine.