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. 

Friday, October 8, 2021

Grape Spotlight: Portuguese Dão Encruzado

Courtesy of Vinhos Dão Wine

The Dão viticultural region is located in north-central Portugal and takes its name from the Dão river, along which the majority of the region's vineyards are located. 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, "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".

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

Red wine grapes are the most prevalent in the Dão, but the finest examples of white wine derive from the Encruzado grape says Wines of Portugal US Ambassador Eugenio Jardim. The grape is planted mainly in the granite hills of the region, buds early, and provides a balance between sugars and acids. Wines made from this grape respond well to lees contact and barrel maturation, both of which help to add complexity to the finished wines. According to, "oak aging, in particular, helps to tame some of Encruzado's more astringent notes, adding softness and nutty, toasty characters to the finished wines". On the downside, Encruzado has a tendency to oxidize quickly if not carefully handled.

During a recent Wines of Portugal tasting, I was able to sample a 100% Encruzado wine that showed why this grape is so prevalent in the Dão. The 2019 Cabriz DOC Dão Encruzado Reserva ($15) was full-bodied, with creamy citrus and texture, while simultaneously showing saline-driven acidity. 25% of the wine was fermented in new French oak barrels with soft toast and 25% in second-use oak barrels. A delicious wine. 

Cabriz is one of the leading brands from Dão and the world’s best seller from that region - thus allowing it to be accessible through Global Wines Portugal.  The primary 38-hectare estate and winery are located between the two main rivers that cross the Dão region, the Mondego and the Dão. 

Looking forward to visiting someday. Cheers. 

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Grape Spotlight: Republic of Georgia Racha - Khvanchkara Tsolikouri

“Khvanchkara production” was started by the Georgian Noble Dimitri Kipiani in the 1880s. He made perfect demi-doux (semi-sweet) red wine from Aleksandrouli and Mujuretuli -- unique grape varieties by the incomplete fermentation method. It was called “The Kipiani Wine”. In 1907 Dimitri Kipiani sent his wine to the city of Osten in Belgium, where the European Wine Festival was being held. To everyone’s surprise, The Kipiani Wine was granted the Gold Grand Prize, which is kept at the Georgian National Museum today. This was a great victory for Georgian wine-making and personally, for Prince Kipiani. -- Khvanchkara 

The Republic of Georgia is one of the most ancient winemaking areas and today consists of ten major wine regions. The Racha wine region is located in the middle of this Caucasus country sandwiched between the Imreti wine region to the south and the Greater Caucasus mountains to the north.  This mountain range creates a series of hills and valleys throughout the region with vineyards found on north/south slopes. Within Racha, the Khvanchkara micro-zone is known for its scenic slopes that follow the river valley of the Rioni River. The area ranges from 450 to 750 meters (1500-2500 ft) above sea level and has a humid climate and moderately cold winters proceeded by hot, dry, and sunny summers. Grapevines are planted at low densities with thin canopies to prevent fungal rots as high humidity levels are very common.  And because of the sunshine, the grapes can carry high sugar levels - resulting in historically sweet and semi-sweet wines. 

One of these traditionally sweet and semi-sweet wines was made from the white Tsolikouri grape. In the vineyard, Tsolikouri vines produce a medium-sized bunch of grapes that have relatively thick skins - required for battling mildew diseases. In addition, the grapes provide generous yields that contemporary winemakers are vinifying into drier wines. 

One example of drier Tsolikouri is produced by Didgori Winemaking, an offshoot of Kabistoni Winery owned by viticulturist Gela Kipiani. In 2002 he revitalized several vineyards with a dream of restoring Kipiani Wine in the Racha region.  Today, Giorgi Kipiani operates the winery while carrying on the family name. "He labels the bottles with honor in the Didgori name, which pays tribute to a traditional Georgian singing from the fifteen-person polyphonic folk ensemble, of which he has been a member for 12 years".  Their wine is produced in small batches of 300+ bottles made using one of a dozen available qvevri. Didgori wines are all-natural and free from chemicals, sulfate, or artificial intervention.

During a recent Wines of Georgia tasting, I was able to sample a couple wines from Didgori Winemaking including their Tsolikouri 2019. The wine was produced with 6 months of full skin contact providing a bit of orange funk - but not overwhelmingly oxidized. Instead, it is very fragrant with fresh acidity that lifts the wine throughout the palate. And the finish lingers -- a delicious natural wine. 

Didgori Winemaking wines are available in CA, NY, OR, IL, DC, VA, & TX through Terrell Wines. And thanks to Wines of Georgia for the images and tasting. Cheers.

Friday, October 1, 2021

#SipShenandoah Beer and Wine at Great Valley Farm Brewery & Winery

During our return from the  2021 Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion, and not hiking to Natural Bridge,  we stopped off at the Great Valley Farm Brewery & Winery to sample some beer and check sports scores.  As a consequence, we discovered a venue with outstanding views of the countryside, a solid portfolio of craft beer, as well as a couple delicious wines we had brought home. 

Owners Nathan and Irma Bailey purchased the land in 2008 with the intention to open a farm brewery which finally occurred in October of 2016.  At the same time, they planted a vineyard that now consists of six acres of various grape varieties including Gruner Veltliner, Vidal Blanc, Cabernet Franc, and Lemberger. Wine production started in 2019 and these wines are now available to the public. 

During our stopover, I chose a flight that consisted of a Grisette, Hibiscus Wit, NZ Pale Ale, and Milk Stout. A completely diverse range of beers.  The farmhouse Grisette was funky and was made using New Zealand Motueka hops leftover from the Pale Ale. The Wit was deliciously satisfying for that warm day. The Pale Ale had a solid structure and was made using NZ Nelson Sauvin and Motueka hops. And finally, the Milk Stout was as expected - velvety cream merging with chocolate and coffee.

Still a long way from home, we purchased a couple bottles of their 2019 Gruner Veltliner ($24) and 2019 Shenandoah Red ($30) to open at a later date. For the Gruner that was the next day and didn't last long. It's a very pleasant wine, creamy citrus, some saline, and abundant acids. The Shenandoah Road is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Lemberger that is aged for one year in a mixture of French, American, and Hungarian oak.  This blend is ridiculously good with plenty of fruit, some spice, texture, acidity, and creeping tannins. Well done on this initial effort. 

October is Virginia Wine Month so try to visit as many wineries (and breweries) as possible during these 31 days. The Virginia Wine Marketing Board lists several events and theCompass Craft Beverage Finder will guide you to these establishments. Cheers.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Noiret, Cayuga, and Cabernet Franc from Clearview Vineyard

During the Hudson Valley Taste Camp from several years ago, Clearwater Vineyard poured perhaps the best Noiret wine I had ever tasted. This hybrid grape variety was bred at New York's Cornell University with the labrusca Steuben and the undistinguished NY65.0467.08 as its parents. This Noiret was completely free of Steuben's funky and foxy character with deep juicy black fruit flavors and I vowed to someday visit this winery within the Shawangunk Wine Trail

This month I finally was able to visit their Warwick estate after a hike along the nearby Appalachian Trail. The winery's portfolio has increased since its first vintage in 2010 but due to covid, the wine tasting consisted of four of their signature wines. The 2017 Estate Noiret ($20) is just as rich and full-bodied with some mint and a solid tannic structure. The 2019 Dry Riesling ($19) was also solid with a hint of petrol with stone fruit. 

But the two most interesting and preeminent in our opinion were the Estate Cayuga White and Cabernet France. Cayuga was also developed at Cornell by crossing Schuyler and the French hybrid Seyval Blanc. Too often dry versions of this wine are too bland and sweeter versions are too cloying.  The Clearwater Vineyard 2019 Estate Cayuga White ($19)  is dry but full of bright fruit, depth, and refreshing acidity.  Similarly, the 2018 Cabernet Franc ($20) is excellent. The wine is medium-bodied, without a hint of green, but a velvety texture and approachable tannins and balanced acids.  And what a bargain. This wine would be priced over $30-$35 if produced in Virginia. 

I envision more hiking and wine drinking during our return to the Hudson Valley and as always theCompass Craft Beverage Finder will guide you to these beverage destinations. Cheers. 

Friday, September 24, 2021

Exploring Virginia Beer at the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion

After a couple years off we attended the 2021 Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion music festival which is one of the liveliest festivals. Held in the Birthplace of Country Music the festival showcases music on venues located on both the Virginia and Tennessee sides of State Street. COVID definitely affected this year's lineup but the organizers were still able to schedule fantastic artists over the three days. The festival targets local and national artists with special attention to Texas musicians. We heard great performances by Yarn, The Steel Wheels, Folk Soul Revival, Big Daddy Love, Town Mountain, and Blackberry Smoke. In addition, John Anderson and Hayes Carll represented Texas and we loved that Carll covered Ray Wylie Hubbard's Drunken Poet's Dream.

We acted like drunken poets at two Bristol breweries located within the festival's parameter. State Street Brewing Company is a relatively new brewery with outside seating accessible to hear the Country Music Mural stage or the continuous music at the Delta Blues BBQ.  The brewery opened a few years ago in the former Hayes Furniture building on the Commonwealth side of State Street and utilizes the 20,000-square-foot building to its fullest. Expect a spacious seating area and a long bar that runs parallel to the brewing equipment. There's enough diversity in their portfolio for all types of tastes - and for morning music we went with the Long Tom Peanut Butter Porter. In the afternoon we transitioned to their Dad Hat Kolsh and Splash Berliner Weiss before ending the evenings with the Cosmos Imperial IPA

We've visited Bristol Station Brews & Taproom a few times and it was great to see the brewery within the festival adjacent to the Piedmont stage.  Folk Soul Revival paired with the Piedmont Pilsner as fans are slightly bitter to their breakup and that matched the beer's profile. The Bristol Helle Raiser fit the Hayes Carll set and would have worked with 49 Winchester if we weren't late. It wasn't the Blue Mountain Steel Wheels ESB but the Bearded Goat Bock hit similar notes as the band's Rain in The Valley. And in the evening, give us the Wil's Lucky Dunkelweisen

 The BRRR will be back in our regular rotation. Look forward to visiting these and other area winery and breweries until then with theCompass Craft Beverage Finder. Cheers. 

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Grape Spotlight: Dalmatian Plavac Mali

"Plavac Mali is used to craft some of the finest Croatian red wines, especially when it comes from the barren, steep southern slopes of Southern and Central Dalmatia facing the sea, from positions such as Dingac, Postup and Ponikve on Peljesac, Ivan Dolac on Hvar, Murvice on Brac, and Komarna and Konavle on the coastline.  These locales are the home of the most famous labels, wines that are often powerful, alcoholic, full-bodied, and rich. Further inland, Plavac is used to make fruitier, lighter, juicier, everyday wines to be enjoyed with a variety of cuisines." Wines of Croatia

Today, September 21st is International Plavac Mali Day, a celebration created by the Croatian Wine Alliance - a partnership between Anna M. Viducic (Aroma Wine Co) & Mirena Bagur - Win Burke (Croatian Premium Wine Imports).  Thus, it's more than appropriate to highlight Croatia's predominant red grape variety. It is grown throughout Dalmatia with the best-known plantings on the Peljesac Peninsula in the Dingač and Postup appellations. In fact, Dingač became the first protected Croatian wine region in 1961. However, my appreciation of Plavac Mali comes more from the newly created Komarna appellation through the wines available from Croatian Premium Wine Imports and our recent visit to Terra Madre Winery. Komarna wineries planted their Plavac Mali vineyards using best practices from the Peljesac Peninsula particularly planting on the south-southwest slopes.

That being said, there are some differences in wines produced in Komarna and Peljesac. According to Antonija Car, winemaker at Saints Hills Winery, Komarna is a lighter style of wine than Dingač and the cooler area is able to better preserve acidity. In contrast, Dingač is hotter with more quartz in the otherwise similar limestone soil leading to less acidity, more sugars, and thus higher alcohol.  In Peljesac, vines are planted very close together and trained as bush vines to avoid the harsh effects of the Mediterranean sun. 

The name Plavac Mali is derived from the blue color of the berries (plavac) and the size of these berries (mali). An interesting phenomenon is that the berries on any particular cluster ripen at different times as evident from this slide courtesy of Volarević Winery. This forces the winemaker to make a difficult decision during harvest to obtain a sufficient balance between pH and sugars. This pushes harvest back until the end of September to early October. 

The discovery of Plavac Mali's lineage offers another fascinating story thanks to Mike Grgich, the winemaker behind the iconic Chateau Montelena Chardonnay. Here is a short paraphrase but for the full story, we recommend this video of Grgich or our post Grape Spotlight: Croatian Tribidrag (Crljenak Kaštelanski, Pribidrag, Kratošija) aka Zinfandel. When seeing Zinfandel planted in California it reminded him of Plavac Mali vines from his native Croatia. He enlisted help from Dr. Carole Meredith of U.C. Davis who with assistance from Croatian researchers determined that Plavac Mali was related to Zinfandel but not an exact DNA match. Instead, Zinfandel was the same as its parent Crljenak Kaštelanski - with the other parent being the ancient Croatian grape Dobričić.

There are several Dalmatian Plavac Mali wines available in the United States with most providing the characteristic dried figs, raisins, and cocoa aroma followed by cherry flavors, spice, and solid tannins. Komarna grown Plavac Mali wines are available here along with a Dingač and Postup versions made by Miljenko GrgićSaints Hills Winery, and Chateau Mario.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Fire and Roses at Salento's Cantine Cantele

During our August trip to the Salento Peninsula, our hosts organized a tour and tasting at Cantine Cantele, one of the most well-known wineries in Puglia. This was an unintended coincidence based on our post Grape Spotlight: Salice Salentino Negroamaro and review of the Cantele Riserva Salia Salento 2015.

The Cantele family first arrived in the region when Giovanni Battista visited the area and sourced grapes to sell in northern Italy. When his wife Teresa Manara accompanied Giovanni on one of his many trips she fell in love with Lecce and resettled the family in Italy's "Florence of the South". Later, their son Augusto would study winemaking and along with his brother, Domenico and Giovanni would start Cantine Cantele in 1979. Initially, they worked as consultants, and in the 1990s Augusto purchased his first vineyards and began bottling wine with the Cantele family name.  Today the third generation -- two children each from Augusto and Domenico -- have taken over the enterprise's operation and their guiding theme stresses "innovation and tradition are not enemies".  

During our visit, we were lead through a typical tour of their large operation from the pressing area to indoor and outdoor fermenting and aging tanks to their barrel room.  Definitely state-of-the-art equipment. On their pressing area, we learned about their estate harvest techniques where, because of the extreme daytime heat, the harvest begins at 3am. New vines (40%) are picked by machines as they had been planted with enough working space in between with the remaining by hand. 

The grapes are then covered in dry ice and three types of pressure are applied. The first and second presses of each grape are fermented separately whereas the third press is sent to distilleries for grappa or the seeds for grape seed oil. The white wine grape juice is inoculated with vineyard yeast and fermented on their lees. They produce two versions of Chardonnay, one with only four months on lees and pulled for bottling and the second aged one year in barrel. The Negroamaro grapes dedicated to rosé wine are given longer skin contact resulting in a fuller and darker wine. 

After the tour, we proceeded to the Cantele winery and Tasting Laboratory called iSensi. This facility opened seven years ago to showcase their wine and traditional Pugliese cuisine.  There we sampled four wines providing a general overview of their portfolio.

The first wine was their I.G.T. Salento Rohesia Malvasia Bianca where the grapes sourced from Brindisi spent three months on lees in stainless steel. The fragrance was what you would expect from this grape, brilliant floral, followed by sizzling tropical and citrus flavors. Next came the Teresa Manara Chardonnay 2020 named after the family's matriarch. Also an I.G.T. Salento wine, the estate fruit is fermentation using the first crush and is aged in barrique on lees for 8 months. A full-bodied and delicious wine with green apples, pears, and creamy depth without a buttery finish. The Rohesia Negroamar Rosato is also full-bodied from saignée free-run juice aging three months on its lees. Rohesia is an ancient form of the name "Rose" and matches the color and strawberry flavor of the wine.  Fanoi means "Fire" and the Fanoi Negroamaro 2015 ($37) fired us up to lug a bottle home with us. It is produced only during exceptional years, from 60-year-old vines grown in a single vineyard. Expect multiple herbs and spices, a creamy palate, and a lingering approachable finish.  Excellent. 

Fortunately, some of Cantele's portfolio is available in the United States, most definitely through Total Wine.  If you can visit Lecce, great, if not, explore the region through these wines. Cheers. 

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Grape Spotlight: DOC Vermentino di Sardegni and the Argiolas Costamolino

Vermentino is a white wine grape grown in various locations, and under various names, around the western Mediterranean -- most notably in northwestern Italy and the neighboring islands of Corsica and Sardinia. Whereas DOCG Vermentino di Gallura covers Vermentino-based wines from an area at the northern end of Sardinia, Vermentino di Sardegna is a regional DOC covering the island in its entirety.  The DOC was created in February 1988 following a period of consistent quality improvements in Sardinian Vermentino wines.

There is a wide variety of soil types throughout the Vermentino di Sardegna DOC with vineyards found on pockets of limestone and marl. The viticultural areas are dominated by peaks and valleys with the topography creating multiple mesoclimates of which where vineyards thrive. A typical Mediterranean climate is evident with mild, wet winters and hot, sunny summers. The whole island of Sardinia has a high number of days with sunshine, especially in the north with over 300 days per year and a majority of vineyards are found in close proximity to the ocean. This allows prevailing breezes to lower temperatures and help retain acidity. ( 

Argiolas is a winery founded by Antonio Argiolas founded in the late 1930s and today is operated by his grandchildren, the third generation of the family, who work here. They farm five vineyards in southern Sardegna with the winery located near the town of Sibiola. One of these estates is Vigne Vecchie which covers about 40 hectares in the hills near the town of Selegas. It is located on a calcareous and marly hillside (600-700 feet asl) with a strong presence of limestone -- most suitable for white grape varieties like Vermentino.  This is where the grapes for the Costamolino Vermentino di Sardegna DOC ($16) are harvested and after fermentation, aged briefly on lees. This provides a little weight to the bright lemon and grapefruit profile and racy mineral-driven finish. 

Monday, August 30, 2021

Destination Terra Madre - a Komarna and Dalmatian Winery

One of the most eventful excursions during our three-week European vacation was a tour of Terra Madre Winery led by oenologist Marko Šuman and Executive Director Davor Martinović. The winery is located in Komarna, just north of the border with Herzegovina and adjacent to the middle of the Peljesac Peninsula. Terra Madre is also a founding member of the Komarna AVA which consists of seven members -- all certified by the EU for organic wine production. 

Organic certification among the members was accelerated because the wineries starting near the same time in the early to mid-2010s. They were able to leverage the same resources when surveying plots, planting the vineyards, and building out production and tasting room facilities. Economies of scale in action. Their youthfulness also allowed them to adopt the latest in technological advances pertaining to vineyard management and winemaking chemistry where even some laboratories are utilized by Croatian state wine officials. Such is the case with Terra Madre, where the appellation wide K7 Plavac Mali was vinified by Šuman at their state-of-the-art facility from fruit contributed by each Komarna winery.

Our visit to Terra Madre was facilitated by Croatian Premium Wine Imports, the importer of Komarna wines into the United States.  It occurred during the return ride from a pilgrimage to Medjugorje and when we arrived Mr. Martinović informed us of the cross in the vineyard which was a replica of one from the holy site and that the apparitions were an inspiration for naming the winey "Mother Earth".  

This cross sits near the base of a 45-degree limestone slope that is populated with vines from the 200-600 foot summits to the Adriatic. The grapevines are predominately two indigenous Dalmatian varieties, Plavac Mali and Pošip, with smaller plantings of Chardonnay, Syrah, and Cabernet.  They are planted facing south-southwest in order to receive the longest sun exposure from the star itself and from reflection from the sea. In total, the estate covers 16.55 hectares with 125,000 vines planted. 

The Terra Madre winery itself is a structure occupying 2600 square feet on top of the largest hill. The first floor is intended for wine tasting and is dominated by a terrace with its amazing views of the Neretva Bay, Pelješac Peninsula, and apparently on especially clear days, the outline of the islands of Brac and Hvar. 

After Mr. Šuman and Mr. Martinović greeted us we proceeded with a tour of their facility with Šuman describing both the equipment and his winemaking goals for the region. This equipment included a large press, gravity-flow fermenting stainless steel tanks, stainless steel tanks for aging, large barrique casks, a separate barrel room, a large chemistry lab, and a modern bottling line.  They have complete control of the vinification process. 

Šuman also discussed his ideas for the winery and the region. They will continue to focus on Plavac Mali and Pošip while developing various new styles. One example is their new Pošip aged on lees which is a clear distinction from their flagship stainless steel Pošip. Whereas Šuman believes the standard Pošip will still dominate sales, the lees Pošip will entice those who desire a white wine with a larger mouthfeel or have more funk in their palate. Šuman also related how they have experimental plantings of autochthonous grapes that are more prevalent in other Dalmatia regions. One of these is Grk from the island of Korčula and while Šuman wants to stay connected to the camaraderie of the Komarna appellation, he also wants to start promoting the Dalmatia region. He believes a focus on Dalmatia wines will elevate the region on the world market. 

Returning to the tasting room and over a plate of prosciutto and cheese we sampled their two versions of Pošip mentioned above, the 2019 Plavac Mali Rosé, the 2015 Barrique Plavac Mali, the eye-opening 2016 Premium Plavac Mali, and ta cellar bottle of the 2017 Premium Plavac Mali. From previous samples and subsequent purchases from Croatian Premium Wine Imports, we were already well versed with the 2018 PošipRosé, and the Premium Plavac Mali and the tasting just reinforced our fondness of these wines. Interesting Šuman plans to lighten the rosé in order to make it more appealing for the summer heat and visitor's palates but we definitely prefer this more textured version.

The 2018 Pošip Sur Lie provided a delicious alternative with its creamy mouthfeel and funky finish.  A gifted bottle did not last long when we returned to Dubrovnik. And I wish we could pair with Mali Ston Bay oysters -- considered the best from all of Europe. We also were gifted the next iteration of the Premium Plavac Mali and will allow more time aging in the bottle for the tannins to become a little tamer.

During our visit, a large group arrived for a similar tasting as ours with wine, cheese, and prosciutto. Komarna is a short trip from both Split and Dubrovnik so check out excursions when visiting each destination. Two weeks home and I'm already itching to return to Croatia to revisit Terra Madre but also the other K7 area wineries such as Rizman and Deak Family Farm or onto the Pelješac Peninsula to Grgić or Saints Hills. In the meantime, I will have to settle for the large selections of wines available from Croatian Premium Wine Imports.  Živjeli.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Grape Spotlight: Brindisi DOC Tenute Rubino Susumaniello

The Brindisi DOC is a sub-region in Puglia that was created in 1979 and dedicated primarily to the production of Negroamaro wines. Yet the regulations also stipulate that Susumaniello can be made as a second red wine with Chardonnay, Malvasia Bianca, Fiano, and Sauvignon Blanc permitted as white grapes. The DOC is an enclave anchored by the city of Brindisi and spreading out from the Adriatic. 

The region is also both hot and dry. No wonder since Apulia is derived from the Latin phrase "a pluvia" translated to "without rain'". The region enjoys 300 sunny days each year with summer afternoon temperatures regularly surpassing 104 Fahrenheit. As a result, the grapes which grow here develop high levels of sugar which leads to a high percentage of alcohol in the wine.  

Susumaniello is grown almost exclusively in the Salice Salento area with much smaller amounts in the Brindisi and Squinzano DOCs and is ranked among the world's rarest wine grapes. DNA evidence shows that it is a natural cross between a Puglian table grape and the white-wine grape Garganega. Its name is derived from "somarello", meaning "donkey" - maybe because the deep ruby color and dark, baked fruit flavors can carry a heavy load?

Tenute Rubino considers itself the "House of Susumaniello" as it helped lead the effort to recover the endangered variety after many Apulian growers were driven to explant their less productive vineyards. In response, Tenute owner Luigi Rubino "chose to stake his company’s fortunes on the rediscovery and promotion of one of Puglia’s most identitarian varieties". Susumaniello is planted in sandy and limestone-rich soil in a 20-hectare single vineyard. This Jaddico estate is located eight kilometres north of Brindisi and resides at sea level directly on the shores of the Adriatic Sea. 

In addition to a few sparkling wines, the primary output for Susumaniello is the Brindisi DOC Rosso Oltremé. This wine is 100% Susumaniello with a dark ruby red complexion and aromas of red berries and cinnamon. On the palate expect dark fruit with rounded tannins and a vibrant mouthfeel. Wish I had brought a bottle home. 

Monday, August 23, 2021

A Trip to the Assisi DOC & Tili Vini Family Organic Winery

Germanic descendants of the Tili family have been farming the hills of Assisi since the 12th century. They came to the area after fighting for the Holy Roman Emperor Federico Barbarossa's conquest of northern Italy. Afterward, Frederic I granted the soldier rights to grow olives and grapes which continued through successive generations. In 1978 the Tili Vini Family Organic Winery was formed.

The vineyards are composed of medium-textured calcareous soils, poor in organic matter, but rich in skeleton and mineral salts. The porous soil and lack of groundwater enrich the organoleptic content of the grapes with particular saline components.

The winery produces Assisi DOC and Umbria IGT certified organic wines. In fact, the Tili family was instrumental in petitioning for the creation of the Assisi DOC, granted in 1997.

Our tour of Assisi included a side trip to Tili Vini and the tasting experience was exceptional.  Their new tasting room overlooks the Umbrian valley and provides a comfortable setting to sample their wines. And during this tasting, they paired a lunch of local cheeses and charcuterie with half a dozen generous pours of wine. 

Their Assisi DOC Grechetto is delicious, full-bodied, stone fruit and pineapple. The unoaked Assisi DOC Pinot Noir was also highly appreciated with its easy yet noticeable tannins and juicy cherries.  By far the most impressive was the 2012 Assisi DOC Sacreterre, 100% Sagrantino.  The tannins had developed into a velvety chewy texture full of dark fruit and chocolate.  Exceptional.  And besides the Grechetto,  Matthew's other favorite was the Muffa Reale, a late harvest dessert wine gushing forth stone and tropical fruits.

Don't miss out on this winery if visiting Umbria or Assisi. Cheers.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Puglia's Padre Peppe Elixir

Was there any doubt that I wasn't going to purchase the Padre Peppe Elixir  ($20) when I saw it in the DM grocery store? This walnut liqueur has been produced since 1832 in Altamura, a city in Puglia southwest of Bari, and is based on a recipe created by Capuchin Friar Giuseppe Ronchi. It is produced by macerating green walnuts -- that have been stored our years in oak barrels -- in alcohol and then augmenting with botanicals. Some of these botanicals are baking spices that help to lift the sweetness and any bitterness to a lasting finish. Here's the Striccoli family's story of Padre Peppe:


The story of Padre Peppe begins at the end of ‘700, when Father Giuseppe Ronchi retired in Puglia with the desire of discovering, in Murgia area, in his woods, fields, water and rocks, a remedy that could heal the illnesses of daily life. According to the monastic tradition, he lived his life trying to help everybody find global wellbeing: mind, soul and body. In Puglia he found a way to extract medicinal juices from herbs and fruit. He also worked them with dedication in the laboratory of the monastery, where the monk could experiment with the therapeutic effects on his companion and devotees.

With the passing of time, a serious problem began to torment the apothecary monk (that’s how monks who worked and healed with herbs were called): storing and maintaining preparations until they would be used. He tried to store them for their medicaments and with time he perfected a healing extract.

According to the tradition, women should pick unripe wanuts that should be used to produce the magic liquor… Barefoot, they should also dance around the tree in order to instill vigour to the plant and to the people who will taste its fruits. Everything happens on the shortest night of the year when light wins over dark. Even today on that night we pick the green and unripe walnuts. They are processed and then stored for 4 years in old oak barrels where they release the same unique flavour of 200 years ago, maintaining the mahogany colour and the walnuts and underground herbs aroma. Striccoli family has kept with care and dedication the book written by the monk. In there he explained and codified all the formulations created in the laboratory of the monastery and the steps to prepare the precious elixir.