Saturday, June 15, 2019

Villa Maria's First Sip Of Summer

This week Villa Maria Estate presented their seasonal #FirstSipNZ witter campaign and this chat featured a trio of ready for summer wines.  The winery is one of New Zealand's most famous having operated for six decades starting as a one acre - one man shop in 1961 and growing to where founder George Fistonich is inducted to Restaurant and Hospitality Hall of Fame.  Fortunately, these wineries are widely distributed across the United States so here are some tweets why you may want to pick up a bottle or two...

Villa Maria 2018 Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough ($14)

The grapes were sourced from the Awatere and Wairau Valleys - spreading from coastal Wairau to a higher altitude in Awatere (900 feet). This provides a  mixture of warmer and cooler vineyard sites which showcase the herbal and tropical notes.

Villa Maria 2018 Private Bin Rosé, Hawkes Bay ($15)

This blend is predominately Merlot, which is the most widely planted red variety in Hawkes Bay as this region is a much warmer climate than Marlborough.

Villa Maria 2015 Cellar Selection Pinot Noir, Marlborough ($26)

The grapes for this wine also derive from diverse sites in the Awatere and Wairau Valleys with the 2015 vintage considered a strong year. As the Cellar Selection label designates this wine offers more aromatics, weight, and complexity.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this wine free from Ste. Michelle Wine Estates and Villa Maria as part of their First Sip Of Summer Twitter Tasting. I was not required to write a positive review and the opinions I have expressed are entirely my own.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Missouri Wine: Reviving American Heritage Grapes at Vox Vineyards

Albania, America, Brilliant, Carman, Cloeta, Delicatessen, Favorite, Lenoir, Lomanto, Marguerite, Muench, Wetumka
These are winegrapes that were once grown in Missouri and middle America prior to Prohibition. They are just a handful among the many grapes developed in the rigorous breeding programs of viticulture pioneers Thomas Volney Munson, Hermann Jaeger, George Husmann, and Isador Bush. Each of these gentlemen received commendations from the French for rescuing that wine industry as mentioned in The Basics and between them developed hundreds of new wine grapes and rootstocks. The Show Me State is a prime grape breeding region as several diverse climates merge (eastern woodlands, western plains, Ozark Highlands, and the Mississippi Delta). Across the globe, there are about 79 different species of grapes in the genus Vitis (grapevines); but 27 of those are native to middle America. Thus Missouri has historically hosted many of these species: labrusca, aestivalis, riparia, rupestris, cordifolia, among others; and in fact, it was vines and rootstock from the riparia and rupestris species which were eventually grafted to French vines.

Post-prohibition, many of these vines have been lost, but there are groups of individuals who are dedicated to maintaining the legacy of the early grape pioneers. Jerry Eisterhold became one of these converts after reading Thomas Volney Munson's, Foundations of American Grape Culture in 1978. Inspired by Munson, in 1996 Eisterhold did what any reasonable person would do, he chartered a plane to scout topography and being a soil scientist by training (Agronomy at the University of Missouri and the third-best soil judge in the Big Eight) discovered a site in the Missouri River Bluffs. He also "reached out to Grayson College, a small university near Munson’s original vineyard in Denison, Texas. With their help, Jerry acquired cuttings from over sixty of the native varieties Munson had been developing for wine production". In 1996 this property was planted with two acres of vines in which Eisterhold just extended to six acres and judiciously, consulted with viticulturist Lucie Morton while planting specific rows.

For practically twenty years Vox Vineyards acted as an experimental vineyard narrowing down to 40 grape varieties which Eisterhold would like to widdle down to 12-20. Since he wasn't producing wine, Jerry could experiment freely without the market influencing his decisions. But in 2012 that changed and Vox Vineyards released its first vintage under the TerraVox label -- the Latin "terra", meaning "earth" or ground", and the Latin "vox", meaning "voice or "speech". The goal: " let the land speak for itself through our wine, and for our wine to be a Voice of the Land".

Vox was our very first stop along the Missouri Wine tour and our group received a similar epiphany regarding these heritage grapes. After introductions and a winery-vineyard tour, Eisterhold presented a slideshow on the importance of these American Heritage Grapes and the pioneers: Munson, Jaeger, Husmann, Bush, Muench, and Rommel - the latter two Munson named grapes after. Muench was a grower in Augusta and Rommel brought the first Norton into Missouri. After the slideshow, we were intrigued; how do these wines taste? Here are my notes from the three heritage grapes plus four styles of Norton.

2018 Albania ($32)
This is a Lincecumii-Aestivalis-Bourquiniana hybrid created by Munson in 1896 and is a cross of Ten Dollar Prize x Norton x Herbemont. It is late ripening with thin, but tough, skins used for late harvest and white wines. Eisterhold considers it the most sophisticated of the Munson whites. The nose is citrus and tropical, with a tart citrus core, and medium acidity. This is a most pleasant and easy drinking wine.

2018 Wetumka ($27)
This is a Labrusca-Vinifera-Bourquiniana-Aestivalis hybrid bred by Munson in 1893 by crossing Elvira x Herbemont x Gold Coin. This is another late ripening tough-skinned grape that retains a hint of its labrusca parentage. The strong aroma bounces between floral and elderberries and the core is tart with almost a funky pear cider component. But there's also a hint of Niagara or another strong grapey flavor and with all the combinations produces an interesting wine. I brought a bottle home to let it test the senses.

NV Wetumka RePort ($42 375ml)
This is the Wetumka fortified with local neutral grape spirits to 17.6%. It is delicious. I'm kicking myself for not purchasing a bottle. The strong floral aroma is present immediately and then the wine leads to a creamy interior and finishes with noticeable acids to balance the sugar and alcohol.

2018 Lenoir ($39)
Commonly known as Black Spanish in Texas, this grape is a Bourquiniana variety that was a natural hybridization between an aestivalis species of grape with an unknown vinifera pollen donor. Modern DNA analysis points to a Jacquez cultivar such as Madeira Jacquez. It is most popular in Texas because of its resistance to Pierce's disease and produces a full-bodied red wine. The TerraVox Lenoir is medium bodied with a woodsy profile and intense acids.

2018 Sunny Slope Rosé ($27)
The wine is made from Missouri's state grape Norton (aestivalis) and is quite tasty with a strawberry creamy core. The downside is a relatively flatter finish.

2018 Norton Saignée Rosé ($32)
This version of rosé has a little less fruit character than the preceding wine, but more lifting acids providing a refreshing finish. If TerraVox could somehow blend the fruit and texture of the Sunny Slope with the finish of the Saignée.....

2014 Norton ($35)
The winery had provided some bottle aging relief so this Norton does not shock the palate with a massive dose of acidity. It is still fresh with a friendlier cherry profile, not jammy, and with medium tannins. A solid Missouri Norton.

2016 Norton RePort ($40 375ml)
Once again, this wine has the acids to complement the sugar and alcohol providing a very fluid experience with really no sense of alcohol heat. Plus it's tasty revealing dried figs and plums. A dangerous wine at 19% abv.

2018 America Pet Nat ($42)
We actually didn't sample this wine but I purchased anyway and will provide an update on the tasting notes. But what patriot could ignore *M*R*C*?  According to Eisterhold, "We planted America, a red grape from Munson’s list, in our vineyard and we were surprised at how light in color last year’s crop was. The flavor was strangely beefy, similar to how steak tartare tastes. Our winemaker, Whitney Ryan, had the idea to lean into the funky taste, color and unpredictable nature of the grape and use it to make a p√©t-nat, a method of producing sparkling wine by bottling the wine during primary fermentation, capturing the carbon dioxide that’s naturally released".

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Lodi Wine: The Unique, Unusual, and Unconventional

During our Snooth - Lodi Wine trip there were dozens of wonderful wines that we sampled that could keep us writing for months. But in order to conclude this Lodi Wine series, this post will focus on several wines worth mentioning - emphasizing wines made from unconventional grapes or a unique Lodi heritage.   Note also that most of the information regarding the grape varieties come from


St. Amant Winery 2017 Lodi Barbera ($18)
Barbera is a dark-skinned wine grape variety found in several Italian wine regions, including its native Piedmont, Emilia-Romagna, Puglia, Campania and even the island regions, Sicily and Sardinia. At the turn of the 21st Century, it was Italy's third most-commonly planted red wine grape, after Sangiovese and Montepulciano. In Lodi, Barbera thrives in its Mediterranean like climate and this wine derives from a 57-year-old vineyard. It's also one I brought home afterward.

Bokisch Vineyards Las Cerezas Vineyard Graciano 2016 ($28)
Graciano is a black-skinned wine grape from northern Spain, grown principally in Navarra and Rioja with the classic Graciano wine is moderately tannic, deeply colored and intensely perfumed, with aromas of mulberry, violets, and chocolate. Bokisch Vineyards is the leading producer of Spanish styled wine in Lodi as founder Markus Bokisch's family history is centered upon Catalonia, Spain. This wine nails the chocolate descriptor and is noted for its long silky smooth finish.

Anaya Vineyards 2016 Clements Hills Nebbiolo
Nebbiolo is the quintessential Piedmontese wine grape – the dominant variety in five of the region's DOCGs and numerous DOCs, the most notable of which are Barolo and Barbaresco. Nebbiolo wines are distinguished by their strong tannins, high acidity, and distinctive scent. Anaya is a new Lodi winery located in the Clements Hills AVA that has been growing grapes for over a decade and is now venturing into producing their own label. Besides the intense tannins and acidity, this wine is very drinkable now but these characters will allow it to age wonderfully.

Fields Family Winery 2011 Tempranillo ($28)
Tempranillo is a red grape variety which forms the backbone of some of the finest wines from Spain and Portugal. Almost every red wine from Rioja and Ribera del Duero has Tempranillo at its core, and in Portugal, the variety is widely used in the Douro Valley – under the name Tinta Roriz – both for table wines and fortified wines (Port). It is a thick-skinned red grape making deeply-colored wines with moderate tannins. The grapes for the Fields Family Tempranillo are from the Estate Vineyard Lot 13 which was planted in 1915 and is the first Tempranillo vineyard planted in Lodi. These vines' roots run deep - sometimes over 25 feet in the sandy loam within the Mokelumne River AVA. This wine explodes in the mouth, like poprocks, juicy, then structured and a pleasant finish.

McCay Cellars 2015 Grenache ($35)
Grenache (Garnacha) is a red-wine grape grown extensively in France, Spain, Australia, and the United States. It is particularly versatile both in the vineyard and the winery, which may explain why it is one of the most widely distributed grapes in the world. I believe the fruit for this wine comes from the Abba Vineyard in the Mokelumne River AVA and it is fresh and clean, fruit forward and excellent with the MSushi Tuna tartare.

Mettler Family Vineyards 2015 GSM ($35)
"A beautiful blend of three Rhone varietals: Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre. All three of these varietals trace back to the Mediterranean coast and thrive in the Lodi climate. They blend poetically together, each bringing a different flavor profile. Grenache adds a fresh raspberry flavor. The Syrah brings savory dark fruit flavors and a velvety mouth-feel. Mourvedre adds a nice tannin structure and herbaceous aromas. "

Klinker Brick Winery 2015 Lodi Carignane ($25)
Carignan or Carignane (Cari√Īena in Spain) is a black-skinned wine grape variety, most likely native to Aragon. The variety is found in wines along the Mediterranean coast, particularly in northeastern Spain and in France's Languedoc-Roussillon region. It is used most commonly for blending with many of the region's other key varieties – most famously Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre. The grape prefers warm, dry climates when the grape can express high tannins, acid, and color. The Klinker brick Carignane is produced from a 108-year-old, single vineyard block that winemaker Joseph Smith notes that the gripping tannins accentuate the soft cherry and.earthy aspect of the wine.

LangeTwins Winery 2015 Lodi Montepulciano
Montepulciano is a red wine grape variety grown widely in central Italy, most notably its eastern Abruzzo, Marche, and Molise regions. The grape was named after the Tuscan parish of Montepulciano, but, is not used in the famous wines produced there --Sangiovese is instead. Globally appreciated for their soft flavors, strong color, and gentle tannins, Montepulciano wines are typically best consumed in their youth and with food. In Lodi, LangeTwins specializes in Italian styled wines and this one is fruit forward with enough texture, tannins, and acids to lift the fruit to the finish.

Peltier Winery Schatz Family 2011 Reserve Teroldego ($60) & LangeTwins Winery Single Barrel 2013 The Eighth Vineyard Teroldego. Teroldego is a deeply colored red wine grape grown mostly in the Trentino wine region of northern Italy where it produces deeply pigmented red wines with an intensely fruity character. The wineries have already aged these wines for you so expect a structured wine with more approachable tannins than when younger.

Markus Wine Co. 2016 Zeitlos ($39.00)
This is a Syrah-dominated blend from Borra Vineyards where the Gill Creek Ranch was responsible for 76% Syrah Clone 877 & 4% Viognier and the Church Block 12% Carignane & 8% Petite Sirah. "Petite" here refers to the small, intensely colored berries that make Petite Sirah such a distinctive grape variety. And the high tannins and acidity present in Petite Sirah make it an excellent candidate for aging. This Zeitlos is a luscious wine, structured, strong fruit, and biting tannins.

Mettler Family Vineyards 2016 Pinotage ($24.99)
Pinotage is South Africa's signature grape variety and is a crossing of Pinot Noir and Cinsaut -- bred by scientist Abraham Perold in 1925. It is grown almost exclusively in South Africa, making everything from low-quality table wines to rich, concentrated wines with flavors of black and red fruits, spice, leather, and chocolate. This wine is juicy with earthiness and a lush and fresh finish.

PRIE Vineyards 2017 Lodi Mencia ($33)
Mencia is a red-wine grape native to the northwest of Spain. It is most commonly associated with the red wines of Bierzo. Mencia wines tend to exhibit earthy, vegetal characters with berry nuances and stony minerality. The very first California harvest of the grape was at Silvaspoons Vineyard, Lodi and is the source for this wine.

Heritage Oak Winery 2014 Charbono ($28)
Charbono (Bonarda) is a widely traveled red-wine grape variety with a complicated history. Originally from the alpine vineyards of Savoie in eastern France, it is now mostly planted in Napa Valley, where it is known as Charbono, and in Argentina, where it goes by the name Bonarda. The variety's wines are generally medium bodied with high acidity and berry fruit aromas and some smoky characteristics. This Charbono is a lovely representation of the grape.


Oak Farm Vineyards 2017 Estate Fiano ($25)
Fiano is a high-quality, white-wine grape variety used widely in southern Italy, particularly in Campania and the Fiano di Avellino DOCG. Used mainly as a varietal wine, Fiano is nutty and textured with floral and honeyed notes, spice and tropical fruit flavors like pineapple. In Lodi, Fiano was particularly special to the owners (Panella Family) Oak Farm Vineyards because the grape and they originated in the same province in Italy.

Heritage Oak Winery 2018 Chenin Blanc ($18)
Chenin Blanc is a versatile white-wine grape variety that has been cultivated in France for nearly 1300 years. It is most commonly associated with France's Loire Valley, and its high acidity levels mean it can be vinified in a number of different styles: as lusciously sweet, botrytis-affected dessert wines, light, honeyed sparkling wines and as full-bodied, still white wines. The Heritage Oak pairs excellently with the MSushi seared Hawaiian amberjack as the lemon and pear fruit and fresh acids filet into the fish.

Klinker Brick Winery 2018 Lodi - Mokelumne River Grenache Blanc ($18)
Grenache Blanc (Garnacha Blanca in Spain) is the light-skinned mutation of Grenache Noir. Although it is native to northern Spain, Grenache Blanc is best known for its role in southern French white wines and in particular as a member of the Chateauneuf-du-Pape blend.  Paired with MSushi oysters, the shellfishes' saline character blends with the citrus and light pear flavors of the Grenache Blanc.

Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards Lodi Mokelumne River 2018 Clairette Blanche ($28)
Clairette is a light-colored grape variety that grows throughout southern France. This Acquiesce wine follows the Lodi Rules certification for sustainable winegrowing and the one-acre lot was planted with Tablas Creek (Paso Roble) cuttings from the famous French Ch√Ęteau de Beaucastel Winery in the Ch√Ęteauneuf-du-Pape region. This wine is a light, refreshing, and an easy sipper.

Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards Lodi Mokelumne River 2018 Picpoul Blanc ($28)
Picpoul (also known as Piquepoul) is an ancient white-wine grape variety of the traditional and prolific Languedoc-Roussillon region in southern France. The name Pique-poul translates literally as "stings the lip", and is a reference to the grape's mouthwateringly high acidity. This Acquiesce wine also follows the Lodi Rules certification for sustainable winegrowing and the 1.3 acres are planted with Tablas Creek cuttings from the famous French Ch√Ęteau de Beaucastel Winery in the Ch√Ęteauneuf-du-Pape region. This is one refreshing wine, playful throughout.

Bokisch Vineyards Clay Station Vineyard Verdejo 2018 ($20)
Verdejo is the aromatic grape variety behind the crisp white wines of Rueda in central Spain. Full-bodied Verdejo wines are held in high regard, displaying herbaceous, nutty characters with balanced acidity and some cellaring potential. Once again Bokisch excels with this Spanish wine which features creamy pears and a zesty finish.

Ironstone Vineyards 2017 Obsession Symphony ($14)
Symphony is a Californian crossing of Muscat of Alexandria and Grenache Gris developed in 1948 (but not commercially released until 1982) by the late Harold Olmo, professor of viticulture at the University of California, Davis. As its pedigree suggests, it is an aromatic variety with slightly spicy flavors.  This version is highly aromatic with a fresh and spicy finale.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Missouri Wine: The Basics

Source: Missouri Wine and Grape Board
In the 1870s, 6 million acres of French vineyards were destroyed by a mysterious plague. Desperate, the French government invited Missouri's first entomologist Charles V. Riley to diagnose the situation. He determined that the vines were suffering by an infestation of phylloxera, most likely introduced by imported American vines. Riley also suggested the idea of grafting vinifera vines to native American rootskocks were immune to the louse and introduced French authorities to growes such as George Husmann, Hermann Jaeger, and Isador Bush. Subsequently, millions of cuttings of Missouri rootstock saved the French wine industry from disaster. (1)

Source: Missouri Wine and Grape Board
At the time seeking out a Missouri specialist was a logical choice as the state was one of the largest producers in the country.  Early in American history, European immigrants brought their wine-making skills with them as they settled west of the Mississippi River. In 1699 French immigrants founded Ste. Genevieve, situated on the Mississippi River. German immigrants settled along the Missouri River and in 1837 founding Hermann (Missouri's Rhine Village) whereas Italian immigrants settled slightly south near St. James. These three areas became focal points of early Missouri wine production.  Wines from Stone Hill Winery, which the German immigrant Michael Poeschel began building in 1847, won eight gold medals at world fairs between 1873 and 1904. And by the turn of the century, Missouri was the second largest producer just behind California. Then came Prohibition and the end of the Missouri wine industry.

Source: Missouri Wine and Grape Board
In modern times the Missouri wine industry has rebounded thanks to the work of individual proprietors and the Missouri Wine and Grape Board.  According to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), in 2017, Missouri produced 1.2 million gallons of bottled wine making it the 18th most prolific producer in the U.S. This production derives from over 130 wineries with even more grape growers (425) resulting in 1,700 acres under vine. The economic impact is substantial, providing $3.2 billion to the local economy. Geographically, Missouri contains five American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) Augusta, Hermann, Ozark Highlands, the Ozark Mountain AVA which resides jointly in the Ozark Highlands and the Hermann AVA, and the Loess Hills AVA shared with Iowa.
Source: Missouri Wine and Grape Board
The Show Me State is a difficult climate to grow wines with micro-climates near rivers best able to moderate harsh winter conditions.  Vinifera grapes are very rare with a majority of the grapes hardier French hybrids, native labrusca, and Vitis aestivalis -- the signature Norton grape. It was this Norton grape that most likely was awarded the world fair medals and quite possibly the culprit in introducing phylloxera to Europe. The grape was first discovered in Richmond in 1823 by Dr. Daniel Norborne Norton and is thought to be a result of random pollination between Pinot Meunier and a now extinct hybrid known as Bland. The grape became a staple at nurseries where European immigrants procured vines on their journey west. See below for descriptions of the most planted Missouri wine grapes.

In Missouri, most of the wineries are located in the east, particularly around the towns mentioned above: Hermann, St. James, and Ste. Genevieve. However, there are wineries sprinkled throughout the state with several located in the northwest around Kansas City. These wineries encompass two wine trails, the Northwest Missouri Wine Trail and the Kansas City Wine Trail. Next week I will be visiting a half dozen of these wineries as well as sampling wines from several others during a trip sponsored by Visit Kansas City and the Missouri Wine and Grape Board. Follow #mowine on all social media platforms and Missouri Wine for subsequent posts on the trip. Cheers.

Wine Grapes
Catawba is an American Vitis labruscana grape that was discovered near the Catawba River in North Carolina. It is a pinkish blue grape that is processed as a white wine grape. The 180-day growing season in southern Missouri allows Catawba to ripen fully and avoid the high acid levels encountered in other eastern grape growing areas. It is one of the "foxiest" of labrusca grapes and is usually used to make sweet or sparkling wine.

This is a French-American hybrid grape that is flexible in that it can produce full-bodied dry red wines, medium bodied off-dry wines, structured rosé wines, and even sweeter wines. In general, the wines are characterized by juicy cherries, earthiness, and soft tannins.

This hybrid grape is a cross between Chardonnay and Seyval Blanc developed in 1996 at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station at Geneva, New York. Like both its parents it can be fermented in oak or stainless steel barrels, and the grapes produce a dry and full-bodied wine.

Genetically the same, this wine may be bottled as either Norton or Cynthiana. Norton/Cynthiana is an American grape, Vitis aestivalis, which was found in 1835 near Richmond, Virginia. The clusters are small to medium-sized with small blue-black berries, hardy, and extremely vigorous. It is one of the most disease resistant grape varieties, with some resistance even to black rot. Generally, Norton is made into medium-full bodied dry red wines with plenty of aging ability because of its high acid content.

Seyval Blanc
This is a French-American hybrid grape that makes a good all-purpose neutral, crisp, white wine that is light to medium in body. Barrel fermented Seyval Blanc wines take on an oak complexity indicative of Chardonel.

This wine is known for its floral character and is made in a range from dry to semi-dry or even semi-sweet. It was developed in 1996 at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, New York and is a cross between Joannes Seyve 23.416 and Gew√ľrztraminer. Export floral aromas, citrus, tangy acidity and a touch of spice.

Vidal Blanc
Vidal Blanc is a French-American hybrid grape that is generally made from dry to semi-dry to sweet. The wines are generally clean with floral notes, citrus and apple flavors, and juicy acidity. It is also known for dessert style and late harvest wines.

This is another French-American hybrid and versatile grape as it produces wines ranging from dry to sweet, late harvest dessert wines. Vignoles provides an abundant floral aroma and pineapple and apricot flavors. The vines have good cold hardiness and a later bud opening period than most wine grape cultivars, thus making it less susceptible to late frost damage. Thus a popular wine for both the consumer and producer.

(1) The History of Missouri Wine

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

A Tutorial on Left Coast Estate and Their Summer Wines

In the past when I received samples from Oregon's Left Coast Estate, I opened each bottle over the course of at least a week - sampling each wine multiple days.  Not so for this latest shipment of summer wines as I shared the four bottles with neighbors during an impromptu block party.  Actually, the evening turned into a mini-wine class as I discussed the Willamette Valley AVA, the Van Duzer Corridor AVA, 45 degrees latitude and Burgundy, white Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Meunier, lees, sparkling wine, and the wonderful estate that is Left Coast Estate.

We started with the 2017 The Orchard Pinot Gris ($18), a blend of 91% Pinot Gris and 9% Pinot Blanc.  While sipping I explained first how Pinot Blanc provides a bit of roundness to the wine and second, the Left Coast estate itself. Particularly, that The Orchard is a distinct vineyard and the overall estate is 350 acres - all contiguous and within the newly designated Van Duzer Corridor AVA. This new AVA benefits from the cooling breezes of the Van Duzer Corridor that allows the grapes to retain acidity and includes the Willamette Valley's three major soil types (marine sediment, volcanic sediment at higher altitudes, and loess from the Missoula Floods).

We then turned to the neighborhood favorite, the 2018 White Pinot Noir ($24) which consists of 93% Pinot Noir and 7% Pinot Blanc. The grapes are crushed at cold temperatures to ensure minimal coloration from the skins and then fermented and aged on lees in stainless steel. The group was not familiar with aging in lees so I explained how this process adds texture which everyone recognized in this wine. The online order should be coming through soon.

It was a pleasant evening for rosé and fortunately, the samples included the 2018 Left Coast Rosé ($24), a blend of 76% Pinot Noir and 24% Pinot Meunier. The later was another unrecognized grape and I discussed its Champagne origins. This lead to a discussion of French wine regions, Burgundy specifically. Because Left Coast Estate shares the same 45-degree latitude it receives the same amount of sunshine as the famed region.

As the evening was concluding, I had to retrieve the last wine. This was the 100% Pinot Noir 2018 Queen Bee Bubbly ($36). For this sparkling wine, estate honey is used in the secondary fermentation which led to a discussion of methods of producing sparkling wine and how normally the spent yeast cells are disgorged. But not in the Queen Bee, the lees rise and settle with each pour. A very interesting sparkler to conclude an enjoyable neighborly evening.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this wine free from Left Coast Estate I was not required to write a positive review and the opinions I have expressed are entirely my own.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Lodi Wine: Prost from Mokelumne Glen Vineyards

During our Snooth trip to Lodi, a major theme stressed was the large diversity of grape varieties grown in the AVA.  Over 100 in fact.  But this number results primarily from the unique endeavor of one family, the Koths and Mokelumne Glen Vineyard. This vineyard is located on the east side of the Mokelumne River AVA right alongside the river and is planted with more than 50 German and Austrian grapes. It's hard to imagine that there are even that many such grape varieties, but the Koths found them.  Their entire portfolio is listed below but we will be focusing on a few grapes:  Kerner, Bacchus, Dornfelder, Blaufr√§nkisch, and Zweigelt.

It all started in the early 1990s when Bob Koth and his wife Mary Lou started traveling to Germany to visit their daughter Ann-Marie, who was studying abroad on a Fulbright scholarship. After becoming acquainted with German wine, Koth was determined to grow the Northern European grapes in Lodi's Mediterranean climate. Randy Caparoso, in the Lodi Wine Blog, explains how this was possible:
No doubt, the immediate proximity to the river's cool, refreshing waters (you still find local kids splashing away on hot summer days) helps to moderate the Mediterranean climate in the Koth family's lush, shaded corner of the wine world.

Furthermore, classic Mokelumne River AVA Tokay sandy loam – basically, a deep, fertile yet porous, slightly alkaline (pH of 7.0 to 7.5 below 4 feet) pile of finely crushed granite accumulated over millions of years of run-off from the Sierra Nevada mountains to the east – helps contribute to retention of natural acidity in grapes cultivated by Koth, even in this Mediterranean setting.
Our group was introduced to Mokelumne Glen Vineyards through a tasting of various wines produced by MGV grapes and a vineyard tour led by vineyard manager Brett Koth. The vineyard itself is nondescript and overgrown with cover crops. Walking deeper into the vineyard leads to newer plantings and a slope down to the Mokelumne River which often floods lower plots. But out of these seemingly abandoned and overgrown vines derives wonderful and complex wines.

A perfect example is the Markus Wine Company Markus 2016 Nativo ($22), a blend of  69% Kerner, 21% Riesling, 10% Bacchus. MGV is the only source of the rare Kerner grape in California and accounts for 50% of the total crop in the United States. This was my favorite white of the tasting and one I brought home with me. The three lots are picked on the same morning and pressed together to co-ferment as a traditional field blend. The wine aged on its lees for awhile which provides a little texture for this citrus, stone fruit, and minerally driven wine. The winery also produces the Markus 2016 Nimmo ($24) which is a 64% Kerner, 16% Riesling, 5% Bacchus blend from MGV plus 15% Gew√ľrztraminer from Grand Island Vineyards, Clarksburg.   Here's Markus Niggli to describe the wine and Mokelumne Glen Vineyards.
I applaud to the Koth family that they have the passion for these unknown varietals and that they are willing to plant them, even facing the troubles of selling them. I believe others can learn from them. The microclimate at the lower level of the vineyard is very diverse. It is the coolest spot in the morning but restores the warmth at the end of the day. A perfect site to grow grapes. We are trying to showcase that in our wines. Our wines are light and refreshing, the acid is focused and the fruit is showcasing what Lodi can offer. A perfect example is the Nimmo blend: The Kerner has the minerality and flintiness, the Riesling the sweetness, the Gewuerztraminer the spice and the Bacchus the acidity, layered by the oak profile.
Mokelumne Glen grapes are also in high demand outside of Lodi with Sonoma's Sidebar Cellars also attracted to Kerner. Sidebar is a project from David Ramey & Ramey Wine Cellars focused on "fun and diverse" grape varieties. And their 2018 Kerner Mokelumne River AVA ($25) is fun; expect bright floral aromas and acidity enveloping a textured citrus and peach core with layers of minerals and spices. According to Associate Winemaker Lydia Cummins:
"We have been working with the Bob and Brett Koth since 2014. Collaborating with such passionate growers is a true pleasure... Kerner is an aromatic white grape that was developed in the late 1920s in Germany. It is a cross between Trollinger (a red variety also known as Schiava) and Riesling and is grown most widely in Germany, Austria and in Northeastern Italy in Alto Adige. Kerner produces wines with some of the best qualities of Riesling (the gorgeous aromatics and crisp, mineral-laced acidity) paired with the mouth-filling, beautiful palate of Gew√ľrztraminer. Some Kerners are made with residual sugar to balance acidity, but they can be problematic when pairing with food. We make ours dry so it pairs exceptionally well. We whole cluster press our Kerner for phenolic delicacy. We ferment the juice in small stainless steel barrels using native yeast and age the wine sur lie for three months. It does not go through malolactic fermentation. We lightly fine our Kerner and bottled unfiltered."

Dornfelder is one of the 16 red grape varieties grown by Mokelumne Glen Vineyards and is a dark-skinned German variety. It was created by August Herold in 1955 at the grape breeding institute in Weinberg. PRIE Vineyards crafts the 100% 2017 Dornfelder ($27) using a combination of MVG's older (~70%) and newer (~30%) plantings. Like a good German Dornfelder, this wine has rich layers of black and blue fruit with approachable tannins and acidity. And quite savory.

Trail Marker Wine Company is another non-Lodi operation sourcing MGV fruit and owners Drew Huffline and Emily Virgil were present to pour their unique California Zweigelt and Blaufrankisch. They noted that "We fell in love with the story of the Koth Family planting all these ultra-obscure varietals out in the middle of Lodi. We were also drawn to the varietals themselves and the opportunity to tell our own story with these wines. Trail Marker's focus is primarily on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir but at this point, just about everyone has an opinion of what 'California Chardonnay' or 'California Pinot Noir' should taste like - for better or worse. NO ONE has an opinion of what 'California Zweigelt' or 'California Blaufrankisch' should taste like!" And with the Trail Marker 2017 Lodi Zweigelt ($27) expect a similar profile as the PRIE Dornfelder but replace the black and blue fruit with sour cherries.

Regular readers are familiar with our obsession with Blaufrankisch and its Hungarian equivalent Kekfrankos so I was pleased to see the Trail Marker 2017 Lodi Blaufrankisch on the tasting menu. In general, Hungarian Kekfrankos provide similar weight, acid, and structure as old world Pinot Noir with more spice and tarter fruit flavors. The Trail Marker Blaufrankisch has a similar character with more expressive fruit and less spice.

Hatton Daniels Wine Cellars also produces a pleasant and well made MGV Blaufrankisch. Owner/Winemaker Dan Fishman prefers to source fruit from vineyards where the owner/manager actually lives on-site as "this is better than any certification for indicating someone who really cares for the land, and obviously, the Koth's exemplify this idea". He also believes that Mokelumne Glen Blaufrankisch provides the most depth and character of the MGV red grape varieties he works with and comes close to the Austrian versions "in terms of the fruit character and complexity".  Their 2018 MGV Blaufrankisch ($24) is both weighty and complex with bright fruit and approachable tannins. Cheers to Blaufrankisch and the other Mokelumne Glen grape varieties.

Red Grapes
Affenthaler, Blaufrankisch, Blauer Portugieser, Cabernet Dorsa (Dornfelder and Cabernet Sauvignon), Domina (Blauer Portugieser x Pinot Noir), Dunkelfelder (Färbertraube x Blauer Portugieser), Dornfelder (Helfensteiner x Heroldrebe), Fruhburgunder (a.k.a. Pinot Noir Précoce), Regent (Silvaner and Muller Thurgau x Chambourcin), Rondo (Zarya Severa x St. Laurent), Rotberger (Trollinger x Riesling), Schwarzriesling (Pinot Meunier), Spaetburgunder (Pinot Noir), St. Laurent, Trollinger, Zweigelt

White Grapes
Albalonga (Riesling x Silvaner clone), Arnsberger (Riesling Clones 88 x 64), Bacchus (Silvaner x Riesling), Ehrenfelser (Riesling x Silvaner), Faberrebe (Pinot Blanc x M√ľller-Thurgau), Forta (Silvaner x Madeleine Angevine), Gewurztraminer, Gruner Veltliner, Gutedel (Chasselas ), Huxelrebe (Gutedel x Courtiller Musqu√©), Kanzler (M√ľller-Thurgau x Silvaner), Kerner (Trollinger x Riesling), Morio Muscat (Silvaner x Pinot Blanc), Muller-Thurgau (Riesling x Madeleine Royale), Noblessa (Madeleine Angevine x Silvaner), Optima (Riesling and Sylvaner x M√ľller-Thurgau), Oraniensteiner (Riesling x Silvaner), Ortega (M√ľller-Thurgau x Siegerrebe), Perle (Gew√ľrztraminer x M√ľller-Thurgau), Phoenix (Bacchus x Villard Blanc), Prinzipal (Geisenheim 323 58 x Ehrenfelser), R√§uschling, Reisling, Reisling Clones (49, 110, 198, 239, 218 N356, Martini S10), Roter Veltliner, Rotgipfler (Traminer x Roter Veltliner), Rulander (Pinot Gris), Scheurebe (Riesling x unknown), Sch√∂nburger (Pinot Noir x (Chasselas x Muscat Hamburg)), Siegerrebe (Madeleine Angevine x Gew√ľrztraminer), Sirius (Bacchus x M√ľller-Thurgau), Sylvaner, Traminer, Wei√üburgunder (Pinot Blanc), W√ľrzer (Gew√ľrztraminer x M√ľller-Thurgau)

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Tio Pepe Palomino Fino Jerez Xeres Sherry

"There can't be a more misunderstood type of wine than Sherry." The Misunderstood Genius that is Fino Sherry  - De Long Blog

Fino ("refined") is a dry, pale white sherry wine produced within the D.O. Jerez located in south-western Spain, near the coast and just northeast of Gibraltar. The Jerez DO (Denominación de Origen) title was Spain's very first, awarded in 1933. It is strongly influenced by both the cooling effects of the Atlantic Ocean and the warmth that originates in the eastern plains. The coastal winds moderate temperatures, helping to preserve acidity and also provides natural air-conditioning in the wine cellars. According to, "this contributes to a slow and gradual maturation of the wines". Because Fino is delicate, it is generally made from Palomino grapes grown on the best soils, namely the chalky, white albariza marls. It is meant to be consumed fresh and young and one of the best-known examples is Tio Pepe ($19.99).

In 1835 at only 23 years old Manuel Mar√≠a Gonz√°lez √Āngel founded the precursor to Gonzalez Byass creating the T√≠o Pepe (Uncle Joe) sherry brand inspired by his uncle, Jos√© √Āngel. In fact, the winery’s foundational solera is still inscribed with “Solera del T√≠o Pepe”. Nearly ten years into his operation Manuel united with his English Agent Robert Blake Byass to form Gonz√°lez Byass as they shipped "exceptionally pale..." T√≠o Pepe wine to the United Kingdom. Together they built the company to be the leading exporter of sherry wines in Jerez. Gonz√°lez Byass focused exclusively on sherry until the 1980's when they started incorporating wineries from other notable Spanish wine regions into the corporate umbrella. During the same period "the Byass family withdrew from the business and the winery passed into the hands of the direct descendants of Manuel Mar√≠a Gonz√°lez".

Gonz√°lez Byass owns 800 hectares in vineyards in Jerez Superior where the hand-picked Palomino grapes are gently pressed without crushing the stems, seeds, or skins. The resulting must is called "yema" which is fermented and fortified to 15.5% then enters the Tio Pepe solera system where it is aged for five years in American oak. During this aging period, the wine undergoes biological aging under a layer of yeast called "flor". This gives Tio Pepe its unique pungent aromas that blend with the almond notes characteristic of the Palomino grape. For those where dry sherry is an acquired taste, serve well chilled to lessen these aromas. Otherwise, serve slightly chilled or in a cocktail like the Tuxedo Cocktail. Cheers.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this wine free from Gonz√°lez Byass. I was not required to write a positive review and the opinions I have expressed are entirely my own.

Friday, May 17, 2019

The Caledonia Spirits Barr Hill Gin: Enjoy Neat or with Tio Pepe Sherry

Most gin brands differentiate their products by the amount of juniper or other botanicals used in the process.  In general, the grain bill has less impact on the spirits as the botanicals drive the flavor.  This differentiation is definitely the case with the Caledonia Spirits Barr Hill Gin ($35) as it consists of only two botanicals: juniper and honey. Like a distilled gin, the juniper is added to a neutral spirit before running through the distillery's custom designed 300-gallon extraction still. The spirit is cut with water to 45% ABV and then fortified with honey to provide a unique profile. Since this step is performed post-distillation the product is labeled correctly Gin as opposed to Distilled Gin (labeled if all the botanicals were added pre-distillation).

Caledonia Spirits is named after its Vermont county home and was founded by beekeeper Todd Hardie. In 2009 he acquired a 15-gallon fire heated pot still and experimented with distilling honey - deciding that Gin was the most likely option. He recruited a local homebrew store owner, Ryan Christiansen, who eventually sold his business and together the duo distilled 235 cases of Barr Hill Gin and Barr Hill Vodka the first year. In 2015, Hardie sold the operation to Christiansen and used the proceeds to purchase a farm which provides the distillery with barley, rye, and elderberry.

I prefer to consume the Barr Hill Gin neat or with an ice cube in order to enjoy the interplay of juniper and honey. The sweetness starts early, envelopes the mouth, then transitions to juniper, leading to a mildly hot burn. The gin packs plenty of flavor with just two botanicals.

I also wanted to experiment with a cocktail and chose a version of a Martini called the Tuxedo Cocktail which swaps vermouth with fino sherry. Fino is a dry, pale white sherry wine produced within the D.O. Jerez. This recipe replaces vermouth's herbal character with the sherry's inherent nuttiness and in this case, the sherry is the reliable Tio Pepe from Gonzalez Byass. Use 2oz gin, 1 oz sherry, and a dash of bitters. The honey and nuttiness from the sherry compliment each other with the juniper still dominating the finish. Not a bad alternative - but I still prefer this gin neat. Cheers.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Harpers Ferry Brewing - Overlooking the Potomac and Maryland Heights

On September 13th, 1862 Confederate units under Brig. Gens. Joseph B. Kershaw assaulted the lightly defended Maryland Heights, the highest mountain overlooking the strategic transportation hub of Harpers Ferry. This town was strategically significant because it was built at the point where the Shenandoah River meets the Potomac River with a junction of the Baltimore-Ohio Railroad. Thus Gen. Robert E. Lee sent Maj. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson to capture the town to buttress his supplies while he marched into Maryland prior to the Battle of Antietam. Harpers Ferry was virtually indefensible as it is surrounded on all sides by higher ground. Yet the Union commander, Col. Dixon S. Miles refused to strongly fortify any of these positions and instead concentrated his forces near the town.

By mid-afternoon, the inexperienced and overmatched Union soldiers had abandoned Maryland Heights and escaped across a pontoon bridge into the town. Col. Miles, compounded his previous misjudgment and refused to press a counter-attack. With the Confederate capture of Maryland Heights as well as the Confederate positions in Loudoun Heights to the east and Bolivar Heights to the west, the fate of 12,000 Union troops were sealed. On September 15th, the largest surrender of United States forces during the Civil War took place.

Late last year Harpers Ferry Brewing opened on Loudoun Heights (the northernmost point in Loudoun County) providing generous views of Maryland Heights and for those with a keen eye, Harpers Ferry itself. The brewery is located next to the Harpers Ferry Adventure Center whose owners J.R. and Holly Heffner teamed with Old 690 Brewing Company's owners Darren and Tammi Gryniuk and Mark and Ronda Powell to launch this destination brewery. It houses a 15-barrel brewing system, a 40 tap inside bar, a 20 tap outside bar, and ample seating. Besides the views of Maryland Heights to the north and west, the east provides scenic views of the Potomac and Maryland countryside.

 And expect plenty of beer options. During our visit in late April, the brewery was pouring a dozen beers with multiple styles represented. Our flights consisted of the Tri-State Tripel, Oatmeal Stout, Baltic Porter, Wake Up Call White Stout, River Daze Berliner Weisse, and Potomac Pale Ale. The most intriguing were the Tripel, Berliner Weisse, and White Stout - the later a lactose enabled, creamy, and coffee noted brew. Use theCompass Craft Beverage Finder to guide you to these delicious beers and scenic views. Cheers.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Lodi Wine: Turley Wine Cellars Old Vine Cinsault & Zinfandel

The quality of Lodi wine grapes is not only evident in the excellent wines made by Lodi wineries, but also the wines produced by non-Lodi wineries. One example is Turley Wine Cellars, who largely make single-vineyard designate wines, with several focusing on Lodi old vine Zinfandel & Cinsault. The winery is based in Paso Robles with a second tasting room in Amador and sources fruit from several of Lodi's old vine vineyards such as the Bechthold Vineyard, Kirschenmann Vineyard, Dogtown Vineyard, and Steacy Ranch. During our Snooth-Lodi visit, Turley Director of Winemaking Tegan Passalacqua introduced us to these vineyards through a couple of verticals within a single-vineyard designate and a horizontal across multiple vineyards.

The Bechthold Vineyard
The Bechthold Vineyard
Much has been written about the famous Bechthold Vineyard -- not only the oldest continually planted vineyard in Lodi but also in the world. The vineyard was first planted by Joseph Spenker in 1885 as Black Malvoisie. The self-rooted vines are not as susceptible to phylloxera (a root louse that eats away at roots near the surface) because of the extremely sandy soils in the Mokelumne River AVA.  That was not the case in Europe where phylloxera ravaged vineyards in the late 19th century until their vines were grafted upon American rootstock. Because the Bechthold grapes were believed to be Black Malvoisie, they carried little interest to commercial winemakers and were instead sold to home winemakers or shipped out of state. Al Bechthold, who farmed the vineyard from the mid-seventies until 2008, claimed "I came very close to pulling the entire vineyard several times… the only thing that kept that from happening was my age!"(1). Fortunately, before he could replant the vineyard, Kay Bogart, from the Department of Viticulture & Enology at U.C. Davis suggested DNA testing and in 2003 UC Davis determined the grapes were Cinsault.
Turley Cinsault Bechthold Vineyard
Turley is one of a half-dozen or so wineries able to source this fruit from Bechthold where they harvest a plot in the mid-section of the vineyard. Passalacqua was attracted to the vineyard because, "..wet years, dry years, early years or late years – there’s nothing an old vineyard like this hasn’t seen and almost nothing that it can’t adjust to on its own. And Bechthold Vineyard defies what a lot of people think of Lodi wines. It makes a red wine that is not heavy, not high in alcohol, but rather, light and refreshing. It reminds me of crus Beaujolais in some ways – it has structure, but also high drinkability, and its aromatics are intoxicating, extremely perfumed. Some say, as a grape, Cinsault makes a simple wine, but we do whole cluster fermentation, which adds a lot of complexity.”

We compared two Turley Bechthold Cinsault, the 2013 Lodi Cinsault Bechthold Vineyard and the 2017 Lodi Cinsault Bechthold Vineyard ($20). The later is fresh and bright with a solid fruit structure of tart raspberries. The grapes were fermented whole clustered so expect subtle tannins but loads of acidity. The 2013 retains similar brightness with the acids pushing the fruit forward. There was also more tannic structure providing a denser wine. Two delicious wines.

Turley Dogtown Zinfandel
Dogtown Vineyard
The Dogtown Vineyard was planted own-rooted in 1944 and is located on the eastern side of Lodi within the Clements Hills AVA. The region is warmer and wetter with more clay and volcanic soils in contrast to the sandy Mokelumne River AVA. Turley took over management in 1997 which required the replanting of dead spots with vines grafted to St. George rootstock. And even these juvenile vines are head-trained like the original vineyard; this trellis system creates the gnarly look of each vine and limits yields. Dogtown is also dry-farmed because says Passalacqua "dry farmed vineyards produce superior wine" (2). All of Turley's wines are fermented using wild yeast as Passalacqua noted this "gives you more complex wines, with more terroir distinctions". During our visit with Tegan, he presented a vertical tasting of three Dogtown Zinfandels: the 1997, 2010, and 2013 Lodi Zinfandel Dogtown Vineyard. The 2013 showed noticeable leather and tea mixed with sour cherries and great acidity. Still a showoff. The 2010 had lower amounts of each characteristic but the wine's acidity still made it playful. Finally, the 1997, the first vintage after Turley took over the property's management, still shows the potential of the vineyard. The fruit is slightly waning but there are boosts of acid that keep the wine lively and not flabby.

2016 Turley Zinfandel
Kirschenmann Vineyard & Steacy Ranch
The Kirschenmann Vinyard hosts ancient vine Zinfandel as it was planted, own-rooted, back in 1915.  Passalacqua owns and farms this vineyard which contains the ultra sandy soils of the east side of the Mokelumne River AVA.  Tegan has also discovered that deeper sediment contains limestone - a most coveted soil type. Like Dogtown, the vineyard is dry farmed and head-trained, but unlike Dogtown, the vineyard receives a heavier dose of the delta breezes which help cool the grapes (3).

The Steacy Ranch is another ancient vineyard (1907) and located on the east side of the Mokelumne River AVA, but this is the oldest vineyard in Lodi planted on St. George rootstock. Like the rest it is dry-farmed and the soils contain slightly more gravel interspersed with the Mokelumne River sandy soil. The older vines are harvested together to form the Turley Lodi Zinfandel Steacy Ranch the whereas the younger vines are designated for the "Juvenile" program.

Tegan provided an opportunity for a horizontal tasting for 2016 across these two vineyards as well as the 2016 from Dogtown Vineyard. And each was distinct, representing the features of each vineyard. The 2016 Lodi Zinfandel Kirschenmann Vineyard ($39) was the lightest and brightest of the trio with bright, bright cherries. Passalacqua noted this was the most Pinot-ish of his Zinfandels. The 2016 Lodi Zinfandel Steacy Ranch ($30) was meatier in the classic east side Mokelumne River style. The wine was darker, firmer, zestier, with some black tea, but abundant acids. The 2016 Lodi Zinfandel Dogtown Vineyard ($44) was the biggest with solid tannins and funk but still finishing with bright acids. Of the three vineyards, the Dogtown has the smallest clusters and yields resulting in a dense wine. Cheers to Tegan Passalacqua and Turley Wine Cellars.

(1) Lodi’s oldest existing vines: the magical Bechthold Vineyard
(2) Why Turley is bonkers for Lodi
(3) Can Zinfandel be saved? Conversation with Turley's Tegan Passalacqua