Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Grape Spotlight: Colli di Rimini Rebola (Pignoletto, Grechetto di Todi)

The northern Italian province of Emilia-Romagna emanates history.  In ancient times it was populated by Thessalians, Etruscans, Celts, and Umbrians -- all before the Romans ascended to power. It contains the Rubicon River which  Julius Caesar crossed in 49 BC, setting the stage for the Ides of March drama. The port city of Ravenna became the capital of the Western Holy Roman Empire in AD 402 and is where King Theodoric the Great established the capital for the Ostrogothic Kingdom of Italy. In the Middle Ages, the province changed ownership between various competing principalities and kingdoms, but the University of Bologna remained a constant source of higher education. It is the oldest university in Europe having been established in AD 1088. And more consequential to our focus, Emilia-Romagna has always been considered one of the richest regions of Italy in regards to wine-making tradition.
Emilia-Romagna is a rich, fertile region of northern Italy, and one of the country's most prolific wine regions – more than 136,000 acres (55,000ha) were under vine in 2010. At 150 miles (240km) wide, it spans almost the entire width of the northern Italian peninsula, sandwiched between Tuscany to the south, Lombardy and Veneto to the north and the Adriatic Sea to the east. Nine miles of Liguria is all that separates Emilia-Romagna from the Ligurian Sea, and uniqueness as the only Italian region with both an east and a west coast. (wine-searcher.com)
Vines were first introduced to the region by the Etruscans and widely adopted by the Romans. Most interestingly, the grape varieties planted in previous centuries were of the Vitis labrusca species rather than the Vitis vinifera. For example, Emilia-Romagna's famous Lambrusco varieties are derived from the Vitis labrusca species.  Today, there are 20 or so DOC titles, and one of these, Colli di Rimini, is located south of Ravenna bordered by the Adriatic Sea to the east and by the Apennines Mountains to the west.

Courtesy of Vineyards.com
The Colli di Rimini DOC was created in November 1996 and a 2009 re-classification favored a shift to varietal wines with Cabernet Sauvignon and Rebola the featured grapes. If a wine is made from at least 85% of either one, the name of that variety is included as part of the DOC title on labels: Colli di Rimini Cabernet Sauvignon and Colli di Rimini Rebola. DNA evidence that Rebola is the name given to Pignoletto (the Colli Bolognesi Pignoletto DOC) which is also the same as Umbria's Grechetto di Todi.

The first written documentation of Rebola dates to 1378 and refers to it as "Ruibola" or "Greco" and according to wine-searcher.com "Rebola is a fruity and velvety wine, easy to pair with food and able to feature complex perfumes and tastes when aged in wooden barrels or casks".

One Colli di Rimini producer that we recently sampled through the Hopwine program is Vini San Valentino. Their organically grown vines are situated a few kilometers from the Adriatic on the hills of Rimini.  These coastal vineyards receive evening breezes to cool the grapes after a day of abundant sunshine. The Mascarin family has owned the property since 1990 and has concentrated on Sangiovese, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, and Rebola. Two Rebola wines were included in our Hopwine kit and these wines impressed with their richness and structure. The 2019 Colli di Rimini Scabi Rebola is extremely complex - floral with various tropical and stone fruit notes that combine with its depth and refreshing acids to leave a lasting impression. The 2018 Colli di Rimini Rebola ViVi is even more impressionable. Named after the owner's late wife Valeria Vivian, this wine flows seamlessly through a current of creamy peaches with textured layers of acidity.   I'd cross the Rubicon for this wine.

Update:  Vini San Valentino wines are available in Maryland and Michigan and will be soon available in NY, NJ, Massachusetts, Texas, Rhode Island.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Historical Significance at New Market Plains Vineyards, Maryland

In 1793 the town of New Market was founded by Nicholas Hall Sr. and William Plummer as a rest and trade stop along the Baltimore Turnpike wagon trail. The two gentlemen understood the commercial value of the turnpike and turned a half-mile section of the trail into New Market’s Main Street. In twenty years the town had grown into an important trade center for wagoners and other travelers and included "a button factory, nail factory, wheelwright shops, blacksmith shops, tanneries, dry gods, grocery stores, inns, taverns, livery stables, wagon stands, " and most importantly -- distilleries. In 1818:
..the Baltimore Turnpike became the eastern section of the National Turnpike, one of the most famous and well-traveled highways in America. The Town of New Market became an integral part of the western trade route and the multitudes who opened America’s new frontiers passed through the center of town. The first stagecoaches carrying mail traveled Main Street. Over the road came heavy freight and Conestoga wagons loaded with grain, whiskey, tobacco, lumber, iron, furs, and other products. Passenger coaches and fancy buggies stopped at the hotels, inns, and taverns. Herds of cattle, sheep, and pigs were driven through to market. Peddlers came with carts and many traveled on foot carrying all they owned on their backs. (Town of New Market)
Eventually, the railroad and the automobile would reduce the trade and rest stop significance of New Market -- but not its historical significance. And on December 6, 1975, the Town of New Market was placed on the National Register of Historical Places and under the supervision of the Department of the Interior.

At the same time, Susan Wilson, a direct descendent of Nicholas Hall Sr., was raised on the family dairy farm -- the same farm that lost a slice of land in 1792 in order to develop the town.  "Many of the old outbuildings remain intact or restored, including a stone dairy/ice house, log smokehouse with a slate roof, log chicken house, log wagon shed and stable, frame general store/tenant house, early 1900's bank barn, and a tile dairy barn (now the winery) built-in 1941" (New Market Plains Vineyards).

When she and her husband Howard inherited the property they drained their 401K accounts and planted Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Muscat Blanc, Petit Verdot, and Syrah vines in 2012.  Their first harvest occurred two years later and the estate was christened New Market Plains Vineyards.

Recently we were able to enjoy the fruits of this original harvest in the 2014 Rich Forest Chardonnay ($20).  This wine is made in the Burgundian style starting with barrel fermenting and finishing in oak. This wine shows why the winery is becoming state renowned for its Chardonnay as it is balanced between oak and juice with creamy lemons and fresh acids. Our group also finished a bottle of the 2015 Windy Day White ($23), a blend of Muscat Blanc and Chardonnay that is aged in stainless steel.  The strong floral aroma is readily evident followed by tropical and citrus characters with the fresh acids alleviating the slight 0.7% sugar. We are looking forward to our next visit. Cheers. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Grape Spotlight: Herzegovina Blatina

Most cultivated grapevines are hermaphroditic -- meaning that their flowers are both male and female and thus, can self-pollenate. These grapevine flowers have no petals and grow on stem clusters that will eventually turn into grape clusters (1).  However, some grapevine flowers are completely female and require cross-pollination. In these cases, the vineyards are interplanted with other grape varieties that then pollinate the female vines. Natural pollination is a fickle process so over time yields from these female grapevines are very unstable. As a result, these grapes are generally obscure and only planted in regions where the grape has historic significance (2).

Blatina (Blah-tee-nah) is one such female grape and only in Herzegovina -- specifically south of Mostar Bosnia around the towns of Čitluk, Međugorje, Ljubuški, and Čapljina.  Blatina vineyards are interplanted with a few vines of either Alicante Bouchet (Kambuša), Merlot, and Trnjak in order to cross-pollinate.  When pollination does take effect the fermented wine is generally full-bodied with juicy dark fruit. This Wines of Illyria Blatina ($10) is definitely full-bodied with juicy plum and blackberries and uniquely a little chocolate dirt. Very old world. The recommended food pairings are grilled red meats, chicken, sausage, or seafood paella made with red peppers and onions and we confirm the grilled red meats (mititei or cevapi).

(1) How to Tell a Male Grapevine From a Female Grapevine
(2) Female Grape Varieties

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Key West: A Craft Beverage Destination

Key West is known for its many interesting features such as home to the Southernmost Point in the Continental US, Truman's Little White House, Hemingway's House & the six-toed cat, roosters, and drinking. Yes, this is mostly the irresponsible variety but for those who are more responsible, there are five craft beverage establishments on the key that are worth a visit.

Key West was also home to America's first overseas air transport flight when on October 19, 1927, a Pan American World Airways Fairchild FC-2 floatplane delivered mail from Key West to Havana.  From that date until its "collapse" on December 4, 1991, Pan Am was the principal and largest international air carrier in the United States. In Key West tickets were sold out of their building on 301 Whitehead Street and since the company's closure has operated as a brewpub first under the ownership of actress Kelly McGillis (Kelly's Caribbean Bar Grill & Brewery) and now as First Flight Island Restaurant & Brewery. This brewery has a core lineup of beers that cater to the tourism market - an Amber, IPA, and Wheat ale; but they also produce a limited release series where the best action occurs. The Czech Engine Pilsner is spot on and their Beach Day IPA is a juicy blend of tropical fruits. For dessert hope the Midnight Landing Honey Porter or Nuts & Bolts Chocolate Peanut Butter Ale are on tap.

As its name implies, The Waterfront Brewery overlooks the Key West Historic Seaport and Bight and operates as a brewery, restaurant, and a licensed wholesaler of Florida Keys finfish and shellfish. The brewery offers a strong portfolio ranging from an Island Life Lager to the TruMan Double IPA. Both of these are well made, the first a refreshing quaffer, the second a rather smooth and complex offering. However, our two favorites were the Key Lime Gose and Lazy Way IPA - both provide tropical flavors with the kettle-soured Gose tart and refreshing while the Lazy Way is a juicy, juicy IPA.

Being so close to the Caribbean Key West is practically synonymous with rum and the first place to imbibe is the Key West First Legal Rum Distillery -- opened in 2012 by Chef Paul Menta and Tony Mantia.  The distillery is housed in a building built in 1900 that was the original location of Jack's Saloon and once a Coca-Cola bottling facility. Today the building houses distilling equipment that cranks out several styles of rum from a clean white to flavored to a high octane 105 Simonton Rum.  The rums are produced by fermenting sugarcane juice which is then generally distilled six times. If the rum is aged they use salt-cured barrels and when flavored they utilize locally-sourced food flavors.  Our overall favorite was the Aged Key West Raw and Unfiltered Rum ($63) aged in new American oak barrels. The distillery never uses previously used barrels and instead purchased #3 charred barrels which they fill with fresh seawater. Overnight the barrel expands and in the morning the water is drained and the barrels cure in the sun. The salt residual opens the pores of the wood allowing the rum to soak up more of the wood nuances such as fig, plum, vanilla, and pepper. This raw and unfiltered rum definitely has these characteristics as well as a bit of funk - that makes it truly unique. This make is compatible with a Dark and Stormy and even more compatible by adding grapefruit juice to that cocktail plus a little lime. The other rum we purchased was the Cuban Coffee Rum ($35) where dark roasted coffee beans are aged in rum barrels to create a coffee extract. Then  Demerara sugar is toasted and added to the coffee in order to create a "true Key West Colada Cafe". The rum is savory and we've used as a morning quick start or an evening dessert.

The island also features two other distilleries that we were unable to visit. Papa's Pilar Rum is also located on Simonton Street and concentrates on one iconic rum brand named after the famous author and his fishing boat.  Key West Distilling just moved to the Stock Island Marina Village and goes beyond rum by also producing whiskey, vodka, and gin -- the latter two using Florida sugar cane. Next trip to the Keys. Cheers.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Grape Spotlight: Montenegro & Herzegovina Vranac

Last October, the Embassy of Montenegro poured an excellent Plantaze Vranac ProCorde Special Reserve Dry Red Wine wine during an International Club of DC dinner. For many of us, it was the first time sampling this ancient grape that is indigenous to this relatively dry, mountainous, and Mediterranean climate. Specifically, the grapes for this wine were grown in the Podgorica subregion, Montenegrin basin of Lake Skadar - the largest lake in Southern Europe and shared with Albania. This Vranac was a dense wine with dark fruit, firm tannins, earthiness, and abundant acidity - the latter being retained by the cooler climate.  DNA  evidence also suggests that Vranac is related to Kratosija - the local synonym for Tribidrag-Crljenak Kastelanski, Primitivo and Zinfandel.

From Montenegro, Vranac spread to southward into the Macedonian Republic which has the largest plantings of this blacked skinned grape and northward into Bosnia-Herzegovina which has the third-largest planting.  In Herzegovina, plantings are clustered around Mostar which is a much hotter Mediterranean climate than Montenegro - yet Vranac is still able to retain its acidity even in warm climates. This was evident by the 2012 Wines of Illyria Vranac ($17) which resembles Italian Primitivo rather than American Zinfandel as this Black Stallion has disciplined juicy dark red fruit and layers of acidity. It finishes with a hint of bitterness and saline.  This and other Illyria wines are available on the East Coast and hopefully soon in the DC area through Siema Wines.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Extreme Viticulture: Sanctuary Vineyards Dorian Release

On September 6th, 2019 Hurricane Dorian made landfall in North Carolina causing widespread destruction particularly in Ocracoke due to reverse flooding from the Pamlico Sound. On that day in Jarvisburg, Sanctuary Vineyards scrambled to harvest and crush their remaining grapes -- succeeding up until they lost power late in the evening. These Tannat and Petit Verdot grapes then received the equivalent of a two-day cold soak maturation until power was restored a couple days later. After fermentation, the grapes were aged in new American oak and blended and bottled as Dorian.

In normal times viticulture is extreme in the Sandhill region of North Carolina - and not only from the threat of hurricanes - and particular for vinifera grapes.  Humidity, pests, and soil composition provide additional obstacles.  Pierce's disease is a struggle brought on by pathogenic bacterium fueled by humid conditions. The vineyards are planted on ancient sand dunes providing excellent drainage and some resistance to phylloxera but Sanctuary's vineyards receive additional nutrients from clam shells initially used for crop cover.  The Outer Banks also experiences intense heat and sunshine -- optimal for ripening grapes -- but require the breezes from the nearby Atlantic to cool the grapes at night.

The Dorian wine was officially released this last Saturday (July 11, 2020) with owner John Wright donating a portion of these sales to the Ocracoke Interfaith Relief & Recovery Team. In Ocracoke, the wine is available at Zillies and most likely enjoyed during the amazing sunsets across the sound. Actually, the wine would benefit from a couple years aging, but for those opening young there is sufficient tannic structure to complement the dark berry and smoky fig profile.  Sanctuary Vineyards also producers a range of other estate-grown vinifera wines using Tempranillo, Viognier, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Roussanne, Albarino, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, and Syrah.

Friday, July 10, 2020

COVID Re-Openings in Virginia at Four Tasting Rooms

Through July 4th weekend my family visited four Virginia tasting rooms primarily just to get out of the neighborhood but it also allowed us to access new releases and COVID re-openings.  These visits started while fishing in Front Royal and a stop at Chester Gap Cellars. This winery provides one of the most picturesque views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, situated at over 1,000 feet elevation and with a trailhead to the Appalachian Trail nearby. Our visit coincided with the release of their 2019 Rosé ($26) -- a blend of Merlot and Cabernet France and presenting a creamy strawberry character. And if you are a fan of the true character of Roussanne, check out their 2017 Roussanne ($32) which is aged in French oak for 10 months that enhances the grape's unique profile. Upon arriving we were greeted immediately by a staff member who explained the seating options and wine-food options and let to a table on their open-air tasting patio. From that vantage point, we enjoyed a couple glasses of wine, the views, and the staff sanitizing tables and chairs as they became available.

The next day we visited two tasting rooms in Delaplane, Virginia: Valley View Farm and Three Fox Vineyards. The historic Valley View Farm recently partnered with Philip Carter Winery to sell wine and hard cider and for the winery to produce wines using grapes from the Strother Family Vineyards located on the property.  The Strother Family has "served as stewards" of the farms for five generations with Philip Carter Strother, owner of Philip Carter Winery, the current steward.  The views of the Piedmont are equally impressive and are captured in the artwork of artist Andrei Kushnir and featured on the label of the Philip Carter 2017 Valley View White Table Wine ($24).  The wine (Chardonnay and Vidal) was very pleasant as we sat at a table on their porch - 100 feet from the nearest visitor.

Three Fox Vineyards is located a few miles down Route 17 and was recently purchased by Tim and Emily Faltemier. Original owners John and Holli Todhunter had opened the winery way back in 2002 and named the vineyard Three Foxes after seeing three of these Vulpes playing in the meadow.  The Todhunter's also established an Italian centric focus planting Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, and Pinot Grigio which will continue under the new ownership based on Emily's Italian roots. That being said we covet their La BohemeViognier ($29) sourced from Middleburg Virginia.  When we arrived we noticed a tasting tent and tables set up along the banks of Crooked Run, a response to the pandemic but hopefully a future feature.  Kids and adults were sitting in the creek or playing ball in the field and golf carts were busy transporting wine or visitors to and from the tasting room or parking lot. In between cleaning teams and selling wine, Tim also mentioned that they are adding a brewery to the premises which they hope to have functional once the proper licenses are received.

Finally, we returned to Fleetwood Farm Winery, which had been the last winery we visited right before the lockdown. Like Valley View Farm, this is a historic farm -- established in 1745.  The winery was also hosting a Fleetwood Rosé All Weekend special where the two new rosé wines were priced at $20. Our group went with the 2018 Virginia Rosé is a saignée blend of various grapes with a dark, full-bodied cherry profile with refreshing acidity.  On our previous visit, we favored the 2018 Virginia Viognier ($32) which matched the juicy stone fruit characters we were expecting.  The winey offers amble indoor, outdoor, and patio space for distancing with masks required while walking inside the tasting room.

Monday, July 6, 2020

St. Augustine: A Craft Beverage Destination

For two decades now, while driving to South Florida, we have been inclined to include a detour into St. Augustine to visit the historical sights such as the Old Town, the Spanish Quarter, the Castillo de San Marcos, the Lighthouse, and the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine.  These visits also included a stop at the city's only craft beverage establishment - San Sebastian Winery - as we had become fans of their Blanc Du Bois and Port styled wines. They also provided an excellent tour of their facilities as well as a rooftop pavilion with satisfying glasses of white sangria.

In the past few years, other craft beverage outlets joined San Sebastian along the Trolley Tour Route such as St. Augustine Distillery - situated only a couple blocks away in the Historic FP&L Ice Plant (the first commercial enterprise to produce block ice in Florida over 100 years ago). The distillery is a business collaborative of 28 local entrepreneurs who utilize local sugar cane, wheat, corn, and citrus to produce whiskey, rum, vodka, and gin. They also contacted the world’s leading distilling experts to assist in crafting the spirits recipe and local bartenders on drafting recommended cocktails. They also emulated San Sebastian's tour design and provide one of the most insightful free walking tours of a distillery. Each station includes a free cocktail sample and the museum provides a history of block ice production as well as a legality neutral history of distilling in The Sunshine State.

For this trip, we intentionally targeted the distillery in order to purchase a bottle of their Port Finished Bourbon ($80, 102 proof).  This whiskey starts as their Florida Double Cask Bourbon which is made from a mash bill of 60% regional corn, 22% malted barley, and 18% regional wheat that is then finished in used San Sebastian Port barrels. For both the Florida Double Cask and Port Finished bourbons, distiller Lucas Smith worked closely with the late Dave Pickerell on the first blends and barrel selection as well as the final proof. Interestingly, the Florida Double Cask weighs in at on odd 93.8 proof as that was the proof that all "blenders" agreed upon.  The Double Cask refers to the use of initial 25-gallon barrels in which the spirit was then transferred to seasoned 53-gallon casks in order to slow the maturation process. The result is a phenomenon whiskey
and with the additional Port finishing imparts a slight sherry profile along with the raisins and cinnamon.

We also left with a bottle of the Pot Distilled Rum ($45, 90 proof) and the Florida Cane Vodka ($28, 80 proof). The rum is produced from regional sugarcane syrups and molasses and aged in used St. Augustine bourbon barrels. The spirit is straw-colored with a surprising coconut and baking spices profile. There's a mild dose of heat but the finish is very smooth and clean. The vodka is pot distilled from 100% Florida-farmed sugar. This provides a subtle molasses character with a clean finish.  The Florida Mule was its primary purpose and here are several other recommended cocktails:

•  2 ounces Pot Distilled Rum
•  1 ounce honey syrup
•  1 ounce lime juice
•  few dashes of bitters
Garnish with orange peel.

The Lolita
•  1.5 ounces Florida Cane Vodka
•  0.5 ounce fresh lemon juice
•  0.5 ounce fresh grapefruit juice
•  0.5 st. germaine
•  0.25 ounce simple syrup
•  3 dashes of peychauds bitters
Garnish with a grapefruit peel.
•  2 ounces Pot Distilled Rum
•  0.75 ounce lime juice
•  0.75 ounce simple syrup
•  10 leaves of fresh mint
•  top with soda water
Garnish with fresh mint.
The Florida Mule
•  1.5 ounces Florida Cane Vodka
•  1.5 ounces ginger-lime simple syrup
•  Top with soda water
Garnish with fresh mint leaves.
Classic Vodka Collins
•  2 ounces Florida Cane Vodka
•  1 ounces simple syrup
•  1 ounces lemon juice
•  Top with soda water
Garnish with a lemon peel

During this visit, we also stopped into two of the four craft breweries that have surfaced in the last couple of years. Ancient City Taphouse is located next to the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine and the two standouts were the Castillo Coconut Porter and Brazilian Pepper Tree Honey IPA.  Old Coast Ales is located a short walk or drive over the Matanzas River and we walked out with crowlers of Salt Run Gose and the Hopper 2.0 N.E. IPA. Both nice beach beers.  Another solid beer is the Dog Rose Brewing Co. Palace Pale Ale which I had with lunch at the A1A Ale Works Restaurant & Taproom where Dog Rose owner and brewer, Doug Murr, used to brew. And finally, Bog Brewing Company and City Gate Spirits will have to wait until our return visit to America's oldest city.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Grape Spotlight: Michigan Blaufrankisch

"Blaufrankisch is a variety that has shown it can not just grow well here, but can also make stylistically unique wines that can stand out on a broader stage. It's a wine that is exciting to introduce to people as it opens up a different definition to them of what a great red wine can be", Drew Perry, winemaker at Aurora Cellars
Blaufränkisch was the prized red grape in the Austro-Hungarian Empire having originated in Lower Styria, now part of Slovenia, and planted across the Carpathian Basin. Its name translates to 'Blue Frankish' or perhaps 'Blue Francs' based on either the blue coats or currency used by Napoleon’s troops after their conquest of Vienna. Blaufränkisch's offspring, Zweigelt, is the largest planted red grape in Austria whereas Blaufränkisch is centered in Burgenland - just across the border from Hungary and the Magyar plantings of Kékfrankos. From this Capital of Kékfrankos near Sopron, the grape spread where it is now the most planted red grape variety in Hungary -- Szekszard and Villany in particular. In Germany, Blaufränkisch is known as Lemberger most likely from the Lower Styria town of Lemberg pri Šmarju where the grape was apparently export to Deutschland.

In the United States, the grape is labeled either Lemberger or Blaufränkisch, with the later adopted in Michigan.  In the Great Lake state, Blaufränkisch is planted primarily in the northern wine regions of the Old Mission Peninsula and the Leelanau Peninsula - regions suitable for this late-ripening and cold-tolerant grape. Aurora Cellars has four acres planted in this last peninsula, the first three planted in 2007. According to Perry, the grape requires a long ripening season because "it tends to stall a bit at the end" and proper canopy management encourages early skin development and provides airflow that reduces disease pressure.  One result of this process is the Aurora Cellars 2016 Leelanau Peninsula Blaufrankisch ($34)  - aged 18 months in  French oak.  Like its Central European counterparts, this wine provided distinct black pepper notes upfront and a spicier pepper profile in the tail accompanied by a proper mouthfeel.  On the other hand, its fruit profile was dominated by blueberries as opposed to red or black cherries usually associated with Central Europe Blaufränkisch.  Nicely done.

Before Perry became the winemaker at Aurora, he was the assistant winemaker to Brian Ulbrich at Left Foot Charley. This winery grows Blaufränkisch at their Benzie vineyard (located on Lake Michigan) and at a new vineyard on the Old Mission Peninsula, in addition to sourcing from other small family-owned vineyards.  Ulbrich believes that the grape is well-suited for Michigan because it’s relatively winter hardy. With bud break arriving early and its late ripening, assuming no spring frost, then the grape has a long season to ripen. In the case of the Left Foot Charley 2018 Blaufränkisch ($22) - a blend from both the two vineyards mentioned above - this means a brighter fruit-forward profile showing juicy red cherries and developing structure.  Little spice on the front end and finish leaving a refreshing and friendly wine.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Puerto Rico Distillery: Providing Maryland with Clandestine Pitorro Rum

Pitorro is Puerto Rican moonshine -- and not of the corn whiskey persuasion that we are familiar with within the United States. It is, in fact, an artisan rum produced by distilling sugar cane and traditionally cured with fruit and buried for several months.  This process helps to balance the high alcohol volume.  And Puerto Rico's unofficial national spirit is now available in the Old Line State courtesy of Frederick's Puerto Rico Distillery

The distillery is led by the father-daughter team of Angel and Crystal Rivera and focuses on an unflavored pitorro weighing in at 100 proof.  This spirit is distilled from sugarcane molasses and has a funky character that seems to transcend other Caribbean moonshines -- thinking particularly of Hammond from Nevis. They are also currently aging batches infused with coconut, pineapple,
almond, coffee, and passion fruit that should be available later this year.

For now, the best use of the pitorro rum is in cocktails and the funkiness livens any concoction. A mojito is the top choice, but also consider with any fruit juice or with equal parts grapefruit juice and ginger beer. It is addicting.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Lockdown Cocktails - A Recap

During the COVID lockdown, I replaced my normal routine of simply pouring a neat glass of my favorite spirit and instead became more creative by mixing various cocktails using ingredients that were already available. This process including replacing some ingredients with equivalents such as tonic water with seltzer or simple sugar with dissolved honey. The cocktail recipes were posted on Instagram but with the lockdowns slowly easing the series will most likely be discontinued and thus recaptured in this post.

Tonight's #lockdowncocktail is a salute to Route 15 from Frederick MD to Harrisburg PA. The #cocktail contains a base of equal parts grapefruit juice and Appalachian Ginger Beer then augmented with a large shot (or two) of Puerto Rico Distillery Clandestino Pitorro Diaspora Rum and a dash or two of Tenth Ward Smoked Corn Whiskey for added aroma.  I will discuss the Clandestino in the near future, but for now, it's a style of moonshine that dates to 1797 and still an integral part of Puerto Rican culture.

Tonight's #lockdowncocktails are dueling recipes based on a post the week from the Wizard of Whiskey we followed his recipe using grapefruit tonic, Left Foot Charley 2017 Dry Riesling, and for gin, the Barr Hill Gin from Vermont's Caledonia Spirits and made from honey. Completely refreshing and the Riesling creates a creamy body and tamps down the botanicals.  On the other hand, when replacing the Riesling with the 12 Corners Vineyards 2017 Traminette, the botanicals burst forward in conjunction with the wine's aromatics. Combining the two creates a happy medium.

Tonight's #LockdownCocktail is The Bishop, a rum - red wine cocktail that comes from the 1935 printing of "The Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book" by A.S. Crockett. I used Cotton and Reed Sherried Cask Strength Rum and its honeyed nut character blended well with the 12 Corners Vineyards River Stone Red wine. The wine is a unique blend of five grape varieties leading with Chancellor and Chambourcin then rounding out with Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Its quite pleasant, fruit-forward berry flavors with a velvety texture, and a chewy smooth finish. 

3 ounces Cotton & Reed Sherried Cask Strength Rum ($50)
1 ounce 12 Corners River Stone Red wine ($14)
1 teaspoon simple syrup
1/2 lime (juice of)

The Cotton & Reed Sherried Cask Strength Rum starts out as White Rum ($29) made from Lousiana grown raw cane syrup and blackstrap molasses (6,000 pounds per batch) and fermented with a Rhum Agricole yeast strain and a Chenin Blanc yeast strain. The rum is then aged in used bourbon barrels just like their Mellow Gold Rum ($29). Afterward, the aging rum is transferred to PX Sherry seasoned casks where PX refers to Pedro Ximénez grapes aged in a solera system where the grape brandy undergoes oxidative aging for an Oloroso.

Today's #lockdowncocktail is the Horsefeather, a Kansas City favorite that legend says originated in nearby Lawrence, Kansas. It's related to the Moscow Mule trading the bourbon for J. Rieger & Co. Kansas City Whiskey ($40), Appalachian Ginger Beer, squeeze of lemon, and using the equivalent of Angostura bitters - Peychaud's Aperitivo. The cocktail sizzles in the mouth with a long spicy tail. And that's the last drop of an amazing whiskey where the corn, malted, and rye mash was fermented then aged in part in 15 year Oloroso sherry casks.

1.5 oz J. Rieger Whiskey
4 oz ginger beer
4-5 dashes Angostura bitters
1 squeeze of lemon

Here's a refreshing cocktail suggested by Golden Moon Distillery using their single varietal Grappa (2 oz), lime juice (1 oz), and simple syrup (3/4 oz). The grappa is made using chardonnay pomace from Bookcliff Vineyards. The cocktail is truly refreshing, any grappa sharpness is mediated by the lime juice and syrup. Cheers.

Tonight's #lockdowncocktail is based on an Italian recipe using grappa, cocoa liqueur, and coffee served in a martini glass as a dessert cocktail. I used my mead glass and combined equal parts Springfield Manor grappa and Blacksnake Meadery Red Queen Coffee Mead with a dash of FloraLuna Apothecary Cayenne bitters. Perhaps my favorite so far.

Another lockdown cocktail using existing spirits. This unnamed drink is 2 parts River Hill Spirits bourbon, .5 parts Golden Moon Distillery  Kummel, .5 parts honey water, and a dash of bitters. The Kummel and honey tame the heat, and the bourbon blends in with the caraway liqueur.

Cocktails with miniatures. Last night I discovered that Grappa Nonino Amaro is a great partner with Bourbon or Tennessee Whiskey and FloraLuna Apothecary Orange bitters. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Grape Spotlight: Old Mission Peninsula, Michigan Pinot Blanc

Pinot Blanc, the pale-skinned Pinot mutation that shares a genetic fingerprint with Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, is favored in cold climate regions such as the Alto Adige region of Italy (Pinot Bianco), Alsace in northeast France, Baden and Pfalz in Germany (Weissburgunder), Niederosterreich and Burgenland in Austria (Weisser Burgunder), Canada's Okanagan Valley, and in Michigan.  The grape itself is quite versatile where globally it is used in the production of still, sparkling, and sweet dessert wines and in general produces a medium to full-bodied style of wine with apple and almond characters and finishing with abundant acidity. Oak treatments are possible but often overwhelm and mute the mineral and smoky characteristics.

In Michigan, Pinot Blanc thrives in the cool conditions and sandy soils of the Old Mission Peninsula AVA where Lake Michigan creates a very favorable grape growing environment. The “lake effect” snow protects the vines in the winter from freezing temperatures and provides a diurnal change in temperatures during the summer. Think refreshing acidity which is the case for the Left Foot Charley Old Mission Peninsula Michigan Pinot Blanc ($18).  This wine also features green apple and pear flavors along with racy saline and a round mouthfeel. Left Foot Charley also produces a single vineyard Pinot Blanc, the 2017 Island View Vineyard Pinot Blanc ($25) which is Michigan's oldest Pinot Blanc planting dating back to 1995. Cheers.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Grape Spotlight: Szekszard Kadarka

Kadarka is the Hungarian equivalent to Pinot Noir, both in the glass and in the vineyard.  Once planted, Kadarka vines are temperamental - and like Pinot susceptible to grey rot and requires constant attention.  The most ideal environment for Kadarka is one with long hot summers that extend into the fall that not only allow late-ripening grapes to slowly evolve but also reduce the frequency of spring and autumn frosts. Szekszard, located in southern Hungary, is one such region.

The rolling hills of Szekszard are Hungary's most fertile agricultural region and enjoy both a Continental and Mediterranean climate. These dual climates provide a long growing season and the many valleys provide distinct micro-climates. During the summer, days can be stifling hot whereas the nights are fresh and cold. The soil is mostly loose loess particles that allow the vine's roots to dig deep in search of water.

Out of the bottle Szekszard Kadarka tastes similar to Pinot Noir but particularly of Hungary. It's generally light-medium bodied but extremely savory with noticeable texture. The sour cherry flavor mimics meggy - Hungarian sour cherries favored in cold soups and desserts.  What's most interesting is that Kadarka is not indigenous to the Magyar state and is thought to have originated near Lake Scutari on the Montenegro-Albanian border when the Turkish variety Papazkarasi was crossed with local Serbian variety Skadarsko.  This grape was brought to southern Hungary at the end of the 17th century by Serbian refugees encouraged to repopulate after years of Ottoman rule. And soon afterward, Hungarians adopted the grape as their own.

One example of excellent Szekszard Kadarka comes from Taste Hungary - Péter Vida Bonsai Oregtokes Kadarka 2017 ($20). It is produced from over hundred-year-old, gnarly-looking vines that a Japanese visitor likened to a Bonsai tree.  “Often you literally have to kneel in front of the rootstocks to prune them as these are ancient bush-trained vines,” winery founder Péter Vida said. “The image on the label – a mix of a Bonsai tree and an old vine – aims to convey the sense that the wisdom of the plant is bigger than that of humans even if it is diminutive in size.”

This is a delicious wine, light-medium bodied with a sour cherry dominance followed by slight spice and dirt. Expect a layer of texture and lifting acidity.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Drinking Through Family History: Toms Brook, Virginia and North Mountain Vineyard

In the early 1740s two brothers, Charles and George Hottel, traveled a well-known route among German immigrants from Lancaster, Pennsylvania to Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. After finding available farmland at the foot of North Moutain at the headwaters of Toms Brook, they returned to Lancaster to lead their father Johannes Hodel (John Hottel) and other family members including their sister Barbara Anna, and her husband, George Keller back to the valley. Upon settling in the Shenandoah, they received land grants from Lord Fairfax, ending a twenty-plus year journey from Alsheim-Gronau Germany. In between, the family had arrived in Philadelphia, initially settled in Lancaster where Barbara Anna met and married Hans Georg Keller, a fellow emigrant from Germany who arrived in Philadelphia one month after the Hottels.

At Toms Brook, located northwest of Woodstock, George Keller would rise in esteem as a churchman and eventually being named by Governor Dunmore as one of the first eight Justices of the Peace in Dunmore (now Shenandoah) County. Their daughter Ann Keller married Henry Fravel, the son of Swiss immigrants, and whose family farm was ten miles away from the Kellers. In 1786 Elizabeth Fravel (the daughter of Ann and Henry Fravel) married Johannes Huber - another descendent of German immigrants and the great-grandfather of my grandfather's mother, Cora Agnes Hoover.

These early settlers are buried in various cemeteries in the area with John Hottel's grave marker now unknown in the old Keller Cemetary. However, his descendants erected a new memorial in the cemetery that was dedicated on September 11, 1982 -- 250 years to the day when the Hottel family arrived in America. That same year North Mountain Vineyard was established, most likely on land once farmed by one of these relatives. In fact, the winery is located on Swartz Road, a family name that married into the Hottel line and whose descendent circled back to the Kellers through a descendent of Henry and Ann (Keller) Fravel. Today the winery grows several cold-climate grapes such as Riesling, a grape the Hottels, Kellers, and Hubers would have recognized from their Rhine homeland. They might even recognize the European styled architecture of the winery.

North Mountain's estate vineyard is planted in primarily silty loam soils with the newer Sonnenberg Vineyard, located in the eastern half, and dominated by layers of sandstone. This vineyard is planted with Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grüner Veltliner, Zweigelt, and Riesling.  The original western vineyard is distinguished by a layer of limestone and includes Chambourcin, Vidal Blanc, Traminette, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon vines.

During the partial re-opening of Virginia wineries, we stopped by North Mountain for curbside pickup for the 2017 Riesling ($25),  Grüner Veltliner ($24), and 2017 Zweigelt Rosé ($24). We will be opening these wines during the next few weeks and posting updates with the tasting notes. In the meanwhile here are the winery's notes for the Riesling and Zweigelt. The Grüner appears to be a non-vintage blend from multiple vineyards within the Shenandoah Valley AVA. Cheers.

2017 Riesling ($25)
100% Riesling grown on the west-facing slope of Sonnenberg, our hill behind the winery building. Peaches, pear, and apple on the nose, palate, and finish. A subtle minerality lingers throughout.

2017 Zweigelt Rosé ($24)
Our Winery, nestled in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, presents this refreshing rosé wine with hints of pomegranate, zesty citrus, and ripe strawberries. Zweigelt is a native to Austria and was created in the 1920s by Professor Fritz Zweigelt, by crossing Blaufränkisch with St. Laurent.