Tuesday, May 11, 2021

A Free State Collaboration: Dragon Dog's Frederick Rye Whiskey

Frederick Maryland is at the crossroads of many family road trips,  those leading north on Route 15 towards Thurmont and Pennsylvania or those leading west towards Cumberland, Seven Springs, and beyond.  It also explains the high frequency of Civil War battles fought in the city or surrounding land including the battles of Antietam and to some extent Gettysburg.  Today, Frederick city and county is a craft beverage destination with a plethora of wineries, cideries, breweries, and distilleries. 

Two of these are Maryland's largest brewery, Flying Dog Brewery, and Dragon Distillery. Flying Dog beers are widely distributed, of excellent quality, and are known for the Hunter S. Thompson inspired labels drawn by artist Ralph Steadman. Dragon Distillery is a small operation whose Frederick county roots dates to the mid-1700s.  Some of their products are inspired by the Founder's great-grandfather Bad Bill Tutt and long-held family recipes. 

A newer recipe is a collaboration between Flying Dog and Dragon called Dragon Dog's Frederick Rye Whiskey ($42, 48%) and is marketing as "Frederick's first Rye Whiskey". Flying Dog prepares a mash using a proprietary blend of nine specialty rye grains which is then fermented and aged at the distillery. Over ice, the spirit provides a spicy wet stone aroma, with the spice and rye packing cinnamon and other dry baing spices. The heat is noticeable upfront but quickly backs off during the tail. 

And as a BevFluence contributor, we are still beating the Negroni drum via recipes from Negroni, More than 30 classic and modern recipes for Italy's iconic cocktail ($12) by David T. Smith and  Keli Rivers available by Ryland, Peters, & Small.  An offshoot of the Boulevardier is the Old Pal which replaces the bourbon with rye whiskey and calls for equal parts rye, Campari, and Cochi Americano or red vermouth.  My version of the Old Pal uses the Mt. Defiance Distillery Sweet Vermouth ($19, 350ml) (pre-mixed with Campari) and with the Dragon Dog provides a very dry and chalky version of this cocktail where it feels like the glass has been rimmed with cinnamon powder.  

Friday, April 30, 2021

Exploring the Tampa Ale Trail

This week we spent several days in the St. Pete - Clearwater area in order to attend a couple MLB games (saw Vlad's three dingers) which afforded opportunities to visit several breweries along the Tampa Ale Trail. There are 81 breweries participating in the 2021 passport program - located as far north as the Greek community in Tarpon Springs through the BlueJay city of Dunedin to Tampa then St. Petersburg and ending at rejuvenated Gulfport. 

Cigar City Brewing
Located within a mile of the Tampa Airport, this iconic Florida brewery recently expanded its tasting room since my last visit. At this location, they also provide in-house only offerings like the Terrifyingly Competent -- a juicy American Pale Ale. This pairs nicely with the Cuban Meatloaf. Follow with a taster of the Bon Vivant's Companion - an American sour ale with raspberries aged in rum and orange curacao barrels.

Clearwater Brewing Company
Housed on a formal gas station this brewery is situated on the outskirts of north Clearwater on the short drive to Dunedin. Although there are about eight breweries within a 3/4 mile radius in that town, don't overlook Clearwater Brewing. The front and back patios provide enough open space to enjoy the Comfy Cream Ale - one of the best of these styles we've tasted.  For the sour lover, go for the raspberry puree Raspberry Romper Calzone Berliner Weisse -- this is richer than others. 

Cycle Brewing
Located in downtown St. Pete and part of an easy walking brewery tour this brewery specializes in its barrel program - most notably aging stout with different ingredients.  Our favorite is the Cherry Wine - a rare DOS aged in Frederiksdal Cherry Wine barrels for 34 months. This is dense with notes of dark chocolate covered cherries. The Saturday is equally dense with copious amounts of chocolate and for a little kick try the Rare DOS 1 Year Aged -- aged one year in a used whiskey barrel. 

Gulfport Brewery + Eatery
This brewery was a great find - not only the establishment itself but also walking the small downtown area of Gulfport. This town had experienced depressed conditions for a number of years until receiving a Federal revitalization grant which they put to good use. Plenty of food is available - which is a condition for any business selling alcohol in the town - plus another barrel program based on the Gulfporter, an American Porter.  Of the four, the Toasted Walnut & Honey was the favorite -- this reminiscent of a Walnut liqueur. But don't skip the Tahitian Vanilla & Coconut, Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate, or the Mocha Coffee.  And definitely, don't skip the Disston City Lager, named after Gulfport's former name and a fantastic representation of a Pre-Prohibition Pilsner.  Love it when breweries produce solid lighter beers where there's no place to hide defects.

Overflow Brewing Company
Another downtown St. Pete brewery and with an extensive beer list, particularly for those who enjoy a sour lineup. The Obsidian Currants is reminiscent of a Flemish sour and extremely tart. The Persimmon Punch is a tropical fruit drink and the Flowers Just Because is a tasty and light Berliner Weisse. The favorite however is the Going Green, a Gose made like a superfoods smoothie - kale, spinach, celery, apples, and more. The veggies are subtle.

St. Pete Brewing Company
The original St. Pete brewery, this one offers both several IPAs and lighter-styled beers. For the latter, the Put Me In Kolsch is your daytime quaffer - packing plenty of flavors. In the evening theirs a Scottish Ale, Imperial Stout, Tripel -- but Localtopia IPA with the aromatic hops was our choice. 

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Grape Spotlight: Ancient Armenian Voskehat & Areni

Genesis 9.20:  Now Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard.

Archaeological evidence uncovered in 2010 shows that grape growing and wine-making in ancient Armenia pre-date the biblical flood and Noah's planting of grapes in the mountains of Ararat by 1,500 years. "... researchers with the University of California, Los Angeles, and the Armenian Institute of Archeology and Ethnography unearthed archeological evidence of the world's oldest known winery in the village of Areni in southeastern Armenia. Beneath a layer of sheep manure inside a cave, the remains of crushed grapes and vessels for collecting and fermenting grape juice dating to 6,100 years ago were recovered, proving that humans produced wine systematically one thousand years earlier than thought. Additionally, traces of a grape used in red wine production today were found on pot shards at the excavation site, forging a new link between ancient and modern wine production." -- Smithsonian Magazine

Present-day Armenia consists of several wine regions with the focus here on a trio: Aragatsotn, Armavir, and Vayots Dzor. Aragatsotn is a wine region that dates back to the time of Noah. located between 1000-1400 meters above sea level, the region lies near Yerevan -- the capital and largest city of Armenia and one of the world's oldest continuously inhabited cities. With Ararat visible in the distance, this region is the birthplace of the old Armenian grape type Voskehat, known as the “queen” of Armenian grapes, and was first cultivated 3500 years ago. 

Armavir is a province in the northwest of Armenia and is the largest region for quality wine production in the country as well as for brandy distilling. Most of the vineyards on the plain lie between 900 and 1,100 meters in altitude (2,950 to 3,600ft). Vineyards are mostly planted in volcanic soils.

Vayots Dzor is a mountainous province in southeastern Armenia. As described above, it is one of the oldest documented wine-producing regions in the world and is the birthplace of Areni, the country’s main indigenous red variety. The vineyards here lie mainly between 950 and 1,200 meters above sea level (3,100 to 3,950ft). 

Storica Wines is an Armenian wine import company providing access to several Armenian wineries to the American consumer.  Two of these are Keush and Zulal -- both started by Vahe Keushguerian and his family.  "Over the past decade or so, he has identified numerous ancient indigenous varieties and set up multiple nurseries to revive and propagate them throughout the country’s fledgling wine industry" -- Noah's ArtKeush is a label based on the family name and specializes in sparkling wine. The Zulal brand attempts to find the purest expression of the local environment by selecting combing rows of abandoned vineyards and after genetically identifying the grape variety, harvesting enough to fill a tank.  Obviously a painstaking endeavor. 

KEUSH Origins ($25.99) sparkling wine is a blend of the Armenian indigenous varieties Voskehat and Khatouni. In fact, this wine is the first traditional method sparkler crafted with Armenian indigenous grapes. Just imagine sparkling lemon and nut bread. These grapes were harvested from vineyards 1,750m above sea level planted in limestone soils on volcanic rock. The 6,000-year-old Armenian viticulture history comes alive with Origins. 

Zulal Voskehat 2018 ($19.99, 13%)
Voskehat translates to "goldenberry" and is a late-ripening thick-skinned ancient grape variety. It is widespread in Aragatsotn, Armavir, and Vayots Dzor. According to the winery, "Voskehat is known for its complex stone fruity aromas and has been used for a wide range of wine types including dry white, sparkling, as well as dessert, and fortified wines". The grapes for this wine were grown on volcanic soils at 1400 meters in Aghavnadzor village of Vayots Dzor region.  The wine starts with honeysuckle, then mostly pears with depth and slightly herbaceous. Full mouthfeel

Zulal Areni 2018 ($21.99, 13%)
The grapes for this wine were grown at 1400-1750 meter elevations in volcanic soil from the Aghavnadzor and Khachik villages of Vayots Dzor.  This wine has medium body and tannins, slight white pepper and mint, long sizzling acidity,

Zulal Areni Reserve 2018 ($32.99, 14%)
The grapes for this wine were grown on a single plot of volcanic soil situated at 1200 meters in the Arpa Valley, Vayots Dzor. As opposed to the wine above, the Reserve undergoes additional oak treatment which rounds out the flavor profile and adds a little spice. Expect velvety blueberries, slight, slight spice, great mouthfeel - long finish. 

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

Monday, April 19, 2021

Grape Spotlight: More Côtes du Jura Savagnin with Pinot Noir

In a previous post on the Grape Spotlight thread Jura Savagnin & Vin Jaune, I related the Vin Jaune oxidative winemaking practice and the intriguing Jura region and because of the Hopwine program, I'm able to expand further with wines from Domaine Noir Freres.  Jura's is a cool climate with warm, relatively dry summers and cold winters, and the majority of Jura's vines are planted on south-facing slopes -- to absorb as much of the sun's rays. A minority of vineyards are located in the more mountainous areas of eastern Jura, where heights can reach p to 4,500ft (1370m). However, the majority of vines are planted in the slightly lower-lying land in the west which average 1,000ft (305m).

"It should come as no surprise that the key soil types here are Jurassic limestone and marlstone. The Jurassic period was named after Jura because the region's limestone mountains are representative of the geological developments which occurred between 145 million and 200 million years ago. The name of L'Etoile, the village which is home to one of Jura's most distinctive appellations, is said to be derived from the star-shaped marine fossils which characterize its limestone-rich soils (etoile is French for 'star'). Chablis and the upper Loire Valley are built on a similar geological structure". -- wine-searcher

DalGobboM - Own work CC BY-SA 3.0

Although our package didn't include a Vin Jaune, it showcased three of Domaine Noir Freres' most prolific grape varieties.  Limestone = pinot noir and the Côtes du Jura Pinot Noir - 2018 is exceptional. The structure is solid, surrounded by light cherries and decent tannins. Similar to the family's Poligny vineyard being located in the heart of Jura and saturated in limestone and marlstone. Pre-phylloxera, red wine grapes dominated the region, and Jura Pinot Noir may move the ratio closer to older times. 

That being said, Savagnin Blanc is the region's signature grape and it provides a spicy and funky profile to 100% varietal or blended wines. Domaine Noir Freres banishes the grape to 12 to 24 months in oak for the Côtes du Jura Cuvée " Creux d'enfer" - 2018 Savagnin Floral and expect a vibrant floral aroma. The wine has a Roussanne-ish quality with great depth. And the 24-month aged Côtes du Jura Cuvée Tradition - 2018 blended with Chardonnay has similar Roussanne pungent perfume qualities with major spicy and nutty notes. I would love a 750ml of this lady. 

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Don't Wait Until Earth Day to Try These Organic Wines from Veramonte Vineyards

Veramonte Vineyards is a Chilean producer that follows organic practices in order to "express the fullest potential of the terroir".  These practices are augmented with in-house compost; row cultivation to minimize erosion; incorporation of animals like sheep to cut grass and act as a natural fertilizer; conservation of biological corridors to ensure a self-regulated ecosystem for healthy vines; pruning and canopy handling that allows for proper ventilation and disease prevention; and undergrowth control that unpacks the soil, generates structure and enhances the life and soil microfauna. 

They follow these organic practices while growing grapes in two of Chile's 16 wine regions -- the  Casablanca and Colchagua valleys. The Casablanca Valley is "known for the marine influence of the Pacific Ocean that cools off its climate, the morning fog that settles into the valley, and the old, granite-clay soils that create a rich tapestry of terroir. All these factors play a part in making this valley one of the main producers of white wine in Chile. The higher, warmer altitudes free from frosts are ideal for red varieties such as Merlot and Syrah, while the lower and cooler areas are favorable for vibrant white wines with a signature minerality that cause Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay to be the most iconic varieties of the Casablanca Valley".

The Colchagua Valley is located in the southern half of the Rapel Valley and the "relatively low altitude of the coastal hills allows the Pacific breeze to mingle with the Andean winds, which cools the valley and prolongs the maturation period of the region. This is advantageous for the preservation of acidity in the grapes and helps to generate red wines with excellent coloring, great freshness, and very good keeping qualities. The large majority of wine produced here is red, with a particular propensity for the production of Carménère, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. Although, the newer plantations close to the coast have also proven to be a region with great potential for cool-climate white wines".

Veramonte Organic Sauvignon Blanc 2020 ($11.99)
Sourced from the Casablanca Valley this is a great expression of an old-world style Sauvignon Blanc as opposed to more popular lemongrass-dominated styles. This is a delicious wine, subdued citrus, and considerable minerality coexisting with depth and refreshing acidity.

Veramonte Organic Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 ($11.99)
Sourced from the Colchagua Valley this is another delicious wine that is the antithesis of overly extracted cabs. There is dark red fruit, but the chalky and earthier characters are more prevalent and expect sound structure and noticeable tannins. At this price - an incredible bargain. 

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

Monday, April 12, 2021

Finding Rum in Pittsburgh from Maggie's Farm Run - Allegheny Distilling

During a recent day trip to Pittsburgh, I used theCompass Craft beverage Finder to target a distillery and discovered one in the historic Strip District, not far from the zoo, which was our primary destination. And I didn't expect this to be a rum distillery but that's all Allegheny Distilling produces under the Maggie's Farm Rum brand.  There are several whiskey distilleries in the City of Bridges so focusing on rum helps differentiate them from the other distillery options.

For all of their rums, founder and distiller Tim Russell sources Louisiana turbinado raw sugarcane that is fermented using Caribbean-derived yeasts. The fermented cane juice is then pot-distilled using 100% copper Spanish-made stills. The white rums rest 3-6 in stainless steel whereas the aged rums spend 2-3 years in neutral rum casks. One rum we purchased, the Sherry Finished Rum ($50 - 43% abv) receives additional time in a sherry cask. Think Oloroso meets rum, lots of nutty nuances.

We also purchased the Maggies Farm Coffee Liqueur ($30),  a low abv (21%) liqueur that starts with their white rum as a base, the infused with cold-brewed coffee that was locally roasted ground and brewed in-house. Finally, the liqueur receives some house-made vanilla extract and a little dark brown sugar. Just add a little cream for an excellent boost to your day.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Wine Regions: IGP Méditerrannée & Isle Saint Pierre

IGP (Indication Géographique Protégée) is a French wine category that superseded Vin de Pays in 2009 and lies between Vin de France and Appellation d'Origine Protegée (AOP) on the wine quality scale.  According to Wine-searcher.com, "the IGP category is intended to benefit both consumers and wine producers. It provides consumers with clarity about a wine's provenance, while producers are empowered to make wine outside the constraints of traditional AOC laws. The most obvious freedoms are the higher permitted yields and a more comprehensive list of approved grape varieties".

The Méditérranée IGP covers wines that are produced over a large swath of territory of southeast France encompassing Provence wine region, the island of Corsica, as well as smaller areas in the Loire and Rhône valleys. Most vineyards can be found in the hills and valleys of the Alpine foothills as the higher altitude provides an excellent ripening situation with plentiful sunlight and cold nights. A large proportion of Méditérranée IGP wines are rosé made in the typical Provençal style -- lightly pressed. 

One of our Hopwine packages was sent by Isle Saint Pierre, an almost hundred-year-old winery that was founded by Pierre Chassaing in 1927 as the southernmost vineyard in the Rhône valley. As the name suggests, the vineyard and winery are located on an island in the Rhône, just 15km away from the river's mouth. Today, Patrick Henry, Marie-Cécile, and their children (third and fourth generations of winegrowers) farm 230-hectares planting a range of grape varieties unhindered by AOP regulations. These include Merlot, Chardonnay, Petit Verdot, Carménère, Muscat Petits Grains, Arinarnoa, Sauvignon Blanc, Tannat, Vermentino, Colombard, Malbec, Sangiovese, and Soreli. 

Some of these grapes were represented in the Hopwine package,  particularly in the IGP Méditerrannée « Depuis 1927 » Rosé - 2020 which is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Arinarnoa, Petit Verdot, Tannat, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah. I could go with a full 750ml of this wine at any time. The light color is deceptive as the wine provides a creamy sour cherry flavor. 

The IGP Méditerrannée Ripisylve Rosé Tannat - 2020 was just as compelling showing a candied fruit aroma leading to the same creamy but more fruit-forward wine. 

Another complex blend arrived with the IGP Méditerrannée « Depuis 1927 » Blanc - 2020, comprised of Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Rolle, and Muscat. On the first impression, I wrote "bursting of sunshine" - which stayed consistent from nose to tail. 

The final IGP Méditerrannée in the packages was the IGP Méditerrannée « Depuis 1927 » Rouge - 2020, another complex blend of Cabernet Sauvigon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Carménère, Arinarnoa. This last grape, and also found in the rosé, was bred in 1956 by crossing Tannat with Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine was my favorite, showing earthy dark cherries, mint, a full mouthfeel, and creeping tannins. Very nice. 

One last note, although not a Méditérranée IGP and subject of this post, but if you are intrigued by creamy lemons look for the Vin de France Soreli - 2019.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Sparkling Rosé Prosecco from Ca' di Prata Prosecco

In November 2020, the Prosecco Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) consortium allowed sparkling rosé wines to bear the DOC designation provided they are produced with at least 85% Glera grapes and with 10% – 15% Pinot Noir fermented on the skins.  This was a controversial decision as the two Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) regions (Conegliano Valdobbiadene and Colli Asolani) rejected the concept. They fear that the rosé wines will diminish Prosecco's status as a white sparkling wine region and Pinot Noir has no real historical significance to the region. In contrast, Glera is the historic white wine grape of North-East Italy having been cultivated in today's Friuli Venezia and Veneto for over 2,000 years.

In any event, I was able to sample my first Prosecco sparkling rosé courtesy of Ca' di Prata, a new label produced in the municipality of Prata di Pordenone, hence the name translated as "home of Prata".  This Ca' di Prata Prosecco Rosé DOC ($17) had a solid mouthfeel, light creamy strawberries, with a bready and effervescent tail.  The mouthfeel was very similar to the Ca' di Prata Prosecco Brut DOC ($16) which like the rosé contains 85% Glera, but the remaining 15% replaces the Pinot Noir with Pinot Bianco and Chardonnay.  Both the wines provide great texture.  As does the Ca' di Prata Prosecco Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG ($18) produced from the historic home of Prosecco. This wine shows more elegance and green apple flavors. An excellent wine.  

Thursday, March 25, 2021

BevFluence Cocktail Book Program 2021 - Negroni: More than 30 Classic and Modern Recipes for Italy's Iconic Cocktail

This spring, BevFluence has partnered with Ryland Peters & Small and CICO Books to review several Cocktail books starting with Negroni, More than 30 classic and modern recipes for Italy's iconic cocktail ($12) by David T. Smith and  Keli Rivers. My bar setup was void of each of the three central ingredients (Campari, gin, and vermouth) so I decided to go local as much as possible - obviously excluding the Campari. This Italian liqueur was created by Gaspare Campari in 1860 as a bitter aperitif made from various herbs, fruits, and spices. 

For the gin, I went with the excellent Joseph A. Magnus & Co Vigilant District Dry Gin ($35) that I first sampled at their Washington, D.C. distillery. This is a London-style dry gin that should be a decent alternative to the English gins. For vermouth, I learned that Mt. Defiance Distillery in Loudoun County Virginia produces a Sweet Vermouth ($19, 350ml).  This fortified wine starts at the Mt. Defiance Apple Brandy that is flavored with herbs and spices and blended with barrel-aged brandy, Vidal Blanc wine, local honey, and caramel syrup. 

The perfect place to start is with The Classic, just equal parts of all three ingredients. In this scenario, the bitter orange of the Campari takes center stage with the vermouth providing a slight balance with sweet flavors.  The gin was a little lost with this palate. 

I favored another recipe called Run Free & Naked which puts The Classic ingredients into an ice-filled and salt-rimmed pint glass. Then fill the remaining glass with sparkling hard cider. I choose the Corcoran Vineyards and Cidery PoPo Peach. This was an eye-opener and will be a summer favorite. 

The next recipe came from the Experimental Negroni section and is the Oaxacan which replaces the gin with mezcal in the Classic recipe. I had the Mezcal El Silencio Espadín available and this substitution seemed to elevate the Campari even more while also providing a smokey trail. Good for a change of pace.

Check back as we will up updating this post with more cocktail experiences as we leaf through the book. Cheers. 

Another non-traditional Negroni we enjoyed was the Kingston Negroni which is the Classic above with the gin replaced with rum. We used the Pilar Key West Rum and this combination provides a little smoothness and toastiness.

The Stout & Steadfast piqued our interest - as well as a seminar discussion - so we created this cocktail using equal parts from the Classic recipe - using Aviation American Gin.  The recipe calls for filling the remaining half-pint class with Guiness, but I used the Center of the Universe Donny Coffee Brown Ale. The Campari bitters start off the race, but the coffee and dry malt catch up and lead to a smooth relaxing finish. Actually liked the cocktail more than the beer on its own. 

We were waiting for warmer weather to make the Negroni Float, but couldn't wait. The recipe calls for smaller amounts of the Classic added with ice to a large glass. Then add a scoop of vanilla ice cream and slowly fill with cola or as in our case, Kutztown Sarsaparilla. Top with whipped cream and let the cola and ice cream integrate into the cocktail, then sip with a straw. The Negroni takes a back seat and I love our choice of Sarsaparilla which blends in nicely with the Campari. A worthy dessert. 

Monday, March 22, 2021

Grape Spotlight: Dalmatia Debit

Debit is a white wine grape that has historically been planted along Croatia's Dalmatian coast but may have originated across the Adriatic in Italy. According to wine-searcher.com, several Italian grape varieties are given the nickname Pagadebit ('the debt payer')  in which Croatian Debit may be a shortened version. And possibly more relative, an alternative Croatian name for Debi is Puljizanac, which means "someone/something from Puglia".  

In any event, today the Debit grape is vinified to create dry, fresh, and aromatic wines with generally bright acidity.  In Northern Dalmatia, outside the medieval town of Šibenik, Testament Winery has planted Debit vines where they must struggle to survive and where diurnal temperatures help create highly acidic grapes. The Testament Debit 2019 ($23) also provides a strong fruit aroma, with the fruit flavors laced with minerals and finishing with refreshing and lasting acidity. 

This wine and other Croatian wines are available in the United States through Croatian Premium Wine Imports.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Grape Spotlight: Coteaux du Giennois Sauvignon Blanc

The Loire Valley is a major wine region in western France that follows the course of the Loire river as it meanders through France, from the inland hills of Auvergne to the plains on the French Atlantic coast near Nantes. The "Upper Loire" sub-region is comprised of many appellations all with one common denominator - their proximity to the river. These appellations include Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé, Orleans, and our subject: Coteaux du Giennois. This appellation consists of fourteen parishes around the town of Gien and resides midway between Orléans and Sancerre. 

According to Loire Valley Wines, the vines in the Coteaux du Giennois are planted on siliceous or limestone slopes on old river terraces along the Loire and experience a continental climate with little ocean influence.  Light-bodied red wines are produced in the AOC using Gamay or on occasion Pinot Noir, but white wines are the main attraction consisting of 60% of output.  And this features almost exclusively Sauvignon Blanc.

We recently received samples through the Hopwine program from one Coteaux du Giennois producer, Domaine de Villargeau.  In 1991 two brothers, Jean-Fernand and François, cleared old vineyard parcels of flint-based soils with the supposition that this type of soil would "allow for a full expression of Sauvignon Blanc".  These hillsides had been abandoned a century ago during the phylloxera crisis but provided south-southwest slopes that order to maximum sunshine. A decade after the initial planting, Jean-Fernand's son Marc joined the team as well as his brother Yves when Jean-Fernand and François retired. Today the Domaine has 23 hectares of vines planted along the Loire River, 80% of which is Sauvignon Blanc planted on flint, limestone, and marl soils. This allows the winemaking team to produce five unique cuvées expressing both the grape and the soil. 

We received three of these cuvées through Hopwine and they each showed various degrees of minerality and lemon zest. 

Domaine de Villargeau Coteaux du Giennois Villargeau blanc 2019
Sauvignon Blanc from 70% flint terroirs and 30% limestone clay. It shows light citrus, saline, with a bright and lasting finish. 

Fernand & Sons Coteaux du Giennois 2018
This cuvée pays homage to their grandfather "Fernand", who created the original Domaine in 1920. The is Sauvignon Blanc from flint terroir on a flint subsoil and shows intense minerality, even salt, with tart lemon and a fresh lasting finish. 

Domaine de Villargeau Coteaux du Giennois Sans Complexe 2019
Sauvignon Blanc harvested from marle soils and expressing itself with "crispiness, fruitiness, and minerality". The wine also provides depth and a full lemon mouthfeel. A lovely wine. 

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Jim Beam Black Extra Aged vs Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

For Christmas, I received this advent calendar created by Jim Beam and featuring miniatures of their popular flavored releases as well as the traditional Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey and Black Extra Aged.  The Kentucky Straight is created using a low rye mash bill of 75% corn, 23% rye, and 12% malted barley and is a classic bourbon by definition. This means that it was created using more than 51% corn, aged in new charred American white oak barrels, and meets the appropriate ABV marks.  The Kentucky Straight Bourbon moniker simply means the whiskey was aged more than two years within the Bluegrass state. The Black Extra Aged is the baseline Kentucky Straight aged further  - averaging around six years in barrel and a slightly higher proof 43 versus 40. 

I decided to sip both the Kentucky Straight and the Black Extra Aged side by side, each poured over an ice cube.  They have a similar caramelized corn and vanilla aroma which is actually stronger with the Straight.  This is an approachable bourbon, definitely watery for stronger tastes, but at $15 per 750ml -- enough flavor, finish, and minimum burn for the price.  The Black Extra Aged has, as expected, a deeper profile with more spice notes, is smoother and provides a bigger kick, and has a longer finish.  That being said, I'm not sure it's worth the extra $10, for a mixer, I would go with the Kentucky Straight and for a sipper -- I would look elsewhere. 

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Grape Spotlight: Nagy-Somloi Olaszrizling

The most widely planted grape variety in Hungary is Olaszrizling, also known as Welschriesling to a wider European audience.  In many cases, Olaszrizling wines are rather pedestrian, light, and neutral, where they are favored in boxes, jugs, or as the base for the Hungarian wine spritzer: fröccs.  However, in a particular microclimate with volcanic soils or in specific environments these wines find a more complex expression such as in Magyarország's second smallest wine region -  Somló. This region is only 507 hectares and is basically a single hill that was an active volcano millions of years ago when the Pannonian Sea covered what is now central Europe. 

Today the hill is populated by multi-generational small family farms that were not confiscated during communism. Collectivized and socialist agriculture never gained a foothold in Somló thanks to its small size and the hill's steep slopes. These were inaccessible to machines and large-scale agricultural methods. Many of these small farms are vineyards planted in the rich volcanic black basalt soil that helps winemakers create minerally driven wines. The soil also helps warm the grapes during chillier days by absorbing heat and then radiating it back towards the vines.  

Kolonics Pinceszet is one of these multi-generation family farms and cultivates Olaszrizling on two hectares on the south-east side of the Somló hill -- specifically in the Apátság vineyard.  Károly Kolonics produces several versions of Olaszrizling wine, and each starts with six to 12 hours of skin contact before pressing and fermented using only indigenous yeast. The differences in the styles result from oak aging in various large and old barrels (1,000 or 1,500 liters). In the instance of the Kolonics Pinceszet Nagy-Somloi "St. László" Olaszrizling 2018 ($25), the wine was aged exclusively in the "St. László" barrel -- a 1,500-liter, steam-bent oak cask -- for one year. The wine is rich in tropical fruit and laden with minerals providing a smooth flow to the finish.  We couldn't stop ourselves from finishing the wine in one sitting. Egészségére. 

Monday, March 1, 2021

Mezcal El Silencio Espadín and the Taco Bamba Grapefruit - Vanilla Margarita

Continuing our venture into Mezcal, we recently purchased the Mezcal El Silencio Espadín ($30), a very traditional product produced in San Baltazar Guelavila, Oaxaca, and from 100% organically grown Espadin agave. According to the bio, the spirit is made by Pedro Hernández, a ninth-generation Maestro Mezcalero, and double-distilled in small batches. Apparently, in 2019 Constellation Brands took a minority stake in El Silencio which most likely explains how it's available in the local ABC store 

When sipping neat, it starts with the smokey agave aroma that we've come to expect, and then the palate is smooth and textured - with a soft profile.  I then added lime juice which added a little kick and interestingly boosted the aromatics. But we found its most usefulness, was the filler for the Grapefruit - Vanilla Margarita mix from Taco Bamba.  The smokiness added to the cocktail and the vanilla gave the feeling of aged mezcal -- but just to a Reposado. Cheers.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Earning Night-time Driving Hours to Backroom Brewery

One night this week my soon-to-be-driving son asked if we could drive for a couple hours so that he could earn night-time driving hours. Of course, I replied, as long as it includes a stop at Backroom Brewery - over an hour away as shown by theCompass Craft Beverage Finder.  I had been targetting the brewery after several trips to visit the Sip Shenandoah Trail and learning that the brewery was Virginia's first farm brewery.  The operation is an outgrowth of the Sunflower Cottage herb farm where they planted hops in 2012; helped Warren County pass an ordinance to allow farm breweries in 2013;  built out a brewery that following year; and finally, opened an expanded brewery, event center, and tasting room in 2019. 

With that expanded capability BackRoom offers almost two dozen beers in their tasting room, many brewed with homegrown herbs. The perfect example is their flagship Lemon Basil Wheat Ale,  brewed with fresh lemon zest & sweet basil -- and a remembrance of the days twisting lemon juice into Pyramid Hefeweisen.  The Kiss Me Kolsch and Regions Pilsner are solid thirst quenchers and the Backpacker Pale Ale a reminder of the old school pale ales without the hop punch.  However, the two favorites were the Shenandoah Sunset Hazy IPA and the Farmwork  Rosemary Rye Saison -- both just delicious versions of what you would expect from the styles and the ingredients. 

We hope to visit again soon on a weekday to savor more of these beers and try the kitchen. Cheers. 

Monday, February 22, 2021

Virginia Wine Chat — A Taste of the Shenandoah Valley

In 1982, the Shenandoah Valley AVA became the first  American Viticultural Area established in Virginia - and for that matter in West Virginia too as the boundaries include both Berkeley and Jefferson Counties in the Eastern Panhandle.  The fruitful valley is bounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east and the Appalachian and Allegheny Mountains to the west.  It is one of the largest AVAs in the country ranging about 150 miles northwest-southeast and 25 miles wide. This leads to several micro-climates allowing for a diverse planting of grapes, but in general, this cool climate region shares a predominate limestone soil and large diurnal temperatures - leading to more acidic grapes. (TTB - AVAs)

On Sunday, February 20th, Frank Morgan (drinkwhatyoulike.com) presented his Virginia Wine Chat on A Taste of the Shenandoah Valley featuring three wines from prominent wineries in that AVA.  This tasting was organized as an afterthought of the 2020 Shenandoah Cup wine competition, which Morgan oversaw, and where Cave Ridge Vineyard was awarded the cup for their 2017 Shenandoah Valley Petit Verdot.  This wine was aged 100% Hungarian Oak and during the chat Cave Ridge owner Randy Phillips discussed his decision to use this treatment -- particularly lower costs without substituting quality.  

As a recap on Hungarian oak, the barrels are made using Quercus petraea, sessile oak, from the Zemplén Hills in western Hungarian. This forest is close to Tokaj and contains the same rocky and volcanic soil that gives the Furmint grape its minerality. Sessile oaks make up over 95% of the acreage because that tree prefers tough conditions where the soils are stony and dry, and where the climate is colder. The tree then grows slower, creating a tight grain which leads to lower tannins and a richer aroma in barrels. This tightness also results in lower evaporation and smaller oxygen penetration.

Here are the descriptors of the wines and readers are highly encouraged to visit the Shenandoah Valley Wine Trail

2018 Brix & Columns Virginia Chardonnay ($26)
Allow to warm in glass; creamy lemons aroma, golden delicious apples dominate its profile with a little lychee, creme brulee. Barrel fermented and nine months in new and neutral French oak provides weight and doesn't diminish the lifting acids. 

2017 Bluestone Vineyard Estate Cabernet Franc ($25.50)
The grapes were grown in the highest elevation block of their estate and only free-run juice was fermented and then 40% aged in new French and 60% Hungarian oak. Bright cherry aroma, layers of dark fruit, finishing with firm and chewy tannins. Best feature - lack of vegetable or green peppers characters. 

2017 Cave Ridge Vineyard Shenandoah Valley Petit Verdot ($35)
The fermented wine was aged 100% in Hungarian oak barrels. Very amaro-ish; herbal olive leaf, chocolate coffee, & cherry aroma, chalky velvety character,  dense fruit,  rising acidity, approachable tannins.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

A Trio of Wine for Old Westminster's 2021 Festival of Saint Vincent

"Each January in Burgundy, France, locals celebrate the Festival of Saint Vincent, the patron saint of winegrowers. The celebration takes place in a different winegrowing village each year. Saint Vincent celebrations attract tens of thousands of people over the weekend. Visitors pay to tour the village where local winegrowers have opened their cellars for wine tasting, and join in the fun. In the town square, the houses are decorated with paper mache flowers and many of the locals dress up in costumes from eras past. It's quirky. And beautiful. Winemakers pour special bottles of wine and offer samples of future vintages straight from the barrel."  Old Westminster Winery


For 2021, Old Westminster Winery moved their annual Festival of Saint Vincent to a virtual setting with the release of a trio of wines.  These were the 2018 Cabernet Franc, 2019 Syrah, and 2020 Blaufrankish -- pulled young from the barrel and available for purchase for $75.   The wines were delivered with no labels or corks and basically, just the bare fruit. The winery also release a short video (below) 

2018 Cabernet Franc
This was a miserable year rain-wise in the Mid-Atlantic with many wineries completely dumping their red grape harvest. That didn't stop Old Westminster as Drew Baker explains, "Looking ahead, we are mostly concerned about the reds -- ripening is going to be tricky… As a result, we're switching up our program to focus more on carbonic/juicy style reds this season. These styles are much better suited to fruit with lower phenolic ripeness, lower sugar content and higher natural acidity. We've even got a new 1,500 gal foeder to break in with whole-cluster CF next week. " And that was the beginnings of this wine and, yes, it is juicy, with bright red cherries, but there's also backbone with noticeable tannins. I wouldn't say they salvaged these grapes, I'd say Old Westminster made a remarkable wine in its own right.

2019 Syrah
The grapes for this wine were grown in Rising Sun, Maryland - located northeast of Baltimore near the Pennsylvania border.  The juice was fermented with whole cluster fermentation and native yeast with the formal proving more tannins than the whole berry fermentation of the Cabernet Franc. The Syrah starts with big voluptuous dark fruit, then black pepper and the beginnings of structure and tannins - but is not well integrated. Feels like two distinct wines but additional oak aging will enhance the structure and integrate the tannins with the fruit.

2020 Blaufrankish

These grapes were grown in Washington County Maryland - near Hagerstown and fermented using small bins and whole cluster. The wine was aged just three months in barrel before bottling, shows great fruit expression, and is very representative of the grape. Extremely fruit forward right now and appropriate body and spice. Possesses more than enough tannins and acids to grow and fortify in Hungarian or American oak. The whole cluster fermentation was a good choice. 

Cheers to Old Westminster, Maryland Wine, and the Festival of Saint Vincent.