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.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Grape Spotlight: Žilavka of Medjugorje

The Mediterranean climate that attracts viticulture in Croatia's coastal regions do not end at the Adriatic but extend into Herzegovina -- the southern region within Bosnia-Herzegovina. Grapes have been cultivated in this region for at least a millennium, with vineyards planted in limestone soils from the coast to the city of Mostar. Žilavka is the predominant white grape that flourishes even during drought conditions.

St. James Cathedral
The grape is noted for its abundant acidity and sugar concentration providing the potential for high alcohol levels, two traits that influence its use in brandy distilling. As a single varietal wine, Žilavka provides an interesting nutty, sometimes pine-ish, character. Wineries often enhance the body with barrique oak aging, which doesn't dissuade from the nutty aspect of the wine. We found a couple of these styles in Mostar, but our most memorable was an unoaked version from a store in Medjugorje - the famous pilgrimage site.  The bottle was purchased from a market near St. James Cathedral and the clerk told us it was his family's label - translated "Homemade dry white wine".  The wine was dry, only 12% alcohol, and greenish with noticeable pine notes - made me think of Vermentino.  Looking forward to our next visit. Cheers.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

A COVID-19 American Craft Beer Week

American Craft Beer Week (May 11-17) is the annual nationwide celebration of small and independent U.S. craft breweries. Join the celebration and support independent brewery businesses by giving the gift of craft beer through delivery of beer, beer-to-go, gift cards or merchandise,

In more joyous times, American Craft Beer Week would entail various celebrations at beer bars, restaurants, and breweries with consumers able to sample a wide array of craft-brewed beer. That was before COVID-19 and the nationwide shutdown that has disabled, not only craft breweries, but also the restaurants and retail outlets which were once strong outlets of the craft beer supply chain.

The Brewers Association (BA) is the membership organization dedicated to promoting and protecting small and independent craft brewers in the United States. The BA defines a craft brewer as small, traditional, and independent -- features which make these establishments particularly vulnerable during this pandemic. Many of these small brewers rely completely on tasting room sales and do not have the distribution arrangements for a wider audience. They are also independent and not partly or wholly owned by large conglomerates that have the cash reserve or financial ties to weather the crisis.

In normal economic times, there is creative destruction within the industry where a certain number of breweries will open and a smaller number closing their doors. However, with challenging profit margins, even in the best of times, many of our favorite breweries may not survive without our focused assistance. has published a Nationwide List of To-Go Beer Options by Breweries and for this week (and beyond) are asking consumers for their support. If you are ill or an at-risk individual, you should avoid going out, but consider purchasing a gift card or searching for local breweries providing delivery services. If you are healthy, take advantage of curbside beer service.  With our help craft breweries will ride this, and any future, COVID-19 storms.

Follow: #GiveCraftBeer and #SeekTheSeal


Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Grape Spotlight: Welschriesling, Grasevina, Olaszrizling, Riesling Italico, Laski Rizling

St. Donat Kopaszhegy
Olaszrizling 2018
The most widely planted grape variety in Croatia (Grasevina). The most widely planted grape variety in Hungary (Olaszrizling). And prevalent in Austria, Northern Italy, Czech Republic, Slovakia Republic, Bulgaria, Romania, and Slovenia where the grape is known by even more names: Welschriesling, Riesling Italico, Ryzlink vlašský, Welsch Rizling, Riesling Italico, and Laski Rizling.

Grasevina in a market in Split
In many cases, particularly in Croatia and Hungary, the 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. In the latter case, the grapes form noble rot botrytis among the humid vineyards surrounding Lake Neusiedl Austria leading to more depth and fullness. And in the stratovolcanic chain within the cooler continental climate in Slavonia, Croatia or the volcanic basalt soils of Somló and Lake Balaton Hungary, the wines show even greater depth.

In the specific case surrounding Lake Balaton, Olaszrizling wines generally show complex minerality as they receive a boost of minerality and saltiness due to the basalt bedrock which releases minerals such as potassium, magnesium, and calcium into the soils. These wines also provide a roundness that balances the grape's inherent acidity.

One such example is the St. Donat Kopaszhegy Olaszrizling 2018 ($21) available in the U.S. via Taste Hungary. This wine comes from a single vineyard Kopaszhegy (Bald Hill) on the Tihany peninsula in the Balatonfüred-Csopak wine region located on the northeastern shore of Lake Balaton (the largest lake in central Europe). And in this region, the wines are traditionally sold using the name of the hill, with each having its own character.  This wine is fermented spontaneously without inoculating with yeast and bottled naturally without clarifying and filtering.  It starts with a brief, initial impression of neutrality only because the sense of fruit is outweighed by a hefty dose of minerality that is sustained throughout.  The wine also provides roundness and depth that blends with the fresh acids - too complex to be used in fröccs. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Drinking Through Family History: Woodstock, Virginia

My mother's father's maternal line flows forth from the Shenandoah Valley in an area ranging from Strasburg to Edinburg and dominated by names like Hoover, Smoot, Gochenour, Grandstaff, Keller, and Hottel. These families were mostly German, Swiss, and Dutch immigrants arriving in the colonies at Philadelphia, then migrating to York and Lancaster, before finally settling in what is now Shenandoah County. They were a mixture of Mennonites and Lutherans, primarily farmers, who received their initial land grants from Lord Fairfax.

One of these immigrants was Hans Wilhelm Huber who along with his wife Anna Margaretha, emigrated from Germany and arrived in Philadelphia in 1736. A dozen years later the Hubers settled near the North Fork around Woodstock Virginia after an initial residency in Lebanon PA. Their son, Johannes Huber (John Hoover), married Elizabeth Fravel, whose family lineage arrived in the valley a couple generations earlier and included the Keller and Hottel families. The next two generations of Hoovers were farmers with the last male in my line, Perry Monroe Hoover, marrying Mary Jane Smoot -- bringing Gochenours and Grandstaffs into our mix. The Hoover, Smoot, and Gochenour farms were located very close to Woodstock, where many of these ancestors are buried.

These families participated in the growth of Woodstock starting with its original charter in 1761 - making it the 4th oldest town in Virginia - and on land which George Washington had surveyed in his youth and who sponsored the charter in Virginia's House of Burgesses. The town became the county seat of Shenandoah County with Thomas Jefferson designing the original courthouse that is the oldest courthouse still in use west of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Clerk of the Circuit Court Thomas Marshall, father of Supreme Court Justice John Marshall, was one of the first judges to utilize the courthouse. Ardent revolutionaries, the community contributed soldiers to the 8th Virginia Regiment that saw action in Saratoga among many other battles, and suffered through Valley Forge. During the Civil War, the community was generally reluctant to participate in the southern cause, being religiously opposed to slavery, but a few members enlisted or were conscripted into the Company F (the Muhlenberg Rifles) of the 10th Virginia Infantry as well as Company C of the 33rd Virginia Infantry -- part of the Stonewall Brigade.

Today, Woodstock Brewhouse is located near in the center of town, near the historic courthouse. The brewery opened four years ago after renovating the Casey Jones Work-Clothes Company factory - which operated from 1925 through the early 1940s. You are familiar with this company through its Wrangler brand which rose to national prominence after the company and brand where purchased by the Blue Bell Overall Company in 1943. The brewery commemorates this history through its Casey Jones Vanilla Porter as well as the nearby North Fork of the Shenandoah River with the North Fork Golden Ale and Seven Bender American Pale Ale. These last two are your hydration beers during local hiking and fishing excursions.

And when fishing or visiting the seven bends of the North Fork, venture over the one-lane bridge or the swinging walking bridge to Muse Vineyards. The winery rests on the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains with the vineyards planted with a mixture of Bordeaux and Rhone grapes close to the river. In 2003 Robert Muse and Sally Cowal purchased an abandoned vineyard that formed the base for Muse and later purchased a 200-year-old Mennonite farm adjacent to their property which allowed them to expand to thirty acres of vines. The soil for the various vineyards are quite distinct, with the blocks closer to the river dominated by silt loam alluvium and the vineyards closer to the mountains containing rocky red clay soils. Since its inception, the winery has gained a very favorable reputation for its Clio ($35-ish) Bordeaux-style red wine and Thalia ($24) Rhone-style white wine. We concur completely.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Grape Spotlight: Croatian Tribidrag (Crljenak Kaštelanski, Pribidrag, Kratošija) aka Zinfandel

"When I came to America in August 1958, I saw vineyards around Chateau Souverain and I was interested to know which grapes were grown there. They told me Cabernet Franc from France and Zinfandel, but no-one knows where those grapes came from.  .... These Zinfandel grapes reminded me of the Plavic Mali grapes from my homeland in Croatia. ... I contacted Dr. Carole Meredith to tell her that I believed Zinfandel, Italian Primitivo, and Croatian Plavic Mali were the same grape. "  Miljenko "Mike" Grgich addressing the First International Conference on the Tribidrag Variety
Grgich's instincts were close. The idea that California Zinfandel was equivalent to Italian Primitivo was also proposed by UC Davis professor Austin Goheen and Wade Wolfe in the 1960s. Goheen visually inspected Primitivo from Puglia (Southern Italy) and considered them identical whereas Wolfe used isozyme analysis to strengthen that hypothesis. But it wasn't until 1995, after three years of DNA analysis, when Dr. Carole Meredith, Professor at UC Davis, concluded that Zinfandel and Primitivo were, in fact, the same grape variety.

Courtesy of Rizman Winery
Based on Grgich's recommendation, Dr. Meredith then traveled to Croatia in 1998 and,  working with Dr. Edi Maletić and Dr. Ivan Pejić, collected 150 Plavic Mali samples. Returning to UC Davis for testing the results were negative, close, but not identical. Dr. Meredith concluded that either Zinfandel or Plavic Mali was the parent of the other but couldn't determine the parental direction. Dr. Maletić and Dr. Pejić continued the search in Dalmatia, often walking row after row in small family vineyards. Eventually, they sent Dr. Meredith samples of an obscure variety called Crljenak Kastelanski that they had collected near Kastel. Actually two sets of samples with the second being an exact match. And more research showed that Plavic Mali was the offspring. Fortunately for our pronunciation, the Crljenak Kastelanski grape was also called Tribidrag and the oldest name used in Croatian literature dated to the 15th century. Thus Croatia is the ancient homeland for California Zinfandel. (One and the same? – Zinfandel, Primitivo, Crljenak Kaštelanski and Kratošija)

Well, not so fast my friend. Croatia's southern neighbor Montenegro claims that distinction based on the Montenegrin autochthonous grape Kratosija which is genetically identical to Tribidrag. Montenegrin wine enthusiast Vlado Nikaljević presents an intriguing argument that the grapes provided to the Vienna World Fair that eventually became the foundation for California Zinfandel came from Montenegro and "Venetian archives show that the Statute of the Venetian Budva mentions Kratošija 60 years before the Tribidrag references". (Montenegro - the True Homeland of Zinfandel)

Thus, Zinfandel's homeland is - to be continued....

In the meantime, a second wave has taken Croatian Tribidrag to California. Ridge Vineyards, among other California wineries,  planted Croatian selections in their Lytton Springs vineyard. They will label wine from these grapes Croatian Zinfandel since the TTB doesn’t recognize Zinfandel and Tribidrag as synonyms. Expect an update on these wines soon.

This evening I just finished sipping a Dalmatian made Croatian Tribidrag - the 2016 Rizman Winery Tribidrag ($45) - available for purchase through Croatian Premium Wine Imports. The wine includes 15% Tempranillo and is sourced from the winery's organic vineyards in the Komarna winegrowing area between Split and Dubrovnik. The south-facing slopes are steep and comprised of limestone soils. The result is a chalky old world styled wine with linear fruit, approachable and chewy tannins, and lengthy acids.
The Ridge Lytton Springs Tribidrag apparently has a similar structure -- particularly the strong acidity.

During this CV pandemic, Croatian Premium Wine Imports is conducting weekly Wednesday night virtual chats and this Rizman is the focus on the chat for tomorrow April 15th. (Funny when I wrote that final date, I immediately panicked about my taxes.)  Hope to see you online at 8pm ET. Cheers.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Grape Spotlight: Rioja Viura or Macabeo Elsewhere in Spain

DOC Rioja is primarily red wine centric, however, on the white wine side of the house, Viura has supplanted Malvasia as the most widely planted white grape variety.  Elsewhere in Spain, the grape is called Macabeo, but Rioja vintners are especially keen because of its high levels of antioxidant resveratrol monomers. This brings it a little closer to a red wine grape and barrel aging as the higher percentage of resveratrol equates to higher resistance to oxidation. And barrel aging inevitably results in higher exposure to oxygen. In the vineyard, there are risks; Viura is susceptible to disease and in particular to downy mildew and grey rot.

In the winery, Viura is very versatile and can be vinified into multiple styles from still or sparkling, dry or sweet, or steel or barrel fermented. The wines are generally fresh with floral and white fruit aromatics using stainless steel fermentation and more weighted and nutty when oak treatments are used.

If you want to try a Viura wine then you should start with Monopole, the oldest white wine brand in Spain, and first produced by CVNE in 1915. The current vintage is the Monopole 2019 White Rioja ($15) where only free-run juice was fermented in order to maintain the inherent fruit and floral aromatics. This also creates a freshness that is consistent from start to finish weaving through surprising layers of depth.

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

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Grape Spotlight: Crossing the Ponte Romano de Éntoma to Virgen del Galir Godello

Ponte Romano de Éntoma
via Camino de Santiago
The Ponte Romano de Éntoma -- a stone bridge over the Rio Galir in the village of Éntoma and built by the Romans over two thousand years ago. It is even still usable today for pilgrims on the Camino Invierno de Santiago's winter route.  The bridge was constructed most likely to facilitate the transportation of gold from the encompassing Valdeorras (“Valley of Gold”) region. This area is located in southeastern Galacia and not to be confused with the coastal Rias Baixas. Gold mining eventually transitioned to slate once that precious metal had been extracted - but the Romans left an additional legacy: vineyards. And possibly the first vines planted in Galacia.

As Galicia's most inland region, Valdeorras has a predominantly continental climate, experiencing warm summers, cold winters, and mild autumns and springs, although the Atlantic Ocean to the west also exerts an influence ( And as a result of natural cross-breeding or mutations, the autochthonous grape variety Godello emerged as a dominant white grape. Yet, in the 19th century, most vineyards in Valdeorras suffered from multiple pests - most voraciously by phylloxera. In the 20th century, vineyards rebounded. The Valdeorras DO was created in 1945 and 25 years later Godello was reintroduced on a large scale - becoming the signature grape of the appellation.

More recently, in the 21st century, the Rioja powerhouse CVNE purchased the Virgen del Galir, a noted winery in Valdeorras located just outside of the village of Éntoma. The winery owns 20 hectares of high altitude vineyards planted at 30% inclination and with soil composed of decomposed slate. Since the winery's inception in 2002, Godello has been a major attraction - like the 2018 Pagos del Galir Godello ($21). The grapes are fermented in stainless steel and then rest on their lees for four months which helps provide a silky elegance. The wine also features characteristics of lemons, minerality, and fresh acidity. An excellent option.

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

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Stay Connected with Virtual Chats During the CV Lockdown

We are living in interesting times, unable to frequent our favorite craft beverage establishments or explore various regions.  Fortunately, wine, beer, and liquor stores are considered essential services and combined with discounted shipping rates are supplying our beverage needs. In order to stay connected with existing customers and to seek new consumers, craft beverage producers, importers, and retail shops are conducting virtual tastings.  The chats that I have participated in have been extremely informative, even when not indulging in the targeted beverage. And if you cannot participate live, most of these tastings are available via playback - so enjoy at your leisure. Here is a short list of sessions where I have either participated or received an email notification. Cheers.

On Tuesday nights at 8pm EST, Mirena and Win Burke have been hosting a Croatian Wine Chat at Croatian Premium Wine Imports which feature wines from the Komarna Appellation. In the first two episodes, they have interviewed Decanter judge and Croatian sommelier Siniša Lasan as well as winemakers Josip Volarević and Marko Suman. Each week they will focus on one or two wines in their portfolio available at their Online Store.

Similarly, Taste Hungary, which normally provides a quarterly wine club, has augmented that service with weekly virtual chats on Saturday evenings at 7pm EST. This coming Saturday, April 4th owner Gábor Bánfalvi is presenting Wines from Tokaj with future chats featuring Wines from Eger and Wines from the Heumann Winery in Villány. The wines for these tastings are available as part of various mixed 6-Packs, with free delivery on purchases of 6 bottles or more in the DC metro area, within 40 miles of DC (use promo code: DMV-FREE). They are also providing free delivery on the first shipment of a Wine Club subscription (use promo code: DMV-FREE1) and $10 shipping to all other states (except Alaska), for purchases of 6 bottles or more.

Several wine producers are also conducting virtual chats. In Virginia, Early Mountain Vineyards hosts several virtual presentations such as Friday, April 3rds Vineyard Tour with Dustin Wade, Vineyard Manager at 3:30pm EST.  Through their online store, they are offering free shipping for any orders of 3+ bottles -- combined with a 10% discount for any 6+ bottle order.  In Santa Barbara County, California, Solminer Wine Company is hosting weekly Saturday afternoon Taste Together virtual chats (3:30pm EST). Also in California, on Sunday afternoons (4pm PST) Kendall-Jackson's Winemaster Randy Ullom leads a tasting and discussion of their wines alongside various culinary pairings.

For distilleries, Seattle's Westland Distillery is hosting a tasting experience featuring their core whiskeys (American Oak, Sherry Wood, and Peated) starting Friday, April 3rd at 4pm PST. In Iowa, Mississippi River Distilling Co. is allowing consumers to plan their own virtual tasting with the distillery offering cocktail recipes and on the night of the tasting, they’ll walk the guests through the distillery.

For cideries, Richmond's Blue Bee Cider hosts their FireCider Chat Virtual Tastings on Thursday evenings at 7pm EST which should be very engaging to consumers not familiar with the cider industry or heirloom cider apples.

And continuing with the Commonwealth, let's not forget Frank Morgan's Virtual Virginia Wine Chats which we mentioned in Open That Bottle of Virginia (or Local) Wine Night. The Open That Bottle of Virginia Wine Night on March 28th received more than 4,000 views.

Retail outlets are also using the virtual mode of communication. In DC, the popular wine store DCanter - A Wine Boutique is hosting Friday evening Sips -- virtual wine classes at 6pm EST that "tackle a different wine topic that you can easily follow along at home with or without wine".

Update (4/2/2020) - Paso Robles Wine Country has compiled a list of twenty Virtual Experiences within their appellation. The same is true for the Idaho Wine Commission (pdf).

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Open That Bottle of Virginia (or Local) Wine Night

Frank Morgan at DrinkWhatYouLike has been working overtime supporting the Virginia wine industry during the CV pandemic - primarily using his VAWineChat platform for nightly webinars featuring Virginia winemakers. Last week he suggested an Open That Bottle of Virginia Wine Night for Saturday, March 28th where consumers share on social media (using #vawinenight) a specific Virginia wine and why they selected it. A great idea borrowed from Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher's Open That Bottle Night (OTBN). And on a separate thread, Lenn Thompson and Gina Shea of The Cork Report were organizing a Drink Local Night stressing east coast and midwestern wineries -- the same concept just using the #openlocalwine hashtag.

Please participate in these campaigns, and in addition, raise a glass to toast Juanita Swedenburg, one of driving forces behind the 2005 Granholm v. Heald Supreme Court decision forcing states to allow shipping from out-of-state wineries.  "The court’s decision resolved a longstanding conflict between a state’s right to regulate the sale and use of wines and liquors, as outlined in the 21st Amendment to the Constitution, which ended Prohibition, and the Constitution’s commerce clause, which limits a state’s ability to erect economic barriers against goods shipped from beyond its borders" (NY Times).

The plaintiffs were a combined lawsuit from wine collector Eleanor Heald and others against Michigan and Swedenburg's (and other out-of-state winemakers) lawsuit against New York state. At the time, Swedenburg and her husband were the proprietors of Swedenburg Estate Vineyard in Middleburg, Virginia and a founding member of the Vinifera Wine Growers Association which is now the Atlantic Seaboard Wine Association (ASWA).  In her multiple fights leading to the Supreme Court, Swedenburg benefited from the services of the public interest law firm, Institute for Justice, to handle her cases. And "on May 16, 2005, in a 5-to-4 vote on an action brought by Mrs. Swedenburg and others, the Supreme Court overturned laws in New York and Michigan that discriminated against out-of-state wineries that wanted to ship directly to consumers’ homes" (NY Times).

Wineries across the United States are implementing special shipping rates for online purchases so please support these efforts as much as possible.  The Cork Report has a list here, including several wineries from Michigan and New York - who also profit from interstate wine sales.

And as a side note, Swedenburg Estate Vineyard is now Greenhill Winery & Vineyards, known regionally for its sparkling wine program.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Distilleries Helping in a Crisis: Converting Alcohol to Hand Sanitizer Gel

After Italy, Spain is the country hardest hit by the coronavirus and like most countries, their supply of cleaning solutions and sanitizers are being depleted. To help alleviate this problem our friends at González Byass have converted their three production facilities (Chinchón (Madrid), Jerez de la Frontera (Cádiz) and Bodega Las Copas in Tomelloso (Ciudad Real)) to manufacture and supply sanitary alcohol and hydro-alcoholic gel across Spain. Another famous producer, Bacardi, has begun distribution of over half a million 10-ounce hand sanitizer units to local communities, focusing initially on USPS workers, firefighters, police, and its own employees and contractors (Shanken News).

Closer to home, smaller American craft distillers are also diverting spirits production to hand sanitizers. Initially, distilleries were required to get explicit permission from both the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) as well as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, this week they both waived these restrictions as long as distillers use the recipe outlined by the World Health Organization (WHO):  ethanol (80%, volume/volume) or isopropyl alcohol (75%, v/v), glycerol (1.45% v/v), hydrogen peroxide (0.125% v/v) and sterile distilled water or boiled cold water.

Here is a sample of distillers participating in this endeavor.

According to this WKYT story, Lexington Brewing and Distilling Co. is using their surplus alcohol supply, and chemistry knowledge to produce hand sanitizer that they are providing free to Lexington city hall.  "It's been denatured so it’s not safe to drink and we surely don't want anyone to try that, its' also got hydrogen peroxide and some glycerol, a little thickening agent," said Mark Coffman, Master Distiller.

In Clarksville, Tennessee, Old Glory Distilling Company switched from whiskey to a 96 percent ethanol hand sanitizer, and founder Matt Cunningham thanks one of their suppliers, Long Vue Farms who is supplying the corn for the distilling process. (

In Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan announced that "A number of our distillers from across the state are now, instead of producing alcohol, they're producing hundreds of bottles of hand sanitizer for the local communities". Scott Jendrek, owner of Patapsco Distilling Company said they will be using a World Health Organization's recipe that "..starts with ethanol,.. then you add glycerin, hydrogen peroxide water and you mix it up," Jendrek said. (WBalTV).  Twin Valley Distillers in Rockville and Lyon Distilling Company are two more distilleries aiding in this effort. This ABC3340 article also has a nice write-up of Twin Valley's founder Eduardo Zúñiga.

In Colorado, Spirit Hound Distillers is leading the effort (TheKnow) along with J&L Distilling Company and Talnua Distillery, whose co-founder and current President of the Colorado Distillers Guild says, "This is all still developing and we will see many more distilleries jumping on board with the production of hand sanitizer."

In Atlanta, Georgia Old 4th Distillery is distributing a house-made hand sanitizer to emergency personnel (CBS46) and Ann Arbor Distilling Company is in on the action. According to tasting room manager Danielle Berridge, they are using the neutral spirit they use in their gin. “It’s actually made from local corn. And then we’ve got some aloe gel in there and a little bit of veggie glycerin. And then we also add water to it to bring it down to, I believe, 70%.” (Michigan Radio).

Eight Oaks Craft Distillers (Pennsylvania) has temporarily shifted their distillation process from spirits to hand sanitizer in order to support our community, hospitals, assisted living homes, and beyond (more info here). Revivalist Spirits is another distillery from the Quaker state manufacturing sanitizer which owners Scott and Don Avellino are providing to healthcare professionals (Cision).

Durham Distillery (North Carolina) will be donating their solution to hospitality colleagues.

In Hawaii, Ko'olau Distillery is shifting production to begin supplying hand sanitizer for critical services (press release).

We will be updating this list as we discover more participants - in the meantime - stay healthy. Cheers.

Update (3/24/2020): There is no need to update this list as it appears most craft distilleries are transitioning to manufacturing hand sanitizer. Find your local distiller at either or theCompass Craft Beverage Finder.

Update (4/2/2020): Apparently, the FDA and gov't regulations are hindering distillery's ability to manufacture hand sanitizer without destroying their existing equipment via Reason Magazine.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Over the Ridge from Napa - Berryessa Gap Vineyards

As I mentioned in a previous post concerning Scattered Peaks, winemaker Nicole Salengo also attended our wine dinner at Officina and introduced us to her Winters, California based winery: Berryessa Gap Vineyards.

The winery sprang from Martinez Orchards, a grapevine rootstock nursery started in 1969 by Dan Martinez, Sr., father of the current owners of Berryessa Gap, and winemaker and wine historian Ernest Peninou. Thus the Martinez family has a strong grasp of the microclimate within their western corner of Yolo County, located off Route 128 between the town of Winters and the Vaca Mountains - with Napa County on the western side of the ridge.

The Berryessa estate - Coble Ranch vineyard -- planted along the eastern ridge of the Vaca Mountains and benefits from a climate that resembles the hot and dry conditions of Mediterranean climates. In addition, the eastern-facing slopes provide well-draining soils and are situated near an Alluvial Fan or gap in the range where cooling breezes blow through -- enhancing the grapes' acidity.  This interesting micro-climate allows Berryessa Gap to plant a wide assortment of grape varieties such as Durif (Petite Sirah), Tempranillo, Primitivo (Zinfandel), Barbera, Malbec, Albarino, Verdejo, and Sauvignon Blanc.

Nicole Salengo related these and other facts during our wine dinner. She was born in Vermont and studied Geology in a New York college where she also worked at famed Belgium styled producer Brewery Ommegang (Cooperstown). That started her down the craft beverage path and when a family member offered her an opportunity to stay in Davis California, she proceeded to enroll in the UC Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology -- earning a winemaker's certificate. After a short stint in an air-testing lab (while taking chemistry classes at night), Salengo was hired at a wine shop that specialized in rare wines. Mark West, of Mark West Wines, was a frequent customer and offered Salengo a quid pro quo. He would teach her how to make wine if she worked for him full time.  A new career commenced.

In 2013, she was hired by Berryessa Gap where her primary goal is to highlight the particular terroir at Coble Ranch -- each individual year.  In this regard, Salengo introduced us to 2016 and 2019 through a rosé, a white, and a red wine. These wines were fresh, well made, and priced for most budgets.

2019 Yolo County Rosé ($19)
This rosé was just recently bottled and is a blend of Grenache, Primitivo, and Barbera -- and technically its a Primitivo clone which Salengo states "provides more nuanced elegance". The grapes were harvested early, keeping sugar levels moderate, in order to produce a low ABV wine. There's a distinct depth to the wine with layers of light red fruit. Very nice.

2019 Yolo County Verdejo ($23)
Salengo and Berryessa Gap love Spanish grape varieties and, in fact, in 2013 Berryessa Gap was the original filer to the then TTP equivalent for having Verdejo designated as an approved grape varietal. This wine is an excellent tribute to Rueda as it displays abundant aromatics transitioning to a creamy lemon core, herbaceous, and finishing with fresh acidity.

2016 Yolo County Petite Sirah ($28)
The 2016 Petite Sirah is a field blend that Berryessa Gap modeled after vineyards in France as well as closer to home, Ridge Vineyards - Lytton Springs brand. The actual blend consists of 85% Durif, 10% Primitivo, and 5% Peloursin and the grapes were also whole berry co-fermented. Durif and Petite Sirah are basically synonyms; the grape was originally called Durif after Dr. Francois Durif, who discovered a natural crossing from the cross-pollination of Syrah and Peloursin. For this wine, the naturally high tannins in Petite Sirah are muted by the whole berry fermentation which allows the black cherry character to lead. Expect spices and earthiness as well as refreshing acidity held together with the remaining firm tannins. Delicious.  Berryessa Gap also produces a 100% Durif, which is labeled Durif, which comes from a block at Coble Ranch which is entirely Durif.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Extreme Viticulture: Combating the Spotted Lanternfly

Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture
Agriculture is at the heart of the wine industry and every wine region faces some type of peril. On the east coast, the newest threat is an invasive species native to China, Bangladesh, and Vietnam: the Spotted Lanternfly (also surfacing on the west coast as well).

According to Dr. Joe Fiola, of the University of Maryland Extension, the "pest was first detected in the United States in 2014 in Berks County, Pennsylvania and was accidentally imported from China through a shipment of decorative stone. The pest quickly spread and has decimated vineyards in southeastern Pennsylvania and has the capacity to inflict major damage to hop fields and hardwoods as well. Dr. Joe says the pest has spread into Maryland's Cecil and Harford Counties, West Virginia, and in Winchester Virginia at a stone and block company site. Here is how the University of Maryland Extension describes the damaged inflicted by the Spotted Lanternfly:
Both nymphs (immatures) and adults of spotted lanternfly cause damage when they feed, sucking sap from stems and leaves. This can reduce photosynthesis, weaken the plant, and eventually contribute to the plant’s death. Additionally, spotted lanternfly feeding creates a sugary substance called honeydew. This honeydew, in addition to being attractive to ants, wasps, and other insects, is readily colonized by sooty mold, which can cause parts of the plants to become blackened and look unsightly.

So how do vineyard managers fight the pest, particularly when there are no known natural enemies for biological control? Dean Scott of Pennsylvania's Bergeist Vineyard is fighting the pest through spraying and the Virginia Cooperative Extension at Virginia Tech recommends a set of insecticides (E=Excellent, G=Good). They recommend the Pyrethroids - Brigade (bifenthrin) (E) and Mustang Maxx (zetacypermethrin) (G) and the Neonicotinoids - Actara (thiamethoxam) (E), Scorpion (dinotefuran) (E), and Admire Pro (imidacloprid) (G).

At the Vineyards At Dodon, in Anne Arundel County Maryland, the winery has taken preemptive measures according to Director of Client Services Regina McCarthy starting with removing several Tree-of-heavens (Ailanthus altissima) - a deciduous tree native to China, that the Spotted Lanternfly is particularly attracted to lay eggs on.

As a consumer, the best support you could provide is to continue to, or start to, imbibe local wines. At some point, you may become personally affected as these pests invade your backyards. At that moment you become the predator.  Here's how to identify the pest courtesy of Penn State Extension.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Dinner with Joel Aiken and Scattered Peaks 2017 Small Lot Cabernet Sauvignon

Scattered Peaks is a relatively new Napa Valley brand created by Derek Benham who is leveraging long-time Napa winemaker Joel Aiken to "curate" exemplary Napa Valley Cabernet. The first two vintages featured a Napa Valley wine blended from three vineyards scattered through the AVA. In 2017 Aiken continued that tradition but also introduced a Small Lot version derived from two select Napa vineyards.

During a short east coast tour, Aiken visited D.C. and briefed several media influencers on the Scattered Peaks brand -- all over a delicious meal at Officina at the Wharf. Aiken related that the brand's name is derived from Benham's love of surfing and extreme skiing - helicopter skiing. That's intuitive with skiing, but with surfing, Benham refers to the waves between the best rides as scattered peaks.

Another anecdote Aiken relayed was that because of the Scattered Peaks brand name, Benham preferred sourcing exclusively from mountain-grown fruit. Instead, Aiken suggested a vineyard in Rutherford that he had discovered during his twenty years overseeing the winemaking at Beaulieu Vineyard.  This Morisoli Vineyards is located on the valley floor on the Western Rutherford Bench but experiences excellent drainage from the alluvial gravelly soils and cooling late afternoon shade as the mountains block the setting sun.

Fruit from this vineyard provides structure and firm tannins for the new Scattered Peaks Small Lot 2017 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and is joined by fruit from the Sage Ridge Vineyards that provides intensity and depth. This vineyard is located at a higher altitude on the eastern hills of Napa south of Howell Mountain. The shale and clay soils reduce vigor to produce smaller berries enhancing complexity and intensity. The result is a luscious wine, layers of dark fruit with fleshy depth and finishing firmly with structure and a lingering finale.

Aiken also poured the Scattered Peaks 2017 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($35) - a continuation of the brand's two other vintages of this wine that is sourced from three vineyards scattered throughout the Napa Valley. First, however, this is a plush wine, dark fruit enveloped with black licorice, sometimes chocolate, sometimes coffee, sometimes, dusty. Like the Small Lot, this is 100% Cabernet and includes a dose of Rutherford fruit - this time 21% from the Round Pond vineyard. A majority of the grapes, however, come from Usibelli Vineyards in the Pope Valley - located in eastern Napa and separated from the rest of Napa by the Howell Mountains. During the summer, the Pope Valley is warmer than most of Napa during the day but enjoys a large diurnal shift during the cool nights. The remaining fruit is sourced from the Gordon Valley, situated in the far southeastern corner of Napa Valley where the surrounding hills provide a similar landscape as Rutherford - just perhaps a little on the cooler side.

Aiken also wanted to demonstrate the age-worthiness of Napa Cabernet so he graciously poured two ten+-year-old wines from the Rutherford Bench and from his days at Beaulieu Vineyard. When originally released, these wines were part of the Maestro Collection -- a series designed to celebrate Beaulieu's first winemaker André Tchelistcheff - the Maestro - and who Georges de Latour first met in 1938.  The first wine was the 2006 BV Beaulieu No 1 Rutherford Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and the second the 2008 Beaulieu Vineyard Ranch No 1 Cabernet Sauvignon. Each wine was still fresh, plenty of acids and still velvety with firm tannins.

Note: The dinner was also hosted by Berryessa Gap Vineyards where winemaker Nicole Salengo introduced us to this winery. Expect a post next week on these delicious wines. And special thanks to Officina for excellent service and courses.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

IPAs and Braggots at The Farm Brewery at Broad Run

We recently visited The Farm Brewery at Broad Run, a Northern Virginia farm brewery located just west of Haymarket and home to an apiary, raspberry & blueberry fields, a hop yard, and a small vineyard. Plus lots of chickens. The brewery is spacious with plenty of tables, a small stage, a kitchen, food trucks, and dog-friendly. There's also a fishing pond in the rear. The Farm Brewery also provides a large portfolio of beer (and a few wines) with plenty of diversity of styles.  Here's a sampling of the beers we tried and as always, theCompass Craft Beverage Finder will guide you to all your craft beverage destinations.

Mom's Raspberry Kolsh - this is a lighter interesting beer because its sweet and tart up front but dry and lingering on the tail.

Hop Harvest Pale Ale - brewed using Copper Fox malt and estate Cascade, Columbus, Chinook, & Centennial hops. It's grassy and citrus, balanced and delicious.

Trop the Bomb NE IPA- lactose, tangerine, and soursop puree and Azacca, El Dorado, & Cascade hops. True to their descriptor, an explosive bomb of tropical flavor.

Hazy Dayz of Winter Pineapple Express NE IPA - dry-hopped with Eureka, Chinook, and Nugget hops which are toned down by the fruit. Very nice.

Hops N' Hammers IPA - a collaboration with JTired Woodworking aged in wood chips. The pinewood character provides a distinct contrast to the malt and Cascade & Chinook hops. Adding some Pineapple Express subdues the pine and lengthened the finish.

Viking Braggot - this honey beer is brewed using 420 pounds of honey. It's chewy with spices and just tad of honey. High abv and my favorite.

Three Hens-Belgian Porter - a Belgian Poorter style using Belgian yeast which provides a bit of the spice inherent to a Saison with soft milk chocolate rounding out the finish.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Lost Boy Cider - Virginia's First Urban Cidery

This weekend we leveraged a Four Mile Run fishing trip into a visit to Alexandria's Lost Boy Cider. Tristan Wright recently opened Virginia's first urban cidery using apples sourced from Glaize Orchard - a four-generation grower located outside Winchester in the Shenandoah Valley. This is the epicenter for Northern Virginia apple growing with Frederick County hosting its own Apple Trail. Wright also hired David Briun, a respected cider and winemaker, who leverages his experience from the Eden Ice Cider Company and Bellwether Cider & Wine to produce a wide portfolio of ciders - a dozen to be precise.

Many of these ciders are co-fermented with various fruit, peppers, botanicals, spices, and hops. But our focus was on the dry side of the house specifically the Comeback Kid, Gold Digger, Barrel Aged, and Andre the Giant - Petillant Naturel Cider.

The Comeback Kid is made from a blend of table apples -- Golden Delicious, Red Delicious, Pink Lady, Stayman, and Fuji -- a blend that remains the same throughout the year. Biun states that they work with David (Glaize Orchard) "to customize our picking schedule, storage, and pressing strategy so we can have a consistent blend throughout the year".   The cider itself is solid - dry, more tart than you would expect from these apples, a creamy texture, and finishing with refreshing acids.  For the Barrel Aged, Biun ages the Comeback Kid for 4 months in used bourbon barrels creating a softer cider where the bourbon shows itself on the tail. Unfortunately, the fresh acidity and tartness dissipate during this process.

The Gold Digger is a blend of Golden Delicious and Rhode Island Greening -- and American heirloom apple variety dating back to the 17th century and most often used for apple pie. But at Lost Boy, this non-pollinating apple has found a suitable mate to produce a dry, mildly tart cider with a full apple core. I think my favorite of the foursome.

Finally, the Andre the Giant is a Pét-Nat (Petillant Naturel) Cider, a sparkling cider, where the cider is bottled before completing its primary fermentation. Carbonation occurs in the bottle as carbon dioxide is produced naturally when the yeast consumes the remaining sugars.  This is a vibrant offering, light, and flavorful.

Lost Boy's tasting room is spacious with room for kids, dogs,  and yoga mats. A food truck was parked outside and a pizza party inside testified that visitors can byof.  And make sure you inspect the tasting bar itself, a physical specimen repurposed from a fallen maple tree.

As for future offerings, a Cyser is on deck and Biun says they are "starting to branch out for some more limited release ciders focusing on trying to capture the essence of different orchards. We have started conversations with Diane Flynt at Foggy Ridge Cider as well as Claire Whelan at Longview Orchard to source orchard/field blends for some projects next harvest". Sounds enticing

And as always theCompass Craft Beverage Finder will guide you to all your cider needs. Cheers.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Dão Wines: The Hidden Gem of Portugal

This title was the byline for a brilliant tasting sponsored by Vinhos Dão Wines and Wines of Portugal and featuring numerous wines from this "hidden gem". The tasting started with Wines of Portugal US Ambassador Eugenio Jardim discussing Portugal and the Iberian Peninsula before transitioning to the Dão. Most pertinent is that Portugal has the largest number of microclimates per square kilometers in the world and hosts over 250 indigenous grape varieties. In fact, these grapes are from the species Vitis Silvestris which developed isolated from the world as the Iberian Peninsula remained glacier free during the Quaternary glaciations which froze North and Central Europe over the last 2.58 million years.

That being said, the modern indigenous grape varieties grown in Portugal are Vitis Vinifera and includes grapes such as Malvasia Fina, Encruzado, Jaen (Mencia), and Baga, as well as Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo). These grapes excel in the Dão viticultural region's granite soils and are favored with the microclimates within this northern Portuguese region. It is enclosed by four mountain ranges which act as natural barriers from the coastal rains that originate from the Atlantic and the strong continental winds emanating from Spain. Vineyards are generally planted between 1300 to 1600 feet with higher elevations reaching 2600 feet. According to, "This elevation raises the vines out of the valley's shadows and towards all-important sunshine, allowing them to maximize their photosynthesis time during the day. It also increases diurnal temperature variation, helping the grapes cool down at night, which they must do to retain the acids so desirable in wine".

Courtesy of Vinhos Dão Wine
In 1908, the Dão became the second (following Porto) formal Portuguese wine region which defined the general conditions for the production and trade of Dão Wine. And more recently the C.V.R. Dão was established in 1987 right after Portugal formally joined the EU. This organization is responsible for "ensuring authenticity and quality by strictly controlling the production and marketing of the wines" and certifies and authenticates wines with Seals of Guarantee. The CVR also created four quality designations listed in the box.
Selected Harvest: With harvest year, with outstanding organoleptic characteristics and with more than 1% of the volume of the legal limit.
Reserve: With harvest year, with outstanding organoleptic characteristics and with more than 0.5% of the volume of the legal limit.
Garrafeira: With harvest year, with outstanding organoleptic characteristics;
> Red wines: 36 months, 12 months in bottle
> White wines: 12 months, 6 months in bottle
Dão Nobre: With the year of harvest, with very outstanding organoleptic characteristics. Only two to date (one white and one red) – Must score 90 points plus
Our tasting started with a flight of white wines dominated by the Encruzado grape. According to Wines of Portugal, Encruzado generally creates complex wines with aromatic mineral notes and tropical fruit and depth and vanilla when fermented in barrel. The Quinto do Mondego Mondeo Branco 2018 (60% Encruzado & 40% Gouveio) contains these mineral notes as well as a smokey, flinty profile. The grape's versatility was shown in the saline driven high acid Juliana Kelman Encruzado 2018 to the beeswax and spice in the Pedra Cancela Vinha da Fidalga Encruzado 2018 the cream and depth of the Quinta dos Roques Encruzado 2018.

For reds, our hosts provided one flight consisting of various blends and the second flight of 100% Touriga Nacional. Like most European regions, blends are the backbone of the Dão with most combinations not as complex as the Casa da Passarella "O Oenologo - Vinhas Velhas" Tinto 2015 - composed of Baga, Touriga Nacional, Alvarelhão, Tinta Pinheira, Jaen, Alfrocheiro, Tinta Carvalha, and more. And the Pedra Cancela Selecao do Enologo Tinto 2016 (Touriga Nacional, Alfrocheiro, Tinta Roriz) was the bargain of the tasting, priced under $10, with gripping tannins and solid fruit structure and just a little less leather and barnyard funk as the winery's more expensive Reserva.

The 100% Touriga Nacional wines, in general, provided more fruit than the blends particularly the Borges Touriga Nacional 2017. But expect a balanced profile with texture and solid tannins. The Julia Kemper Touriga Nacional 2012 was more tender due to the advanced aging and provided more approachable tannins. My favorite was the dustier Jaime de Almeida Barros "Quinta das Camelias" Touriga Nacional 2016 which seemed a perfect match with the Martin Farms Beef Short Rib -- the main entree during our lunch at Metier.

The final wine was the Qunita das Maias Tinto Jaen 2017, my first single varietal from this grape. It offers a rustic charm with dusty cherries and firm tannins.  This wine and the others will entice a more in-depth examination of the Dão region and Portuguese wines.

Felicidades to Vinhos Dão Wines, Wines of Portugal, and Metier for a fantastic tasting.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Bokisch Vineyards 2014 Gran Reserva Tempranillo

In Spain, Gran Reserva wines are prized for their dense fruit, structure, and integrated tannins - all the result of appellation regulations where the wine is aged for at least five years, of which 18 months (24 in Navarra, Rioja, and Ribera del Duero) are spent in oak casks.  Markus and Liz Bokisch (plus winemaker  Elyse Perry) honored this heritage by following the same regulations when producing the Bokisch Vineyards 2014 Gran Reserva Tempranillo ($60).   The grapes were grown in the silty sandy loam of the Las Cerezas Vineyard and the volcanic clay loam of the Liberty Oaks Vineyard. After fermentation, the wine was then aged 36 months in new American and new French oak followed by an additional 20 months in bottle.

The result is a beautiful wine, both chewy and luscious with dark cherries surrounded by chocolate, subtle leather, and baking spices. Expect a long, lingering finish.  Cheers to this Gran Reserva.

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

Friday, January 24, 2020

Cheers to Robert Burns and Speyburn Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky

On January 25th, revelers in Scotland will be toasting Robert Burns - the famed poet and Scots bard during Burns Night.  He was born on that day in 1759 and at the end of the century, his poems captured Scottish identity and nationalism at the time when government, culture, and industry were moving to or emanating from London.

One of his famous works, ‘A Man’s a Man for A’ That‘ was sung at the opening of the new Scottish Parliament in 1999. This poem is a powerful statement relevant today: ‘That man to man the world o’er, / Shall brothers be for a’ that.’ Another relevant, powerful, yet playful poem, Scotch Drink, is shown on the left.

We will be toasting Burns with the Speyburn 10 Years Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky ($30) sent to us courtesy of Speyburn Distillery. This distillery was founded in 1897 by John Hopkins in order to honor Queen Victoria's jubilee year (60th year of her reign). It is located in Speyside, a small region that hosts over half the distilleries in Scotland.

Hopkins selected the location for Speyburn next to the Granty Burn, a tributary to the Spey River that was exceptionally clean and unpolluted. Pure Highland water. He also hired distillery architect Charles C Doig, who builds vertically to create an even airflow over the grains as they dried.  The result is the classic pagoda ventilator, a hallmark of Doig's design.

After the grains are malted, fermented, and distilled, the whiskey is aged in used American oak bourbon and sherry casks. This process creates a traditional Speyside whisky: light, creamy, sweet and honeyed - with oak complexity.

Cheers to Robert Burns, Scotland, Speyburn, and Speyside Scotch Whisky.

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

Scotch Drink by Robert Burns (1785)

Let other poets raise a fracas
"Bout vines, an' wines, an' drucken Bacchus,
An' crabbit names an'stories wrack us,
An' grate our lug:
I sing the juice Scotch bear can mak us,
In glass or jug.

O thou, my muse! guid auld Scotch drink!
Whether thro' wimplin worms thou jink,
Or, richly brown, ream owre the brink,
In glorious faem,
Inspire me, till I lisp an' wink,
To sing thy name!

Let husky wheat the haughs adorn,
An' aits set up their awnie horn,
An' pease and beans, at e'en or morn,
Perfume the plain:
Leeze me on thee, John Barleycorn,
Thou king o' grain!
On thee aft Scotland chows her cood,
In souple scones, the wale o'food!
Or tumblin in the boiling flood
Wi' kail an' beef;
But when thou pours thy strong heart's blood,
There thou shines chief.
Food fills the wame, an' keeps us leevin;
Tho' life's a gift no worth receivin,
When heavy-dragg'd wi' pine an' grievin;
But, oil'd by thee,
The wheels o' life gae down-hill, scrievin,
Wi' rattlin glee.

Thou clears the head o'doited Lear;
Thou cheers ahe heart o' drooping Care;
Thou strings the nerves o' Labour sair,
At's weary toil;
Though even brightens dark Despair
Wi' gloomy smile.

Aft, clad in massy siller weed,
Wi' gentles thou erects thy head;
Yet, humbly kind in time o' need,
The poor man's wine;
His weep drap parritch, or his bread,
Thou kitchens fine.

Thou art the life o' public haunts;
But thee, what were our fairs and rants?
Ev'n godly meetings o' the saunts,
By thee inspired,
When gaping they besiege the tents,
Are doubly fir'd.

That merry night we get the corn in,
O sweetly, then, thou reams the horn in!
Or reekin on a New-year mornin
In cog or bicker,
An' just a wee drap sp'ritual burn in,
An' gusty sucker!

When Vulcan gies his bellows breath,
An' ploughmen gather wi' their graith,
O rare! to see thee fizz an freath
I' th' luggit caup!
Then Burnewin comes on like death
At every chap.

Nae mercy then, for airn or steel;
The brawnie, banie, ploughman chiel,
Brings hard owrehip, wi' sturdy wheel,
The strong forehammer,
Till block an' studdie ring an reel,
Wi' dinsome clamour.

When skirling weanies see the light,
Though maks the gossips clatter bright,
How fumblin' cuiffs their dearies slight;
Wae worth the name!
Nae howdie gets a social night,
Or plack frae them.

When neibors anger at a plea,
An' just as wud as wud can be,
How easy can the barley brie
Cement the quarrel!
It's aye the cheapest lawyer's fee,
To taste the barrel.

Alake! that e'er my muse has reason,
To wyte her countrymen wi' treason!
But mony daily weet their weason
Wi' liquors nice,
An' hardly, in a winter season,
E'er Spier her price.

Wae worth that brandy, burnin trash!
Fell source o' mony a pain an' brash!
Twins mony a poor, doylt, drucken hash,
O' half his days;
An' sends, beside, auld Scotland's cash
To her warst faes.

Ye Scots, wha wish auld Scotland well!
Ye chief, to you my tale I tell,
Poor, plackless devils like mysel'!
It sets you ill,
Wi' bitter, dearthfu' wines to mell,
Or foreign gill.

May gravels round his blather wrench,
An' gouts torment him, inch by inch,
What twists his gruntle wi' a glunch
O' sour disdain,
Out owre a glass o' whisky-punch
Wi' honest men!

O Whisky! soul o' plays and pranks!
Accept a bardie's gratfu' thanks!
When wanting thee, what tuneless cranks
Are my poor verses!
Thou comes-they rattle in their ranks,
At ither's a-s!

Thee, Ferintosh! O sadly lost!
Scotland lament frae coast to coast!
Now colic grips, an' barkin hoast
May kill us a';
For loyal Forbes' charter'd boast
Is ta'en awa?

Thae curst horse-leeches o' the' Excise,
Wha mak the whisky stells their prize!
Haud up thy han', Deil! ance, twice, thrice!
There, seize the blinkers!
An' bake them up in brunstane pies
For poor damn'd drinkers.

Fortune! if thou'll but gie me still
Hale breeks, a scone, an' whisky gill,
An' rowth o' rhyme to rave at will,
Tak a' the rest,
An' deal't about as thy blind skill
Directs thee best.