Friday, July 12, 2024

Regenerative Rosé from Domaine Bousquet

This year we have received many samples from Domaine Bousquet and have covered the winery in the Wines with Altitude series based on the fact that their estate vineyards are 4,000 feet above sea level. Yet, we have not covered in detail their most important viticulture accomplishment-- the first Argentinean winery achieving Regenerative Organic Certified (ROC). "Regenerative organic agriculture is a collection of practices that focus on regenerating soil health and the full farm ecosystem. In practice, regenerative organic agriculture can look like cover cropping, crop rotation, low- to no-till, compost, and zero use of persistent chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Layered into these practices, depending on a farm’s needs, could be the addition of perennials, development of pollinator and wildlife habitats, incorporation of agroforestry systems, vegetative barriers, and other regenerative practices that are shown to contribute to the development of soil organic matter."

Domaine Bousquet unknowingly started the regenerative process 25 years ago by farming organically then slowly adding in more features aligning to Regenerative agriculture. Wineries highlight different aspects of certification and Domaine Bousquet focuses on three three key areas:

  • Soil Health and Land Management
  • Animal Welfare
  • Equity between Farmers and Workers

According to co-owner and CEO Anne Bousquet, "by nurturing the earth and treating it with respect, the earth will reward us with its finest fruits. Healthy plants, cultivated through these methods, do not require pesticides. The healthiest grapes yield quality yeast, leading to smooth fermentation. Consequently, we reduce the need for adjustments during the winemaking process, resulting in wines that express their true character." Thus the agricultural practices they practice aim to foster a more balanced and nourishing ecosystem. 

Soil Health and Land Management
"Within the realm of regenerative practices, we actively promote various natural processes, with a special emphasis on the use of compost. Compost contributes not only organic matter and nutrients but also enhances microbiology and soil structure. Our vineyards hold certifications for organic agriculture (ECOCERT), regenerative (ROC), and biodynamic (Demeter) practices. All our efforts are directed toward cultivating healthy soils, including composting, rotational grazing, and cover crops. We have also minimized soil tillage to encourage root development and beneficial bacteria, reducing the need for external fertilizers. Collectively, these practices help mitigate erosion, preserve organic matter, and boost soil biodiversity and fertility."

And according to the winery, the climate within the Tupungato mountain range at Gualtallary encourages organic farming. "Thanks to the [Mendoza] Uco Valley's dry climate and phylloxera-resistant sandy soils, organic farming at Domaine Bousquet, from day one, was not only possible, but desirable. Other factors that distinguish this landscape are the constant breezes from the Andes to the west, which help mitigate heat stress in this desert climate. Significant temperature differentials between day and night help enhance aromatics, while the sandy soils result in low fertility, desirable for vine stress and ideal for good drainage. With an average annual rainfall of just 8"/203 mm, groundwater from the Andes snowmelt is vital for vineyard irrigation. Time has shown that the roots of organically grown vines penetrate deeper, allowing greater access to water in times of drought. Not least, organic farming is decidedly better for the long-term well-being of the local environment as well as the people who tend the vines."

Domaine Bousquet Organic Rosé 2023 ($13)
This organic wine is an interesting composition of 50% Pinot Noir, 30% Syrah, 10% Pinto Grigio, and 10% Viognier. Each grape variety provides input to the complex mouthfeel - strawberry, citrus, floral, some spice, and abundant acidity.

Domaine Bousquet Gaia Rosé 2023 ($18)
This wine is 100% organically grown Pinot Noir and after gliding through the floral and strawberry notes, the acidity and creamy texture resides.

Domaine Bousquet Sparkling Rosé NV ($13)
This sparkling wine is 75% Pinot Noir and 25% Chardonnay with noticeable lemon and white grapefruit notes, some bready yeast, and similar texture as the Gaia. A bargain at this price point. 

Monday, July 8, 2024

Wilding in Vineyards with the Apis Arborea TreeNest

While discussing their Regenerative Farming practices at their American Canyon Vineyard at Grgich Hills Estate, Luke and Ivo Jeramaz showed us the most interesting bee hive. It was cylinder tree log, covered with bark, and located a dozen feet above our head. This TreeNest was designed by the  nonprofit organization Apis Arborea in order to promote wild honeybee populations. Seeing the hive immediately raised two insights. (1)  Yes, wild bees do exist and (2) the TreeNest seemed so nature - as opposed to the boxed nature of commercial bee hives. 

While showing us the TreeNest, Luke described how the bees assist in the general bio-diversity of the American Canyon Vineyard and the surrounding land. The bees can forage up to 8,000 acres assisting in cover crop pollination and as stewards of the landscape, Grgich Hills has a responsibility to make it as natural as possible. 

He also introduced me to Michael Thiele, Founder and President of Apis Arborea.  During our call, Mr. Thiele described the history, challenges and ecological impacts of contemporary beekeeping and why he founded Apis Arborea -- to shift the focus from thinking in terms of commodities (Apis Mellifera) to that of their natural, historical habitat in trees. -- preserving the life and resiliency of honeybees through wilding.

During our exchange, I learned that the modern techniques of beekeeping are modern conventions that force the bees to utilize un-natural processes. In the distant past, beekeepers used egg shape hives or woven skeps -- mimicking how bees nest in nature. However, the "bee box" method employed almost universally today stresses the bees. First according to Thiele, "thermodynamics shows that the walls are too thin to protect the bees". Second, the combs implanted into the wooden frames are artificially sized to maximize output and are not the same size as combs that bees create naturally in the wild. Third, bees prefer to live high in trees -- away from predators; in smaller homes with smaller entrances.   And finally, commercial bee colonies are much more prone to long term extinction by disease as bees from neighboring hives mix easily within the colonies. On the other hand wild hives are much more likely to bounce back after a disease crisis. 

Thus Thiele sees wilding and TreeNests as a more ethical choice and allows bees to create a "self-willed ecological process". And he sees vineyards as a refuge for wild honeybees to recover their health and strength and to live freely -- not in square boxes. 

Courtesy of Apis Arborea

Like Grgich Hills Estate, Spotteswood Estate is another Regenerative Organic Certified (ROC) winery that hosts wild bees through TreeNests. According to Aron Weinkauf (Winemaker & Vineyard Manager), "as they forage to nurture future generations in their hives, bees help to propagate cover crops that enrich the soil in our vineyards and flowering plants that attract other beneficial insects that keep our vines pest free. And as they range up to a mile and a half from their hives, they pollinate our neighbors’ gardens and fruit trees in every direction as well. "

Friday, July 5, 2024

Cabernet Franc & Blaufränkisch Stand Out at the Finger Lakes Roadshow

Last month I attended the The Finger Lakes Roadshow sponsored by the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance and whereas Riesling and more recently Gruner Veltliner are the more popular wines; I was most impressed with the red expressions. Across the board the Cabernet Franc wines were fresh, not overly extracted or abused by oak, and ready to drink. Blaufränkisch was another impressive expression.

Starting with this Austrian-Hungarian grape, Jordan Harris of Heron Hill Winery explained that Blaufränkisch is a natural to the Finger Lakes and with any experiment to alter picking by brix, maceration, and other factor, the grape responds with the very same outcome: "just leave me alone."  At the Roadshow, the winery's red expressions showcased their single vineyard selections from Ingle Vineyard -- located on Seneca Point, on the west side of Canandaigua Lake and is the largest vinifera vineyard on the lake.  The 2020 Ingle Vineyard Blaufränkisch is very Hungarian in nature (where it is known as Kékfrankos) with its sour cherry-black cherry profile, noticeable tannins, and spicy-acidic finish. The 2020 Ingle Vineyard Cabernet Franc is also delicious - fresh, with dark fruit and I touch of earthiness and spice.  And like all the Cabernet Franc wines tasted at the event, the herbaceousness and earthiness was very subtle - no ultra bell pepper methoxypyrazine in sight.

Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars farms over 119 acres on the eastern hillsides of Seneca Lake with Cabernet Franc a prevalent player. At the Roadshow the winery demonstrated the ageability of even unoaked Cab Franc through their T23 Unoaked Cabernet Franc.  The 2022 provides bright, juicy dark fruit - actually - layers upon layers of fruit. The 2017 has transformed into a more luscious profile, still fruit forward and lasting acidity, but more dried cherries.  

Sheldrake Point Winery's 60 acre estate is located on the western side of Cayuga Lake with the vineyards facing the lake and sloping almost to the water's edge. Their 2020 Cabernet Franc includes some Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. It exudes crisp cherry fruit with layers of texture and soft tannins. Once again, fresh acidity throughout. Their 2023 Dry Rosé is a strawberry laced, 100% lightly pressed Cabernet Franc with added texture from the skin contact. Finally, the winery poured a light bodied and fresh 2022 Gamay Noir showing a little smoke and spice. 

Hosmer Winery also poured a Cab Franc based rosé in addition to a standard single varietal wine. Through the Patrician Verona Vineyard, they have been growing grapes for 50 years on the western shore of Cayuga Lake. Sadly they decided not to bring any of their Lemberger (the German form of Blaufränkisch) to the tasting, but shared with us their value-driven 2022 Dry Rosé of Cabernet Franc. Bright acidity swirling with strawberries.  Their 2021 Cabernet Franc is 100% easy drinking with chewy tannins intermingled with the red fruit profile.

Seneca Lake's Lakewood Vineyards poured their 2021 Cabernet Franc which expressed bright fruit and acidity with hints of spiciness and minerality. This wine reflects the experience provided by seven 7 and three generations of grape-growing experience. 

Perhaps the favorite Cabernet Franc of the afternoon was poured by Wagner Vineyards. This winery is celebrating 45 years of winemaking and cultivating on the eastern slope of Seneca Lake and proudly showed their 2017 Estate Cabernet Franc. My notes reveal vibrant fruit, mature tannins, and no traces of methoxypyrazine.  A lovable wine. Wagner also poured their 2023 Dry Rosé of Cabernet Franc -- another in the line of fresh, berries, and juicy acidity.

Lastly, although not the subject of this post, I also want to mention that the pet-nat and sparkling wines were equally fantastic whether the primary grape was Riesling, Pinot Noir, or Chardonnay. Affordable priced as well. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Dry Creek Vineyard -- The Foundation of the Dry Creek Valley

The success of wineries within Sonoma's Dry Creek Valley is completely intertwined with the vision and determination of a founding winery, Dry Creek Vineyard. This is shown in the foresight of founder David S. Stare who moved his family from New England to Sonoma County where in the early 1970s he purchased "a rundown 55-acre prune orchard across the street from the Dry Creek General Store". On this site he started planting the region's first vines since prohibition -- one of these against the advice of "experts" and the love of the Loire Valley -- Sauvignon Blanc. This lead to the first Sonoma County wine labelled Fume Blanc and soon afterwards their Chenin Blanc was highly respected and served at White House dinners. 

In the 1980s, Stare was instrumental in obtaining the American Viticulture Area (AVA) status for Dry Creek Valley and immediately was the first winery to label their wines from this AVA.  Thus their labels became somewhat iconic honoring the New England sailboat culture and Dry Creek Valley viticulture. 

In the late 1980s, daughter Kim Stare Wallace joined the winery as director of marketing together they drove more innovation. The winery was the founding member of the Meritage Foundation and was the first to use the phrase "old-vine" for Zinfandel vines planted before Prohibition.  After joining the team, husband Don Wallace pioneered the California Sustainable Winegrowers Program which eventually lead to the winery becoming 100% Certified Sustainable in 2014. Around the same time the couple changed the winery's philosophy by "dramatically reducing production while increasing quality and sharpening the focus on appellation-driven, terroir-focused wines that rival the best in California".  The wines we sampled at our visit as part of the BevFluence Sonoma Experience reflect this philosophy. 

2022 Clarksburg Dry Chenin Blanc ($17)
Dry Chenin Blanc has been a regular release from the winery since their inception in 1972. This is a classic Loire Valley-style wine with complex, mouth watering acidity and minerality with surprisingly abundant texture. 

2023 Dry Creek Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($25)
This wine incorporates two Sauvignon Blanc clones - Sauvignon Musqué and Sauvignon Gris - that are farmed in several distinct vineyard sites. It's another complex wine and original 1972 offering with lemongrass and floral aromas transitioning to a more tropical profile.

2023 Dry Creek Valley Petite Zin Rosé ($32)
This rosé is predominately Zinfandel with a small addition of Petite Sirah with the grapes lightly pressed and cold fermented. Floral, lime, herbaceous with a refreshing finish. 

2021 Sonoma County Heritage Vines Zinfandel ($28)
The wine is labeled "Heritage Cines" as cuttings from pre-Prohibition era Zinfandel vines were grafted onto phylloxera-resistant rootstock. These vines were then propagated to four vineyards to ensure a virus-free and healthy crop.   This was a group favorite and noticeable for its tremendous value. Loads of dark fruit, light pepper, some baking spices, and earthiness. Love the acidity. 

2020 Dry Creek Valley Beeson Ranch Zinfandel ($55)
The Beeson Ranch was planted in the late 1800s and is one of Dry Creek Valley’s oldest and most prized vineyards. Located along West Dry Creek Road, Beeson Ranch faces east and extends up several gentle hillsides to a forest of conifer trees. The old gnarled Zinfandel vines, first planted by Italian immigrants, produce a most interesting wine. Consumers are inundated with complex notes within a vast range of dark fruit, spices, and earthy qualities. Drink now or let the acids work for a few years.   

2019 Dry Creek Valley The Mariner ($55)
The Mariner showcases the winery's New England heritage and Meritage foundation. The grapes for are derived from several prized estate and hillside vineyards in the Dry Creek Valley. The wine explodes in the mouth, generating tides of complex flavors with dark cherries, mocha, and herbaceous notes standing out. Another to drink now, but better to be patient for later consumption.

2019 Dry Creek Valley Endeavour Cabernet Sauvignon ($100)
The Endeavour Vineyard is located in the Lytton Springs district of Dry Creek Valley and the vines take advantage of the diverse soil conditions on the property. This is a world-class wine, already sitting for a number of years in the bottle where additional aging will not destroy the structured tannins and complexity. 

Monday, July 1, 2024

Unveiling the Allure of Dry Cider: A Celebration of Complexity and Refreshment

As we get deeper into the summer, gearing up for the grilling season and pouring glasses of refreshing libations , it is essential to remember a popular beverage that spans the entire history of America and centuries prior. Cider. 

July is dry cider month, better known as Dry Cider July, where we celebrate an often neglected category in the craft beverage space. Many people have stories of toothache-inducing cider, and that memory ruins it as an option for parties, BBQs, baseball games, or just a fantastic summer evening with a cigar. 

During this month, you can expect a myriad of tasting notes, pictures, video reviews, and much more from the BevFluence Community, but for now, we will explore the history and styles of dry cider. Keep in mind that for the 4th of July, the founders drank more cider than beer. 

A History Steeped in Refreshment

Cider, encompassing dry and sweet styles, boasts a rich heritage spanning centuries across Europe. Apples were plentiful, particularly in England and northern France, making cider a natural choice as the default alcoholic beverage in many regions. While sweet ciders were certainly enjoyed, dry ciders held a special place for their refreshing acidity and lower sugar content.

The exact origin of dry cider remains shrouded in the mists of time. Evidence suggests that Celts in Britain fermented crab apples – ancestors of the bittersweet and bittersharp apples used today – as far back as 3000 BCE. The Roman invasion introduced new apple cultivars and orcharding techniques, potentially influencing cider production. 

Historical records became more sparse after the Roman era. However, cider-drinking Vikings and Anglo-Saxons likely continued the tradition. The Norman Conquest of 1066 marked a turning point. The Normans brought tannic and acidic cider apples, forever altering the landscape of English cider. With their unique flavor profile, these apples were instrumental in developing the dry cider styles we know today.

Across the English Channel, France also developed its cider tradition. While dry ciders were undoubtedly produced, French cider makers often favored sweeter styles utilizing specific apple varieties and the “keeving” process, which removes harsh tannins while preserving some sugar. This distinction between the drier English style and the sweeter French style persists today, showcasing the diverse expressions within the realm of dry cider.

The Symphony of Apples: Crafting Complexity

Unlike some alcoholic beverages that rely on a single dominant ingredient, dry cider draws its character from carefully selected apples. These are not your typical dessert apples found at the grocery store but rather apples chosen over the centuries that make great cider. Dry cider production relies on specific apple varieties for their ideal balance of sugars, tannins, and acidity. Here are some key players in the dry cider symphony:

  • Sharp/Bittersweet Apples: Varieties like Kingston Black, Dabinett, and Foxwhelp bring acidity, tannins, and intriguing flavors reminiscent of herbs and spices to the cider. These apples add complexity and structure, preventing the cider from tasting one-dimensional.
  • Bittersweet/Tannic Apples: Apples like Yarlington Mill, Chiverton Crab, and Michelin contribute tannins. Tannins are astringent compounds that provide a drying sensation on the palate and contribute to the cider’s structure and mouthfeel. They can also impart subtle bitterness, which, when balanced, adds complexity to the overall flavor profile.
  • Tart/High-Acid Apples: Apples like Granny Smith and some culinary varieties add a refreshing burst of acidity. This acidity balances sweetness and prevents the cider from tasting flabby or overly sweet. It also contributes to the cider’s crisp and refreshing character.

Cidermakers carefully blend these apple varieties to achieve the desired balance of sweetness, acidity, tannins, and flavor profile. In some cases, they produce single-varietal apple cider. The specific combination of apples can vary greatly depending on the cider maker’s vision and the characteristics of the available harvest. This interplay between apple selection, fermentation techniques, and aging processes allows for remarkable diversity within the dry cider category.

Beyond Sweetness: Yes, Dry Cider is a thing.

The rise of dry cider can be attributed to several factors that resonate with modern drinkers:

  • Shifting Palates: Consumers across various alcoholic beverages are increasingly drawn to drier styles. Dry cider offers a refreshing alternative to sweeter options, appealing to those who prefer a less sugary drink.
  • A Spotlight on Fruit Character: Dry ciders, with minimal residual sugar, allow the unique flavors and characteristics of the apples to shine through. This results in a more complex and nuanced drinking experience, where the subtle notes of the apples take center stage. Consumers can appreciate the distinct varietal characteristics of the apples used, similar to how wine drinkers savor the nuances of different grape varieties.
  • Food Pairing Versatility: Dry cider’s lower sugar content makes it a versatile beverage for food pairing. Unlike sweeter ciders, which can clash with certain dishes, dry cider’s crispness and acidity complement a more comprehensive range of flavors. It can enhance the richness of fatty dishes, cut through the creaminess of cheeses, and even stand up to bolder spices.
  • Cider Cocktails: Dry cider is a popular choice for cocktails due to its unique characteristics, which set it apart from other types of cider. The acidity helps to balance the sweetness of other ingredients and creates a refreshing and crisp taste. Its complexity adds depth and interest to cocktails. Its versatility makes it a great choice for mixologists looking to experiment with new flavors. And dry cider’s acidity and tannins help to balance the sweetness of other ingredients in cocktails, creating a harmonious and refreshing taste.
  • Health Considerations: With less sugar and often fewer calories than sweeter ciders, dry cider may be a healthier option for some consumers. While alcohol consumption should always be done in moderation, the lower sugar content can be a factor for those who are mindful.

Finding Your Perfect Dry Cider

So, you’re intrigued by the world of dry cider and eager to embark on your exploration. Here are some tips to help you navigate the shelves and discover your perfect dry cider:

  • Label Language: Become familiar with key terms on cider labels. Words like “dry,” “brut,” “off-dry,” or “bone-dry” generally indicate a drier cider. “Brut” is a style modeled after Brut Champagne, often featuring zero grams of residual sugar and sparkling nature.
  • Nutritional Information: Sometimes ciders will display nutritional information on the label. If you find it, look for the sugar content. Aim for 0-3 grams of sugar per 16-ounce can for a dry cider.
  • Online Resources: The American Cider Association’s Dry Cider Directory is valuable. This online directory lists dry ciders from member producers, making finding options in your area easier.
  • Embrace the Adventure: Don’t be afraid to experiment! Visit your local cider shop or talk to a knowledgeable salesperson. Many cider shops offer tastings, allowing you to sample different dry ciders and discover favorites. Cider Makers are passionate about their craft and love to share their knowledge. Ask questions and learn about the specific apple varieties used and the cider making process behind each offering.

The Future of Dry Cider: Beyond July 

Dry cider’s popularity is poised for continued growth. As consumers become more adventurous in their palates and seek out drier styles across various beverages, dry cider is well-positioned to capture their attention. Our team has partnered with the American Cider Association to present the most extensive marketing opportunity for the cider industry in modern history. 

The rise of dry cider also signifies a growing appreciation for quality ingredients and artisanal production methods. Consumers are increasingly interested in understanding where their food and drink come from and the stories behind them. Dry cider, often produced by small, independent cider makers using traditional methods and locally sourced apples, aligns perfectly with this trend.

In conclusion, dry cider offers a refreshing, flavorful, and food-friendly alternative for those seeking a drier beverage experience. Its rich history, unique apple varieties, and commitment to quality craftsmanship make it a category worth exploring for any adventurous drinker. So, raise a glass of dry cider, embrace the symphony of apple flavors, and discover the delightful world of refreshment it offers.

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Regenerative Farming at Grgich Hills Estate

Are you familiar with the main principles of Regenerative FarmingGrgich Hills Estate has been a leader in this innovation, first by farming organically for the past two decades, then biodynamically, and finally regenerative farming as stipulated by Regenerative Organic Certified (ROC) since 2019. 

Winemaker and Vice President of Vineyards & Production Ivo Jeramaz and his son Luke provided an overview of this process during a BevFluence® organized tour of one of the Grgich Hills Estate's American Canyon vineyards. Here they farm 121.5 acres at cooler temperatures and stronger winds than in Napa Valley.  Over a crescendo of songbirds, ducks, geese, and guinea fowl; Ivo and Luke described how Grgich Hills implements five principles of Regenerative Farming leading to a vibrant nature preserve, productive grapes, reduced costs, and satisfied employees. Check back later for multiple posts on these chemical free principles, but here are the main features:

  1. No till agriculture reduces erosion and keeps valuable nutrients and microbes in the soil.
  2. Bio-diversity in the vineyard through at least four plant groups leads to sharing of nutrients.
  3. Planting cover crops that become layers of armor by protecting the soil from sunlight and maintains moisture.
  4. Let animals manage most vineyard activities such as mowing and pest control. Grgich Hills uses sheep, owls, songbirds, guinea fowl, and other animals to control cover crops and pests.
  5. Institute labor practices that ensure sufficient wages and worker safety that leads to greater retention and thus increased productivity.

Grgich Hills also provided a fantastic library tasting of their iconic wines -- after a refreshing glass of their 2021 Essence Estate Sauvignon Blanc ($55). This saline driven refreshing wine offers white grapefruit and stone fruit and is made from practically a 50-50 blend of American Canyon and Carneros grapes.  The 2016 Estate Napa Valley Chardonnay still carries similar acidity and minerality with floral and sweet apple and pear notes. 

Moving to red library wines, we started with the 2018 Estate Napa Valley Merlot which is a blend from three vineyards - the cooler American Canyon and Carneros vineyards and the warmer Yountville vineyard. Expect savory red fruit, some mint, structure and a balanced acidic - but polished finish. We had the pleasure to sip their 2014 Estate Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and compare it to their 2007 Estate Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2014 starts with a wonderful mouthfeel of black fruit and juicy structured tannins. Whereas the 2007 is lighter, it is still vibrant with noticeable tannins mingling with ripe raspberries. The final wine was the 2013 Estate Napa Valley  Miljenko's Old Vine Zinfandel sourced from 135-year-old vines grown in Calistoga. Think of savory black fruit dusted with black pepper finishing with juicy tannins. 

Monday, June 17, 2024

9diDANTE, Inferno, Purgatorio, and Vermouth di Torino Superiore IGP

9diDANTE comes to life as a modern liquid version of the poem (Comedìa). To us, Vermouth is a power struggle between Wormwood and all the other botanicals, told in a language that everyone can understand … wine!  -- Alex Ouziel

Vermouth has been a popular topic within our community particularly after receiving samples of the Dante inspired 9diDANTE. The brand was created by Alex Ouziel in collaboration with Mario Baralis (ex-Carpano -- the father distillery of Italian vermouth). Their vermouth is produced at the historic Dr. M. Montanaro Distillery (1885) in Piedmont and they are one of a few producers in the Turin region to use 100% DOC Piedmontese wines, made entirely from native grapes -- Dolcetto/Cortese for the red Inferno and Arneis for the extra dry Purgatorio. Each vermouth contains 27 botanicals with the major contributors aligning to Dante's classical interpretation of the nine levels within each of the three cantiche – Inferno (Hell), Purgatorio (Purgatory), and Paradiso (Paradise)*.  Thus three cantiche multiplied by nine levels = 27 botanicals. 

The vermouth is produced within the Vermouth di Torino Superiore IGP -  a classification created in 2019 to guarantee the quality of its origin and process.  According to the Consortium, "World-renowned for the tradition and historicity of its production, Vermouth di Torino is an aromatized wine born in the 18th century at the foot of the Alps and enjoyed at the court of the Savoy kings. Vermouth di Torino is known worldwide for the tradition and history of production. The fame of Vermouth di Torino PGI is inextricably linked to Piedmont producers and Turin. In the 1800s, Turin was home to the aristocracy of vermouth makers, thanks to whom, in different ways and to different degrees, Vermouth di Torino achieved international standing and became appreciated worldwide. Over the years, techniques and processes have evolved: new ideas went hand in hand with the older practices, and they continue to coexist today, preserving and valorizing Vermouth di Torino's traditional production. Vermouth di Torino is classified according to the color (White, Amber, Rosé or Red) and the amount of sugar used in its preparation".  

As one of only a few Vermouths crafted and bottled under the Superiore classification, 9diDANTE goes well beyond the consortium's regulations. Whereas a Superiore vermouth must use at least 50% Piedmont wines, 9diDANTE uses 100%. Whereas Superiore vermouth must be produced and packaged locally, 9diDANTE sources the actual packaging locally. And whereas Superiore vermouth must be at least 75% wine content, 9diDANTE  has 84% wine content. 

The Inferno Rosso Vermouth di Torino Superiore IGP ($32) blend of  Dolcetto and Cortese contrasts with most other red vermouths in that the red Dolcetto provides coloring whereas most vermouths color using caramel. In the 9diDANTE Circles of  Hell, Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) resides in Limbo - home to the unbaptized and virtuous pagans such as Hippocrates and Aristotle. Cardamon appears as Lust, Bitter Orange Peel as Glutony, Cumin as Greed, Basil as Anger, Nettle as Heresy, Tansy as Violence, Fennel as Fraud, and poor Caraway as the lowest and coldest level of hell -- Treachery.  I enjoyed the Inferno chilled - basically neat - loads of complex herbaceous and citrus flavors. I can envision using in a Negroni - but save that for an inferior vermouth. 

The Purgatorio Extra Dry Vermouth di Torino Superiore IGP ($35) is comprised of 100% Arneis -- a noble Piedmont grape rescued from the verge of extinction in the 1960s and thanks to the efforts of one winemaker: the late Alfredo Currado of Vietti.  And this is the very first vermouth to be blended exclusively from 100% Arneis DOC wine. This vermouth also contains 27 botanicals. In the 9diDANTE steps to Peter's Gate and Levels of Purgatory, souls  move upwards to be purified of sins in order to enter the heavenly kingdom. Woodruff as Stubborness and Thyme as Repentance are cleansed before passing through Peter's Gate. Sage as Pride begins the lowest level of Purgatory, and moving upwards, Mint as Envy, Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) as Wrath, Melissa as Sloth, Lemon Peel as Avarice, Bitter Orange Peel as Gluttony, and Coridander as Lust. I'm not a Martini fan, which is the recommended cocktail, but I did imbibe the Purgatorio over ice with a twist of lime and orange. The pear notes of the Arneis are not lost in translation. 

* For those who would like to learn about the epic poem I recommend the Hillsdale College course or the Word On Fire seminar. 

Monday, June 10, 2024

The Pre-Industrial Approach to Farming at Ridge Vineyards at Lytton Springs Estate

During the 2022 BevFluence Livermore Experience we ventured west to the Santa Cruz Mountains in order to visit the famous Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello Estate. Thus we deemed it appropriate during the recently concluded 2024 BevFluence Sonoma Experience to travel to the Dry Creek Valley and visit the Ridge Vineyards at Lytton Springs Estate. Alongside 115-year-old vines we sipped several Ridge wines and learned about the winery's Pre-Industrial Approach to Farming that was a forbearer to an upcoming lesson on Regenerative Farming by Grgich Hills Estate

Whereas Ridge Vineyards is not formally Regenerative Organic Certified, they have adopted virtually all the practices recommended by the alliance.  As of 2022, Ridge has received organic certification for 100% of the vines at their Monte Bello, Lytton Springs, Geyserville, and East Bench vineyards.  In addition they protect and increase the fertility of soil microbes by applying home-made compost; planting cover crops that add  nitrogen and organic matter and control erosion; practice no till (mow only) on their hillside vineyard blocks to help minimize erosion and build organic matter in the soil. 

Ridge also encourages beneficial insect and bird populations as an alternative to pesticides. Planting hedgerows harbor  beneficial insects as well as break up the monoculture of vineyards.  They have installed raptor roosts and bird boxes to help with insect and rodent control. And their Integrated Pest Management activity monitors for pests and insects to quickly ameliorate crop damage.

These practices have greatly enhanced the survivability of their old vines like those within the Lytton Springs Estate. During our tasting we sat at the base of these vines, sampling several fantastic Ridge wines. The first was the 2023 Alder Springs Falanghina ($35) which includes 18% Vermentino and is sourced from the Alder Springs Vineyard in Mendocino County. Interestingly, they discovered a warmer micro-climate within the overwise cooler Mendocino region to grow this southern Italian grape variety and the delicious wine shows peach and tropical notes with racy minerality.  The 2023 Lytton Estate Rosé ($35) was the first Lytton Springs estate wine on the tasting menu and this is a strawberry inspired blend of 36% Grenache, 26% Zinfandel, 15% Mataro (Mourvédre), 14% Cinsaut, and 9% Counoise. 

Moving to the red wines, the 2022 Green & Red Zinfandel ($42) includes 2% Petite Sirah with the zin coming from the Green & Red estate at a high elevation in Napa Valley. Grapes from two vineyard sites (Tip Top vineyard and Chiles Mill vineyard) are co-fermented and show abundant acidity.  Moving to estate wines, the 2021 Lytton Springs ($55) is a delicious blend of 72% Zinfandel, 15% Petite Sirah, 9% Carignane, 2% Alicante Bouschet, 1% Cinsaut, and 1% Counoise. This wine includes vines planted in 1901 plus eighty-year-old Counoise inter-planted with Cinsaut. Luscious as our party would say.  The 2021 Lytton Estate Syrah, Grenache, Mataro ($44) features 74% Syrah, 17% Grenache, & 9% Mataro where the G floral notes, the S provides richness, and the M - spiciness. This was a must purchase. The 2021 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($90) includes 16% Merlot most of which is sourced from Monte Bello’s Klein Ranch. Layers and layers of fruit. Finally, a tasting at any of the Ridge tasting rooms requires a sampling of the famed Monte Bello - in this case - the 2016 Monte Bello which was a 72% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot, & 6% Cabernet Franc blend. A mild summer allowed the grapes to slowly ripen, retaining acidity, which are still prevalent after the 18 months in oak and six years in the bottle. A classic wine. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Grape Spotlight: DO Pla de Bages Picapoll from Bodegas Abadal

The first documented reference on the existence of the Picapoll grape in Bages is found in an inventory of the monastery at Sant Benet de Bages in the year 1564. From 1889 on, there is more precise evidence of the existence of this grape and in documents dating back to 1889 and 1890, it is mentioned as being the most widely-grown variety in the region of Bages. After 1930, in Bages and the rest of the wine-growing regions of Catalonia, there was a decline in the area of land dedicated to vineyards which resulted in the residual growth of Picapoll in Bages – a region which is ideally suited to this variety, thanks to the grape’s great adaptability. -- Bodegas Abadal 


The DO Pla de Bages designation is one of ten in Catalunya and lies 30 miles northwest of Barcelona. This region enjoys a mostly Mediterranean climate but Continental influences move in as the hot summers transition to cold winters.   The Llobregat and Cardener rivers weave southwards through the region and vineyards sit within the rivers' valleys, surrounded by impressive mountain peaks and ranges, including the tourist destination of Montserrat Monastery.  During the summer months the grapes develop slowly because of the very high diurnal temperature variation.

According to, "Vineyard locations, and the corresponding grape-growing conditions, are defined by two distinct types of topography. The central basin, at an altitude of 200m (600ft), has predominantly clay-based soil and is warmer.  Alt Bages ('Upper Bages'), which lies at 500m (1,600ft) above sea level, is the cooler part and has a healthy amount of lime in its soil. This helps to retain moisture during the hotter months. The lower reaches, simply referred to as Pla des Bages, sits at around 200m (600ft) above sea level. The soils are alluvial, made up of mostly clay and sand."

Pla des Bages acquired DO status in 1995, in part from the effort of Valentí Roqueta, who chaired the association from 1995 to 2015. A dozen years previously, he had founded Bodegas Abadal based on eight centuries of the Roqueta family's vine growing tradition. The first documents that illustrate this tradition date from the year 1199.  The estate focuses on native grape varieties that his ancestors may have grown for they provide the "maximum expression in their native land".

Their "vineyards are distributed on terraces at different levels. They are nourished by a terrain of clay and limestone, and they are surrounded by woodland which leaves its mark in our wines. The result is expressiveness and complexity. The vineyards are immersed in a unique microclimate that is a mix of Mediterranean and continental, with a marked temperature oscillation between day and night."

The winery may not call their vineyard practices Regenerative Farming, but they sure resemble it. Abadal facilitates biodiversity and maintains a high proportion of the forest around their vineyards that protect and nurture a wide variety of animal and plant species. As a result, pests are controlled by this  auxiliary fauna. They also maintain a living soil by sustaining an active microbiology, minimizing compaction, improving its structure and therefore facilitating the work of the roots. Finally, they are very proud of their efforts to  maintain the historical environment by restoring and conserving dry stone huts and vats that date back to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. 

The very first Abadal Picapoll was released to the market in 1996 and this was also the first 100% Picapoll released from the DO Pla de Bages. A synonym for Piquepoul or Picpoul, the grape may have migrated to Catalunya from the Rhone Valley and Languedoc regions during the earlier Roqueta family history.  The Picapoll grape grows in small compact clusters, with tiny spherical berries that very often show “picades” or marks on the grape skin, which is where the name originated. I sampled the 2021 vintage of the Abadal Picapoll Pla des Bages DO at last month's Spain's Great Match and was surprised by its weight -- assisted by three months aging on lees.  Expect a floral and herbaceous aroma and a complex citrus profile. Fresh acidity provided a lively finish 

Saturday, May 25, 2024

Encounters with Vermouth

My Dear Wormwood, ....

Sipping absinthe or vermouth prompts me to mimic Uncle Screwtape when addressing his inexperienced nephew as I've grown fond of wormwood and the other aromatized herbs found in these beverages. Whereas the Artemisia absinthium herb is expected in absinthe, it shouldn't surprise consumers of its prevalence in vermouth.  Consider that the term "vermouth" translates from English to German as wermut.  Technically, Vermouth is a fortified wine that is aromatized -- meaning herbs, barks, citrus, or other ingredients are added for aroma and flavor -- and fortified with additional alcohol. 

The Kingdom of Savoy was a historical state that existed from 1416 to 1861 and was located in the western Alps, in what is now part of France, Italy, and Switzerland. the southern French part of the empire includes the Chambery region whereas the Italy section including Turin. Interestingly vermouth can be traced to both of these regions. Carpano was the very first vermouth brand, dating back to 1786 in Turin, Italy. In France, Noilly Prat in Marseillan was a dry style of vermouth, founded in 1813 whereas Dolin’s Vermouth de Chambéry was first identified as a distinct style in 1821. 

In modern times, the European Union states that vermouth, as well as other aromatized wines, must include at least 75% wine in the finished product to which alcohol has been added (fortified) and have an ABV of 14.5–22%. In particular, vermouth is a product "whose characteristic taste has been obtained by the use of appropriate substances of Artemisia species".  See ANNEX II

Vermouth comes in a range of sweetness levels, from extra dry (limited to a maximum sugar content of 30 grams per liter in the E.U.) through the semi-sweet blanc/blanco/bianco style, to sweet (minimum sugar content of 130 grams per liter in the E.U.).   This later style is traditionally an ingredient to the classic Manhattan and Negroni. The blanc is traditionally used in Martinis whereas dry vermouth leads to a Dry Martini. All can be served over ice for those accustomed to a bitter and herbaceous profile.  

My first consistent encounter with Vermouth began during the BevFluence Negroni book campaign where David T. Smith and Keli Rivers published dozens of recipes.  Then came an Italian vacation consuming more Negronis and dry or sweet vermouth on ice with a twist of lime, as well as various Amaros. I was hooked. 

One of my favorites is from Uruguay in the Vermut Flores Rosé NV Canelones where Basta Spirit uses Tannat as a base augmented by 27 botanicals, including flowers such as hops, chamomile, rose, and elderberry. It is extremely aromatic, with plenty of herbaceousness and forest spiciness - very gin-like.

At a recent Spain's Great Match trade tasting I became infatuated with the Casals Vermouth - the first Vermouth made with ancestral Catalan white grape varietals, enhanced with 20 Mediterranean botanicals from Penedés, Spain. A fantastic sipping rum from Torres Distillery and available by the glass at Del Mar Restaurant at the District Wharf. 

At this event I was also able to reacquaint myself with the sherry inspired vermouth from Jerez and Gonzalez Byass. The La Copa Vermouth starts with an Oloroso Fino sherry base (100% Palomino) that is created by oxidative aging. The wine is fortified early, suppressing the flor yeast which typically protects against oxidation. This vermouth is aromatized with wormwood, various herbs, dried fruit, and spices. The sweeter La Copa Rojo Vermouth is an eight-year-old blend of 75% Palomino and 25% Pedro Ximénez with traditional botanicals including wormwood, cinnamon, orange peel, and nutmeg. 

Closer to home in Middleburg Virginia, Mt. Defiance Distillery produces an interesting Sweet Vermouth that I realized very quickly was too unique to use in a Negroni. This vermouth starts with botanicals and spices infused into their Mt. Defiance Apple Brandy that they say "extracts flavors from herbs we grow ourselves and spices from around the world. This flavored base is then blended with barrel-aged brandy, Vidal Blanc wine, local honey, and caramel syrup. Not a traditional recipe so serve over ice and enjoy.  

And finally, I recently received samples of two vermouths from one of the historic homelands of the beverage -- 9diDANTE. The Purgatorio Extra Dry Vermouth di Torino Superiore IGP and Inferno Rosso Vermouth di Torino Superiore IGP  are produced at the historic Dr. M. Montanaro Distillery in Piedmont. Collaborators Alex Ouziel and Mario Baralis are one of few producers in the Turin region to use 100% DOC Piedmontese wines, made entirely from native grapes -- Dolcetto/Cortese for the red Inferno and Arneis for the extra dry Purgatorio .  Each vermouth contains 27 botanicals with the major contributors aligning to Dante's classical interpretation of levels of the afterlife.  I enjoyed the Inferno chilled and the Purgatorio over ice with either a twist of lime or orange. Expect a longer post n mid-June with thoughts from Mr. Ouziel 

Thursday, May 23, 2024

Grape Spotlight: Rheinhessen QbA Riesling & Art of Earth

The region has been cultivating grapes for wine production at least since ancient Roman occupation. It is also the home to the oldest surviving records of a German vineyard. Named Glöck, the vineyard was included in a deed for a church and vineyards gifted by Carloman – a duke of the Franks of the Carolingian family and the uncle of the first Holy Roman Emperor, Charlemagne – to the diocese of Würzburg in 742.  --

Rheinhessen is Germany's largest region for producing the quality wines of the Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete (QbA) designations, with 26,860 hectares (66,370 acres) of vineyard as of 2019.  Continuing with, "Many of its most significant viticultural areas are favorably influenced by the Rhine river, which runs along its north and eastern borders. The Rhine, along with the Nahe river to the west and the Haardt mountains to its south, form a natural border. Rheinhessen covers an area south of Rheingau, north of Pfalz and east of Nahe, and is located within the Rhineland-Palatinate federal state.

Because of its size, Rheinhessen has variety of soil types and climatic influences. Many of the best-known viticultural areas are close to the Rhine, which forms a steeply embanked valley that is able to trap heat, while the river moderates temperature and reflects sunlight.

The Taunus hills, Odenwald, and Hunsrück Mountains shelter vineyards from harsh weather, giving Rheinhessen a mild climate compared to the rest Germany, with a relatively long growing season. Annual precipitation is also relatively low, roughly 500mm, making it one of the country's driest wine producing areas."

The Art of Earth Riesling 2021 ($11.99) is 100% Riesling grown in the Rheinhessen QbA and is available in the United States through Mack & Schuhle. This is an organic wine as signified by the Art of the Earth brand which is the importers "global search for the finest organic vineyards making wines within classic appellations and their traditional varietals for a pure expression of the region. Our wines are true to their origins and winemaking traditions without the use of pesticides or herbicides." These organically grown grapes originated in the slate soils of the Reinhessen and the wine was vinified in the dry, trocken style. Expect plenty of tropical fruit with a mineral driven acidity that races and lifts the fruit's sugar character. 

Friday, May 17, 2024

Cloudy Cocktails with Absente Absinthe Refined 55°

Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) has been used for several millennia in traditional medicine to treat a range of ailments, including digestive issues, fever, and skin problems as the first recorded use of the herb dates back to 1552 B.C. in ancient Egypt.  Wormwood is the major ingredient in absinthe which originated in the 18th century in Switzerland when a "French doctor named Dr. Pierre Ordinaire created an all-purpose patent remedy in Couvet, Switzerland around 1792. This remedy was made with a combination of wormwood, anise, and other herbs.

Absinthe gained popularity in the 19th century, particularly in France, where it became known as "la fée verte" or the green fairy. It was often consumed in specialized absinthe bars, where it was served in a unique ritual involving a sugar cube, water, and a slotted spoon. The drink’s popularity became controversy as it was blamed for a range of social ills, including increased crime rates, poverty, and moral decay. In 1912, absinthe was banned in the United States, and it remained illegal until 2007.  Similar bans occurred in some Western European countries such as France. 

Technically speaking, the government never banned Absinthe but they banned thujone - the chemical compound in wormwood  - that sensationalized science at the time theorized caused seizures and hallucinations.  In October 2007 the TTB issued new guidelines that made Absinthe containing thujone legal as long as the bottle contained less than 10 parts per million of thujone. In there words, if it contained less than this amount it was considered “thujone free” and was therefore legal.

When France softened their Absinthe ban in 1988, Distilleries Domaines de Provence, was the first company to restart producing absinthe using a 160 year old recipe based on plants growing on the Lure mountain range.  This mountain lies between the Alps and the Mediterranean and thus benefits from a unique climate ideal for the development of  a diverse array of plants. According to the distillery, "The Alpes de Haute-Provence department is rich with some of the most abundant and varied flora in France, and is no doubt unique in the number of plant and botanical groups to be found there. ”  

Distilleries Domaines de Provence's Absente Absinthe was the first brand released in the U.S. after re-legalization and uses the original 160 year old French recipe which includes the noticeable wormwood but also star and green anise, lemon balm, mugwort, citrus, and peppermint. The traditional and historic method to serve Absente that was popular in the 1800s is to pour a couple of ounces of Absente in a glass, upon which a sugar-cube-topped absinthe spoon is placed. Then, and equal amount of cold water is dripped over the sugar. The water turns the absinthe cloudy -- called louche -- which allows the flavors of the spirit spring forth. 

That being said, cocktails are another satisfying use of absinthe and here are a trio that I tinkered with after receiving the Absente 55° case + Van Gogh spoon.  For the De La Louisiane I chose to make it a Cajun-Hungarian recipe honoring the Hungarian immigrants who became loggers around Albany, Louisiana and our friends at Wildcat Brothers Distilling. The distillery just released Cochon Sauvage -- a rhum agricole aged three years in 2nd use rye whiskey barrels (which replaces the rye whiskey) and good ol' Unicum Silva in place of the Bénédictine. And for the Green Cider, I used the Lonetree Cider  Authentic Dry Cider. The cider from British Columbia is a blend of old world cider apples, such as Belle de Boskoop and Bramley, fermented with crisp fresh table apples; MacIntosh, Spartan and Golden Delicious.  Santé.

De La Louisiane
1 part Absente55
1 part Rye Whiskey
1 part Bénédictine
2 parts Chilled Water
Peychaud's Aromatic bitters

Absinthe by Jimmy
1 part Absente55
2 parts Chilled Water
1 part Lime Juice
Aromatic bitters

Green Cider
1 part Absente55
2 parts Hard Cider
1 part Tart Cherry Juice
Lime wheel