Friday, October 11, 2019

Michigan Wine - Reach for the Pinot, Not Just the Riesling

During the BevFluence Experience Denver, the Michigan Wine Collaborative (MWC) coordinated with a few wineries to provide the experience with several signature Michigan wines. Riesling was, as expected, highly represented with excellent versions ranging from dry to off-dry and characterized by minerality with bright tropic and or stone fruit notes. Many of these we covered earlier with the MWC Riesling Roundtable and Michigan #WineStudio. Examples include the 45 North 2017 Riesling, St. Julian Mountain Road 2018 Estate Riesling, St. Julian 2018 Reserve Riesling, and the St. Julian Braganini 2017 Reserve Dry Riesling.

However, it was the Pinot wines, both Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris that piqued our interest. It started at dinner the first evening with the 2018 Chateau Chantal Pinot Grigio ($15). That was followed by the next night with the 2016 Proprietors Reserve Pinot Gris ($24) from the same winery and among a larger group. The Pinot Grigio is light and minerally like its Italian namesake includng plenty of stone fruit. Great acidity as well. The Pinot Gris is more Alsatian with rich layers of apples, stone, and tropical fruit. Once again acids lift the finish and the tasting group was quite impressed.

Eventually, attendees discovered the St. Julian 2018 Lake Michigan Shore Reserve Pinot Grigio ($9.99). And like the others, this wine was far from the pedestrian Pinot Grigio's that flood the grocery store isles. Don't let the light color fool you, there's plenty of flavors starting with apples then transitioning to tropical fruits. Nice.

Michigan Pinot Noir was more familiar to attendees and the Chateau Chantal 2017 Proprietor's Reserve Ole Mission Penninsula Pontes Vineyard Pinot Noir ($27) got the party started. This is a rich wine, dark fruit with a velvety texture. Similarly, the 45 North 2017 Pinot Noir ($36) is equally full-bodied but with more red fruit and spices. In contrast, a nice vertical with the 45 North 2016 Pinot Noir ($36) shows a lighter wine with a strong sour cherry profile.  These wines represent the 45th parallel.

Thanks MWC, St. Julian, Chateau Chantal, and 45 North for enhancing the BevFluence Experience Denver. Cheers.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Nomad Outland Whisky - Distilled in Speyside, Aged in Jerez

We continue our series focusing on our trip to Tio Pepe and González Byass in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain with the Nomad Outland Whisky ($49.99). This spirit is a collaboration between the González Byass Sherry Master Blender Antonio Flores and Whyte & Mackay’s Master Blender Richard Patterson.

The spirit starts in the Scottish Highlands as a unique blend of over 30 different malt and grain whiskies from Speyside -- each 5 to 8 years old.  Typically, Speyside whiskies can be classified into two groups: light and grassy or rich and sweet. Since the resulting blend destined for Nomad is aged three years in sherry casks, the base starts rich and sweet.

After these three years of aging, the spirit is transferred to Jerez where it spends a mínimum of 12 months in old Pedro Ximenez casks. The collaborators initially had tested this finishing in various used sherry casks including Fino and Oloroso barrels but determined the complex and textured residual from Pedro Ximenez works best.  During these 12 months, the Nomad also absorbs some native yeast providing a little funk as well as the finishing due to Jerez's unique micro-climate -- subject to changes in temperature, winds, and humidity.

This is a beautiful whisky with multiple layers of vanilla, molasses, nuts, and dried apricots with some mango and honey. Yes, multiple layers of flavor.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Charles Woodson Launches Intercept - Affordable Wines from Paso & Monterey

Photo Credit: Lu Chau, Photagonist
For those who didn't follow college or professional football during the late 1990s through the middle of this decade, you may have missed the extraordinary career of Charles Woodson. Primarily a defensive back, Woodson was a two-way star at the University of Michigan and in 1997, his junior year, the Wolverines won a share of the National Championship and Woodson was awarded the Heisman Trophy. He not only beat out Peyton Manning for the award, but he was the last non-running back or quarterback to receive it. I remember the famous game against Ohio State where Woodson was instrumental - returning a punt for a touchdown, intercepting a pass in the end-zone, and making a long reception that led to Michigan's only offensive touchdown of the game. In the NFL, Woodson played 18 seasons with the Oakland Raiders and Green Bay Packers, a Pro-bowl player for half these seasons and winning the Super Bowl with the Packers in 2010. His NFL career ending after the 2015 season.

Like many of his fellow professional athletes, Woodson has successfully launched a wine brand Woodson Wines soon after retiring and more recently Intercept Wines in collaboration with the country's seventh-largest winery O’Neill Vintners & Distillers. Woodson first became interested in wine while playing with the Raiders when the club's training camp was located in Napa Valley. Say's Woodson, "My love of wine happened organically while living in Napa Valley during training camp playing for the Oakland Raiders in the '90s. The way people connected with wine intrigued me and I wanted to be a part of it." The Intercept collection consists of four wines, a Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Blend, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay - all priced at $18 and sourced from either Paso Robles or Monterey County. The wines are made by Amanda Gorter, the assistant winemaker at Robert Hall Winery working under the esteemed Don Brady. So right there are three positive indicators for this collection: price, appellation, and winemaking. Recently I received samples of two of these wines described below.

2018 Paso Robles Chardonnay
This wine is 100% Chardonnay sourced from the Adelaida and Templeton Gap Districts; these are two new sub-AVAs located within the western side of the larger Paso Robles appellation. The Templeton Gap AVA is noted for its cool days and nights due to the ocean breeze that is blown in through a gap in the Santa Lucia Range. As Paso's most western region, the Adelaida District receives the greatest influences from the Pacific Ocean with more rain and cooling breezes. These climates are best for cool-climate grapes but also grapes like Chardonnay in which enhanced acidity is desired. This acidity is what drives the Intercept Chardonnay bridging the apple and citrus fruit notes with the slight toasty notes from the barrel fermentation and sur lie aging. A fresh and balanced wine.

2017 Monterey County Pinot Noir
This wine is 100% Pinot Noir sourced from the Santa Lucia Highlands (90%) and Paso Robles (10%). The Santa Lucia Highlands is a small but popular winegrowing appellation in Monterey County that is known for cultivating excellent Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Like the western Paso regions, this region is strongly affected by maritime influences which extend the ripening season and enhance acids. The wine is medium-bodied with dusty and chalky cherries, some baking spices, and noticeable yet approachable tannins.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Two Hands Shiraz - Take out the Peanut Brittle

Two Hands Wines was established 20 years ago with the goal to produce the best Shiraz-based wines from throughout Australia. To that end, Two Hands releases ten Shiraz wines, each highlighting the specific region and vineyard in which they are grown.

We recently received two samples, the Two Hands Gnarly Dudes Shiraz 2018 ($33) and Two Hands Angel's Share Shiraz 2018 ($33). They both share aspects of dark plum fruit, chocolate, varying levels of spice and earthiness, as well as a seamless flow to the mild tannins. Delicious. They also pair well with peanut brittle as the wine's chocolate notes erupt into the peanuts and the crunchiness adds depth to the tannins. On the other hand, chocolate bars are lost in the wine's robust flavors.

The winery also just announced that they will implement sap flow sensor technology to manage vine health and monitor water use. This provides two benefits. First, it saves water - drastically desired in Australia. Second, the technology monitors the actual grapes and vines to determine when they actually need water - optimizing the plant's health.

Monday, September 30, 2019

From Aveleda - the Adega Velha 6 Years Old Reserva Brandy

Flying home from Lisbon last month I sounded my pockets (1) and found a few extra Euros in which I converted to a 500ml bottle of Adega Velha 6 Years Old Reserva Brandy ($22). This grape brandy is made in the far northwestern DOC of Vinho Verde from a mixture of indigenous grapes: Vinhão, Azal Tinto, Barraçal, and Espadeiro.

Specifically, these grapes were grown in the granite and sandy loam soils at the Quinta da Aveleda vineyard. This site is located in the hilly sub-region of Sousa which enjoys a generally Mediterranean climate with Atlantic influences. The Aveleda winery was founded in 1870 and is currently managed by the 5th generation of the family and is the largest producer and exporter of Vinho Verde wine.

The wine is distilled using an alembic Charentais still - a similar Cognac still used for the Lepanto Brandy de Jerez Solera Gran Reserva. The brandy is then aged six years in Limousin oak casks - the same oak preferred in the Cognac region and popular with brandy makers because of it's wide grains. This translates to a more tannic profile than tight-grained woods.

Despite these tannins, this is a soft brandy, some floral and woody aspects in the nose with a fresh nutty and honeyed core. Love the finish, long with little burn. Cheers.

(1)  One of my favorite lines from Moby-Dick.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Apple & Honey & Grape at Loew Vineyards

I last visited Maryland's Loew Vineyards back in June 2005 - an unusually long absence in revisiting wineries. I seemed to have gravitated more to Black Ankle, then to Old Westminster, and more recently to Catoctin Breeze -- but this summer my focused snapped back to this small family winery after tasting their Honey & Grape. This wine received a Gold and Best in Class at the 2019 Comptrollers Cup and just last week the prestigious Jack Aellen Cup. I had also sampled their Chancellor and noted that the inherent acidity had been tamed by fifth-generation winemaker Rachel Lipman to create a very likable dry red wine. A visit was required.

On the outside, and actually the inside, the tasting room at Loew Vineyards looked exactly as I remembered 14 years ago.  Think country store motif.  Whereas my main goal was to learn more about the Honey & Grape, it became very clear that the winery provided a rather strong portfolio that others in the industry would consider limited by the wine grapes and styles.

This started with the Two Consenting Grapes - a dry and un-oaked blend of Vidal Blanc and Reliance that was complex with both citrus and tropical notes.  The Reliance, a grape bred at the University of Arkansas as a table grape, provides the tropical aspects which are highly noticeable in the semi-dry Serendipity. The grape is also the main ingredient in the Honey & Grape.  The Loew family has been making some type of honey wine for over a hundred years starting with founder Bill Loew's family in Galicia. The honey augments the tropical flavors providing depth and balance to the grape's acidity.  Rachel also mentioned that honey wines age gracefully and they have been enjoying 20-year-old wines all summer.

One to drink immediately is their Apple & Honey Cyser which comes across very dry with the apple's tartness and acidity blending with the honey notes. A bottle came home for this week. Another fun wine is the sweeter Strawberry Jubilee where the strawberries dominate.

On a serious note, I wanted to emphasize their Chancellor - it is made in a lighter style more like a Pinot Noir with sour cherry and berry notes with approachable tannins and acids. Their Classic Red, a blend of Maréchal Foch and Chancellor is similar but with more weight and pepper.  And in a few years look for Zweigelt which Rachel planted this year. I can't wait.  Come visit - theCompass Craft Beverage Finder will guide you there.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

All Maryland Beers at Milkhouse Brewery at Stillpoint Farm

On May 22, 2012, then Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley signed Senate Bill 579, which established a Class 8 Farm Brewing license for the Free State. Class 8 license holders had to use some combination of Maryland-grown ingredients (grains, hops or fruit) in their beers but then they would get similar privileges as the state's wineries. Tom Barse was very active in getting Maryland’s Farm Brewery law enacted and a year later opened a tasting room at Milkhouse Brewery at Stillpoint Farm.

Five years early Tom and Carolann McConaughy purchased their Mount Airy farm and soon planted Cascade and Chinook hops and raised Leicester Long Wool sheep. Milkhouse Brewery opened by specializing in classic styles of beer "improved with Maryland hops" and later augmented these offerings with "Stillpoint Reserve" beers made from locally sourced ingredients, including hops, grains, fruits, herbs, honey, and other Maryland agricultural products. And finally, the brewery offers "All Maryland Beer" products made with only Maryland grown and malted barley, wheat, and rye, as well as Maryland grown hops.

During a recent visit, we focused on three of these All Maryland Beers, the Green Farmer Wet Pale Ale No. 12, Homestate Hefeweisen, and Dollyhyde Farmhouse Ale. The latter was my favorite of the entire portfolio with spices and Carroll County wildflower honey providing depth and flavor. The Hefe Weisen provides banana notes and the Pale Ale a funky pine flavor. Also try the Goldie’s Best Bitter.

Milkhouse also provides a serious sour program as tart Fieldhand or Biere de Garde. The Fieldhand Tart Table Beer is a delicious tart and slightly sour post bike ride beer. For more flavor, try the Peach Fieldhand - my second favorite of the day. On this day they were also pouring a Nectarine Biere de Garde and Red Plum Biere de Garde which are interesting and fun.

And as always you can visit Milkhouse Brewery at Stillpoint Farm using theCompass Craft Beverage Finder. Cheers.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Gonzalez Byass Lepanto Brandy de Jerez Solera Gran Reserva

During our summer tour of the Tio Pepe winery in Jerez, we learned that Gonzalez Byass has been distilling grape brandy since the founders purchased their first copper alembic still in 1844.  Today they produce a range of brandies with the Lepanto Brandy de Jerez Solera Gran Reserva ($35) one of their premium products.

This is the only Brandy de Jerez to be produced entirely within Jerez and is made from Palomino grape must that is double distilled in Charentais pot stills (Cognac stills manufactured in the 1960s).  The hearts or "holandas" of the run (68-72% abv)  is aged in a traditional “Criaderas y Solera” system, in American oak casks previously used to age sherry.  The solera contains 15 criaderas, with an average age of over 12 years.  Nine of those years were spent in used Tio Pepe barrels and three in used Matusalem barrels. (To learn more about these sherries visit A Family Visit to Gonzalez Byass for Tio Pepe. )  The final bottled Lepanto brandy has a lighter weight than expected but packs plenty of flavors with abundant nuts and some caramel and vanilla. The finish is smooth and savory whether neat or with a drop of water, Cheers.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

#BevFluenceExperience Denver: Golden Moon Distillery

One of the first tours of BevFluence's Denver Experience was to Golden Colorado and the Golden Moon Distillery. For good reason. The Distillery had just been awarded the American Distilling Institute’s 2019 Distillery of the Year Award and the ten+-year-old distillery offers a rather rare and remarkable range of spirits. In fact, founders Stephen Gould and Karen Knight opened the distillery in order to recreate lost recipes -- particularly those from the late 1700s to the early 1900s. Gould's research library of ancient distilling methods dates back to the 1500s, but in order to be as authentic as possible, Gould scours the globe for antique stills. Presently they use four in the distilling process -- all dating from the early to mid-1900s. Although in order to scale up production, they contracted for larger and more modern stills but manufactured specifically to replicate the design of these antiques.

A dozen spirits and a smiling tasting room manager (Kayla) greeted us on arrival and we immediately dove into samples.  Two facts became immediately clear; first that Golden Moon produces high-quality spirits and second, there is a nice cross-pollination between Colorado craft beverage industries. The latter is evident by the Golden Moon Apple Jack ($56) and Golden Moon Grappa ($56). The Apple Jack starts with Colorado-grown apples that Denver's Stem Ciders crushes and during fermentation, the cider is transferred to the distillery where it is soon distilled, then lightly oak-aged and bottled.  This is a voluminous cider - full of apple funky apple flavor and a smooth - slight burn.

Even more intriguing and adding to the cross-pollination is their line of grappas produced from grape must from BookCliff Vineyard Each year brings not only a new vintage but also a different grape variety and in this case, we sampled three versions: a Riesling, Viognier, and a Chardonnay.  The final version was the clear preference. It provided a fuller profile both in body and fruit flavors with a more wine sensation. I'm sipping a glass as I type.

The other spirit I purchased was the Golden Moon Kümmel ($32)  - a spirit initially developed by assistant distiller Robbie Cunningham based on a Scottish recipe. The base alcohol is flavored with caraway and fennel and on its own is an interesting spirit. But Kayla, who is also the bar manager at the Golden Moon Speakeasy, recommended this as an alternative to vodka in a Bloody Mary. As fate intervenes, two of our party had already ventured to The Real Dill, Denver's source for pickles and bloody mary mix. ayla was correct. We started with the Real Dill Bloody Mary mix and rimming spice, then the Golden Moon Kümmel, a dash of Celery Horseradish or Smoked Salt and Pepper bitters from Monarch Bitters and topped with a Real Dill Habanero Pickle. Great success.

In addition to the Kümmel, Golden Moon produces several other unique spirits and liqueurs. One is an aperitif resurrected in stature, the REDUX Absinthe ($86) where just water, and not sugar, brings out the milky and cloudy character. A sure sign of quality. The Golden Moon Crème de Violette ($32), Golden Moon Dry Curacao ($32), and Golden Moon Ex Gratia ($56) are liqueurs worth sampling neat and mixologists can envision imaginative cocktails. However, be aware of sampling the Golden Moon Amer dit Picon ($56) neat. It is based on the original recipes and ingredients used by "legendary distiller Gaetan Picon to create his amer (bitters) in the 1830’s". And it is bitter, very bitter. Get the Picon Punch ready for this one.

Follow #BevFluenceExperience on social media to read future posts on the Golden Moon Gin ($46), Port Cask Reserve Gin ($86), Golden Moon Colorado Single Malt Whiskey ($110), Gun Fighter American Rye - Double Cask Whiskey ($34), and Gun Fighter American Bourbon - Double Cask Whiskey ($34). Cheers.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Murrieta's Well - Live on Snooth Media

Murrieta's Well is an extremely reliable wine producer located in the Livermore Valley and we have written about this Wente family clone multiple times (view here).  Once again this week winemaker Robbie Meyer appeared on a Snooth Livestream in order to present several current releases.  The grapes for these wines were all sourced from estate vineyards in Livermore with the majority coming from their Hayes vineyard. This lot is located on the southwest portion of their estate, has the widest elevation range (560-860 feet), and is planted with 11 of the  20 grape varieties they grow because it features the largest array of soils, aspects, and slopes.  Here are the wines we sampled during the session. Cheers.

Dry Orange Muscat 2018 ($38) initially didn't work for me. But after the wine warmed the bitter orange peel traits subsided and mandarin flavors dominated. Then I paired with dry sausages and the spices between the two mingled seamlessly.

Dry Rose 2018 ($32) is a blend of 42% Counoise, 33% Grenache, and 25% Mourvedre and is simply elegant. Creamy, lift, and refreshing acids.

The Spur 2017 ($35) is a blend of 64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Petite Sirah, 13% Merlot, and 9% Petit Verdot. It pops with cherry flavor, then spices, tobacco, and noticeable tannins. Pair with Hersheys milk chocolate.

Merlot 2016 ($46) is delicious. Full-bodied, chewy and juicy cherries, structure, dusty and chalky. The structure must be helped by the 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. Pair with Hersheys dark chocolate.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

The Federalist American Craft Wine and Candy

During a recent #BevfluenceExperience in Denver our group experimented pairing various wines with candy: Whoppers, Oreos, Twizzlers, Skittles, and several chocolates and candy bars. This is a fun concept where some items paired seamlessly and others terribly. Here are two examples from The Federalist American Craft Wine brand. 

The Federalist Honest Red Blend ($19.99)  is branded for Honest Abe Lincoln and is a blend of Merlot, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon from three northern California appellations.  This is a friendly fruit-forward wine, medium-bodied with dark fruit, spices, and approachable tannins. We found that crunchy candy such as Twix and Oreos worked best here as the cookie brought worth the fruit and tannins.

The Federalist Cabernet Sauvignon Lodi 2016 ($17.99) is branded for Ben Franklin, who today is popular in the meme culture where various quotes regarding wine and beer are attributed to colonial hero.  Lodi's most widely harvested grape is Cabernet Sauvignon so the brand owner's selected an appropriate wine region for this wine. It is a lighter-bodied wine with juicy fruit, some spice, and easy tannins.  But add a Hersheys dark chocolate nugget to the lineup and the wine builds texture and the spices become more pronounced.  Not true for milk chocolate, however, Nor an Oreo and Twix bar. Dark Chocolate is the pairing for The Federalist Lodi Cabernet Sauvignon.

Friday, August 30, 2019

A Family Visit to Gonzalez Byass for Tio Pepe

Regular readers of the WineCompass Blog will recognize the abundant number of posts regarding González Byass, the Jerez producers of Tio Pepe - a fino style of Sherry that the winery has created and exported since its founding in 1844. The winery is still owned and operated by the relatives of founder Manuel Maria González and over time has incorporated other wine brands representing diverse Spanish wine regions. But sherry is still their core product with over a dozen labels joining the famed uncle Jose Angel (Tio Pepe).

During a family trip to Seville, mutual contacts were able to schedule a private tour and tasting of the facility - still located within Jerez de la Frontera and an hour and change train ride away. The actual production is now conducted outside the city center, but the original Tio Pepe winery operated largely in the center adjacent to the Cathedral and Alcazar. This facility now hosts a tasting and event center, administrative offices, distillery, and barrelhouse. Lots of barrels stacked together based on several solera systems. Stone streets are covered by grape canopies creating a semblance of Tio Pepe as a town upon itself.

The staff was very gracious, taking time to accommodate our visit and providing a thorough and educational journey through ten sherry wines. Melanie, our tour guide, explained the history, topography, winemaking, and aging process while Neil provided an in-depth dissertation on each sherry and its origin. Their talents made the visit enjoyable and eye-opening to each of us - the wine geek, skeptic, and roguish and inappropriate teenager. Cheers to Tio Pepe, González Byass, their staff, and everyone who made the trip possible.

The Background
Even though the Jerez Regulatory Council stipulates that 60% of the grapes must come from Jerez Superior in order to be labeled Jerez Sherry, González Byass uses 100% grapes cultivated in the declared Jerez Superior area. The vineyards in Jerez are composed of a white soil called Albariza that consists of 60% chalk - which retains moisture that is critical during the region's long hot and dry summers.

Tio Pepe Flor
The grapes are Palomino and Pedro Ximenez (PX) and they are handled quite differently. The Palomino grapes are generally hand-harvested then sent directly to the press. On the other hand, the PX grapes are harvested later in the season and then sundried in a process called "soleo". The bunches are laid out on straw mats for up to two weeks where 40-50% of their volume evaporates. This is a labor-intensive process since the grapes must be covered in plastic at night, then uncovered and flipped each morning as a precaution from the morning dew. However, the reward is grapes with highly concentrated sugars -- ideal for the winery's sweet sherries.

All sherries are aged following the traditional Solera system where the wines are blended in 600-litre American oak casks and then moved through the system as wine is taken from the bottom casks. Many styles are produced with distinctive characters depending on whether they have been aged under the influence of the flor (a layer of natural yeast) or as an oloroso (in contact with oxygen). Here are the wines we tasted.

Tio Pepe Fino Palomino (15% abv)
This Fino (dry) style sherry is based on the free run and light first press of Palomino in order to obtain the juice most capable of creating an elegant wine. After the wine is fermented to 11-12% abv it is fortified to 15.5% abv and stored in American oak casks, leaving the top 100 liters empty. This allows the development of the flor, a unique layer of yeast produced naturally in Jerez. This layer protects the wine from oxygen and after four years of age, provides the wine with its unique aroma and character. This aroma actually resembles muscadine, whereas the core is green apples and almonds.

Viña AB Amontillado Palomino (16.5% abv)
The wine starts with a Tio Pepe base after the standard four years in the Tio Pepe solera system. The wine is then transferred to the Vina AB Solera where it remains for an additional eight years - basically a 12 year Tio Pepe. This longer aging extracts elements from the American Oak such as caramel and vanilla. The wine also features the essence of dried fruits and nuts while staying relatively dry.

Del Duque Amontillado VORS Palomino (21.5% abv)
This wine follows a similar process by taking 10-year-old wine from the Amontillado Viña AB Solera and transferring it to the Del Duque Solera where it is aged an additional 20 years making this a VORS = or very old sherry. The 30 years has condensed the wine, increased the abv, and expanded the mouthfeel and oak elements. An excellent sherry.

Alfonso Oloroso Palomino (18% abv)
The must for this wine comes from the second press which normally provides more structure and tannins (seeds, skins, and stems). After the wine is fermented to 11-12% abv, it is fortified to 18% and like the Tio Pepe housed in American Oak with an empty top layer of 100 liters. However, the flor does not develop because the yeast can not survive past 16% abv. The wine undergoes complete oxidization while extracting elements from eight years in the barrel. Complex and spicy, nuts and vanilla.

Leonor Palo Cortado Palomino (20% abv)
The wine is created like the Alfonso except it is made from the highest quality free-run juice (like the Tio Pepe) and spends 12 years in the Leonor Solera system. This is a unique, new style with a nutty aroma leading to a toasted cream palate.

Apóstoles VORS Medium Palomino/PX (20% abv)
This is an 87-13 blend where the Palomino comes from the Leonor Solera system. The PX grapes are firmly pressed (think of olive oil production) and the must ferments to 7% abv. After fortification to 15% abv, the wine enters the Pedro Ximenez Solera system where it ages for 12 years like the Leonor Solera. The wine is then blended and added to the Apostoles Solera where it ages an additional 18 years. The wine has a tremendous mouthfeel with dried fruits and caramel.

Solera 1847 Cream Palomino/PX (18% abv)
This 75-25 blend is derived from the first press of the continuous Palomino press in order to obtain a little more structure and tannic body. Following fermentation to 11-12%, the wine is fortified to 18% and enters the Oloroso Solera where complete oxidization occurs because of the empty 100 liters. The Pedro Ximenez wine comes from the Pedro Ximenez Solera system. Both wines are pulled from their respective solera systems after four years are blended and then aged an additional four years together in the 1847 Solera system. The wine picks up more fig and dried fruit characters with some caramel and vanilla - simply delicious.

Matusalem VORS Cream Palomino/PX (20.5% abv)
The Palomino and Pedro Ximenez wine in this blend comes from the Olorosa Solera and Pedro Ximenez Solera systems described above. However,  the wines remain in their respective solera systems for 15 years before being pulled, blended, and aged an additional 15 years in the Matusalem Solera system. The wine comes across drier than the Solera 1847 with a bittersweet flavor of spices, raisins, and dried fruit.

Nectar Pedro Ximenez (15% abv)
The sherry comes from the Nectar Solera system where the PX grapes were fermented to 7% and then fortified to 15%. After eight years of aging, this wine is full of fig flavors with enough acidity to help balance the sweetness. A family favorite.

Noé VORS Pedro Ximenez (15.5% abv)
For this sherry, the PX grapes were fermented and fortified as the Nectar, but the must enters the Noé Solera system for 30 years. This results in a complex and textured wine, sweet figs but nice acidity.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Extreme Viticulture: DOC Colares Portugal

Wines of Portugal
Gusty, salt-laden winds that can burn leaves. Heavy autumn rains. Nutrient poor, sandy soils. These are the conditions faced by vineyards in the historic DOC Colares  - the westernmost wine region in Europe situated a couple miles from the Atlantic Ocean and within the greater Lisboa wine region.

Viticulture has been practiced in Portugal's smallest DOC since the mid 12th century and the growers have learned many tricks to combat the elements. First, they erect dried-reed fences to protect against the persistent wind. Second, when planting, up to 15 feet of sandy soil is dug away so that the vines are anchored within the more nutrient-rich clay layer. And finally, growers have learned to gradually supplement with manure laden sand until the vines are productive.

The sand in itself provides two major benefits. First, it allows the autumn rains to drain quickly, but more importantly, the sand foils the phylloxera mites. In the mid-late 19th century when phylloxera was ravaging Europe's vines, vineyards in Colares were not affected as the mite can not survive in sandy or other loose-grained soils. Colares wine became the pride of Portugal even gaining the title "The Bordeaux of Portugal". In fact, the red Ramisco grape and the white Malvasia de Colares - which are only planted in Colares - may be the only Vitis vinifera grapes to have always been own-rooted.

Azenhas do Mar
At the time of the phylloxera epidemic plantings in Colares peaked at nearly 2,000 hectares but this figure has dwindled to only 20 or so hectares today. Obviously, as the European vineyards rebounded demand for Colares wine would slow but more recently the chief culprit has been real estate development.  The elderly owners of these small plots have financial incentives to sell to buyers interested in developing the beautiful coastline - particularly around Azenhas do Mar.

In the 1930s, when this decline began to be felt, the government decreed that growers must sell their grapes to the cooperative Adega Regional de Colares in order to maintain quality. Only wine from this cooperative could be called Colares. The cooperative is still the primary player today, but in 1994 the government allowed other Colares labels. One such is Adega Viúva Gomes, an entity that buys wine from the cooperative which it ages before bottling, and Casal do Ramilo, a four-generation grower expanding plantings where they will soon become the largest private producer of Ramisco from Colares.

While visiting Portugal, the best place to sample Colares wine is at the winery's themselves, but a terrific alternative is Binhoteca in Sintra - a Unesco World Heritage site. Here we were able to sample two Colares wines from Adega Regional de Colares and appreciate the affection that the staff had for the region. They described that despite the burdensome effects, the coastal environment also provides positive temperature-moderating effects slowing the maturation process (grapes are normally harvested in October) to create fresh, minerally driven and elegant wines.

The 2014 Malvasia de Colares Azenhas do Mar ($40) is complex with both lemon and orange citrus, the sea, creamy oats, and decent acids. Similarly, the 2010 Colares Ramisco Azenhas do Mar ($40) provides salt characters (odd for a red wine), rich red cherry creaminess, and chewy tannins. A fantastic wine.

It's safe to say that Colares wines are rare in the United States but try José Pastor SelectionsChambers Street Wines, Astor Wines & Spirits, or NLC Wines.