Monday, September 29, 2008

Holy-Field Vineyard & Winery: Cynthiana

This week we stayed in the Midwest and opened a bottle of Cynthiana from Holy-Field Vineyard & Winery. Located in eastern Kansas - not far from Kansas City - father and daughter duo, Les & Michelle Meyer, produce about a dozen varieties of wine from indigenous and hybrid grapes. And these grapes are quite unique: St. Vincent, Melody, Aurore as well as Vignoles, Chardonel, Seyval, Foch, Leon Millet, Chambourcin, and Cynthiana (Norton). The Cynthiana has been quite successful for the Meyer's; winning several double gold medals over the years plus the 2004 Jefferson Cup - which honors the best of the best among US wineries from all of America’s wine regions.

We tasted the release following the Jefferson Cup winner and quite frankly, were not really impressed. Even though the wine was aged 12-16 months in oak, the wine was still extremely young and acidic. And only a slight grape flavor. We've stored several purchased bottles in our cellar and after three years in the bottle, we retested the wine. What a difference. The wine has transformed into a good, full bodied wine. It is a little less spicy than the Mount Pleasant from last week, but contains the same rich cherry flavor. This spicy characteristic may be a Midwestern trait, because we have not tasted it with Eastern produced Norton wines. And there were just a few traces of the standard grapey Norton flavor. Once again, the wine could easily pass for a viniferia based wine. Now, if we only had an aged bottle of the Jefferson Cup winner; but this is defiantly one proof that Norton\Cynthiana wines need to age a few years in the bottle.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Mount Pleasant Winery - 2003 Norton

This past week we opened another bottle from our Norton collection, a 2003 from Mount Pleasant Winery. We had purchased this wine after it had won the 2005 Missouri Governor's Cup - at a premium of course. Mount Pleasant Winery is one of Missouri's oldest wineries, first established in 1959. It later became a casualty of Prohibition, but was re-opened almost 50 years ago by the Dressel family. And today, the Norton grape is as great a part of the enterprise as it was a century ago.

Their 2003 Norton is a dry, full bodied wine and surprisingly spicy - more like a Syrah than a Norton. Initially there was also only a slight grapey flavor and the spicy finish was dominant. However, as the wine was left to breathe, the spiciness subsided in favor of the grape flavor. We discovered this after opening the bottle pairing with a bowl of chili. Initially the spiciness from each offering contradicted each other and we set the glasses to the side. After dinner, we tried the wine again and found that "decanting" mellowed the wine where it was much more complementary to spicy foods. The wine worked in both scenerios; if you would like a Syrah styled wine - drink this Norton immediately. If you are looking for a more traditional Norton - full bodied wine - let the wine decant.

Friday, September 19, 2008

2nd Annual Spirits of Mexico Tasting Competition

This week The Polished Palate announced the results of the 2nd Annual Spirits of Mexico Tasting Competition which was held in San Diego from September 11 & 12. 70 spirits were blind tasted by a panel of judges with a rating system totaling a maximum possible score of 100 points. Only one brand constantly scored over 90 points by each judge: the El Perdido Reserva Extra Anejo, which received the Best of Show award.

From the press release: "In a field of 21 Blancos, Best of Category awards were given to (Tie) Tequilas Clase Azul Platino & Don Ramon Platinum. Out of 19 Reposados, Tequila Cristeros took home the Best of Category. Tequila Gran Centenario won Best of Category for the Anejos out of 18 entries. Of 5 Extra Anejos, El Perdido took home the Best of Category Award. Casa 1921 Cream won Best of Category for Flavors & Creams."

The Gold Medal awards are listed below:

Tequila Blanco: Clase Azul Plata, Corrido Blanco, Corzo Silver, Don Ramon Platinum, Don Tepo Blanco, El Perdido Blanco, Milagro Silver, Milagro Select Barrel Reserve Silver, Oro Azul Blanco, QV Blanco, Senor Frog’s Plata & Suavemente Blanco.

Tequila Reposado: Cazadores, Cristeros, El Perdido, Gran Centenario, Herradura, Oro Azul, QV, Senor Frog’s & Suavemente

Tequila Anejo: 374, Chinaco, Don Eduardo, Don Ramon, Don Tepo, Gran Centenario, Milagro Select Barrel Reserve, QV & Suavemente

Tequila Extra Anejo: Chinaco Negro, Corrido, El Perdido Reserva, Herradura Selección Suprema, Suavemente

Tequila Flavors & Creams: Casa 1921 Cream, Tanteo Chocoloate, Tanteo Jalapeno & Tanteo Tropical

Mezcal Extra Anejo: Beneva Reserva Especial, Scorpion Reserva 5 Year Old, Scorpion Gran Reserva 7 Year Old

Monday, September 15, 2008

Hill Top Berry Farm & Winery

We have a goal of visiting the several Virginia meaderies so we traveled to Nellysford in order to visit Hill Top Berry Farm & Winery - home of dozens of excellent honey and fruit wines. And we mean dozens - and there selection continues to expand as the proprietors craft new and interesting blends. The winery started a decade ago when Marlyn and Sue Allen became one of the first Virginia wineries to produce fruit wines from their local "pick your own" orchard and fields. The family's philosophy should be mandatory reading for all wineries: use your land to grow produce (grapes or fruit) that are best suited for your environment. In addition to the fruit, the family also had an apiary - hence the introduction of mead. As the three Allen sisters took over operations, they had more production hours to experiment with the mead and start producing other styles: cyser, pyment, and melomel.

During our we stuck to the mead products, except for one fruit wine: their Three Sisters Elderberry Wine. This fruit is too tempting and is a new release for the winery. Elderberry wines are full bodied and can be made in any style: from dry to sweet. Hill Top's is made off dry with a full fruit flavor - as good as any grape wine. As for the meads, five styles were available for tasting. We started with the Rockfish River Cyser (82% apple and 18% honey) which is made semi-dry. It was good, but the apple flavor overwhelmed the honey and quite frankly we were interested in mead. However, for those more interested in apple wine, this is a great alternative - and quite different from the standard apple offerings. We next tried the Perry and this dessert wine is awesome. First, its probably the first wine with pear as an ingredient that we've tried - then combined with honey - it has the perfect combination of flavors. The Pyment (grape\honey wine) was served next and this concord grape-honey blend is truly unique. The concord provides the grapey aroma while the honey flavors triumph at the finish. This year Hill Top entered several wines into the San Francisco Wine Competition and the later two came home with medals. We finally got around to their Blue Ridge Mountain Mead, which we had previously tasted at several earlier wine festivals. The wine is made semi-dry and has a strong honey flavor and aroma. The mead is usually in short supply because members of the Society for Creative Anachronism use it for their festivals. The final wine made the trip memorable and is one of the reasons we visit less familiar wineries - to find truly original wines and at Hill Top we discovered our first fruit ice wine: Pounding Branch Persimmon Melomel. Melomel is honey wine made with fruit and for this concoction Hill Top picked frozen persimmons from off Wintergreen Mountain. The melomel is advertised as "Southern Ice Wine" - so we were expecting a sweet wine. Of course we were wrong - the wine is as dry as any white vinifera wine. But with a very unique flavor - spicy with hints of honey throughout. The judges in San Francisco were also taken - awarding it a Gold medal. Unfortunately, Hill Top's inventory is extremely low, so hurry over to purchase. But there are other concoctions waiting to take its place on the tasting bar. The Lavender Metheglin (mead made with spices), Blueberry Melomel, and Raspberry Melomel will all be available very soon. Then there's the fruit wine we didn't have time to sample. Blueberry, blackberry, cherry, cranberry, peach, plum, raspberry, par, and cherry - you name it, they probably vinify it.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act

One of the pleasures of touring wineries is that suburbanites can escape their surroundings and enjoy a trip to the country. Most wineries, at least those in mid-Atlantic, are situated among family farms, where livestock graze peacefully in the pasture. In most instances it is a scene from Old McDonald's Farm; but sadly, this scenario is actually the exception and not the rule. Instead there is a hidden world of factory farming consisting of gestation crates and battery cages - where the animals are confined their entire life - unable to move or even roll over. The practices are more than inhumane and only exist because the majority of people have no idea of their use. The Humane Society of America is trying to raise awareness of this scandal and their chapter in California helped to initiate Proposition 2: The Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act. This act will ban such practices in California and force these factory farms to treat animals humanely and with respect. Predictably, corporate entities nationwide are fighting this proposition with tremendous financial muscle. WineCompass normally tries to stay out of political arguments unless it involves the government trying to over regulate wine and spirits, but this issue is too important to sit on the sideline. We encourage all readers to visit the Humane Society of America and Californians for Humane Farms to learn more about this issue. You can also contribute financially at

Friday, September 5, 2008

Old Dominion Brewery Closes Brewpub

The Old Dominion Brewing Company announced late last month that they were closing their popular brewpub. See their statement here. The brewpub was one of our favorite places to hangout for lunch, after a ride on the Old Dominion bike trail, or during Redskin's games (Redskin Park is practically across the street). Many regulars were concerned when Coastal Brewing (a partnership between Fordham Brewing Company and Anheuser-Busch) purchased the brewery last year that the new owners would start changing formulas or product lines. No one expected the worse - that the brewpub would actually disappear. According to the Washington Post, Coastal Brewing closed the pub because "But the pub wasn't drawing enough business to justify the cost of running it, said Casey Hollingsworth, vice president of sales and marketing at Coastal Brewing". Apparently their popular Dominion Ale, Dominion Lager, and Oak Barrel Stout will still be available at local grocery and beer stores, but no more stopping after work or on weekends to refill the growler. What a shame.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

September 2008 Wine\Beer Festivals

The event database currently shows about 1,000 upcoming wine\beer events in the United States and Canada. For those looking for wine festivals in September 2008, here is a short list of events in several states:

45th Annual Wiederkehr Village Weinfest - Wiederkehr Wine Cellars: September 27th

Winesong - Botanical Gardens in Fort Bragg: September 5th-6th
Mendocino County Fair Gold Medal Wine Pouring - Mendocino: September 12th-14th
Harvest Celebration - El Dorado Winery Association: September 13th-14th
Lafayette Art & Wine Festival - Lafayette: September 20th-21st
20th American Wine & Food Festival - Universal Studios’ Back Lot, Los Angeles: September 26th-28th

15th Annual Telluride Blues & Brews Festival - Telluride: September 12th-15th
Colorado Mountain Winefest - Riverbend Park, Palisade: September 18th-21st

3rd Annual Foxwoods Food & Wine Festival - Foxwoods Resort & Casino: September 26th-28th

Kentucky Bourbon Festival – Bardstown: September 16th-21st

Deep Creek Lake Art & Wine Festival – Garrett County Fair Grounds, McHenry: September 6th
Baltimore Crab & Beer – Baltimore: September 16th
Annmarie Garden Artsfest – Annmarie Garden, Sculpture Park and Art Center, Lusby: September 20th-21st
The 25th Anniversary Maryland Wine Festival – Carroll County Farm Museum, Westminster: September 20th-21st
Wine Fest at the Beach – Inlet Park, Ocean City: September 26th-27th
Uncorked Rockville Wine Festival – Rockville Town Square, Rockville: September 27th

Paw Paw Wine And Harvest Festival – Paw Paw: September 5th-7th
Old Mission Peninsula Wine & Food Celebration – Wineries of the Old Mission
: September 6th
Traverse Epicurean Classic – Traverse Epicurean Alliance: September 10th-12th
Grand Haven Salmon Festival – Grand Haven: September 19th-21st

Minnesota Wine & Food Festival – Carlos Creek Winery: September 12th-14th

Norton Wine Festival – History Museum in St. Louis: September 6th

New Jersey
WineFest 2008 - Valenzano Winery: September 20th-21st

New Mexico
Annual Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta – Santa Fe: September 24th-28th

New York
8th Annual Wine and Food Festival - Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs: September 4th-6th
Hudson Valley Wine & Food Fest - Dutchess County Fairgrounds, Rhinebeck: September 6th-8th
Harvest Tour of Food and Wine – Keuka Lake Wine Trail: September 13th-14th
Harvest Fest – Niagara Wine Trail: September 20th-21st

North Carolina
The 34th Annual Grape Stomp – Duplin Winery: September 20th
Brewgrass Festival - Martin Luther King Jr Ballfield, Asheville: September 20th
Currituck Food and Wine Festival - The Cottin Gin, Jarvisburg: September 29th

Nova Scotia
3rd Annual Nova Scotia Fall Wine Festival – Various Locations, Nova Scotia: September 4th-October 28th

Niagara Wine Festival – St. Catharines: September 19th-28th

Gettysburg Wine & Music Festival - Gettysburg: September 6th-7th

South Carolina
Late Summer Harvest Fest - La Belle Amie Vineyard: September 13th
6th Annual Ballpark Festival of Beers - Joseph P. Riley, Jr. Park, Charleston: September 20th

South Dakota
Wine Train into the West - Prairie Berry Winery: September 20th-21st

Harvest Wine Trail – James River Cellars: September 6th
11th Annual Virginia Beach Neptune Festival – Virginia Beach: September 13th-14th
39th Annual Bluemont Fair – Bluemont: September 20th-21th
33rd Annual Virginia Wine Festival – Prince William County Fairgrounds, Manassas: September 27th-28th
Northern Virginia Brewfest – Bull Run Park, Centreville: September 27th-28th
Smith Mountain Lake Wine Festival – Lakewatch Plantation, Smith Mountain Lake: September 27th-28th

West Virginia
WV State BBQ & Bluegrass Festival – Lazy A Campground: June 6th-7th
Mountain Heritage Arts and Crafts Festival – Old Factory Antique Mall, Charles Town: September 26th-28th